Going to get help does not always have immediate benefits for your fellow travellers

Everyone is familiar with the 1-2 person hiking tents. Yes you can squeeze two people into them and the comfort level is directly proportional to the size of those people – ie the smaller the people, the more comfortable. Three people is possible but extremely uncomfortable and the only way to do 4 – when two are stocky 6 foot plus males is to utilise the vertical option. Add to that camping next to a flood swollen glacial river in the pouring rain with the only road 20+km paddle away when you only managed <2km the day before and sleep is not the most obvious thing to do.

How did this happen – well there we were with 8 of us Uni students on a kayaking trip to NZ and we met up with an American who we agreed to let join our party of paddling the Landsborough river. Now being at the age and stage we were (well to be honest not me – I think a lot of testosterone was involved and obviously that could not have been me), the obvious thing to do on such a trip is to paddle the hardest thing possible. So if there is a really cool river that is only accessible by helicopter, then of course you should helicopter in to it with your kayaks and all your paddling gear. Then if it turns out that the hardest rapid is only accessible if you convince the helicopter to illegally drop you further upstream in the National Park then...

So there we were on a beautiful summer’s day, with all our boats and paddling gear in a remote part of the NZ west coast in a National Park, having just helicoptered in, cooking our dinner, admiring the magnificent mountains surrounding us. We set up our 3 tents (3 mind you) for the now 9 of us and slept thinking of the excitement of the following day. THEN it began to rain and rain and rain. If you are familiar with NZ, you will know that it doesn’t take much rain to make a river rise by one metre and it doesn’t take much more to make a river reach flood proportions.

Thus it was that the next morning we awoke to a raging torrent quite dissimilar to the more paddlable river we had camped next to the night before. What did we do then – why spend the next 4-5 hours portaging – ie paddling a bit, carrying a bit, paddling a bit, carrying a bit more – all our stuff around the rapid that we had negotiated and paid the helicopter to lift us above.

The next rapid involved more of the same and next thing we knew, we were 8 and not 9 – what had happened to the American? Where had he gone? Obviously he had decided to paddle out alone. We held grave fears for his safety, but with our own team’s safety paramount we plodded on with our painfully slow process, til it started to snow and become dark. It was then we realised he had taken one whole tent with him and we were left with 8 people and 2 tiny tents. After much deliberation and discussion, it was decided that vertical was the only option and we cursed the entire race most of the night.

This was until sometime the next morning when we had put on our sodden clothes once more and started paddling the now even higher river. I heard a noise that could only mean one thing and all of a sudden we were dancing, singing and praising all Americans as a helicopter arrived to rescue us.

L Gates

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