Friday, March 27, 2009

Paddling the Mississippi at Flood: Dream Hole

As we drove through through the farm studded fields on the road leading to St. Cloud, the waters of spring thaw were clearly abundant. Every stream and river we cross was swollen and testing it banks. I sat internally contemplating the day ahead.

It was to be my first day of the Spring season back in my kayak. The icy grip of winter forced my four month seasonal hiatus from whitewater and had eroded my confidence in my paddling abilities. We arrived at the banks of the ever flowing Mississippi river to the sight of its reach extending far beyond its normal banks. An avalanche of water flowed over once exposed rocky slides, creating holes and waves of stirring magnitude.

Myself, Scotty, and Lara put on for a first run. The plan was to make a clean run up the middle avoiding the gargantuan features, scouting the hazards, and looking for the play spots. I ferried out in the lead. The Mississippi being enormous river and I knew the ferry out would be long. I paddled frantically looking over my shoulder at the ominous waves down stream as the water carried me downstream steadily. Finally, I could relax as I turned my boat down stream to face what lie ahead, knowing that I was well out of the path of the giant holes on river right . I nervously surveyed ahead the oncoming wave train, unsure what lay behind it's 5-6 foot crests. I managed to skirt the edges of the biggest waves and saw only calm water ahead. Paddling back to shore, I took another duplicate run to shed my rust and nerves. Meanwhile other paddlers had found the location of Dream Hole.... the holy grail of the Mississippi.

Here are still's of the taken courtesy of Tom...
you'll see me about half way through in the blue drysuit and green boat

Dream Hole is fabled feature that comes into existence only at insanely flooded levels on the Mississippi (last seen 10 years ago). I had never even heard of it until seasoned paddlers mentioned the possibility of its return on the local forum. At normal levels, what exists where dream hole resides is merely a bed of dry granite untouched by waters. Yet now with the Mississippi 9.8 feet above it's normal water level, Dream Hole had risen again. The Dream Hole is a wave/hole situated uncomfortably between a giant hydraulic in front of it (with a bit of wave on it's river left side for the daring) and 60-70 yard wide ledge hole of sizable magnitude behind it. Upon viewing, Dream hole itself looked miniature in comparison to the features surrounding it. Yet in reality it was akin to waves I had ridden in Sturgeon Falls. The process for reaching Dream hole was some what tedious. It included busting through some over reaching tree branches into eddy and ferrying out. Once you had successful (or unsuccessfully) ridden the wave/hole and thus flushed off, you found yourself paddling rigorously back through tree branches into the eddy. If you had the misfortune of not rolling up in time, in the event of Dream Hole getting the best of you, one faced the consequences of sparring with the ever wide hole behind it.

I slowly took baby steps into Dream Hole, easing my way onto it's left shoulder and getting off a the first sign of lack of control. However by my third ride it, being on dream hole renewed some familiarity with whitewater in me and had awakened my paddling confidence. I began to throw some spins. By the end of the day I was feeling pretty comfortable getting thrashed about at bit and managed to get flipped and surfed upside down... and eventually flushed. I rolled up from the icy waters with an ice cream headache despite the neoprene covering my head. Dream Hole/Wave was a gorgeous experience... a wave that is of the highest quality.

After a last run through the rapids in my creek boat I headed back northward and homeward. The ride home I fought to keep my eyes open in the beautiful exhaustion of a eventful day. I left the river with confidence for the paddling season ahead.

Here is a video shot that day... seen is Scotty, Doug, and Gus (I'm duffing in the eddy). Gives a good perspective on the action.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Itch

Upon arriving home from my westward journey, it was clear that the season was turning and the rivers had broken open. Yet being bound by the thralls of medical school, I sat all week restlessly stirring with the feeling I was missing out on whitewater. To scratch the itch I was feeling, I decided to take a walk up a few local creeks to see how conditions were fairing. (Click any of the pics for zoomed view)

The Sucker River:Looking upstream from Old Hwy 61

Looking Downstream from Old Hwy 61

The upper stretch of the "Teacups"The lower stretch of the " Teacups"

The Knife River:

"Fish-trap Falls" seen below

After a peaceful walk up the Sucker and viewing the French and Knife rivers, I confirmed that I was in fact was inflicted with the irrational lust for whitewater. The plethora of ice, indicated I had not yet missed out and confirmed that there was still much adventure in the season ahead.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Break: Red Lodge

As I found myself on a plane out west, I found myself thinking of all the adventures of past spring breaks. At this time last year, I was 800 ft off the ground aiding up moonlight buttress, and the year previous found me 9 pitches up trad-leading Crimson Chrysalis in Red Rocks, NV. This year was going to more tame, more relaxed, and less about adrenaline.

I arrived out west with the primary purpose of visiting my significant other and had a glorious time relaxing as spring was hitting the front ranges of the Rockies. Apart from relaxation, I did get to spend a great day at Red Lodge ski area in Montana....

In the morning, I awoke to snow covering the foot hills. As the car struggled to climb the icy roads up to Red Lodge, the snow continued to fall thicker. As we arrived, the quaint ski area lay ahead with it's slopes climbing into the obscurity of clouds and falling snow. After spending a quite moment taking in the scene before, I strapped on my telemark skis and headed up the mountain before the parking lot could fill.

It was a beautiful powder filled day with 5-6 inches of fluff under foot. I skied nearly non-stop all day long, skiing the full spectrum of runs. From fun gently sloping easy runs to charging tree filled mogul fill goodness, it was reminder of what skiing out west tasted like. By the end of the day, I was nodding off on the lift up the hill out of beautiful exhaustion and felt a healthy burn of fatigue in my thighs.

After ending my day of skiing and finish round of experimentation with my taste buds at the local sushi bar, I went to bed content and fulfilled. It was a day well spent and one to be remembered.