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.
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.