Day 69 Capsizing in the Rapids
Tuesday 17 December Whakahoro to John Coull Hut Whanganui River Start 11am Finish 4pm Distance 30km canoeing approx Total 1,233km Weather moderate rain mixed with heavy rain
A breakfast of bacon and eggs on toast was the start to the day, which ended up being just as well in view of how the day panned out.
It rained a little overnight and the river was muddy and a bit high but not too bad, so the call was made that we would be on the river today.
The canoe company delivered the canoes and gave us our final briefing. Matt (Australian ) is part of our group and he is on a single kayak, and we were also joined by Yono and Fresna??(Netherlands). I'm in a canoe with Karen who is anxious about this part of the trail. After a reassuring hug we set off in the brown and slightly swirling water. I was at the back in control of direction (possibly a mistake, but I blame the canoe). We were told about 1/3 of people capsize. In view of Karen's concerns we decided it wouldn't be us.
The first few rapids went well, despite the barrels with our packs and food being poorly loaded which put us on a constant lean to the right.
The rain started to fall steadily, then progressed to a round of thunder and heavy downpours intermittently.
We then came to a rapid where a jet boat was waiting at the bottom. Unfortunately the first canoe hesitated causing the rest of us to back up, but too close to the start of the rapid to stop. Dave and Baxter veered left. Their canoe mounted a large rock and rose out of the water. I was sure they were about to get a dunking. We attempted the paddle hard to their right to avoid them, then side swiped a log and capsized.
I managed to stay with the canoe, keep hold of the paddle and carried on a floating down the river. Karen made her way to the river bank and the jet boat yelled to me that they would get her and bring her to the canoe. I managed to get me and the canoe to the bank but the jet boat couldn't land there so it was back into the water for me and I swam it to the other side.
We emptied the water with the help of the jet boat operator, checked we hadn't lost anything and carried on. As we were already soaking from the rain, the wee swim made absolutely no difference, and Karen handled it really well, appearing to gain confidence that she wouldn't drown, rather than diminish it.
Despite being wet, as long as we didn't stop paddling for long we weren't too cold. The next bit of a mishap involved another log, but this one had a large branch out the side, around about chest level.
Karen skillfully managed to avoid it, just. I wasn't quite as clever. It caught my life jacket and lifted me out of the canoe which continued without me and the branch then unceremoniously dumped me back into the water. My pride was only saved by the fact I yet again managed to hang onto the paddle , then grab the back of the canoe and guide it to the bank so I could get back on the inside. I was spending far too much time hanging onto the outside of this canoe.
The rest of the day went without incident, but we didn't stop for lunch as each time we did toilet stops everyone chilled very quickly. So it was a quick snack and then back in the boats.
Arriving at the John Coull hut a couple of hours ahead of schedule was due to the fast flow on the flooded river.
After changing into something dry we all sat under the sun umbrella in the rain, on the deck of the hut (it is a Great Walk Hut so a bit flasher than the normal huts), sharing an odd array of food. All manner of combinations were tried. The most ingenious and tasty was devised by Dave - camembert with pineapple lumps. Actually quite nice. Or maybe we are all just a little deprived (or is that depraved) after a couple of months on the trail.
Since we arrived at the hut it has continued rain heavily and the river has steadily risen. The canoes which we thought we had pulled high above the water have had to be moved. More rain is forecast overnight. We will see in the morning if we can continue or have to remain another day. There is a hut warden who makes the call.
Below are photos of the same part of the river as seen from the hut, over a period of about 3 hours. The log at the bottom of the picture shows the rising level of the river.
To top off the day we have just been watching 4 or 5 long tailed native bats fly around.
I know it was a very wet day, but OMG it was exciting and I loved it. One of those days where memories are made because it was challenging and out of the ordinary. We are lying in bed in the hut and Karen has just commented it was a great day - we got a bath and a shower for free! I add to that that my legs and feet feel so good, albeit my arms and shoulders have paid the price and will no doubt remind me in the morning that maybe I would prefer to be walking.