Thursday, October 15, 2009

First Descent?

The Horizon line on Kawishiwi Falls
(those are people in the distant foreground)

After days in the hospital with dreary skies overhead the sun came out for day. I went out searching for whitewater. I left my cabin somewhat lethargically and hopped into the car to check out the local falls.

Kawishiwi Falls is not unknown to locals nor is in inaccessible. It in fact lies just of the main drag and is only a short hike. When I came upon it I felt my excitement grow. I scurried around the rocks like a small child taking photos from various angles and pondering lines in my head.

The main line on the Falls

The first thing to be discussed is whether it is truly a first descent or has someone in the past taken to this falls? In the months to come I will undoubtedly inquire with locals as to if has been run in the past.

As for the line there are two. Firstly the main line which is clearly obvious and looks promising. The one danger is that it manages to drop vertically onto a rock pile at the finish. But upon finding some pictures online of the Falls in the spring, it appears the pool below fills up substantially in the Spring flows and may cover the rock pile safely? (see comparative photos below)

For comparative sake... (bottom photo is credited Jon Davis via Flickr)

The second line looks equally interesting as the Falls drops over approximately 5-8 ft mostly vertical drop into a hanging pool. The depth of the hanging pool is unknown to me at this time... but I will scout it soon. The from the hanging pool it drops over another ~15 ft vertical falls. The depth of the pool varies, but I will probe it for certain soon enough.

In short there are some strong possibilities for a great couple lines on this falls. In the coming days I plan to put in below the falls at the current low water levels and poke around to see the depth of the pools.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A New Place To Call Home

After a fall filled with the delivery of newborns into the world, mixed with the occasional adrenaline of the lower St. Louis, or relaxing trail run up the North Shore, the daylight became more sparse. The clock ticked away the time as my days in Duluth waned.

I drove Northward in truck filled with all my belongings to my new home. I drove up to my small rural drive to my cabin on the shores of Lake Burntside near Ely, MN. I found myself within the reaches of the Boundary Waters Wilderness surrounded by beauty I had only known in my visits to the area.

The sunset over Burnside (from my kayak)

As the days pass I find myself pouring over maps, exploring the waters on my door step, and running over the trails out my back door. The season's change is at hand and as the waters come to freeze and the snow falls I will find the adventures and possibilities without limit in the winter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sturgeon Falls

After hours in the hospital dreaming of being on the water. Seeing the levels at Sturgeon falls imminently dropping, I had to make a trip up there before flows were too low for play. So along with Nora, I made the 8 hour drive into the Canadian landscape. After a night, sleeping in the car I woke Saturday morning and eagerly got onto the water.

The wind was ferocious, as we paddled out into white caps and the sky mottled with grey clouds.
Sturgeon Falls was looking smaller than I had yet seen it, and yet the features were more than enticing. Fortunately, it had rained in the nights previous bumping up the level at Sturgeon Falls, and providing just enough water for eddy access.

The day was a cold one and I spent more hours on the water than the few times I remember being on shore resting. Moreover, was warmer being on the water paddling my heart out, than inactively munching food on shore while the wind swept away what little body heat remained. And so it was that I managed to log at least 5-6 hours of paddling time.

slept heartily and woke to the sun shining glorious as the wind had taken the clouds with it as it blew away. Upon paddling and portaging up to Sturgeon Falls, the river was looking gorgeous. Without wind the water flowed like moving glass. Truly a piece of nature's art. It was even more surreal paddling on the placid flowings. It was excrutiating knowing I had only three hours of paddling before I would drive 8 hours homeward. But the time came and went too fast. I drive home content, and glad that I taken my one chance at getting up to Sturgeon Falls for the year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mid-Summer Creeking: St. Louis Rendezvous

Creeking this Spring was my last hold on freedom. But as the season ended the dam broke open and responsibility had its way with me. As a result, I found myself in a window-less room for 3 weeks, captive to the stress and strain of studying for Boards for medical school. Those days were excruciatingly meaningless and it was a definite low point for me as sparred with pointless hoop jumping that is a physicians journey. After my test had passed, I eagerly began my medical rotations consisting of 60 hr weeks and sporadic night and weekend call. Despite this, I fought back and found time to make it to the St. Louis River for a late July release.

"Airtime" and the Left Slot just above Jay Cooke's swinging bridge

I hopped back on the river with the company of Joel and Ryan for a mid summer's creeking experience. It was therapeutic to get back on the water and catch some adrenaline. Feeling rusty I laughed at my apprehension after easily passing through the Octopus. I felt great as I dropped through the gnashings of the St. Louis through Jay Cooke while spectators on looked from the swinging bridge. We moved ahead towards Finn Falls and I prepared for my first run of the class IV/V section toward Oldenburg Pt. Scouting Finn Falls we all wondered whether the auto-boof was a possibility... Joel decided to be the probe! We watched with relief as he successfully launched airborne over top the threatening hydraulic that is Finn Falls. We each successively launched Finn and landed with huge grins. Below Finn, I played follow-the-leader as I blindly ran the thundering section of constricted drops of big water littered with shards of rock unique to the St Louis. After plowing through the final hole and rolling up from my tangle with the wall, I let my grip on my paddle ease as we paddled into an eddy, exited our boats, and carried up to the shuttle.

Finn Falls

Myself and Ryan went back upriver for a second lap on the river. On approaching the roar of the Octopus, I decided to take on my first run of the Class V beak of the Octopus. Having watched both Joel and Ryan earlier make the drop look easy, I figured it was time I give it a go. Plunging down it's first gnashing, I found myself too far to the left and was pushed into the seam of water. Half way down I was flipped. With little effort I rolled up while descending. However, when my internal gyroscope alerted me to to being upright, I was acutely aware that I was still submarined under water while in my boat. In the disorienting craziness, I felt myself being pulled into an underwater bow stall by the water's churnings. I let my paddle blades catch current hoping to be pulled out. I unexpected popped up, upright in the corner eddy with crazy water on two sides and rock walls on the other two sides. Rather than electing to paddle back into the craziness, I dismounted from my boat and carried over the rocks putting in the pool below. It was by no means a stylish run of the "Beak", but I came through without swimming or getting trashed. We paddled onwards through Jay Cooke and launched over Finn Falls. Having launched with excessive speed, I found that I had landed near the opposing wall in the pool below Finn. The current flipped me against the wall. I struggled with my roll and made 4 attempts before finally rolling upright with the knowledge of class IV/V whitewater ahead (not a place fore swimming). Clearing the water from my eye's briefly, I forged ahead feeling gripped and rushed. With shaken concentration, I found myself broached on a rock and cycled backwards above a significant class IV/V drop. After having an "Oh, shit" moment in my head, I quickly accepted unchangeable fate. I ended up running the drop successfully backward pounding through the last hole. Getting off the river, I wasn't happy with my run and it's rough goings, but I was satisfied with my ability to recover from nasty circumstances without a swim or significant trashing.

Two days later I joined Joel, Cliff, and Tony for one last run of the Lower St. Louis before the dam's release was stifled. I was feeling good. Every stroke felt controlled, every line and correction was according to my will and not the river's. We flew through Airtime and under the Swinging bridge at Jay Cooke. We each launched gleefully over Finn Falls each there own style. With the memory of my last run below Finn, I paddled onward with confident and powerful strokes. Missing my broaching rock, I powered into the drop with so much speed, I reportedly looked to have skipped right over the hole. We got off the river giddy with adrenaline and excitement. I drove home with a some soulful contentment, feeling that I some ownership of my life and freedom.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eyes Wide: The Cascade River

Myself running "Discretion"

I knew it was coming. The signs were on the wall, Cascade river was to be run. Yet my shoulder's were sending me messages that my weekend run of the Kadunce was not without consequence. They crackled warnings with daily tasks and movements. I told myself that I would resist the lure of the Cascade River. But when the call came I failed and couldn't say no.

The leaves, still in their infancy, hung on the passing limbs as I starred through the window glass in quiet somnolence. The clouds, each in their independence, allowed the sky and sunlight to glorify the space between their midst's while we made morning passage northward. I sat in frank contemplation of the hours that lay ahead. The Cascade River was much fabled. Guide books championed it's beauty and treachery, paddlers from throughout the country kept it on their tick lists, and it's waters inspired an implicit veneration amongst paddlers.

The car lurched to the roadside as I cradled my coffee, and took a last sip as we each stepped out. We had arrived at the river and walked to the bridge to check the river's flow. Measuring approximately -4 or -5, the river had met my predetermined standards... I told myself I wouldn't paddle unless it was -4 or below. The Cascade river has quite a character. An in or two in the river level makes drastic changes to whether she is a angry torrent requiring razor precision or a moody gnashing that has some forgiveness to mere mortals.

The anticipation built as the gravel rattled from the wheels as we made the turn into the parking lot of the put in. After quietly readying for battle, I set my kayak along the river side, made myself comfortable inside it, and followed my companions in peeling out into the river's flow.
Ahead in the distance a horizon line was becoming more distinct. We each eddied out and exited our boats to look at what we knew was ahead.

From the shoreline, "Hidden Falls" stretched out before us in it's menacing glory. It is an impressively long and steep slide whose main flow snakes from one river bank across to the other before exploding off an invisible obstacle that creates a 3-3.5 ft roostering pile. Hidden Falls thus terminates from the rooster in a continued slide into an ominous hole.

Video example of Hidden Falls (courtesy of T-Bone)

It is a drop that I believe very few paddlers do without instance of nerves or doubt infecting the recesses of the mind. I was no different as watched from shore as Ryan and Andy ran it perfectly. Walking to my boat and getting in, my stomach was in my throat, and as I pushed off shore I nervously gulped in attempt to bring it back down.

As I paddled over the horizon line hugging the river left, I piled into oncoming curler which directed me into the main flow and the ride of my life. The river picked up insane speed, as the flow rocketed me across the river. I smashed through an erroneous wave and when my eyes cleared I could see the final scene. There stood the thunderous 3-4 foot wall of water and split seconds between me and impact. My eyes wide as I have known, my grip tighter than humanly necessary. My last strokes fell into the water as I made my last adjustments to my line, attempting to point slightly left. I exploded into the gnashing billow of water. The hit was violent and my eyes were blinded by a wash of white. My orientation felt skewed, but it soon became clear I was not upright. I could feel my paddle and hands batter against rock. Adrenaline dismissed any sensation. I was more concerned whether I would find myself battling the ominous right hand hole or in the gentle left hand pool.

A slide show of my progression down hidden falls (Photo credit: Ryan Zimny)

When the scraping stopped, their was a moment of calm as I made for my first roll attempt.... it failed. I calmly repositioned and tried again. I came to the surface and was relieved to find myself in the calm left hand pool.

Ryan and Andy signaled to see if I was alright. I checked myself over, nothing was immediately obvious. But as I paddled into an eddy, I noticed a large gash in the neoprene over my left thumb. Then the pain start to flow insidiously to my thumb and familiar feeling of warm inflammation came to it. Yet it seemed I could still paddle with the pain and stiffness.

There less the 50 yards down stream lay "Discretion". Another class IV/V drop consisting of a complex boiling set of ledges, before terminating in a significant hole with a right hand outflow. I had less apprehension about this drop, the line seemed clear to me. I got back in my boat. Attempting to line up near the right hand bank, I was surprised to find myself sliding over a rock ledge that I was not aware in scouting. It pushed me left towards the meat of the hole. I kept battling back towards the right, and found myself on line for the culminating hole. Getting some strokes of purchase I dug deep and collided with the hole emerging in the outflow with relief.

Slide show of my progression down "Discretion" (Photo credit: Ryan Zimny)

Continuing down river, I noticed my thumb was feeling stiff and wouldn't let me use it without a shot of pain. We came to another horizon line shortly there after. The river ahead plunged ahead over a series of ledges and holes before being split by "Moose Rock". Half the river went left dropping steeply through a narrow turning constriction, and on the right it flowed over a long slide. I fought with brush on shore and tried to get a better look at the line on this class V but had only minimal sucess. We each went ahead and I sparred with a myriad of holes, waves, and gnashings. As I neared moose rock and made my left hand choice, the river extended its grip and turned my boat sideways to the current just as I was to descend the left line. As I crested the lip, I threw some desperate strokes to straighten out my boat but was still off line. I dropped in and the river easy over threw my boat. Underwater, I felt two significant hits to my head before sensing I was in deeper water. I knew there was a slide ahead and had no interest in getting anymore hits while underwater. I pulled my skirt and found a sketchy footing while clearing the water from my eyes. My boat washed into slide while I stood mid-river waist deep in current fighting to keep my feet gripped to the rocky bottom. I inched my way over to the right hand wall while waist deep in current and found shallow path down the drop.

My confidence was obliterated, my thumb throbbed, and I was breathing heavy with fatigue. Though the pride in me wanted to run the rest of the river, the reality was things were stacking up against me. I would venture to say that 40% of creeking is grounded in your paddling confidence and the mental picture you have of your abilities. Mine had taken a serious blow and I decided I would pull the plug and walk out of the Cascade River.

I paddled the last bit of class II boogy water before eddying out and carrying my boat ashore. I climbed up the steep hillside lining the Cascade with a rope attached to my kayak below. Arduously I haul my boat up, found the trail, and drug her on a long 2 hour long walk back to Lake Superior. I was humbled by the Cascade River. Walking in quite contemplation, I knew that it was a good experience for me. Each river demands respect. While measured confidence and aggressiveness sometimes rewarded by the river, unrealistic pride is not. The fact is I am not a renowned paddler, I do not have enumerable years of experience, and I have many skills to build and much yet to learn. But I am passionate about learning from each drop I run, every river I paddle, and every paddler that I share the river with. I love whitewater and one cannot learn without a rough day on the river.

The the sun poured onto the budding spring scene and warmed the pavement on the drive homeward. I sat quietly fighting to keep my eyelids open and slowly felt my frustration melt as we left the river behind us.

Me on Hidden Falls

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spring Firsts: The Kadunce

The majesty of the Kandunce (imagine 2 feet more water in here)
photo credit: Laramie Carlson

From Lake Superior I watched the shallow Kadunce flow, barely lapping over it's rounded stones. As we put our kayaks to our shoulder's and walked up the trail along the creeks banks, my imagination could not grasp that such a small and innocent creek could induce such tales of intense descents. The trail persisted uphill and the river's waters fell further and further below us until the river was scarcely to be seen amongst rising rock walls. On occasion we peered intently over the precipice to the river below looking for logs impeding the flow of the river, which could become a deadly entrapment for us afloat in it's slot canyon. And though the river flowed deep in the canyon below, it's width was often an easy stones throw, and at some points with a good leap could cross to it's opposite edge.

Inside my mind I ignored the nervous thoughts that crept internally at sight of the river. Finally as I rounded a corner of the trail, the river's roar became more imminent. Before me opened up the sight of a large and complex drop of perhaps 35 feet in total. Depositing our boats on the trail we all climbed down to scout the drop. After sliding through a shallow and walled set of sliding flows, the creek poured over a 3 foot shelf which then constricted into a narrow chute of 3 yards in length and nearly a single boat width. This jet of water cascaded vertically on its left onto a flat table of rock, and its right an amphitheater rock creating a sliding falls. The water thus culminated in a constricted boiling pool before the water slipped into the chasm of the slot canyon.

The biggest drop on the Kandunce

I viewed this scene and fought with myself as doubtful thoughts insidiously gnawed at my confidence. I had serious concerns about several components of the drop and needed to see a paddler go over it before I could quench my doubts. Joel and Justin bravely put on and launched themselves off the drop with skilled composure as they landed and slipped through the gateway of rising rock walls into the ominous slot canyon. The rest of the party walked up to the trail and grabbed their boats.

Joel fires up the main event on the Kadunce

I lined up and pushed off third in line for the river ahead. Ahead of me each boater slid over a horizon line. I gave some space then peeled out and over the entry drop. I sped down an 8 foot slide tight gripped as the water banked off the wall and turned to the left. Ahead the river slid over a few sets of shallow holes before the main event. Yet some how amongst the shallow scraping I found my boat on edge and soon over turned. My helmet drug on the bottom as I impatiently waited for deeper water to roll. But it wasn't coming. I had waited long enough and knew that a 35 ft drop lay ahead of my over turned boat. On my left (were I normally roll) I felt my paddle meet the rocky wall, and instinctively knew I would need to roll on my off side. I let go of my paddle with my left hand and pushed off the river's bottom up righting myself. Facing backwards, I turned my boat straight and ploughed into the pool before the main event. I threw strokes of purchase over the middle left of the shallow shelf that composed the entry into the drop. Then going through the chute I stayed balanced as threw one last stroke as I rocketed over the edge. Flying through the air I landed on the sliding falls and flew into the pool below landing somewhat flat without going deep. Relieved to not have to roll, I tangled with the enclosed pools rock walls and fought into some calmer waters.

Joel staring down the jaws of the slot canyon

Ryan ahead of me was not to be seen as he had already gone into the slot canyon. From the pool I looked over my shoulder at the paddler behind me crest the previous drop as I turned to the waters ahead. I paddled looking into the jaws of the slot canyon ahead and passed into it's shadowed gnashings. The river smashed and banked quickly off it's right hand wall. The intensity happened so fast, it felt as if I was a pinball. The river banked off walls so tight that often I would disarm my grip from my paddle and brace of the walls with a stiff arm and hearing my elbow pads do there work. Suddenly the water in it's darkness met a horizon line and I dropped over a 10 foot vertical falls going airborne and viewing the tiny pool below. This drop was known as "Mandatory Piton" and it's name was suggestive of the fact that it was difficult to avoid landed and hitting the left wall of the pool. Avoiding Ryan in the pool below, my intuition angled my boat to the right while airborne towards to outlet of the pool. I landed and surfaced upright and back peddled to successfully prevent a piton. I was then unexpectedly pushed against the left wall and clawed with left hand keeping myself from being over turned. I paddled through the outlet below and continued down the steep ascent. After a few more water slide turns while ducking under some pinned logs the light came dimly back to the river as it's canyon walls opened up, I eddied out in a small pocket of calm water.

Justin wrestles the Kadunce

As myself and Ryan exited our boats another paddler shouted, "swimmer"! We rushed upstream as a yellow boat washed into our grasp and then a shoe. Gathering these items, the paddlers narrowly ashore ahead shouted unintelligible utterances obscured by their echoings in the canyon. A swimmer never came, and we were relieved to seem him poke his head from the canyon rim indicating he was okay and had climbed out.

I stood for a moment to take in the serenity of the place. The slot canyon walls soared 80-100 ft plush with thick layers of age-old green moss as water dripped from above. The river roar echoed amongst the walls and created a slight mist. It is places of beauty like these that so few experience as we do and are treasures to every paddler.

We drained the empty boat and sent it on it's way ahead of us as we paddled onward. I watched as each paddler was lost around a left hand corner. Turning the corner there lay an unexpected 6 foot drop into a mid sized pool. Dropping clumsily over it upright I continued onward. After paddling over one last 4-5 foot drop the river calmed and shallowed further losing it's constricting walls. We slowly scraped our way towards Lake Superior. We exited and stepped onto the dirt banks and walked our way down the trail out of the canopy of boughs and into the roadside light.

Each of us had an enthusiastic smile as the adrenaline still coursed. Talking like excited school children we each replayed the run in our minds and verbally... fighting to hold onto the events and solidify it in our remembrances.

The day came to pass as the light faded in vibrant colors over Lake Superior. I sat by warmth of firelight on the beach comforted by the ebbing waves and vibrancy of the night's constellations. Fireside laughter echoed amongst the trees as grateful contentment painted my sleep.

(All paddling photos credit of Ryan Zimny)

Spring Firsts: The Poplar

Ryan amongst "Beliek Surprise"
(all photos credit: Ryan Zimny)

The wind was pressing against the windows of the car as I road northward toward the waters of the North shore. Stopping along the way for coffee and to look at river levels, the group of paddlers was buzzing with enthusiasm. We arrived at Lutsen and made our way across the golf course to check the condition of the Poplar River. Levels were looking good and respective piles of gear formed as which each readied ourselves for battle.

The first of adventures was getting to the river. Mounting our kayaks as if on horse back, we sped down the remnants of snow covering Lutsen ski run... kicking our heals in deep, hoping to not careen into the snow-less gravel at the hill's base.

Justin lets er' fly to the put in

At the river's edge, feeling slightly rushed and out of sorts I jumped in my boat and pushed off with my paddling compatriots ahead of me. The river, sparing no time, jumped immediately into class III boogey water boulder gardens. It took me a little while to adjust and get my paddling senses warmed and attune to the waters ahead. But as the rapids went on I felt more and more at home as the river meandered through Lutsen's Golf Course. After punching a small yet significant drop we eddied out. I walked ahead to let my eyes see what my ears heard as a roaring in the distance. Ahead lay "Belieks Surprise".

Though I had seen pictures and read of the rapid, upon the sight of it, I was taken by it's impressiveness. After passing under a foot bridge, it consisted of a long and tumultuous slide with numerous roosters strew about and a curling side sweeper guarding it's entry. I watch as a few of our group took on the descent with lines styled. I eyed the line for one last time then turned and walked back to my kayak. At the crest of drop I saw my line and added purchase to my strokes I looked to punch the sweeper. Smashing into and through it the sweeper made one last grasp turning my boat. Ploughing into the next rooster I was turned further and went into the midst's of the slide backwards.

"The crest of Beleik's Surprise"

Beleiks Backwards

Resigned to my fate I leaned forward to keep my stern up and calmly viewed the chaos that I had already passed bracing for any impact. Knowing that their was a hole at the slide's base. I took my first opportunity to turn my boat in the nick of time and slammed past the hole.

Getting straighten out...

Having eddied out, I looked to my companions for a description of the river ahead. I knew it was a class IV+ canyon section, but descriptions of rapids in whitewater are often futile... "follow the water"... "Punch the holes".... "You can run it anywhere". As often happens in whitewater, nobody really remembers an exact line and so your intuition will have to guide you. I hardly remember any canyon as the class III gave way to Class IV+. I threw hard vertical strokes punching holes in all directions. Each time an explosion of water hit and your eyes fought to clear their view of the river ahead. At one point I remember blasting through one hole gain my sight only to burst into another, and another. Finally the river poured over a intimidating left-hand hole. I mustered strength to slide around it on the right only to be smoothly banked by the river charging against the right hand wall. The river calmed as we took out from the river greeted by the stale perfection of a golf course lawn.

The speedy descent of the Poplar left more daylight ahead. We left our gear on as re-racked the kayaks and headed for the Kadunce River... (to be continued on the next post)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day Before The Departure

Before departing on a week long road trip I knew I would not be able to paddle. So before leaving I decided to go out for an afternoon run of the Lower St. Louis. Myself and two others dropped a shuttle vehicle at Jay Cooke state park and ran on foot back up to Thompson Dam. It was a gloriously warm day with temps in the mid-sixties, and the sweat beaded on my brow as we put on our paddling gear and pushed onto the Lower Louie.

The level was in the mid 3000 cfs range and the river was a fun ride. I managed to get a little surf time on big glassy after riding the rollercoaster of wave trains through the canyon section. The after sliding through the "first sister" and dodging the "second sister" we portaged around the Octopus. Putting on again we cruised through the boogy water to Jay Cook. There we each sailed off the the 12 footer. My line was too far left and sent me into the meat of converging waters near the base. Fortunately it posed no problems as I rolled up and made my way onward. Disliking my line, we all walked back up and ran it again, each styling our respective lines!

It was a good day of paddling that had me grateful for the creeking that I have right in my back yard. There is no better way to end a day than watching the sun fall driving away from the river.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The First Ascent of The Season

Took a fun little jaunt out to Ely's peak to do a little climbing for the first time of the season. I managed to fire off trad lead of the a easy little route. I then followed the trad lead of my partner up the "Flake". We left as the sun was setting. It was a fun afternoon.

Rappelling after my lead

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Black River

I awoke from a hard nights rest on my cushy air mattress to the sun shining through the transparency of my tent. The crew of paddlers packed up camp from the Presque Isle River and headed out to the Black River for a day of intensity. I was sore from the long day of paddling the Presque Isle day before and knew I would enjoy the first half of the Black River as a spectator.

After scouting the water levels and the gnar our group of 12 paddlers suited up. 7-8 of the twelve put in to run the first section including Potowatomi Falls and Gorge Falls. The rest of us set up to support the rest. Two went up and helped get boaters over the around infamous "Birth Canal" (a nasty hole). Meanwhile, I rappelled down to the sticky base of Gorge Falls, tied myself off, and had a throw rope ready in case of a swim. It was majestic place to be. The sun shone bright and the temperature rose into the 60s as I sat in the shadows of the canyon, pleasantly cooled by the mist rising from Gorge Falls. I watched each paddler one by one style their respective lines. In between paddlers I watch the elegant eruptions of water from Gorge Falls base... entranced by it's beauty. After all had safely run the Falls, I ascending back up and made my way to the put in.

Gorge Falls

Putting on with the 11 other boaters, I couldn't help but smile. I enjoy paddling in large groups. Safety in numbers gives me confidence and I learn from the many styles of paddlers and their lines to each drop. We paddled onward through a bunch of class III+ drops before arriving at a distinct horizon line. We had reached Sandstone Falls, a class IV+ to V. I eddied and scouted the scene ahead. The water poured over a steep 10-12 foot conglomerate ledge. As it did it hit an outcropping ledge on it's way down and created a huge boiling pile before plunging into the hole at it's base.

3 boaters quickly ran the drop and portaged up for a second lap. After observing the results for two of the different lines taken by others, I chose to run Sandstone Falls "up the gut" ploughing right down the middle and through the meat. I set up my line with some direction from paddlers ashore and paddled hard. I collided with the first boil and was mostly blinded in my descent, but attempted to continue throwing stokes for momentum as the harsh collision of the hole eveloped me. I shot down and submerged completely. The hole felt as if it shot me into a bow stall and yet I emerged surfacing upright. Like my predecessors running this line, I had run into the hole and was submarined out 6 feet behind it's thrashings. It was a quite ride.

Sandstone Falls

The river continued onward over numerous fun class III drops before reaching an ominous horizon line. We all eddied out... some to spectate Rainbow Falls and others to scout it's line. I watched as 5 paddlers braved the treachery of the falls. Each fought down a tight line while only 3 feet from falling over the precipice of death, punching into a curler they plunged over a 30 foot semi-vertical falls into the churnings below. Each paddled away unscathed.

The group converged and paddled only a short distance in the sunlight to the sight of the expanse of Lake Superior. Thus ended a memorable weekend of paddle, wrought with carnage, triumph, and contentment!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Presque Isle

Having never paddled the rivers of the southern shore of Lake Superior when I heard that a large group of paddlers would be going in that direction I joined the band wagon. After a 2 hour drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I found myself at the Presque Isle River. I heard much of the river knowing full well that it was a South Shore classic run. After watching other boaters hit up the last sections of the river, myself and a paddling companion stepped into our car and drove to the put in. It was to be the beginning of a long day.

From the road we traveled 4-6 miles on sub-par logging roads till we reached a locked gate. We thereby walked with 50 lb kayaks slung over our shoulders 40 minutes as the blubird sky let the sunshine through and warm the air into upper 50s F. We reached the river wet with sweat and took moment of rest to dry before sealing ourselves in our drysuits for the 8 miles paddle.

Getting gear up at the put-in

I put onto the river and paddled into the unknown. I knew only what was written of the rapids ahead.

The river dabbled over class II whitewater amongst clay banks, before gradually constricting to some class III rapids. Very soon I knew we would hit the first significant drop, Triple Drop (IV). Through the choas I eddied out and saw it before me. It consisted one ledge with a descent hole followed by a small pool before the river drifted over another and more significant ledge before dropping again in more class II. After much debate on the line to take we came to consensus and my paddling buddy offered to go first, to which I yielded.

John going over the lip on Triple Drop

After watching his successful line through the choas I enter my boat and push away from shore. I ferried across river and made for my line. I was a touch off, but punched through the first ledge without incident and paddled hard to the next. I dropped over the next ledge giving some propulsion and push onward and through the hole.

Next on the docket and only a few bends of the river ahead was "Nikomis". It was a much fable drop that I heard much about. Within a small rocky gorge with walls on both sides the river constricted of a small ledge hole before, rocketing over another ledge creating a meaty and intimidating hole. There were two options, crash down the right side blasting through multiple obstacles in transition between ledges before crashing into the main hole at it's weakest point. We both decided to run the left side pushing through a small hole on the first ledge and riding a large tongue of water and building speed to crashing into the meat of Nokomis with as much speed and momentum as possible.

I volunteered to run it first and slipped into my boat. I threw some effortful strokes and punched the first ledge hole with ease.

Myself readying to punch the entry hole into "Nokomis"

Seeing the choas ahead I paddled hard through small pool that fed the tongue. I saw my line and shot for a small curler marking my line. Blasting through it, my eye were wide as I paddled down the tongue that accelerated me a rocket speed for the hole ahead. I brace hard as I collided with the wall of water ahead. Unable to see anything, I felt my boat being tossed a bit as I worried that I was stuck in the hole. But in those milli-seconds, my boat had blasted into the hole up onto it's pile and "typewritered" me rightward to it's outflow. I emerged with a whoop and a fist pump at my success.

Myself looking back on "Nokomis" after emerging victorious

My paddle buddy punched Nokomis with much the same line and with the same success. We paddled down river with smiles.

My paddling partner running Nokomis

Paddling onward we came upon the first of of three conglomerate ledges. The first one we portaged due to the shallow mank. The second we scraped down losing plastic from or boats. At the last "Lepisto" conglomerate falls, I hopped out of my boat on river left to scout. My eyes saw the river pour through a small channel into the pool below making a giant wave. But that was only what my eyes saw... I directed my paddling campanion from shore to run it. He plunged into the drop with wide eyes and was stopped dead in his tracks... my eyes were wrong... this was a nasty hole. He fought valiantly while I helplessly grabbed a rope on shore. He was endered, looped, sidesurfed, and thrashed about. After rolling up 5 times, he pulled his skirt and swam. He went down and didn't come up until 4 seconds late. I quickly jumped into his boat and retrieved his kayak. I felt terrible having directed him into harms way.

It was about this time that we saw that the light was waining in the western sky and we paddled hard over flat water to racing the falling of the sun. We approached the most intimidating portion of the run. The first river opened broadly over a thirty foot slide Nawadaha Falls, then a short while further coursed over a drop resembling giant stair steps dropping another 20-30 ft over Manido Falls, before at last plunging 25 ft vertically over Manabezho falls.

The first of these obstacles, I paddle hard over the lip and followed the flowing water over the left hand side of Nawadaha Falls. I continually adjusted as the slide through it's best at me. I arrived at it's base without incident.

Nawadaha Falls

We then scouted Manido Falls. Each time the river poured over a stair step it seemed to make a hole. My paddling companion had run this before for, but with the light waining into dusk we picked a line and went. I followed his line down the left center line on the drop, and through some hard strokes for momentum. I slid of the first two stair steps and saw the hole ahead as my eyes grew wide seeing the last stair step pour-over.

I threw a futile boof stroke, before impacting the hole and found myself in a wicked side surf. Facing to the river right I paddled hard to stay upright my shoulder nearly under water in my brace due to the steepness of the incoming pour-over. I then threw the bow of my boat into the choas of the incoming water hoping to squirt out the hole. I rolled up to find myself side surfing and facing river left. I stayed calm and planted my paddle hoping to catch some greenwater to pull me out. I realized it was useless and pulled my skirt as I flipped over.

Manido Falls

It is at this moment that a boater determines there fate... I swam upwards. I knew that I did not reach the surface, I was in for a long harrowing ride in this hole. Fortunately, it spit me to the surface and seeing my boat pushed off of it and down river. Paddle in hand I could see, that there was still 10-15 feet of slide still left in the drop and I lined up to go over it on my ass. I bounced off a few rocks before being deposited at it's shallow base. I was bruised but un broken. My boat wash down river next to me and I grabbed it and pull it ashore. I was panting hard half from the adrenaline and half from sheer exhaustion. Having a keen sense that karma had caught up to me for our incident on the third Lepisto, I got my wits about me and saw the horizon line ahead of Manabezho falls.

Manabezho Falls as it is normally viewed

I had waited all day to run the 25 falls and despite my poor luck on Manido, I was dtermined to run it. By this time night was fall and the landscape was becoming apparantley dim. As my buddy portaged down the base of the falls for saftey, I agonized over the line. Deciding I jumped into my boat and charged ahead. Seing the line I was fighting for I paddled for the lip. It came sooner than I had expected and in an awkward way. There was no time for a boof stroke, I was already falling into vertical. I cork screwed weirdly and saw the base of the fall collide with me and my boat with a thud.

Myself ready for a roll attempt after Manabezho Falls... it was dark

I emerged from Manabezho dazed, I had run it but with a terrible inelegant line and had run it as the sun last rays could barely be seenon the horizon.

Still ahead the river rocketed through a narrow gorge into lake Superior, and the ride was name appropriately "The Flume". As we paddled I could hear ahead to rivers roar. It was now almost full night and the drop was becoming hard to read. Yet it having little consequence but to flush one out to Lake Superior we blindly went ahead. It was choas! I took a left had sneek line, as I watch my companion smash into a wall of water on river right. Sliding pat him, I paddled hard as a massive curler threw my kayak upside down as if it were a toy boat in a bath tub. Underwater I felt the choas around me and waited for it to subside before rolling up. Clearing the water from my eyes, I saw the river rise into one last wave. I blasted through the hit and found myself floating into Lake Superior.

Zoom Flume (imagine this in the dark!)

In the darkness we laughed at that choas we had skillfully botched and emerged from. We paddled the shorline to the campsight and carried our boats up the 50 ft clay banks along the shore of the lake. We arrived to find the camp mostly empty, bacause half of the paddlers had gone looking for us. After finding them and letting them know we were back safe, I peeled my soggy drysuit from me and went to bed. It was perhaps the most epic day of paddling I had yet experienced. Although not the cleanest paddling I have done, certainly it was more than rewarding!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Split Rock and The East Beaver Rivers

by Stellae et Luna

After waking up at 5 am, taking a test, and sitting through 2 hours of anti-parasitic pharmacology I drove home bathed in the sunlight and warmth of the day. I set about preparing for paddling excursion ahead by pouring a pot of boiling water into my kayak and popping out the dent from piton-ing on the East Beaver river last weekend.

Successfully mending my boat, I met with some fellow paddlers and took to the road northward. As the drive went on the sun gradually faded as the grey skies hung above the north shore. We pulled into the parking lot near the Split Rock and checked the gauge. The water was deemed worthy, we loaded two shuttle vehicles and drove to the put in.

The seven of us paddlers slid into the marshy water of the upper stretches of the Split Rock River and weaved through alders to the widening river. The river made it's first drop down a significant slide before reaching the old Superior Hiking Trail bridge where the action was to officially begin. I scouted the first rapid and cruised my way down it with little incident. It would be nearly the last time I would scout.

The Split Rock River was chock full of steep slides one after another the all melted into one another. Each with a unique line, often hugging a rocky wall following the path with the most water. The river went onwards as we passed the river's name sake. Finally we reached what I would consider one of the most significant drops on the river entitle "Under The Log". The drop was comprised of a 15 ft concave and steep slide into small hanging boil before spewing out abruptly leftward through I powerful hole-ish confluence of water. I scouted it out and went last in the party. I dropped down the right on the slide and found myself stuck in boiling eddy between the tiers of the drop. Not quite excited about my situation and the fact that I was pointed up stream, I pushed off the rock with my hands and made my way down into the next phase. I paddler hard seeing the piling hole ahead and blasted through relieved.

The river mellowed and gave way to it's mouth it opened into the horizon of Lake Superior. It was a fun run in from a paddling perspective, but my kayak had a different opinion of the Split Rock. As I took my gear off and flipped my boat over I noticed two sizable gashes... not through the hull but close enough to weaken it. The prospect of an out of commission boat soured my Split Rock run to a degree but would not quench the exhilaration

The day grew colder as the falling rain hung onto the last seasons aged grass and the leafless and budding boughs. Are ambition only grew as we packed and left for the East Branch of the Beaver River. I drove to gauge the river's level and judging by the falls found it to be similar to my last excursion there... very high. Shivering in the cold our caravan of six paddlers navigated the mild upper stretches of the Beaver. I sat contemplating what lay ahead. I paddled weaved my way down the first bit of class IV drops over a small slide then punching a hole creating ledge. The river let up as we approached the falls ahead. I eddied out to take a look as two of my companions went over the horizon line. I scouted the level and saw that was indeed the same meaty level I had see the weekend previous. I made up my mind staying optimistic about the line ahead and mustering the will to run the three falls ahead. I carefully looked at the line to the lip, got in my boat, and pushed off.

I paddled hard for a small "V" and burst through a small wave onto the lip of the 18-20 footer before me. It being a sliding falls (as opposed to straight vertical), I fought to keep my boat from plugging the falls and missing a tricky boof stroke, I pulled knee hard and impacted the water ahead. My angle of entry must not have been too bad as I felt the impact slightly violently and clear my eyes to find myself upright in the hanging pool above the next 20 footer. Relieved to be upright I paddled for the lip of the drop ahead. The scene opened up before me as gravity took hold of my boat and the water. Again I did not perfect my boof strong and mid-flight fought to keep my entry from being too vertical. I collided with the water and surfaced upright to the audience of 3 paddlers below cheering me on. I let out a joyful whoop and traditional fist pump as I fought with the boiling chaotic waters into the eddy below. The rest of the group joining us as we each descend the next and more mild 15 ft falls. After navigating some class III boogy water the river mellowed and meander through a golf course and we stepped from our boats walking the railway tracks back to our awaiting shuttle.

After a plentiful in good food and laughter, I parted ways with the crew and drove through the darkness back to Duluth. I went to sleep beautifully exhausted and happily fulfilled.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Stewart River: Low Water

After half day of classes the beat brightly as I drove the northern shore of Lake Superior to the mouth of the Stewart river. Gearing up at the put in the river was clearly going to be a drastically different run than it was the weekend previous. As myself and my fellow paddles put on, I found it was 2-2.5 feet lower than my run of it 5 days earlier. We weaved and fought our way past the class II waters dragging the rocky bottom.

I we made our way pas the first slide and onto one of the main attractions, "Plumber's Crack". I went last in line as I slid of the bony lip of the 12 ft falls. After a sub par landing, I walked up and ran it again planting a well timed boof stoke and sailing into a flat landing.

Myself boofing "Plumber' Crack"

We continued onward portaging another unrunnable drop coming to the next attraction... the "Pillow Drop". This time I had some apprehension about the pillow drop due to the lack of water many more rocks were plainly visible and uncovered. I plunged down the pillow drop with only a minor hit to a rock near my feet.

Myself rocketing down The "Pillow" Drop

We paddled onward as the imminency of Lake Superior became apparent as passing fishermen and the cool breeze signaled its presence. We paddled into the expanse of the lake and break through rollers came ashore. It was a fun paddle and a great day in the beauty that the North woods offers. I went home in the sunshine content with my day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From Troubles to Triumph: Part Two- Lester River

I loaded my wet gear into my car having arrived back at the Lester River. Emerging from the river was a group of paddlers who had just made a run. Enticed by others, I reluctantly put my wet gear back on and joined a group shuttling up the Lester River.

It was my first time back on the Lester of the year. Having run Lester numerous times last year, it was like reacquainting with an old friend. I passed through the put in drop and headed toward Limbo Falls. Being in the back of the group, I took my time with my typical line hugging the river right side of the drop and punching the holes below. We paddled on.

I exited my boat and walked the rapid I will always walk... Naked Man. The river and I have come to an understanding and I will spar with Naked Man no longer after my experiences with it last year. I ran ahead and met with my fellow paddlers and put on the river again. My lines went clean through the fun boof on "mini-octopus", avoided potential piton on "Oh God", and punched the holes on "Oh Shit". Ahead lay "Almost Always" a 20 ft falls. I had been observing fellow paddlers run Almost Always for almost a year now and knew it was time for me to make a run of it. Upon scouting my blood boiled with adrenaline. The falls is known for being technical, for one because it is tricky to dodge some unfortunately placed rocks and get to the lip of the falls in good order. Once at the lip one slides off a shallow lip, throws a slight boof stroke while turning an edge while air borne and lands in the pile of water. Rining the flume downward you hope that your momentum slams you through the hole created at the bottom. It is not a run for the faint of heart.

After some contemplation of the line, I went back and got into my boat. I could see the line ahead of me and as the lip came closer I weaved through the rocks and paddled frantically to the right hand lip. I was relieved just to get to the lip cleanly.

As I sailed downward, I attempted a ineffective boof stroke. I landed in stream of water flowing downwards and fought to keep my boat lined up. I held on for the hit. I smashed into the hole and was relieved to be falling no longer. I set up for my roll and waited for the chaos to pass. I rolled up with a fist pump and let out a whoop to expunge the exhilaration.

I walked up the rocky banks of the Lester River shaking with the adrenaline still coursing and couldn't put my smile away. It was a triumphant end to my weekend.

From Troubles To Triumph: Part One - The East Beaver

I awoke to the wind howling at my windows and the dull light of the cloud shrouded sky. I stepped out the door with my kayak over my shoulder as the air still decided whether it would freeze the landscape. The road was still wet from the night's rain as my car splashed through puddles to the Lester River parking lot. Arrived to an empty lot, I tilted my seat back, made a few phone calls, and waited with my eyes closed. With the cold eroding my motivation, I was about the start the car and leave when a kayak topped car arrived.

The ride up the North Shore became quiet as the falling snow and lack of light sapped my energy and motivation. We arrived at Beaver Bay and looked at the river. I had never taken a close look at it in high water, and seeing it raging as it did now was stirringly impressive.

The angry Beaver River in its fury near Hwy 61

We headed upstream to scout the level of the East Beaver. Having never run this river, I took the word of a paddling companion when he casually said, "it's good". Our caravan of vehicles pulled into the parking lot at the put it and geared up. Emerging from their fogged vehicles dressed for battle our crew of 9 paddlers slid into the East Branch of the Beaver River.

Getting geared at the put in (photo courtesy of John McConville)

Amongst the placid and boggy waters we floated through the bends ahead as snow fell heavy enough to coat the ground white. I listened intently to the description of what lay ahead: Some simple class III boogy water with an important river right hand eddy. It sounded uncomplicated to my sluggish mind. We turned a sharp left bend and I began to hear the roar of the waters ahead. Watching a few of the crew drop out of site, I got ready.

However when the scene ahead came into view my eye widened in surprise. Realizing the river's level was very high, the river held no simple boogy water. In shock I paddled hard crashing through big features and clashing cold water. After punching a descent hole I see 3 of our paddlers chilling out in an eddy one of which was clearly in pain. He ferry out and continued down river and I followed him. Eddying out again I saw him pull his skirt and saw his boat flush away as he pulled himself ashore. I was concerned, I had no idea how far ahead the eddy was before the river dropped over three sequential sets of well known falls. Finally a fellow paddler who knew the river went by. I ferried out and went down looking for eddies amongst the flooded chaos. After seeing a companion with the vacated boat on shore I eddied out as he drug it to me. On the other shore line walked up our injured paddler. I clipped it onto my PFD's tow line. I paddled furiously as I ferried across to the other shore dragging the boat behind me. A fellow paddler on the other side grabbed my boat. I jumped out feeling the drag of the boat I was towing threatening to pull me down stream. Two paddler on shore grabbed me and pulled me and the boat ashore.

The last of three falls on the East Branch of the Beaver River
(my orange boat can be seen on shore)
photo courtesy of Mellisa Grover

Relieved we all regathered ourselves and put on again. Only a hundred yards later I eddied out just before the first of the falls. Before me the river dropped 20 ft down a sliding falls into a boiling hanging pool. It the dropped another 20 ft into another and larger hanging pool, before dropping a= final 18 ft falls before making it's way again. I looked at the drops below and sensed my jinxed confidence and decided I would only run the last one. After watching a few paddling friends fire them off each fall, I and another paddler lower our boats to run the final 18 footer.

Mimicking the route of the paddler dopping the falls before me, I blindly paddled to the left hand shore towards the lip and launched myself off. After a moment under water I porpoised to the surface. (see video of the action below)

Video of me running the last falls on the East Beaver
(video courtesy of Melissa Grover)

We paddled onward down the meandering river to the take out and walked back to the road. The run was a hectic mess and yet I was happy to have run the last falls. I was relieved that everyone made it out okay. We drove back to Duluth, I was anxious to be again warm inside my home. How was I too know that the day's adventures were not to end there... (continued in the next post)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Paddling Rekindled- The Stewart River

The the winds blew cold as a new front of wintry air set down upon northern shore of Lake Superior. Still wet and geared up from a run on the Silver Creek, I shivered getting my boat from the truck top. Our same crew of seven paddlers slid from the banks of the Stewart River and began our journey among its currents. This being my third run on the Stewart river, and having walked it's entirety to recover a throw bag last year, I was acutely familiar with the river. With that awareness, I took the lead as we paddled the first stretches of its flowings.

The river was flowing at level higher than I had ever run it, and was nearly 6-12 inches higher than my experience. After multiple bends in the river we came to the first drop and exited our boats to scout. Ahead lay was a two tiered slide buried under a flood of water. Seeing the left line, I resumed my position and ferried out. I paddle into my line pushing through the minor clashings of water leading into the first tier. Cold water leaped up with it's watery grip attempting to push my about as I collide with the first wave hole and laid a hard stroke propelling me beyond it's grasp. Seconds later I was on to the second tier blasting into the slide ahead bouncing off a few rocks. I avoided a final and solitary hole and eddied out content with my lines.

The crew paddled on and as the river took a left bend we eddied out above Plumber's Crack. Exiting our boats, "Plumber's Crack" lay ahead as the water plunged over the 12 ft vertical falls. Everyone grabbed there boats and eagerly went to view it's beauty. Last year I had run the falls at a decently meaty level and plugged it and made it out okay (click here to see picture of plumber's crack from last year). However this at the river current level Plumber's Crack was impressive and intimidating.The falls was creating a big hydraulic and on the typical left line had a current pulling back behind the curtain of the falls. Secretly I was hoping someone else would run it, so that I could follow in wake of their gumption... know that someone else had ran the drop okay. But there were no takers, and fought with myself to run it in my mind and verbally. After getting a bit of encouragement from some of the crew and assurances that safety could be properly set up I went about sizing up my line.

Adrenaline was already kicking in as I carried my boat up to upstream eddy. As I pushed off from shore I breathed deeply hoping to exhale some nerves. I eddied out in a small eddy right above the lip. The crew of seven let out whoops and hollers of encouragement as I planted deep powerful strokes towards the lip. My focus narrowed and only the water and I existed as horizon line opened to the scene ahead. I hugged the left shore and rode stream of water throwing my last strokes before bursting into the air. I leaned forward looking at the boiling landing below me. I landed just as I had planned boofing (landing flat) into the pool below. The crew on shore cheered in congratulations and relief... I pumped my fist let out a whoop and went to work keeping myself from being pulled into the curtain. I paddle away with a smile.

Riding the waves of adrenaline still in my blood, we paddled on and forded the next portage and arrived shortly there after at the head of another horizon line. Ahead lay a rapid I had not yet run, but had my eye on it for the last year. Looking down from the cliff above I could see the "Pillow drop". The river raged 19-20 ft down a sliding falls and collided into a boulder. A 5 ft deluge of water exploded off the rock and buried it in a deep surging heaving of water. I had seen it run before, but at this high level the drop looked heinous. We all grabbed our boats and I shoulder mine to portage it, but meanwhile wrestled with myself to run it. A paddling companion likely sick of hearing me verbally wrestle with myself gave me the bit of encouragement I needed. I knew that the run was only safer at higher water levels. I again slid into the water and blew some good breaths as I heard the paddler on shore shouting in encouragement. I hugged the left shoreline tight and planted deep vertical strokes. I avoided a hole and saw the chaos ahead. I felt my boat falling into the vertical gap that would send me head-long into the boulder's exploded pillow. I leaned forward and braced for impact. The water blindingly hit my body as being tackled by a lineman, but I held strong. I had all along expected the giant boiling pillow to over turn my boat and I fully expected to have to roll up. Yet I emerged from the hit in a burst of water and speed upright. I peeled into a swirling eddy and made a tricky ferry across the river. The guys on shore congratulated me with a few whoops as I sat in an eddy waiting speechlessly content. There weren't words for the elation inside of me.

The rest of the river poured beautifully through earthen and rock walls. I felt good as I smoothly nailed my line on the last fun drop. We paddled on into the great expanse of Lake Superior. As always the joyful sense of awe poured over me. Only a paddler can describe the feeling of paddling a river from it's beginnings, passing through it's obstacles and challenges only to arrive at the vastness of it's ending and becoming into Lake Superior. Much a metaphor for the lives we live. I went went to bed that night, with my spirit whole and my body joyfully tired.

Paddling Rekindled- The Silver Creek

The aroma of coffee cut the grogginess of the morning as I drove to the Lester River parking lot to begin my weekend of paddling. It was my first day back paddling after being badly bruised the week previous and I was out to make up for lost time. I planned to warm up for creek season with a run on the Knife and French Rivers. I arrived at the parking lot to find a plethora of boats atop vehicles and a half dozen paddlers enjoying the morning banter. My plans quickly changed as a group of veteran paddlers graciously let me join them on a run of the Silver Creek. It was a creek I had yet to run and had heard that it was a run of class IV magnitude.

From the roadside banks of the Silver's put in, I anxiously geared up. This being my third time in my creek boat this season, I internally fought to keep my confidence up yet realistic. I Pushed my boat into the water and pealed into the current along side 5 paddling companions. Behind us 7 more paddlers geared up for a run.

In only a short while I met the Silver's first drop. I eddied out and watched my fellow paddlers drop out of sight. I went last and was surprised to find 3-4 foot drop as opposed to the slide I was expecting. I penciled awkwardly into the pool below and braced upright. From the pool we now sat, ahead lay a slide with logs forcing us to portage. Meanwhile chaos broke loose. The party behind us began dropping into the pool and had two paddlers swimming. In all 12 people played bumper boats in a pool with a log jammed slide only slightly ahead. Slowly the crowd dispersed as our party portaged ahead, and put on the river leaving the drop behind.

Only a short while ahead, the river reached another horizon line. We all dismounted our kayaks and scouted the drop ahead. It was a slide I would estimate being 1.5-2 football fields in length complete with small drops, S-turns, and slides. Yet the first portion was congested with downed wood. One by one we put in 1/3 of the way down the drop. I pushed off and paddled hard punching a hole and maneuver through a boiling S-turn. I eddying out and then pursuing the rest of the slide ahead blasting through obstacles ahead weaving a path amongst the water buried rock. Our crew having all successfully passing through the class IV action pushed on.

Before long we again met another horizon line. The river opened up to 15-20 ft river-wide falls. In a group effort we heaved a log from it's only line, hugging the river right shoulder through a boney channel then dropping 12-15 ft into the pool below. Watching several of us scrape out their lines I took my turn. I scraped my way down and as I gravity accelerated me off the lip of the falls, I consciously threw a hard stroke driving my body forward in an attempt to boof (landing flat). Landing in somewhat of a boof, I don't recall my face penetrating the water's surface and paddled away content.

The river's gradient wound down as the fishermen throwing lines foreshadowed our approach to Lake Superior. Ripping through a culvert under Hwy 61, I peeled out at the mouth of the silver with my paddling confidence renewed and a smile on my face.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Gnashings of St. Louis River

The street lines passed agonizingly slow as I devoured a sandwich took some necessary fuel for the adventure that lay in the destination of the road ahead. I pulled into the parking lot in Carlton to the site of a kayak topped truck. The river was a welcoming site and this was time to reconnect with the waters that put me in touch with beauty and power like none other.

I walked an viewed the scene of the river and from sight new that it was significant level (2000-1800 cfs to be exact!). After greeting with fellow kayak companions, we geared for battle, and set off. Already it was becoming clear to me that the season was still early and that I was still feeling a bit green and unseasoned. As we hiked up to view the new and daring put in to Lower St. Louis, I could tell that my ambition was modest. I thus decided to skip the first drop of the day, the "Tongue" drop... I was having some insecurities concerning amplitude of hole it created. After a quick hike, I slid into the river and propelled my boat on its way amongst turbulent flowings of the St. Louis.

The Hwy 210 drop at 4200 cfs

I slowly thawed my confidence with a few minor drops before reaching the "Octopus". In two glances at the condition of the river ahead, I knew that I had a portage ahead of me. The river was running voluminously making for features of rousing magnitude. After listening to the analysis of my companions and trying pick up a any parcels of insight on the drop before us, I abruptly walked back to get a head start on the portage ahead. From an eddy below, I watched them skillfully weave a sneak route around the meat of drops looking to have a tendency towards significant nastiness.

Knowing that the river was a touch more than I had bargained for, I prepared for the drops I knew were ahead. As we approached the Jay Cooke swinging bridge, whether I was ready or not the drops lay in the near foreground. As a paddler, when a you stare into the thralls of a noteworthy drop you achieve a state of primal existence and extreme focus. Only you and the river exist and the rest falls from your awareness. Intuition kicks in and you hope you have trained your instinctual memory well. I dropped down a 14 ft sliding falls and plowed into a hanging pool upright. Then threw some hard strokes over the lip of 10 footer entitle "Air Time" landing in the water below. The swinging bridge passed over my head as we paddled onwards. After assessing the river ahead and predicting the hair raising consequences of running Finn Falls, we got off the river and headed back for a second lap.

Having found a portion of my confidence again, I decided to run the previously portaged "Tongue Drop". Each of us pushed away from shore in succession and lined up for the descent ahead. I watched two companions fall from sight. Before me opened into view the tongue drop in a condition I had never paddled it. The tongue drop is aptly named for a long flat conveyer belt of water that flowed over a flat table (or 'tongue') of rock. From three sides the water then fell 2-3 feet off of the table creating a sweeping hole ahead The hole was churning pile of water that rose above the head of an oncoming paddler. It became rapidly clear to me that my line for the tongue drop was off. I was too far to river right and saw the line ahead was not ideal. I dually noted the presence of "fins" of rock that ran parallel to the flow of water throwing small rooster tails of water.

The "Tongue" Drop at 4200 cfs.
My line was river right (picture left) of center on the tongue of rock extending into the hole.

In this instant, I first contemplated paddling to my left, but there was no time. To attempt to paddle too far left would put me at risk of hitting the hole at an angle, putting me at further risk of being thrown sideways and caught in a side surf in the hole. Resigned to my fate, I laid some hard strokes for punching momentum. It became clear my boat was going to be thrown on edge by the sloping water. I threw out a brace to the right to keep my boat from over-turning and balancing the edge I was riding, I aimed for a point and collided with the wall of water. At that instant I felt a fin of rock graze my side and slam into my bracing right arm from my arm pit upward. It was as if my flexed bicep muscle had been put between an anvil and a hammer as I felt the rock collide with the bone of my arm and heard the crack of it then riocheteing off my elbow pad. I emerged for the blinding waters upright and in pain. I paddled through the 210 drop and eddied out. I told my fellow kayakers to go without me as I removed myself from my boat. I walked back to my car whispering obscenities under my breath as if it would somehow relieve the pain of my circumstance.

And so it was that the river would not let me miss my line without having its own justice. No paddler feels pride in an injury, it is no symbol of misconstrued machismo to be revelled at. In fact, any sense of pride I may have had was bruised, and in stripping my shirt and looking at the condition of my arm, that became literally true. I write about it now in no attempt to water down the reality of whitewater and its inherent dangers. It is a reminder that the elegance of paddling is coming from the choas and challenge effortlessly unscathed. My only solace was in the fact that I emerged from my predictament upright, having not been caught and sparring with The "Tongue" in an over turned kayak.

The damage... nothing to be happy about.

So I sit now with an arm showing the colors of the rainbow; finding myself humbled and yet anxious to learn from my folly.... ready to paddle the river again when my injuries have healed.