Canyoning Down the Eagles Nest. A Fantastic (but Long) Canyoning Trip in New Zealand!
I didn’t want to look at the map. Sometimes, it’s better not to know. But finding out what’s in the canyon… well that, that I couldn’t resist! When the hard work and curiosity hit an equilibrium, you always have a recipe for an epic adventure!
Having descended one of New Zealand's best canyons a few weeks earlier, Eagles Nest was a close neighbour with the same appeal. Although easier in technical grade, it was still inescapable and featured over 40 abseils. Efficiency was key, as was having experienced team mates and favourable weather.
DO WE HAVE TO GET IN THE WATER TODAY?
A cold snap had hit the south island. My watch showed single digits that night and I was kicking myself for bringing my summer sleeping bag as we camped next to the car. A restless sleep and blaring alarm saw us gear up and set off in the frigid morning with another hour of darkness to navigate the thick bush.
The icy air was not exactly inviting knowing we had to brave the cold water later on!
To get to the Eagles Nest, it was a long approach, up to five hours, gaining 1115 meters of elevation.
Stumbling blind, head torches flicking left and right, the soft, springy moss was not at all appreciated that morning as legs pierced the natural trapping pits made from rotten logs and tree roots covered so inconspicuously.
There was no track in this area, few repeat descents had been done on Eagles Nest, so it was up to us to find the best path. My two friends, Elias and Rachel, along with myself, were loaded with more canyoning gear than was comfortably possible to carry. We chugged up the steepening slope, fighting vegetation and darkness in equal measure.
When the sun did finally show, it stayed stubbornly up on the mountain tops. But the worst part awaited us just out of reach of the warm rays. A mere 30 meters of thick brush and brambles separated us from a home stretch to the top...
A long 30 minutes later, scratched up and with burning skin, we had the final gully to reach the small plateau, after which we could ease ourselves into a nice walk across the tussock.
WE’RE IN!… SORT OF
Arriving at the creek as it disappeared over the cliff edge five hours after starting, we hurriedly stuffed our faces with some food and wiggled into wetsuits. Some searching found the first anchor, a bit of webbing which we threaded our rope through, and then we tossed it into the sky, eager to begin.
I have to admit, those first abseils were a bit… unappealing. Slippery, with partial excursions into the vegetation on each side, it was not the epic start I had hoped for. As the canyon was still quite open, finding the anchors was also taking more time than anticipated. We had to decide whether we keep looking for something existing, or build our own.
Since these abseils were nothing special anyway, we soon decided to scramble down and around all the drops we could, until we reached the canyon proper.
THE ‘ADVENTURE LEVEL’ INCREASES!
As we progressed, the canyon was changing character. Rock replaced green scrub and trees. Water intensifies as its funnelled into the narrows. And soon we were peering into the inescapable depths of the Eagles Nest.
There’s an overwhelming sense of anticipation when approaching a canyon and sighting the dark, high rock walls. To the untrained, it may manifest itself as dread, a place where nature is in full control, and we, the uninvited. For the experienced, it’s a challenge, a pursuit of beauty and intangible rewards alike.
That first abseil into the unknown, that’s what I really love.
We quickly lost track of which abseil we were on. Ten? Twenty? It didn’t matter. Eagles Nest opens periodically, and on this day, despite my love for the most narrow enclosed canyons possible, I was enjoying the extra sunlight after a cold morning start.
(click to enlarge pictures)
Eagles Nest might not be as enclosed as I would like, but it certainly makes up for it with long abseils down strikingly carved rock. On some abseils, the water twists, changing direction suddenly. Long slabs of grippy rock, small overhangs, narrow jets of water; the canyon has it all.
And like all canyons, there are many downclimbs as well. Bridging across gaps and careful backwards climbing, they add a sporty feel to the trip. The only thing missing, like many of the canyons in the Dart valley, are deep pools for jumps.
But when the adventure level is this high on a trip, you tend not to notice that as much. New Zealand offers its canyoning adventures with a good side of ‘wilderness’, and that in itself is worth pursuing.
THE REASONS WE DO IT
Before long, we sense the end approaching. The canyon kept up the amazing abseils right up until the end. Like with all canyons that have a ridiculous number of drops, you do tend to get over them towards the end. It wears you down slowly, physically and mentally. The constant sound of water rushing, the repetition of pulling down the rope, stacking it, then repeating, it’s a drain.
And its with that weariness that we still had to expend yet more effort on the walk out. Feet drag, packs feel even heavier, and conversation turns to food, it’s always about the food!
The car in sight, the never ending walk ends as suddenly as it began, thirteen hours later when we set off. We were exhausted.
But just like anything in the outdoors, there’s hard work and reward. We hike, climb mountains and rock faces, descend canyons and caves. We get muddy, dirty, cold and wet. And it’s always worth it for the enjoyment we get out of it.
We all do it for different reasons. Curiosity drives me to find out what’s down there. And when we had finished descending the Eagles Nest, we were all tired, cold and hungry, and yet, satisfied.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Descent: Early March 2019
Times: 13 hours car to car. 6.5 hours in the canyon.
Gear: 1x 60, 1x 70 meter ropes. Petzl rockpec hand drill, 12 bolts, hangers and quicklinks, as well as 15 meters of webbing.
Estimated Water Level: With no snow about above the canyon on our trip, flows were low.
WANT TO DO EAGLES NEST CANYON?
This canyon is for highly experienced canyoning teams only! Building the experience and skills takes time and effort, but is well worth it! Having the right gear is also a must!
If you are ready, you can get the topo from the Kiwicanyon’s website HERE. Be sure to have extra anchor materials and bolts, including a way to place them (hand drill, cordless drill).
Remember: There is no escape for most of the canyon, it is highly committing!
My GPS track for the entry can be found below (click the Wikiloc button to be taken to the web page to download):