Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Presque Isle

Having never paddled the rivers of the southern shore of Lake Superior when I heard that a large group of paddlers would be going in that direction I joined the band wagon. After a 2 hour drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I found myself at the Presque Isle River. I heard much of the river knowing full well that it was a South Shore classic run. After watching other boaters hit up the last sections of the river, myself and a paddling companion stepped into our car and drove to the put in. It was to be the beginning of a long day.

From the road we traveled 4-6 miles on sub-par logging roads till we reached a locked gate. We thereby walked with 50 lb kayaks slung over our shoulders 40 minutes as the blubird sky let the sunshine through and warm the air into upper 50s F. We reached the river wet with sweat and took moment of rest to dry before sealing ourselves in our drysuits for the 8 miles paddle.

Getting gear up at the put-in

I put onto the river and paddled into the unknown. I knew only what was written of the rapids ahead.

The river dabbled over class II whitewater amongst clay banks, before gradually constricting to some class III rapids. Very soon I knew we would hit the first significant drop, Triple Drop (IV). Through the choas I eddied out and saw it before me. It consisted one ledge with a descent hole followed by a small pool before the river drifted over another and more significant ledge before dropping again in more class II. After much debate on the line to take we came to consensus and my paddling buddy offered to go first, to which I yielded.

John going over the lip on Triple Drop

After watching his successful line through the choas I enter my boat and push away from shore. I ferried across river and made for my line. I was a touch off, but punched through the first ledge without incident and paddled hard to the next. I dropped over the next ledge giving some propulsion and push onward and through the hole.

Next on the docket and only a few bends of the river ahead was "Nikomis". It was a much fable drop that I heard much about. Within a small rocky gorge with walls on both sides the river constricted of a small ledge hole before, rocketing over another ledge creating a meaty and intimidating hole. There were two options, crash down the right side blasting through multiple obstacles in transition between ledges before crashing into the main hole at it's weakest point. We both decided to run the left side pushing through a small hole on the first ledge and riding a large tongue of water and building speed to crashing into the meat of Nokomis with as much speed and momentum as possible.


I volunteered to run it first and slipped into my boat. I threw some effortful strokes and punched the first ledge hole with ease.

Myself readying to punch the entry hole into "Nokomis"

Seeing the choas ahead I paddled hard through small pool that fed the tongue. I saw my line and shot for a small curler marking my line. Blasting through it, my eye were wide as I paddled down the tongue that accelerated me a rocket speed for the hole ahead. I brace hard as I collided with the wall of water ahead. Unable to see anything, I felt my boat being tossed a bit as I worried that I was stuck in the hole. But in those milli-seconds, my boat had blasted into the hole up onto it's pile and "typewritered" me rightward to it's outflow. I emerged with a whoop and a fist pump at my success.

Myself looking back on "Nokomis" after emerging victorious

My paddle buddy punched Nokomis with much the same line and with the same success. We paddled down river with smiles.


My paddling partner running Nokomis

Paddling onward we came upon the first of of three conglomerate ledges. The first one we portaged due to the shallow mank. The second we scraped down losing plastic from or boats. At the last "Lepisto" conglomerate falls, I hopped out of my boat on river left to scout. My eyes saw the river pour through a small channel into the pool below making a giant wave. But that was only what my eyes saw... I directed my paddling campanion from shore to run it. He plunged into the drop with wide eyes and was stopped dead in his tracks... my eyes were wrong... this was a nasty hole. He fought valiantly while I helplessly grabbed a rope on shore. He was endered, looped, sidesurfed, and thrashed about. After rolling up 5 times, he pulled his skirt and swam. He went down and didn't come up until 4 seconds late. I quickly jumped into his boat and retrieved his kayak. I felt terrible having directed him into harms way.

It was about this time that we saw that the light was waining in the western sky and we paddled hard over flat water to racing the falling of the sun. We approached the most intimidating portion of the run. The first river opened broadly over a thirty foot slide Nawadaha Falls, then a short while further coursed over a drop resembling giant stair steps dropping another 20-30 ft over Manido Falls, before at last plunging 25 ft vertically over Manabezho falls.

The first of these obstacles, I paddle hard over the lip and followed the flowing water over the left hand side of Nawadaha Falls. I continually adjusted as the slide through it's best at me. I arrived at it's base without incident.

Nawadaha Falls

We then scouted Manido Falls. Each time the river poured over a stair step it seemed to make a hole. My paddling companion had run this before for, but with the light waining into dusk we picked a line and went. I followed his line down the left center line on the drop, and through some hard strokes for momentum. I slid of the first two stair steps and saw the hole ahead as my eyes grew wide seeing the last stair step pour-over.

I threw a futile boof stroke, before impacting the hole and found myself in a wicked side surf. Facing to the river right I paddled hard to stay upright my shoulder nearly under water in my brace due to the steepness of the incoming pour-over. I then threw the bow of my boat into the choas of the incoming water hoping to squirt out the hole. I rolled up to find myself side surfing and facing river left. I stayed calm and planted my paddle hoping to catch some greenwater to pull me out. I realized it was useless and pulled my skirt as I flipped over.

Manido Falls

It is at this moment that a boater determines there fate... I swam upwards. I knew that I did not reach the surface, I was in for a long harrowing ride in this hole. Fortunately, it spit me to the surface and seeing my boat pushed off of it and down river. Paddle in hand I could see, that there was still 10-15 feet of slide still left in the drop and I lined up to go over it on my ass. I bounced off a few rocks before being deposited at it's shallow base. I was bruised but un broken. My boat wash down river next to me and I grabbed it and pull it ashore. I was panting hard half from the adrenaline and half from sheer exhaustion. Having a keen sense that karma had caught up to me for our incident on the third Lepisto, I got my wits about me and saw the horizon line ahead of Manabezho falls.

Manabezho Falls as it is normally viewed

I had waited all day to run the 25 falls and despite my poor luck on Manido, I was dtermined to run it. By this time night was fall and the landscape was becoming apparantley dim. As my buddy portaged down the base of the falls for saftey, I agonized over the line. Deciding I jumped into my boat and charged ahead. Seing the line I was fighting for I paddled for the lip. It came sooner than I had expected and in an awkward way. There was no time for a boof stroke, I was already falling into vertical. I cork screwed weirdly and saw the base of the fall collide with me and my boat with a thud.

Myself ready for a roll attempt after Manabezho Falls... it was dark

I emerged from Manabezho dazed, I had run it but with a terrible inelegant line and had run it as the sun last rays could barely be seenon the horizon.

Still ahead the river rocketed through a narrow gorge into lake Superior, and the ride was name appropriately "The Flume". As we paddled I could hear ahead to rivers roar. It was now almost full night and the drop was becoming hard to read. Yet it having little consequence but to flush one out to Lake Superior we blindly went ahead. It was choas! I took a left had sneek line, as I watch my companion smash into a wall of water on river right. Sliding pat him, I paddled hard as a massive curler threw my kayak upside down as if it were a toy boat in a bath tub. Underwater I felt the choas around me and waited for it to subside before rolling up. Clearing the water from my eyes, I saw the river rise into one last wave. I blasted through the hit and found myself floating into Lake Superior.

Zoom Flume (imagine this in the dark!)

In the darkness we laughed at that choas we had skillfully botched and emerged from. We paddled the shorline to the campsight and carried our boats up the 50 ft clay banks along the shore of the lake. We arrived to find the camp mostly empty, bacause half of the paddlers had gone looking for us. After finding them and letting them know we were back safe, I peeled my soggy drysuit from me and went to bed. It was perhaps the most epic day of paddling I had yet experienced. Although not the cleanest paddling I have done, certainly it was more than rewarding!

1 comment:

Snow_King said...

That sounds very ledge-y.