Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eyes Wide: The Cascade River

Myself running "Discretion"

I knew it was coming. The signs were on the wall, Cascade river was to be run. Yet my shoulder's were sending me messages that my weekend run of the Kadunce was not without consequence. They crackled warnings with daily tasks and movements. I told myself that I would resist the lure of the Cascade River. But when the call came I failed and couldn't say no.

The leaves, still in their infancy, hung on the passing limbs as I starred through the window glass in quiet somnolence. The clouds, each in their independence, allowed the sky and sunlight to glorify the space between their midst's while we made morning passage northward. I sat in frank contemplation of the hours that lay ahead. The Cascade River was much fabled. Guide books championed it's beauty and treachery, paddlers from throughout the country kept it on their tick lists, and it's waters inspired an implicit veneration amongst paddlers.

The car lurched to the roadside as I cradled my coffee, and took a last sip as we each stepped out. We had arrived at the river and walked to the bridge to check the river's flow. Measuring approximately -4 or -5, the river had met my predetermined standards... I told myself I wouldn't paddle unless it was -4 or below. The Cascade river has quite a character. An in or two in the river level makes drastic changes to whether she is a angry torrent requiring razor precision or a moody gnashing that has some forgiveness to mere mortals.

The anticipation built as the gravel rattled from the wheels as we made the turn into the parking lot of the put in. After quietly readying for battle, I set my kayak along the river side, made myself comfortable inside it, and followed my companions in peeling out into the river's flow.
Ahead in the distance a horizon line was becoming more distinct. We each eddied out and exited our boats to look at what we knew was ahead.

From the shoreline, "Hidden Falls" stretched out before us in it's menacing glory. It is an impressively long and steep slide whose main flow snakes from one river bank across to the other before exploding off an invisible obstacle that creates a 3-3.5 ft roostering pile. Hidden Falls thus terminates from the rooster in a continued slide into an ominous hole.

Video example of Hidden Falls (courtesy of T-Bone)

It is a drop that I believe very few paddlers do without instance of nerves or doubt infecting the recesses of the mind. I was no different as watched from shore as Ryan and Andy ran it perfectly. Walking to my boat and getting in, my stomach was in my throat, and as I pushed off shore I nervously gulped in attempt to bring it back down.

As I paddled over the horizon line hugging the river left, I piled into oncoming curler which directed me into the main flow and the ride of my life. The river picked up insane speed, as the flow rocketed me across the river. I smashed through an erroneous wave and when my eyes cleared I could see the final scene. There stood the thunderous 3-4 foot wall of water and split seconds between me and impact. My eyes wide as I have known, my grip tighter than humanly necessary. My last strokes fell into the water as I made my last adjustments to my line, attempting to point slightly left. I exploded into the gnashing billow of water. The hit was violent and my eyes were blinded by a wash of white. My orientation felt skewed, but it soon became clear I was not upright. I could feel my paddle and hands batter against rock. Adrenaline dismissed any sensation. I was more concerned whether I would find myself battling the ominous right hand hole or in the gentle left hand pool.

A slide show of my progression down hidden falls (Photo credit: Ryan Zimny)

When the scraping stopped, their was a moment of calm as I made for my first roll attempt.... it failed. I calmly repositioned and tried again. I came to the surface and was relieved to find myself in the calm left hand pool.

Ryan and Andy signaled to see if I was alright. I checked myself over, nothing was immediately obvious. But as I paddled into an eddy, I noticed a large gash in the neoprene over my left thumb. Then the pain start to flow insidiously to my thumb and familiar feeling of warm inflammation came to it. Yet it seemed I could still paddle with the pain and stiffness.

There less the 50 yards down stream lay "Discretion". Another class IV/V drop consisting of a complex boiling set of ledges, before terminating in a significant hole with a right hand outflow. I had less apprehension about this drop, the line seemed clear to me. I got back in my boat. Attempting to line up near the right hand bank, I was surprised to find myself sliding over a rock ledge that I was not aware in scouting. It pushed me left towards the meat of the hole. I kept battling back towards the right, and found myself on line for the culminating hole. Getting some strokes of purchase I dug deep and collided with the hole emerging in the outflow with relief.

Slide show of my progression down "Discretion" (Photo credit: Ryan Zimny)

Continuing down river, I noticed my thumb was feeling stiff and wouldn't let me use it without a shot of pain. We came to another horizon line shortly there after. The river ahead plunged ahead over a series of ledges and holes before being split by "Moose Rock". Half the river went left dropping steeply through a narrow turning constriction, and on the right it flowed over a long slide. I fought with brush on shore and tried to get a better look at the line on this class V but had only minimal sucess. We each went ahead and I sparred with a myriad of holes, waves, and gnashings. As I neared moose rock and made my left hand choice, the river extended its grip and turned my boat sideways to the current just as I was to descend the left line. As I crested the lip, I threw some desperate strokes to straighten out my boat but was still off line. I dropped in and the river easy over threw my boat. Underwater, I felt two significant hits to my head before sensing I was in deeper water. I knew there was a slide ahead and had no interest in getting anymore hits while underwater. I pulled my skirt and found a sketchy footing while clearing the water from my eyes. My boat washed into slide while I stood mid-river waist deep in current fighting to keep my feet gripped to the rocky bottom. I inched my way over to the right hand wall while waist deep in current and found shallow path down the drop.

My confidence was obliterated, my thumb throbbed, and I was breathing heavy with fatigue. Though the pride in me wanted to run the rest of the river, the reality was things were stacking up against me. I would venture to say that 40% of creeking is grounded in your paddling confidence and the mental picture you have of your abilities. Mine had taken a serious blow and I decided I would pull the plug and walk out of the Cascade River.

I paddled the last bit of class II boogy water before eddying out and carrying my boat ashore. I climbed up the steep hillside lining the Cascade with a rope attached to my kayak below. Arduously I haul my boat up, found the trail, and drug her on a long 2 hour long walk back to Lake Superior. I was humbled by the Cascade River. Walking in quite contemplation, I knew that it was a good experience for me. Each river demands respect. While measured confidence and aggressiveness sometimes rewarded by the river, unrealistic pride is not. The fact is I am not a renowned paddler, I do not have enumerable years of experience, and I have many skills to build and much yet to learn. But I am passionate about learning from each drop I run, every river I paddle, and every paddler that I share the river with. I love whitewater and one cannot learn without a rough day on the river.

The the sun poured onto the budding spring scene and warmed the pavement on the drive homeward. I sat quietly fighting to keep my eyelids open and slowly felt my frustration melt as we left the river behind us.

Me on Hidden Falls


Snow_King said...

I wouldn't feel too bad about getting beat down by a Class V beast. Well, psychologically anyways. Physically, that sounds quite painful. Like a meat grinder.

Andy McMurray said...

The Cascade can be a mean bitch or a wonderful run. Either way, get back on that damn thing and send it.

All the best and kudos for givin' er.