Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part 3 of 3: First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu - Papua New Guinea

The next morning I woke up full of vigour, success was more than a possbility and I was feeling good. Or was I? After springing out of bed, loading the boats and even stomaching some breakfast I got an all too familiar growling in my stomach. My morning enthusiamsim suddenly slumped and I quickly began to realise that I was still rough. Much better than the day before, but not as well as I would of like to feel. Colesy was feeling better too, but still not at 100%. The show had to go on though, so we clambered onto the trusty Hilux and began our drive back to Banana Market. Barny and me knew what we had instore today, this being the section Barny, Shannon and Myself had somewhat completed two years earlier. Our goal was to reach Sikewage, which mean't we'd have plenty of class V, one 20 minute portage, a grueling 2-3 hour portage around a 'blind' gorge and some more class IV-V down to Sikewage. 

When arrived at Banana Market we quickly got our stuff together and made our way to the river. The people in this area are really friendly but we were still cautious of letting a crowd gather. Once on the river everything seemed right again, sure Matt and I were feeling under the weather but we were back on the mission and we were mobbing! Barny and I sort of knew where we were going, and if we didnt we'd just paddle in like we did anyway. And before long we had made our way down to first portage of the day. We'd entertained the idea of paddling this section but in the end it would of been reckless. Stacked, boxed-in, sievey, class V in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. Scratch the last bit and it sounds a lot like New Zealand white-water, but none of us were really that keen to give it a go. So we portaged quickly, well apart from when Barny threw his boat onto his paddle and snapped it and then I fell through a 'salat' bush, which has a stinging effect that feels like a knife cutting you, and had to tear off through the jungle to thoroughly rince my face in the river. No harm done I guess and we continued on our merry way.

 Ari soaking in the landscape (p. Jordy)

Barny the bull-dog (p. Ari Walker)

Good class IV early on (p. Barny)

Getting the first portage out of the way (p. Matt Coles)

More class IV-V for another few kilometres of so down to the next portage, a part of the trip we'd been dreading. This time we did as much as possible to avoid the portage, even managing to find a way into the gorge a bit futher down. But we couldn't confirm what was around the corner in the sheer-walled gorge. It was pretty much flat leading down to the corner but if someone was to commit to it, and there was something bad downstream extracting them would be near the limits of what we could manage. This coupled with the limestone geology of the area, therefore the risk of sump's or even the river going under-ground like it does further downstream, we decided to swallow the pill and set to the portage. As per PNG some fella's emerged from the bush and offered to help us. After our little ordeal 2 years earlier in EXACTLY the same spot, we set the terms of them helping us so they weren't expecting anything more. Sorted. We stripped off and began our climb up and away from the river, into the PNG jungle. With no track, and this time some pretty much clueless help, it was definitely hard going. But that's good, as it distracts you from the idea of what "creepy crawly's" might be near or on you. After about an hour, much faster than I remember it taking in 2011, we had sweated it out and made our way back down to the river. Everyone was taking their time getting ready but I felt awful so quickly donned my gear and put back on the river. 

  The 'Dubious Gorge' upstream, things start
getting steep here (p. Ari Walker)

Barny routing first (p. Ari Walker)

Colesy aka Tigger aka King Coles aka... (p. Barny Young)

Tricky ledge to line up (p.Barny)

Boys chatting with the locals that helped us out, I'm dressed
and pretty much read to go! (p. Jordy)

I think the boys got my vibe and quickly followed suit, with all of us soon making our way down to the mouth of the Sikewage Gorge. Our cut of time for entering the gorge was 12:30pm and it was about 1:20pm, so we were meant to take off and hike up to the village where we had arranged accommodation. This all made sense, except for the fact I was slowly deteriorating as the day went on. So I selfishly convinced the boys into committing to the canyon with me, and everything below it that we had never seen before. This mean't less emphasis on photos, and more on getting down as fast as we could. I called Toni and let him know our plan and then, without too much deliberation, Barny and Colesy paddled into the amazing Sikewage Gorge, soon followed by Ari and myself. We entertained the idea of paddling Barny's rapid from 2011 but with all the new debris downstream due to the road blast, and in the interest of safety I guess, we portaged. Which turned out to get just as dangerous as while on the new slip I tried to take a photo but my boat was struck by a softball sized rock that was dislodged by some kids 200m's above us on the gorge rim. Toni sorted that out though and we continued forward. Then making another portage where the whole river goes underground momentarily.

Entering Sikewage Gorge (p. Barny)

Such a special and sacred place to be (p. Barny)

Deep in the canyon (p. Barny)

Now we were onto bigger and better things. The gorge walls slightly receded and the gradient of the river stood up. My bodies groans were overwhelmed by the focus needed to get down the  white-water ahead of us. Everything felt right as our crew boldy broken down this section in perfect harmony, making good progress with out the distraction of taking photos/videoing. Powerful hydraulics, pushy rapids and big smiles all round. This is what we'd come for. Two young boys had kept up with us from below Sikewage Gorge, not sure how they got down there, and were adament they'd come to Kundiawa with us and then walk home. After failing to deter then several time I just embrassed it and figured we'd loose them at some stage. They kept pace until the river's ferocity subsided and we reached the flats above Kundiawa. Their cheers slowly faded as we pulled away and I knew we were pretty much done with the hard white-water. I didnt think it'd mean so much to me, and the other boys I am sure, but I was full of exhaltation and admittedly through a cliche fist pump once I realised we had made it. It was just another cheerful 2km of floating and then we were done. We'd completed what we'd started two years earlier, unscathed and even ahead of schedule. The First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu. Even sitting here writing this I get an upwelling of emotion just thinking about it, being able to achieve a goal like this with my best friends was, and still is, surreal.

 One of the few things we stopped to take photos of 
below Sikewage (p. Barny)

 The amount of sediment makes it look daunting
but its all good to go (p. Barny)

Barny almost at the end of the steep stuff (p. Matt Coles)

Me and the young fellas watching Barny (p. Ari Walker)

Matt Coles, Barny Young, Myself and Ari Walker... quickly getting a team photo
while no one was around (p. the rock holding the camera).

We made our way back to Mama Josephines and had a celebratory dinner, more back country meals and kau-kau. We stayed up late chatting about what we'd just done, the ups and downs, things we wished we done, things we regret and more importantly where to next. We still had 12 days in country  and were still hungry for more. 

Surely we'd find something else? But where and how? Well, we got a little bit more done but everything couldn't go to plan could it...

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