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!

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