Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Finally won the Glenwood Ender

First off, I should mention that I don't think Natalie has ever NOT won at this event. This is the third annual Glenwood Ender, and Natalie has won the women's class 3 times. It's been a small field for the women's class but this is still pretty impressive. Before I started bragging about how well I did, I just figured I should give some credit where credit was due.

Well, now that that's out of the way: I totally won! Hell yeah! Every year, I've moved up a little bit in the rankings. Mostly that's because at the inaugural event Jonny Meyers, Jed Selby, and Conor Flynn were all there to beat me. At the second event, Conor was in Japan, and Jed Selby was too scared to show his face, so only Jonny beat me. This year, Jonny broke his back, but Conor came back from Japan, so it was down to me vs. Conor. I was further aided by the fact that the publicity for the Glenwood Ender didn't really take off this year, so there was a pretty small crowd of competitors. If anything, that just made the event more fun.

Before I start in with the detailed account of the mighty battle that took place, here is a slideshow of some of my favorite photos from the event.

Conor Flynn eyes the competition. Gwood Ender 2010

Considering the fact that this is the last event of the season (hence the name; it's a season ender) the flows were much higher than I expected. However, this made the hole pretty tough. Previous years, the levels have been lower, which made the hole flushier. At these levels, the hole was quite sticky, almost too sticky. It was hard to climb up the pile away from the green water to set up moves. However, in the immortal words of the event organizer, Ty Newton: "Sticky is good, right? Helps you stick your moves." (Those words were uttered just moments before swimming out of a particularly sticky playspot.)

Ty "Shingles" Newton. Gwood Ender 2010

The high water levels must have been quite intimidating for the huge ton of little kids that showed up. The pro class might have been a little thin, but this was more than balanced by the junior and cadet classes. The Kellogg family circus showed up. They're a family with 10 kids, and as far as I could tell, they all paddle. I was amazed. This single family probably made up about half of the whole competition. Furthermore, I was keeping track of the scores, and I think that every one of those Kellogg kids managed to beat their dad. In a few years, these kids will be crushing the whole Colorado scene.

The dad, Conor and I watch the gaggle of young paddlers. Gwood Ender 2010

Speaking of crushing, here's how the competition went down. In prelims, I had a couple relatively solid rides. I started with the fonix monkey each time, since that was a more technical move and a little harder to set up for. Once that was stuck, it was a hard battle to get far enough up the pile for another move, so I mostly finished off the rides with minor moves. I managed to place first in prelims, with Conor right behind me. His fonix monkey was not as strong as mine.

The junior and cadet classes were right after the pro prelims, so a couple of us stayed in the water for safety, although it was completely unneeded. In the junior class, Max Karlsson of the Swedish Junior Freestyle team took first, and in the cadet class, the Kelloggs completely took over.

Conor, Ty and I killing time between rounds.
Photo by Nico Rienaecker. Gwood Ender 2010

After the kiddie classes came the ladies. The women's class was very small this year. There were only three women. There were almost four. We convinced Shaina to come down from CSU to the Ender, but once she got there, she refused to enter. The nerve! Anyway, of these three, Natalie was the only pro, so it was no real surprise that she won, but she still put together a great show for the crowd, including her first ever competition mcnasty.

Natalie loops to victory. Again. Photo by Nico Rienaecker. Gwood Ender 2010

Finally, after sitting in the eddy getting psyched up through the other classes, it was time for finals. There were 4 paddlers in finals: me, Conor, Ty, and the hometown hero Phil Nylund. I was super pumped up for that first ride, and put together a pretty good routine. I managed a fonix monkey, a mcnasty, and I think an orbit also. I might have done both mcnasties, but I can't quite remember. Conor knew the heat was on, and threw some nice air under his loops, but wasn't able to keep his fonix monkey straight enough to impress the judges. Then, out of nowhere, Ty managed to bust out the loop to orbit combo. It was completely unintentional, but it was textbook precise. He was super lucky.

Conor cartwheels in finals. Gwood Ender 2010

Ty throws a loop. Notice that Natalie's loop was larger. Gwood Ender 2010

This put Ty ahead of Conor (and me ahead of both of them), and Conor started freaking out. He was sprinting around the eddy, grinding his teeth, and swearing a blue streak. He grabbed this big stick and broke it right in half. A raft full of fishermen came past in the boat chute, and Conor paddled up to them, pulled out his river knife, and sank 'em! Man, he was pissed. Alright, I may have exaggerated some of that, but the point is, Conor was so surprised by Ty's move that his whole game was out of whack. He wasn't able to regain his focus enough to get that fonix monkey straightened out enough to score. The final order was me in first, Ty in second, and Conor in third.

Leif wins! Gwood Ender 2010

All the podium finishers from the various classes, at the afterparty at Moe's.
Photo by Nico Rienaecker. Gwood Ender 2010

Now, to continue the glorious tradition of the original event, here are a couple pictures of people looking awkward.

Phil does some freestyle dance in finals. 10 for artistic impression! Gwood Ender 2010

My former instructor Peter Benedict shows that he took more time organizing the event than he did training. Gwood Ender 2010

Ty with one of his less successful lunar orbit attempts. Gwood Ender 2010

There is a video of the competition at the Kellogg Show which has footage of all the competitors. Natalie's mcnasty is at about 5:25.

Big thanks to Ty Newton for being the main organizer of the event, and of course all the sponsors, like Harley Davidson, Alpine Bank, and CRMS. We'll see you next year. I'll try to hold on to first again, and now Natalie officially has a streak to defend. Hopefully I didn't just jinx her.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Low Water strikes again!

I've written a detailed blow by blow account of this trip, but there's also a slideshow, with a few extra photos.

Seems like just a few months ago that we were lamenting the low low water across the state of Colorado. Well, time flows in circles I guess, because here we are again in the shoulder season, back in school, with nothing to run. A series of long weekends caught up with Natalie and I, and we found ourselves stuck near home for a weekend, with only one day free to paddle.

"Nothing to run" - ha! I laugh in the face of low water. A few years back, Natalie and I drove up from Glenwood Springs to Fort Collins to run the Big South, and during the drive the discharge from the reservoir was turned down to just 20 cfs. We still had a great time, although it was a very long day. Checking the gauges this particular weekend, I noticed that they were letting loose about 50 cfs from the reservoir! Hot dog! We secured a shuttle driver (Natalie Beckman - sorry for any confusion) and got a nice early 10:00 start.

On the way up, we stopped off at Ted's Place for gas and met up with a pair of kayakers. There's been a bit of controversy surrounding this low water run on mountainbuzz.com, so I've decided to give pseudonyms to the two other paddlers. (I think that one poster said that taking a first timer down the Big South was like "taking the lord's name in vein" - worse than religion AND drugs, in other words.) I shall call our companions Duder and Buddy, as in "Duder was right behind me a second ago," and "Woah Buddy! Don't flip over there!"

Buddy and Duder, anonymity protected. Full Album

While inspecting their unconventional boat transportation system, we found that Duder and Buddy were planning a low water run down the Narrows. I managed to recruit them with my glowing descriptions of the Big South. "Imagine the Narrows with rapids," I told them. "And longer!" Plus we had Natalie B. as a shuttle driver.

Those poor fools. It was so low that it wasn't even manky. It was on the low side of "dew on the rocks," and any dew there might have been had dried up with the morning sun. Our paddles were mostly used to lever our boats up and over rocks. There wasn't enough water to plant an entire stroke in. Ironically, Buddy flipped over in one spot because it was too rocky to brace.

Duder does a little hand paddling near the bottom of Primetime Gorge. Full Album

They might have advertised 50 cfs, but it definitely felt like less. I had hoped on more water coming in from side streams, but the ground is mighty dry this time of year, and the naturally flowing tributaries are almost nonexistent. We were glad with our decision to put in at Peterson Lake and skip the extra couple miles of flatrocks (like flatwater, but without all the water).

Natalie boofs. Full Album

Even with super low water, better to be in your boat than at your desk, so we still had a blast. Fortunately for us, there are still a couple rapids to be had, even at low water. The waterfalls are all still there, and most of them get taller at low water, since there is less water in the landing pool. When we got to Double Trouble, the signature Big South drop, we were so psyched up that Natalie and I both had to run it twice. Double double laps on Double trouble! It was starting to look like a triple waterfall, if you know what I mean.

Natalie's first Double Trouble lap. Full Album

Leif on Double Trouble. Photo by Duder. Full Album

Duder runs the first drop, which was hard to boof. This angle was pretty sketchy. I almost fell in the river. Full Album

Natalie on the second drop, which is pretty much an autoboofer at this level. Full Album

Double Trouble was definitely the main event, but there was still some action to be had. Most of that action was down at Slideways, but we were a little amused by how different Pincushion was at superlow water. Normally the move is a sliding boof to the left side. At our flows, the whole rapid was reduced to a six inch wide slide down a rocky chute with a big boulder backing up the landing pool. Natalie had an okay line but pitoned into the boulder in the landing. When I ran it, it went so bad that Duder and Buddy decided to portage. I won't go into the details. In hindsight, we might have been able to run an alternate channel over on the left.

Natalie dropping into Pincushion. Full Album

Slideways was the next steep drop that we shot. I picked out a line over in the river left channel, but it turned out to be a little sketchy, with a narrow pinch that sort of grabbed my boat a little too much. The normal line was so low that it was pretty much a seal launch. For those of you that don't know the Big South, here is the normal line at normal flows.

Natalie seal launches. Full Album

Duder and Buddy took a different line. Full Album

After the scenic entry to Slideways, the rapid normally zigzags a bit and drops into a moderate hole against the left wall. At low flows, this hole becomes a surprisingly tall pourover.

Natalie boofs the pourover. Full Album

The entry to this pourover is pretty tricky, with several rocks that want to bounce you the wrong way. Duder was next up, and had a little bobble at the top, but pulled it together for the boof.

Duder. Full Album

Before Buddy went, I gave him all kinds of complicated beta, about aiming left and hitting one rock in order to bounce into another rock correctly. It totally backfired. He bounced off a rock over on the right side and got thrown into the rockpile on the left. He pinned there long enough for me to take a photo or two and give some encouragement ("You got it, Buddy!") Before he flushed backwards through the rockpile.

Woah Buddy! Full Album

You might be imagining yourself pinned in that rockpile, and if you're like most people, you are probably imagining yourself in a somewhat nervous state. Perhaps you might even have felt the cold drip of fear beginning to trickle down your neck. I zoomed in on my photo of Buddy pinned, and found that Buddy is not like most people. If his expression had been a little less angry and a little more confused, I might have even quipped that he didn't know the meaning of the word "fear".

Fear? I think not. Full Album

Flush Full Album

Past Slideways, we started to take fewer photos, since the temperature was starting to drop. There were a couple more fun little drops before reaching the normal takeout. Natalie and Buddy decided to take the trail, while Duder and I pushed on all the way through the final Curtain Call gorge. The exit to Curtain Call was as fun as ever, but we didn't take any photos. I couldn't resist snapping a quick shot of the Curtain Call entrance, though, since I think few paddlers have actually laid eyes on the drop. Thinking back to several years ago, I'm pretty sure that the upper part of the rapid has changed, for the better. Some of the sieves have collapsed and filled in a little, making the rapid much less frightening to behold. However, "better" is a long way from "good to go," and we portaged with no hesitation.

Yes, definitely better than it was. Full Album

When we climbed out at the Big South trailhead, we found that our shuttle driver Natalie B. had arrived in the 5 minutes or so that Natalie K. and Buddy had been waiting for us. All in all, the trip went off without a hitch, and I can't wait to do it again.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

As has become usual for our blog, I will include a slideshow first, so that those with short attention spans will be captivated by the pretty pictures. The captions tell most of the story below.

Natalie, Conor and I first ran the Black Canyon back in 2007 or 2008. We showed up, found out that our shuttle/guide had backed out, but decided to run it anyway. With the shuttle complications, we didn't get to putin until about 1:00, and although we had a great day on the water, the portage wrecked us. We had no idea where the trail was, and it took forever. We finally limped into camp about an hour after dark, only to find that cave camp was already occupied by some other paddlers. Basically, it was epic, and we all told ourselves the many things we would do differently if we ever came back. Of course, none of us would be coming back until the memory of that heinous portage faded away.

Flash forward several years (I can't say exactly how many, because my memory has faded a bit). Nothing is running but Gore, the Mwave and the Black Canyon, and Natalie and I have a 3 (or maybe 4) day weekend. After some long debates, we decided to return to that cursed crack in the earth and carry heavy boats for a mile through poison ivy. This time, I started training early. Every evening, I would wait until after dark, then put a couple rocks in my creekboat and practice climbing up and over the roof of our house with the loaded boat on my shoulder while Natalie whipped me (to simulate the poison ivy). I was ready for the portage.

If by "training" you meant "fall asleep trying to do homework"... Black Canyon 2010

Okay, I may have exaggerated the amount of training I did, but the main point here is that we did the Black Canyon. Unfortunately, Conor had to work, so we brought Nathan Werner instead, and called him Conor Jr throughout the trip. We spent the first day of our trip ripping up the Mwave as a warmup. (We'll have a post with our best Mwave photos at the end of the Mwave season.) Then early saturday morning (early - That was lesson #1) we payed our entrance fee and drove down to putin.

Nathan trying to find room for a camp chair in his boat. Black Canyon 2010

We made good time through the rapids, despite the somewhat low levels (it was running about 600 cfs). Soon we were deep between the canyon walls, glad with our decision to return.

Just a few rapids left before the portage. Black Canyon 2010

Natalie Kramer, Ballcrusher. Black Canyon 2010

The last rapid before the infamous portage is "The Falls"; an 18 foot curtain waterfall with a rock on one side of the landing. With the low levels, Natalie and Nathan were a little dubious about the high consequence boof, but I was fired up after watching Natalie nail Ballcrusher just upstream. I shimmied out to the lip of the falls and decided that I wanted to give it a shot. It went great. The water was just deep enough that the rock couldn't grab me, and I launched a pretty good boof. I was especially impressed when I was scouting to notice that the thin ribbon of water going off the falls had been flowing there for so many eons that it had eroded a trough about 3 inches deep in the rock of the lip.

Monkey arm off "The Falls" Black Canyon 2010

After that little burst of excitement, we started the dreaded portage. We had planned ahead this time. Last time, we brought tyvek suits to ward off the poison ivy, but long story short, they didn't work at all. It's hard to find a disposable suit that covers your ankles when you're 6'7". This time, we lathered up with biodegradable dish soap before starting, to help deter the poison ivy oils. Also, we had gotten a lot better beta about the route through the portage. Stick near the wall, right from the start. It may sometimes look worse, but having tried both routes, I can assure you that the wall is the way to go. Even with this superior route, it was a pretty long portage, but we just kept truckin' until we reached cave camp - before dark this time.

Before starting the portage. Black Canyon 2010

3/4 of the way through the portage. Black Canyon 2010

Once we arrived, we washed off the sweat and soap and enjoyed a delicious dinner of mashed potatoes and dehydrated chicken teriyaki before collapsing into bed. Except me. I had brought my quantum field theory textbook with me in hopes of getting some reading done, so I stayed up a little later.

Reading one last chapter from the QFT book before breakfast. Black Canyon 2010

Nathan lost in the day 2 portage. Black Canyon 2010

In the morning, we got up and portaged some more. That's what I love about this Black Canyon portage. It's a two day portage. The cool new thing to do is to run the last waterfall of the portage, but when we looked at it, Natalie said that I couldn't do it. I figure it was probably because I had accidentally brought my zero degree offset paddle, which is just not quite right for boofing into narrow slots. I grumbled a little, but a couple miles downstream, when we got to Great Falls, (the other "new waterfall") we all agreed that somehow it looked a lot more possible, so I fired it up.

Firing up great falls. Black Canyon 2010

After Great Falls, shuttle began to worry us. We had gone with a sort of free-form shuttle option. In fact, we hadn't even decided where we were going to take out. There's the 600 foot climb out at Chukar trail, or there's the long flatwater paddle through the Gunny Gorge to Pleasure Park. We stopped for lunch at the Chukar trail takeout, and decided that the creepy name of the Pleasure Park was just a little too weird, so we would go for the hike out.

Not much traffic for that hitchhiking plan... Black Canyon 2010

If stark desert beauty could have filled our stomachs, maybe we would have been a lot less cranky during that long afternoon. Chukar trail was dead. There were a bunch of cars, but we could tell from their parking permits that none of them would be leaving that day. We settled in for a long wait.

...yeah, not much traffic at all... Black Canyon 2010

The wait got longer, and we busted out the cellphone we had packed, to beg for shuttle from every montrose paddler we knew - Alex and Milo. We quickly realized that we had brought the wrong phone, because we didn't have either one's phone number. After a little thought and some calls home, we were able to get Milo's number, but he didn't answer. We made dinner and settled in for the night.

After the quiet evening and night, we were shocked when a huge convoy of vans and cars pulled in right next to our impromptu camp and disgorged a load of neatly dressed commercial fishing clients. They eyed our disorganized camp with some trepidation and seemed reluctant to engage in conversation, at least until we all got dressed and got out of our sleeping bags. After some negotiation (somebody wanted $100 to give us a ride to Montrose!) we were able to find someone with a truck that was heading to Montrose and willing to give us a ride to town for free, and down into the canyon to putin for an additional $20. We jumped at the offer, and started the long trip home.

14 hours later, pow! Tons of cars! Black Canyon 2010

All in all, this trip came off with far fewer hitches than our first attempt back in 2007. I would say that the memory of the portage will only take about 14 months to wear off. At this rate, I might even make two Black Canyon runs in a single season, after a few years of training. I just can't wait to get back in there.