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 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 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.