April 11, 2014


Antarctica. Two and a half months, 14 voyages, 154 excursions and one minor sea sickness episode later (don't eat curried chicken if you're feeling below par)....

A season spent south.

Some of the largest birds on the planet escort us as we sail south to begin our season

Appearances can be a little deceiving.
Gale force wind's make life hard for the snow shoeing team 
Christmas Day at work. Nice!
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

We can hear it but we can't see it.
The kayak team try to track down an elusive Minke Whale

Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

Mega fauna having a mega meal.
A young humpback whale lunge feeds on balls of krill 

The mighty Ocean Nova picks it's way through ice floes in Penola Straight. 
A cold day at work. -6 is a little rough on the hands.
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev
Same same but different. KAVU day in the Penola Straight

Perpetual motion. Chinstrap penguins make the most of the short Antarctic summer
Game face.
Moving sea ice near the Weddell sea makes for a dynamic environment.
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

Can't find a good anchorage? No worries, Captain Petersen parks the Ocean Nova in the ice. 

Early morning traffic at Baily Head, Deception Island

Continental Antarctica. Portal Point
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

Warp speed in the OCN (10knots) as we make our way through the Lemaire Channel. 

Adelie penguins cruise the edge of the pack ice

All hands on ice. The team off to visit a VIP visitor
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

An extremely rare siting of a Ross Seal in Lallemand Fjord. Jackpot!

Krill, breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

GoPro 3 + kite = a new perspective on Antarctica
Flat out!
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

Guided wanderings. Penguin tracks left in the ice
A local Minke checking to see that the kayaks are stowed correctly
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

Summer is on it's way. Penola sea ice breaking up

Perhaps my favourite bird species in the south. Light Mantled
Sootie Albatros. Awesome!
Just like the A Team only colder... and no Mr T.
Photo: Ruslan Eliseev

Sun Dog at 65 South

Additional images supplied by Ruslan Eliseev

November 29, 2013

Norway - a beginners guide

Recently I managed to break my seasonal routine somewhat and headed to Scandinavia for my first Norwegian paddling season. What followed were three months of fantastic adventures on and off the water.

Here are a few observations after three months with the Viking nations:
Paddling in New Zealand (or California for that matter) you become accustomed to paddling steeper, low volume kayak runs with plenty of objective danger. Things like sieves (natures versions of a colander/ paster strainer), trees, inescapable gorges and the occasional West Coast/ American redneck. Norway is pretty much the same… except the rivers all have 10 times the flow. 

The paddling is pushy, intimidating and literally in your face. The water is everywhere. As a result, I only saw half of the paddling I actually did. This rest of the time was spent under water or recovering from water being injected behind my eyeballs. Strange, but true. 

Fun boof with a bad history.  Ridderspringet section of the Sjoa. 

Racing for glory on the Brandseth. Ekstremsport Veko, Voss

When things were going well...

And then the wheels fell off... About to be surfed in the bottom hole. Bugger!

Jamie Sutton almost had time to take this shot even though he was in my heat. That fast!

Norwegian rivers are full on.

Case and point, the Lower Rauma River. I had heard plenty of tales of the run and my staunch countrymen (The Suttons, Brendan et al) and they assured me it was the one run I absolutely had to do.

Fast forward to my first run and a very healthy 55 cumecs (a lot of CFS).
On inspection, everything went. The lines were good, the run out was good. It was just super burley.

Perhaps my peak moment was sitting in the eddy above the ferry glide that lead into rapid number three (can you guess which rapid it is?). Between me, and my line on river left lay a freight train of water leading exactly where I didn’t want to go. Brendan and Heavy Sevy were already waiting at the bottom having just paddled down. I hadn’t seen either of them paddle the lead in because I one of the more intimidating rapids I’ve paddled in a long time.

Number three on the Lower Rauma. Big ferry glide, run left and then hold on for the ride

Brendan Bayly laying down a smooth finish on the Big Slide, Lower Rauma.

Aside from your regular kayaking gear you’ll need to pack additional fleece/ thermals. Not just one or two extra items, but every item you’ve owned, ever.  Reason being, it’s either wet or cold or probably both at the same time. I say this even after a very mild summer in the Sjoa River area.

Coming from New Zealand I’m accustomed to rain, being wet and all other things associated with it. Norway is next level. Our season began with two weeks non-stop rain. This is fine if you live in a house and have all the modern conveniences such as driers, porches or even a clothesline or any shelter to speak of. Not in Norway. We had a very traditional hut with traditional features such as no water, no toilet, no kitchen (two hot plates don’t count) and nowhere to dry your wet paddling kit.  Very quickly I worked my way through all my dry kit, damp kit and then growing mould kit because it was just wet enough all the time.

A few more observations:
You’ll need to either get a mortgage or to be heir to some oil fortune
You won’t need a beer fridge for two reasons. First, you won’t be able to afford to buy beer. My season record for 1 beer was $72 NOK or $NZ14. Needless to say a Norwegian hangover is full of physical (normal) and financial regret. Secondly, if you can actually afford beer, you just leave it outside.
Norwegian petrol is the most expensive in the world.
That being said, it takes a long time to use the gas you have. The speed limit is 80km/hr for pretty much the entire country. This means that you’re fuel economy goes through the roof. The downside being, you travel around the country at a glacial pace.

Skull vs Skål

An important distinction to make is as follows
Skål (cheers, clink glasses, sip your beer) and skull (cheers, clink glasses and see you at the bottom). Josh Neilson recalled me his first encounter with this. After finishing paddling for the day, their Norwegian acquaintance offered the kiwis a beer (a grand gesture considering the cost of a beer) and ‘skolled’ the group. At which point Mr Neilson did what all non Norwegian beers drinkers would do. He finished his beer on the spot much to the dismay of the Norwegian boater.

Kayakers are more responsible.

Go to any Norwegian bar on Friday or Saturday and the kayakers will be the least drunk. Norwegians are the ultimate binge drinkers. They won’t touch a drop of alcohol during the week. Come the weekend they make up for lost time. Never had I seen so many people barley able to stand up in one place. Maggot drunk!
If Chuck Norris was Norwegian he would still send a J in every text message. This can be said of all the Scandinavian countries. There seems to be a morbid fear that someone will misunderstand the implied tone of the message.

Things you won’t need in Norway

Sunscreen. Even if it’s sunny you’ll be covered in every fleece/ thermal item you own to ward of the arctic chill.
A paddlock for your bike. Norwegians are perhaps the most law abiding country on earth. Want to use a bike for your shuttle. Just leave it on the side of the road. No worries.
Police. See above. In almost three months in Sjoa Valley I saw two police cars.
Currency converter on your phone/ipod. It’s best you don’t work out what you’re actually spending.
A centre line on the road. It would seem there is some interpretation rule known only by local drivers. Left, right, it doesn’t matter. Just swerve out of the way at the last minute.

Things that will help your trip

Your Balls or Tits depending on your gender. If you’re going to make the most of the paddling on offer then it’s going to be staunch.

Combining guide book information. There are some sweet guides out but it worked best when combining info from the German guide and the ultra information intensive …… PDF guide.

Local knowledge on the ground. A perfect example of this is the German guide recommends 8-16 cumecs on the Lower Rauma. Whereas it’s actual optimal (and safer) flow is closer 50 cumecs.

A Stat Oil Service Station cup. For $200NOK you get free coffee, hot chocolate, or what ever for an entire year. Perhaps the only bargin in Norway. That and the hotdogs

Free food. Yep, some super markets will give you any food that is out of date. It sounds ghetto but is actually just awesome. I doubt I’ll meet a kayaker who’ll turn down a $20 steak because it expired yesterday.

August 28, 2013

California 2013

Fantasy Falls

In the interests of mixing things up (following a hot Dane to Norway) my Cali season was nothing more than a flying visit.

I only had a week free to get my annual fix in the high Sierra’s. An average winter left a minimal snow pack. With little snow comes little water and typically a short paddling season.

I was fortunate enough to time the ever-famous South Silver and teamed up with some of the Kiwi-Cali contingent and scored a few hot laps in the sun.

Its been 10 years since I first ran the South Silver and the stoke was still as strong.

Having limited boating leading into the Northern Hemisphere summer my hearth rate was sufficiently high dropping into the crux rapid, Sky Scrapper.

The view from the top. Skyscraper 

'Fuck you hole' just above Plastic Surgery
A subtle change for the season was being with out my camera. It would seem a few years of abuse had taken its toll so my 7D spent its season in a repair shop in Sacramento. Not to worry, with a new GoPro 3 in hand I was only a screen shot away from a few river moments in time.

With a few additional laps California’s Salmon River we sat down to plan our trip into Fantasy Falls. After the usual preparation and speculation on flows, shuttle, gear etc our plan we set. Josh Neilson was in touch with teams who had just taken off. Wake early, drive to takeout and drop a vehicle. Drive to put in and get going. A less than ideal weather forecast had us to-ing and fro-ing for a while but optimism won out and it was decided. A low water Fanatsy Falls.

May 15, 2013

Last year I watched a very good friend almost drown while running the ever popular Cherry Bomb gorge on California's Upper Cherry Creek. With the Northern summer in full swing it seemed fitting. Know your limitations. I wrote this shortly after the dust settled...

I quickly packed the essentials into my watershed dry bag. Canon 7d and lens, spare battery and SD cards, sunscreen, first aid kit, filter drink bottle…. What else? Snacks? It should be a quick lap for the team… it can’t hurt. I turned to leave and saw the new SPOT device I had bought two days previous. “I won’t need it, camp is only 10mins away and the boys are doing a quick lap” I was in a hurry because the team had left 45mins earlier to hike back to the boats at the entrance to Cherry Bomb gorge. “Nah, I’ve got it, take it”. Sidelined through injury I had taken on the role as team sherper and photo guy.

I took my position on the photographer’s ledge, river left at the bottom of Cherry Bomb gorge. Lars Lämmler joined me as we waited for the team to scout Cherry Bomb Falls and the remaining gorge.

Sam Roil disappeared from the scouting party. I knew he was fired up to run Cherry Bomb and would probably go first. Lars and I watched the reactions of the team to gauge Sam’s progress through the lead in. Out of the mist Sam appeared, online, stomped his line off the falls, squared up for the weir and punched through. Sweet, the probe was through and the line was good. The job is only half done after Cherry Bomb [falls] as the weir can prove the real crux.

Sam Roil stomping the line 

Jake Greenbaum caught Lars and I by surprise as he routed a second sweet line off the fall and through weir. We had talked to the team about giving us signal when folk were coming but it was clear they had forgotten with the excitement of it all.  
Shit happening
We watched and waited for what seemed like an eternity for the next paddler to go. There was the flash of a red boat and a dark helmet off the drop and then into a huge rock splat against the wall at the bottom, and then nothing.
“Who was the that?” Lars asked, “fuck, I think it was Farkas and he went into the pothole” He looked too far left. We both knew he was stuck in the pothole and wasn’t coming out.
After what seemed like an age, his capsized boat washed slowly around the corner and over the weir. “Fuck”, this is going to be a nightmare to sort out. “There he is” said Lars, I was relieved because I knew that he was out of the pocket and he probably sub out through the weir and then swim to river right.
It looked like Dave tried to jump off the bottom and clear the recirculation from the weir. He disappeared into the weir and then nothing... nothing. “Where is he?” asked Lars, “I don’t know”.

Dave dropping the weir minus a kayak
“He’s up, river left in the pocket…fuck, he’s not coming out. Dave was held solid in the holes backwash and wasn’t able to escape. He was immediately clear he was stuck.
Unknown to me, Sam had somehow managed to get out of his boat, which was no small feat (thankfully he had borrowed Dave’s spare 5.10’s at the trailhead).
Sam ran back up stream on river right bank. I could see in his hand a throw bag. “Sweet, Sam’s got a bag”.
It was frustrating to watch all this unfold and not be able to do anything about it.
Sam fired off a good throw and then… nothing. Dave was too far away. Sam recoiled and tried again but the result was the same.

Sam (Roil) trying in vein to get a rope to Dave
I had a rising sense of panic. Dave had been getting recirculated for over a minute on top of the time he had spent trapped in the pocket. Exhaustion was becoming a real risk. A strange thought crossed my mind. Of almost everyone I knew he was strong, fit and best suited to handle the beating that was being handed down.
It was now very clear he wasn’t coming out of there on his own.  
Someone needed to run the drop and try and paddle him out. A stressful, yet necessary option as the same outcome was a very real possibility.
By now Lars and I were in a state of semi-controlled panic. We both knew that we could watch our friend drown in that weir.
Someone needed to run the drop and help Dave. It needed to happen now.
The body language from the scouting team signalled that someone was dropping in.
“Who’s that? Is that Hunt” We watched as the paddler stomped the line off Cherry Bomb. “It’s Hunt!” He then dropped into the weir and surfed it across to Dave’s position on river left. A very bold and skilful manoeuvre. Somehow he managed to get to Dave and he could hold onto the front of his boat, turn and paddle out of the hole. It is one of the best rescues I’ve seen in over a decade of paddling hard water.

Hunt Jennings dropping in and saving the day
Sam was ready on the river right bank with a throw bag to assist. It was obvious that Dave was completely spent. Hunt caught the eddy on the right next to Sam but Dave was unable to hold on. He was now on river left in the main flow and in danger of being swept over the next drop. Below lay another pothole that would have surely finished him off.
Sam got the throw bag to Dave and pendulumed him to the right. His legs were hanging over the drop right above the pothole.
I climbed up from ledge to get a better view of the proceedings upstream. I was relieved that Dave was now safe. Sam had pulled Dave onto the bank.
At that distance (perhaps 300m) it was hard to see what was happening. They seemed to hunched over Dave and… “Fuck, Lars, they’re doing CPR”.
This doesn’t make sense, I just saw Sam bag Dave to the side. He had to be conscious, breathing, alive to hold the rope.

No close-up necessary. The team working on Dave
Running up the granite bank I stopped dead. I was watching one of my best mates die. I was watching Dave Farkas die.  
What do I need to do? What can I do? Focus. Fuck, they’re doing CPR. I knew straight away that his chance or survival was slim. All those days stuck in first aid classes told me this. We needed an AED.
What can I do? SPOT, fire the spot. Get a helicopter. I knew it would take too long to help Dave right now but irrespective of the outcome, we were going to need outside help.
Watching CPR performed on a close friend is a horrible experience. It all seemed a little surreal. It was Dave, he was solid, it was Cherry Bomb. It gets run all the time. How could this be happening?
I ran down and retrieved the SPOT from my dry bag, turned it on and hit the SOS button. I also activated the personalised message button that informed my assigned contacts that “we are in the shit and need a hand sorting it out”.
In the midst of all this I paused before hitting the ‘help’ button. I had a moment of indecision. Why? We obviously needed help. Egotism? We should be able to handle this (which we clearly couldn’t). Fear of getting in trouble? We had done nothing wrong. Cost? Not really an issue at that point. The overwhelming nature of it all?
I turned and looked back up stream to see Sam and Hunt still doing CPR. Sam stood up and signalled me with a ‘lasso’ motion above his head. Get a helicopter. This was happening. 

I looked at Lars, “this can’t be happening” and he replied, “I don’t want to watch someone die”.
Lars and I continued watch as Sam and Hunt worked on Dave. I kept telling myself, “it’s Dave, he’ll be fine”.
To my surprise I saw Sam stand up and put his hand top of his head. “OK”, he just signalled OK,”Lars he’s OK, Sam just said OK. A sense of immense relief rushed over me.
I took stock of our situation. Dave, Sam and Hunt were in the heart of the gorge. Dave’s boat and paddle were down stream.
Cancelling the Helicopter crossed my mind now that Dave was conscious. However, having just received CPR meant that he probably wasn’t in a good state. He probably had broken or bruised ribs. He may also be at risk of secondary drowning. More practically, he was in an inescapable gorge with out any gear.
I walked up stream in attempt to close the distance between Sam and myself. Still, at my closest point only the most basic signalled worked. Yes, Dave was ok. Yes, I had called for a helicopter. Anything more than that was too complex. I walked to the top of the dome on river left and down climbed as much as I dared and still couldn’t get close enough to communicate effectively.

As I walked back down I quickly did the math. I had to assume that a helicopter wouldn’t turn up. It’s a very powerless feeling after hitting the ‘help’ button. Was it heard? Will help come? Will it be a helicopter? How long will it take?
Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
I sized up the vertical granite wall on river right. I estimated it would take at least 8-10 throw bags to lower a boat and paddle into where they were. Assuming everyone in the scout group had a bag, we still only had six. This wasn’t an option.
I thought about putting a skirt on a boat and sending it down Cherry Bomb Falls. It would probably just end up in the pocket. Seal launch a boat from river left. No, it was about 100m+ drop into river and there was still no guarantee. Swimming out was not an option for him.
There was no other option; we had to wait for outside help.
Some of the team from the scout had now run Cherry bomb and joined Dave, Sam and Hunt in the gorge. From here a messenger(s) paddled down to Lars and I. “Dave’s ok, but he has broken ribs and isn’t doing too good”.
We now had four people at the bottom of the gorge not including me. It was tempting to get caught up and involved with proceedings, but as Mick Hopkinson had once told me, “leave the brains on the bank”. I had the best over all picture and was most central to communication and information.
A few things needed to happen. Jake had retrieved Dave’s paddle but his boat was still in a sieve. More importantly, if Dave was going to remain in the gorge, he would need over night gear.
Lars and Jake managed to retrieve Dave’s boat with a little brute strength and Swiss cunning.
Talking with Lars, Ryan Lucas and Jake, we decided they should paddle out and raise the alarm. We needed a contingency plan in case the SAR team didn’t show up.
We took a minute to acknowledged that the rescue wasn’t time critical now. Racing the clock could lead to someone else getting injured or worse. No point in making the situation worse.
With that, the boys paddled to camp, packed their boats and headed down stream.
I took time to identify what I thought would be the best landing site and marked out a large X with rocks. I scraped out a large SOS in a sand deposit near by. I was pretty certain the helicopter would have the GPS coordinates from my SPOT message but having a plan B wouldn’t hurt.
Chris Madden and his team arrived. They had seen to commotion from up-stream and he walked over the dome to find out what was happening. We talked about getting Dave what he needed for a night in the gorge. Chris ran down to our camp at Flintstone’s and packed a therma-rest, sleeping bag, food etc. From there he headed back over the dome to the gorge entrance. His plan was to find someone to run Cherry Bomb gorge with him and take Dave the over night gear..
Four hours in the Californian sun was starting to take its toll. Sunburn and dehydration were starting to become more than just an inconvenience for me. I made the call to run down to camp and restock on water, food and warm gear in case things dragged out. In my haste I had a run with a young rattlesnake and almost became the second casualty of the day.
I had just returned from camp as I heard the very welcome thwack of an approaching helicopter.
As soon the helicopter circled and made its final approach, I sent an ‘OK’ message out on my SPOT. The idea being that they my SPOT contacts would figure out help had arrived and that they could relax a little.
Resisting the adrenaline of the situation I waited for the SAR team to shut down and approach us. I briefed the team leader with what I knew and the timeline of events. Victim recirced, pulled to side, CPR, recovered, potential broken ribs and patient was stable.
The SAR team took about 10 minutes to set their gear up and then flew up stream to Dave.

Tuolumne County SAR about to swing into action 
While the SAR team landed and prepped, Chris Madden had run Cherry Bomb with a team and dropped the gear off. They were unaware that the helicopter had arrived. Some miscommunication ensued. Sam was informed that he was needed down stream. The outcome of this was that Dave was left on his own, not that this was an issue by now.
The skill of the pilot was quite amazing. There was a steady wind blowing upstream through the gorge. Couple that with very limited space and it made for what should have been much harder flying.

A seemingly impossible situation

Made possible by some incredible flying

After some careful manoeuvring the helicopter dropped off the paramedic with the basket and left. The idea being that the paramedic had time to do an assessment on Dave and then secure him in the basket for the ride out.
Picking the paramedic and Dave up proved more difficult. Best of the steepness of the gorge, the pilot was unable to fly directly above them. He was restricted to the middle of the gorge. As a result to rescue strop (rope) hung out of reach above the river. The pilot flew as close as he dared to the wall but the down draft from the rotors prevented the paramedic from reaching the rope.
Realising that this strategy wasn’t going to work, the pilot started moving the machine subtly from side to side. Eventually he was able to swing the strop to the paramedic. From there it was simple. The basket was connected and Dave was flown out of Cherry Bomb gorge as one happy and relieved man.
Homeward bound

When all parties were back on the ground Dave, Sam and I gave the Sherriff a full run down on the sequence of events. They wanted to fly Dave out but Dave wasn’t interested. They did one more medical assessment and then some mandatory paperwork.
Hands were shaken, thanks were given and the team reunited.  With that, the SAR team packed their gear and headed for home.

The heartfelt thank you and good-bye

Thoughts and learnings from the Farkas debacle

Get a SPOT and buy the additional GEOS Search and Rescue upgrade. US$100 000 cover for US$12.95 a year. You’re a fool not to.

I made the mistake of putting my next of kin as the contact on SPOT. This meant that my Mum (in New Zealand) and my girlfriend (in Denmark) were contacted by SAR asking for details on our trip/ rescue. Neither could offer any usable information and were un-necessarily stressed.

A better option would have been to have a local (same time zone) contact that actually had knowledge of what we were doing and where we were going. If it had been anyone of my kayaking friends they could have looked at the GPS co-ordinates, worked out we were at Cherry Bomb gorge and given the SAR team far more accurate information and insight.

Get old school, leave an intentions form with the contact. Where are we going, with who, etc.

I strongly believe that of most of my kayaking crew (myself included) would have drowned in that situation. Dave is one of the fittest and strongest people I know. Match your fitness (not just skills) to the environment. He swum for his life and only just escaped with it.

Run in teams/ pairs. It’s a no brainer. Dave ran solo and only lived because Hunter dropped in and rescued him. In saying this, I do acknowledge that class 5 is class 5 for a reason. A lot of the time you are essentially out there on your own even when you are paddling with a team.

Even if you’re doing ‘hot laps’ on a rapid/ section, take some additional gear. We were caught short. The kayak team didn’t have extra warm gear or food. 

Shit happens. Having a solid team with the skills to match can make all the difference. 

A big mention has to go out to Sam, Jake, Hunt and all the team that helped sort things out. Legends!

Sam Roil winding down post drama