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K' Gorge Sept 2010

Ally’s Werner does Big Bertha. Ally does not.

Sitting on a rock, tangled among shrubbery, helplessly watching my beautiful Werner paddle get worked by a hole after going through Big Bertha  alone was not how I thought the first Wairoa flow of the season would turn out. How did I end up here? Well, it all started tame enough on a well frequented grade 2 the day before. Actually it probably started when my physio said “No Paddling!” So I decided I need to find a new physio.

We had high expectations of Wairoa and knew that after the winter break Wairoa had the potential to really give us a working. With that in mind we headed to Aniwhenua to do some skills practice. Ani was running super high so James, Luc, Colm, CJ, and Nick ran the section above the falls.


Apparently it was awesome. Meanwhile Andrew, Lene, Magnus and I sorted shuttle and got our boats to the get-in. The flow certainly made our proposed eddy and ferry practices more challenging as the water wasn’t very static. Some people had some difficulty avoiding trees but overall not much drama.

Next up was Rangitaiki. The top crew headed to the top again while the rest of us tried to locate the mid. After several U-turns and a few forestry roads explored, we eventually made it. Only the top people weren’t there. We were pretty sure we had spent so much time getting lost that they should have got to the mid by this point. We sat in the car, brooding on our missed run. Then Colm turned up. Nick had taken a swim between Rock A and B so they were a little slower than anticipated. Yuss! But we’d have to jump on quickly and motor through as we didn’t have much daylight left.

We left Lene to navigate her way back through the forestry roads while everyone else boosted down the rest of Rangi led by Colm. The level was high, bouncy and fun. Noone swam. We stopped in one eddy. And before we knew it, it was over, leaving us wanting more.

We soaked in the warm waters of secret spot and then made our way to Vegas for a feed. After much deliberation Colm, James, and Magnus decided we should have some kind of fancy burger but I can’t remember what is was called. A hunt for the magical burger place was not going well and we had a sneaky suspicion the Chinese takeaway we were standing in front of was all that remained. The shiny metal walls a give away. Magnus’ GPS confirmed the worst. So we settled for BurgerFuel.

On Sunday, Pete woke me and James up early like a child on Christmas morning to say it was raining. Pete went off to run crazy stuff while the rest of us made our way slowly to Wairoa to check out how high it was. There were a few changes in the crew. We had swapped Magnus for Martin, Katie, Laila, and Jo. We decided Wairoa was looking too high but that K Gorge would be perfect.

We got to K Gorge and the top crew plus Martin and Jo started to kit up. I went for a walk to find Big Bertha. I returned. They all looked at me expectantly. “So are you doing it?” Uhmmm, truth be told, even though I’ve wanted to do this run since forever, I didn’t even think it was a possibility. I have confidence in my skills but I still look to those better than me for guidance on what my actual level is. When it comes down to it, I’m not a huge Alaskan dude or crazy fearless Simon. But when we had checked the level it was 12.85 (later inspection would reveal it was at 13) which is a good G3 level albeit more challenging than anything I’d ever done.  I had my new NRS drypants. And plenty of paddlers that I trusted thought I could handle it. I decided to go for it.

Laila and Andrew decided to kit up and join us for the first little grade 2 section so we went down that doing some skills. We got to the beach and it was time to say farewell to them while the rest of us dropped down to scout the first rapid. Martin showed me the line. Then we watched James style it. It looked easy enough. Right line, down a chute, avoid some rocks, down a drop and punch through some water, done. That went okay. I followed Martin’s line down and apart from needing more speed to get through the last hydraulic smoothly, was fine. From here we wouldn’t be scouting.

It’s hard to distinguish rapids on K Gorge. They just run into each other. A series of boulders and holes to avoid. And Big Bertha. But in my mind’s eye there are four parts; what I styled (using that word very loosely), big hole, second hole, and the bit I didn’t do.  So the Big Hole. I seemed to be going all right. Took a nice line, centre to right-ish. Then Martin decided to take an eddy. The same eddy he had taken ages ago which Katalla had missed. Well, apparently I stopped paddling when Martin did. Except I was still in the flow. I was sitting sideways, not paddling, at the top of a very, very deep hole. Usually I paddle with death in mind. “You must make this eddy or you face certain certain DEATH”. It puts the pressure on and makes me focus. At this point it must have looked like I had come to accept my fate as the boys watched me disappear with nothing they could do.

I hadn’t given up. I was just taking my time to appreciate this “Oh fuck” moment. It flipped me pretty quickly. Ripped my Werner out of one hand. I fumbled to get it back. My arms were twisted and on the wrong ends of the paddle. I switched the paddle around. Set up. Nope hole didn’t like that. Try again. Nope really doesn’t want me to roll out of here. So short of breath and with a sore shoulder, I pulled my deck, tucked myself into a ball, and kept a tight grip on my Werner- there was no way I was letting that go. It wasn’t a bad swim. I got to the side while Martin and James got my boat. Very quickly I was reunited with the Chico and jumped back in. Nick wasn’t so lucky. We noticed he was sitting on a boulder. Both his boat and paddle somewhere downstream.  

Martin assured me that the worst was over. It was all eddy hopping and rock avoiding from here. We’d stay on the right to be well away from Big Bertha. I must have taken it as a challenge because low and behold I found another decent hole. I was reasonably low on energy at this stage, although still thoroughly enjoying the run. But it meant after putting up another fight (actually managed to get some okay bracing in first) when I swam I let go of my Werner. Anyone who has seen me swim (I know; you are a select group) knows the first thing I yell at them to go for is my paddle. And that’s how I ended up watching it getting worked in a hole, just out of reach from potential saviours.

Eventually it disappeared. I prayed to all the Gods I know that it would not be stuck somewhere. Luckily it had popped up just down stream. James caught my attention and valiantly held it up for me to rest my concerned eyes upon. I jumped on the back of Colm’s boat and was reunited with it then walked the short distance to the carpark still smiling. While all this was unfolding Luc was chasing Nick’s boat with CJ and misinterpreted “Stay right all the bad stuff is on the left” as “All the awesome rapids are on the left”. So while CJ knew Big Bertha was coming, Luc was none the wiser. He went in and swam out. CJ then rescued Nick’s boat and paddle, and Luc’s boat and possibly him.

Then some of them went for a less eventful repeat run.


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