River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 16 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water discoloured and cool. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Warm & sunny, little wind.
Number on Trip: 9 people doing the lower section.
Time on River: 4 hours.
Comments: The remnants of Cyclone Gita crossed New Zealand on Tuesday night, dumping a lot of water, closing roads, causing flooding and slips. On the up side, the flow gauge on the Ashley River shot up to almost 250 cumecs and over the following days, various trips were organised depending on individuals personal bravery and ability to take time off work. Since the weather wasn’t that great and I find the higher flows slightly less enjoyable (scary), I ended up tagging on to Bruce’s Saturday morning trip at 16 cumecs.
At The Peg, a second trip was being organised for those that thought that 16 cumecs was too low and that the Hurunui at around 80 cumecs would be more fun. Everything was sorted out very quickly and we were soon heading to the campground with Ian at the wheel.
We met up with Bruce, Ross and Mark at the campground, got changed and consolidated vehicles before driving up to the put in at the middle bridge. At the put in, the blackberry bushes were dotted with ripe berries and this provided some pre-paddle sustenance. The water was still quite discoloured and was flowing fairly swiftly.
Although I was feeling pretty tired from too many late nights and early mornings, I was soon in to the rhythm of the river. It was a beautiful day, with a good bunch of people, there was no rush and the flow provided plenty of interest without the push of higher flow levels.
There was plenty of features to play on and play we did, taking our time to surf some of the waves to the max.
The boulder garden rapids were quite interesting as their character changes significantly with different flow levels. Boulders that need to be dodged at low flows either disappear or become holes to avoid at higher flows. Often rocks hid below the surface, obscured by the brownish water, ready to surprise with a solid thump or to throw off your line when you failed to realise the wave you were going to paddle through was hiding a boulder.
Initially there were 7 of us in the group but at the Forever Eddy above the entrance to the gorge proper, we were joined by 2 others.
The rapids within the gorge are regularly spaced, generally with reasonable recovery spaces in between, not that they were really required with our group, upside down time usually ended with a roll, not a swim.
The gorge is a beautiful place, especially on a sunny day (though the contrast of light and shadow makes getting good photos a little tricky). The hillsides are covered with thick, green vegetation, occasionally broken up with sheer rock faces and cascading waterfalls. The rocks can be sharp and jagged, tearing chucks of plastic from your hull or worn in to smooth curves by the flow of the river over the age, or sometimes in layers, folded or stacked vertical by the forces that formed the hills that the river cuts through. Sometimes they are smooth and grey, or mottled with patches of green, moss carpet. The sun sparkles off the rapids and the waters surface, or glistens on the wet rocks and trickling stream-lets that feed the flow.
At the main drop, I choose to be one of the first to go over so I could get some photos of the others. I’d watched Mark do the drop and had a fair idea what my line would be. However at the top of the drop things went a little pear shaped, a small hole messed up my line and a large rock ruined my corrective paddle stroke and almost before I knew it, I was upside down and possibly even went over the drop backwards and upside down. Fortunately I flushed out and rolled upright (I wasn’t the only one to mess up the drop on the day though). I fought my way upstream so I could get in to position but only managed to get a few photos.
Sergi came down the drop, he tipped at the bottom and when he rolled up again, he had slightly less paddle than before. Sergi paddled to the side with his half paddle as Ian recovered the other blade. Fortunately someone had packed a split paddle (it pays to be prepared), so he was able to continue on with that, while Bruce sawed off the other blade so the bits would fit in the back of a kayak.
We continued on after a short break as food was eaten, boats drained, paddles cut and stored. There were plenty more rapids to run and plenty of good spots for surfing at this flow.
At one particularly good spot, Ian became so in tune with the river whilst surfing a wave, that he released his paddle and let it float away while he continued paddling with his hands. Unfortunately he neglected to let anyone else know and his paddle was rapidly disappearing from sight before anyone noticed. Luckily someone gave chase and caught it before the river claimed it for it’s own.
We spent so much time at this spot, taking turns at riding the various options, that Mark and Ross disappeared down stream and we didn’t see them again until we got back to the cars.
The river carried on and we made the most of the days offerings. By the time we reached the river flow guage, I was pretty tired, having spent slightly over 4 hours in my boat. The last leg was a bit of a grind but soon the bridge appeared. The shuttle was run, while the rest of us enjoyed the warmth and sunshine that tends to be rare at the end of an Ashley trip. Usually the rain that has pushed the river level up, lingers and the campground is further chilled by the lengthening shadows, but not today. Today we were truly blessed.