River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 11 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water slightly discoloured, swift and cold. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Sunny & warm, no wind.
Number on Trip: 9 people.
Time on River: 3.75 hours.
Comments: This weeks club trip was to Murchison and as we had a big Anti-TPPA march on Saturday, this wasn’t an option. The weather looked great over the weekend and it was with some joy that I spied on the WWCC Facebook page that Ian F was planning on paddling the lower Ashley Gorge on Sunday meeting at the relaxing time of 9am in Belfast.
Paddling permission was sought and granted, gear was loaded and Sunday morning found me with a group of like-minded individuals at the Belfast Tavern car park. We sorted out vehicles and I opted to take mine as the shuttle vehicle and together with Em, I headed for the Ashley Gorge Domain, pausing briefly in Oxford to get some fuel.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day and the mountains looked quite spectacular with their fresh dusting of snow from earlier in the week. We got changed and squeezed into two vehicles to drive up to the put in. One of the guys had a longish chat to the camp ground manager about the condition of the road and succinctly summed up the conversation with “give it a try”. When we arrived at the gate to the Lees Valley Road, it was half closed with a sign announcing “Road Closed Ahead”. We pushed on and found the road was pretty good, just the odd snowy/wet patches in shaded areas. Beyond the middle bridge it looked a bit more snowy and difficult but another group of kayakers managed to get through.
There were small patches of snow around the put in but the air was warm and the sun bright, and we were soon on the water and heading downstream at a relaxed pace. This was the lowest flow I had paddled this section at and I was interested to see what it was like, as previously no one generally paddled the Ashley below 15 cumecs, but it the last few years, groups have run it at as low as 5 cumecs.
The sunlight sparkled off the water and we leisurely paddled between rapids, catching eddies and surfing holes. The flow was good, with good paddleable channels and lines through rapids. With more rocks exposed, some of the rapids became more interesting, but there were no real dramas and the low flow made the river a lot less pushy. The boulder garden above the Forever Eddy and the entrance to the gorge section, was particularly fun with the opportunity to pick your way through multiple different routes, making it as challenging as you desired.
Once in the gorge section the river tightens up and the rapids get bigger but at this flow they were quite nice and generally manageable by everyone in the group, which included some newer paddlers. The main drop was interesting as it seemed to get a lot messier at the lower flow. I watched most of the group go over without any drama and then I headed over myself. The line I usually take is from right to left, boofing into the eddy on the left, as I reached the top of the drop this time, it looked a lot narrower and distinctly messy, I blundered down something that looked sort of ok, hit the white water at the bottom and almost got through but found myself going over. Things went a little swirly for a short while and my first roll failed, fortunately my next attempt succeeded and I was upright and in the eddy, I reached for my camera to capture the next kayakers going over the drop but was too late and missed the shot. Photographed the drop whilst catching my breath but the angle and sunshine plus the complete lack of kayaks, didn’t really do it justice.
The rest of the gorge was fun without much in the way of dramas, it was just a great way to spend a beautiful spring day. Once out of the gorge section, our pace picked up and we didn’t spend too much time playing around, while still enjoying the frequent smaller rapids.
I was feeling a bit tired by the time we made it back to the camp ground but I really enjoyed myself and I think the rest of the group did too. We quickly changed into our dry clothes and then I drove the other drivers back to the get in, before returning to the camp ground to pick up Em and our gear. We headed back to the Belfast directly and then off home, feeling tired but happy.