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.