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.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Amity, Epic Surfing, and Lutsen Tele Skiing

Waves breaking on the rock wall near Stoney Point

So after a weekend of surfing and I took a look at Amity creek and thought it might be fit for a run. The next day myself, Anthony, Scott, and Lara found ourselves at the top of Amity Creek. It was a virgin run for the year and my creek boat. The first drops went well, and were mostly slides. I then dropped over smiley slide which could be consider class IV depending on levels. It was a fun ride that went smoothly. However as we continued down the river it was getting increasing scrapey and shallow. By the time we reached Gazebo falls Lara had cracked her new and defective creek boat. I wasn't going to lose anymore plastic off mine and decided I'd walk the rest back to the car. It was a learning experience building...patience. I now have a decent rock to gauge the levels.

The rest of the week I was busy with school. However to my great fortune, winter decided to give one final fight. By Thursday the waves were 5-7 ft and class was canceled for the next day with predicted 16 inches of snowfall. I went out after class to try and give surfing a shot, even though I could not round up any other paddlers to accompany me. It looked descent at Lester River, but somewhat nerve racking due to fact there was no set break point. So as I went out I was a bit concerned as the waves seemed to crest at anytime or point. I caught a couple descent rides and then decided that it wasn't smart to be out there alone as the winds were picking up.

All of Friday I sat at home reclusive avoiding the weather and studying. However the wind was howling outside, as I learned its speed had picked up to 40-50 mph and waves were rumored to reach 18 ft tall. I woke up slowly and went out to surf around 2 in afternoon, figuring I'd let things die down a bit before going out surfing. When I arrived Stoney Point proper the waves were huge... definitely too big for a paddler without a partner. So I found a small no-name break that entertained me for an hour. When I came back to Stoney Point it had died down enough to be attempted. However as I sat in my boat on shore it was clear this wasn't an adventure to take on alone. As I cowered back to the car my friend Andre and car full of companions drove up to watch the action. To my fortune, at the same time paddle friends Nate and Brian showed up to team up against the waves.

It was quite intense getting out past the break, which included waiting till there was a calm between sets and then paddled furiously praying you didn't get hit by an oncoming curler to slam you up on shore. Luckily I made it out and sat contemplating the break before was far larger than I expected averaging 8 ft waves. I waited until a giant wave came up, breaking from the right. It was exhilarating and hair raising at the same time. As dark wall of water comes from behind as I look down it's slope ten feet to the water below. I came ripping down it's face as it curled and crashed behind me sending skipping along at ripping fast speed on the edge of a 4 ft pile of green water. I went on to catch 3 more of these climaxing in a ride down a 12 footer. Now this all sound very fantastical and wholly unbelievable. Luckily it was caught on video:

It was the most epic surfing I have yet done. I couldn't help but call everyone I knew just to attempt to expel the exciting and adrenaline that was overflowing. That night I traveled to a friends cabin up the north shore and woke up earlier and tele-skied Lutsen all day. It was a gorgeous blue bird day with the sun shining brightly and the snow wet and slushy. It was an absolutely perfect weekend complete with great adventure, great friends, and beautiful surroundings!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Kettle River and Surfing Lake Superior

Carving it up at the end of a good ride on Lake Superior

Having a three day weekend away from medical school, I decided to take full advantage in reclaiming my former state of being. I was dead set on finding somewhere to paddle whitewater this weekend and dusting off my kayak. My initial plans to travel to Canada for whitewater fell through and made way for even better plans.

A group of us decided to check out the Kettle river to see if it was worthy of some play. When we got there, things looked very good. Before long we were sliding down the icy road to the put in. After the first hour of paddling I began to feel comfortable again with the water. It was relaxing to get back on a few river waves and surf/spin again. We also hucked off a minor 3 ft falls in an inadequate attempt to satisfy a hunger for some river running. After three hours of river play happily exhausted we packed it up and drove home.

Bursting out onto the face of a descent size wave

The next morning the wind was howling and the surf on Lake Superior was up. Sleepily, I slowly awoke over the next 3 hours, and headed out to the lake around noon. When I arrived at Lester river there were cars park everywhere and wet suited surfers abound. Over the next three hours I battled the wind and caught beautiful 4-7 ft waves. It was great to be back bouncing down the face of a good wave, catching long rides, and carving on some curlers. What was a gloomy sleet ridden and blustery day for others, was a gorgeous day of paddling for myself and fellow paddlers/surfers.

Playing on the green water after this one crashed down on me

It was a fulfilling weekend that put me back in touch with the world that I enjoy so much. It is good to be reminded again, as sometimes I slowly forget in the bustle of med school what it is I cherish. I was given a bit of a boost, maybe even a lightness of step, but not to be overlooked.... a smile for the week ahead.