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!

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