Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Redemption: The Cascade River

The waters of lake superior presided over the horizon's expanse; a the landscape whose view was framed by the bounds of my truck tailgate. I emerged into the scene before me, sat behind the wheel, and headed to the local greasy spoon to fuel up, caffeinate, and ascertain the paddling plans for the day. At a variety of paces the crew gradually awoke and when we had all amassed the consensus pointed to the Cascade River.

The Cascade looms in the minds of paddlers across the country as one of the most classic and highly respected class V runs on the Northern Shores of Lake Superior. The river's character is bipolar in that it is harshly unforgiving to those that don't heed its demands and yet so immensely rewarding to all who walk from its banks. Steeped in lore, the Cascade has dealt of some of the worst beat downs on the North Shore (some of which I had already witnessed).

Cascade from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Chris Baer's helmet cam footage of the Cascade... check it out

At this point, I had never completed a full run down the Cascade. 2 years prior my season had been ended by it, and I hiked my boat from it's banks less than a mile into the run. Now as we checked the level (-2) I swallowed hard, keeping the nerves in my stomach and fighting them from getting into my head. It was a level higher than I had previously run. As a creeker, to claim that nervousness is not a part of your daily diet would be a lie. Nerves keep you honest and they keep you safe... and yet other times they keep your from your potential. It is a slippery game we play both listening and ignoring the heedings of our unconcious.  But as we drove to the put it, I hung my hat on the daily paddling I had amassed and the confidence I had built. I quieted my mind's thoughts and let go. It was my day for redemption....

Readied for battle at the put in included the solid crew of Chris Baer, Tango, Jason Stingl, Joel Decker, and McMurray.  Putting in below Hidden Falls, I went about setting safety in the pool below the heinous drop for the more daring of our crew. Hidden Falls is perhaps the most consequential and frequently run drop on the North Shore. It is a snaking 100 yard slide that dishes out insane boat speeds. Meanwhile  it erupts in a final roostering explosion of water that leaves paddlers rolling dice as to how how they will fare in the grand finale... finishing the drop in pissed-off, eat-your-face hole.  To add to the fun, it's only exit is flanked by a veil of dagger-like icicles hanging from a low tree branch. Those who had the gumption to run Hidden Falls had varying success. We all felt bad as McMurray carried his boat from the shores of the Cascade his shoulder feeling ominously painful.

With one less member we pushed on. "Discretion", a class V technical slide provided the initiatory introduction to the Cascade for the year. I slid over it's horizon line and braced left off a strong seam and laid a determined stroke to pound through the final and hungry hole.

Bracing through "Discretion"

 Moving a 75 yards down stream another horizon line loomed. The drop known as "Moose Rock" loomed. I knew the line, but had yet to have a good result out of it. The drop was a technical slide divided by a large rock in the center, forcing one to decide over the more technical banking left line in which the river feeds easily into, or fighting the river onto the right line and over a more straight forward slide.

I pushed on in the back of the crew and thought I would drive for the right line. But as the scene accelerated my decision became less than favorable. It was too late, I turned for plan B but I was sailing for an impact with moose rock. I let go of my paddle, put out a frantic arm, and stiff armed the dark rock. I immediately slid into the rushing slide, one hand on my paddle, and before I could regain my grip the waters banked violently. My boat threatened to flip, and I thrust my right arm out for stabilization. I felt it dragging down the jagged slide on my elbow. I pushed off the bottom, stabilized my boat, and regain my paddle grip in time to plug through a final hole. I could feel cold water on my throbbing elbow. My elbow pad was turned sideways on my arm and a gash in my drysuit was apparent. I quickly jumped out of my boat, made a quick duck tape repair and rejoined the crew, brushing off the soreness.

The time came for me to decide, was I mentally capable for the rest of the run; could I pull myself together. With the encouragement of the crew I pushed on into the unknown. Its times as these in which you rely on the paddlers you surround yourself with. They knew me well, they knew my capabilities.... their confidence and optimism quenched any self-doubt that Moose Rock may have planted. One by one we picked through the multitude of drops; my paddling growing more confident with each.

flowings. I banked up high onto the pile and braced right. I was spit from the chaos into a calm pool and in one fluid motion flipped and rolled up instantaneously. I smiled, giddy with adrenaline and could see it on the faces of my friends.

Amongst the Melee of "Long John Silver"

Paddling onward, my body and mind relaxed... the run was tapering off. We all busted through "Screaming Stingl" along side it's name sake. We cringed at the abuse I boats took scraping down  the manky slide known as "cheese grater". I stepped from the river smiling amongst the blue skies and rays of sunlight... I had redeemed the Cascade.

The firelight lit the night at paradise beach. Being that it was Friday the community was rallying in impressive attendance for the weekend. Twenty or more paddlers settled about the beach with the exchange of man-hugs from familiar faces and handshakes from the newer faces. A crew from Pacific Northwest arrived to add to buzzing camp. The energy was building in the heart of the community.  You could feel a warming excitement, blazing like the camp fire that stayed lit late into the night. I retired to my slumber in anticipation of the days ahead and fell deeply into dream.

No comments: