Thursday, December 30, 2010

Autumn: The Traveler

As autumn was slowly losing its grasp, the cold winds made their presence known in the north country. I packed up my automotive for the journey ahead. My intentions were pointed west as I mounted the open road. It was time for me to explore my future education as doctor and I was out to tour residency programs. My first destination was that of Billings, MT where I was to spend four weeks getting to know the residency.

Snowfields looking up to Red Lodge

I arrived at the house owned by the local medical school (for med students to stay in while on rotation) and stepping out of my car to see my new roommates carrying a climbing rope and I smiled knowing I was amongst good company. I was not mistaken. Over the four weeks, I came to make numerous and deep friendships. The town of Billings opened her arms to me and I found myself going to open mics weekly, climbing in town sandstone bluffs, and (when the snow fell) skiing amongst some early season powder. In a short month, I had found a community to call my own. I felt at home and I felt fortunate to have come to know the place. I left Billings in the cover of darkness saying my goodbyes and drove away. The time in Billings had felt too short and could not shake the feeling there was more waiting for me there. 

I drove 13 hours home to Duluth through night and arrived with a slight tremor of caffeine and lack of sleep. I slept for 10 hours after arriving home and left at four the next morning to catch a flight to my next destination. By morning, I found myself in the airport waiting for my flight to Burlington, VT. I was soon to become a regular of the airport traveling culture, which demands an almost zen-like patience to flow with the ever changing and frustrating environment. I arrived in Burlington, picked up my rental car, and went to the hotel to crash. After some needed rest, I went about familiarizing myself with the environment. My first stop in any town is the climbing gym and the local gear shop… always a good place to get a feel for the outdoor adventure community. Burlington was a charming town that felt full of life and with a wholesome culture about it. As the traveler, I slowly became accustomed to coffee shops and dinners alone, and the short-lived conversations with strangers were medicine for the moments of loneliness. People watching became a normal pastime. After a daylong interview with the VT residency, I quickly bought a couple New England maps and took to road again. 
 Look onto the Atlantic in Acadia

I was expected to be in Bangor, ME to interview the next morning. The road sped through quaint New England towns nestled in the crooks of the Appalachian Mountains. The snow fell thick in the night as I sped through New Hampshire speeding for the shores of the Atlantic. I arrived in the cover of night and again settled into my sterile hotel room. I spent the next day in interviews and cruising about Bangor exploring the tidal flows of the Penobscot River and filling my belly with fresh clam chowder. The next day I had to myself to explore for the day and drive back to Burlington for my next flight. I drove 45 minute over to Acadia National Park to see what beauty it might hold. 

 Looking out at the immensity of the Atlantic in Acadia NP
I arrive in Bar Harbor anxious to see the ocean. I was surprise to find that much of the oceans immensity was blocked by beautiful rocky islands that litter the coastline. I took the time to hike onto a rocky overlook to finally see the horizon of the ocean before me. I drove back to Burlington only to find warnings of a massive snowstorm to clobber the Midwest…. I knew I would not be going home for the weekend. Having friends of friends offer me the generosity and kindness of their abode, I elected to stay in Burlington for the weekend rather being forced to spent it stuck in the airport in Detroit. Having the entire weekend in Burlington, I boots found a local tele-demo and skied the over-price slopes known as Stowe. I enjoyed my day on teleskis and dodging the east coast harem of skiers as the runs were choked with the multitudes. The following day I slept late and went to the local climbing gym for a quick workout and had meals at Burlington’s finest.

Enjoying tele-demos
The culture of the East coast was new to me; much of Burlington spent its time being the anti-metropolitan. On many occasions it felt as if wore a veil of granola attempting to hide the culture and attitude from its nearby neighbors of New York and Massachusetts. And yet there was an acceptance and tolerance to all was Burlington's true charm... the inviting sense of home that was extended to all. However, amongst my travels I grew an aversion to New Yorkers. They are the antithesis of all that known as “Minnesota Nice”, and have an air of demanding entitlement that rubs a simplistic and conscientious northern Minnesotan in the wrong way. 

The next morning I was back in the air for a brutal flying day with three transfers. By the time I had arrived in Grand Junction, CO for my next interview I was spent, tired, and ornery... flying had finally gotten the best of me. My bag was lost, my cell phone had busted, and I was in debt for sleep. After finishing interviews and getting to see the sights in Grand Junction, I got a phone call from a friend back in Billings inviting me to go to Big Sky for some skiing. I was more than excited about the opportunity and changed flights.

Arriving back in Billings I reconnected with friends and felt at home. We drove out to Big Sky and skied three wonderful days with good conditions to be had. I managed to take a few spectacular falls at high speed and bushed up on my tele technique. And by the end of the three days my legs were so sore I could scarcely walk straight... but I was smiling. I flew home finally after all my adventures and spent the week in Duluth, only to again find myself with a car packed to the brim as I move down to the cities for a month long medical rotation.

 The majesty that is Big Sky

It was a long couple of months on the road and in the air. I had my eyes opened to the possibilities in places afar from my home of Duluth. For the first time in a long time, I felt unsure of where I was supposed to be. It marks a transition in my future to come and I look to it as both exciting and consuming.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Northwoods Whitewater's Last Gasp: Part Three

The clouds had parted from the sky and the sun let it's presence known. I had taken a day away from the running waters and was keenly aware my loss. My paddling buddies were all putting on the Cascade River meanwhile was far from any flowing water. When I arrived back to my northern home, the creeking up the North Shore had all but waned. However my old friend the St. Louis River was running above 2000 cfs and provided for some boating. I arranged to meet Decker and Cliff at the put in. Upon arriving I noted a creek boat on an unfamiliar vehicle and searched for the owner.

While writing a invitation to paddle to place on the windshield a fellow emerged from a nearby trail and approached. He introduced himself as Kyle and I was familiar from the local forum that he was new to the area and looking for boaters to paddle with. Extending some Midwestern generosity, I invited him to join us.

So the four of us put on for a fun ride amongst the big water character of the St. Louis. Showing another personality of the St. Louis we rode blasting along, bypassing the "Second Sister" and the "Octopus" given that amongst the high water they had become brutally harsh. Kyle meanwhile seemed to be having a good time, having a high quality level for his first run. But I was looking forward to running a small falls near the swinging bridge that is runnable at high water.This falls is precious to me because of my childhood memories of it. I can recall the days when my mother would bring me to Jay Cooke in the morning light before afternoon kindergarden. There I scurried about climbing the rocks near this falls and viewing it's cascade while my mother warned me of the river's hazards.

More than two decades later, I had managed to ignore her warnings as we eagerly approached the horizon line. While foreign tourist on shore nearby gawked, Cliff gleefully took flight first, followed closely by Decker. Kyle went next with little hesitation while I played photographer from a nearby perch. I came awkwardly into my short passage into the vertical world. I emerged from plugging the falls slightly disappointed. I paddle ahead of the crew and quickly eddied out. I shouldered my boat and hiked up for another run... I new I could do better and was striving for a clean run. Companions ashore as I again took flight and had a better run.

Untitled from kyle crocodile on Vimeo.

The day was blissful in the simplicity of the satisfaction. We drove upstream grinning and talkative with remnants of adrenaline still fueling our enthusiasm!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Northwoods Whitewater's Last Gasp - Part Two

 Anthony runs "Portage Up The Middle"

My eyes opened from sleep and relief came to me... it was over and freedom was mine. My licensure exam was now in the past and the bag of my paddling gear sat outside my bedroom door ready and awaiting me. I leapt out of bed and scurried about the house excitedly preparing to embark upon the Northern Shore of Lake Superior.

We congregated in Two Harbors catching a hearty breakfast to fuel the day ahead. A lineup of four cars laden with creek boats sped northward. We stopped along the way checking levels and debated the best course of action as the Cascade was a perfect level. However stopping at the Devils Track river there was more confusion as to ascertain the river levels. The once known gauges had been blow out by floods two years previous and correlations were unknown. We huddled up... "Cascade or Devils Track?"... The majority held wit the Devils Track as there was apprehension from the majority about the Devil's Track especially of those who had not run either of the Northwoods most technical and classic runs. Among myself, Japs, and John H. being the only paddler's with experience with the D-Track, we had some concerns amongst ourselves about the committed nature of the D-Track. There was portages that MUST be made or suffer dire consequences and blind slides that could hold a perilous log. But we agreed and we quickly made shuttle.

We split into two groups: Japs leading Anthony and Andy S. Meanwhile Myself and John H. led Scott W. and Brian behind. Setting off amongst the mellow beginnings of the DT it became more than clear this was going to be a low water run. We bumped our way down and in the leading the way I was surprised at how quickly we arrived at triple drop. Triple drop cascades first over a 20 ft sliding falls into a narrow pool before dropping over a larger 35 ft sliding falls into a small margin-ed pool. From the the river passes through the gates of hell and explodes over a 40 ft double tiered burly falls known as "The Admiral" and has only been descended twice. Complicating the picture was a log wedged between the base of the first falls and the opposing wall lining the narrow pool just barely left of the landing zone (this one is new and not the one that has been there for years). Four of the seven decided to run the top two drops of triple drop. Japs went first styling the first drops and set safety in the last pool. John went next and styled the first drop and emerging unscathed set up safety in the first pool. Andy S. went next and plunging into the first drop emerged from the depths and was pushed against the left-hand log. He fought as the boiling currents made an uphill battle away from the pressing log and paddled out of it's grasp. While Andy S. styled the second drop, I  took once last glance at the line then slid into my boat and peeled into the oncoming current. I fought hard for the right-hand shore through a moguls of water and  saw the horizon line before me. Entering the purity of the vertical world, I fought for a late boof stroke to keep me from the depths of plugging. I was only mildly successful and was dismayed to find myself greeted by the left hand log. I grasped the log with my left hand keeping my boats edges vigilant. After two attempts I found myself still being push back against the log. I finally paddled frantically back towards the base of  falls and was relieved to have the boiling currents release me and let me enter into the calm eddy before the second falls. I was breathing hard from the exertion and took a moment to catch my breadth and collect my focus. With John onlooking, I turned and sped for the lip of the second falls and fought again for the right most line. I plunged over its sliding explosion of water and bounced violently mid way down the water's roaring descent and slammed into the pool below. I emerging triumphantly from my first baptism by triple drop as Japs and Andy quickly grabbed a hold and steadied my boat in the tight lower eddy I exited my boat to the shore with an unrelenting smile. John styled the drop behind me and the four of us portaged with enthusiastic chatter meanwhile admiring "The Admiral" and the mist hanging about it's majesty. Sliding down the scree slopes the river below greeted by our fellow companions who finished their rugged portage. We lined the misty and ice encrusted shoreline and mounted our boats for the adventure ahead.
Continuing downstream I took the lead of the second crew for a short while. The tight cliff walls alerted us to the nearness of our next challenge, Serpent's Slide and Boulder Falls in direct sequence. Japs and the group ahead scouted serpent slide for the deadly possible of logs. Being that I ended up in sweep, by the time I arrived those on shore gave me the thumbs up. I turned collected my focus and will as the water accelerated at break-neck speed toward the oncoming wall. On a rocket ship ride the water and I collided and banked off oncoming wall like a hellish water slide then commenced  into another entry slide. I paddled for the left line and plunged down the sliding Boulder Falls busting through the hole lining its base into a broad eddy. I turned and watched each of the crew as the came rocketing down each emerging with wide eyes and priceless grins.

The river ahead mellowed and we bumped along the scenic boogy water admiring the majesty of Devil's Track Canyon. We each sped through two more drops of significance before reaching the horizon line of "Portage Up The Middle". Portage Up the Middle is a double tiered ledge hole having a tight and specific line and given it's sticky hole is deserving of a safety on shore. It is aptly named, because portaging the drop is made nearly impossible by the bordering sloped walls . Having been in sweep I was the last to reach the shore and as I exited my boat I was informed of this situation ahead. I was told of a large log that was wedged in a diagonal to the current perfectly embedded in the necessary right hand line.

The scene at "Portage Up the Middle"... notice the log

As a group we converged to discuss our plan... we originally thought to seal launch from a tight left hand perch. I was elected to go first and only after almost sliding down the steep bank into the river I handed my boat off to John. But the small perch was found to be too unsteady to even mount me boat. So myself and Japs lowered ourselves into the tight pool between tiers and found a slight underwater ledge for a footing. Japs and Holton steadied my boat as I quickly ratcheted in and slid over the final ledge to the waters beyond the drop. Looking upstream I watched as each of the party forded past Portage Up the Middle.

Brian puts on and runs "Portage Up The Middle"

Alas John was all that was left and had no one to aid him into the tight pool. I quickly  scaled the mossy left cliff wall above the drop. I waded out into the river feet from the lip of the drop and as John paddle up the right hand shore I grabbed a hold of his boat kept him in the eddy as he exited his boat. We lowered his boat over the right hand cliff wall to the arms of Japs and each clamored down the slick and mossy left hand slopes.

The sun was broaching the edge of the horizon as we finally pushed from shores below Portage Up The Middle. We had already had a quick meeting about the peril ahead. The river below was known to enter a canyon that terminated in Pitchfork falls, which of 40 ft in height terminated on a pile of rocks... certain to mame or take the life of any who plunged over it. More importantly there is only a single eddy and place to climb out of the canyon, afterward you are certain to be hopelessly propelled over the falls. At issue was tha fact that none of us that had run the river before remember the exact location of the eddy and path out of the canyon. We would take it slow and eddy as often as possible.

We entered the canyon and nerves ran high. John and Japs took the lead. After a few anxious and blind bends in the river I was relieved to see them on shore beckoning the group to an small eddy ready to pluck our boats. When we each had reached the shore, looking up the slope to the canyon rim that battle was not over yet. The lactic acid coursed through my burning legs and breath heaved as I shoulder my boat while scaling the slippery slope. Reaching the top I chucked my boat the ground breathlessly unable to vocalize my relief to have sumitted the canyon rim. But as the crew reassembled at the rim panting, we were aware of the ominous creeping of darkness to the land as the sun had now fallen below the horizon. We urgenly hiked along the canyon top and threw our boats down a wooded gully towards the river below. Emerging from the harrowingly slick gully we came again to the river's bank.

Being the last to the river edge half the crew had already pushed in the river and paddled frantically downstream fighting the dwindling light and the oncoming darkness. Being familiar with the river ahead, I took the lead of the second group. It was only a few river bends before we came to a large and familiar horizon line. Ahead lay some of the best Class V the North shore has to offer. Below the horizon line was a ~25-30 ft sliding falls entitled "Ski Jump" which then subsequently plummeted into a hefty slide of 30-40 yards in length that violent banked around a 90 degree corner pummeling the rising canyon wall and terminate in another long slide, hence it is named "Up Against The Wall".

I turned to my companions and yelled "this is it!!!" and turned my focus back to the horizon line. The scene opened before me. The world  white of the leaping waters stood out  as the shores melted down a large slide of perhaps 20 feet in height. Rocketing downward the waters danced of the rocks leaping into the air. The slide directly took a bend to the right and plummeted over another slide. I knew it was coming... the slide smashed directly into the oncoming wall  and made a direct 90 degree turn in what results in a monsterous wall of water (entitled "Up Against the Wall"). I confirmed my line sped for the wall came high on it and braced. I no sooner found myself gleefully bouncing down the last and more mellow slides. Thus ended one of the most intense sections of whitewater the North Shore has to offer. In what turned to complete darkness the crew of paddlers drifted to in to the cold water of Lake Superior as the inland ocean congratulated us for the run with host of large waves. We surfed our boats back to shore, with quiet contentment and grins.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Northwoods Whitewater's Last Gasp - Part One

I hadn't left my basement lair for more than a few hours in a day and from the sparse light that peaked through the windows told me the presence of day or night. I was consumed by the thralls of studying for medical licensure exam, an endeavor I disdained more than any.Though I tried become oblivious to the sunshine or otherwise, yet I couldn't help but notice that the clouds where darkening. The local news and local paddling blog pointed alert me to the coming of storm to the Northland.  The weather service told of system unlike any seen in recent history and the paddlers where buzzing like  swarm of wasps in anxiousness.

The skies wrath came like a thief in the night and while I slumbered I heard the rain knocking on the windows of my dreams. I woke to an angry wind pressing and newspapers headlining reports of 5 inches of snow in the heights of Duluth. Steadfast I declared to myself I would and could not go paddling as my exam was but two days into the future. But with each text message of another paddler asking if I could paddle my will was being eroded. By the afternoon word came that Lester River was running high and I could no longer say no. I rushed to the river and met with a sizable crew including Anthony, Andy S, Scott, Brian, and T2.

Gearing up it was clear the levels where high but not of an uncanny nature and I had paddled it higher. We put on as temps dipped into the low 30s. Out of the gates I felt confident and boofed into the right hand line of Limbo Falls tangling with the multi-tiered hole laden goodness emerging unscathed with a smile. The entire run went equally smooth as my old friend the Lester river didn't fail to please. We inevitably arrived at Almost Always and getting out the boat for a quick peak I knew I would run it. T2 with his abundance of gusto fired it up first with success. Myself and Andy S. saddled up and fired it off. I watch Andy S. blue boat be lost to the horizon.

 Looking back at Almost Always after running it

I lined up focusing on the narrow line conscious my speed and position. I made the right hand slow moving tangled water pouring the lip of  drop. Eyes wide I armed my left boof stroke and viewing the vertical let the stroke loose as my boat left the water for the air. In the world of vertical I landed atop the opposing tongue of water mid way down the drop. Conscious instinct took hold as the world went in a split second from vertical and horizontal in gnashing of explosion of white washing water. Amidst it I stayed strong and emerged to the scene shocked that I had no need for a roll! I was elated and my confidence bolstered for the day ahead. I left the river begrudgingly and only because the darkness had begun to descend. I went home with a fulfillment enough to continue my studies. I thanked the river for the gift of the humanity it had returned to me and strength to carry on with the studies ahead of me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall Creeking The Upper Peninsula of MI - Day 2

One of the Northwoods pristine falls.... myself on Manabezho Falls

The morning came early to my eyes as I wrestled myself from the grasp of the couch and looking out into the frost laden sunshine outside the window. After reading shortly from my book, my fellow companions awoke and we drove to the local grub-ery for hearty breakfast. Bellies more than satisfied, we gathered back at our lodgings, packed up, and headed for the Presque Isle River.

I drove down the road lined by leaves flaming with color, bordered by a blue cloudless sky and reveled in the beauty of the world. Arriving at the river my eyes were graced by the sight of heavy flowing waters swelling generously about its banks. The Presque Isle water was running very high.

We set about scouting the drops and readying for the action that lay ahead. One thing was certain, the well-known and picturesque Manabezho Falls was looking friendly to my eyes. However, the water above and below it, though reasonable, was intimidating in character (with the exception of Manido Falls). Each made their personal decision and Japs decided to do a solo run of the entire final mile of the Presque, meanwhile the rest of us committed to lapping Manabezho Falls.

We geared up for the adventure ahead after dropping Japs off upstream and wishing him luck. Japs arrived at Manabezho at the same time as us carrying our boats and proceeded onward styling Manabezho. I ran up and put on next. I slipped into the water noting the line. I paddled hard driving rightward aimed for a narrow pinnacle of water, fought to place boof stroke, and sailed airborne viewing the 25 ft of air between myself and the water below. I landed a with a thud, despite having a slight angle of entry to allow for a less violent landing. Emerging from the mist with a smile I paddled to shore. We shared in the moment as we watched each of the six of us sail into happy flight.

 My second lap on Manabezho

I took my second lap with comfort and laid a solid boof stroke and the bow of boat stayed level with the horizon. I landed with loud "thwack" and felt my spine compress and a pain run through it. I paddled from the mist catching the breath that was knocked from me unsure what damage may have done. I paddled to shore and took things easy. Slowly recovering I discovered my back was ok, but in future days was going to make me pay for my lack of a stomp.

Justin and Lara declared they were going to run the final throngs of the Presque below Manabezho. Myself and Marcus set safety while scouting the river ahead. The river plummeted over a final slide creating an intimidating hole at it's base. Then the river constricted into "Zoom Flume" rocketing through a narrow channel. Guarding its entry lay a 2.5 ft high wave leading into a gnashing 3 ft tall wave hole whose line has never been entirely clear to me. Japs and Lara pounded through both with success and nailed the necessary rolls.

Marcus and I contemplated  the section for what seemed like hours, unnerved by the first hole leading into Zoom Flume. Finding an alternate route, myself and Marcus put on the river. We took to the far leftward bank and launched off a small boof ledge landing in the calm waters below. We eddied out and prepared for the challenges ahead. I led out and took to the line for the first wave. It came into view and I laid power strokes to propel me through as the water naturally accelerated toward its violent rising.

The first wave entering guarding the entrance to Zoom Flume
I collided in a wash of white and emerged unscathed and lined up for the next and more formidable beast of a wave hole. I chose the leftward line and again powered ahead as if a knight in joust riding headlong into an opponent. In moments as these, your vision tunnels on the task at hand and the world outside is but banished in a moment of purity in almost meditative focus. I smashed into the onslaught and fought in blindness.  My momentum was slowed to an almost stand still and yet I emerged to catch sight of water beyond its gnashing while remaining upright. But at that moment, a cross-current boiling lateral sub-ed out my bow as the wave-hole over turned me in its final grasp. I calmly set up and rolled up right and put my boat on line for the final moments of intensity.

The second wave-hole guarding the entrance into "Zoom Flume"
We emerged into the expanse of Lake Superior congratulated by fishermen on shore and fully immersed in the elation that only whitewater can bestow. The weekend had been gifted me with a confidence I would take forward with me for the paddling that lay in the season ahead. I grinned the whole drive home as the darkness fell upon the flaming leaves and a burning contentment warmed the hearth of a heart.

 Myself and Marcus still grinning

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall Creeking The Upper Pennisula of MI

 Japs on our second lap of Slate Falls

The cold winds had migrated from the North and settle about the Northern shore of Lake Superior. My thoughts had not strayed to paddling as the water levels seemed inevitably low and had begun to think I should prepare for the winter ahead. But the paddling community eagerly caught wind of the possibility of flood watch for much of Minnesota and Wisconsin. As I woke in the morning to rain falling the windows and found a steady drizzle falling from the grey hued sky. But throughout the day, staring through the hospital windows at work, no heavy rains seemed to come. It would not be enough to rekindle paddling on the North Shore. However thing appeared to be different in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan.

On a whim I found myself driving in the darkness after a unexpected invitation to paddle the L'Anse area of Michigan, hearing that the level had become more than favorable. The drive through the darkness went quickly as I pulled into the "Hilltop" Motel and found my friend Justin. I slept soundly and awoke to the familiar grey, cold, and soggy paddling weather. We snatched breakfast at the local greasy spoon and met up with a couple other paddlers who knew the area better.

Myself and Japs eye-ing Slate Falls before suiting up

We drove out to the Slate River and hiked up to scout the final drop on the river. There before us stood a 20-25 ft drop of boney and narrow proportions but safe of all wood. We checked the river level using the old method of a tape measure and measuring the distance from the river to the top of a crossing bridge. It was deemed that the levels were of medium character and we set up shuttle. Having geared up and put onto the river it became quickly obvious that the river levels were fairly boney. I put aside the thought and figured the small creek just needed to constrict a little and conditions would improve. But as we reached the first major drop I was aware that this was going to be a boat abusive run.

Myself on the first drop of the Slate River
The first falls, flowed over a manky ledge dropping off a 4 ft shoulder onto a long slide. We all fired it off hearing our boats scrape loudly. The river then mellowed and the boon-doggle ensued. The river meandered and forked amongst flat marsh land and was choked river wide log jams. We creatively found our way above, below, and around them. However, by the time the 5th or 6th log jam showed up in the river ahead and my boat yet again scraped along the gravel bottom, I was about to lose my patience and was seriously considering walking out and calling it quits.

Japs amongst one of many slides on the Slate

But the river began its gaining gradient as cliff wall began to line the banks. The river dropped over several large sets of stair case ledge drops and pour over a 30 yard long constricted slide. While the action was fun, I still could help but wince at the plastic my boat was losing. Finally the ahead we could see a distinct horizon line of Slate Falls the final and most burly the Slate has to offer.

 The Horizon Line Above Slate Falls

We had already walked up and scouted it for wood previous to putting on the river. Slate Falls is a 20 ft drop that pours awkwardly jutted slate slabs that diagonal the river’s flow, and in large part looks to be of grave risk for pitoning. However on river right the Falls flows through a narrow gap, hitting a small ledge of rock on the way down, and terminates in the pool below.

We all fired into it without hesitation. I lined up for the river right slot and rocketed into verticality. I braced on the descent and felt myself auto-boofed from small ledge in the falls. I felt my boat sailing into a mild side-boof as I impacted the water. I braced up with little need to roll. Myself and Japs finding the drop to be the only redeeming quality of the Slate River at this point decided to run it again. I rocket down again and found a way to miss the awkward boof ledge and mildly plugged into the pool meanwhile emerging upright. We continued onward finding our shuttle vehicle near the river and left the Slate River behind us.

Looking back at Slate Falls
With fellow paddlers having arrived in the area our phones were ringing. The consensus was to run the Falls River right in L’ Anse. We rendezvous with some Duluth and Milwaukee boaters and scoped out the biggest drop on the river entitle “Power House Falls” in which the run begins with. Power House Falls is a 15 foot drop whose width drops onto mangled rock ledge with the exception of the extreme river left. Unfortunately at the top you have to ferry across the slow moving lip of the falls to achieve the left hand line.

Gearing up we put on as the sun was falling in the sky and the temperature was slowly falling. The first few rapids went quickly and I was surprised to find myself at power house falls already. The paddler ahead of me was eddying out above the falls and I quickly decided that I was feeling confident and blew by the eddy aim for my line. I waited patiently with myself armed for a boof

Myself on Power House Falls of the Falls River

One by one the crew nicely dropped powerhouse and continued down river. The river flowed over multiple sets of bedrock ledges and slide and arrived at multiple drops of varying height (5-8 ft). Arriving at a pour-over named “Ass Hole” we stopped to look. I felt pretty confident and only looked at the drop briefly. The river constricted between two boulders created a jetting pour-over that collided dead center with a rock at its base. I went last and lazily dropped in.

Anthony runs "Asshole"

 I didn’t throw much of a stroke and plugged the drop deeply and found myself in a bit of a situation. Completely underwater I maintained my boats balance submarined and upright yet completely submerged. Meanwhile I wondered calmly if I would get plastered on the rock directly ahead of me or stuck in the hole created by the pour-over. Fortunately neither occurred as I was shot out upright into an adjacent eddy. I shrugged and grinned at my fellow paddlers who had looks of concerned as I ferried back into the hole in front of the boulder and into safety.

 Myself running one of the myriad of moderate drops on the Falls River

We continued onward and shot through the final drop through a concrete dam with a narrow chute through it. We paddled into the cold wind that whipped across Lake Superior. Hours later with a belly full of food we drove through the darkness to Ironwood, MI with hopes to run the Presque Isle in the morning. Through the night I I slept soundly awaiting the morning.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Paddlemania and the Summer's Paddling!

Myself running the "Beak" of the "Octopus" on the St. Louis River

It was a season of transition and as the spring turned to summer, so I reluctantly left my quaint cabin in Ely and readied myself for 6 weeks of the urbanite life that awaited me in the twin cities. But as my last gasp of soul nourishment I spent my final weekend at Paddlemania at the St. Louis river.  Each year the paddling community takes the opportunity to celebrate whitewater of the St. Louis river, and revels in camaraderie amongst paddling friends. 
Have last paddled in Colorado I felt strong and confident in my paddling skills and was happy to come back to the St. Louis. After 2 laps through Finn Falls and enjoying summer Class V paddling, I dropped into the "Beak" of  "The octopus" and battled for my second successful run of the drop for the year.

  Myself on Finn Falls of the Lower St. Louis River (a rare picture)

As sun rose high into the sky and the day began to wain the whole of paddlers converged to spectate the "Slot Machine" Showcase. The Showcase was an informal friendly challenged in which all brave souls would run the drop "Slot Machine". The drop received it's name, because as the river flows through a tight canyon slot it drops over a 15 ft sliding cascade into a gnarly and hungry hole bounded by tight rock walls on both sides. The nature of the hole is such that anyone who runs the drop is as good as rolling dice or putting nickles into a "Slot Machine" as to whether they will emerge without a beat down.

Surprising, I had avoided the drop for a number of years, but decided today that I would test it. Along the rim and amongst the rock outcroppings spectators choked the vantages of the spectacle ahead. And so one by one each brave paddler test his/her will. With varying results they charged into Slot Machine as I looked on the last paddler in line to go.

Myself on "Slot Machine" of the Lower St. Louis

When my time came, I slide into the water and strongly paddled to the lip. Then I began to plunged deep powering strokes as I came to the lip. I fought for the tricky line and attempted a stroke as I plunged down the drop to bring my nose up. Colliding with the wall of white, I sought to keep myself from plugging into the depth and being held in the grasp of the hole. And with a last stroke I emerged triumphantly throwing a triumphant fist pump into the air.

Running "Slot Machine"!
The day turned to night and the evening festivities ensued. Worn by the day filled joyful exertion, I left the night fire surround by new and old friends and snuck into the back of my station wagon to sleep for the night. I fell asleep to the stars and happily let my mind fall to dream.

However my waking life would soon transition. Medical school demanded that I be educated in the Twin Cities. I packed my belongings and said my goodbyes to the people and places that had become my friends. A day later I found myself amongst suburban sprawl struggling to make peace and adapt to the foreign landscape before me. The river felt far away and so did my life in Ely (or Duluth for that matter) and the memory remained alive.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Westward Waters: The Final Day

Waking from our warm lodgings in Vail we said our goodbyes in the early morning sunrise and caught breakfast at the local grub-ery. The night previous we had amassed a crew of paddlers and agreed to run Bailey's Canyon of the North Fork of the South Platte River (about 1 hr to the Southwest of Denver). Bellies content we headed South and Easterly headed for the small town of Bailey to rendezvous with our new crew of paddlers. Myself and John drove to small park and met our ring leader and veteran Ian as well as Thomas, and another paddler (I can't recall his name) as we all made our first greeting through the car window... we were all anxious to set up the shuttle.

Back at the put in, we slid into the swift flowing creek and moved amongst the laughing waters through the rural ranch's green fields. The river levels were considered juicy and as we caught their crest at 700 cfs (above the guide book's high water level) which was completely rare for this season. In the distance the foothills rose up from the green plains and  I was happy to take in a brief warm up amongst the scenery and moderate whitewater. After dealing with a fence that ranchers had strewn across the river and ducking some ancient frontier bridges, the river began to slowly pick up gradient.

We eddied out well above a horizon line and walked an adjacent railroad grade to view the first drop "The Four Falls". The first of the Falls was a narrowly constricted pour-over/ledge that formed a terminal hole abutted to an undercut wall. Give the high levels and the hunger of the hole, the party decided to portage this and run the next three "Falls". When the rest of the drop cam into view I was immediately excited... it was shallow boulder strewn technical creeking that reminded more of the type of paddling we did back home. After we set safety for Ian and watch him run safely the next of our party dropped in. His skirt imploded when he penciled the first pour over and we scurried along shore recovering his gear.

This picture of the "Four Falls" courtesy of Flickr is at 180 cfs.... picture this as we ran it at 700 cfs! Barely a boulder was showing!

Myself and John jumped into our boats and went ahead. I crested the first pour over and drove hard to get my nose up through the hole, and emerging lined up for the next ledge then ferried hard to river right catching a micro-eddy. From their I ferried out around a obstructing boulder and boofed a small ledge. The rest of the crew had no trouble with the drop.

From there onward the river descended through nearly 3 miles of continuous class III with IV+ drops in a section labeled "The Steeps" as it the river dropped 441 ft in the 3 mile section. We took direction from Ian and boat scouted a bombed the Steeps. At one point we paddled through a small notch of only a boat width while punching a small hole in it's constriction. We eddied out above the thunderous roar of what sounded to be a significant drop. The river made 3 set's of U turns amongst house sized boulders and giant holes before terminating in 3 foot ledge to a fast moving pool before dropping over a 12-13 ft sliding/pour-over falls. This was the run's jewel, "Supermax". The first set of U-turns was a tough and technical section of big hole, undercut rock, and tight lines superseding the large falls. Many folks simple put in below and drop the last falls given the intensity of the entrance. We did just that, but as I stood looking at the upper section I thought to myself if I had lived in CO and had run this canyon enough I could see myself running the entire drop (especially at lower water levels!).

 Again thank you Flickr..."Super Max"...picture this drop with 7x the water (180cfs vs 700 cfs), 
I thought the last pour-over was a slide when we ran it... I guess not!

Ian ran the drop first in good style and I enthusiastic jumped in my boat next. I felt comfortable with this style of boating and was confident in my lines. I slid into the water and picked my line for the first 3 ft ledge. I timed it and hit my boof and sped on perfect line for the sliding falls. I slid over it's lip rocketing downward and collided with hole at it base. It stern-ender-ed me I found myself looking skyward.  I kept control of my boat and brought the bow of the boat back to the water and avoided any need for rolling. The rest of the crew had no troubles as I watched John style his line.

Continuing onward we flew through a couple sets of Class III-IV stuff before arriving at Deer Creek, the final Class V drop. From shore I could see it was a long, continuous, and technical drop. I began with a tight line of a small but hungry pour-over requiring a left boof stroke into a right-hand small eddy. Then ferrying across the river's width would pound quickly through numerous holes meanwhile the entire river hit a house sized boulder and while cascading over a 8-9ft drop terminating in a angry hole with multiple sets of punchable holes beyond. Ian indicated in the last section the line was to  paddle onto the house-size boulder sliding down it's face and landing in a side boof having avoided the hole at it's base.

Ian and Thomas ran the line with varying degrees of success but emerged unscathed none-the-less. I went next and hit my boofboof but amidst a explosion of water I could only assume was a hole. I crashed through three more blinding explosion of water before cruising into a calm pool ecstatic and unable to remain silent with the pent up adrenaline.

 Courtesy of Flickr.... this is what most of the river looked like except with 7 times more water!!!

The river calmed and flowed through some of the most gorgeous scenery as barren granite domes rose from the rivers edges. It was beautiful enough that I couldn't help but want my climbing gear or to stop and have a lunch amongst the scene before me. We pressed onward and came to the park in which we had set up our shuttle. We bid farewell to our paddling compatriots and took to the road. 

We stayed in Denver for the night before making the long trek back to the Midwest. It was a good trip and I was sorry to leave Colorado behind. We were leaving just I was becoming comfortable with the waters. As we drove home the levels in Colorado remained high for another week, before dropping precipitously fast. We had managed to hit the peak of Colorado's season in time of record flooding. It was a trial by fire at times, but we took intimidating waters and filled a void left by the Midwest's historically disappointing paddling season.

20 hours later, I arrived home to Ely and the North woods by the cover of night and fell asleep dreaming of whitewater.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Westward Waters: Day 6 - Aspen's "Slaughter House" & An Unlikely Crew

Myself and John admiring Clear Creeks eroding banks and the morning sunrise

Sleeping with the roar of Clear Creek beside us all night, I awoke in the early morning glow to see the creek had eroded it banks almost swallowing our campsite's fire ring. But alas checking the markers we had placed in the night previous the river's level had dropped 6 inches to a foot. We drove upstream optimistic and got out to check out the drops in store for us. The first major drop through a small gorge looked juicy but reasonable. Driving up to the next gorge we walked out and peer into its depths. The drops had me questioning the run. It was largely sustained class V was flowing at the upper limits of reasonably known high water. Neither of us had ever paddled it and we had no other knowledgeable paddling partners to rely on. The drop itself contained several mandatory hole punches amongst steep walls and must make moves. It was not a place to swim.

We conversed and decided that the run was too committing for us and our skill levels. We quickly drove into town scanned the river levels and decided to drive to Aspen and look at the "Slaughterhouse" section of the Roaring Fork River as well as Castle Creek. After taking in the breath taking scenery of Independence Pass and catching sight of the gnarly flowings of the Upper Section of the Roaring Fork, we snuck in through Aspen's back door and I was introduced to the towns extravagance. We stopped and lazily grabbed a bite to eat, meanwhile inquiring at the local raft guiding shops about the local river conditions. Unfortunately with flows as high as anyone had seen them in decades, a large strainer come down had choked Castle Creek and caused 3 lost boats the day previous. Our attention focused on Slaughterhouse.

Driving to the river, I struggled to maintain apathy in regards to the river with such a  ominous name. Arriving we immediately encountered fellow putting the finishing touches inflating a mini-raft and creek boat was parked nearby. With a brief introduction, Scotty in his thick Kiwi accent he inidcated he was planning putting on in a hurry and we all quickly ran to scout "Entrance Exam". The river level was over 2000 cfs on local gauges, which equated to ridiculously high flows. Entrance exam got my blood boiling immediately as it lead out with a burly 2.5-3 ft (in height) river wide unavoidable hole and had multiple significant holes in succession. I asked Scotty about his thoughts on the rapid and he answered in typical kiwi brashly exuberant optimism that... "it all goes". With a wide smile he detailed how he had blasted through the rapid backwards the day previous.... "you'll be fine mate".

We hurriedly suited up, meanwhile another kiwi and local wheeled up having set up shuttle. We put on with  Scotty in the lead and myself following closely. I stayed on line as the river accelerated and the river opened up to gnashings ahead of me. I saw Scotty drop through the menacing hole ahead and I threw down hard forward stokes building for my collision. The The impact was harsh and for a few milliseconds my eyes were awash in white exploding water. It is these moments that every paddler knows is the moment of judgment; when a hole will either suck you back for a licking or you will emerge... but overreaching rule of thumb is to keep the fight and keep an active paddle blade. I was relieved to emerge unscathed and quickly surveyed the river ahead. Scotty had already run much of the drop and so I resorted to an on-the-fly assessment and pounded ahead. The river quieted as we eddied out with giant grins. 

Ahead we reached a horizon line and eddied out to scout Slaughterhouse falls. Scotty demonstrated the line which looked less concerning than what I had already been through. We each ran the Falls with ease as the line was fairly non-threatening as it had been washed out in the high levels. We continued on ward as the river sped through winding drops of mazes of giant holes where boulders were buried under the flood. Entering each drop Scotty would wordlessly gesture in eloquent hand signals to warn us of the line ahead... he was dead on every time! We started feeling pretty comfortable amongst the Class IV+/V onslaught and John made the mistake of straying from Scotty's line only to find himself side-surfing a rather large hole. I looked back to see him work out out of it unscathed. We learned our lesson and made no deviation from our guide's line.

The river was joyfully exhilarating with long stretches of winding and technical IV+/V big water. We eddied out beside an eroded staircase into the water and had reached our shuttle.  Feeling fired up, I was still ready for more action and walked away from the river reluctantly. We jumped into a old touring van turned ultimate shuttle vehicle and gabbed like school children over the run. I learned that Scotty actually ran a raft company in town, Kiwi Adventure Ko, hence his spot on lines and skills!

We thanked our river companions parted ways and headed downstream. Our friends from the Arkansas river had given us the number's of some paddlers and we quickly made plans to run the Frying Pan River just outside Aspen. While searching for the takeout we pulled into a gas station/ liquor store. After rechecking our maps, we were pulling out when a younger fellow holding a case of beer flagged us down and jumped in front of our vehicle somewhat carelessly as if his judgment was clouded by some sort of spirits. He asked what we were paddling and after hearing word, explained he was a paddler himself and wanted to join in. We invited him to come along, especially since the section of river was going to be easy class III/IV.

Meeting an equally friendly and interesting character that we had already made plans with, we all drove upstream to put on the Frying Pan River. It was an unusual crew of personalities and I couldn't help but chuckle in my head as we all geared up for the float. John and one fellow slid into on the river as I fiddled with my elbow pads. I looked up to see our liquor-store friend toking up on the longest pipe I had ever seen... looking more like a freakin' hobbit pipe!!!! I refused an offer and the two of us shouldered our boats and put on the river. Feeling confident I jumped in the lead and took on the river on the fly. Our "liquor-store" friend bobbed along with a silly grin paddling adequately. Down river he motioned me to hang back as he had some wisdom to impart about the rapid ahead (the only class IV) . "So with this one, just head river left for a good time my friend".... "make sure you have left angle". With a stupid grin he repeat twice more "Left Angle" as he dropped in ahead with a "YEE HAH!" which was suddenly silenced as I saw the bottom of his boat as he had flipped. Before I new what was going on, I dropped over a small ledge and collided with a diagonal hole and was instantly overturned. I quickly rolled up to calm water and found myself facing liquor-store guy exhibiting a shit-faced grin... "guess we didn't have enough left angle". I couldn't help but belly laugh and chuckle down the rest of the river at the ridiculousness of the run and our companion.

A short while later we eddied out as the Frying Pan river entered the city. We jumped small wooden fence lining the river and found ourselves dripping amidst a bustling bar scene. We sat laughing over beer in our wet paddling gear meanwhile getting gawked at by the entire bar. A short while later, we put on and paddled the last bit of flat water to our shuttle and parted ways with our entertaining paddling compatriots.

I drove into the blinding twilight with a soul full of contentment at the days adventures. The sun fell as we drove into the darkness. Armed with a trusty iPhone, we got online and found a few paddlers looking for adventures on the local paddling forum. Making a few calls we had amassed a crew for the next day. Pulling off in Vail I made  a call to a old friend and found a place for us to stay. I fell asleep comfortably with a roof overhead and fell into a deep slumber with a smile likely still plastered to my face.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Westward Waters: Day 4 & 5

We awoke and slowly began the day. Checking river levels, we felt that our options were limited in the Beuna Vista area. We parted ways with our new found paddling friends and decided we would drive towards Gunnison planning to have a easier day paddle the North Fork of the Gunnison River. We drove onward through the high desert plateau’s reaching a large reservior. Tracing it’s edge we found ourselves driving along a small gorge. We arrived at the river and quickly found a local at the campground willing to set up a shuttle for us.

Putting in on the North Fork of the Gunnison River
Upon driving up river I scouted the rapids and was rather unimpressed. Putting on the river my impression was correct. It was a fairly mellow river have several rapids of class IV in nature. But comparing to our previous day it was rather under-stimulating. But I changed my mindset and appreciated the scenery and the fact that I was able to rest and have a low stress day.
We camped along the Gunnison River and woke the next morning miffed as where we should paddle next. The river conditions remain near insanity as the classic run in the Creste Butte area raged out of the realm of possibilities for me. So we called drove back to the Arkansas to see what could be found. Our paddling friends still were enjoying the Arkansas and we decided we all would run the Arkansas through “The Number’s” again.

New found friends... an awesome crew!
It was a beautiful day and every part of our run through the Number’s went flawlessly. I managed get my redemption run although river levels were now 3400 cfs and significantly lower. The afternoon was still young and so I borrowed a playboat and jumped into the play park at Beuna Vista. 

Playing at Beuna Vista's newer playpark at high water
As clouds darkened in the sky and we took shelter at a local restaurant indulging ourselves in a hearty meal while the rain poured from the darken sky. The weather quickly cleared as we drove to the nearby Clear Creek Reservoir to camp with the intention of waking in the morning and running Clear Creek.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Westward Waters: Day 3 - Arkansas at 4600 cfs

 "Number Five" of the Numbers Section of the Arkansas

The sun rose to illuminate the Collegiate Peaks as seen on the golden horizon. I opened my eyes and gradually drifted into wakefulness. With breakfast eaten we drove into Buena Vista destined for the local kayak shop to ascertain the river levels. When we arrived, it appeared that nothing had dropped and that even the friendly Arkansas River had achieved angry river levels. Local paddlers seem to offer varied advice on the actual river levels because frankly nobody we met had experienced them this high. Our options appeared to be few based on the current river levels and so we set about the task of fixing John's dry suit gasket while awaiting any possible paddlers to join up with.

 Drysuit repair with a traffic cone

I approached one the few groups paddlers who looked to be tackling the river and with some questioning they reluctantly allowed us to join their group. We drove Northward following their truck as we were going to run the "Number's" section of the Arkansas down to the city of Buena Vista. In paddling, their is a well known assessment that all paddlers inflict on each other. Our new found paddling companions' reluctancy was warranted. As paddler's we all assess each other's abilities, because we rely solely on each other for safety. The truth be know a swim on the river at these level was not only personally life threatening, but risked the safety of the other boaters that are attempted to assist the a swimmer.

In hindsight, I had no clue as to the type of whitewater I would be paddling or the intensity to come... it was probably better that way. As we all geared up and brought our boats to the river, still was rather oblivious in looking at the river as to what the afternoon had in store for me. The group consisted of John and myself as well as four local veterans of Colorado whitewater each having paddled for over 20-30 years. They were some of fittest 50 somethings I had yet encountered. We put on the river at is peak level of 4600 cfs, two-fold higher than the guide books indication of 2000 cfs being high water.
Putting on the character of the river became plainly obvious. The water swirled and boiled hugely as lateral waves surged from the shoreline. Giant holes emerged throughout the river as we carefully weaved through them. The river gradually escalated it’s intensity as waves of 2-3 feet in height became common place. As we approached “Number One” I found myself gripped at the sheer size and power of the whitewater before me. I maintain composure as I followed my paddling companions smashing through waves and carefully battling to stay on line.

When we peeled into the eddy following Number One I had a silly grin amongst heavy breaths. Big water whitewater was proving its strenuousness and we paddled onward. Their was little rest to be had and with every eddy I carefully took my time to fully recover before pushing on. Rapids numbered 2 and 3 came and went. A little later I found myself on shore viewing “Number Four”. The river constricted forming a on left side of the river a massive 4-5 ft tall hole. Along side it enveloping the left side of the river was a massive wave train of nearly 8-10 ft in height. It was going to be a tight line to dissect and I plotted my landmarks and line through it.

I paddled away from shore and found my line of water and followed it into the chaos. Powering through oncoming laterals the impending wave train and hole appear before me. The seemed to grow in size and I paddled hard fighting to slip through them. I found my strength was not going to be enough to sneak between features and so I turned to face the wave train head on. It was the roller coaster ride of a life time finding myself thrown skyward by multiple sets of gnashing waves. Atop the waves the scene spilled before me showing the begin to spread and dissipate. I peeled into the nearest eddy and let a guttural “whoop” out.
I was seriously winded as we peeled out and down river I found my technique was becoming lax with fatigue. I fought with eddy lines and found myself flipped. I rolled up and continued on. We eddied out downstream just above a bridge crossing the river and saw one of our paddling companions flipped and rolled up. Without knowing I paddled out into what was the entrance of “Number Five”. Ahead of me lay a river wide hole with massive dimensions and was breaking like a wave. I fought hard to hug the river right of the river but found myself being hopelessly pulled towards the hole. I turned to joust with the wave head on knowing that I was off line and the consequences were to be grim.  I paddle hard accelerating for impact.

 The aforementioned hole leading out "Number Five"

I heard my fellow paddlers whistles blowing as I fought to keep my head above water. I looked behind me and had the sense to grab my paddle and armed myself for what lie ahead. I saw an ominous smooth horizon line and knew I was helpless being propelled into a giant hole. My instincts kicked in and my feet braced for the rock previewing and creating the hole. When my feet hit I jumped with all my strength super-man-ing outward in a desperate attempted to catch the backwash of the hole.

 The hole amongst "Number Five" that I super-manned

I was successful and found myself pushed deep. I swam upward for what seemed an eternity before finding air. At this point I knew I was getting dangerously tired and questioned how much more I could take. I knew that I could no longer helpless await what lay downstream, no longer was the fight only to keep my head above water, I began to swim for the nearest shoreline. The river was merciful and as I neared the shore it loosened its grip and I emerged from the waters.

After checking with my fellow boaters I found myself run haggardly along the frontage road with my thumb outstretched. It was a depressing moment hitch hiking back to Buena Vista and knowing that my boat would likely never be seen again. After an hour with a thumb raised a vehicle approached with a smiling family inside and asked about my situation. They informed me they saw a green boat pull ashore about two miles down stream. I was overjoyed and they gave me a ride in the back of their SUV. I sat int he back telling them my story and the parents used it as a warning to their small children the power of the river. Silly enough the fact that I was a medical student seem comforting to them... as if somehow I wasn’t completely insane.
I arrived at the river and sat on a park bench being scorched in the summer sun awaiting for my fellow paddlers. I sat and talked with fellow paddlers who were kind enough to offer me a beer. I fell asleep and awoke to a sunburn and my companions emerging from the river. We drove upstream and I with elation I retrieved my resurrected creek boat.

Bonding amongst water levels of historic proportion we had found ourselves new paddling friends. We pot-lucked a mighty dinner to commemorate the occasion. I took the night to rebuild my confidence for the days ahead. We laughed amongst the firelight and fell asleep to the river’s distant roar

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Westward Waters: Day 2

After spending the evening at a paddling companions apartment, we awoke and sat awestruck at the levels abound in Colorado. A candid discussion of river's to run ensued, and based on the unbelievable levels it was concluded we would run the Black Rock and Lower sections of Clear Creek in Golden, CO. We drove into the foothills bordering Denver and sped into the gorge that contains Clear Creek. Meanwhile, I sat attempting to maintain apathy as to what the day held as a way to pacify my nerves... we were now embarking on our first class V run in CO.

Arriving at the river, we briefly pre-scouted all the major drops as the river flowed roadside through the gorge. We met up with fellow paddlers, geared for battle, and put on. The river level hovered around 1100 cfs... which is consider very high. The run began with non-stop continuous class IV boulder bed. It quickly came to my attention that, unlike Midwest whitewater, swimming is not much of an option. You may survive it, but you easily risk losing your boat and gear in such swift and continuous water. Moreover, any semblance of a gradual introduction to Colorado whitewater was deemed impossible with the state's flooding. It upped the ante.

Again, picture this with twice as much water... Clear Creek's "The Narrows"

Before long we had reach the gnashings of Black Rock which was our first class V drop.We bombed in amongst giant waves while fighting hard to avoid giant holes and an undercut that much of the river swept towards. I pounded through exploding waves and found myself pushed towards the undercut. I barely missed the undercut ledge and paddled onwards breathing hard.

I came to a second realization. The combination of high altitude and the continuous non-stop nature of the whitewater was getting breathlessly tired... I had never experience creeking as such a aerobic workout (with the exception of those unique moments of getting worked in hole). Paddling onward, the river mellowed as it came closer to the "Narrows" the next class V. Having just arrived in CO and feeling fairly youthful to this type of whitewater, I determined that that I would portage this drop.   Putting on below the river turn to miles of mellow class III and IV boulder bed. I began to build a rhythm and felt myself loosening up and becoming more comfortable. By the time we had reached the take-out and shuttle I had a grin unwaveringly plastered to my face. We basked in the 80 degree heat and parted ways with our paddling compatriots.

After a hearty meal and some analysis of the river levels, we determined the next reasonable stop would be in Buena Vista, CO along the banks of the Arkansas river. After much befuddled driving on my part, we reached the Clear Creek reservoir late in the night. We set up camp amongst the star filled dome of the sky and settled in for the night only vaguely aware of what the morning would bring.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Westward Waters: Day 1

The impending end to the Spring was weighing in my thoughts. Reliance on rains for temporary flooding on the local creeks was fading from possibility. Yet I had two weeks of vacation from medical school banked for an adventure. During weekend outings to the St. Louis River I probed my kayak compatriots for a paddling partner to head Westward for the spring runoff. It'd didn't take long before my friend John delved into the possibility.
The next question became where should we go. The possibilities were narrowed to the legendary waters of Idaho or the classic runs of Colorado. Given the logistics and distance we decided that Colorado would give us the most bang for our buck given the short amount of time we had available. So we researched the and made our tick list. John having paddled Colorado previously had a much better idea of what and where to paddle... alas I remained fair fluid in my expectations and was trusting of going where-ever.

We awoke in the darkness at 4 am and began driving south. The time passed with little effort and the miles seemed to pass quickly. As we approached the front range of the Rocky Mountains we check the trusty iPhone for the river levels. The levels had been steadily rising throughout the week, but now the level had risen to what seemed significantly high levels. Given our naivety we figured that we had nicely timed are trip with the peak of the spring runoff. Anxious to get on the river we headed towards Denver knowing that Clear Creek was the closest, best quality, and most reasonable run to start off with.

So after 15 hours of driving I found myself putting on my dry suit and looking at the river ahead. It was clear to me that the type of water I was about to encounter was beyond my realm of experience thus far. With a touch of Beta from the local we pushed off to run Upper Clear Creek. It was said to be a class IV/IV+ run and we were more than comfortable with that level of paddling, but had a degree of apprehension due to the river level being very high.

Picture this with twice as much water... Clear Creek

Pushing ahead we took turns who would boat scout and run the major rapids. The character of the water surprised me immediately. It was voluminous whitewater flowing through fairly narrow and constricted river beds laden with boulders weaving amongst the Mountains. Unlike the Midwest, it was rare if the hull of boat even brushed a rock. The speed of the water was new to me, given the amount of water, it continually charged along at a pace I was not used to. There was little need for forward propulsion and more need for maneuvering. The moves were more oriented towards punching through crashing waves and holes while generally avoiding nastiness.

My eyes had not been accustomed to reading this form of whitewater and my eyes widened in viewing the first Class IV drop. And yet sailing through each rapid it became apparent that the looks were deceiving and were more reasonable than my eye had viewed them. As we neared the end I became impressed with my fatigue, the whitewater proved to have few moments of rest due to it's continuous nature and small washed out eddies to recover. If you were forced to swim there was a high likelihood you may never see you kayak again as it washed downstream. We finished the run with little incident and I emerged smiling from my first baptism in the water's of Colorado. We retreated to a friend and paddler's place in Denver and set about deciding for the days ahead or future rivers.

While devouring dinner we were informed of the river conditions. We knew that the water levels were extremely high, but had come to find that they were some of the highest levels that portions of Colorado had seen in over a decade. Heat had come to Colorado incredibly early as the week had held multiple days of temperatures in the 90's. River's that were once relatively tame raged with a vengeance. As I went to sleep that night it became clear to me that the waters of Colorado were not going to be a gentle initiation, but an onslaught.... a trial by fire!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Boundary Waters Relaxation

Myself amongst the twilight on Burntside Lake

The with the unseasonable Spring the ice left the lakes of Northern Minnesota historically early. The sweet smell of spring was high in the air and the waters were warming. I found the lake outside my cabin was becoming comfortable for swimming. The leaves had all but sprung and I found myself exploring the the twilight by canoe every evening paddling waters with a surface of glass.
Burntside Lake Serenity

As all Minnesota all do my friends and I planned our yearly migration to the Boundary Waters. In the wilderness we set out to find camaraderie and relaxation while taking in a healthy dose of natural beauty and simplicity. After loading our four canoes we raced to put in on Moose lake. The canoes were brought to the water and loaded with gear. The three couples with a dog each in tandem canoes and myself (the odd man out) in a solo canoe set off into the afternoon sun.

As I paddled onto the water's Moose Lake it was a welcomed homecoming for me. 9 years previously I found myself paddling the same waters after my epic 36 mile trek for Gunflint to Ely. I was 18 then and basking in my youthful ambition. However this trip had a matured focus, no longer an endurance feat to cover ground, but a relaxed pace looking for a beautiful campsite to enjoy peaceful moments.

Two portages later and many miles of paddling the daylight was slowly fading into a sunset as we searched for the ideal campsite. On Basswood Lake we found a grand campsite nestled high on a hill amongst a grove of white pines. We made camp and found ourselves asleep early.

Having a higher experience in the BWCA

The morning dawn came to greet my eyes as the new day had arrived. We each packed supplies for the day ahead as we paddled the scenic route to Basswood Falls. After a few impromptu stops to reel in a few fish we found ourselves at the roaring falls. We basked in the scorching sun and blue bird skies. I took to old habit and found myself swimming into the whitewater and exploring the moving water with my snorkling gear.

Probing the whitewater of Basswood Falls

We made our way back to our home base and arrived with the setting sun. 20 miles of paddling called for a hearty meal which was welcomed by my belly. We watched the star on by one emerge in the coming darkness as the firelight lit our faces and warmed our souls.
The next morning came and fatigue still presided from the day previous. We packed and set off for a new location to spend our final night in the wilderness. Less than a mile away we settled upon a sandy beach.

The beach on Washington Island

A majority of the group felt content to lay upon the beach for the remainder of the daylight in lazy contentment. But the sun couldn't last forever and the rain filled clouds came to our secluded island cutting short our dinner and forced an early bedtime.

The morning came and we set about reaching the shores of society again. A couple portages later we found ourselves driving into my temporary home, the fair town of Ely. After a tasty meal we all went back to our lives: I to my quaint cabin life and my companions to the city of Duluth. It was a weekend of friendship and days of relaxation that simplified life.

The crew!