Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Part 1 of 2: First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu - Papua New Guinea.

So after what I would call a pretty smooth start to the trip it was time to make our way to Kundiawa and begin the meat of our expedition. Our first hurdle was a small one, where exactly was Gom Yomba Guesthouse. We arrived in Kundiawa late afternoon and absorbed the always unsettling feeling of being the new 'whiteys' in town. Don't get me wrong we were almost always warmly welcomed into areas we went, but there is always a certain amount of apprehension in the local community when it comes to white people being there and when you roll into a 'city' like Kundiawa it is impossible to get across the message that we're just some kiwi's trying to go for a paddle, that is all! We grabbed some supplies from the supermarket, there is a very limited selection in Kundiawa's supermarket, and then Barny and I jogged our memories while we drove around the back-roads of Kundiawa looking for our safe and warm place to sleep. Fortunately we worked it out, more like stumbled upon, and were soon unpacking our gear and relaxing. Well, relaxing as much as you do in PNG. After hanging out our gear we were reminded that we were idiots, and then moved all our gear to a secluded clothes line where people passing by couldn't see it. We then introduced ourselves to the other occupants of the guesthouse, which were a group of hand-selected anti-corruption police officers that were carrying out an investigation in the neighbouring province of Giwaka. To top this off, they were staying in Kundiawa so there was LESS chance of retribution attacks from the 'won-toks' (like an extended family that you're obligated to) of those being investigated and those arrested. Less likely, but they still slept with their machine-guns in their rooms. We had other things to think of so set to the task of feeding our growling stomachs and making sure we got our gear sorted before getting as much sleep as possible, tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Casual waiting to leave the guesthouse

Local kids are awesome!

Woken up by the infuriating crow of roosters, you never become accustomed to it while you're there, we quickly had some breakfast and loaded the truck. Food, paddling & camping gear and bottled water... keeping it simple. I jokingly told the cops that were also staying at the guesthouse that if we were not back in like 5 days to come up the Chimbu guns 'a' blazing, and Mattieu quiet seriously assured me that they would. Somewhat reassuring I guess. Our plan was to drive up the valley and let the people in the area know what our plan was, identify places where we would get out for the night and arrange a place to stay in the vicinity and also to identify places where the road intersects the river so we could let Tony, our driver, know we were okay and whether we would continue or get out. Barny and I were somewhat familiar with the road and area up to Banana Market Bridge, so we didn't take too much time to inspect the river while driving up. We did, however, notice that current road development had blasted a huge amount of rock to the exit of Sikewage Gorge. The same gorge that Barny swam and lost his kayak in last time and also the same gorge that we knew went underground at the end. We figured we had a few days paddling above this to think about first, and decided we would try inspect the gorge when we came to it since we were planning to take out and stay with the villagers above the gorge. 

Looking at the changes to the exit of Sikewage Gorge

The road is always littered with people. People walking to and from the market. People manning little stalls selling vegetables, bettle-nut (which has a doping like effect), crackers, oreos and sometimes can's of coke or even SP Beer. And in most instances, people smiling and cheering as our loaded truck bounced up the often rough 4wd road. The drive was broken up by several groups of villagers working on parts of the road that were in dire need of attention, well mostly. Two of the occasions we were stopped we were asked to pay a fee towards the work the group were doing. This wasn't something mandatory and there original request was way to much, morally more than monetary wise, so we offered them $10K and $20K ($5 and $10 NZD) respectively which they accepted happily. There was one instance, disappointingly, where some young men stopped us and demanded some money. This was obviously a bit of a have but before we could get into proper negotiations $5K passed hands, much to the dislike of an approaching elder from the area. He reiterated what we already knew, this would set a bad precedent but Tony, thinking he was taking the initiative for a good price, had made a mistake. Lesson learned and for a small price, so we carried on a bit wiser. But I must stress, pretty much everyone who seen us travelling up the Chimbu was happy to see us, waving and cheering.

Ari and myself trying to capture the awesome Sikewage Gorge

Sort of got it...

By cutting through this fellas land... angry locals they said, yeah right.

Our goal was to drive to a 'Lake', it's size and the time to get there very much unknown. You very rarely get a concise or definitive answer in PNG, but this lake really took the cake. Between 2-4 hours drive from Kundiawa, only 2 hours walk from here, only 1 hour walk from there,  its just around the corner, its like another 3 hours drive from here... You get the picture. No idea whatsoever. We trudged on, continuing our process of meet, greet and look for a place to stay etc. I guess it was about 4 or more hours into our drive we came across the stunning high-alpine settlement of Gembogl Station. This was where I thought we'd be putting on in my original planning, but the size of the river definitely encouraged us to continue up the river. The road continued, and so did we. Another road block was negotiated and then we noticed a sizable tributary branch off with much needed water. With another promise of the 'Lake' being not too far we carried on to Gembugl Bridge, just before Denglagu Mission. By this stage the river was reduced to a very small creek, still navigable but it would be some definite boat-abuse. No local information was helpful, we got told it was only like 2km to the 'Lake' but then were told it would take another hour or so to drive there, then got told it was hours away. We really wanted to put on at this lake, but also had to take into the consideration whether we would find a safe place to stay for us, our gear and even the truck. We figured we had a good chance of securing that at Gembogl Station just a few kilometres downstream, but should we go to the lake. After thinking through numerous possibilities we finally decided this would be a good place to put on our expedition. From the sounds of things the river flattened just above into a even lower volume braided section and our entire crews safety was the primary concern. So this would be it, we were putting on for the First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu.

More cutting through land and no hostility, such an amazing
river and landscape

Another land owner quite happy for us to go through his land
to put on the Chimbu River

We hastily got our gear together, as the longer you take the larger the crowd becomes, and prepared to put on the river. Toni, our driver, would see us off then drive back down to Gembogl Station and try and organise some accommodation. He had to go back through a couple of the road-blocks previously mentioned which concerned us as he would be by himself with a lot of our gear. We had other things to focus on though, uncharted class III - V in the remote Papua New Guinea Highlands. Not to mention whether we'd be accepted by the locals or not. We were optimistic and had a good feeling, so before long we pushed off the bank and set off on what would be a trip of a life time.

Colesy getting wet for the first time on the Chimbu

Things felt right, logistics were working out pretty well and more amazingly we were on the river about 5 days ahead of when I thought we would be.  The creek was very low volume but luckily it remained relatively constricted so we had use of most the water. Many of the locals who waved us off at Gembugl Bridge tried their best to keep up with our progress downstream but soon no familiar faces were there. Instead we could hear a communal cheer echoing down the valley, and once people heard it they would flock to the river. Doing anything and everything to get a view of the 'long-long (crazy) white-man'. This even drew the people away from the road-blocks which left Toni with the road to himself, so he comfortably made his way to Gembogl Station and set about finding us somewhere secure to spend the night. For us it was all warm waves and smiles, truly unbelievable. The white-water wasn't too bad either, consistent class III+ with a few harder things here and there. We took full advantage of this warm-up section, reacquainting ourselves with out kayaks and our beloved white-water. After a couple of kilometres we made it down to a small wooden foot-bridge, a good vantage point for a photo I thought.

 Cruisy but some goods for sure

Barny keeping up relations (p. Ari Walker NOT Matt Coles)

So I eddied out and walked up into a very well-kept garden and was greeted by familiar grin of Toni. He was just talking to the owner, whom ill introduce later, about accommodating us for the evening. Thing's seemed to be going well but I definitely was keen to paddle some more, even if it meant driving back to stay at this place. I asked how far was it to the Gembogl Station Bridge and they said it was about another kilometre. I had noted from the drive up the primary school right next to the main bridge in the village and thought it would be a cool place to finish the day... by stirring up all the village children. We'd get that AND a whole lot more. The boys shared my enthusiasm so we carried on down a bit further, which would turn out to be one of the highlights of the trip. 

 Colesy keen to carry on down

 Ari leading... surely not!

It's true!

We carried on, and things just got better and better. Almost immediately downstream of the bridge that large trib we seen earlier came in almost doubling the flow and the river stepped up a bit to mainly class IV. The best thing, however, would be our reception to Gembogl Station itself. I fell slightly behind with Ari as I done some filming and tried to give a kid a ride on my kayak, but when we rounded the final corner before the bridge I couldn't believe my eyes. The banks of the river were literally full of people, I am talking close to 1,000 people. The news of our presence had passed us while we stopped at the small bridge and the town was buzzing with anticipation. The school had emptied and the cheering was almost deafening. We knew there was a low log-bridge downstream and thought we'd be taking out above it, but getting caught up in the moment I thought about flipping over and floating under it then rolling up downstream. I bounced the idea off Matt who was sitting on the opposite side of the river, with a better vantage point I was hoping. He gave me a 'shrug/nod', I took this as a 'solid yes' and pulled back out into the current. Floating down children were cheering while they chased me and concerned adults urged me to come to the side. As I approached the log there was plenty of room to float under so I tucked up and flipped upside down. I gave myself plenty of time to clear the log, but just before I was about to roll I smashed into some submerged rocks. I rolled up all good and the pain in my shoulder wained to the overwhelming excitement and adoration that the locals were showering us in. Matt and Barny followed suit, both hitting the rocks but were un-phased as the whole experience was so awesome. That said, none of us were that keen on doing it again.

Ducking under the log, this is actually from the next day where we didn't
completely turn over. Didnt want to hit the rocks again!
Again the next day, still a lot of people on the banks but
nothing compared to the first day.

We had to keep our guard up though, so once we took off the river we quickly jammed our gear onto the Hilux and drove back towards to where we met Toni earlier, to the Gembogl Orphans Resource Centre. This was a facility managed by Willie and his partner Pat, which provides shelter, funding, support and anything else they could to help support the numerous orphans in the area as a result of aids. This place was beautiful, like a piece of paradise tucked up in the PNG Highlands. We were assured that our gear wouldn't be messed with and we were free to explore the area. Toni had pulled through and then some! So we hung out our gear and then spent the afternoon hanging out in probably the most relaxed fashion of the whole trip. Matt, Ari and myself walked across and hung out with some children at the neighbouring school and Barny talked the afternoon away with Willie and some other interested people. 

 Just a few of the spectators, they love New Zealand

 This hoard of children chased us for like a kilometre

 Throwing the local kids around

So we hung out our gear and then spent the afternoon hanging out in probably the most relaxed fashion of the whole trip. Matt, Ari and myself walked across and hung out with some children at the neighbouring school and Barny talked the afternoon away with Willie and some other interested people. 

 You don't need much to live and even have fun, a constant reminder while you're in
 Ari trying to make the kids laught to death?

New toy for the kids

 Stock standard tourist photo?

We were sharing a dorm-style room with some other guests, BSP (Bank of the South Pacific) rural managers, who were very interested in our impression of their area and country. All positive although we both agreed that PNG wasn't for the faint hearted. Next our dinner was served, yes served even though we repeatedly insisted on cooking but Pat (very motherly figure) wouldn't have a bar of it. The meal was great, back-country's with roast potato, rice and something else I'm pretty sure but something wasn't quite right. Where was EVERYONE else. It felt almost like eating in lunch-time detention, not another soul was even audible. So after we crushed the huge amount of food before us, Wild Bill leading the eating charge, I took the dishes with the intention of making sure I done them. I found everyone out the back it an thatched hut where they were cooking on a open fire. Much more our style, but before I would settle it I would do the dishes... Again I failed, Pat dismissing my good intentions like it wasn't even an option. So I sat down for what would be an long evening of cups of tea and talking around the open fire, only interrupted every now and again by someone 'shhhhhhhhh' ing a dog out. The dark slowly crept in and the fire eventually burnt down to an amber glow, it was time to get some much needed sleep as we were hoping to get all the way to Banana Market the next day. The boys went up to the dorm but I decided to sleep in my tent, trading the orchestra of snores for the sounds of the jungle and the calming sound of the river. 

Gembogl Orphanes Resourse Centre - an amazing place where all are welcome

Tomorrow was going to be good... 

Part Two coming soon.

Grand Canyons of the Chimbu - From New Zealand to Kundiawa

Twenty-five days after departing for Papua New Guinea we have returned unscathed, healthy and stoked with what we've achieved... the First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu. An amazing feat considering the potential pitfalls of executing such a trip, and now I will attempt to tell the tale of the second 'Gradient and Water' expedition. I think its important to start from the very beginning to paint the picture for those who do not know the history, crew and plan of the expedition. After quickly filling this little contextual void I will take you from Christchurch to Kundiawa, driving from the West Coast of New Zealand, three flights, nine hours driving into the highlands, some paddling, a little conflict and then some last minute preparation for our attempt on the Chimbu.

In 2011 Barny Young, Shannon Mast and Myself (Jordan Searle) completed the first 'Gradient and Water' kayaking expedition to Papua New Guinea. For a country with endless whitewater potential, considering topography and climate, there had been little previous whitewater exploration. We'd heard rumours of failed expedition from a UK group and a German group that achieved a few things but no one had really done PNG justice. A National Geographic funded group had a successful trip to West New Britain, an island off the coast of the PNG mainland. It was the Highlands, however, that had our attention and that was where we'd be going. Well, that's where we went after exhausting all our options in the Morobe province (3 First Descents) and had no other plausible option but to strap on the back of the truck and head into the Highlands. During this risky 2 week probe into the Highlands, we achieved great things but one thing that we didn't achieve was a descent of the Chimbu River. Our first attempt we went in haphazardly as we'd heard that some rafts had done the river in the past. This was true, sort of. A rafting attempt was foiled as the whitewater was too full on and they were eventually carried out. So after some full on paddling, brutal portaging and then arriving at another box canyon we had to hike out of the river. Broken and defeated. To make things hurt even more, we came back a few days later and committed to the Sikewage Gorge but Barny ended up swimming and losing his kayak, once again forcing us off the river and leaving a metaphorical thorn in  our sides. This thorn, however, would be the motivation for our 2013 expedition.  

 Barny coming undone in 2011

Barny routing 'Kick-Right Falls' in 2011

So when initially planning our return to Papua New Guinea I really wanted to take the original crew of Barny Young, Shannon Mast and Myself. This, unfortunately, was not to be as Shannon was unable to commit to the trip which left a big void in the team. The show had to go on, so after racking our minds for a while for who would be a suitable replacement for Shannon we extended some invitations to our good friends. And we got more than we bargained for. Matt Coles, pretty much Shannon's understudy, threw his hat in the ring almost immediately but had to wait and see when he would be beginning his helicopter license. Not too long after this I was chatting to Ari Walker about his plans and with almost not arm twisting he committed to the trip, transferring his contribution pretty much the next day. Shannon's spot was now filled and we could now move on with our planning. THEN, only days later, Matt found out he was able to start his training in October which meant he would be able to come. After a considering the logistical difference of taking another paddler we figured, 'why not'. So our team was set, 4 instead of 3 and it would be Matt and Ari's first experience of expedition kayaking. 

The original expedition team of 2011

The plan was simple. Get as far up the Chimbu River as possible/permitted and have a safe descent down through the numerous canyons to Kundiawa. Obviously there was a lot more to it than that, and that is what you're about to read.

Watching the boats be loaded, we did this for every flight.

Our team was flying out of Christchurch on May 3rd, so I made my way over a day or so earlier just to ensure everything was sorted. Barny and Ari had the same idea, so went spent the last day or so working through the last little things. Two things were off, one I had forgotten to bring the Back Country meals for the trip and where was Matt? My flat mate, Jon Slater, sorted out the forgotten meals with a same day courier and at about the time the meals arrived we received a txt from Matt... he'd been on a multi-day paddling trip on the West Coast and had just got off the river. 5pm, wet gear, 5 or so hours driving. Would he make it, we hoped so but weren't to sure. So the night before our 6am flight we went to sleep with the alarm set for 3:15am and Colesy had a long night ahead. Which he pulled off. We arrived at the airport around 3:45am and Matt was there waiting with no other than Shannon Mast, which was quite fitting. We checked in our luggage, four 32kg kayaks (full of gear) at $80 each and two bags, and we were on the mission. A flight through Brisbane, expensive food to say the least, then onto Port Moresby.

 Thankfully Slate got these too us.

Even though we knew it was coming, the heat and humidity was a shock to the system once we got off the aeroplane. Its always around 30-32 degrees celcius and 2000% percent humidity, well not that much humidity but you know what im saying. Once we arrived we were straight into it, almost getting hustled for 100Kina (about $50NZD) at the cellphone retailer and then waiting in the domestic terminal for a couple of hours.  Much to our surprise, our flight did depart on time and our boats were loaded, we were definitely watching. Our flight was good, the complementary shortbread tasted great and after the forty-five minute flight over the Owen Stanley Range we landed safely at Nadzap - Lae International Airport. A modest airport, about the same size as the Hokitika Airport, surrounded in the typical razor-wire and security guards that are uniform around most structures in PNG. Our gear all arrived, our pick-up was prompt thanks to our friend Murrey Fletcher (a bad-ass ex-pat Australian come PNG National who hooks it up) and we were soon cruising back to Lae in the all too familiar situation of sitting on the back of the truck. Its funny, it had been more than two years since our last expedition but once we were there it felt like we had never left. Almost felt as if Barny and I had just gone to pick up Ari and Matt and we were just continuing our last expedition. Just under and hour later we arrived back to Murrey's house, in the dodgy Chinatown suburb, and unloaded. Reacquainting ourselves with the 6m x 3m room that we based ourselves out of in 2011. That night someone had the typical first night in PNG freak-out in their sleep, Ari I think, but we all slept well and awoke with great enthusiasm... time to get on the mission!

Matt going into the darkess... literally.

Well that's what everyone else thought, but I knew/thought the process of lining up a vehicle would take some time so was ready to just take it easy for a few days while things work themselves out. Arriving on a Friday wasn't the best idea as it quickly became apparent that things would be much harder to work out over the weekend. We got the balling rolling though, meeting with our well connected national friend Reuben Mete. Who then introduced us to Papi, even equally or even more connect man is Lae. We chatted for a while, blew off the extortion like price that was first suggested and told Papi what we paid and done last time. He said he would sort it, so we left it at that. Nothing definitive but it is PNG. Walking home we found an actual car hire place where we got a quote, which would be good for negotiating the price of a vehicle with Papi and co. Come Monday 9am however, after a few prompting phone calls, Papi pulled through by lining us up a Hilux for a pleasing price. Not to mention, the price was set. No last minute this, or the rate is actually that. It was set. Also, Barny noticed one tyre was particularly worn and they replaced it immediately. All too good to be true, nope! By noon that day we were on our way towards Kundiawa, three days ahead of what I thought would be our schedule and with Tony, our driver for the trip. A little more timid that Graham from 2011, but Tony would turn out to be a clutch member of our expedition. With some extra time in hand I thought it would make sense to get some time on the water and there just happened to be an amazing section of river on the way, the Mai River. First though, we had about 6 or 7 hours of sitting on the back of a truck while Tony ripped along the pot-hole ridden road and even had a shower of rain to contend with. All good though, that's what an expedition is all about. 
 Loaded up and ready for the mission, picking up supplies from Food Mart.

Ari 'Beiber' Walker.

Local markets that border the road.

Matt being an ambassador.

Caught out in the rain!

We arrived to the Chuave area in the evening so decided to stay at the Tama Siane guest house, where we spent a few nights last time with John and Hanna. They were stoked to see we were back and gave us a great rate for accommodating five guys. We ate well, slept even better and were fired up to be paddling the next day. 

 - Matt woke up...

Arriving at the confluence of Koningi Creek and the Mai River, we were greeted by numerous people that remembered us being there two years earlier. Smiles and adoration, it was nice to be back. We didn't take long to get ready though, our eagerness was uncontrollable. Barny and I put on knowing what to expect, but Ari and Matt were in for a surprise. From the outset is it class IV-V with the warming cheer of children running down the river bank trying to get a peak at these 'long-long' or crazy whiteman. What a good way to prepare for the Chimbu. But Barny and myself had other things in mind. The cherry on top for the Mai River is a technical waterfall at the end of the run called 'Kick-Right Falls', aptly named by Barny after we all paddled it in 2011. Once we got down to it, however, our hears sunk a little as the lower flow meant that the line was a lot tighter AND there was now a log across the entrance that would of been submerged at a higher flow. So we all decided that it wasn't to be on this trip and decided to hike back up to the bridge, but not before running into an old friend Joseph. I'm not too sure if it the same boy, but Barny thinks is the same boy that told him, "I am your friend, please don't die" before Barny paddled Kick-Right in 2011. Anyway, Joseph set to telling us about a recent incident where 3 women accused of Sorcery were thrown from the bridge with stones attached to their ankles and then went on to point to the area that police recovered their bodies. This was okay though as he reassured us that this meant that there were no witches in the area. This is a sad reality for some places in PNG as people do not understand why young people die even though aids and other diseases are prevalent in the area, so it is blamed on sorcery which sets of a series of killings and retributions. We shock this off and had to get on with it, you've got to have a thick skin in PNG. 

Tama Siane Guest-House.


Barny and Ari relaxing.

 Morning view at Tama Siane
 Matt on the initial rapids of the Mai.

We always gather attention wherever we go.

The people of PNG live by and along the river.

A massive cylinder making some of the whitewater.

 A solitary fisherman wondering what the hell is going on.
 Typical lower Mai backdrop.

Oh Mai Mai

We walked back to the truck and began to load our gear with no real direction, and soon a small group of people around us grew into a bigger group. Then out of nowhere Joseph reluctantly said that we are required to pay a fee for experiencing the area. I took then initiative and asked who was this fee to go to, to which Joseph introduced me to a man called Hitler. I didn't want any money to pass hands as this sets a bad precedent and makes it harder for anyone else who visits the area and I needed to explain this. I done this by explaining that if this is the only river in PNG where people are charged to 'experience' it, then no one else will come there. But if we leave with a good story about the hospitality of this place, the amazing whitewater, people and scenery then more people will come and spend money in the local markets, stay in their guesthouses and even hire local guides if they are so required. Hitler, however, was insistent about the money and the group was continually growing around us. So I stepped Hitler and Joseph to the side and Barny coerced everyone else away with the idea of getting a group photo. Ari and Matt were concerned about this situation, but I felt it was under control and eventually my persistence paid off and we can to somewhat of an understanding. We gave him and his friends a ride back up to the town ship of Chuave where I reiterated to Hitler why we hadn't given any money and he was happy with that. We then carried on our way to Kundiawa, about a one hour drive, from where we would launch our assault on the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu!

Barny attempting to distract the locals at Chuave.
People just walk out of nowhere to have a yarn. 

The next post will detail from Kundiawa to Kundiawa, and our First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu. 

Gradient & Water - Back to Papua New Guinea

Well, we're back in action and are heading back to Papua New Guinea! In 2011 Barny Young, Shannon Mast and Myself completed a highly successful expedition, bagging eight First Descents but leaving some unfinished business... the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu. This river took us by surprise as we thought it had been previously been paddled by a raft in the early 90s but after reaching the first gorge below Banana Market we knew this wasn't true. A boxed in canyon with a stacked series of Class V rapids. Once we began portaging (walking or maneuvering) around this series of rapids some locals appeared out of the jungle and offered to carry our boats back up to the top, like they had with the rafts the attempted it in the past. We pushed on, leaving some paddle-able white-water for another day until the ferocity relented. After putting back on we paddled some full on class-V until we were confronted with yet another boxed canyon. With fading light we had to retire from the river with our tail between our legs, broken and beaten. But we'd be back.

the boys who offered to hike us out

Chimbu run out rapids

More Chimbu

Looking at the Sikewage Gorge, forcing us to hike out and come back another day.

Four days later we had another attempt at the Chimbu, this time taking the time to climb down and scouting the gorge from within. We figured we'd paddled the first two rapids, portage the third and then climb out and over where the whole river went underground. Putting back on and continuing down through the 3 remaining gorges. This was not to be. Once the three of us made it into the gorge Barny stepped up to fired the first full-on rapid. After 'whiteing-out' in the entrance Barny got caught up on a inconspicuous boil. Fighting for a long time, Barny finally succumbed and exited his kayak. Going deep for 28 seconds (on video!) and then washing through the rapid we wanted portage and then managed to get himself to the bank before the river went underground! Barny's boat, however, was missing. After a few hours of trying to find whether it was in an undercut or in the subterranean river system, we had to cut our losses and get out of the canyon before dark. Even more broken and beaten than our previous attempt, we were left standing on the road above the canyon. Gazing down on some of the most enticing and intimidating white-water we'd ever seen. 

Barny scouting the rapid that would get him

Shannon and I entering the Sikewage Gorge


Barny about to fire

Barny 'whiteing-out'...
... and about to get pumped!

During our expedition de-brief we all felt we had achieved great things in Papua New Guinea, but also felt that the Chimbu had beaten us. Something that didn't sit well at all. During 2012 things were good but the Chimbu was in the back of my mind. And an email from Sport New Zealands Fiona Ramsay, announcing applications were open for the Sir Edmund Hillary Expedition Grant, was the catalyst to get things going again. Obviously not being able to rely on getting such a prestigious award two times in a row, Barny and I am worked as hard as we could to raise funds with our annual white-water calendar and various other money spinning plans. But we were coming up well-short. I spent a large amount of time spent on a grant application with Sport NZ with some hope that our previous efforts might give us another chance at a grant. Once we got short-listed our hopes were heightened but we had to cast it out of mind, or we could have been let down by not getting it. Fortunately for us the stars aligned and Sport NZ seen the value of our expedition and would make our trip possible by contributing to our expedition. 

 Spring time preparation, me bagging the
First Descent of Toaroha Falls.

 Matt Coles coming through 'Carnage Gorge' during a
high flow run down the Kokatahi River.

Barny Young routing a steep section on the
Upper Whitcombe.

Our training ground!

Our initial plan was to have the original crew of Barny, Shannon and Myself for the expedition but unfortunately Shannon was unable to take-part. So we were on the hunt for a mate or two to fill the HUGE shoes of Shannon Mast. And who better than his partner in crime, Matt 'Wild-Bill' Coles. But at the exact same time our boy, Ari 'The-Curry' Walker, also expressed his genuine interest. How to pick between two great candidates... well we didn't know. So both are coming! 

Leaving May 3rd, the four of us will travel to PNG with the hopes of conquering the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu. One of the most testing pieces of white-water any of us will ever face, in one of the most hostile countries in our present day. Our preparations are coming to an end, our flights are booked and we're as eager as ever. Its the final count-down to what we hope will be the experience of a life time!