Monday, January 6, 2014

Helicopter shuttles are complicated, Upper Perth, New Zealand

Thump thump thump

the approaching helicopter made its notable entrance, arcing through the amazing New Zealand backdrop of dense jungle and snow-caped peaks.

Sophia Mulder, with a solid boof to finish a rather sieve infested rapid, chris Baer, whereisbaer.com, NZ, New Zealand, Upper Perth
Sophia Mulder, with a solid boof to finish a rather sieve infested rapid

Helicopter shuttles are way more challenging than I would have imagined. Each helicopter has its own load capacity, think about it like running shuttle with either a Geo Metro, a single cab pickup, or a minivan; all of the vehicles can make the shuttle happen but they all have wildly different limitations. The helicopter we had at our disposal was a McDonnell Douglas 500 D, it seats 5 including the pilot, and has a payload of roughly 1,500 pounds. To get boats and other necessary gear to the top, a sling (glorified cargo net) is used. Packing the gear into the sling is a bit of an art form. The theory is to load the gear in a tight aerodynamic shape and weave the net snugly to minimize wind drag and the chance of the entire payload spinning below the helicopter.

wrangling the massive sling load, notice the snow caped peaks, and the jet fuel tanker in the back ground, NZ, new zealand, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
wrangling the massive sling load, notice the snow capped peaks, and the jet fuel tanker in the back ground
the gorgeous, glacial, Perth valley, new zealand, NZ, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
the gorgeous, glacial, Perth valley
On our Perth shuttle Mark and I drew the short straws and rode up with the sling load. Checking the numbers a second time makes me a little nervous. We had ten kayaks 500+ pounds, Mark the pilot and I another 500+ pounds. Obviously helicopters run on fuel, hopefully the fuel gauge was no where near full as it can hold up to 400 pounds of jet fuel. We then added overnight gear, paddles, helmets, life jackets, cameras, and beer. Totaling up the gear, fuel and us the payload was quickly reaching our 1,500 pound weight limit. Looking out of the bubbled helicopter windows, towards the massive sling load, a red sign caught my eye. The sign stated something about being extremely flammable and was attached to a large shiny tanker truck that was containing jet fuel. This massive potential energy source was just underneath the circumference of the main rotor, and was easily within swinging distance of the overburdened sling. As the helicopter slowly gained elevation I released a clenched breath.

Phil Palzer, on day one, upper perth NZ, new zeland, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
Phil Palzer, on day one
The wind was gusting, the sling load was swaying, and we were undulating, bouncing, and oscillating our way up the Perth Valley. The helicopter pilot controls the rear rotor with two opposing foot pedals, his movements were almost mesmerizing as he tap danced the helicopter up the canyon. As we rose over a steep ridge, a blast of wind slammed the machine and it swung 50 feet off course and swayed 30° off vertical. The pilot looked over his shoulder towards me "IT'S PRETTY WINDY UP HERE!" I put on my helmet.

the crew prepping to put in, NZ, upper perth, new zeland, Chris Baer, WhereIsBaer.com
the crew prepping to put in
The Upper Perth is a true classic and has three distinctly different sections. The first pitch allows no warm up and the rapids are formidable with lots of missing water (siphons) and arduous scouting. Thankfully the crew was on point and were quick to be out of their boats, scouting, setting safety, and collecting media. The few truly ugly rapids offered relatively quick portages and allowed the group to make steady downstream progress.

Mark Basso, enjoying the emerald blue water, upper, perth, nz, new zeland, Chris Baer, Whereisbaer.com
Mark Basso, enjoying the emerald blue water
Of the eight paddlers (Jess Matheson, Rata Lovell-Smith, Phil Palzer, Sophia Mulder, Daan Jimmink, Dag Sandvik, Mark Basso, and myself) that flew to the upper put in, three were ladies, a relatively high percentage for class 5 creeking. Paddling with ladies always has a slightly different feel. The male machismo disappears and everyone seems to smile more. "It's simple, we're all here to share a beautiful experience." Paddle twirls, high fives, and giggles ensued.

Jess Matheson, leading a charge of ladies, Chris Baer, NZ, new Zealand, Perth river,
Jess Matheson, leading a charge of ladies
The first day of whitewater came to a quick culmination as we reached a large tributary and the Department of Conservation cabin that we would call home for the evening. New Zealand has numerous remote cabins strewn throughout the back-country that are maintained by the Department of Conservation. These cabins are set up with bunks and a wood burning stove. They allow long distance hikers, hunters, and kayakers to stay deep in the bush without the need of tents, sleeping pads, and most cooking equipment.

The evening allowed everyone time to share stories, jokes, and dinner.

breakfast time in the DOC hut, department of concervation, hut, perth, NZ, New Zealand,
breakfast time in the DOC hut
The morning sun reignited the crew's energy, and the cabin was quickly buzzing with kayakers gathering gear, drinking coffee and making breakfast.

another complicated, multiple route rapid on the Upper Perth, NZ, new zealand, Chris baer, perth
another complicated, multiple route rapid on the Upper Perth
The rapids on the second day started in the same style as the first. Hard lines and a multitude of options awaited at every horizon line. The difficulty continued through lunch time and then quickly the gradient dissipated and the rapids waned to big boulder class 3.

Daan Jimmink, putting together an acceptable line in the sieve laden Upper Perth, NZ, new Zeland, Chris Baer,
Daan Jimmink, putting together an acceptable line in the sieve laden Upper Perth
A few kilometers of cruising brought us to a distinctively different section. Tall striated granite walls splashed with vibrant green moss concealed the sun and revealed emerald blue water. The air temperature dropped and the horizon lines started to look imposing. Awkward scouting was possible at most of the rapids and our crew made quick work of the eerily beautiful canyon.

Dag Sandvik, checking out the peaks, or maybe getting some wheelie action? Upper Perth, NZ, new zeland, chris baer,
Dag Sandvik, checking out the peaks, or maybe getting some wheelie action?
The third different section of the trip is due to a massive convergence. The Perth and Whataroa combine and keep the Whataroa name; the run changes to big volume wave trains for an hour back to the helipad. This last pitch was enjoyed during a torrential downpour. Salutations at the take out were brisk due to the precipitation; but the entire crew knew that the driving rain meant our new-found friends would reunite soon to romp in our liquid playground.

adventure brought to you by Chris Baer

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