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.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Northshore Conditions

The Lester:
Looks pretty low!!!

Pick your favorite marker rock... it won't matter, it's low.
(taken from the walking bridge near Superior St.)

The French:
No Surprise... it's low too! Some ice to boot.

Looking upstream from the take out on Old Hwy 61

The Sucker River:
Ok it's low too but I have more historical data on the sucker... below it is picture from today, two weeks ago, and last year on the same day! We're a lot further along than last year...

Looking upstream from Old Hwy 61
(shown from most recent to oldest)

April 6th 2009 (above)

March 26, 2009 (above)

April 7th, 2008

Looking Downstream from Old Hwy 61

April 6th, 2009 (above)

March 26, 2009

April 7th, 2008

The "Tea Cups"

April 6th, 2009 (above)

March 26, 2009 (above)

April 7th, 2008
The Knife River:
Low as well.... more historical pics to look through though... just below Hwy 61
April 6th, 2009 (above)

March 26, 2009

April 7, 2008