Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spring Firsts: The Kadunce

The majesty of the Kandunce (imagine 2 feet more water in here)
photo credit: Laramie Carlson

From Lake Superior I watched the shallow Kadunce flow, barely lapping over it's rounded stones. As we put our kayaks to our shoulder's and walked up the trail along the creeks banks, my imagination could not grasp that such a small and innocent creek could induce such tales of intense descents. The trail persisted uphill and the river's waters fell further and further below us until the river was scarcely to be seen amongst rising rock walls. On occasion we peered intently over the precipice to the river below looking for logs impeding the flow of the river, which could become a deadly entrapment for us afloat in it's slot canyon. And though the river flowed deep in the canyon below, it's width was often an easy stones throw, and at some points with a good leap could cross to it's opposite edge.

Inside my mind I ignored the nervous thoughts that crept internally at sight of the river. Finally as I rounded a corner of the trail, the river's roar became more imminent. Before me opened up the sight of a large and complex drop of perhaps 35 feet in total. Depositing our boats on the trail we all climbed down to scout the drop. After sliding through a shallow and walled set of sliding flows, the creek poured over a 3 foot shelf which then constricted into a narrow chute of 3 yards in length and nearly a single boat width. This jet of water cascaded vertically on its left onto a flat table of rock, and its right an amphitheater rock creating a sliding falls. The water thus culminated in a constricted boiling pool before the water slipped into the chasm of the slot canyon.

The biggest drop on the Kandunce

I viewed this scene and fought with myself as doubtful thoughts insidiously gnawed at my confidence. I had serious concerns about several components of the drop and needed to see a paddler go over it before I could quench my doubts. Joel and Justin bravely put on and launched themselves off the drop with skilled composure as they landed and slipped through the gateway of rising rock walls into the ominous slot canyon. The rest of the party walked up to the trail and grabbed their boats.

Joel fires up the main event on the Kadunce

I lined up and pushed off third in line for the river ahead. Ahead of me each boater slid over a horizon line. I gave some space then peeled out and over the entry drop. I sped down an 8 foot slide tight gripped as the water banked off the wall and turned to the left. Ahead the river slid over a few sets of shallow holes before the main event. Yet some how amongst the shallow scraping I found my boat on edge and soon over turned. My helmet drug on the bottom as I impatiently waited for deeper water to roll. But it wasn't coming. I had waited long enough and knew that a 35 ft drop lay ahead of my over turned boat. On my left (were I normally roll) I felt my paddle meet the rocky wall, and instinctively knew I would need to roll on my off side. I let go of my paddle with my left hand and pushed off the river's bottom up righting myself. Facing backwards, I turned my boat straight and ploughed into the pool before the main event. I threw strokes of purchase over the middle left of the shallow shelf that composed the entry into the drop. Then going through the chute I stayed balanced as threw one last stroke as I rocketed over the edge. Flying through the air I landed on the sliding falls and flew into the pool below landing somewhat flat without going deep. Relieved to not have to roll, I tangled with the enclosed pools rock walls and fought into some calmer waters.

Joel staring down the jaws of the slot canyon

Ryan ahead of me was not to be seen as he had already gone into the slot canyon. From the pool I looked over my shoulder at the paddler behind me crest the previous drop as I turned to the waters ahead. I paddled looking into the jaws of the slot canyon ahead and passed into it's shadowed gnashings. The river smashed and banked quickly off it's right hand wall. The intensity happened so fast, it felt as if I was a pinball. The river banked off walls so tight that often I would disarm my grip from my paddle and brace of the walls with a stiff arm and hearing my elbow pads do there work. Suddenly the water in it's darkness met a horizon line and I dropped over a 10 foot vertical falls going airborne and viewing the tiny pool below. This drop was known as "Mandatory Piton" and it's name was suggestive of the fact that it was difficult to avoid landed and hitting the left wall of the pool. Avoiding Ryan in the pool below, my intuition angled my boat to the right while airborne towards to outlet of the pool. I landed and surfaced upright and back peddled to successfully prevent a piton. I was then unexpectedly pushed against the left wall and clawed with left hand keeping myself from being over turned. I paddled through the outlet below and continued down the steep ascent. After a few more water slide turns while ducking under some pinned logs the light came dimly back to the river as it's canyon walls opened up, I eddied out in a small pocket of calm water.

Justin wrestles the Kadunce

As myself and Ryan exited our boats another paddler shouted, "swimmer"! We rushed upstream as a yellow boat washed into our grasp and then a shoe. Gathering these items, the paddlers narrowly ashore ahead shouted unintelligible utterances obscured by their echoings in the canyon. A swimmer never came, and we were relieved to seem him poke his head from the canyon rim indicating he was okay and had climbed out.

I stood for a moment to take in the serenity of the place. The slot canyon walls soared 80-100 ft plush with thick layers of age-old green moss as water dripped from above. The river roar echoed amongst the walls and created a slight mist. It is places of beauty like these that so few experience as we do and are treasures to every paddler.

We drained the empty boat and sent it on it's way ahead of us as we paddled onward. I watched as each paddler was lost around a left hand corner. Turning the corner there lay an unexpected 6 foot drop into a mid sized pool. Dropping clumsily over it upright I continued onward. After paddling over one last 4-5 foot drop the river calmed and shallowed further losing it's constricting walls. We slowly scraped our way towards Lake Superior. We exited and stepped onto the dirt banks and walked our way down the trail out of the canopy of boughs and into the roadside light.

Each of us had an enthusiastic smile as the adrenaline still coursed. Talking like excited school children we each replayed the run in our minds and verbally... fighting to hold onto the events and solidify it in our remembrances.

The day came to pass as the light faded in vibrant colors over Lake Superior. I sat by warmth of firelight on the beach comforted by the ebbing waves and vibrancy of the night's constellations. Fireside laughter echoed amongst the trees as grateful contentment painted my sleep.

(All paddling photos credit of Ryan Zimny)

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