Crash or collision
Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted on May 1, 2018 by Jessica
3:30pm – the three of us (Jess, Chris, Caleb) put on the upper waiua for a 3 day trip after a 3 hour one way shuttle on a gnarly 4wd track in our mini van. The weather forecast was not ominous. It predicted some rain on Monday night but nothing crazy and mostly good weather for the rest of our trip.
5:00pm – we are enjoying a lovely scenic float. Meanwhile our shuttle driver (Reid) is wrecking our van in the middle of nowhere marking the start of his own epic. Reid leaves the van because it’s undriveable and luckily catches a ride into town and then to Christchurch.
6:30pm- we arrive at our first hut for the night at a beautiful alpine lake.
7:30pm- we realize when cooking dinner that through a miscommunication, only Jess and I packed food and Caleb did not. Luckily we packed a ton of extra incase we needed to wait as a result of flooding(this should be standard protocol). However now providing food for the third member we were down to only one extra day of food.
12:00 (midnight)- a massive 7.8 earthquake hits very close to us! It was one of the craziest experiences of my life. Massive aftershocks followed for the rest of the night and morning.
At this point we are hoping that the quake didn’t make national news and our parents aren’t trying to contact us as we are on night 1 of a 3 day trip and perfectly fine, so no reason to hit our emergency beacon. Also hoping landslides aren’t blocking the river above or below us.
Well the earthquakes did make national news.. begin understandable parental panic. Throughout the next 3 days, Police were called, private investigators spoken with, vacations cut short, plane tickets booked, etc.. BRAVO parents we feel very cared for!
9:00 am- we put on crystal blue water for a truly amazing day of paddling. 3 or 4 separate gorges with super clean and fun Rapids!
1:00 pm- a second (smaller) earthquake hits while we were on the river. We didn’t feel it.
4:30 pm- we arrive at our hut for night two on a beautiful plateau above the river in an epic valley.
8:00 pm – torrential rain begins and continues for the entire night. Nothing is said until morning because we all know the river will be too high.
9:00 am- we check the river. No effing way is the general consensus, knowing the paddling downstream condenses the flow into tight narrow gorges. We decide taking a day to wait for the river to come down is the best use of our extra day of food and that more rain of that magnitude is unlikely according to our 2 day old forecast. At this point we could have decided to leave our gear and begin the 30 km hike out that would have taken us two days. Knowing that there is mostly one gorge of consequence (the narrows) downstream and Mostly class 2 runout after that we decide that just portaging the narrows and floating out the next day is our best option. We had an excellent sunny rest day.
Meanwhile, Reid (the shuttle driver) is busy at work buying the parts needed to fix our van (a radiator and fluid) because it can’t be towed from where it is due to the earthquakes. Reid somehow fixes the van and drives it back to the takeout. Worried about the rain and the earthquakes, Reid notifies the police that we are in the waiua canyon and are due to be out that evening. Obviously we don’t make it out that evening. But are still just fine with no reason to activate our rescue beacon.
5:00 am – we wake up to more torrential rain.
7:00 am – we wake up and decide to get an early start to try to stay ahead of any swelling the new rain would cause.
8:00 am – we put on the river. It has dropped 3 ft from our mark the day before but is still visibly very high and brown.
9:00 am – after an hour of super fun big water waves we arrive at the narrows and begin scouting. It is immediately obvious Jess will need to do a significant amount of portaging (we expected this and were ready to help)
11:00 am- after hours of scouting and portaging, Jess waits at the end of the crux Rapids in the narrows for Caleb and I to paddle down. At this time a helicopter flies over and we all 3 individually, give it the (we are ok) sign. The copter lands anyway and talks to Caleb as Jess and I are on the other side of the raging river. The helicopter was sent as search and rescue after we were overdue 1 day and informed Caleb that everyone’s parents and friends were concerned. The group consensus was that we did not need to be evacuated and were actually excited about the paddling to come. In retrospect this was a bad decision and we should have gotten Jess a ride out of there as she was in over her head with the water being so high. Hindsight is 20/20…
11:30am- Caleb and I run the entrance to the narrows and quickly realize it is deceivingly flippy in there. Huge boils surging and disappearing, massive seams, holes, waves, and unpredictable current. We meet back up with Jess.
12:30pm- after lunch and a little pep talk we launch into the narrows keeping close to Jess. This was good because Jess flipped very shortly after and had a pretty crazy swim. We chose to focus all efforts on getting Jess onto shore which involved her hanging onto Caleb’s canoe for half a kilometer until the cliff walls widened and an eddy was found. The boat kept going and In a split second I decided not to chase it downstream, to keep the group together, and that we would be getting Jess a helicopter out.
1:00pm – kicking ourselves for not taking the first ride offered to us, we activate the beacon and wait for a helicopter.
2:00 pm- a helicopter arrives, we had heard them in the distance for a while, the cliff walls made the gps pinpoint pretty vague and I guess the police and search and rescue hadn’t communicated about us being on the river. Nonetheless they found us and winched jess out and dropped her off 300 meters downstream where they could land and we could paddle down and all discuss logistics. They even came back to spot us while we paddled down. A pretty cool feeling paddling through a tight gorge with a helicopter just overhead! The helicopter landed and we decided that Jess would head out and Caleb and I would finish the run (this decision was largely due to their inability to take our boats with them.)
3:00pm- Jess flys off and Caleb and I put on for some pretty epic big water fun! The helicopter crew spots Jess’ boat on the river downstream, lands in the shallow part of the river, drains it, and fits it in the helicopter!!!
Words of wisdom
The group consensus was that we did not need to be evacuated and were actually excited about the paddling to come. In retrospect this was a bad decision and we should have gotten Jess a ride out of there as she was in over her head with the water being so high. Hindsight is 20/20.
Thank you note
Thank you ACR!
Christchurch, New Zealand
Local Search and Rescue
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