Mathews Stream v6a2V**
29 rappels to 45m. 14hrs30mins round trip.
Just over year ago, Pip and I had bailed part way down the first descent of Mathews Stream in the Ruahine ranges. It was a cold day in early October, with a light dusting of snow, overcast skies. We’d done 18 rappels up to 40m in the south branch and reached the confluence with the main branch 8hrs after leaving our car. A light drizzle was falling, as was the light which made the decision to escape an easy one.
For the second trip, the weather was much kinder and we had some idea of what to expect. Hayden Richards and Daniel Rogerson joined me for the second attempt, and we made reasonably quick progress through the known south branch. All the previous anchors were intact, which aided our speed down canyon.
At the confluence, we soaked up the last bit of sun before heading into the unknown. The south branch had very low flows, but the main branch had enough to start respecting the water. Immediately below the point Pip and I had bailed from, a sequence of 3 pool drops (15,6,20m) through a carved bedrock canyon section had us excited, but nervous about what the rest would be like.
As the stream turned a sharp corner, the canyon walls relaxed and it was just boulder hopping for several hundred meters. But, as the stream turned northwards again, the walls predictably closed in and the drops began again. A highlight was the 45m pitch, from a house sized boulder wedged between the canyon walls. On this pitch the rope stuck, just as the light was fading. A 5:1 mechanical advantage haul got it moving, then a 3:1 with two people pulling got it the rest of the way down.
The final section was done under head lamp and was a blur of downclimbs, small pitches and a fantastic slot for the last hundred meters or so. I had previously walked upstream from the car park, so was very relieved to recognise the last drop. It was just as well the canyon ended there; we’d used all but 1m of our webbing, all of our Rapides/Maillons/Chain links and needed to sacrifice a Karabiner for the final rappel.
Thankful to have passed all the technical difficulties, we had our first decent rest for the day and devoured all our remaining food before stumbling and splashing our way for a further hour downstream to reach the cars at 11pm