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.