Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dispatches from New Zealand, Part III

It's been a few weeks now since I've returned to the land of snow and cold, and between skiing a lot and a fun holiday social agenda I haven't taken the time yet to follow up on the most excellent adventures that I had to good fortune to experience in NZ.

After returning from the Coromandel Peninsula the next soiree was to the Motu river.  The Motu is somewhat unusual in that it's a multi-day trip, which is a bit rare in NZ in general and particularly so on the North island.  But it carves a great gorge through the middle of the island and is pretty remote, particularly when the effects of the "native bush" is taken into account; much of NZ was logged/stripped long ago and there's not a lot of what we might call old growth there, but in rainy NZ the woods manifests itself as pretty much impenetrable jungle.  The remoteness and difficulty of the whitewater (back in the day; it's only moderate at class 4) of the Motu kept it unassailable by would-be loggers back in the day, so not only is it thick, but it's only populated by native vegetation, versus much of the rest of the country that  -due to colonization - had a lot of plants introduced.  So the Motu is pretty pristine for most of the 60-odd miles that we paddled.

If you had an issue, hiking out never seemed like it would be very feasible; even if you could move more than 20 feet off the river corridor, there's no where to go. 
it was so thick that I never saw a place to camp; nice lunch beaches like this:
Are appealing, but as with many rainy climes, it's unwise to slumber below the high water mark, no matter what the forecast is.  Just a month prior, this river - that had probably 1 or 2 thousand cfs at the takeout - had flashed to 60,000 cfs.  It was mostly pretty deeply-gorged:

So it was good to have the seasoned Motu vets who knew the secret flat spots, and camping high was fine with me:
And as it turned out, it did rain on us
Andy and I gave Ross and Bruce a bit of a hard time for bringing just a tarp for a multi-day trip in NZ, but it was nice and cozy when it started to pour about the time we were cooking dinner. 
The newness of the country and the big rains in NZ caused a lot of what they call "slips".  I call them really impressive landslides!
These things come down and dam the river every couple of years.  
The whitewater was mostly class 3, with a couple of places where it stepped up a bit:

the lads scouting a slot that hid a pretty nasty little hole right in the middle; we ended up going left of the island of rocks on the left of the picture. 

Andy lining up to shoot left.  
but mostly it was beautiful cruisin
with a few "wildlife" sightings
Wild goats, which the Kiwis consider to be vermin.  One of the Kiwi's paddling pards had seen some on their last trip, whipped out his waterproof shotgun, and killed one from his boat!
There are few people as friendly and stoked to be on water as Ross:

Except maybe Andy!  

Leaving the rivers behind for a bit we became a bit more terrestrial.  Lake Taupo is a ginormous lake (biggest in all of "Oceania:  Australia, NZ, and the part of Asia south of the equator) in the center of the North Island that's an ancient volcanic caldera.  But more importantly, there's a killer singletrack bike ride that ends at the shore of the lake that has water taxi service.

  Andy borrowed a bike from a friend (and wisely rode it, and let me ride his bike, so if/when I broke the bike it'd be his old one, versus his friend's nice bike!) and Kiwis - like all Commonwealth types - have their brake levers mounted on the opposite sides, so the rear brake is on your left hand.  But at least that rear brake on Andy's bike was in bad need of a bleeding, so I basically only had a front brake.  I took it easy on these turns that were hundreds of feet above the lake....

 Eventually we hit the lake, and sure enough, there was our shuttle awaiting us:

He's got a pretty fancy boat-based bike rack:

but for some reason just chucked our bikes over the side:
It's interesting to see that everywhere we went in NZ there were folks around who were keen to facilitate outdoor adventurers with logistic-based businesses, whether guiding, shuttles, etc.  On one hand you didn't get to delve into the research and details of "how are we going to pull this off", but on the other, you didn't have to worry about the details of "how are we going to pull this off?!"

On our way to the next foray we stopped for a gander at Huka Falls, a famous little kayak gorge that ends in an impressive waterfall.  It was at a stompin' level and we weren't keen to fire it, but it's impressive:
It's a famous sight in NZ and there are tour buses around, but once you drop into that little gorge with water thundering through it I think you feel pretty lonely.  

this is the final drop. 
Poached from the interweb, here is a shot of a guy running it at lower water:
and here is a link to a Kiwi hardman kayaker running it.  A good reminder of a classic Greg Hanlon-ism:  If I ever put a Red Bull helmet on my head, stop me from whatever I am about to do!  One of the drops in that gorge is an old weir that tends to grab and trash kayakers, and apparently in the not-to-distant past a couple of hardwomen paddling it both swam out of that and were literally clinging to the cliffs just above the last falls until they were lowered a rope (that would still not be an easy get-out....).  

Another amazing tale that apparently every Kiwi knows is that of a famous cricket umpire (apparently they can become famous?) who solicited a prostitute for a bondage session that got a little out of hand and he asphyxiated, and the freaked out prostitute and her boyfriend chucked the body...into the gorge.  Here's the tale.

But on toward more wholesome endeavors, like hiking and running!  The Tongariro Crossing is a 13 or so mile point to point hike across the biggest mountains on the North Island.  It is billed as "the best one day tramp in the country".  And anything that's called "the best" is bound to be crowded, and indeed it was.  But like the US national parks, it's worthy.  Our plan was for me to drop Andy off at one end, then I'd drive around to the other end and run "backwards", meeting him along the way, and he'd then drive back around and pick me up.  He had to wonder if it was going to work when he had to remind me to get in the right side of the car to then drive on the "wrong" side of the road....

But it worked out just fine.  Like national parks, the trails were pretty well-developed:

reinforced against erosion by this plastic lattice work

And because I was going "backwards" (the normal trail tail was about 1000 feet lower than the trailhead, so everyone goes that way; even Kiwis look for the easy way!) I had the trail to myself
Up to the cabin

I'm not sure why they have a cabin about 4 miles from the trailhead, but whatever; it was a very nice place, that had been rebuilt after a fairly recent eruption:

Would have been a rude awakening
After the hut I started to bump into people
including this guy:
But despite seeing this kind of riff raff, the views were impressive:

As continued to be the crowds:
but I realized that going against the flow of traffic was good, since they could at least see me coming (peaking out from under their hoods), which was good because I probably passed over 500 people.  

Working our way south, we headed for another river:
"River Valley" is a little resort there that is the takeout for a beautiful and fun class 4+ run and the put in for an equally beautiful class 2 run.  
The river was on the low side, but still plenty fun for some good creekin'

Our takeout was about 30 feet from our camp, and our camp was about 50 feet from some nice draft beers. 
The creek was fairly steep but  -again  -the Kiwis have no problem taking people down it in rafts, and were also kind enough to give us shuttles up to the put in.  It was interesting diving back into the world of the young river guides, one of whom was stoked for a day off to paddle with us:
For a long time I had heard stories about the legendary Richard Sage, who was a hardman kayaker in NZ back in the day. Years ago he started up a kayak company called Bliss-Stick, and the factory was....about a mile from this river, literally in the middle of nowhere.  Here is the sign for the factory and the business, on his gravel road:
Not too long ago Richard sold some of the assets to Bliss-Stick, but he still still makes plastic boats for NZ kayak schools, makes molds for the new kayak company that grew out of Bliss-Stick, and the molds are shipped to Europe for the manufacturing of the kayaks. 

After almost 3 weeks on the North Island Andy needed to get back to Tauranga and I felt like it was time to move on to the South.  I wasn't sure that Andy could stand me for 3 weeks, but he's an easy guy to be around and we had a lot of yucks. 

 Thanks again to a great host!  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Bear's Ears National Monument

Well, it happened:  President Obama created the Bear’s Ears National Monument yesterday!  For us bleeding heart lib’ral extremist  tree huggin, granola-eatin’ wackos we heartily raised our too-expensive locally-brewed craft ales in a toast to this needed move.  Despite the threats and cajoling from the likes of Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Senators Hatch and Lee, and representatives Bishop and Chaffetz, Obama correctly saw through the haze of bullshit-slinging and did the right thing. 

Far smarter people have and will write about this monumental monument designation – including the indefatigable Brian Maffly of the Salt Lake Tribune who had the lead story, and the description of what the monument includes in the paper today (fortunately he only barely mentioned how awesome the canyoneering is in that area, and didn't mention at all the great pack rafting and bike touring there!).    But I feel qualified to opine, because….well, I live in Utah, I’ve visited these areas, and I help pay our elected officials’ salaries!

This past summer I wrote an article about bike touring in the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante national monument for the Utah Adventure Journal.  We didn’t necessarily go there to analyze the economic and social impacts of national monument designation 20 years after President Clinton’s creation (we just wanted to do a nice, rugged, beautiful tour!) but given the push to create the same for the Bear’s Ears area it was impossible to ignore the effects on the GSENM given the Sky Did Fall (on GSENM) and The Sky Will Fall (on Bear’s Ears) cries from Utah’s politicos.  I won’t re-create that article here, but fundamentally my point was thus:  our extensive bike-saddle research indicated to us that monument designation has been an economic boon to that region due to dramatically-increased tourism, and the wails of the cattle grazing and mining industries of economic failure have been misleading at best and outright lies at worst.

Many, many moons ago, in one of his earliest childhood memories, my dad remembered sitting on the steps of his house in a small town in central Kansas listening to my grandfather and his friends talk business while smoking cigars and watching the long sunset over the fields of the Midwest plains.  My grandfather owned a bridle factory, and at one point he memorably declared “The tractor will NEVER replace the horse!” for some important technical agrarian reasons that my dad didn’t remember.  It is a tangential story that is reminiscent of what Utah politicians seem to keep saying in Utah and elsewhere:  “Solar power will NEVER replace coal!” and "Cattle grazing is an integral part of our economy!".  Ultimately, I don’t think that the US government – nor anyone else – ultimately saved the bridle industry.  So why should we continue to subsidize and support the grazing and extractive industries? 

First, grazing.  According to the BLM’s grazing website, the 2016 fee for grazing a cow and a calf on federal lands is $2.15 per month, or $25/year.  Interestingly, the fee started with a base value of $1.66 or $19.92 per cow/calf per year… 1966!  I’m no economist, but jacking the rates $5 over 50 years  is a pretty good deal for cattle owners!  And – like the Grand Staircase – grazing allotments will be grandfathered in, and in the GSENM 96% of the original allotments that existed in 1996 still exist today!   In the meantime, the Grand Canyon Trust has tried to buy out rancher’s grazing rights to retire them, but they have almost no value because….there’s no grass left because of over-grazing!   All of which also applies to the Bear’s Ears, so deep cattle grazing losses are a misperception.    

Natural resource extraction:  No one who puts gas in their car needs to be told that energy prices are low.  The price of natural gas – which may or may not exist in the Bear’s Ears area – has been notoriously fickle: 

And anyone who has been to Vernal, UT, SW Wyoming, North Dakota, etc will tell you that their boomtime economies of just a few years ago have completely dried up.  And it’s not like a seasonal job (typically associated with tourist-based economies): those jobs don’t come back until the prices rise.    And coal is in the same boat:  despite the future leader of the Trump Nation’s boasts, coal as we know it ain’t comin’ back.  Here’s the price graph:

And even if it did, automation has made the typical coal miner job somewhat obsolete (and a good thing too; NPR had a depressing story last week about the proliferation of the deadly Black Lung Disease in coal country).

Since Orrin and company have been the most vociferous opponents of BENM designation, I thought I’d take some of their other complaints one by one. 

Jason Chaffetz:  “The midnight monument is a slap in the face to the people of Utah.  Actually, contrary to Clinton’s truly surprise announcement, this has been in the works for months, and in October Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel was in Utah for 5 days talking to members of all the leaders and constituencies about the implications of monument designation.  Ironically, Chaffetz himself and fellow UT congressman Rob Bishop created their Public Lands Initiative bill last spring specifically to try to subvert national monument designation (it didn't come to the fore in the most recent congress), so it’s a stretch to insinuate that this was a desperate, last minute gesture.  And over 50% of Utahns support national monument designation. 

Orrin Hatch: 
With this astonishing and egregious abuse of executive power…” – As Orrin himself knows very well after being in office since nineteen hundred and seventy six, the Antiquities Act has been used over 100 times since Republican president Teddy Roosevelt came up with it, including some by those nutty preservationists like George W Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and George HW Bush. 

The President's proposal, like so many others, goes well beyond the original authorities of the Antiquities Act, which was intended to give presidents only limited power to designate special landmarks, such as a unique natural arch or the site of old cliff dwellings.”

Again, according to Wikipedia:  The first use of the Act protected a large geographic feature – President Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower National Monument on September 24, 1906. President Roosevelt also used it to create the Grand Canyon National Monument – the first step in protecting that place of great historic and scientific interests.”  Anyone who has read one bit of information about Teddy Roosevelt knows that he was all about preserving large swaths of land.  

Senator Mike Lee:  "This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand. I will work tirelessly with Congress and the incoming Trump administration to honor the will of the people of Utah and undo this designation."  Mike Lee calling Obama "Arrogant?!!?"  Now that's calling the kettle black!  Again, according to  Wiki:  The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld presidential proclamations under the Antiquities Act, ruling each time that the Act gives the president nearly-unfettered discretion as to the nature of the object to be protected and the size of the area reserve.”  That said, a super scary possibility is that Mike Lee (and his brother) is/was/were/are supposedly on Sir Trump's list of potential Supreme Court justices, though that probably waned when Lee said he voted for Gary Johnson.....but even so, Trump may/will be nominating a new justice regardless  (unless Obama really wants to be bold and do a full appointment during the Congressional recess, which - according to Robert Reich - is not only possible, it has precedent) 

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, in an interview with Ari Shapiro today, said that one of the county commissioners  - by congressional demand – must be a Native, and that Native doesn’t support monument designation, therefore the native population doesn’t support it. However, this guy: David Filfred, Navajo Nation Council Delegate representing Aneth, Teec Nos Pos, Red Mesa and Mexican Water Chapters in Utah was quoted today: “We are grateful for President Obama's brave action today. For the first time in history, a president has used the Antiquities Act to honor the request of Tribal Nations to protect our sacred sites. In doing so, he has given the opportunity for all Americans to come together and heal."  To be honest, my sum total experience with the SW Native population has been gleaned from a few Tony Hillerman novels, but most news accounts I’ve read indicate that there are a few standout individuals who oppose the monument, but entire tribes support it, since the entire intent is to “preserve antiquities” (though it’s understandable if the Native population is suspicious of the integrity of big federal agreements). 

Another meaningless quote by Herbert:  "By unilaterally locking up 1.35 million acres — an area roughly the size of the entire State of Delaware......"  Who cares? Delaware is tiny and inconsequential!  Utah also has counties with no residents that are as big as Delaware, and no one cares!  

Seeing so much blind support from our politicians for good ol’ boy ranchers and executives in the extractive energy businesses when places like Moab, Kanab, and Escalante are clearly prospering from the burgeoning tourist industry associated with national monument designation is frustrating at best.  Therefore, we granola eaters are stoked that Obama took the bold move: 
thanks to Pat Bagley of the SL Trib for - yet again - absolutely nailing it.  

We’re gonna miss that guy. 

thanks so much to Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard for their tireless support for this, to Sally Jewell for handling it so professionally, and the many others who devoted time and money to this important project. I regrettably donated neither, and I'm glad that it was successful despite my lack of "real" support. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dispatches from New Zealand

When I graduated from college I went for a big European bike tour and returned home from Portland pretty broke and needed to work for a while.  At about the time I got home a coupla good friends headed off on a bike tour of New Zealand, but due to the aforementioned financial issues, I couldn't join them.  A few years later I also had a friend who was going on a bike tour in NZ and wanted me to join him, but I couldn't afford the 3 weeks of vacation.  Some years later my 75-ish year old mom went to New Zealand, and....well, tearing around NZ with her probably wasn't appropriate.  About 15 years ago Ashley went to NZ for a bike tour and....I wasn't invited!  Which is not quite true; she was doing the trip with her great friend Audrey and I probably coulda horned in, but I was getting going on a new biz and it wasn't a good time.  Then I met Kiwi Andy, who had moved to Utah and became one of my best kayaking pards, and then he moved back, so I had yet another good reason to go.  and finally, And, our good friends the Southwicks were so bold as to actually pick up their family and move their entire life from SLC to a beautiful town on the north end of the south island, so we had yet another great reason to go.  But other adventures beckoned and still I didn't make it, even as Andy has kept coming back to visit us.  But this past spring when I gave my gratuitous "I really want to come down there" he just scoffed at me:  "you've been saying that for years.  You're not coming down!"  Of course, I was offended, but it was true.   But events have come together, and finally....after far too many years and opportunities, I'm in New Zealand!

One of the things that has kept me going other places is that NZ represents somewhat of a lack of the buzz of "travel adventure"; yes, it's far away and there are a zillion lifetimes-worth of adventures to be had, but in terms of exposure to a radically different culture ala many of the trips that Ash and I have taken to Vietnam, Peru, Japan, Italy, Bulgaria, and others New Zealand is....very similar to the US.  It even looks a lot like Oregon; at least, so far (albeit with lots of different plants, that in total provide a similarly-verdant landscape).  But then again, I charge all over the US looking for good adventures, and they are all very US-like, so why not go to NZ to get some great adventurin' in with a great pard and partake in their culture?  

And though I had no idea that I would need it when I booked the flights a couple of months ago, after the gut-wrenching election, it's nice to be slightly away from that (though all the Kiwis are keen to hear my thoughts....)

Andy lives in Tauranga, which is a few hundred km south and east of Auckland on the coast (of the north island).  As mentioned above, it looks like Oregon, but they grow avocados, passionfruits, and citrus here!
Avocados for $2/bag, and they STILL wish me to "have a nice day?!"  I love the Kiwis....

"Rocket Lettuce"  - a far better name than "Arugula!"

My first experience with the legendary Kiwi niceness was in the Auckland airport; as I was getting ready to board my flight I asked the ticket agent if I could bring my bottle of water through security, and she said "well, this IS security, and I think it's fine if you want to drink some water!"  Hear hear!

One of the primary reasons for coming to NZ was to paddle the rivers, and if the first coupla days are any indication, they live up to their reputation.  So far we've paddled the Kaituna and Wairoa rivers; both dam release runs that are short (1km and 5km respectively) but offer a surprising number of pretty incredible quality rapids in their short span.  I didn't take my camera down the Kaituna, but here are a coupla pics I poached off the web:

I haven't paddled anything with significant gradient for a few years, so it is taken me a little to get back into the swing of things.  I flipped the first two times running the waterfall in the pic above until I realized that I wasn't quite on line; on our third lap I was able to appreciate the view with my eyes above the surface rather than below.

Paddling such a cool run (reminiscent of the White Salmon in Washington, but with warm water and a gradient sorta in between the BZ run and the Farmlands run) would be a great day in an of itself, but this river happens to drain Lake Rotorua, and I had heard about the mountain biking in Rotorua.  It bills itself as "The Best Mountain Biking in The World".  Hmm.  Really?  A bold statement.  But of course, after 3 laps on the Kaituna I had to see this for myself.

Andy and I were joined on our ride by Kylie, who knows the trails there perfectly and had also been showing me the lines on the Kaituna (she warned that she was not "bike fit", but it was clear pretty quickly that fitness doesn't have too much bearing on how much brake you grab on descents, and for her it wasn't much!).  I am never, ever prone to superlatives, but I must admit that it's the Best Mountain Biking Ever!   An area as big as Portland's Forest Park, with "heaps" (a common Kiwi term) of ridonculous singletrack; every trail is pretty much the best "flow trail" I've ever done!  (with a few more roots thrown in).   It was so much fun that we ended up riding nearly 5 hours, and there are many trails that we didn't do.
that grin is well-warranted

It was a good example to me of what can be done with proper management: this area has mt bike-only trails, pedestrian-only trails, horse-only trails, and shared use trails, with clear, concise, and descriptive (ie length, vertical) signage on all.  There's a shuttle that runs up and down the mountain that cyclists and peds both use:
I was a bit horrified by this, but the system is so vast that it seems to simply absorb people into the woods
and there's even a water station:

something that would be much-appreciated in the arid Wasatch (and in Forest Park and many other US parks as well for that matter!).

JC joined us mid-ride (he'd also been on the Kaituna) and was showing us all how to truly flow - at high speed - down the trails:
 and on one climb that traversed up through a big clear cut I said something about "too bad about the logging" and he said: "Well, we all need paper, this is second growth anyway, they rebuild the trails after they log, there's much more forest here than there is logged terrain, and we get a nice view when there are no trees!"  Those Kiwis, looking on the bright side.

We also met Reginald:
"Um, I gotta tell you, that's a HUGE lens you have there, Reg...."
who is an avid birder/photographer and was there shooting a pair of New Zealand falcons:
from wikipedia, but Reginald had some comparable pics
That are quite similar to our peregrines in size and flying ability.  We were a couple hundred yards (across a clear cut, which apparently the falcons prefer; another reason that logging is good?) from a couple who brought a dog up on their hike, and we had a good laugh watching the falcons dive bomb the threesome; they had to grab a big branch to fend the falcon off and ran down into the woods to escape the falcon's wrath!  There were signs saying "don't bother the falcons" but it was clear to us that they can handle themselves.
if our day riding in Rotorua is any indication of what's to come, they didn't even include it in this book??!  
The Wairoa is another coastal river that was almost denied to paddlers due to a dam, but local paddlers rallied to ensure 26 releases every 1976!   And it's another gem: really high quality, lowish-volume class 4+ river that's only 20 minutes from Andy's house.  His "mates" asked me how far I had to drive from SLC to get something like that, and were horrified when I said "seven hours!"
Again, I needed to get my low-volume gain on, and realized that my water-reading and boofing skills were a little rusty, but despite a coupla flips all went well.  Here are some good pics poached from the interwebs:

I missed the boof stroke here and went for a bit of a ride

I flipped once right about where this guy is; exciting time to roll!

I came a bit close to going into "the toaster" to the looker's left there....
Andy perfectly executing a boof stroke
Ash has said that she likes to put on a river and leave the car and the shuttles for three days at a time; in this case, we did the river three times in a day!  Exactly the same only completely different.  But along the shuttle route is a nice cafe, so we had ourselves a very civilized midday break in the action:
It was great to reconnect with Bruce (glasses), who was on the Rio Maranon trip in Peru last year 
I was also out for a nice road run this morn (while Andy was watching NZ's "All Blacks" national rugby team take on Ireland); I haven't done an exclusive road run for many years, but with roads like this:

It makes it quite tolerable!

So far New Zealand is living up to its billing fo sho.  The next adventures that await are a day of canyoneering (far different from Utah canyoneering:  there's running water!) and then a 3 day sea kayak around the Coromandel peninsula, and will throw up another dispatch.