Monday, November 5, 2007

Fall Floods and Surf

It was not convenient, that as I began medical school, the sky poured forth and the rain began to fall again. It rained almost daily and created flood stage conditions that could not be left aside by any kayaker. As the storms of October first came in the blew steady winds to the shores of Duluth. The waves swelled and there was surf to be had. I first learned to kayak and roll in big surf, and was almost a comfortable homecoming to be back in it . I got out on park point first where 5 footers where rolling in with. I was intent upon working past the break line and hitting the big rogue waves. My afternoon was highlighted by a 9 ft wave that warranted a whoop as I bounced violently down it's face, and carved into it's curl. I spun out giving it a go backwards and forwards as it took me for a 150 yard ride. That was all I needed one gorgeous ride for the night. I went again a week later to Stoney Point where I was able to hit some more wave filled goodness. I paddled until darkness and lightening from the oncoming storming forced me to make land-fall.

That same week it was time to run some creeks. Most people have
creek boats ...made for the task of... creeks. However having put my financial backings into a playboat this year, I put the ever reliable Big EZ up to the task. The six of us boaters decided to warm up on the Knife River. This being my 4 or 5th run of the Knife this year I was pretty familiar with it and had a good time.

A nice little drop on the Knife photo courtesy of Nora

We then decided to step it up a notch and run the Fench River. I had never run the French before, but found it to be a great run. It was a gorgeous river and had many class III slides that made for a good ride. After a run on the French we then decided for a go at Steward River, another unknown river for me. In retrospect, I would have to say that it ranks among my favorite rivers at this point. It is a river with big drops that are just on the edge of my ability level, but alas I feared too much to handle for the Big EZ. They were the kind of drops you portaged around and looked back as you paddled away with the thought just burning inside your brain... "I could have done that drop". Sometimes it's good to leave a challenge for yourself, just waiting for you the next season. We paddled out into Lake Superior in darkness just after twilight and made landfall. It was along and fulfilling day, that ended with a hearty meal and a diet of laughter with friends.

The next morning myself and friend woke up early and hit up the upper St. Louis River at 14, 000 cfs... which is considered BIG WATER. It was incredible, features changed and morphed in unimagineable ways compared to the familiar features I was used to. Often you would have to plan your route through the rapids while on top of a giant roller while losing site of what's ahead while in it's trough at such high water levels. It was better than any roller coaster could offer at the grandest of theme parks. We stopped at a feature entitle "Upstream-Downstream" that at this level created a big surf wave. I jumped in my buddies playboat and went to town. It was a killer run, that kept me hungry for more whitewater

The next weekend I had the burning desire to run the Stoney river. It had a class IV drop, that I had portaged earlier in the season and I was gunning to run it. The Stoney starts up with class III+ right out of the blocks, and after a few drops I was feeling good. We eventually made it to the "Box Drop" which plunged through a narrowed slot to the river 15 feet below. I came over the top of it seeing the horizon line and paddled aggressively knowing there was a descent size hole waiting for me. As ploughed through a rooster tail, my weight was thrown backward as I was blinded by a bursting of water. When I could see again I was on my way for the hole, I dug in deep and attempted to get weight forward as I into it. It turns out that I was thrown sky high into a stern ender, that managed to spit me clear of the hole (which didn't seem dangerously sticky). I quickly rolled up, and raised a fist triumphantly. The rest of the river was more of the same quality river running. It was another great run for the fall season.

The last run of the season; me and Roger surfing 1st Wave

The last day of kayaking for the season was on November 4th, and was a a classic run down the Upper Louie...just to have one more go at it. It was a killer season of paddling, and I await the thaw for continuation of my paddling adventures.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Summer of Paddling

Time lapse photo of myself "looping" credit: Nora Whitmore

Paddling this summer I would describe as an evolution. So in July I was able to run the St. Louis river down to the swinging bridge which is always exciting endeavor, but had become more and more familiar to me. By mid July the drought had fully set in, the weather was hot with lot's of sunshine but some water needed to fall from the sky.... desperately. The paddling thereby literally dried up except.... during a Wausau Whitewater Park release. So it came to be that I drove Wausau and got to work on some playboating.

Wausau improved my boating dramatically, by giving an opportunity working on a lot of the fundamentals of paddling that playboating demands. Most memorable was the Midwest Freestyle Championships. My intention was to just gets some paddling in and to avoid any competition. But after some encouragement, and a good sunny day in the park with a awesome borrowed Jackson All star boat under me (courtesy of the Schroeter family!), I caved and signed up for the competition. I awoke the next day to a cold dreary day. Before long I was up to paddle in the competition. To all non-paddlers, the way a freestyle comp works is that you get a set amount of time to jump in the play feature and throw down your sickest moves in your bag of tricks...(which isn't all the big for me). So there I am trying hard to not look like a fool, and would maybe pull off a spin before getting flushed. So with 9 sec left on the clock I jump in the hole to go big with the only respectable trick I can really attempt...a loop (AKA front flip). So I dive the bow, whip my weight forwards.... there's a moment of disorientation, but seconds later I find myself upright with some noise from the crowd....apparently I pulled it off!

kudos to Nora Whitmore for this shot of me looping this summer

The remainder of the day I had a smile as I shivered all day in the 55 degree temps and constant drizzle in wet paddling clothes and watched the rest of the comp. That night after an evening with friends, to my shock... I learned I had made the final round of competition and would have to be up early in the morning to go through another round. In the comp I pulled off another loop.... it was good to see some consistency in boating. I ended up buying the Jackson All Star a week later, I guess it got me hooked.

Aside from Wausau there was also water to be flowing in Canada. So myself, Roger Peka, and John went up to Thunder Bay to hit up Crooked Rapids and some wave play action. It was my first experience on a bigger river wave...check out the You-tube video (I'll be providing better quaility soon). We also met a local named Peter who nice enough to bring us to the scenery of the Falls on the Dog river and later took us down for a run on the Kam.

Falls on the Dog River

The summer built my experience and changed my paddling... I miss the the days of feeling so tired I can only sit, stare into a fire, and fall asleep to the sound of a river!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Summer of Climbing

Realizing that I have not written in very long time it seemed fitting that I continue with the stories of my adventures this summer and fall. Let's first talk about climbing... I began guiding climbing as of this summer and it was a wonderful way to get outside, make a few bucks, and get people excited about rock climbing. In the meantime, I planned my days off to head to Colorado to climb Trad. On July 20th myself and Jeremy set off for Estes Park Colorado, home of Rockie Mountain National Park. After long hours of driving straight through the night, we arrive exhausted. The first of the wildlife that we encountered was the most massive and abnoxiously loud red neck I have yet encounter. He managed to keep me awake while he took shots of Jim Beam in front of his three children that night.

The next day we woke around 5 am and headed out to Lumpy Ridge to climb some classic multi-pitch trad. The route of the day was entitled "Osiris" and was going to be my warm up route for the trip. It was a 5 pitch 5.7. I knew it would be less than 5 pitches due the fact we had a 70 meter rope and the routes were named in days of 50 meter ropes. However the routes were rated in the days of the old Yosemite decimal system. The first pitch followed multiple pocket-like cracks following a main off-width. This being Jeremy's first time seconding trad, I attempted to maintain my composure as the pitch was proving to be tricky and c aught me a little off guard. But after a bit of grunting and made it past the first pitch and continued on towards stringing together the next.

The first pitch of "Osiris"

From that point on the pitches went pretty smoothly and we made it up in three pitches with a smile.... it was good to be back on the mountain. We avoided the noon heat and decided to call it quits for the rest of the day. The next day we woke early again and headed towards, Melvin's Wheel and four star 5.8+ route. It was the very same route that I had seconded at age 18 for my frist multipitch. This route was sustained 5.8 all the way up. The pitch was solid finger crack going up and over a bit of an overhang which was challenging enough to be fun. The next pitch proved even more interesting up classic straight narrow hand crack to a large roof.

the second pitch of "Melvin's Wheel"

I reached the roof and set up the hanging belay. The next pitch was very nerve racking. It climbed a grunt worthy off-width crack through the roof, up and over into a chimney. It was my first chimney, and was not so fun. It was hugely flairing from foot width at its base to 30 feet wide at a large angle. Worst of all it had little to no protection. So up I went and my run out crept up to 40 ft, I was breathing hard and in some awkward positions...and finally found protection. Then continued up to the rap, in which we botched and ended up down climbing what should have been a rappel. It was a satisfying day. The next day we attempt to climb Longs Peak, but got off track and managed to climb the crazy scree field from Chasm Lake up to the keyhole. Jeremy and myself decided to back out at this point because, the days previous climbing combined with the scree was wearing us down significantly and we needed rest before heading to Gunnison Canyon.

Gunnison Canyon

We arrived at Gunnison canyon to the ominous rumblings of thunder storms. We met up with my friend Sevve and Collette and went out bouldering, while discussing plans to take on "Maiden Voyage". Two days later we packed up the car at 4:00 am and took off heading for the North Rim of Gunnnison canyon. When we arrived it was raining lightly and looked pretty grim. After contemplating our options we got in the car and began to drive away...but the sun reared through the clouds and we turned around got out and hiked towards the canyon. After finding the fixed rappel lines we descended 1500 ft into the canyon below. The approach was a cake and walking toward the route it looked good. "Maiden Voyage" one of the easier routes (being a 5.9) in the park which is well known for it's challenging trad.

"Maiden Voyage" followed the left edge of the Checker Board wall shown (see the climbers on the crux)

The first pitch and second pitches strung together were pretty mellow, and I set up a hanging belay under a roof next to the crux. The crux was challenging is the best of way, I head out the the edge of the roof and plugged a cam, and picked my way up... with some moments of intensity. The rest of the climb was gorgeous. I sat and smiled as I belayed Jeremy up the last and third pitch.... the rushing river echoing in the massive cavernous canyon with not a soul to be heard or seen... absolutely pristine! We left in the heat of the afternoon and headed back to Denver then homeward. It was a great trip and left me hungry for more trad climbing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Flood No One Knew About

In the week previous to this one, whitewater paddling had dominated my diet of adventure. I paddled almost daily. So much so that the St. Louis river was become somewhat too familiar. I managed to complete my second clean run of the Lower St. Louis down to the swinging bridge. To mix things up I decided to try other people's shorter play boats made for doing "tricks". And so I gave trying a "loop" out (AKA: a front flip end over end). The video below shows some of my failed attempts.

Finally on my second day of attempts I squeezed into my friend's small play boat, drove the boat into the trough of the wave aggressively throwing my weight forward. In a violent instant, I found myself upright viewing the wave in front of me. I let out a whoop and raised my paddle in triumph. I admit my style points would probably be low, but the completion of the loop was a first step.

On Monday, I decided to go after another run of the upper and lower St. Louis river. As we ran the First and Second Sisters the sky darkened, down poured, and struck with thunderous lightning. We quickly got off the river and jumped into our heading back to Duluth. It rained hard all afternoon and miniature rivers ran down the street. I got a call around 4 o'clock inviting me to run the Knife river. It made sense that the river was high as a result of rain.

When we arrived was shocked to see the river was a not only high, but a rushing torrent. It was at flash flood levels, three feet higher than it ran this spring, and was a milky brown color as a result of the sediment from it's eroding banks.

We drove up to our put-in, while locals spectated from a bridge above. Giant uprooted trees float down-stream, and slammed into the bridge's pylons. We set off with an extra note of caution with the amount of debris that was floating down stream. As we paddled I look to the shoreline to see that that water was running very fast and would require much foresight in terms of planning for what lie ahead. We dodged logs and nasty strainers. Rapids that at lower levels were mild became more challenging holes and rollers. The were many intense moment of must make eddy-ing to avoid going over a nasty drop un-scouted. But none the less it was an adventure to be remembered.

Two days later I ran much of the Sucker River in my playboat. One class IV drop got my stomach in knots as I slipped into my boat after scouting it. I pushed off and paddled hard (my gut reaction to intense drops). I first punched through a descent hole, and lost some momentum as the exploding type of water came next. The water more or less billowed through a zig-zag slot that dropped about 15 feet. I ran it clean and without hesitation...while letting out a relief filled whoop of triumph. Just before the end of the creek I decided I run the last fish ladder type drop, that consisted of three ledge-pools with nasty holes included in each. I was not so sucessful this time. I successfully hit the first ledge but was stern endered in the squirrely what exiting its hole. I dropped over the next ledge upside down. My paddle was promptly wrestled from my hands, which left with the only option of exiting my boat. I surfaced and noticed I was still in the hole. It grabbed me and pulled me under to the bottom of the river and was recirculated back to the surface. I grabbed three or four breaths before be recirculated again, at which time a friend threw me a throw rope and I pulled myself up the rope and out of the hole. My boat washed downstream and when I came to my senses I took sprinting down a log riddled trail to catch my boat. I caught up to the boat as it went over a small drop. I dove into the river and tackled my boat and dragged it to the shore. I emptied the boat and continued paddling rest of the river and onto Lake Superior.
We ended that day running the Knife River. It had dropped considerable in levels since my last run on it, but was still at Spring-like levels. It gave us a fun ride as we dropped the middle falls and holes as well as running Fish Trap falls which consisted of one 6 foot drop, then a slightly more intense 8 foot drop into a small pool then dropping another 10 ft falls attempting a boof to avoid sticky hole beneath it. It was epic week, that will be framed in my memories of this being the best of summers.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Back at Home: St. Louis River

The day was bright and the sun was high in the sky. The weather had decided that the last 4 days of rest and healing on my part (after my adventures in Wyoming) were to come to a abrupt end. There was no question that I had to get outside. Fortunately I had received a phone invitation to run the lower St. Louis. In a blink of an eye, I was out the font door jumped into friend's awaiting vehicle.

We arrived at river and saw the river was low and exposing rocks and ledges that had previously been underwater. However, the river's level was still inviting to whitewater kayaks. As we geared up, another arrived to join us. The first order of business was "the slot machine", normally a class V narly drop, but in low water was a fun class III slide down a 15 ft waterfall. I made my way into the mini-gorge that preceded it, got into my boat and ran it cleanly. Then we tackled the "ton" drop followed by the 210 drop (Class III) which managed to flip my boat, but I easily rolled upright again. We then paddle a mile through easy rapids and swept through the "First and Second Sisters" without a hitch.

The "First Sister"

At last we reached the "Octopus". It was characterized by first, a nasty class V hole (possibility of injury), then through a couple explosions of class III finally finishing with a cascade over a 15 water fall into a class IV hole with a nasty rock jutting from it's center. So my first order of business was to gather speed and launch myself over and down a water devoid slide to avoid the first and hungry hole. It was then a difficult eddie-ing out into the main flow, which threatened to push you against a rock wall. Having barely avoiding this obstacle I shot through a narrow channel and tangled with the first of the class III explosions, which threatened to swallow my stern and "ender" me (which would end in me being capsized). Then plunged over the cascade hitting my line and avoiding the nasty rocks.

a portion of The "Octopus"

I emerged with more confidence with the experience of tackling some more technical and burly whitewater. It was another joyful day well spent. We walked home talking and wondering what does the rest of the world does for fun....oblivious to our own departure from the ordinary.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Devils Tower: Triumphant Birthday

I slept soundlessly with only enough conciousness to be awoken by the downpour that ravaged my tent. The blew hard and shook the tent and somehow I put aside any concern and fell back to sleep. When the morning light came to the gray sky it was still raining and dreary. I fumbled over to the car put my contacts in and gaining vision again decided to drive. My friend and I left on a small excursion into civilization, namely to Spearfish, SD a half-hour's drive away.

Some where along the drive it became more and more clear that this day was somehow important or special. Then it came to me... ah, yes... today was my birthday. Seeing as it was raining, we went to the library to check the internet. After discovering that the only place to go to get out of the rain in the country was in the desert of southern Utah and Nevada, we decided we go get pizza to celebrate another year of aging on my part and attempt to suffocate our rain filled misery with greasy food. Somehow it worked, because when we emerged from the restaurant the sky was clearing and the rain had stopped.

We hurriedly raced back to Devils Tower and rounded up our climbing gear. We hiked up to the tower and decided upon a route entitled "El Cracko Diablo". It was solid crack in a left facing dihedral that led up to a small roof and continued towards to top of the tower. The first pitch went easily with solid hand and foot jams creating an cautious optimism. The next pitch rated 5.8+ went equally well as the first, jams where solid... I felt good enough to hum a little tune to myself as I went. When I reached the roof, I looked at the crack and its sustained width and realized I would need my #2 and #3 sized cams back to finish out the pitch. So I set up a trad anchor and belayed my friend up to my position bringing my needed camalots from my placements below.

the route (left center, left facing dihedral)

From the roof I could see end of the pitch was near and my excitement grew. I continued upward past the roof and each move brought a bigger grin to my face. I finally pulled my way onto the final ledge threw my hands into the air let a joyful whoop. I quickly set up an anchor and belayed my friend up to my position. We continued upward a very easy scramble for 200 ft when the terrain began to level out. The route we had climbed was in the shade of the tower and

atop the tower, looking down

on the opposite side as the sun. As I crested the slope of the top, my first sight of the summit was blinded by the sunlight of the setting afternoon sun that had nearly reached the horizon. I walked through the ankle deep grass to the aged wooden stake that marked the summit and smiled broadly. The wind swept over the green flowing plains of Wyoming on my birthday and I sat contently with a broad smile, 876 feet in the sky.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Devils Tower: The First Fall

My friend and I arrived at Devils Tower in the night and was greeted with dramatic introduction. We drove up to base and it loomed as a black monolith on the back-drop of storm clouds whose lightning lit it's shear faces. It was quite intimidating. So being that we arrived late, we slept out in the car instead camping, which made for an uncomfortable and sleepless night.

I woke early the next morning, bought a guide book, and set out to climb. We hiked up the massive boulder field to the Northeast side of the tower. I timidly lead a 5.8- pitch, which proved fairly easy and built my confidence. I then jumped onto a 5.8+ face was slightly tricky with face moves and got my blood running a touch.

I woke the next morning with my leading confidence high and after talking with some locals decided that "Soler" would be our next route. I arrived at the climb with excitement. We decided that my friend would lead the first 5.8+ rated pitch, and then I would follow and climb the next 5.9- section. The route followed a hand width crack in a left facing corner, in which the corner slowly moved towards overhanging. Upon starting the first pitch I could tell things weren't going well. As my friend disappeared out of sight and up the crack, I noticed the rope went out slower and slower until it stopped.... I gave it a moment, then asked, "how's it going?" I recieved a nervous response, "I'm setting up an anchor". Which meant my friend was stuck or didn't prefer to climb further and was going to belay me up to their position so that I could climb the rest of the section. So up I went and found the climbing to be moderate. There were solid hand jams and I moved upwards steadily. Finishing the rest of the section optimistically, and clipped into the section's anchor. The next pitch looked like more of the same yet slightly overhanging. I climbed 20 feet up and placed my first piece, a stopper (metal wedge) and continued. However, the next moves got progressively more difficult...the hand jams became awkward and difficult to hold on to and the crack thinned making foot jams difficult. Soon I my breathing picked and my heart pounded while I looked down at my last piece 7 feet below me. I reached high with my feet for my next step, my hands just holding my weight inward towards the rock...Then suddenly my foot gave out and I fell. I slid down the vertical face 12 feet until the rope and my stopper caught me, while my friend and I hung some 200 feet of the ground. I brushed myself off and checked for injuries. Noting none, went back to re-climb the trouble section. I got to my previous place of difficulty and ascended past it 9 feet and placed a cam in the rock and clipped it. I continued upward 10 feet above the cam when things became difficult again. I found myself breathing hard. My arms and calves began to burn, my hand jams nor my feet felt solid.... I was losing friction...I just needed to get past this one move to find a foot lost it's grip and my hand jam scraped out from the rock as I fell. I fell/slid twenty feet until I was stopped abruptly when the rope and my cam caught me. I looked to see my right hand scraped and raw near my first knuckle and my elbows bruised and bleeding lightly from scrapes. I looked to my friend and decided we should come down. I climb up once more, removed my pieces from the rock and slowly down lead to the anchor. As we rappelled 300 feet down, I looked up and seeing how close I was to finishing the route couldn't help but feel frustration creeping in. I laid down in the grass and warm sunlight near the park office, and with tourists gauking I tended my minor wounds. I sat trying not to be too hard on myself knowing tomorrow was another day. And the next day my luck would in fact turn.... (stay tuned for my next post).

Saturday, May 12, 2007


The coming weeks host a menu of activity that is sure to create lasting memories. Besides adjusting to life as a hermit and living out of a tent for the next two weeks, I will spend four days getting certified by the American Mountain Guide Assoc. then driving to Wyoming's Devils tower to climb. However in the interim I am preparing for the rigors ahead.

In light of this, I went with friends to Palisade Head and lead trad on the giant cliffs lining the shores of Lake Superior. We started the day by climbing "Quetico" crack, an off-width that I managed to climb with one eye previously this year. Then we to took the route "Danger High Voltage", which proved to be a fun mix of off-width crack, finger and hannd cracks, and face climbing.

climbing "Danger High Voltage"

We then took to "Phantom crack", a 5.9 crack requiring knowledge of hand and foot jamming techniques...

reaching high into the crack on "Phantom Crack"

myself cursing a stuck cam

On the way back I tackled a new adventure...learning how to drive a manual trasmission after a day of hard climbing. I got home with the general sense of fatigue that lent itself to pleasant sleep....

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Back In Action

It turns out that I'm not last five days of tire-less fun got the best of me. Considering the high water, the next week continued paddle despite a large amount of pain in my back, ribs, and shoulder. I managed to run the Upper St. Louis and Lower St. Louis river twice...and managed to fall in love with a large standing wave aptly named "big glassy". I took a couple days off but couldn't pass up the opportunity to paddle the Stoney River near Babbit, MN. It was pristine it would drop quickly spilling into large pools and small lakes. Stoney River started almost immediately with action providing a class IV- slide into a chaotic bursting hole (see picture). It was a gorgeous sunny day and the water ran warmly. We eyed the the class IV+ "boxer" drop and determined it was just on the edge of our ability levels...and left it for another season. Continuing onward we reached what I would deem "the island of fun". The river split around an island on one side a class III slide/chute, and on the other a 10 ft waterfall. We ran the chute first, and it proved fun and easy...then we scoped out the based of the seemd plenty deep. And one by one we launched ourselves off the was nothing short of a rush.Upon approaching the fal, you maintain focus on hitting your line as the water leaps off rocks in your path until you see the water line meet the sky as you sail into the water filled air!!! Then you land with a gentle boof on pillow of aerated water. Leaving "the island of fun", talked like school children trying to live in the moment as long as possible.
When I got home later that night, I knew I was going to pay for paddling with the pain. When I woke the next morning, I could barely breath without pain in my ribs. I knew it was time to stop. With the help of my Physical Therapy friends I took this week off...and it was excruciating to be sedintary. I went out and belayed friends out rock climbing, and sat impatiently, knowing fully I could not even cough without pain, much less climb. Yet after three days, couple of painful massages, and a lot of "icy-hot"/ibuprofen, I started to feel better...and after 5 days adventure-less I can honestly say I'm recovered and back in action. I went out and surfed with my kayak this morning at 6am as the sun rose over Stoney Point and the frigid water was better than coffee in the morning...ah, yes...good to be back...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Four Days

Here I sit, my eyelid black and blue, my back sore enough cause pain with breathing, my biceps and shoulders sore enough for me to avoid lifting them. However, I do not list these attributes as complaints but as proud evidence of my last four days of adventure.

It started last Wed. with the baptism river... Me and a friend drove up and decided to run a river we had never paddled. It was laden with falls to portage, and class III drops that kept your adrenaline pumping as your kayak leapt over wave trains.

Next came Thursday in which I drove with companions out to rock climb Palisade head. I rappelled down the 80 ft cliff to the shore of lake superior. There after I managed to whip myself in the eye with the rope...leading me to climb half blind for the remainder.

Friday I awoke a 6:00 am and drove out to Ely's peak where I spent 9 hours tackling a 5.11b overhanging dihedral finger crack. Promptly thereafter myself and a friend drove out and kayak surfed the standing waves of the St. Louis River until nightfall. Then we drove to the Kettle River.

Saturday, I awoke to the sounds of the Kettle river running and thunder approaching. I paddled and played in the whitewater of the Kettle river all day.

I awoke more sore than I had been all year, but pleasantly had much to show for it....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Surfing Lake Superior: Day 2

I woke in the early AM hours and put on my damp wetsuit and dry top. Seeing the sun shining warmly through my windows woke me up as I headed out the door. I loaded up kayak and was off with my fellow paddler for the wave riddled shores of Stoney Point on Lake Superior. We arrived to find that the stillness of the morning had slowed the winds and lessened the size of the crashing waves. Yet having seen a few sets break, we deemed paddling well worth getting wet.

They were nice clean 3 ft breaks just fun enough for a nice ride, but having no wind you had to work for your waves very little. It was balmy in temperature as we surfed and watched as the sun rose from it's lowley position until it was high in the sky. Blue skys complimented the crystal clear lake. It was a gorgeous day of non-strenuous surfing, and I was thankful for every minute of it....

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Surfing Lake Superior: Day 1

The April gusts brought grey skies and rolling waves to the shores of Lake Superior. Suprisingly I stepped out my door, kayak and paddle in hand, to find it warmer than expected. I jumped in my fellow adventurer's vehicle, and raced for the body of water that so beautifully graces Duluth.

When we reached Lester river we could see the large waves curl towards the shore line in long breaks. Having seen a few sets come in it was clear we needed to get on the water. Clad in neoprene from head to toe we set off into the wind swept waters. We paddled furiously against the breaking waves and broke through their peaks until we were past the break line. There we found we were not alone seeing five surfers on their boards working tire-less for the prize of a long ride.

With this same goal in mind I paddled hard, and found just what I was looking for. It is an indescribable feeling, dropping over the crest of an 8 foot wave and carving down its slope as it curls down and crashes around you in a explosion of water. For a small momentum you're blinded then you emerge from the spray surfing sideways in the continuing wave of whitewater then carefully placing a paddling stroke and turning an edge to turn slide down the wave backwards: watching a wall of water curl up and reach out for you as it block your view of the dark horizon of sky and water. You couldn't ask for a more exhilaratingly beautiful scene...

After leaving as darkness slowly crept upon us, you felt like an excited little child having just discovered candy: speaking in half sentences usually ending within exaggerated exclamations of awe at the experience. That night when my friends asked me what I did, there came the normal frustration at my inadequacy to conveying the experience of surfing a wave... then suddenly finding a better way to describe the undescribable... I let out a sign while I smiling wide and stared off into the distance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Quest For The Cadbury Egg

Every spring, out of fantastical childhood dreams and the reinforcement of TV advertizing comes into existance a rabbit that lays delicous chocolate eggs filled with a dilectable white creamy frosting filled yolk. Biting into one of these eggs, one couldn't keep the taste from reminding them of the sweetness of spring, the resurrection of Jesus, the coming daylight, multiplication of rabbits, and.... fertility. Of course, with absolutely no seriousness I am refering to the Cadbury Egg...straight from the British shores It is the quintessential Easter candy.

Anyhow, this year having attained an age far past childhood, I recieved no Easter candy this year. Having the rising feeling of deprivation, I decided that the week after Easter would be the best time to make a killing on Easter candy and satisfy my insatiatable desire for Cadbury Eggs.

And so the night of April 10th, I set off for my adventure filled quest to obtain Cadbury Eggs. At my side I brought two companions of the utmost stature when it came to Easter candy shopping. The first stop was Cub Foods, which left me empty handed with the exception of some lowly starburst jelly beans. Next we arrived at Super One Foods, and reflective of the quality of the establishment: they had absolutely no Easter candy. Next came Target, which was also devoid of Cadbury. Then having entered the infamous Walmart store, it became apparent that China hadn't found a way to bypass the Cadbury Rabbit and manufacture Cadbury eggs, for it too was empty of Cadbury. We then stopped at a Walgreen' was closed, then another Super One Foods...nothing, no Cadbury.

So in a last desperate attempt I drove down another Walgreen's in a less then pretty area of Duluth...and there in urban ugliness shined a little light... for there I found half price Cadbury Eggs at 25 cents a piece. I left the store with my bag filled with 40 eggs knowing that I would have enough to have the a taste of spring for months to come...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Whitewater Kayaking the Knife River

I awoke disoriented at 8:30, with my body asking, "asking why are you awake"?. I sat in confusion for a moment until my mind answered, "Oh, yeah...we're suppose to go kayaking". I quickly got ready, putting on multiple layers of polypro and neoprene. I ran out the door and packed my kayak and paddle into my buddy's awaiting car. Our plan was to surf Lake Superior in our kayaks.

Looking out the window, the dull grey weather accompanied with the bitter cold 20-30 mph winds and scattered rain would ordinarily seem pretty dreary. However, today I sat nervously excited at the prospect of the morning's adventure. As we drove up the north shore it was clear that the waves were breaking and the ice chunks were dissipating from the shoreline.

When we arrived at Stoney Point things didn't look that great...mushy mediocre waves, very cold winds. So we decided to drive up the shore to check out the knife river and see if it was open and run-able. We were pleasantly surprised at the conditions and decided to give it a run.

I got out of the suburban and setup on the grassy shoreline of the river. I nervously got into my boat and slid into the flowing water. I was well experienced at getting knocked about in surf on the big lake, but rivers were a knew thing to me at this point. So I carefully practiced my technique getting in and out of eddies (calm pools usually behind boulders, trees, ice blocks). As we traveled down river I became more and more comfortable paddling through the swells, waves, and "gnarly" class III rapids. It's like a roller coaster ride: cresting over waves, water rushing up and exploding onto and around you, meanwhile passing boulders and ice chunks.

A small drop on the knife river
(picture courtesy of the Lake Superior Stealhead Assoc.)

During our run, I ran into an unexpectedly hungry hole, that gnashed it's teeth and managed to roll my boat. I stayed calm and attempted to roll... the first attempt..... I missed it, my face never reaching the surface. I set up underwater for another attempt to roll up... a rock hit my helmet'd head.....and....... I rolled up! My buddy congratulated me on my roll and me not popping my skirt and aborting from my kayak (a cold and problematic proposition). We merrily continued down the river without snags, managing to surf a river wave or two.

I carried my boat up out of the river and crossed under the highway bridge grinning to myself as I reached our vehicle. It was another day, another adventure, another reason to love the world I live in!

Tommorrow...the waves will still be crashing, the rivers still rushing... and me still smiling.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Red Rocks Rock Climbing

The wonderous period in time came to pass when all college students run away to forget the woes of their education, and when those who have since graduated journey outward in their last hurrah. It is the annual celebration otherwise known as spring break.

My particular adventure brought me through a 32 hour road trip to the Red Rocks of Las Vegas, NV. Myself and 9 other companions awoke every morning before the sun rose prepared, and set out to climb pillars of sandstone. We would arrive at twilight to our homely campsite and the slab of poured concrete that served as our bed , and exchanged our tales of adventure from the days passing.

On the third day, I experienced an adventure of epic proportions, one in which I will probably remember for years to come. We woke early in the morning and decided which parties would go to which routes for the day. Half the groups went to the Pine Creek Canyon while myself and three others decided to climb the "Black Dagger". At 8:30 am we arrived at the desert trail and made our way towards Juniper Canyon.

As the sun rose higher into the sky and the heat began to rise we made our we across the desert and up the canyon. It became obvious that our approach was not going to be 2 hours long. We arrived at the feature around 11:45 and 4 hours after starting. We then debated which feature was our actual route. As we noticed the large dark menacing right facing dihedral...we didn't want to believe it was the route, but it was. One of my companions remarked it was only 5.7, and the other aptly replied..."IT'S A DIHEDRAL THE SIZE OF FUCKING PALISADE!!!!!!!"This pretty much summed it up; we had a bit of apprehension.

As we began to climb the first few pitches of the 7 pitch climb our moods lightened, we excitedly climbed the wall. The dihedral proved difficult, but do-able. Following the dihedral, I began to first pitch was up into a tunnel carrying our pack. It wasn't easy smearing 15 feet up to a hole, tossing the pack through, then wiggling myself through it's narrow grip.

As I went through the hole I became aware that the wind was picking up and the fact that we were all shirt-less didn't help the sesnation of cold that was coming on. I lead the next pitch as the sun was setting. When my climbing partner arrived at the ledge of the pitch I had lead it was dark, he popped up noticing blood on the knee had gotten a tad scraped. The wind picked up to 40 mph and we all began to shiver, with our headlamps leading the way we quickly leap frogged leadin pitches in hopes to top out the climb quickly. I shivered so hard the my gear rattled. The climb proved to have 9 pitches of roped climbing instead of the 7 indicated by our guide book. When we reached the top at 10:30 pm we celebrated the sight of a cairn. I followed the kairn into the darkness not know what lie around the corner...all the while the wind on top blew furiously, and I shivered. I walk along decent ledges bordered by cliff falling off into an abyss of darkness, I climbed upward and into a sheltered rock pit and set an anchor. My companions all came and hunkered down sheltered by the wind. We continued around the back of the mountain looking for a walk down. We discovered the walk down, through a narrow gap called Gunsight Gap between mountains. Aptly named it was not wide enough for a pack and was chock stone ridden. We descended our way 1000 ft through the gap and began our 4 hour hike to the road.

Being that all approach trails came of a scenic rd that closed after 10 pm, we then had to bush wack 3 miles through the desert to the highway. We arrived back to our rides at 3 am. And so an 18 hour day of climbing cam to pass. We all went to be and slept with out a sound, and woke only to the mid-day heat the next day.

The days following included many more climbs, adventures down the Vegas strip, laughter amongst friends, and sleeping under the stars. The desert became like home. We drove home 10 days after starting, not really wanting to leave. We stopped in Souix Falls SD for the modest mouse concert (lots of fun!) and continued on our way. Arriving back in Minnesota was a reality check, and one I wasn't looking forward to...we all parted ways, tearing at the bit of comeraudery that had been built. I was sad to see it go, but resolved only that adventures as this one should continue to happen and would look forward to the next...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Second Blizzard (Day 2)

Day 2: Friday
After falling asleep to the wind whistling past my windows, I woke Friday morning to survey the damage. To my surprise the snow plows had been out in full force and my street was already looking more clear. Ass I stepped out the door for my next adventure, people walked the streets and shoveled their cars and walks vigorously. It was good to see that the city was alive! So naturally I strapped on some skis and began down the side streets and alley ways. I met up with a friend and headed in the direction of the lake. We reached Lief Erickson park and promptly jumped down the embankment to Lake Superior. The lake was bumpy with frozen slush and wind tattered snow. We made our way along the lake, down to the store. When we arrived we noted the 8 ft drifts and the outside door ripped from its hinges. It was clear that winds had been strong.

From there we made our way over to Park Point to view the damage there. As I crossed the aerial lift bridge the appearance of large drifts became clear. I was elated to find the road conditions to compare to that of a groomed ski trail...and so I scooted down Minnesota Ave. at a controlled cruise. Drifts were piled 10 ft high, covering doorways, and whole house fronts. Dozers and loaders passed commonly on their way to assault the drifts.

After returning home, I went out again to ski Congdon creek. The creek was snowfilled with unpacked powder. In short, my buddy and I managed to ski down the creek while sking down 15-20ft drops covered in powder! After having our fill and my shoulder feeling somewhat sore I returned home to rest...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Second Blizzard (Day 1)

I delayed writing this post, because there is so much to write about. Frankly it's a bit overwhelming with all of the adventure of the last few days, but I will attempt to briefly summarize.

Day 1: Thursday
We all knew it was coming, we'd been warned for days. The oncoming storm brought plenty of anticipation. Thursday morning seemed like an ordinary day, maybe a touch blustery, but normal. I woke up late, and kept an attempt to keep my impatience at bay. But by 1 pm I could hear the wind cause the house to subtly creak. I poked my head near the window, and viewed the blizzard. It was pure white-ness...huge winds whipping a great amount of snow. It became clear that the snow was piling up fast and that my car should find its final resting place before the storm progressed further. By 4 o'clock I preferred not to drive and the skis came out. My first adventure came as I skied down Chester creek...goggles shielding my eyes from the whipping snow. It was a wondrous, every waterfall became a powder filled slide. As my friend and I skied down, I saw a flash. I looked around to see who had taken a picture, but then heard the rumbling thunder. I had never experienced lightning in a snow storm before that day, and I'm guessing that it is something I will tell my grand children about. It happened a dozen more times as the wind whipped the snow at gusts of 50 mph. I skied all over town that night, the plows had shut down at 6 pm, and therefore, there was no other way to get around. I must have skied 10 miles of streets by night's end. All the while I knew this was a storm I would remember, and this was the day in which I skied the streets of Duluth in the Blizzard of 2007.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quinzee Winter Camping

When I grew up in a normal winter we'd get 100+ inches of snow in a season. As kids we knew exactly what to do with it: Go skiing, sledding, have snow ball fights...,and of course, build snow forts!

With snow falling continually over the last 3 days amounting to over a foot of snow, I decided that a snow fort would be in line. To add to the fun I'd sleep in it over night. So I built what is called a "Quinzee". It's not an igloo, because they are made of blocks of ice or snow. A "Quinzee" is built just like the forts of my youth. You shovel a huge mound of snow, let the snow set up, then you dig in and hollow the inside out. So I created a 3 person "Quinzee" in the woods nearby.

The next night, at 9 o'clock my 2 buddies and I met at the quinzee, sleeping bags in hand, and well dressed. We set up: put a tarp and sleeping pads down, slid inside, and zipped ourselves in our sleeping bags. We had carved a hole in the ceiling for ventilation (you can suffocate if there isn't proper air flow). The snow insulated very well, and I was very warm in my sleeping bag all night. The one infraction to my sleep was that they're wasn't much room to move with three of us in there...but I eventually fell asleep.

I awoke a 5:50 am to a cell phone alarm, and looked around. The inside of the Quinzee had melted about a quarter inch which looked to have fell as condensation, making the outside of my sleeping bag wet. One friend was wet and cold in his bag. Now getting dressed in the cold dampness with probably my least favorite part of this adventure...but it was a necessary evil. I emerged from the Quinzee to find a beautiful blanket of 3 inches of powder outside. I packed up and walked the mile back to the car with a bit of a smile as a tired expression of contentment.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Who knew that trying to go to work could be such an adventure...

The American Birkebeiner

If you are a xc skier there is one quinticential race you must do at least once in a lifetime, and in my case, once every year. It's really more than a race, it's a celebration of the whole sport. So I drove on Thursday to part take in the Friday and Saturday festivities. Having friends that are elite semi-professional skiers, on top of working for a retail establishment that distributes ski equipment, I got a bit of an insiders view of the whole event and a lot of freebies.

My particular adventure began around 6 pm Friday night. My friends and I were eating dinner courtesy of a ski pole company representative, when another of our store's (the one I work for) wholesalers of skis and equipment showed up with a black ski bag and discretely motioned to us to come take a look at what he had. Now this business fellow is not your typical salesman...I would consider him like a ski gangster; pulling skis secretly out of his trunk, adorned in bling, and sharp tongued with a Chicago type accent. In fact he is so unusual I will describe him no further in fear of my life.

So we approached, as he unzipped his bag pulling a pair of skis and boots out of his bag. On the skis was an unusual binding. It was meant to adapt a clap skate design for speed skates, to a xc ski binding. It used a boot that clipped in more like a bicycle shoe...and it centered your weight much more in front of the skis balance point compared to taditional bindings. So with interest, we debated about the design. It became more clear that this wholesaler was looking for some what to ski the race on this new Italian invention. My friends declined due to commitments to other ski companies or expected to be competitive in the race and could not take any risks on new equipment. And then there was me...nothing to lose.

In the past days the snow conditions had deteriorated. The conditions were so bad that the race was shorten to half of it's normal 51km distance, and non-elite skiers were not timed. I awoke the next day and walked out the the start line with my flashy boots and crazy bindings, eliciting puzzled looks and questions. When the race had begun I found myself trudging through 3 inches of sugar snow the color of sand, having dirt mixed in it. But as the race went on conditions got better, the snow became cleaner, and the crowds of thousands of skiers thinned. Unfortunately the night before I didn't have time to wax the new skis, which put me at the disadvantage of having slow skis. The bindings ended up being marginal...not really better or worse, but very heavy...another disadvantage. Lastly, I lost a contact in my right eye leaving me to do the race half blind. However, despite these difficulties I still was able to ski well and surmoutning the difficult hills of the Birkie trail. So after all was said and done the Duluth News Tribune was there at the finish for an interview (click here to read the article in Duluth New's Tribune)I was satisified.... a good race, a relaxing weekend, and a great adventure.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book Across the Bay

So I made the journey out to Washburn, WI on Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior to ski a race. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was sure it was going to be fun. This was a 10k race on Lake Superior, at night, by the light of luminaries! Adding to the fun was the fact that the rest of the family was going to do it as well. So before long I was at the start line, peering off into the darkness and the line of flame lights pointing the way. Then it was time, the horn sounded and the shadows of racers exploded.

I managed to get in the font pack of the field, knowing that I probably wouldn't be able stick there. But surprisingly I stayed up in the font of the race fairly well. It was quite surreal. You felt as if you were going at light speed, which darkness always seems to do, with the little lights wizzing by. The racers in front were shadows you could barely see, and I could see no one was like skiing alone, but with the paranoia that someone could sneak up on you. You couldn't really even see the ground, but you knew where the course was following the line of luminaries. But the race went fast, and I managed to even catch a racer, which was a confidence booster. I ended up finishing 25th in 27:20 min.

After finishing, I enjoyed the atmosphere so much, I figured I'd ski the loop again and try and catch the rest of the family. I finally caught up to my mother, then sister, then other was being to share the sport. I got ahead and waited for them to finish. It was fun to watch people ski, I determined it's a biomechanical poetry...watching everyone glide in. So all in all it was an awesome night...another adventure which sentiments gained.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Skating Lake Superior

I never know what each day has in store for me, but the discovery of thick smooth ice on Lake Superior brought an idea to mind. At work, we had already talked of mounting bindings on our nordic skates, and the discovery of ice solidified the decision. Nordic skates are long ice blades that you can mount cross country ski bindings on. You can thereby use these skates to mimic cross country skiing. So today my buddy called me up to let me know he had mounted the demo skates, and was going to go for a spin...and flew down in my car to do the same. When I strapped on the skates it was a blast. With ski poles and the skates you could get moving blazing fast! However, skating over 6 inches of ice and clearly seeing the bottom of Lake Superior was kind of scary and fascinating all at once. So I took off...The thing about skating on Lake Superior ice is that the big lake has created all sorts of cracks, ripples, and rifts for one to dodge (not to mention the rocks people throw onto the ice near shore). So on my maiden voyage I made it about 2 miles before I reached a giant rift. The rift had managed to let some water up... so there was about a foot of water on top of the ice near the edges of it. It looked impassible, so I cruised back to the shop. (story continued below...but check out the video in the meantime!)

The Rift

The Maiden Voyage

So with the excitement of it all I had to go for one last spin before the sun went down. As I got down and put on the skates, another fellow on nordic skates cruised. With him as my guide we made our way toward the impassible rift. He was an older gentleman, and had explained his extensive adventures on the ice thus far and extrapolated his need for elbow, knee and hip pads as a result of his experience with the ice. So we made our way along a different route, approaching the rift near the ice houses parked along side it. So we asked the fishermen if they found a way across...and they directed us towards one small crossing. My new found companion went first crossing the seemingly harmless gap. As I crossed my left foot broke through!!! Moving fairly quickly, my foot and ankle took more of an in and out swim for only a brief moment. My boot being waterproof, we continued on our way. My companion decided had decided he'd turn back, and I bid him a good day while I continued onward.

The Second Voyage

I made it across more rifts, finding great ice. However, near the Lester River seeing another sketchy rift, observing my frozen boot, and hearing the crackling boom of the ice naturally wits got the best of me. I turned back and cruised homeward. As the sun set the horizon aglow, I stepped off the lake with a huge smile on my face......and a little more bounce in my step.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Mora Vasaloppet

So another weekend came to pass and this one was fairly eventful.

My weekend first began with tragedy. At 8am on Saturday morning the company vehicle drove up to my residence, driven by my buddy and co-worker. As he got out of the car to help me load up my stuff in the van, he noticed a rabbit; half frozen with its rear legs inoperable, yet still alive. So we loaded up the van, and pondered what to do about the situation, as the frost laden rabbit looked on. It's an age old question still debated for human we let it live and eventually freeze to death (or one of the local bums will get him for lunch), or euthanize it AKA... put the rabbit out of it's misery. We chose the former, and now I have to unhappily carry the death of the rabbit on my conscience.

With that aside, we drove on down to the Mora Vasaloppet...our goal: to promote the business, break even, wax skis, and get some skiing in ourselves So we got there set up and waxed away. It was a pretty busy day of hot irons, wax flying, and acting as if you were expert on the wax of the day. Throughout this trip I had no expectation nor intention of skiing the Vasaloppet, yet by the end of the day we had received free entries into the 42 km race. By this time I had eaten almost nothing the entire day and was famished, and when finished with the skis we went down and scarfed a $20 meal.

I awoke the next morning, stretched, went for a jog and discovered it really wasn't as cold as predicted. We drove up and walked down to the race start, greeted by traditionally dressed Swedish ladies as I stepped onto the frozen lake in which the race would take place. Moments later, there I was at the start line watching the timer count down....and was off.

The start of a race is always pretty intense... people are stepping on each other's poles, pole tips are flying dangerously close (I'm sure there's was an accidental stab along the way), guys are wiping out (you're trying to not do the same). Personally in my head I'm thinking "when is this going to calm down"... in a 42 km race things should settle out and they did. Since were on a lake, there was no real down hills to rest on nor up hills to get you...just a steady growing exhaustion.

The first 15 km lap went fast, the snow was good and hard packed, and I still felt pretty strong. The second lap was ok, the snow was getting chewed up pretty good, but I was maintaining a decent pace. But the last lap was rough...after 1200 people have ski over a loop twice, your dealing with sugary powder along with the fact you're already tired. So in a lot fewer words, it was tough, and the normal question came to mind about this time...."what are you doing...this is painful...exhausting...and I can't wait for food!!!!" This is usually countered by the sense of accomplishment after the race and wasn't any different this time. So I toughed out the last few km's and finished, and was content. And based on my inherent lack of training, I was happy with 70th place and 2 hours and 12 mins of racing...