Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Huge Changes to Upper Hokitika River

I haven't written on this blog for 3 years now.  I thought I'd help my fellow paddlers out in seeing the change in the rivers of the West Coast of New Zealand. Last year was the first time I went into the Upper Hokitika and loved the run and it's committing nature. This year I returned and was amazed at the changes in each of the gorges. Some of them being formidable! See below as I'll offer some comparison photo's:

Gorge #1 (just after Viagra Falls):

      Looking Upstream
Then (via Redbull Flowhunters)

Now as of Jan, 2016
           Looking Downstream you see the cause, large new slip

What it used to look like

Now there's a new rapid and boulder's damming the river

Gorge #2
          The crew last year

This year... note the giant monolith now in the river (dams it a bit)

Gorge #3

I don't have an old shot I could find of this one for comparison, but I will say this. You used to be able to walk down the left side because it was dry. Now you're stuck with something with much more risky

In Summary:
While I could go into great detail as to how we made it into and through each of these gorges, it really would defeat the purpose of this post. By the time someone else drops into the Upper Hokitika river again... these gorges will likely have already changed. Some for better, other's for worse. The beauty and challenge of kayaking the West Coast of New Zealand is that you must treat every one as if it is a first descent... and in some ways you do get to have your own personal first descent. The river will continue to change from year to year. And we'll again get to admire the living river and the changing earth.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Uncommon Luck: Selway River

This year I had come upon some uncommon luck. I had found myself in possession of Selway River Permit. For those unfamiliar, the Selway river has restricted access during the Spring runoff. Thus in the winter before the season starts the whitewater world begins applying for permits. They are then pooled and a lottery is used to select the lucky winners. Not uncommonly folks often go 10 years without getting a permit for the Selway... but in my good fortune I have gotten one two years in a row!!!!

So myself and my fast friend Nate Winning had amassed a a crew of paddlers and rafters. They included several of his rafting friends from his recent Grand Canyon Trip. Meanwhile, our friend Doug Marbarger from Missoula brought along "Team Carne" to include Frank McCann and Thorin Geist. Lastly I invited my friend Scotty Ewen from the Northwoods of MN.

However in day before the trip I was out for my daily rounds on Brennan's wave in Missoula when I ran into a two paddlers from Asheville North Carolina.... Ryan Richardson and Eric Weigel. They had just finished college and were touring the country in search of whitewater adventure. They seemed like a happy couple of paddlers and I had a beer with them later that evening. I told them of the Lochsa... but at that time wasn't sure of the size of my group or if I had extra spots but as we parted ways, I found out they'd be headed to the Lochsa.

Days later, I met up with Scotty Ewen and we hurried over to the Lochsa to meet the rest of our Selway crew. As we all furiously packed our gear away, I notice Ryan and Eric's SUV nearby. By this time I was aware I had 4 spots left on my permit (16 people max).

Here is the footage from my recent adventures on the Selway River. We had a lovely crew including three rafts and 9 kayakers. Enjoy the footage:

  Selway River from B Norrgard on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Welcome to the Bitterroots

I sat in the dusk beside my truck while overhead the clouds rained down the amongst giants cedars, and on the horizon only a small pink ribbon of clouds remained of the setting sun. The rain danced while the tumultous waters of the Lochsa River spoke in a roar. I sat mellowly absorbing the scene surrounding me. Pierceing the rivers song, boulders rolled in the hidden depths of the waters and sounded like the percussion of fireworks in a 4th of July sky. I was happy to arrive in this place...

In the days prior I had made the journey to the edge of the Bitterroot Mountains as my work had me traveling to the small town of Stevensville. Chasing the setting sun I arrived in Missoula in the nick of time to surf the manufactured play wave known in memoriam as Brennan's Wave. It was start of what would be three weeks amongst the Bitterroot's. A day later I had secured housing and spent 4 hours in the noon sun playing on Brennan's wave and warming up from my month long hiatus from whitewater. I drove happily exhausted in the direction of the Lochsa with the knowledge that the river was rising rapidly and would peak to levels possibily the highest of the season. I had no paddling partners but put faith that I could find some compatriots on the banks of Lochsa.

I arrived in the cover of night and surveyed the campgrounds for paddlers. Pulling into the poacher's free camping, I encountered a camp fire. Hopping out of my truck I came to find 3 paddlers who had the misfortune of high water on the Selway River blocking their trip. I quickly made friends with Cliff, Josh, Mike, and Chad. The night was already late and so after some brief conversation the group turned in. I walked down to the river to gauge it's level. The beam of my headlamp revealed swelling waters of magnitudes I had yet seen and had flooded into the trees along the river. I went to bed contemplating the morning ahead and the changing character of the Lochsa.

I awoke with the morning light and the sun radiantly warmed the air. The crew emerged and slowly busied getting for the days run. Looking at the river it was clear it had risen during our slumber and when I had left civilization I knew the flow was topping 17,000 cfs! We set our sights on the upper Lochsa.

Driving up river we stopped and scouted. My companions noted the river had risen nearly a foot over night. I had run the upper Lochsa numerous times and felt comfortable with all the lines, however now there was a distinct change in the Lochsa's character. At any other level the river was a stress-less flwoing of beautiful class IV. But now Lochsa was displaying it's more violent side. Eddy's became littered by whirlpools, holes became monstrous, and flat water became long sets of wave trains all the while raging downstream at 15-20 mph.

The truck filled with my companions became quiet and pensive. Reaching the put-in I grabbed my gear and dragged it to the rivers edge and waste no time gearing up. However only two of the four of my new companions came down the trail. It would only be a crew of three. And so myself and Josh helped Chad launch his Cat Boat, and we slid in our kayaks into the masses of water while the sun shone brightly among the blue skies and 80 degree heat.

We nervously paddled ahead defensively paddling an cautiously looking ahead. The river that I had once recognized was replaced by massive waves and holes galore. Rapids once of consequence became wave trains and rapids that never exhisted sprouted keeping us on our toes. We rolled into the first drop, Eagle Creek, an watched the magnitude of whitewater explode. I hugged close to the right bank and sized up the initial breaking wave as the world began to accelerate. I climbed up it's 4 foot face and crashed through it's peak and instinct to over. The waves crashed as if amongst a moving ocean of water echoing of the banks surging unpredictably. I maintain my momentum and maintained focus. We eddied out after the first drop and the smiles slowly grew on our faces and we relaxed as the more and more of the river passed us by.

However looming in our heads was triple drop, a series of 4 staggered monstrous holes with only a narrow line. As triple drop loomed ahead apathy came to me. There was some attempt to eddy out. But as we cam neared I felt... "what's the point?" any more scouting and I'd probably end up walking the rapid. So I signaled to my partners I was going and took the lead, while Chad in the Cat boat lined up behind me. I sighted the first wave of 6-7 ft in height and new I needed to crest the left edge of it's massive-ness. I pounded through and immediately began working back left in the slack water behind it skirting away from two left hand holes. Then set my sights on the final crashing wave. I lined up and lowered my head for the hit and came blasting through to a boiling eddy. Grins abound we regrouped in the eddy chattering with the release of nervous energy.

The rest of the run went flawlessly as we plodded on. We stopped at our camp and enjoyed a celebratory beer. Myself and Josh hadn't had enough and regrouped to run Lower section of the Lochsa. But skies gew dark and the rain came down torrentially. It was a warm rain that was surprisingly pleasant. However from th warm rain and the heat of the day clashing with the frigid waters of the Lochsa rose an ominous mist about the river. Neither Josh nor I was familiar with the lines in any way. I could barely see Josh only 20 ft in front of me and we took each corner completely unware whether we were on the correct line and we about to be throttled by a bus sized hole. It was eerie in feeling and we grew wary of our safety given the enormous river levels. On shore we could see our shuttle vehicle awaiting us to runthe next rapid. We took out and cut our losses, avoiding unnecessary danger.

The weather continued to worsen while we set up came, with rain turning to hail. We set up a tarp kingdom and sat out of the weather. The night led to the usual banter and I sat content. We listed as the river rolled boulders down stream and it sounded like 4th of July fireworks in the night. Amongst the majesty of the river and enjoying the accolades of my new found crew, I felt the familiar happiness that the river and those whose chase it's water bring.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Hunger

Contemplating the seasonal desire for the river’s water

When the sun rises you can sense it.  In a breath you can taste the rising humidity. The birds know it too, they sing their praise for the anticipated warmth.  As the fire rises in the sky, droplets of water emerge from icicle tips, liberated from their snowy grasp.  And so the current begins; the hunger grows.

It always seems to occur in the mid of winter. A singular day of thaw is enough to light the spark of desire, despite knowing Ullr still has many months of reign.  Memories begin to flood the day dreams. Suddenly I'm smelling like chlorine left over from pool imprisoned paddling sessions. I'm zombie faced and unconsciously paging through pictures, videos, websites, blogs to fill that intolerable void. When it gets real bad, I come fulfill the capitalistic ideal and begin pouring over the latest gear.  The obsession only worsens with further change in the tilt of the earth. Like the desire of your first love; that lovely and yet painful craving.

But often I have thought, at these times… why must I wait every year for the water. Why don’t I pack up and find a place where Tethys (the mother of waters) and her children are never captive by winter.  

But what then would fuel this hunger? From what source would the desire alight? Or would I prefer to pull-start my motivation every morning without it?

Contemplation breeds peace with the ongoing impatience. And this seems to describe universal seasonal emotion of paddlers far and wide; it is the beautiful hunger that brings us together. Communal bar-side tales of prior years ensue, smiles erupting, as nostalgia perpetuates. And we silently and contently wait for the many cycles of the moon to carry the sun to its rightful place and unlock the frozen waters.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Of Comrades and The Boof Kanal

I took to the familiar road from Billings, following highway 212 into the Southwest and driving in thoughtful silence. Ahead the Beartooth Mountains filled the horizon amongst the cloudless blue sky. In the high country, only faint remnants of snow were to be found; inhabiting only the shadowed gullies. The summer heat hung oppressively about the land, and dissolved any remaining snow pack. Thus the creeks lost their roaring song and gradually quieted.

As the water began to wane, we had taken to the dam released West Rosebud and basked in its supplemented flows. Every weekend crews from hours away congregated for what remained of the high quality runs in South-Central Montana. The West Rosebud became another friend in whose waters I routinely found an inextinguishable smile. On the river's shore I shared beers and laughter with new faces; united by the shared lust for whitewater.

Myself amongst the West Rosebud with Nate Winning, Aaron Mulkey, and Dave Benkley in close succession

But even then, the changing season could not be suppressed, and the heat persisted in dwindling even West Rosebud.  And so myself and Nate Winning scrambled to find some parcel of water to satisfy our insatiable hunger for the river. While flying about the country-side by way of air plane, Nate had spotted some whitewater amongst one of the numerous irrigation canals that wandered about the rolling countryside. Upon investigation a worthy endeavor was born.

I drove onward through the rolling hills of parched and golden grass rolling in the wind. I was aware of an aching stiffness in my knee, which sought to remind me of my swim two weeks earlier. But today would be clean and gleeful joy, as I sped for the "Boof Kanal". The newly christened irrigation ditch was so named in light of its (approximate) 13 artificially created pour-overs of 2-7 feet in height. It was a 7 minute run of silly fun, and with a 10 minute walk for lapping.

As pavement transitioned to the rumble of gravel amongst rolling rubber, ahead on the hillside crept the canal. Stepping from a truck parked along the banks came Nate with a welcoming expression. I was grateful for good company and waters to paddle.

I had discovered that the community of paddlers inhabiting this section of the Beartooths was rather scarce if not fractured. To my good fortune Nate Winning had same intentions as myself: to paddle every given moment so long as any water remained. And thus we had a steadfast paddling partnership.

In my experience, men have a way of becoming entangled in masculine posturing much to our own fault. Often this "machismo" distracts and degrades the experience of whitewater to an unsightly superficiality. I had the good fortune of learning to paddle in the Midwest where humility is an upheld virtue, and I was concerned if I could replicate this and find like minded paddlers in my new home.

The bond between paddlers is unlike that of any sport I have experienced. The dynamics of a group can make or break a run. Your safety is placed on the shoulders of those paddlers you go to the river with. But over the course of a season, with countless laps with the same paddling friends there develops a mutual understanding. Communication on the river is reduced to mere facial expression or glance as the details can be read from them. There is nothing to prove and the male competitive tendencies fade... your paddling comrades know you and your abilities. If you get beat down, there is no judgement for it. When one is successful there is no brooding jealousy, only a celebration.

And so from countless river laps, spread across 3 states.... I found the same the same shared understanding, philosophy, and trust in Montana as I had known in my Midwestern homeland.

Nate and I scurried to the banks of the Boof Kanal and found refuge from the mid-day sun's oppressive heat amongst the fertile waters. In the midst of a backdrop of the flowing golden grasslands, we could be seen taking flight over artificial water falls; laughing amongst our personal paradise of waters amongst a dry and thirsty landscape.......

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Stillwater River

As the sun breathed it's fiery breath upon the Beartooth Mountain's high country, the waters began their migration and the Spring paddling season was born. It was a stark transition from paddling in my homeland of Duluth where Class V creeks and drops lie within the city limits. But from my new Billings the Beartooths loomed distant in the horizon and thus whitewater flowed an hour South and West. But working an inhumane 75 hours a week in the hospital was eating at my soul. I felt one dimensional and disconnected. Thus was born a ravenous hunger for the river as an desperate cure for a life of growing apathy.

Within near reach was the Stillwater river and became a staple in my after work paddling. Nearly an hour and half away the Stillwater powerfully roared through the Beartooth Mountains before meandering through the grassy foot hills of Yellowstone River Valley before converging with the Yellowstone River itself. The Stillwater Drainage is one of the larger of the Beartooth's and thus run as moderate flows of 1500-3000 cfs through much of the spring. In high Spring flows it provides Class IV-V big water delight, while at low flows the upper stretches contain Class V tight creeking. Thus the river is a versatile run through the changing seasons.

Over the course of the season the Stillwater became a familiar friend and a savior. The rushing waters song muted the noisy demands of the turning world. Whitewater became a meditative dance between me and the river, and my toil away from the river became only a mere distraction. Each day I left the river in the looming dusk, nourished and lit with a renewed flame of vitality. I thankfully drove home smiling into the glowing horizon.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

From Past to Present Tense

The thralls of life have put me quite behind in the tales of this spring. And while there are stories the will forever remain in my memory, a shortage of time has stripped my ability to convey them in written words.

In the interest of capturing the present while it remains in foreground of my thoughts rather than a distant recapturing of moments gone by.... I will be skipping ahead to the present. Thus my spring including trips to the Selway, Lochsa, Lower Clarks Fork, The Pot's, Woodbine, and the many forks of rock creek will remain to be documented in video only sans the infamous GoPro(coming soon).

In the mean time stay tuned for posts on more current adventures...