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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sleeping God Canyon



The Sleeping God Canyon - a valley in the Coromandel Ranges cut deep and steep - and you'd never know that it was right under you nose along Auckland's favourite easy tramp to the Pinnacles Hut. 

With friends Owen Lee and Jenny Leigh-Young, we diverted off the top of the BillyGoat trail to the put in, just half an hour's climb from the Kauaeranga carpark. No signs, no info board, no warning of the most epic adventure ahead.... as we peered our heads through the bush into the wind, the 2nd waterfall was flowing a torrent - was it too much? Could we make this? Given the incredibly steep terrain around this deeply carved out canyon, there were few chances to escape once we committed...

Are you ready?
Owen had done the canyon 4 or 5 times before, so he knew what to expect. But according to him this was the highest flow he'd seen - though not surprising considering the 50mm rain dump from the day before. The top waterfall was hugely exposed, the wind whipped spray from the freefalling water droplets back into our faces - you'd think it was raining. Meanwhile the sun was making frequent appearances amongst the clouds. Ideal conditions!

Face Shot!
The second waterfall as seen through the trees above was a giant cascade over two tiers, crashing down on slippery collumns of rock. Where Jenny is pictured is the start of the 2nd pitch of the abseil, the total of 80 metres required two rope lengths to traverse.


These first few falls seemed enormous, though it was quite easy to avoid the major sprays and keep relatively dry. We were soon realising the trend however. Each waterfall was gaining strength, funnelling harder, until we were right in it. Fluid mechanics theory anyone?

Where am I?

It just keeps going!
This was not yet the crux, but the feeling was growing, and Owen's descriptions were becoming more and more vivid... That feeling of being submerged and unable to breath, such was the volume and power of the flow pounding down on your helmet, while hanging on a finger-width of rope, the force charging your rope through your ATC with a velocity of near free fall. But getting down to the bubbling pool as fast as possible is nearly all thats on your mind in times like these! We'd abseil right in, and release the rope while swimming away from the impact zone.

Deciphering my line...
Owen, being a jack of  all trades, has a helmet for every occasion, as with every outdoor pursuit brings with it a different type of head-honing projectile to cause havoc: he chose his kayaking helmet with extra protection, Jenny took the climbing shell and I strapped on a skiing helmet. Made for the mountains, these are cunningly designed to suck in cold air from the top and channel the flow as a demister over your goggles - this worked nicely for the eternal shower I received while descending, but then there was little escape from all things wet on this trip!

Shortly before the crux, we approached a 10 metre ledge. I glanced around for an anchor, set of bolts, a chain... nothing. It was a small leap in logic, and the only hesitation was ripping out the GoPro to catch Owen  leaping off the ledge with an emphatic run-up... Next it was my turn to  feel that rush. Living in the moment!  Jenny was next with a whoop and holla! All the while, Owen's rope pack was receving much less attention. Heavy and mostly subermerged, the pack lay there floating in disguise, waiting, watching us enjoying ourselves so much. So the bag made a dash for it - straight over the next waterfall, disappearing into the pool below... 


Owen dropped to his knees and inched closer the edge trying to get and a look down. The pool was out of sight. We were only imagining the worst. The next fall was the crux - if the invaluable rope pack took one more drop, it would be gone forever, leaving us stranded with only one short rope.

Jenny clearly felt terrible, taking the full weight of the blame for tossing the sacks over the fall, assuming that Owen would collect them. Miscommunication or not, we were now faced with a tricky situation and time definitely of the essence. We formulated a quick plan, trying not to rush or make more mistakes. Outdoors training was kicking in. Owen rapped over the edge with the single rope as the clock trickled down...



As he disappeared over the edge, Jenny and I added up our meagre supplies of food and gear. A few sandwiches and chocolate together with 3 emergency blankets would have kept us alive in our 5mm wetsuits if we were faced with a forced bivoauc on the waterfall ledge. The deeply cut canyon offered few options for escape in a flash flood or situation like this. Our eyes darted to the dirt mound below, Owen was scrambling out of the water up the bank with the golden yellow pack containing our glorious lifeline! Yes!

Is the Sleeping God Canyon not epic enough without throwing your gear into the abyss?!

Owen helps Jenny up the bank, after rescuing the rope pack

Relaxing in the final pool, letting the current take me

This spanner in the works had set us back an hour, and with three abseils still to go it suddenly dawned on us that dusk was imminent. The final three turned out to be the most challenging and powerful chutes, a royal water blasting as we skimmed down twenty, thirty metres before relishing the final metre - hanging in space above the pool in a small alcove, behind the cascade's murky curtain.

It was dark as we crawled out of the last pool, a round of victorious high fives all round realising we had knocked the lot off. All that remained now was a trivial half hour stream bash along the shallows of the Atuatumoe Stream, a full moon piercing the canyon and glow-worms dimly lighting the way. 

Jenny ecstatic
Name address and contact number please.
Don't worry you're not in any trouble...

Upon reaching the carpark, we were welcomed with some interesting company after the 8 hour descent... Blinding lights emerged from the Billy Goat track, we stood our ground stunned like possums as we awaited our punishment for coming in late. Our trusty intentions holder Ian Riddick had called in at 8pm fearing for our safety, how did he know? Thanks Ian we owe you one. SAR was next in tow, glad to be turned back. 

We peeled off our dripping wetsuits while the Cops took down our details. Keen to see what they'd been called in for, we entertained the two blokes from Thames with some footage of our epic day up the Kauaeranga Valley.

However, definitely a few lessons to learn: distractions and over-excitement often lead to mistakes. Communication is vital. More buffer on the intentions in case the trip takes longer than expected - a rescue would have only been possible in the morning in any case. Best to keep the Police at home with their wives and children.

The Sleeping God Canyon - sensational, and full respect.

 AB-SAIL - THE SLEEPING GOD
Music: AWOLNation


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