Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Return to Sturgeon Falls

With the specter of medical school looming over my head, leaving Yellowstone I was not quite ready to give up the freedom of my summer. I mounted a bus in Billings, MT that took me to St. Cloud, MN. After 15 hours of the Greyhound population and listening to the "dancer" in the seat behind me drop her whole life story on some kindly elderly woman, I stepped of the bus and into my friends car. We quickly drove up to Duluth, grabbing my boat and another paddling buddy we headed Northward to Canada.

I fell asleep to lull of the open road. Hardly being conscious of anything since our border crossing, I looked to my watch which read 2:34 am and saw the headlights of the car illuminating our campsite. We threw up a tent and went to bed.

A quick nap on the water

Waking up late, we headed down to the water to begin the morning trek to Sturgeon falls. Having arrived, I smiled at the site of the myriad of large play waves awaiting us while excitely ambling up the rocky shore. I was surprised to find that even after a month away from my kayak, I still felt very comfortable on the water. The features had changed significantly due to the relatively low water conditions compared to my last outing to Sturgeon Falls (still at 63,000 cfs though!). "Big Mouth" regularly reared up and spread it's watery jaws in the form of breaking river wave. There were the smaller features to refine one's technique and the larger features to test a paddler's skills.

Myself on "Surfer's" and Dave on "Chameleon"

So for 3 solid days we played on the waves of Sturgeon falls to our hearts desire. A daily noon nap would be had on the island as a necessity to endure an 8 hour day of paddling. Every evening after coming off the water happily exhausted, we would sit along the water's edge drinking a celebratory beer in twilight of the falling sun. I went to bed at night with a torso so sore it was difficult to forcibly laugh and noting that there was plenty of laughter to be had.

Dave on "surfers" and me on "Chameleon"

A day later, having driven home, I found myself in a lecture hall staring blankly into my computer screen as slides of cardiac physiology were flashed incessantly. Yet, I sat focused and felt ready for the onslaught as if floating into the rearing waves of Sturgeon Falls and from the chaos gracefully surfing ahead. It was a renewing and glorious summer and Sturgeon Falls was my my last hurrah before it's end.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yellowstone- Part 3

My time in Yellowstone was becoming immanently short and in the last weeks there was much to be done. I woke with the morning dew glittering in the sunlight, poured a cup of coffee and watched the sunrise into the sky. I would take my freedom and run with it. My decision was to abandon the trail and bushwack through the backcountry to where ever my curiosity desired. I easily decided that I would go to the area south of Avalanche Peak and head towards Top-Notch Peak, then heading towards the mountains on it's backside.

Exiting my car I took a quick note of the general direction of Top-Notch and headed into the woods. Before hitting the tree line, the going was not easy. But as things opened up I picked my way up a ridge line that appear to make it's way reasonably to the summit.

The ridge line towards Top-Notch

Armed with my pack of essentials, I was feeling strong and energetic and the sun was not yet high in the sky. As I climbed the steep scree and as I crested what I thought would be summit, I found myself on the edge of less than favorable cliff edge. Knowing that what lay in front of me was impassable, I grudgingly headed down and around the backside of Top-Notch with the new intent of reach Mount Doane.
The top of Top Notch

Having crossed over the backside of the mountain into a beautiful pond filled bowl, I began my traverse toward Mt Doane. But the going was not easy, as I found myself down climbing into steep gullies and climbing out again. I was beginning to get tired and hot, as the sun was now baking the earth around me. I got within 6 miles of Doane and looking at my clock knew it would have to wait for another day. I headed back up and over the shoulder of Top-Notch and scrambled down another gully. Into the wood I went a clamored my way through the forest back to the vehicle feeling weary.

Mt. Doane in the distance

An alpine lupine

Two days later having given myself an ample day of rest, I made it out of the cabin late. I quickly decided I'd do the "seven mile hole" trail that took one to the bottom of Yellowstone and to what I presumed was a nice hole... as in whitewater. So I embarked from Canyon village by running down the trail until I reach the descent into the canyon. About half way down, I heard some ominous cracking and breaking of branches. I stopped dead still. Barely breathing I listen intently. Something large was moving on the trail ahead, and I was not about to find out if was a bare. I quietly walked back up the trail with my bear spray in hand and found a decent tree. I climbed up 20 ft up and waited. After hearing enough commotion I decided I'd let whatever it was know I was around and begun singing a tune. Whatever it was it took off.Yellowstone Canyon

I continued down the trail and made it to the edge of the crystal waters of the
Yellowstone Stone river. After the disappointment of finding no hole, I decided to take a quick swim before making my way out of the canyon. As I reached the canyon brim I halted my brisk walk to observe two set of bear tracks that had not been there on the way out. I nervously forged ahead, and found no sign of bear. I made it back to the car and drove back to my lodgings weathering the normal afternoon Yellowstone traffic.

The Yellowstone River

After two nights of rest and noting that I had time for one last adventure, I set out to hike a classic trail. I decided I would hike the Yellowstone river trail from Hell Roaring Creek to Gardiner, MT. I would have to leave a bike at the end of the trail and bike 20 miles uphill back to the car after hiking 18. Honestly, I wasn't sure I could do it. I had plenty of doubts as I left a bike under the bridge in Gardiner. But once I got back to Hell Roaring Creek and got established on the trail, my mind wandered elsewhere. However, I did notice that I was on the hot open plateau and hoped that I would find shad along the way. However the shade never came as the temps reach up into the 90's. I soaked my T-shirt in the river many a time in an effort to quench the days heat.

I kept walking along the river until the Mountain sides squeezed together and the water began to roar. I had reach Knowles Falls. Granite (or some other metamorphic rock) walls and smoothed formations pinched the river into some gorgeous whitewater. Viewing it from a kayaker my description is as follows: If kayaking the Yellowstone were not illegal, Knowles Falls would be a classic run. It consisted of 3 or 4 big water class IV+ and V rapids that looked absolutely beautiful.

The Lead-in to Knowles Falls

Knowles Falls!
(much bigger water than it seems)

Moving on past the enticing water, I again began to notice the heat. I walked on in a state of thoughtless motion, there but not really present. However, my conscious came crashing in on me. I had been walking looking maybe only 3 ft ahead of me. It took a second for mind to register what had entered my vision, but when it did I jumped back. I had nearly stepped on a extremely large snake, who otherwise didn't seem much alarmed by me. I'm not generally afraid of snake, but I also don't prefer to get ultra close with a bigger and hissing snake. I took a wide path around him as I snapped a picture. I later discovered that was a non-venomous bull snake, but really wasn't interested in finding out otherwise.

The bull snake

I kept marching down the trail find the Black Canyon of Yellowstone River and being disappointed I could more easily view the crazy whitewater that passed through it. I went on ward and just before the mountains opened up into broad plateau. I was shocked again, as a smaller bear ran from the trail in front of me. My bear spray's safety was off and I crept up a near by hill making all sorts of noise keep the bear from startling. For my good fortune, he had taken off and not looked back. I continued ferociously heated plateau. I was hot, tired, dehydrated, and slightly delirious as I finally reached Gardiner at 6 pm. The thought of biking another 20 miles uphill made me worry. Instead I waited until an older couple came up to the trail head. I asked for a ride and they agreed with thick French accents. I was elated to ride and talk with this couple who had touring the park just in from Paris. But as we neared the trail head, I was feeling more and more faint. I became so nauseous that I had them pull the car out. I felt so hot, faint, and clammy I quickly took off my shirt laid down on ground and poured water over my head. Before long I was ok again and made it back to the car. It was clear that the heat of the day had gotten to me and that I was pretty dehydrated. I made it back to my lodgings and fell asleep quickly.

And so with that adventure my time in Yellowstone expired. I was sad to leave the place I had called home for a month. It was a time for real growth in myself and a time of rejuvenation. I mounted a greyhound bus two days later, waved goodbye to my companion watched the open road open before me.

However, my bus ticket was not for Duluth but St. Cloud. I was on my way to meet a friend and head back to Sturgeon Falls for some last minute whitewater paddling before the start of school. (To be continued....)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Summer in Yellowstone: Part Two

The days turned to weeks and the passing of time was of little concern. I never knew what time I fell asleep and likewise never was quite sure what time I woke up aside for the amount of sunlight streaming into the bed room window.

After several weeks of regular hiking/ running my body was adapting to the regular exercise, sweat, and dirt. I woke one morning and decided to hike up to the top of Avalanche peak, one of the highest points that there is an official trail to. It was a grey day that had enough patches of sunlight for me to get out the door.

Leaving the car behind made my way up the trail excited to leave the treeline and experience the expanse the alpine tundra instills. I was feeling good and brisked my way up the 2,000 and some odd vertical feet in hour and a half.

The view from atop Avalanche Peak

However when I reached the top I noticed some lightning and thunder clouds to the northwest of me. After sitting and watching to see which direction the clouds would roll, I decided to descend. However by the time I reached the tree line the sun was shining again. Looking at the expanse around me, I looked up to the ragged Hoyt peak and decided I might try and summit it and go completely off trail. Letting my curiosity take me where it would. I mounted the gap between Hoyt and Avalanche, and began to realize that Hoyt's peak upon closer look was going to end up in nasty loose 5th class. Looking down into the basin below Hoyt peak, my curiosity was peaked by clear alpine lakes.

I as I descended I felt more and more enthralled as I climbed into one of the most gorgeous places that had graced my eyes. The landscape was foreign to me. Mottled with little lakes along avalanche carved giant furrows and with snow covered remnants of the season previous. I scrambled around with the wonder and curiosity of my childhood. I went where ever interest took me.

Video of Hoyt Valley

Seeing the sun falling lower in the sky I picked my way up the scree filled gap and felt fatigue meet my legs. As I crested the gap, I looked to my right to see ominously dark clouds pouring over and obscuring Avalanche peak as the sound of thunder rolled in my ears. Seeing my venerability being above tree line and 10, 000 ft of elevation I began to run. My flight took me down hill at speed that only my adrenaline could have taken me safely. Thunder roared as I met the treeline and snatched the rain jacket from my pack and dressed myself in it. The rain came soon after and poured down in torrents, and I continued to run until I reached the road and hopped into the car and drove to the dry comforts of my lodgings. I had no idea how far I had traveled, and had little care of making any quantification.

After a day of rest, I headed back into the wilderness. I decided to explore the waterfalls in the southern portion of the park, namely, Union Falls. Getting to the trail head proved more perilous than the actual hike. I knew from my maps that I would be on gravel management roads, but never expected what I was to encounter. The road started out as normal dirt road, but as the miles went by the size of the gravel grew, along with the size of the potholes. Driving a borrowed and new vehicle with little clearance to begin with, I respectfully was forced to drive at an average of 10 miles an hour. After driving for an hour and a half the road became so bad I pulled the car over and began running to the trail head. It now the time being one in the afternoon and having the knowledge of a 16 mile hike in front of me, caused me to run the entire trail. The way out to Union falls went fast. People gave me inquisitive looks as I ran by and bounded through ankle deep river fords. When I got to Union Falls and felt it's cool mist floating from it's base I could not help but relax and feel drawn to it. I climbed down a muddy slope to the base of the falls, and let the ice cold water rain down on me and quench the heat of the sun filled day.

Gorgeous Union Falls

Despite me scarfing a granola bar.... Union Falls video

After a soaking from the heavens, I climbed back up to the trail an began running back. Things were a little more painful on the way back as my knees began to ache and my quads stiffened. I emerged from the trail head and walked back to the awaiting car relieved to drive back to comforts of shelter and companionship.

Giving myself a few days to recover, I headed back to the south and made my way to the top of Mt. Sheridan. Arriving at the trail head at 9 am I was aware that it was going to be a long day. Ahead of me lay 7 miles to Heart Lake then 3.2 miles to the peak of Sheridan then back, round trip totaling 21 miles. The miles towards Heart Lake went by fast as the sun had not risen to it's full height yet and as the lake was visible in the geyser filled valley before me.

Classic thermal pool in Heart Lake Valley

Mt. Sheridan from the beach of Heart Lake

Shortly after passing along the sandy beach of Heart Lake, I began hiking up Sheridan. Monitoring my condition so as to make it back in a reasonable condition, I was feeling pretty good and kept myself cool with the passing mountain streams. I kept the pace up the weaving ascent until reaching the glorious summit. I stopped to rest and soak in the expanse before, seeing the Tetons to the Southwest and all of Yellowstone Lake to the North. I took a few deep breaths of fresh mountain air and let my mind clear itself so as to find room to fit appreciation the vast horizon before me.

Myself atop Mt. Sheridan

I came down from the mountain, and retraced my footsteps as the afternoon heat set in. The sun being high in the sky, the trek back was more slowed and I fell into my normal meditative hiking state, only vaguely aware of the trail and lost in thought. As the trail ended and I headed back to my lodgings content and hungry. Having been lost in my own mind for a majority of my days, I came home to the shelter of warmth, shade, and company. I went to bed at night content and filled with happiness wholly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer In Yellowstone- Part One

After medical school came to a glorious close, and I finished off the month of July banking a small income while gaining a little practical experience in an internship at the Cloquet Hospital. With money in the bank and the month of August free of obligation, the stage was thereby set for my next set of adventures . I started my journey to Yellowstone National Park.

My gravitation towards Yellowstone was two-fold. I needed to regain my soul and spirit and reconnect with that which is the essence of me. It is something that easily is stripped while in medical school, where I lose the absolute freedom to feed that which I love and the nourishes that deep part of me. Secondly, but not secondary, was the opportunity to indulge in the company of my significant other who generously offered a place for me to stay within the park.

I arrived in Yellowstone through smoke and flame. The east entrance to Yellowstone gave me my first experiences with forest fires, as helicopter bearing water flew over head and "hotshots" passed by. Having arrived, my new home for the month was beside Yellowstone lake whose waters reflected the surrounding mountain sides.

Clouds of smoke from fires near the East entrance to Yellowstone

Each day was a taste of freedom I had so missed. I woke every morning and lived by mere impulse alone. My impulse compelled me to hike into the backcountry, 3 days a week, often for 6-8 hours at time. Each day a new location, a new destination, and yet the same pristine solitude.

On the first of these outings, I mounted one of the more stereotypical paths summiting Mt Washburn. However, to spice things up, I decided I'd run the entirety of it. I recall getting many smiles, scowls, and looks of indifference from passers as I ran up and down the slope that reached the peak of Mt. Washburn. The view from on top was the first horizon of many that would come to grace my eye's.

Days later, I ventured onto the Thorough Fare Trail that followed the Northeastern shore of Yellowstone lake. By this time I became aware that carrying a bearspray canister was not necessarily an optional accessory for the backcountry. At this point I had not been entirly convinced of this but on this day was made a believer. I began by running the first few miles until coming up the bank of a creek. I stopped at the sight of grizzly tracks. This is being a heavily todden trail and with the knowledge that a party with horses was ahead of me, I knew these tracks were less than an hour in age. I walked slowly, singing loudly my newly formed and improvised grizzly bear song, which alerted the world to my presence; bears primarily but humans included. I wasn't able to relax until I passed another hiker who, with a grin, complimented me on my song and operatics. I must have hiked 14 or so miles that day. I topped it off by indulgent swim in the lake that quenched the heat of the day and washed the salt from my eyes.

From the paw prints, I guess bears are attracted to the stench of a backcountry outhouse on the thorough fare trail

After a few days had passed, I was back in the back country. I woke early as to avoid the frustrations of the daily traffic that infects the buffalo and tourist clogged Hayden Valley. I often spent more time in stuck in traffic in Yellowstone as I have in some metropolotin centers. Having successfully avoided this fate, I headed North to Tower. Leaving the trailhead behind, my feet carried me across the Yellowstone River and on to Hellroaring creek.

Hellroaring Creek

After fording the creek, I continued along it's banks. As I went the landscape around me changed. I started the day in the dry and open plateau covered in sweet smelling sag brush and blanketed by the noon heat. As I went further up the creek, the tree's and understory grew thicker. Small streams flowed down the mountain sides and the green came into the land. It started to feel like home again, seeing huckleberry's and wild rapsberry's while trodding through a muddied trail rather than the dust sand filled trails. I hiked 11 miles out as the heat rose into the 90's and on my way home jumped into a deep pool of Hellroaring creek's cool waters. By this time I was becoming my comfortable with the notion of Grizzly's and since I was in fairly open country my concern was lessen. However on the way out I noticed a park serive bear trap, along with a couple of old carcasses along the trail. Attempting to drive home, I had the misfortune of hitting traffic. Rather than waiting it out, I decided I'd go around it on a joy ride through the park. The sun was falling as I passed Old Faithful and Grant Village. I arrived home happily

The mighty Yellowstone River

I had gradually fell into a routine of waking each morning pulling out my guide book and deciding a destination. I spent my hours hiking being complative and enjoying my freedom from responsibility. I went to bed at night tired and content!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Season for Playboating

After all the water of spring rains wained away and the creeks became bony trickles there was still left enough water to playboat. The regular trip to the St. Louis's first wave/hole albeit alone or with friends became a restoring endeavor, since I was still inflicted with the thralls of medical school that raged onward nearly until July. Yet by the time the Midwest Mountaineering Kayak Festival had passed, it was becoming clear that the St. Louis's water was quickly shrinking to it's summer level. In search of more time on the water, I never thought twice upon an invitation to travel to paddle Sturgeon Falls on the Winnipeg River in Canada.

I drove down to St. Cloud and rendezvous with paddling friends Scotty and Nora.We headed Northward under the eventual cover of nightfall. Sturgeon falls in lore and by word of mouth has been described as a world class play boating location. Located 20 minutes East of Winnipeg Manitoba it is within striking distance for us. I had only seen pictures of it's large picturesque features. As we arrived we drove down to the boat landing I peered into the darkness seeing little, but could hearing a distance roar across expanse of water before me.

Myself surfing Sturgeon Falls! (courtesy of Nora Whitmore)

As the morning dew settled upon the tents we awoke and rallied with fellow paddlers from Minnesota, paddling into the expanse of water towards the distant sound of Sturgeon Falls. Upon my first sight of Sturgeon Falls, it looked promising but its beauty and power was yet to be fully appreciated. When we neared the doorstep of Sturgeon's features, the size and magnitude of the waves became wonderously impressive. To the eye, Sturgeon Falls appears as if two lakes are mystically flowing between one another. However in viewing a map, it would become clear that it is actually formed by the flow of mighty Winnipeg River.
If one looked casually at it's expanse, you might be able to convince oneself you were standing beside a flowing ocean of perpetually breaking waves. During our time, 68,000 cubic feet per second flowed through Sturgeon falls and created multitude of beautiful standing waves ranging from 4-10 ft. Yet between the maze of waves there stood an singular island of smooth rock, and behind it formed the giant eddy that is a sanctuary for kayakers. The eddy swirled and surged in pattern like that of serpent swimming, creating small whirl pools strewn about. Furthermore, it provided a place of rest and access to the waves.

Over the course of the next three days, I spent countless hours surfing waves from the mounting sunrise to the falling sunset. Imagine being on a 8 ft tall standing wave while it crashes behind you and then throwing a stroke and surfing backwards, staring the explosion of water
in the face before you...the feeling is priceless. On Sunday afternoon we left Sturgeon Falls. My body was sore in places I had never perceived. When I arrived home I slept heartily smiling at passing of well spent Fourth of July Holiday.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Climbing The Northshore

It's been quite a few weeks since I last went climbing and after short day of class I had a taste for some climbing. After calling around, I was surprised to find that Tyler was ready for a trip up the Northshore. We decided to head to the "Mystical Mountain Zone" adjacent to Wolf Ridge ELC. The sky was blue and the wind was blowing strong as we hiked out to the cliff band along Wolf Lake. Upon arriving our first planned route was to fire up "Th Black Gates" a 5.10a. Being a tiny finger crack seam, it would have been a heinous trad lead. So we quick set up a top-rope and rapped down. I was the first to hit up the route since I had never climbed it. I first ascended up a thin seam with decent face holds that narrowed quickly. Soon I found myself in a small corner pulling myself up by my smallest finger knuckles wedged into the crack and feet on nickle thin placements. The route eased up for a bit and then reached a large horizontal crack in which I traversed along until reaching another seam. This being the crux, it involved reaching up and getting only my left thumb knuckle stuck in an unfriendly crack and smearing my feet high.... desperately reaching for the next finger jam. It didn't go without a fall, but it did go. After Tyler made clean work of the route, we went to go set up another route entitle "Jack Be Nimble". After rapping down and looking at the route I was confident this one would be tricky. It was supposedly a 5.10a but as most Northshore climbing ratings its difficulty was highly under-rated. Again I hit up the route first. It first began in a narrow angled open book corner with a thin crack in the corner and smooth faces. My focus was on the crack. It started out with good hand jams, but quickly narrowed to unfriendly fingers. I found myself grunting vocally as I pulled up on painful and weak finger jams while smearing and jamming my body into the corner. Not without falling, I reached a triangular roof with a large crack in it's corner. Being the crux, I threw a manky fist jam deep into the crack, swung my feet up to high smear, and reached for the next hand jam. Finally finding a good jam, I pulled upward largely unweighting my feet until they could be stuffed into the crack. The rest of the route went beautifully... a 5.8 crack with great jams. It was a excellent and challenging route....and long too (at least 100ft). Tyler took a chimney style approach to the open book and styled the whole route cleanly.

We packed up and decided to end the day at Palisade on the way home. My interest was in climbing "Phantom Crack" again. Before long I was rappelling down. I moved smoothly jam after jam until reach the crux. There my jam slipped out and my clean run was ruined. Disappointed I got back on the climb and finished it. Tyler cruised the route speedily and efficiently. I wanted another shot at hitting the route cleanly and went back down. Unfortunately I found that I was tired... and flailed the route. I finished it panting heavily. It was a great day. I was happily exhausted and drove home contently quiet in a daze. I arrived home as it was just becoming dark and crawled into bed with a grin.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Contemplating Mortality: Flood Stage of Lester River

A picture of "mini-octopus" on the Lester River courtesy of the Duluth News Tribune

It was no ordinary day. The night before it had rained torrentially and by morning it was clear that the local rivers were flooding. As I sat in class, my excitement grew as I poured over Flash Flood warnings and found myself having a trouble sitting still. At noon I hurried out of class, quickly ate lunch, and headed out to the rivers.

Myself and Nate first pondered over Tischer Creek which is a full on class V run that is only runnable at flood levels. It was too much intensity for my tastes. We then took a look at Chester Creek and had the same feeling. So we went to the ever reliable Lester River. We drove up and decided to take a "quick" run before the rest of our fellow paddlers arrived. Upon putting on it was clear that the river was running BIG...things were looking and acting differently than my last seven runs on the Lester. After the first rapid, Nate took a swim. In attempting to eddy out and be of service, I broached my boat and was unable to roll up and found myself swimming as well. Luckily, I was able to swim my boat into a tiny eddy where we could empty the water from it. I got back in knowing I was going to need to run what I could of the river by myself and search for Nate's boat. It's interesting how nerve racking it is to run a river by yourself despite the fact that even with a partner there's not always a lot they can do to help you in a bind. We ended up finding his boat intact quite aways downstream and continued the rest of the run. Within a couple of river bends, I managed to get myself stuck in a hole just above above a fairly significant class IV drop ("mini-octopus). I side surfed it for 5 min, getting window shaded and rolling up, still in the hole. Finally, I desperately stuffed my back end into the hole and up-ended my boat free of it. I quickly rolled up and frantically got on line for the drop ahead and was relieved as it went smoothly. The river was HUGE and the amount of whites of my eyes showing was probably equally large as we finished out the run. We met up with another fellow paddler , Jorge, and went to do another lap.

All was going smoothly, the first couple of significant drops went well. Up ahead was a drop entitle "Naked Man" . I had always portaged it because I heard that that it breaks boats often. Having never run it previously I was easily encouraged to give it a go. It started with steep a double peaked wave train/reactionary lead-in before dropping over the crux, a 7-8 ft shallower drop/slide containing some lovely piton rocks and a hole at it's base. It went well as I ploughed through the wave trains. Cresting the crux of the drop knew I was right on my line. I thought to myself, "you've got this in the bag". It was nearly fatal mistake!

Hitting the hole at the bottom I missed a single and needed paddle stroke to propel me past it and was quickly pulled into meat of the hole. I stayed calm while side surfing and worked hard to attempt to power out of it, but was eventually flipped. Not having a plethora of energy and feeling that my boat was clearly still stuck in the hole, I popped my skirt and swam. I went for my first and instinctive breath of air but couldn't reach the surface. It immediately became clear that I was being recirculated and held under by the hole. In the chaos of the surging water, all I could perceive with my eyes was light and darkness and all I could hear was the immanent roar of the water in my ears. As the water went dark, I barely touched the bottom and desperately tried to push off and away. Fighting back to the light, I reached my arms and face up for the surface but I still could not get a breath as with lungs burned horribly. I aspired some water in the attempt. I was hoping there would be a rope from my fellow paddlers to pull me out, but I knew that they were down stream and unable to get to me in time to help....I knew I was on my own. I plunged back into the chaotic darkness and touched bottom and again was still unable to get a good footing. I went into the light water and got pulled down into the dark again and again. I was tired and knew I didn't have much longer. "This it IT", I thought. "I'm going to die". Thoughts raced through my head, some instinctive and some conscious. That which I loved, people, places, events, flashed through my mind faster than comprehension. I made one last push for the surface and managed to get my face with 4-6 inches of the surface and breathed only water. I couldn't fight any longer. I had no energy left. I felt myself starting to go limp and my body giving up.

It was at that instant that I came back into the light and reached surface. I took my first glorious breath in over a minute. Defensively surveying the river to make sure I was clear of the hole, I coughed violently and I struggled to get the water from my spasmodic lungs. While being swept down stream and clear of the hole, I found shallow enough water and struggled to stand. My fellow paddlers shouted instructions that I could barely comprehend in my primal state of being. I staggered towards shore holding my body haggardly; my arms limp at my sides, hands hanging flaccid, and my balance failing me. I fell to my knees and crawled to the bank of the river. Ripping the helmet from my head, I dropped to my chest and laid in the dirt breathing so hard that my ribs ached.

After a short while, there were shouts of "grab your boat". I turned to see it floating by and quickly grabbed a hold of it and was dragged into the river. After fighting with it and being drug over rocks, I gave up as a Jorge paddled to coral it downstream. After some further instruction, I crawled up the slippery clay banks to trail above and hiked in a daze down stream. After following a whistle blow, I found my comrades hauling my boat ashore. They greeted me with some valiant attempts at encouragement. I don't fault them for trying... what would does anyone say to comfort someone who just escaped from the verge of drowning? After some discussion of the incident, feeling somewhat animate and stable, I decided to drag my boat to the road and walk back to the take out. Emerging from the woods, I dumped my boat and paddle on the edge of the road and walked back. It was a surreal. The events that had just occurred were too difficult to wrap my head around. I walked strangely blank and emotionless feeling as if what had occurred had been a day dream gone wrong.

Lester River at flood levels just above Superior St.

I didn't hit me until 11:30 pm that night as I lay at home alone resting. It was the gravity of what I may have lost in a few more seconds. I had already wore out discussing the incident with Jorge and Nate. I had probably less than 10 more seconds under water before I would have blacked out. Loosing consciousness in whitewater is grim. Clearly I under estimated the power of the river at a level in which I had never paddled and it was at an extremely high level. Had we been aware of the danger, setting up safety would have happened...in our experience the drop had been run countless times without incident and at a lower level the hole barely exists. If I would have known, I would have never run the drop. In any case, through all the analysis, the truth was...it wasn't worth it. I would have rather broken my arm than to face what I had faced. Knowing what I would have lost was hard to stomach. Yet on an optimistic note I began to reevaluate what was important and what I have yet to accomplish in my lifetime.

Everyone will confront their mortality and over the course of a life time. It is not uncommon to have a brush with it, whether it be in confines of a car, the result of smoking cigarettes daily, or in a kayak. I woke up the next morning and went back to the Lester River and ran it twice.... but I will never run that drop again. I love to paddle and will continue to do so, but not at any cost. When I wake in the morning I know where I'm going and where I want to be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hucking Illgen Falls

My second run of Illgen

I awoke late Wednesday morning to a text message asking if I wanted to run Illgen Falls. Having the day off of med school I figured...why not? The sun was shining and air was warm as the three of us paddlers converged on Lester Park and car pooled Northward; myself, Jeremiah Peck, and Anthony Abalsliger. We also brought a trusty camera man to document the action.

Arriving at the Baptism river we stopped and checked the gauge which read 2.2 ft. It was not by any means high, but definitely meant Illgen Falls was runnable. Parking near the falls we hurried down to take a look. It had much less water than I had seen earlier this year, but was clearly runnable. We scouted the already obvious line down the falls and went back to the car to gear up. I readying myself in silent contemplation of the events ahead. Carrying our boats we headed back to the Falls. We each went our individual ways of getting ready and nervously scouting the line.

Finally I said to Jeremiah, "you wanna rock, paper, scissors for it?" in regards to who was going to huck it first. Anthony chimed in, "I'll go second". I looked at the two of them, no one really wanted to go first and I had enough willingness..... I exclaimed, "screw it, I'll go first". There it was...my verbal proclamation had cemented it. I slid into my boat and made myself comfortable while the others on safety had cameras poised. I push off into the current and intently paddled to the arching lip just right of center. As I came over the top, I looked down from the precipice to the water below with the whites of my eyes likely showing. As gravity took hold, I made myself attempt an Oregon tuck, trying put my paddle blade in front of me and ducked my face just before impact (which in actuality didn't happen as my brain thought, as seen in the video). When I hit I was surprised that it was not as violent as I would have expected. I was under water for only a split second before I emerged upright and paddling.... and equally surprised that I didn't have to roll up. I raised my paddle triumphantly and smiled. Here's the video of the run:

Next to run Illgen was Anthony. I waited at the base of the falls with a throw rope in one hand and video camera in the other. Jeremiah was standing ready above the top of the falls on the river left cliff face. Anthony came over the falls slightly more left of center and penciled into the falls. His boat resurfaced at the base of the falls getting beat and held by the falling water. Here's Anthony's run:

It flushed the boat a split second later, just after he popped his skirt. While swimming he was pushed to the left cliff wall. Jeremiah promptly dropped his throw rope down to him which Anthony quickly grabbed. Jeremiah then instructed me to throw a rope from my vantage to pull him away from the wall and down stream. I ran up as close as possible and made a frantic toss that didn't reach him, then another attempt still worse. Jeremiah holding the rope walked the cliff band until he could pull Anthony more down stream and away from the cliff till he could swim ashore on his own. It was a little frantic at first, though it must be said Anthony at no point was in life-threatening danger and had adequate safety ready for him. But he was glad for our help to get him out of there. Meanwhile the next problem was that Anthony's boat was trapped against the cliff in the current beside the falls and was staying there.

It was clear I was going to need to rappel down to the boat in order to free it from Illgen's grip. Myself being a rock climber, I was well aware of the capabilities of my gear. I knew my throw rope was spectra rated to at least 1600 lbs and we had another throw rope of similar strength. I also knew I was going to need to make a harness...we had no webbing though. So I ran up to the car and grabbed a 12 ft NRS car tie down strap and brought it back and made a harness as I was taught in my American Mountain Guide Training.

Myself getting harnessed up and ready for action with the NRS strap

We formulated a plan for us. I would rappel down on one line while having another line tied to my releasable tow-line belt which would be manned by Anthony at the base of the falls onshore and downstream. I then would rappel down, clip the boat to my tow line, then rappel off the end of the rope (into the water at that point) and be pulled/swim ashore by the line attached to my belt manned by Anthony. Jeremiah anchored the rap line a tree and I rappelled down the cliff on a munter hitch (another climbing trick, when you don't have an actual rappel device). I reached the boat flipped it over and clipped it. Dropping into the water, Anthony pulled me swimming and the tethered boat ashore. It was gratifying to put my rock climbing training and rescue skills to the test and we as a team smoothly pull off the extraction of the boat. Here's the video of the action:

After regathering our ropes, the sun came out as Jeremiah ran Illgen next. He took more right line down the falls, tucked nicely, was flushed, and rolled up triumphantly:

Anthony was not phased and was determined to run Illgen clean. He took another stab at it:

Then Jeremiah then took his second run of Illgen:

I was pretty content with my first run having not even needing to roll. I only hoped that my second run would be as clean as I shouldered my boat, walked to the river, deposited it on some rocks, and slipped into the cockpit. Getting the all clear, I again paddled for the lip of the falls. I threw some good strokes off the lip as a passed over the edge an down the falls. While descending, I conciously tucked thereby pulling the boat angle less vertical and attempted to place my paddle blade to spear the oncoming water. I hit much harder than the first attempt and braced off my right side having barely even submerged. My goal was achieved, I again had escape rolling (not that rolling is a problem). Here's my second run of Illgen:

We left the river like excited school children; smiling brightly and unabatedly talkative. We packed up and had ourselves a celebratory beer and headed home. It was the perfect way to top off the creek season which was rapidly coming to an end as spring runoff wained. I had had Illgen on my tick list for the year and was happy to have reached and surpassed my goals for the season. Only a year ago in April, I had run my first river and now found, a season later, myself in a whole new place of confidence in my paddling.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Reclaiming Spring: The Brule River

Devil's Kettle on the Brule courtsey of T-Bone

After my day on the Devils Track I was ready for more action despite any exhaustion. Receiving an invitation the night before I woke up early and drove up to the Brule River (MN). Meeting my paddling friends, we threw on our gear and headed far into the boondocks to the put in. Due to vague details of the guide book we ended up losing the put in trail and walking 2 miles further up river than was necessary or intended. We got to the river sweating having hiked long and hard with our boats shouldered.

Getting on the river we sped through easy boogey water before reaching the thralls of the Sauna Bath drop. Upon scouting it was clear the drop was a challenge to be contented with. The river narrowed and large volume of water poured over constricted boulder garden. Most troublesome was weaving between two giant boulders in which the river piled up against then short thereafter pouring into a significant hole. They required much contemplation and a couple of logs thrown in to assess the hole's stickiness. After many musings and watching a log get flushed out the hole, I proclaimed that I would run it. I intently analyzed the line one last time while walking back to my boat while my other 3 paddling companions set up safety.

Sitting nervously, on shore with my stomach in knots, I caught the signal and set off. I started down the river left of center avoiding a set of holes. Coming quickly through the chas to the boulders that required weaving, I attempted to move from left to river right. However, the river's speed was pulling me straight at the geo-metro sized downstream boulder. In a split second I determined that I would have to deflect off it's pile. I put a hard stroke in for momentum as I rode up over it's side. I was launched completely airborne forward and to river right off the rock and landed nicely set up for the hole ahead. I paddled hard knowing I needed to punch into the hole. When I hit the hole, I reached for a hard stroke on the face of it's backwashing wall only to no avail. I was being endered and as such had a small hope that I could maintain the vertical and push through...but alas I got flipped. In the commotion I wasn't sure if I was in still in the hole, but I set up and rolled upright instantly and found myself free of the hole. I caught an on-the-fly eddy on the right and regathered myself....the worst was over. I then peeled out and bust through the large pushy wave train with some flushy holes. I raised a fist to the air and triumphantly bellowed at my success as I peeled into the calm pool below.

The four of us continued down the river passing more class III and IV river before portaging the majestic and gnarly canyon of the Brule. Managing to almost take a nasty digger throughout course of the portage, I made it down to the base of the canyon, and put in ferrying out through fast boily water around the river bend. The river then relaxed, however with the knowledge of Devil's Kettle being ahead of us, we could not. Every bend we slowly and carefully came round ready to eddy out at a moments notice. After 6-7 bends of anticipation we saw Devil Kettle looming ahead and portaged it admiring it's beauty.

The ever-stomping Upper Falls

Putting in below whirlwind of mist from the un-run Upper Falls we headed down river shortly reaching Lower Falls. Myself and Scott Ewen contemplated the line for a significant amount of time noting it's large irregular roller leading into a intimidating frowning. We deciding to leave the drop for another day. Not long after, the river narrowed as it spilled through "Sewer Pipe". Ignoring the beta of my creeking buddies from the day previous, we ploughed through several big holes to arrive at the river left eddy. Scouting the drop it was clear that it was very safe: big pool behind it, obvious line, and a sure-to-flush drop. Yet to get to the correct line from the current eddy one had to attempt a heinous ferry through two big holes. Due to the friendliness of the drop I was determined to run it...ferry aside. I walked up as far I could before setting off. Hitting the first major hole I mistakenly placed a stoke past it on the right sending my boat back towards the left. In an attempt to correct I was overturned. I made two unsuccessful roll attempts before knowing that I was going over the drop upside down and tucked hard. I was violently sent through, the paddle being ripped from one hand. Having been underwater for two roll attempts then the drop itself, I didn't feel I had enough air to get my hand back on the paddle and get into my set up...so I took a little swim. Being that I was in a huge calm pool... my swim was of little concern as I found a shallow spot and dumped the water from my boat.

From that point we were home free and dropped through one last class III drop before reaching the beautiful shores of Lake Superior. We beached are boats happily and exhausted. After a much needed refueling stop a Sven and Ole's, I determined that an attempt at Illgen falls on this day was not possible as tired as I was. I drove home in the dusk content with the day and my paddling.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reclaiming Spring: Devils Track River

I started my Saturday with anticipation of the adventures ahead. In the late morning, I caught a ride up to the infamous Devils Track River. Ten paddlers drove up for the chance to run the gorgeous and challenging Devil's Track.

I had heard only fabled stories of the Devils Track river: must make eddies, unscoutable class IV, tight class V drops inside the river's ominous red canyon walls. Others urgently warned me it was amongst the most difficult rivers on the Northern shore of Lake Superior. As we drove north I was encouraged by the experience of the paddlers I was accompanied by and delved deep for my own self-confidence. We drove up to the put in and I put my gear on in silent nervousness squeezed into my boat and slid into the river with my five companions for the day.

The river started with deceptive class II building into solid class III as the river slowly fell into its canyon and S-turning around sharp bends. We quickly eddied out above a nearing horizon line. Ahead lay "triple drop". Here the river plunged deep into the canyon first with a 20 ft steep slide drop into a boiling hanging pool then dropping another 20 ft into a small pool then sliding through a narrow slot and plunging 30 ft over "the Admiral"... the poster-child of gnar! Being my first time on the river and not feeling warmed up nor as confident as was needed, I decided to take the heinous portage around the drops. After running safety for the others, three of us made the must-make ferry to the other shore and hiking up the steep banks then descending a rugged and steep gully. Dripping with sweat I finished the portage and promptly jumped into the river's cold water to relieve some heat. We continued downriver down continuous class III and through unscoutable class IV with the direction of my experienced companions.

We eddied out just above "Portage Up The Middle" which consisted of a double-holed drop the second of which had some significant holding power. I set up safety from a narrow perch on the left and watch as everyone attempted the drop with varying degrees of success and a growing nervousness. I jumped in my boat with my line through the drop in mind and a plan to paddle the shit out of it....making sure to have a crap ton of momentum to blast through the holes. My strategy proved successful as I left drop behind me with little incident (stay tuned for video). We paddled a short ways before portaging over Pitchfork falls and returning to the river.

Back in our boats it was indicated the next drop was "1.5 miles ahead" which we later learned was a ploy to keep us from fretting over the unscoutable drops ahead. Being third in line I watched as Joel ahead of me disappeared over a significant horizon line. My eyes were likely open wide as a barreled down the 15 ft steep slide/drop which immediately steeply rushed down fast slide through two bends of the river before the entire river slammed against it's canyon wall and deflect off into a shallow slide into a pool. Ahead of me I could see the bottom of Joel's boat and knew this was a significant drop to be contended with. Unfortunately in my fixation on the water piling into the wall, I succumbed to the same fate and was flipped. As I tucked hard while submerged and promptly felt two hits to my helmet and thought to myself... "Oh, shit...this is going hurt!". There was a break in the shallowness and I instinctively made my roll attempt. I flipped upright with surprising ease (and relief) to find myself right on the giant pile of water next to the canyon wall and continued down the slide wide-eye and with a tight grip on my paddle.

The river wound down with some last breaths of class II and III before flowing into Lake Superior. A huge smile broke on my face as we paddled through the ripples of Lake Superior carrying a satisfying sense of accomplishment. As tradition would entail, we got off river and told the story of our run to the other group of paddlers that had waited for us and preceded us in their run down down the Devils Track.

The run down the Devils Track was a definite milestone in my paddling that will be remembered. We drove home, myself talkatively exhausted still running through the whole river in my head, still living in the exhilaration I had just experienced!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Reclaiming Spring: Climbing Palisade and the Lower St. Louis

Climbing "Phantom Crack"

I woke and went to class on Thursday hoping to paddle later in the afternoon. A few phone calls later it was clear I was going to be disappointed. To remedy the situation, myself and a friend decided to go climb at Palisade Head. An hour later, we pulled up to the vast expanse of Lake Superior as is so beautifully seen from Palisade Head. We first went to fire up the route "Danger High Voltage". I never do the first pitch of it because of beta I had received before. Against my advice, my friend was quite interested in leading the first pitch. Upon getting down to the ground it was clear we had no gear to protect the big off-width crack that lay overhead. He did the grunt work of prussik-ing up the rap line and I had the joy of climbing an alternate route of some decent 5.10 chossy face climbing... I had fun with it! I was going to lead the second pitch, however our rap line wouldn't budge when we tried to pull it. Again my selfless friend ascended and I climbed some nice 5.8. We then set up "Blue Bells" a nice little 5.9- that went well for the both of us. I finished out the day by cleanly climbing a beautiful and technically challenging hand crack entitled "Phantom Crack". We drove home as dusk was falling and I was feeling tired and satisfied with my day.

The Louie under the Hwy 210 bridge

When the sun rose on Friday I rolled out of bed tired and sore with no expectation of adventure in my day. After surviving a 7 hour day of med school classes my intention was to go home and go to bed. However the phone rang my creeking buddy Andy called to invite me to a run on the Lower St. Louis. Putting fatigue aside I drove quickly to Carlton to the river while pounding an sugar infested energy drink. The river was flowing high at 7000 cfs... easily the highest I have run the lower Louis at. Under the Hwy 210 bridge and through the mini-gorge was a hugely boiling chain of successive 3-4 ft wave trains followed by big glassy and more waves. We portaged our way around the "Second Sister" and "Octopus" because at this level they formed deadly terminal hydraulics that necessitated complete avoidance. After getting back on the water we weaved our way through the bone yard with much class II and some class III paddling. Coming up on the swinging bridge we swung around the island to river right. There we scouted the 8-10 ft drop that concluded a converging and heavily boiling pool. We scouted on the rocks that brought back the memories of the past when I used to climb them as a kindergartner and admire the waterfall while under close supervision of Mom (I grew up in the area). As took to lead in to the drop I managed to get turned around but successfully straighten out. I missed my boof and came off the lip more river left than is ideal. Landing in the soft pillow-like boil, I fortunately didn't go too deep. I braced out of the flushy water and had no need to roll. It was a great drop.. We got off the river and sat around as most paddlers often do... spent an hour telling paddling stories and shooting the breeze. As the day came to an end I was invited to do the Devils Track river the next day, in which I accepted with some encouragement. It was a killer afternoon of paddling with a great crew of paddlers!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Reclaiming Spring: Bouldering and the Baptism River

As spring has progressed I have felt a increasing pull away from the oppression of being indoors and the throngs of medical school. This past week the bottom fell out. On Tuesday the sun was shining and the weather was warm. I decided it was time for an aerobic workout, but the proposition of some bouldering was enticing. In a compromise I would do both. With Tyler's bouldering pad strapped to my back, both Tyler and I ran around town to the local urban bouldering crags. We managed to turn heads as most view my prideful ridiculousness of cruising around with a large foam pad strapped to my back.

Ilgen Falls on Baptism seen from the portage

By Wednesday I was desperate to go paddling up the North Shore. Fortunately after huffing my way up to class on my bike I got a call. An hour later myself and Anthony were on our way to the Baptism River. We warmed up on the Finland to Eckbeck section, which was as I had remembered it in the past....uneventful. However the section from Eckbeck to Ilgen Fall proved more interesting. It started with confinement canyon which provided some fun Class III. Later the more significant drop came our way...Kramer's choice a solid class IV. It featured an 8 ft diameter boulder that split the narrowing river leaving a choice.

The right side of the boulder was calmer and somewhat shallower. The left was a narrow exploding chute of water. Myself and Anthony rock, paper, scissored for the chance to go first. Anthony lost and ran it first. After getting thrown off by the lead in, he recouped and went for the right line. However he headed straight for the boulder which flipped him over the right side dragging a bit on the rocks. It being my turn I decided to head for the right line. However as a cleanly sped down the river right, my eye grew wide as I was headed with great speed directly for the giant boulder. I made a micro-second decision that the left line around the boulder was the only option and threw a quick right stroke. I deflected off the boulder's boiling pile and burst through the explosion of water of the left line. Relieved to pass the boulder and was quickly flipped towards the end of the chute and rolled up. The rest of the run was fun class III before reaching Ilgen Falls. I was enticed to run Ilgen Falls, but with only one other paddler to help set up safety my motivation shrunk. It was a great day.

The view of Shovel Point from Palisade Head

I drove over to Palisade head on the way home and laid down on the rocks and beheld the vast and expansive beauty that is Lake Superior. I drove home and promptly went for a run with my friend Jeremy bounding through the mud of Hartley park in the twilight. I went home and laid my head to the pillow and fell asleep content and exhausted.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lucky Number Seven

It was my seventh run of the Lester River this season. As we put in, it was becoming more clear that the river level was medium-low and a bit scrappy though not un-runnable. The run was going well, "Limbo Falls" and "Mini-Octopus" all went clean. As I crested the top of the drop "Oh, God", looking down it looked rather bone-y. As I descended, I hit rock piton-ing hard and was violently stopped dead in my tracks as my body whipped forward. Wide eyed, I kept the boat up right as I pushed through the next two waves sideways. Making through, I was a little miffed and frustrated. Brushing it off I was determined to hit the next drop ( entitled "Oh, Shit") clean. I paddled in the lead. While sliding into the first ledge I piton-ed again and was pulled into the top hole side surfing. Pulling the side-surf into a hero front surf, I was held facing upstream with the rest of the class IV drop at my back. Seeing the grimness of the situation, my only option was to back out of the mini-hole backwards. Luckily through the next reactionary wave I was able to get my boat pointed downstream, however I had lost all momentum as I plunged into the large hole that completed the drop. It turned my boat sideways and attempted to flip my boat on edge. I braced hard hoping to pull through, but it was a futile effort. Before I could properly tuck to roll, I was hit within a micro second by a rock catching my eye brow and the bill of my helmet.

The damages...

Knowing ahead lay 20 ft class V waterfall, I shook off the blow, rolled up, and peeled into a nearby eddy. As Anthony and Lara pulled up having learned from my terrible line on the drop, they looked at me with an expression concern. Then a bitter iron laced taste let me know that my eye brow was cut. Fortunately, it was a mere a minor scrape. I finished up the run and pulled my dented boat from the water. My pride took a decent hit, although I at least kept the small consolation that despite my disastrous lines, I had maintained enough composure to keep from swimming and burdening my fellow paddler's. My knowledge of the location of the piton potentials on the Lester greatly improved having intimately probed them. After beating myself up about it for a bit, I let it go... All paddlers are bound to have a bad run, take a bad line, or get worked. Yet it's important I take this run as a lesson and as a productive bump in road toward building my paddling skills (particularly river reading in this case). So my seventh run of the Lester came to be a real charmer and milestone... my first bit of creeking carnage and lessons well learned.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hucking The Stewart River

The "Plumber's Crack"

My day wasn't going well. My latest med school test was terrible and I had gotten four hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. So I went home and slept for three hours to catch up before going back to class. At noon Roger called me up to run some rivers....the Stewart was first on my list.

My anxiousness to run the Steward stemmed from my previous run of it this fall. After portaging some of the drops on the Steward this Fall (due to lack of a creek boat) my motivation was solidified and led me to buy a creek boat this Spring. In particular, the "Plumber's Crack" on the Stewart was on my tick list of drops to hit this year.

On this day the rivers where running high. The night previous had brought thunder storms and an inch of rain. Upon leaving class and driving over to the river, I could see in passing that the Lester River was looking juicy. Meanwhile, as our crew of paddlers headed Northward to Two Harbors, I mentally prepared myself to hit the "Plumbers Crack" and picked through my memory of the line on it. I drove lost in thought, managing whatever uneasiness that develops when contemplating any significant drop and vamping up a calculated confidence.

Upon arriving at the put-in it was clear that the river was higher than my previous run on it in the fall. However it looked very reasonable. As myself, Roger, Scott, and Anthony paddled down the level was looking good. The first class III slide provided some pushy little holes that require some good maneuvering. We were on edge slightly because the river was still fairly unfamiliar to me and the impending significant drops needed scouting/ contemplation.

At last we reached the "Plumber's Crack" which was a 15 ft water fall. Upon looking at it I was certain I was going to run it. The line was tricky though. The waterfall is not uniform and pours over the river right side sooner the left and therefore slopes off pulling left to right. It forms a significant hole at the bottom with much boiling and turbulent water feeding back into the hole. Ideally you would fly of the river left lip boofing over the hole, however you must hug the river left shore and risk losing momentum on "f#@$%k up" rocks (an official kayaking designation for rocks that will kill your perfect line).

With safety set up (Thanks to Scott, Roger, and Anthony) I went for it. I was attempting to hit the left line, but it quickly became clear that my positioning wasn't going to allow this. I was getting pulled over it, right up the center. I had a moment of 'oh shit' in my head as I saw I was going right for the meat of the hole. Seeing what was inevitable, instead of fighting it, my focus shifted to positioning the boat to hit the hole correctly. To the credit of the boat or myself (which ever?) I at least pulled this off. I hit the hole right on the edge of were the backwash met the incoming water. This entire thought process happened in a less than micro-second. I impacted in an explosion of water and waited to resurface. The while in the chaos, I was comforted to feel air on my hands and therefore I hadn't plunged too deep. When the boat surfaced (upright) I threw in some hard strokes to pull away from the hole and paddled away looking back triumphantly and smiling. Here is the time lapse photos:
The rest of the run was gorgeous. In terms of beauty, the Steward ranks high. We were cruising in a mini-gorge with older growth cedars and pines overarching and shading the river. Figments of light sparkled through the trees as the sun sets behind us. Along the river small caves cut into the rock walls and provide beautiful eddies to relax in. Through more enjoyable high flow class III we forded ahead. As we turned the last bend, I watched the river widen and flow into the beautiful expanse of Lake Superior. I love finishing river in Lake Superior, because in many ways it completes the metaphor that river running embodies....

It was a great way to end the day or any day for that matter. The river washed everything away: no anxiety, no stress... just living in the moment of abiding tranquility.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Three RIvers, Four Runs, One Killer Day

My day started at 3:30 am when the alarm woke me up to study for my med school test. I learned that getting 3 hours of sleep is much better than pulling all-nighters and has become a pre-test tradition. After passing the exam I was ready for action!

I hurried home grabbed my boat and threw on my dry-suit. The first run of the day was the French river. Since I hadn't been on many creeks yet this year we took the run slow. The French was fun. It had a bunch of great slides mostly class III running with maybe a touch of class easy IV. However I didn't like how scrappy it was...I want my boat to last more than one season. I then ran off to the Knife River with other paddler I met on the French River. The Knife was good and juiced. I managed to hit a couple of good sized holes and put my new creek boat to the test. After that run, I then had a small break before my friend Roger got off work, luckily I ran into my Dad who was chasing his own favorite pass-time (fishing) and shot the breeze with him for a while. When Roger got off work he, Nate, and I went and ran the French again.

Being thoroughly French-ed out, Nate proposed we head over to the Lester river for a go of it. I casually accepted the proposition, not really realizing what I was getting into. The Lester when running well, as it was, is a straight up class IV+ river. After setting up shuttle and looking at the first two meaty drops, my nerves ran a little high. Putting the nerves and thought processing away, I went at it one drop at time. It was pretty much non stop big flowing class IV. I ran the whole thing clean, with some moments I worried I might flip the boat....but I have found my new boat to be very forgiving. Of the drops we hit, Limbo Falls felt the most intense. It was only the second drop after putting in and was a 15ft falls slide that slammed you into giant exploding water. I remember coming up on the lip and then going into pure chaos, water exploded around as a slid down the main vertical section. Having cleared it I saw ahead the big hole that finished it off and put some paddle strokes in for momentum as I blasted through. The rest of the run had only more of the same. It was a confidence boost to have my first run of some technical and sustained class IV out of the way.

It was just getting dark as I left the river and realized that I hadn't eaten all day. I sat down at the local burrito establishment and had a great time chilling with with companions. It was a long, epic, and fulfilling day. I suspect there will be more to follow.