Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Only Weekend: Split Rock and East Beaver Rivers

I awoke earlier than expected or need be. The sun was shining warmly and the sky shone blue as I packed my gear. Paddlers (if I may generalize) seem to revel in slow mornings. I drove to the Lester River parking lot and took a nap in my car waiting for the community to gather.

A fleet of 5-6 vehicles headed northward from Duluth, our sights set upon the Split Rock river. We arrived to find the river levels favorable. Gearing up our group of 8 paddlers set out hiking 3 miles up river, our boats heavily borne upon our shoulders. The sun was high in sky as the sweat dripped from my brow and my breath pulsed with exertion. Gradually the sound of the river came to our ears and then around a bend came into sight.

A short while later we set our kayaks upon the rock shores of the river and readied for battle. For those who have never witnessed the Split Rock river it is unlike any other. It cascades repeatedly and unremittingly over long shallow slides of rock winding it's way to the cold waters of Lake Superior. To the unseasoned eye the river is intimidating, but to any paddler it holds sheer joy. Each of us found our way rocketing down the shallow river in boundless exhilaration.

The river climaxed in a steep slide that billows into a walled in constricted hanging pool that exits narrowly through a slotted passage holding a hole that buries rock of threatening quality. So named "Under The Log" ( for the log it once contained), the drop earn a reputation over the last years for injuring paddlers.

A fellow paddler's helmet cam of "Under The Log" from that day
Courtesy of Nora Whitmore!!

I put most my thoughts of the drop aside and focused on the fact that I had run the drop the year previous without incident. This year there was no difference as my kayak and I navigated the chaos, punched the hole, and smiled broadly. The river calmly gave way to Lake Superior and strode up the cold gravel beach to our vehicles.

The sun still held its light to the land as we traveled northward for our next adrenaline meal. It was clear with little analysis that the East Fork of the Beaver was at a fun level. We all saddled up in our kayaks and paddled amongst alder and ice crusted banks of the Beaver River. When the river gave way to it's gnashing the paced picked up. Finding the horizon line we were looking for no one stopped. The East Beaver pours over 3 falls in succession and separated by hanging pools. All eight of us bombed the into the first falls blindly and confident.

I remember coming over lip and felt fate take hold of my kayak as it plugged deep. From the darkness I came to the surface in a left brace and quickly oriented myself in the boiling pool. Paddling to my left, I wasted no time in propelling myself to the second falls. I threw some hard strokes and waited paddle ready for the perfect moment. I grabbed the lip with my paddle blade and found myself flying airborne into the mist and landing with a stylish "boof". Like candy to my senses, I couldn't suppress a joyous woop and fist pump. The last falls iced an already frosted cake and I couldn't get enough as we paddled away.

A congregation of us giddy in a hanging pool on the East Beaver

We left the river and the brotherhood of 8 paddlers walked the train tracks to the awaiting shuttle. We all quickly drove over to Glenn Avon Falls on the West Fork of the Beaver before the soggy cold set in. Three brave paddlers took on the violent thrashing of Glenn Avon. It's a drop of such violence and distance I won't go into length to further described it for fear of using multiple pages. Watching Joerg passing through the exploding walls of water with his helmet clearly unstrapped and useless nearly gave me an ulcer.

Avoiding disaster, the day light waned in the western horizon. I drove home in the darkness replaying the day in my mind. I the remembrance would remain preserved and the satisfaction having fed my soul its sustenance.