Monday, August 27, 2012

Of Comrades and The Boof Kanal

I took to the familiar road from Billings, following highway 212 into the Southwest and driving in thoughtful silence. Ahead the Beartooth Mountains filled the horizon amongst the cloudless blue sky. In the high country, only faint remnants of snow were to be found; inhabiting only the shadowed gullies. The summer heat hung oppressively about the land, and dissolved any remaining snow pack. Thus the creeks lost their roaring song and gradually quieted.

As the water began to wane, we had taken to the dam released West Rosebud and basked in its supplemented flows. Every weekend crews from hours away congregated for what remained of the high quality runs in South-Central Montana. The West Rosebud became another friend in whose waters I routinely found an inextinguishable smile. On the river's shore I shared beers and laughter with new faces; united by the shared lust for whitewater.

Myself amongst the West Rosebud with Nate Winning, Aaron Mulkey, and Dave Benkley in close succession

But even then, the changing season could not be suppressed, and the heat persisted in dwindling even West Rosebud.  And so myself and Nate Winning scrambled to find some parcel of water to satisfy our insatiable hunger for the river. While flying about the country-side by way of air plane, Nate had spotted some whitewater amongst one of the numerous irrigation canals that wandered about the rolling countryside. Upon investigation a worthy endeavor was born.

I drove onward through the rolling hills of parched and golden grass rolling in the wind. I was aware of an aching stiffness in my knee, which sought to remind me of my swim two weeks earlier. But today would be clean and gleeful joy, as I sped for the "Boof Kanal". The newly christened irrigation ditch was so named in light of its (approximate) 13 artificially created pour-overs of 2-7 feet in height. It was a 7 minute run of silly fun, and with a 10 minute walk for lapping.

As pavement transitioned to the rumble of gravel amongst rolling rubber, ahead on the hillside crept the canal. Stepping from a truck parked along the banks came Nate with a welcoming expression. I was grateful for good company and waters to paddle.

I had discovered that the community of paddlers inhabiting this section of the Beartooths was rather scarce if not fractured. To my good fortune Nate Winning had same intentions as myself: to paddle every given moment so long as any water remained. And thus we had a steadfast paddling partnership.

In my experience, men have a way of becoming entangled in masculine posturing much to our own fault. Often this "machismo" distracts and degrades the experience of whitewater to an unsightly superficiality. I had the good fortune of learning to paddle in the Midwest where humility is an upheld virtue, and I was concerned if I could replicate this and find like minded paddlers in my new home.

The bond between paddlers is unlike that of any sport I have experienced. The dynamics of a group can make or break a run. Your safety is placed on the shoulders of those paddlers you go to the river with. But over the course of a season, with countless laps with the same paddling friends there develops a mutual understanding. Communication on the river is reduced to mere facial expression or glance as the details can be read from them. There is nothing to prove and the male competitive tendencies fade... your paddling comrades know you and your abilities. If you get beat down, there is no judgement for it. When one is successful there is no brooding jealousy, only a celebration.

And so from countless river laps, spread across 3 states.... I found the same the same shared understanding, philosophy, and trust in Montana as I had known in my Midwestern homeland.

Nate and I scurried to the banks of the Boof Kanal and found refuge from the mid-day sun's oppressive heat amongst the fertile waters. In the midst of a backdrop of the flowing golden grasslands, we could be seen taking flight over artificial water falls; laughing amongst our personal paradise of waters amongst a dry and thirsty landscape.......

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Stillwater River

As the sun breathed it's fiery breath upon the Beartooth Mountain's high country, the waters began their migration and the Spring paddling season was born. It was a stark transition from paddling in my homeland of Duluth where Class V creeks and drops lie within the city limits. But from my new Billings the Beartooths loomed distant in the horizon and thus whitewater flowed an hour South and West. But working an inhumane 75 hours a week in the hospital was eating at my soul. I felt one dimensional and disconnected. Thus was born a ravenous hunger for the river as an desperate cure for a life of growing apathy.

Within near reach was the Stillwater river and became a staple in my after work paddling. Nearly an hour and half away the Stillwater powerfully roared through the Beartooth Mountains before meandering through the grassy foot hills of Yellowstone River Valley before converging with the Yellowstone River itself. The Stillwater Drainage is one of the larger of the Beartooth's and thus run as moderate flows of 1500-3000 cfs through much of the spring. In high Spring flows it provides Class IV-V big water delight, while at low flows the upper stretches contain Class V tight creeking. Thus the river is a versatile run through the changing seasons.

Over the course of the season the Stillwater became a familiar friend and a savior. The rushing waters song muted the noisy demands of the turning world. Whitewater became a meditative dance between me and the river, and my toil away from the river became only a mere distraction. Each day I left the river in the looming dusk, nourished and lit with a renewed flame of vitality. I thankfully drove home smiling into the glowing horizon.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

From Past to Present Tense

The thralls of life have put me quite behind in the tales of this spring. And while there are stories the will forever remain in my memory, a shortage of time has stripped my ability to convey them in written words.

In the interest of capturing the present while it remains in foreground of my thoughts rather than a distant recapturing of moments gone by.... I will be skipping ahead to the present. Thus my spring including trips to the Selway, Lochsa, Lower Clarks Fork, The Pot's, Woodbine, and the many forks of rock creek will remain to be documented in video only sans the infamous GoPro(coming soon).

In the mean time stay tuned for posts on more current adventures...

Why The Blog?

After reading a few other's blogs and seeing the darker faces of their authorship... I felt the need to explain origins and intent of this blog.

I will first admit, the title of this blog in itself is seemingly egotistical and frankly somewhat lame, but at this point is difficult to change to something perhaps more metaphorical.

Despite the egotism of the title the reasons I began writing is far from attention seeking. The reason I began writing in the space was because of an overflowing. How do you communicate the daily awe that nourishes you? How do you describe to a stranger the joys of your life? We all have a story to be told. But in starting this blog, my intent was never that I needed to be heard, but rather to fill the need for stories told in a catharses of joy. And so it is that I write not necessarily for the benefit of other's, but for the benefit of myself and the documentation of treasured memories.

In the meantime, friends, family, acquaintances, fellow paddlers may perhaps find entertainment, identification, inspiration in reading my stories. I am happy that my words could possibly gift others in this way, but is secondary to my intentions for writing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Thaw: Hood River

The truck drove through the depths of the night and outside the range of the headlights the silohette of the cascade range loomed and the Columbia river shimmered in the moonlight. It had been 8 months since I had been graced by a river and now sought just that. Slowly the morning twilight was broken by the twinkling street lights of Hood River. We traveled in our chariot manifested in the form of 1 ton truck laden with four creek boats, four playboats, and four hungry paddlers. Amidst the quaint downtown we found a lush lawn beside a local windsurf shop to unabashedly lay out and sleep for the remainder of the morning. In the dew filled morning, we sleepily found breakfast and mounted our chariot headed for the city of White Salmon and met with Brian, who had newly migrated from Minnesota to White Salmon.

After gathering our senses and putting together our gear we made way for our first endeavor... the Wind River. Putting on I was unaware what to expect from the river nor myself. My left pinky finger was fitted with a plastic brace as it was only marginally healed from it's recent fracture. Two rapids in and already rolled, I pealed into an eddy and tore of the brace... it was impeding my paddling. The sun shone down on us, as rapid by rapid, we pounded out the winter's rust.

We left the river satisfied and arriving at our lodgings we celebrated our adventures. Guitar and song rang out in a warm garage amongst ample beer, good cheer, and new friends. When morning arrived we mustered a run on the middle stretch of the White Salmon for a tame warm up and were disappointed to find Husum Falls choked with a unfriendly log in the land zone. We chilled by the riverside and awaited another long time Midwestern friend, Andy McMurray, to arrive. Our intent was to tackle the farmlands section of the White Salmon. Admittedly I knew little about the run other than it was mostly class IV in nature. As Andy arrived and shuttle was rapidly set we sped for the put in. With Mt Adams looming in the distant background I was surprised to find that the White Salmon River slowly dropping into once lava tube. I quick seal launch into the river found me walled in amongst dark igneous rock. The daylight was waining and what was left was dim amongst the low ceiling of clouds. We picked out way through drops carefully aware of dangerous logs wedged in river.

The gorge walls continued to rise up and soon we were locked in. The river maintained it's class IV character but the was becoming less friendly to any mistakes. With Andy in the lead and myself close behind we pounded through a bit of a hole and eddied out awaiting the rest of the group. Unfortunately the next of our group paddled into the hole and stern ended and flipped. After attempting to roll, he was out of his boat. I laid chase to his gear as Andy ferried our companion to what little of a rocky perch could be obtained in the gorge. I desperately grabbed his paddle and threw it ashore. We off for the boat with Andy right behind me. As I rounded a corner my eyes grew wide. There ahead the river dived under a large log and had a deathly character. Andy belted out unintelligible words as I battled for a must make eddy. For a small instant I though I might miss the eddy, but threw every I had into my strokes and sighed as found solace in the small eddy. The boat washed downstream meanwhile our paddler stood helplessly on a small parcel of rock. He picked his way up the moss drenched rock face and we found relief when his face poked out from the gorge's rim. But alas his paddle remained stranded as the rest of us paddle downstream pressed for time.We each rolled under a log barely passable and when the gorge finally ended we promptly hiked ourselves out in paddlers walk of shame. It was oddly metaphorical as we walked across a charred and blacked field still smoking to the roadside. We chuckled at our own ridiculousness and the boondoggle that had just ensued.

Unfortunately on way our back to our lodgings, we mourned the loss of our companions boat and paddle... his trip was seemily over. The next morning we gather up some climbing gear and prepare to rappel into the gorge to recover the paddle. As I was harnessed and ready tying off my anchor with rope readied to rappel, when a white truck pulled up. I disgruntled farmer sternly exclaimed, no one is going into that gorge on my property! I didn't argue as anger raged inside me. We sulked back to our lodgings and salvaged the day with a joyful playboat run on the Hood River finished off by burgers, beer, and a splash of whiskey.

The next morning Brian and I went back up to the Farmlands section and with Nate Herbeck to lead the way as we paddled into the dark gorge again, intent upon our companions forsaken gear. When we reached it, awaiting at the gorge rim he tossed a rope down. We tied off the paddle and he happily retrieved it.

We made our way through the gorge without incident and as the gorge waned we rounded a corner to see an orange kayak stranded on a gravel shoal. Elated we towed our companions boat and were excited to recover what had been lost. The river had mercy on us.

The morning after retrieving the boat we cut our losses and said goodbye to Hood River and pointed our beast of a truck eastward. We stopped along the way home to bathe our kayaks in the waters of both the South Fork of the Clear Water and the Lochsa before returning homeward.

It was the beginning of a season of water and the initial baptism of the spring season proved harsh and yet refreshing. And driving home with the horizon the beartooth mountains beside me, I felt the anticipation. So much yet to be explored and a new home for my kayaking.

Many Thanks to Brian O'Neil, Andy McMurray, Nate & Heather Herbeck, and Jo Kemper for making us welcome in Hood!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Winter's Gift

The winds turned cold and the leaves fell from branches as the masks of the season changed to fall. As the first snows came to the nearby peaks of the Beartooth mountains, our nearby ski community was blessed with ample snow. Early storms blanketed Red Lodge in beautiful veil of white. Meanwhile, in Billings snow was more or less a fleeting beauty. As winter's cold grasp came to the land, it came to pass that my ski's lived perpetually in my truck. On every opportunity I could muster I found myself on the slopes and often meddling in the side country of Red Lodge.

Watch my winter of Red Lodge side-country!!!! 

The winter depths of snow came to be a welcomed friend and the mountains loomed with adventures. I became addicted to tight powder filled trees; dodging their trunks at high speeds. I came to understand the addiction that is powder. Amongst my most memorable days of skiing came from my day of back country skiing and skinning in Cooke City. There we climbed and nearly 5000 vertical feet of untouched powder. The winter was a transition, as nordic skiing was largely unobtainable in any reasonable quality. If I were to exert myself on skis then it may has well have been in the interest of powder turns. And so skinning up the mountain and working for my turns slowly took the place of nordic racing this year. But the winter only seemed moderately cold to a harden Minnesotan and back in Billings I found myself commuting by way of bicycle nearly year round.

With each season comes a renewed thankfulness for its gifts and yet a longing for the next. The warmth slowly crept back to the land. As the winter's grasp loosened, I came to be grateful  for the meditative silence of winter and the lightness of powder under foot .