Sunday, April 19, 2009

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)

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