The First Descent of CUPOLA CREEK, NZ
A few years ago, my friend Gus Schiavon told me about New Zealand and the huge potential of a first descent. He said the raw and untouched beauty of the place would be incredible. He told me I should go as I’d really enjoy it and looking back I can see, he couldn’t have been more correct.
Recently I undertook my first real exploration. The only thing similar I had done was a smaller one five years ago with my cousin, Rod in Luquenac Canyon, Ariège. That canyon was a lot shorter with only one beautiful waterfall. This time I had the opportunity to explore something untouched in one of the most amazing countries in the world: New Zealand.
Lee Den Haan, asked me to join his Kiwi team with Richard Bramley and James W. Scoltock. I didn’t think too much about it and was only focused on sorting out some details at my work with my boss, Toine. This ensured I was able to have the day off and prepare for this adventure.
We headed in the direction of Nelson Lakes and took a short ride across the lake with Richard’s boat. We then had to hike 15km to St John’s Hut where we spent the night, ready to disembark for the canyon early the next morning. This was the first challenge, keeping up with Lee and Richard. These guys are “Machines,” walking incredibly quick at a consistently fast pace.
After three months working in the Abel Tasman canyons my physical condition was actually not too bad and I found myself almost able to keep up with them. Although, I instantly crashed when we arrived at the hut, but I had conquered the first challenge! Check!
After a rough night with only a few hours sleep due to someone’s snoring we were up very early to pack the gear and start the 30-minute walk to Cupola Creek. However, when we arrived at what we thought would be our point of entry into the canyon we were met with this beautifully huge crack upstream and we decided to keep walking and enter it from above, allowing us to explore this part as well.
Into the wild
After finding another entry further upstream and getting into our gear, we checked all the last small details before we made our way to the first feature. A nice 15-metre waterfall to enter into the crack with a 6-metre jump to exit. It was incredibly fast but really beautiful.
Continuing along, the canyon opened up and provided an amazing photoshoot for me to take some really beautiful shots with my camera. Beautiful waterfalls cascaded down the Greywacke rocks. We managed the first few drops using only natural anchors found within the canyon. We then arrived at a section where the water disappeared into a siphon followed by a waterfall. The river was surrounded by sheer rocks and was sucked under some large boulders. After much discussion we decided it was too dangerous to rappel down into this as there was a real danger of being sucked under the rock and drowning. We chose to avoid this feature and walked around it on the true left side, missing the waterfall too as we had already been in the canyon for five hours.
After this we decided to stop for a break, eat some food and mainly just analyse the new amazing obstacles in the path before us. For me, this was the most amazing part of the canyon. We then decided to equip a line so we could abseil directly straight into the path of the “Cave waterfall”. After this was a small down climb, and we were faced with another beautiful 20m waterfall. This time however, was pretty hard to find some solid anchors so Richard had to spend almost 30 minutes to build something strong enough. We were starting to get cold hanging out for so long in the canyon so I started dancing and moving to get the blood flowing again!
The final part of the canyon was more horizontal with two nice 6-metre jumps, where we finally arrived at the last bridge. But 8 hours in the canyon wasn’t enough for Richard and Lee. They decided to head back in, in order to bolt the waterfall we had avoided on the true right side, bypassing the siphon. This would then make it possible to abseil down the true right side of the waterfall. James and myself decided instead to head back to the hut and eat before the 15km walk back to the boat.
After 8km walking with James, Lee and Richard caught up with us beating us back to the hut where our friend was meant to be waiting with the boat. These guys really are on another level when it comes to fitness. They are extreme!
However, we were surprised to find that our boat wasn’t there next to the hut by the lake, so as Lee, James and I fell asleep, Richard ran 12km around the lake to wake up our friend with the boat. At 1am we were woken up with Richard charging back through the door of the hut telling us to wake up as our ride was ready!
This was an amazing experience and also an incredibly strange feeling to realise we were the first people to ever walk in this amazing place. I am definitely keen to do more adventurers like this, and it’s helped me finally understand why I started canyoning in 2011. My passion was ignited after the Chamje Khola expedition released a movie of their first descent.
This video is just an experimentation, but it’s the start of my goal to make a real expedition movie!
The 1st descent of Cupola Creek: V4 A5 IV
6 hours, 30 km hike return
8 hours in the canyon
Adri PARIS – ICOpro Trainer & Instructor Photographer
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In Canyoneer Level 1 manual, you will learn about ICOpro, the activity basics, canyoning equipment, knots, communication, behaviour and environment, hydrology, geology, physiology, tour preparation, physics, horizontal rope progression, vertical rope progression, and basic rock climbing. After you learn this manual, you will have all the necessary foundations for techniques covered in Canyoneer Level 2 manual and beyond.