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.

1 comment:

Snow_King said...

I once paddled past a 2 foot long snapping turtle sunning itself on the rock presently under dream hole.