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.