River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 14 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water discoloured and cold. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Warm & sunny, gusty nor-westerlies, strong at times.
Number on Trip: 6 people doing the lower section.
Time on River: 3.5 hours.
Comments: Bea put up a post on Facebook, proposing a Saturday Ashley Trip and as the weather wasn’t looking so good for Sunday and other plans seemed a little vague, this was the trip to be on, especially with the Hurunui running at over 100 cumecs and gale force nor-westerlies predicted. Since I hadn’t really planned to go kayaking, breakfast was a little rushed as I quickly gathered up my kayaking gear and loaded the car. Fortunately I arrived at the Belfast Tavern just before 9am and Ian arrived shortly after, and we headed off to meet the rest of the group at the Ashley Gorge campground.
Kerry turned up a little after we arrived, having missed up at The Peg. He planned to do a little tree pruning near the start of the run and then run the gorge solo if he didn’t catch up with us. The rest of the group arrived, we got changed and loaded up the cars before driving to the middle bridge put in.
Kerry put in first and headed down stream to prune the willow trees that were overhanging the first corner and creating a sweeper hazard. He was hard at work as the rest of us floated by, taking care to avoid the hazard.
This was Brons’ first trip down this section of the Ashley and Ian provided plenty of helpful advice on which lines to take and what to expect.
It was a glorious day to be out on the river, with only the occasional splash of cold water reminding you that the season was drawing to a close and winter was just around the corner. We must have been going fairly slow and savoring the time on the river, as Kerry caught up with us after finishing his “gardening”. He had just expected to paddle out solo after the willows had been pruned and the hazard removed.
Around 15 cumecs is always a nice flow level, the rapids are nicely defined, with plenty of boulders to add extra interest (neither washed out nor constantly grazing your plastic away) and the slower flow providing plenty of recovery time if things don’t go quite as planned. This was a good thing as only Kerry and John managed to stay in their boats for the whole trip, with John spending longer than usual upside down, with his roll not really performing in an unfamiliar boat. Bron also managed to add a few scratches to her helmet after ending up the wrong way up in shallow water, always a hazard on the Ashley but fortunately the helmet wore the brunt of the rocks.
I took a swim on the rapid before the main drop, when I found myself the wrong way up in some swirly water. My roll didn’t work as I was partially out of my seat and the kayak was being pushed against a bluff. I bailed out and found myself in a smooth, green pool and finding myself alone (I was running many of the rapids first so I could get photos of the rest of the group), I swam to the shore with my boat in tow, as John arrived on the scene. The water was very refreshing.
The main drop went well, and for the first time in a few trips I managed to stay upright after getting the line right for a change. The rest of the group had no real problems, though John’s approach on his first go didn’t quite nail it and he had to roll at the bottom. He got out and had another go, this time was almost perfect.
I took a number of photos from the left hand side of the river, but these tended to be strongly back lit and didn’t work quite as well as I hoped. In fact, poor photography was a bit of a theme for the trip, with the low light or high contrasts with the low angle sun on the water, leading to a lot of blurry or over dark pictures. Plus the colder conditions meant the lens tended to get fogged up at times and I also missed the odd water drop on the lens in my haste to capture the moment (see below).
The rest of the main rapids went alright and everyone enjoyed themselves. At the spot that has a particularly good surfing wave, Ian decided to toss his paddle away and surf “au naturel”. Since he had learnt from the last time not to just let your paddle drift away, he threw it into the eddy on the right hand side. This worked great until he had finished surfing and then got caught out crossing the eddy line, resulting in some upside down time, some failed hand rolls and a slightly undignified “swim” in the shallow water of the eddy. Sadly although I took a number of photos of this sequence, most of them were a little blurry.
Later in the gorge, we had some really strong wind gusts as one particular section seem perfectly aligned to channel the nor-wester. We kept the paddles low and it was a bit of a struggle to make headway whilst fighting into the wind, so it was a relief to leave that section behind.
Eventually we reached the take out and my lack of fitness was showing and I was feeling pretty tired. Still it was a nice day and it was good to chat in the sunshine, while Ian, Kerry & Bea went to pick up the vehicles. On the downside, once I’d taken off my dry top, I realised the neck seal had torn, which was a bit disappointing as it was only a few years old and certainly didn’t last as well as my old Bomber top. Hopefully Twin Needles will be able to replace the neck seal and it will be all ready to go when I get back from Australia.