Wednesday, January 18, 2012

First Descent of Toaroha Canyon - West Coast, New Zealand

Daan(gerous) Jimmink all fired up! (p. Jordy)

The West Coast is home to countless classic rivers, with almost all the major tributaries around Hokitika providing great white-water. In recent years we have been adding to these runs by flying further up the tribs, hiking into no fly zones or putting in the effort to open up some of the yet to be run gorges. Last summer Keith Riley, Trent Garnham and Paul Current opened up the infamous Morgans Gorge on the Waitaha, a feat that can open be appreciated by going in there yourself. Earlier this summer Barny Young, Simon Rutherford, Trent Garnham, Dylan Thomson and I opened up the section of the Upper Whataroa from just below Whymper Hut down to Butlers Hut... but on Tuesday, 16th of January a big group of us opened up the Toaroha Canyon. A section I never thought would go after being informed it had a boxed in 100footer, the whole river went underground and that it was totally inaccessible except for dropping in the top at river level. Well I would like to say it was our hard work that gave us the green light to paddle the Canyon but really it was a combination of all the other kayakers on the coast... except us! Jared Mitchell, Keith Riley, Trent Garnham, Justin Venable and Issac Thomson were first to wet our appetite for the Canyon when they put in some hefty ground work and made their way down to river level via a large slip and snapped the shot below... triggering a frantic rush of questions about its where abouts, whether is was run or runnable and plenty more.

Trent, Issac, Keith and JV (and Jared behind the lens) were the first to get their
eyes on the interior of the Toaroha Canyon.
(p. Jared Mitchell -

Needless to say people were reluctant to reveal too much information, but before long we had worked out that it was indeed in the Toaroha Canyon. But this team has only seen the big falls and a few drops below it, which didn't mean anyone could safely drop into the Canyon just yet.

The canyon is very close to Hokitika, and people even hike
up and run the last 30footer. But for some reason no one
had ever seriously persued it.

This would change, however, on January 8th when Dylan Thomson, Justin Venable, Keith Riley and Zak Shaw sacked up and committed to a canyoning trip down Toaroha Canyon at low later. Zak hasn't put up his photos yet, but check out in the near future to get a glimpse of some amazing shots of an even more amazing canyon. Zak commented this about the trip, "first canyoning descent of the Toaroha canyon took 8 hours and involved waterfall jumps, scrambling on smooth schist, some bold decision making and a little luck!". Very bold indeed! True to the West Coast, a day or so after their canyoning descent the rains came and pushed the flow up to high...and it stayed high until Barny had returned to the coast and I had days off, just our luck! The beta was that we would access the canyon via the large slip the first crew used and then paddle the section below there. The upper stuff was described as extremely narrow, and if it was to be paddled it would have to be at a low flow. So Keith and co. decided that it would be the bottom two thirds of the canyon that would be the go... and go it did!

We would use the trail to Cedar Flats Hut to access the slip,
and then went down the slip down to the gorge rim.

Rallying out from Hokitika was yet another big crew, Barny Young, Keith Riley, Justin Venable, Kev England, Zak Shaw, Daan Jimmink, Jess Matheson and Myself. A great crew, perfect weather and what would turn out to be a perfect flow!

Even says there is kayaking up there. (p. Jordy)

The blue-bird is dead. Now it's the time of the
Lancaster... (p. Jordy)

One of the beauty's of this run was that no helicopter was required, although it would of reduced our walk from a fairly arduous 3 1/2 hours to a downhill 45minutes. Barny and I figured shouldering the boats would be the way to go, but I think next time I will use my RGC carry-system as I was hurting by the time I got to the slip. The hike follows the Cedar Flats Hut trail, initially through some bush, then along the river bed and then it gets serious. A steep hill-climb before you drop back down and then it keeps going up and up and up! There a re hydrating creek about 10minutes before you reach the large slip that is unmistakable. From hear head down, to the right, in the bush, to the right, lower boats, lower boats, on to an older slip, back to the left a little, and then emerge out of the bush to see one of the most spectacular waterfalls you'll ever see.

Barny helping the old fella through the walk (p. Jordy)

GWAT making it happen! (p. Jordy)

Zak hiding in the bushes taking photos (p. Zak Shaw)

Only for a moment did the bush open up and let us see
just how epic the canyon was (p. Jordy)

Picking a route down the slip was a bit harder
than normal... (p. Jordy)

The boys just about to make their descent into
the Toaroha Canyon (p. Jordy)

Kev soaking it all in (p. Barny)

JV after the first push, still a long way to go (p. Jordy)

Zak lowering his boat in the
dense bush (p. Barny)

Kev, JV and Me in awe (p. Zak Shaw)

Once we had arrived at the falls there was a feeling of achievement, but also a very real feeling of what we were about to commit to. Fired up to check out the falls I promptly got changed and seal launched into the large pool, followed by Keith, Kev, JV and Barny. After scaling the large rock wall I found the falls wasn't as straight forward as first thought, with the lead in being very pushy, it dropped through a slot and then ramped up on the right before plummeting 50 or more feet into the pool. After a good 20 or so minutes of deliberation none of us had the grit to sack-up. Keith said at their low flow it had a uniform lip, so maybe at a lower flow it might go? We'll see. After this we set off on what I can confidently say is a new West Coast classic!

Keith and I about to climb to scout
the beast (p. Barny)

Keith paddling out of the safety of the pool (p. Zak Shaw)

There is a relatively blind corner between the drop
Keith is running and this one, but its all good!
(p. Daan Jimmink)

The same drop from down-stream, the boys
lining up for their turn (p. Jordy)

Boxed in, JV appreciating the view.
(p. Jordy)

A very isolated drop came next, drive hard right
then charge. (p. Jordy)

Zak and Barny locked in (p. Jordy)

Zak's view from downstream of the two above
drops (p. Zak Shaw)

Daan and I, coming through (p. Zak Shaw)

This is right around the corner and has
a very big recirc (p. Jordy)

The breaks in the canyon only remind you
how high the walls really are (p. Jordy)

Safety first - Kev England (p. Jordy)

Pristine and untoched West Coast beauty
(p. Barny)

Upstream of this we made our only portage
(p. Zak Shaw)

Seal launch straight into this (p. Barny)

Daan's perspective of the same drop
(p. Daan Jimmick)

Kev back in action (p. Jordy)

One of the longer sections of white-water we
ran (p. Daan Jimmink)

Zak charging towards something, too
much to remember in there (p. Barny)

Keith caught at it again, unlocking some
more West Coast goods (p. Barny)

Another long section thats all good
(p. Barny)

Toaroha Canyon (p. Jordy)

Daan first to fire " ", oh yeah we didnt
name anything (p. Barny)

Barny was next to fire (p. Zak Shaw)

Me next, but just after this I flipped and plugged
the hole upside down! (p. Zak Shaw)

Then down into another boxed section (p. Barny)

JV (p. Barny)

Keith Riley coming through with probably
the best line of the crew (p. Zak Shaw)

There was actually quite a bit between the
last shot and this, but we were mobbing
not taking photos. Barny on the one above
the final drop (p. Zak Shaw)

Daangerous on 'the boof to freedom' (p. Jordy)

Me running the last drop (p. Barny)

and down the pool to the final
25 footer... golden!
(p. Barny)

Despite the long walk in, which isnt too long anyway, this run is going to be classic. I know that pretty much everyone in the crew cant wait to get back in there. The flow we had was probably a good medium, with room to move either way. Well there it is, the big T has been knocked off. First Descent of the Toaroha Canyon: Barny Young, Daan Jimmink, Jordy Searle, Justin Venable, Keith Riley and Kev England Zak Shaw. YEAH!!!


Lawrance Simpson said...

Looks so good bro!

Lawrance Simpson said...

Looks so good bro!

Andy England said...

well done boys. keep them coming

chrsk said...

You guys are sick. Fuckin A-Team, nice work.

Blair Trotman said...

Epic bro!! That looks so sick!
Solid mission, good shit!!!