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September 2020 Issue
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Packrafting trio make first descent in West Coast

Gorges are beautiful, but dangerous – even for the experienced

Three packrafters have celebrated the first descent of a West Coast river.

The adventure saw three paddlers navigate 25km of “gnarly” whitewater, stunning gorges and freezing glacial water on the Butler and Whataroa rivers.

The paddlers – Barny Young, Ryan Lucas and Logan Froreip – tramped 35km via Butler Junction Hut and on to Ice Lake over two days, with packs heavy enough to rub Young’s shoulders raw.

From there, they inflated packrafts and paddled back to the road end.
Originally planned for late summer, the trip was postponed by lockdown, and the team wore drysuits to fight the cold.

Several stretches of the river were too dangerous to descend – including a gorge called the Portals of Doom – and the team had to portage their gear around.

Descending the river safely is a process of hopping from eddy to eddy, and taking each rapid section by section, Young said.

“Eddys are safe spots where you can look down stream. If you look and think holy cow, I’m not confident, you get out and scout. If you see another eddy downstream you repeat the process.”

Packrafting through gorges, meanwhile, is a high stakes affair.

“Once you drop into a gorge, usually the only way out is downstream, so you’ve gotta have the skills to get you out,” he said.

Capsizing on a first descent is par for the course, even for experienced rafters, says Young.

“We all make mistakes, and we all had a couple of swims on this trip – you just have to make sure that when you make mistakes, you can pick up the pieces afterwards.”