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!