Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Familiarity of the Devil Track River

The twilight was falling upon the waters, and one by one the stars put holes the growing darkness.  Upon the gravel shores of Lake Superior a fellowship was amassing. The waters continued to leap heartily in the creeks of the North Shore, and spoke to the hearts of all those wielding a paddle. Escaping from the urban persuasion came the Twin cities paddlers to join their Northern Minnesota neighbors. Further yet, the paddling Nomads from Colorado and the Pacific Northwest had to come to the shores.  As whitewater brethren, we each came to answer the call, drawn inexplicably to the waters and united in our celebration of them. The the fire burned late into the night, the beer stayed plentiful, and the laughter was hearty.

Awaking to the sun's demanding light, I rolled from the bed of my truck into the morning air. A quick poll amongst the camp's different factions confirmed that today's paddling menu would contain the coveted Devil Track River. After a lengthy breakfast, I arrived at the put-in late, but in the nick of time. 15 paddlers suited up along the river's banks. I frantically threw my gear on and as the crew was divided into smaller individual groups.  I found myself thrust into the lead, guiding the Pacific Northwest paddlers on their virgin run of the Devils Track River. Putting on was Chris Baer, Scotty Baker, Dan Mentin, Jason, and myself as the final crew down. Only 4 seasons prior I stood trembling with nervous anticipation for my own first run down the Devil Track. Much had changed since those early days, sliding from the snow filled banks into the rivers path I felt confident....the Devil Track had become a familiar journey.

I gave some quick directions in the early beginnings of the run, as the Pacific Northwest crew's enthusiasm was uncontainable as they paddled onward ahead of me. Myself and Baer hung round the back of the group, and as we rounded a tight right corner to be greeted by an ominous scene. A large bridge of ice had formed between mid river boulders and river had begun to flow underneath with 3 inches of clearance from the water line. There sat Dan Mentin with the bow of his boat stuffed under the ice sieve, hands pushing on the ice, and fighting flushing completely under the ice. Meanwhile, Jason was out of his boat atop one of the boulders fishing Dan out. I quickly made way around the ice sieve and by the time I had eddied out, thankfully, Dan had been safely extracted without incident.The Devil Track declared its unforgiving nature. We took heed and paddled cautiously onward.

Arriving at the formidable triple drop, the two crews ahead of us had amassed on the banks eying a moderate sized tree clogging the entry to the first drop. Like ants we swarmed into action, the 15 of us in various roles lasso-ed the log and began hauling it out. With the log cleared, one by one each dropped into the first two tiers of triple drop.

Tony Nigon killing it on Triple Drop. Note the tiny figurine atop the first falls (gives perspective)
Photo Credit: Chris Baer!

Being the last group to arrive Iwas one of the last paddler's to drop in. Charging for the first drop, I  fought rightward, going over the lip poised for an attempt to pull the bow up, however knowing that in all likelihood my attempts at any sort of a boof would fail on the sliding falls. I entered the vertical world and plunged into the oncoming water 18 ft below me and darkness shrouded my vision. M the pool below upright, smiling, and covered in foam.

y boat and I emerged in the hanging pool pushed against the pool's wall. I fought my way back into the flow and worked my way toward the second sliding falls... below the crew awaited. I plunged over the 25 ft sliding falls whilst the world accelerated with vigor and I welcomed oncoming hit. I emerged in
And so we picked are way down the classic drop's of the Devil's Track banking through Serpents slide, Hammering into "Portage Down the Middle". We all took to the fromidable portage up to the canyon rim and around the unrunnable pitch fork falls. Instead of strenuously walking the boats back down the narrow gully to the river 200 ft (?) below, we each elected to chuck our boats down the ravine confident in their ability to stand up to impacts with the trees. However Baer decided he would walk his boat down away's before letting her loose. I was downhill when he let the boat go and I quickly stepped aside at his exclamation. The boat barrelled 10 yards downhill before glancing off a tree and coming for me. I took a direct hit to my my thigh and took me out by the legs. I lay on the ground cursing in pain and stood up findings myself battered but still intact. I knew the next days I would likely be sore ones.

We made our way down the river found the joy of puckering our sphincter's on "Ski Jump" and "Up Against the Wall". I came to know the satisfaction of introducing paddlers a new river, and found myself reliving the experience of a virgin run on the Devil Track through their broad smiles. And so the run ended with a living metaphor as the river opened up to the expanse of Lake Superior. You could sense the great opening as the flowing waters merged with seemingly unending horizon of water. Every time I make this transition,  I feel a sense of what the river to heaven might be like.

And so with bustling enthusiasm we came again to the shores, with the usual adrenaline hyped conversation reminiscent of boyhood sugar-highs. As the sun completed it's day's journey, we retreated back to the our paradise on the beach and resumed the celebration. Bloated with satisfaction we toasted beers to the day's success, meanwhile darkness fell about the lapping waves.

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