Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eagle Creek

Well, spring break has been over for like two weeks now, but we're still sorting through all the photos from the various awesome adventures that we had. Near the end of break, we decided to rally all the way from California up to Hood River, for the sole purpose of running Eagle Creek.

Eagle Creek has been on my list for a long time; ever since I saw it in Full Circle way back in the early 2000's, I've been getting more and more interested. The stars finally aligned on our last paddling day of the break (with the help of a 10 hour drive) and Natalie, Dave and I got to fire up some sweet drops.

First off, here's a slideshow of our best shots:

Some people say that Eagle Creek is one of those "once is enough" kinds of creeks. The drops aren't all that hard, and there are really only a handful of "real" rapids. But of course, the run us about more than just the whitewater. We had perfect weather for the 4 mile hike in, with intermittent sun and light rain to keep us cool but motivated. The trail was beautiful, even with a boat strapped to your back. When we finally made it to our putin at Skoonichuck falls, I was feeling pretty pumped up.

Skoonichuck is an awesome way to start the run. It's a little stressful to put on your skirt and have the first four strokes of the day be:
draw stroke out of eddy
40 foot boof
correction stroke
15 foot boof...

From Eagle Creek

...but it's totally worth it. There's a 40 footer (I could be wrong about the size) which lands in a moving pool immediately above a 15 footer. When you first scout it, you might think that there's time to recover between the two drops, but the water is moving a lot faster than it seems.

We all ended up running it. I had a nice feeling line off the first drop, but resurfaced backwards over on the right side and wasn't able to spin around before dropping the second ledge. Dave followed, staying more online through the first drop, but flipping in the landing. He was just barely able to pull off a roll as he went directly off the best part of the second drop. Then I ran (well, walked... ok... crawled) back up the hill to film Natalie's run. She scouted it very carefully and planned every detail (even which side to tuck the paddle off the big drop). Her scouting paid off with an incredible clean run. She barely even got her head wet, and stayed straight and upright for a late boof off the second ledge. I was hooting and hollering, but typical of Natalie, all she could talk about was how she hadn't stomped the second drop hard enough.

Dave on the second ledge. Eagle Creek

Unfortunately, since I was trying to film and take photos at the same time, I got terrible shots of Natalie's line. Wait, not terrible... artistic. That's right. It's an abstract shot capturing the of the spirit of the waterfall and rocks.

Artistic shot. Not bad aim, artistic.Eagle Creek

Below Skoonichuck, we tried to move fast, since we had sort of a late start and wanted to catch up with another group. We sent Natalie off to boat scout the next little ledge/crack thing. I got this nice calm shot of her paddling towards it, then she had that telltale too-fast correction stroke as she went off the lip.

Trouble behind, trouble ahead... Eagle Creek

She vanished off the lip, but a couple seconds went by without seeing her paddle out the bottom. Dave hurried up to the lip, and sure enough, she had swam. The drop, which looked ok at first glance, actually fell off to the right into an hourglass crack. There was a line, but we had just assumed that since it was so small it couldn't be anything major. Natalie had ended up sideways in the hourglass part, which was also sort of a hole. It was too narrow to paddle or brace, so she got flipped and decided to swim. Fortunately, it was flatwater below, so it was a quick self rescue. Past there, we were a lot more careful about boat scouting.

The rapids continued at a pretty fun difficulty level for another couple miles. There were some very narrow gorges, which were awesome, and a couple short wood portages.

Dave on one of the in-between rapids. Eagle Creek

Then a strange ledge drop with a diagonal log through it signaled the approach to Punchbowl falls. We had been paddling alone through the upper canyons (apart from a couple motivated groups of hikers that worked their way down to river level). When we got to Punchbowl, we were the third group of paddlers to show up. There was us, the Wheels and Water crew, who we had been trying to catch up with since putin, as well as a crew of paddlers from Montana.

Natalie gives Eric Arlington (W&W crew) a couple pointers on the Punchbowl line. Eagle Creek

The punchbowl for which the falls is named felt like an arena as we all scouted and fired off the drop. There were paddlers at the lip waiting to run it, hikers on the rim watching and cheering, and paddlers down below who had just finished their laps. After my run, I was waiting down below to get a photo of Dave, and I was worried that I wouldn't have enough warning before he came off the lip, but the crowd started cheering a couple seconds before he fired it off, and I had plenty of warning.

I had always been curious about the exact geometry of the falls. In most photos, the drop looks like a steep and walled in twisting drop, but it's actually relatively flat, and you can walk around on the rocks on river left at the lip. It might not be quite as scary as it looked, but it is still a very dynamic drop. You boof onto a diagonal hole that then falls off a 30 footer. After looking at it carefully, I decided that I wanted to climb up and over the pile and run left, since that was actually where the majority of the water went. The surface looks like it curls to the right, but that's actually just the aerated pile from the diagonal hole. The heavy green water keeps pushing through to the left, so I think that's where the soft landings are hiding.

We watched a couple runs from above, and then Natalie geared up and fired it off, hitting a sweet line and landing with perfect angle. I followed her off, with a similar line that felt great, and then got a shot of Dave from below.

Natalie perched on the lip of Punchbowl falls. Eagle Creek

Dave tucks up for a nice vertical entry. Eagle Creek

Below Punchbowl, there is one last 10 foot ledge where most people get out, then there is a quarter mile of flatwater before Metlako falls.

Metlako might or might not have been a world record waterfall, depending on how you define things. When Dave Grove first descended it back in 2004, only a couple really tall waterfalls had been run. There was Tao's 98 foot Upper Johnston falls, which had been the clear record for quite a while. But then there was Ed Lucero's descent of 108 foot Alexandria falls in the Northwest Territories, as well as Tim Gross' run on 101 foot Abiqua falls. However, along with the usual squabbles about the exact heights of these waterfalls, there was the important fact that Ed Lucero and Tim Gross were both ejected from their boats when they landed. Dave Grove stuck Metlako. This didn't settle the matter, though. Metlako slides down a nearly vertical slide for the first part of the drop. The overall height is in the neighborhood of 100 feet, but many people say that that's actually a 20 foot slide to 80 foot falls, putting Metlako way below the other potential record drops. This debate raged for a few years until Paul Gamache and Perdo Olivia both ran even taller drops, each within a day or two of each other. Those descents (especially Pedro's) seemed like a clear record, but then of course Tyler Bradt had to go run Palouse falls (187 feet) and stuck it, which pretty much obliterated any other contenders.

World record or not, Metlako is pretty tall. However, it's a very simple waterfall. The slide part of the drop helps you set the perfect angle for the landing, and there are nice pools above and below the waterfall. As Clay Wright put it, "Metlako is the new Celestial" (I'm not going to explain the history there, we need to get back to the action). Natalie, Dave and I were all feeling pretty fired up after putting on a show for the big crowd at punchbowl, so we decided to join Darwon and Jared of the Montana crew and fire up the big one. Elisabeth and Madison (the other two Montana paddlers) hiked around the falls to take photos.

It was pretty intimidating at the lip. I climbed out while everyone else held my boat in the eddy, and took a look at the tongue. It was every bit as simple as everyone says; just two boils and a solid flat slab of current rolling off a 5 foot wide lip. No weird waves or even any splashy edges, just a solid bluegreen tongue dropping out of sight. The landing was so far down that it was actually pretty quiet up there in the pool above.

I climbed back into my boat and we all started working through the inevitable politics involved in running a drop this size. Who would go first? For those of you that don't know, this is usually sort of a pissing contest. There's kind of a dubious honor to running it first. If you're first, that might mean that you're the least scared. Of course, once you're run a couple frightening drops, you start to realize that actually the scariest position is last, since you'll be all alone with the monster, but usually nobody debates who will go last. Everyone talks about who will be first. It's kind of rare to straight up say that you want to go first, or that you don't want to go first. Usually it's debated in terms of other, more important reasons, like safety and such, or even photos.

In our case, we started the debate by talking about paddles. See, some of us planned on tossing our paddles (myself included). This clearly meant that I couldn't go first, since I needed someone down there to chase down my paddle once I landed. It wasn't that I was scared, of course. Not me, no no. We had just started really warming up the debate when Natalie snapped in and called us names.

"You're all acting like a bunch of little boys! I'll just fucking go first." She broke in. "This whole thing with the paddles is just a bunch of posturing. Good god."

So she did.

Natalie "mans up" off Metlako. Photo by Roman Androsov. Eagle Creek

Sometime during the beginning of our aborted debate, Jared or maybe Darwon had climbed out onto the ledge to try to keep an eye on the landing. Natalie vanished off the lip very quietly, and a few seconds later our spotter reported that she had been ejected but looked ok. We had decided that we would follow the usual "lemmings" safety plan, so I followed Natalie off the lip with little delay. As I tossed the paddle and tucked up, I had plenty of time to think about that logical argument where someone at the bottom had to be there to catch my paddle... but Natalie was out of her boat... Well, whatever. I had an H2O paddle with bright green blades. It would be easy to find.

Hucking the paddle. Eagle Creek

The hit was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I could feel the power involved when I went deep. I resurfaced and handrolled on the boil, stoked on life. There was no sign of my paddle. After Natalie and I came Darwon and Jared. Darwon stuck it and chased off downstream after my paddle, but Jared went a little over the bars and got ejected. Then there was a long wait for Dave. He said later that he got a little nervous up there, all alone in that quiet little pool, about to fall 100 feet. He made a couple false passes before finally going for it. When he did go, he also went a little over the bars, and got ejected. His boat got launched almost 20 feet into the air when it rebounded from the landing. We were all a little curious as to exactly how that had worked.

After we got everyone back in their boats and collected what gear we could, we headed downstream and hit a couple bonus rapids on the way back to the car. Darwon was able to recover my paddle, but we ended up losing Jared's paddle, although we did recover his shoe, about half a mile downstream.

All in all, it was an awesome day. There may have only been a handful of actual drops, but it was well worth the hike and even worth the long drive. I can't wait to go back.

Thanks to all the other paddlers from that day. The Wheels and Water crew took some of the photos of Metlako, and it was good to have Darwon and Jared along for Metlako itself. Now go watch that slideshow for a bunch of extra photos.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fremont Canyon

First, here's a slideshow from the trip. For a more detailed report, some trash talking, and a selected handful of images, read on.

I'm still sorting through all the photos from spring break, and getting ready to make a post with a nice summary, but in the mean time, the Colorado season is really starting to pick up, by which I actually mean that the Wyoming and New Mexico season is picking up. New Mexico has no water this year, so it's not too hard to decide where to paddle on the weekends.

Two weeks ago, we headed up to the Casper whitewater park, where I had a chance to try out my new Fluid Element surfboat. I wrote up a review for the fluid blog. We had a blast.

This weekend, Nathan and I got word that Fremont canyon had some water in it, so we rallied up while Natalie played volleyball (ha ha). We were running on beta from local legend Caspermike of mountainbuzz. He knows all the secret goods in the Casper area, although ironically he now lives in Bozeman.

Nathan has a chuckle about Caspermike's literary skills. Freemont Canyon 2011

We found our way to the run, and spent an appropriate amount of time scouting out the two gorges that make up this short run. Interestingly, we ran into Caspermike's dad at putin. It's a small world.

Nathan gets a glimpse of the one rapid. Freemont Canyon 2011

At different levels, I'm sure things change, but at our flow of about 2000 cfs, here's how it goes. The whole run is pretty short (if you take the conventional bridge to bridge run), and most of the run is flatwater. There are a number of class III drops in the upper gorge, then two class IV drops guarding the entry to the main gorge, followed by about half a mile of pristine flatwater in a very narrow very deep very cool canyon. Then you arrive at the rapid.

Entering the main gorge. Freemont Canyon 2011

The rapid (Geronimo) could easily be unscoutable and unportageable at different water levels. With less water, apparently the whole river pours into a pile of rocks and the drop is totally unrunnable. At our flow, it was a straightforward entry leading into a 6 foot boof (with no hole in the landing). It was tricky to nail the boof, but missing it just meant a flip, not a trashing. When we scouted from the rim, the rapid looked trivial, but once we were at water level, it was clear that the end was a lot steeper than we had thought. Also, the entire right half of the river was a sketchy sieve.

Nathan enters the rapid. Freemont Canyon 2011

Nathan misses the boof and melts down. Freemont Canyon 2011

I nailed an awe-inspiring boof on my first lap, but of course there was no photo of it. We hiked out just upstream of the bridge and got a ride to putin for another couple laps.

This boof was ok, but not as good as the first one. Freemont Canyon 2011

I won the ice cream game with my clean first lap. Freemont Canyon 2011

Apparently there are also some rapids below the main gorge, but we haven't been able to get a good estimate of how difficult they are at 2000. We might return to do a little more exploration, since it was kind of a long drive for a single rapid, although the scenery was hard to beat. This would be a great run for someone just starting into creekboating, in order to get a taste of the commitment required on more serious runs, since although the rapid is straightforward, it does pack a bit of a punch, and once you're in the canyon, you are not going to be able to change your mind.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Burnt Ranch Gorge is the usual go-to run for local paddlers in Arcata CA. It's about a 5 mile run, with some beautiful walls and some fun little rapids. The difficulty is that perfect in-between level where a playboat is perfectly manageable, but a creekboat is not boring. In the summer, the flows don't drop much below 600 cfs due to dam releases, and BRG is usually the only thing going. In the winter, the flows can get up to 2 to 3 thousand, which is a fun big water level.

This spring break, Natalie, Dave and I were passing through Arcata during a big storm, and I took the opportunity to lead Dave down a quick high water lap at about 2500. The next day we surfed a tsumani, which was a unique experience. Then that night my friend Dan Menten called and said he was making a Burnt Ranch run the next morning. I was not that enthusiastic, since we had already run it once, and BRG was the daily run when I lived in Arcata. However, it's always fun to paddle with Dan, so the crew decided to give it a go.

Imagine our surprise when we checked the levels that morning and found that Burnt Ranch was at TEN THOUSAND. Apparently Dan had known this would probably happen, and he had assembled a rock solid crew: Dave Da German, Kyle Hull, and us, as well as a creature craft crewed by Wes Shrek and legendary mischiefmaker Paul Gamache to offset the "rock solid" part and add some excitement.

I haven't been too subtle with the foreshadowing about the high flows, but let me try to describe exactly how different the run is at TEN TIMES the normal high water flow.

Here is the first rapid, Pearly Gates, at "high" flow. Note the pointy rock to Natalie's right.

"High" flow - about 1300. From an old album

Now here's that same rapid, shot from a slightly different angle, at "are you kidding me" flow. Note the strange wave to Natalie's right. Yeah. Connect the dots.

"Are you kidding me" flow - about 10,000 BRG10K

If you want to get a more comprehensive comparison, we did a whole photo shoot that "high water" day. The photos are here. Keep an eye peeled for the shot of Natalie in the "showerhead" between two big rocks in #1, and try to compare that to the 10K shots of the end of #1.

I won't go through a blow-by-blow commentary. I'm too lazy. There is a great description of the day on Dan's Blog. Basically, many rapids disappeared, some new holes formed where before there had been just dry rocks, and the whole mixture was a blast. We made an extensive scout of the set of rapids that are creatively named #1, #2, and #3, since at this level they form one big long rapid. That was where we took most of the photos. Here are a couple of my favorites, but there are more in a slideshow at the end.

A batch of lemmings at the bottom of #1. Dave Da German, Kyle, and Natalie. BRG10K

Kyle runs right at #3, over the rooster. BRG10K

American Dave ends #1 backward. BRG10K

Natalie in the calm before storm #3. BRG10K

Dan looking shocked about the entry to #2. BRG10K

Creature Craft rocking #2. BRG10K

Creature Craft getting rocked and then rolled in #2. BRG10K

Eventually they stopped trying to roll, and accepted their fate. BRG10K

Long (oh, so long) story short, they made it. BRG10K

American Dave redeems himself with a smooth line on #3. BRG10K

As sometimes happens, the rapids where we stopped to scout and take photos went really smoothly. The exciting parts of the run were below #1,2,3, when we didn't scout, we just guessed what the line would be based on our knowledge of the run at low water. However, we made it just fine, apart from one really rowdy ride by Da German in the entry to Gray's Falls.

"See, we really should have tipped the boat up like this..." BRG10K

Then we all hung out in the bathroom at takeout to stay out of the rain. Good times were had by all.

Bathroom party! BRG10K

Here is a sick video that Dave Da German put together.

Here is another link to Dan's blog.

If Kyle Hull had a blog, I would link to it here.

Dave Schmitt is also cool but blogless.

Here is a slideshow of our photos: