Thursday, November 06, 2008

Project Dominican Republic

With the relentless drought pounding the once mighty southeast into a dry, arid, dismal, desert of despair in September my good friend Jon Clark and I got to escape for a while back to the Dominican to teach a first aid and swift water rescue course and to do a little kayaking as well. September is a great time to be on the Island due to the abundance of water thanks to the Hurricane season. Although the primary focus of the trip was to teach courses we managed to sneak away either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to get our fix on the river.

It can't be all work though, we built in a few extra days to explore some new runs to continue to work on Project DR. Although the runs we did were not first descents one of the sections of river we paddled may not have seen kayakers since Tao and Sam Drevo were there filming Twitch 2000. Thanks to the daily deluge of rain we had plenty of water for the run. The only down side to all this rain was some of the gorges were pretty remote and the constant threat of rain made for some uneasy moments on the river. Also running challenging water with just a team of two means you either get a picture or a rope, it's a tough decision.

The DR continues to deliver quality whitewater and great adventures. It's always a great time when paddling class V whitewater is the mellow part of your day, the shuttles and act of getting to the river are the things that keep you on the edge of your seat. We will be returning to the DR soon, I can't wait to see what we turn up next.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

BC Mission 2008

A view from the road in British Columbia

Last weekend I decided it was time to get out of Oregon and head to the mountains of British Columbia to do a little kayaking. I started out the trip with Swain County local Joe Barkley who has been living in Truckee for the past couple months working hard and saving up money to embark on such an adventure. We started on the road together (but in separate cars) just south of Portland and began our journey north around 5pm on Thursday afternoon. Joe had just been hooked up with pounds of fresh salmon from the Oregon coast so we stopped at the Mount St. Helens visitors center later that evening and cooked up the salmon right there in the parking lot. It was one of the best meals I've had in a while.

At some point during the drive just south of the border, Joe had to deal with a few things and I decided to take off towards Squamish on my own to find us a place to sleep and get to bed. I arrived to my resting place sometime around 4am and was surprised that I had yet to hear from Joe. After calling him multiple times he finally called back to tell me that Canada would not let him in! Basically they told him that since he did not have proof of a job to go back to or proof of residency (he lives in his truck) that he would not be allowed to enter Canada, even with a valid US passport. Eventually we decided that we both needed to get some sleep and that he would try again in the morning.

I woke up that next day and could not get a hold of Joe, so I decided to head slightly further north to Whistler where I was told there was a camping spot that I might find some boaters. At this point I was still expecting that Joe would make it across the border and that we'd be kayaking together by the afternoon. That was not the case. They again told him no and that he would have to wait 24 hours before he was even allowed to try again. With no kayakers at the campground and Joe still stuck in Washington I ended up spending Friday in a coffee shop in Whistler getting some work done.

I camped that night at the Cheakamus takeout hopeful that some kayakers would show up at some point and let me tag along. Saturday morning just as I was giving up hope, a huge group of boaters showed up and invited me to join them on the river that day. The group consisted of BC local, Bryan Smith, a number of Seattle boaters and their friends in from Colorado and Maryland. We started off the day paddling the Upper Cheakamus, a short class 4-4+ big water style run located just outside of Whistler. It started out with a pretty sweet significant class 4+ drop. I'm not sure if I was more nervous about the drop or the 12 guys watching me run it- I felt the need to prove I was a solid paddler so that they'd let me continue to paddle with them. I ended up having a great line off the drop andclean lines the rest of the day.

A picture of the first drop on the Upper Cheakamus (Photo taken from Professor paddle website, Author: Heather)

After a successful run of the "Upper Cheak," the boys decided to head over to another local run, Callaghan's, and invited me along. Seeing as that was one of the creeks I was really wanting to paddle, I quickly agreed to join them and within 30 min. we were all back in our boats on Callaghan's. The run starts off hot with a 20 footer followed fairly quickly by the most perfect 25 foot waterfall I have ever seen.

We had a minor epic at the waterfall when one of the guys in the group (an out of towner who had never been on the run before) missed the last eddy above the drop and ended up plopping off the lip backwards on the wrong side. He eventually swam and with his kayak quickly floating downstream we all ran back to our boats to run the drop and help in the rescue. I had never run a waterfall that big before and was a little nervous paddling up to the lip especially since I was in being rushed to get downstream and didn't have much time to scout. I hit my line perfect and had one of the softer landings of my life. I couldn't stop smiling while racing downstream to help catch the abandoned boat.

Matt from Colorado below the first 20 footer

Looking upstream at the 20 footer from the lip of the 25 footer

Bryan Smith stomping the 25 footer

That's me running the waterfall- the picture is definitely not great but I wanted to give some proof that I actually did these things

The rest of the run was great and involved a number of sizeable drops. At the takeout loading boats the guys were all discussing their plans for the next day. While originally I was planning to go biking with some friends in Whistler on Sunday, I could not help but listen in on their talk about the likelihood that the infamous Tatlow Creek was running. I had been told by numerous friends that Tatlow was the best creek in BC and a must do if I had the opportunity. I was not sure if these guys would feel comfortable taking me along on such an expedition, especially with just having met me, but at some point Bryan looked over at me and told me I was welcome to join them if I'd like. There was no hesitation from me- I was in.

I spent that evening hanging out with the group and hearing stories about Tatlow. It was unclear just how many of the guys would decide to run it the following morning, but we were all in for making the journey to the takeout to find out if it was even running. That night I stayed with Bryan and his wife at their place in Squamish and after some conversation learned that I was in the company of "The Range Life," a group of kayakers made up of Bryan Smith, Todd Gillman and Shane Robinson, who are most known for pioneering a majority of the runs in BC. That definitely made me feel a little more comfortable about what I was about to embark on.

Sunday morning we all loaded up and made the drive up the Ashlu valley towards Tatlow Creek, a tributary to the Ashlu. Just getting to where you can check the level of the creek is pretty epic. You have to drive about an hour up a very rugged 4x4 road that requires a large truck (my outback wouldn't make it) to get to the takeout, as well as the gauging area. From what I've been told, Tatlow is pretty much either in or its out, and that decision is made based on how much water is flowing over a rock in the last rapid. The Tatlow veterans quickly made the call that it was in and everyone started getting pumped for the run.

After a quick walk/ride up a forest service road, we were at the start of the hike in. The final group that decided to paddle that day consisted of Bryan, Todd, Shane, Kelsey, Matt, Ned and I, with last three of us being newbies. The hike in was epic in its own right and involved hiking up an overgrown logging road before dropping down into the gorge by bushwhacking through the thick, bear infested forest. An hour later we all arrived at the put in psyched to be done with the hike and ready to get moving downstream.

**** Disclaimer: Throughout this run I had very little time to take any decent pictures of the drops, so take them for what they are then check out the links at the bottom of the post to read more and see lots of awesome pictures of the creek****

Gearing up to start the hike

Checking out the scenery partway through the hike right before dropping down into the forest

The view from the put-in

One of the biggest things I was told about Tatlow prior to deciding to run it was that it is extremely committing and left no room for questioning your abilities. The guys explained to me that there would be lots of unscoutable, unportagable drops that I would have to run and this definitely turned out to be the case. It was the first time that I experienced the sensation of getting out to look at a huge drop and realizing that the option to walk simply did not exist. That certainly simplifies the scouting process since it eliminates the need to figure out if you want to run a drop and instead you just have to see the line and go.

The first series of rapids involved three back to back drops in the 10 foot range that lead directly into a sweet money boof 20 footer. The second series of waterfalls involved a very vertical slide (referred to as "plugger") in the 25 foot range followed quickly by two 10 foot drops. I managed to plug the slide well, but found myself off line after the second drop and quickly plopping over the final ledge without much speed. Before I knew it I was side surfing the ledge completely locked in. I tried everything I knew to get out of the hole upright, but could not seem to make my boat budge. I finally realized that my last option was to flip over, reach for green water and hope that I'd come out. Three attempts at reaching for green water and about two minutes later, I finally managed to claw my way out of the hole. I was pretty psyched to have just battled my way out and in the amount of time it took me to catch my breath, I turned to see that someone else was surfing away in the same hole. He did not have the luck I did and ended up having to swim out.

Kelsey running "plugger"

A view upstream

A surreal view from the lip of "plugger"

Todd with the rope assisting in the rescue after the swim

After a couple more minor rapids and one major one, we ended up at the big portage. The portage was probably the most full on one I have ever been involved in and required carrying the boats on the edge of a cliff above an unrunnable rapid. It finished with lowering the boats and repelling down a slippery rock wall back to the water.

The rope and rock wall we repelled down (its steeper than it looks)

Immediately after completing the portage I was above the next unscoutable (at least not without some sketchy rock climbing moves), unportagable, huge drop. This one involved a 30 something foot slide that slams into a rock wall making a 90 degree turn. Its called "Wall drug" and is definitely appropriately named. I was one of the first people through the portage and ended up in position to be the first one to run this drop. It was the hugest rapid that I had run totally blind, but also one of the most fun rapids I've ever run. (Please check out the other sites for a better picture of this drop)

The bottom part of "wall drug" as it slams into the wall

After a 10 foot, "glory boof" below wall drug, it was time to eddy out and check out the rapid that is considered the crux move for the day. It seemed to be called different things, but "The Big One" was probably what I hear it referred to most often. "The Big One" involves a 10 foot drop with a nasty looking hole into a mini walled in gorge which ends with an unrunnable death drop on the left and a clean 40 foot slide on the right. My heart was beating out of my chest as I got out to scout the 10 footer. It is impossible to walk this rapid and nearly impossible to scout the slide. We were told there was an option to seal launch in next to the 10 footer to take that out of the equation, and while the two other newbies chose to take that route, I inevitably decided that I felt confident about drop and wanted to run the rapid from start to finish.

A view upstream from the scout of the 10 footer- the top drop in this picture is "wall drug" followed by the 10 foot "glory boof"

I watched a couple people go through before I walked back to my boat to line up for the drop. While I knew that that was by far the most committing, intimidating, and nerve racking rapid I had ever decided to run, as soon as I got into my boat, my focus turned to the must-make move I needed to hit and all the other thoughts were gone.

Matt scouting the 10 footer that leads into the 40 footer

This was the only view I had of the 40 foot slide before entering the rapid: notice the gorged up walls and the rock that splits the flow at the end- to the left is a death zone and to the right is the lip of the big slide

I ended up hitting one of the most important boofs of my boating career perfectly and after a quick breather in the slack water in the mini gorge, I lined up to take the big slide down the 40 footer. At the bottom of the slide I felt a quick pop to my face and realized that I managed to hit myself in the nose with my paddle. I did not have much time to deal with the blood streaming down my face because I quickly found myself up against the nasty wall at the bottom of the slide. I tried to ignore the pain while I aggressively worked to get off the wall without flipping. The scary part about the wall is that it leads into a huge strainer above a big highly recommended portage. Eventually I was able to work myself off the wall and take a second to stop the bleeding from my nose and admire the drop.

A photo of "The Big One" (again- please see other sites for a better picture of this drop)

After the big slide its time to do the "chuck and huck"portage, which involves chucking your boat over the edge of a cliff and then jumping in 20 feet down after it. There are a few more significant drops through the final section of the gorge before it opens up and dumps into the Ashlu.

The final 15 foot boof of the run

After taking out and reflecting on that run, I can definitely say it was the biggest most committing section of whitewater I have ever run, but at the same time one of the most memorable andexciting sections as well. I cannot wait to get back out there again.

Check out these sites for more (and better) photos of Tatlow Creek:

That evening I decided to head back to the United States to meet back up with Joe and spend some quality time hanging out with him. We met up around Bellingham, WA and drove a few hours south before stopping to sleep for the night. We spent Monday morning trying to decide how to spend our day and after realizing that kayaking was not really an option, we chose to head to Seattle and check out the city. My friend Keta has been living in Seattle for the past year and gave us beta on a nice park to hang out and hike around in. We spent almost four hours simply hiking around with our dogs checking out the Washington forest and ocean.

Joe and Daisy hanging out at the beach

Kiwi and I hanging out in the park

After a great sushi lunch with Keta, I started my drive back to Corvallis so that I could be home in time to get a good nights sleep before another day of pebble counting.

I cannot wait to return to the clear waters of British Columbia and am already getting psyched for Team Swain BC Mission 2009!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Let me tell you about two of the hardest chicks I know..." -Jay Gifford

Last week Anne and I took off on a 3,000 mile roadtrip across the country, from Bryson City, NC to Portland, OR. Throughout the six days on the road there were lots of boating and biking adventures, very little eating or sleeping and a whole lot of laughing. Heres an overview of the trip...

The night before the big drive was the NOC instruction party at Chris and Anne's house. As you might imagine if you've ever been to a social event at the Port-Sontheimer residence, there was lots of good food, great friends, and of course fireworks, banana liquor and wrestling.

Chef Port making a kabob

Jeremy making a weird face

Tequila shots!

JC and Sean getting the firework display ready

After an awesome night of celebrating the end of another great summer, Anne and I hit the road at 3am (after two hours of sleep) and started the long drive to Colorado. Many people doubted our ability to make the drive in one push, but as we expected, Anne and I were more than capable of knocking out the 27 hour drive to Salida, CO without any significant breaks. I must admit, however, that the brain simulators and gossip really helped out in those final hours.

After cruising around Salida for a half an hour dragging our trailer carrier throughout the neighborhoods, we finally came to a resting place off the side of a random road up a mountain at about 4:30am. I am not sure if it was the meteor shower or the brain drugs, but even after that much driving we still managed to spend a while just staring up at the sky before finally dozing of to sleep.

Wonderful, glorious Kansas

Anne taking over during one of the tougher shifts

Finally laying down after the 27 hour push

After another two hours of sleep, we both woke up, loaded the car and headed into town to catch the 8am shuttle up to Monarch Pass where we would be starting our bike ride. The Monarch Crest Trail is a one of a kind trail, consisting of 35 miles of varied terrain, most of which sits above 11,000 feet. The air was thin, the views were amazing and the trail was awesome. Start to finish it took us about six hours and we were definitely feeling the lack of sleep by the time we hit the car. After taking a short break to check out Salida's whitewater park, Anne took one for the team and drove us the two and a half hours to the takeout of Gore Canyon, located near Kremmling, CO.

The start of the ride

Anne and I taking a break on the pass

Just one of the many beautiful views

More moutains

The view we were granted at the top of the climbing portion of the trail, right before the sweet downhill

We arrived at the takeout of Gore just before dark, set up our tent (the only time the tent was used on the entire trip) and headed to bed early to rest up for a day on the water. We woke up the next morning after a good nights rest ready to get in our boats. The day involved paddling class 3 and 4 rapids through a beautiful Colorado canyon. We paddled with Hobie and Scott, two local kayakers who were kind enough to show us some lines as well as hook Anne up with a creekboat. Good lines were had by all and it was great to get out on a new river again.

A view of the river as we drove out of town

Our loaded down ride

On the road in Colorado

After leaving Gore Canyon, we drove six hours southwest to Moab, Utah and were eventually throwing down our sleeping pads right around midnight. We spent that evening and the next morning trying to figure out what to do with Kiwi while we were riding, since with the extreme heat we didn't feel comfortable leaving her outside. Eventually we found a kennel that would take her for the day, but unfortunately that was not figured out until after we missed the 7am shuttle ride up to the Porcupine Rim trail we hoped to ride that day. The ride is described in most books as a 16 mile shuttle ride or a 35 mile loop "for the truly insane." I think that description alone got Anne fired up to do the loop and with the shuttle now out of the question, we took off from the car around 8am to start the Porcupine Rim loop. The first hour and a half involved climbing up the road out of town and through the park, followed by another couple hours climbing on up the slickrock style trial to the top of the rim. All the climbing was definitely worth it when we reached the top and were granted amazing views of Moab and its surrounding areas.

After arriving at the top, we rode along the rim for a while before starting on our steep slickrock desents. It was near the beginning of one of the descents that I decided to ride over a three foot drop without getting far enough back on my seat and had my first over the handlebars "endo" experience. On the bright side, Anne said that after landing on my head, I rolled through the crash nicely. It took me a while to get my confidence back after that, but by the end of the day I was riding things much more technical than the obstacle that caused my wreck. As it turns out, Anne was right along- it is really important that you get behind your seat when riding step trails.

After seven hours of extreme exposure, radiating heat, long climbs and steep descents I would definitely call that an epic ride.

Anne checking out the view at the top of Porcupine Rim

Anne riding up something that looked impossible to me

Anne riding down something that I probably walked

Anne flying down the trail with amazing desert views in the background

Me taking a break to check out the Colorado River down in the canyon

The singletrack portion of the trail

After finishing up our ride we made a quick decision to change plans and instead of staying in Moab another day, we decided to make our move towards Idaho. Since neither of us had ever been to Idaho, we figured that it would be a good place to spend the following day. On our way out of town we took a couple hours to drive through Arches National Park.

The Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

After leaving Arches we started to drive north with no real idea of what we were going to do or where we were going to end up. We were still feeling good after arriving to Salt Lake City so we decided to push on to Boise. We arrived into the city around 5am and with no real idea of what to do there, we pulled into a spot that had wireless, busted out the laptop and found out that we were extremely close to the world class Payette River, which was running at a good level. With no more information than that, we drove up into the Payette Wilderness. After another night of trying to find a spot to lay down, we eventually stopped at a pulloff along side the river at about 6:30am.

After two and a half hours of sleep, we awoke to find ourselves in beautiful Idaho country. Since up to this point neither of us had taken a shower since before the instruction party, we both took baths in a little swim hole next to the bank of the river. We then packed up and went on a mission to get some coffee, beta on the river and a creekboat for Anne. Eventually we were able to secure all of those things and the two of us put on the "lower 5" section of the North Fork of the Payette. All I can really say about that afternoon is that it was continuous class 4-4+ big water and I could not stop smiling the entire way down. It had been a long time since either of us had gotten to really read and run that kind of water, or any kind of water for that matter, and it was awesome.

We enjoyed the Payette so much we very seriosuly considered staying for another day so that we would have the opportunity to paddle the ten miles of whitewater above where we put in. After much debating however, we decided that we were both in need of a little steep creeking and set out on the road towards Hood River, Oregon- home of the Little White Salmon.

In classic fashion for Anne and I, we arrived into Hood River around 5 in the morning, drove around for 45 minutes looking for a good place to sleep outside and eventually got to bed off the side of some road in the mountains of Washington. After a couple hours of sleep we headed over to the house of Team Swain transplant Jay Gifford. After a quick talk with Jay before he left for work, we grabbed some coffee and drove to Post Canyon, a sweet mountain biking trail system located just outside of town.

We ended up riding for about three hours on some really fun trails. My personal favorite was the first trail we took that involved climbing up multiple ridiculously steep hills followed by a sick downhill through a horse pasture and a gravel road. The next trail we did took us up to the top of the mountain where there was a man made course that had some jumps and log features. I didn't venture very far onto the course, but Anne was riding some of the obstacles which was cool to watch. Afterwards we took off on another trail that offered up some fun cross country riding with some amazing descents. I spent the majority of that trail doing what I do best on a mountain bike- eating dirt. At the end of it all we were both pretty dirty and decided to head to Jay's and do something we had yet to do on the trip- shower.

Anne and I after our ride at Post Canyon

After a quick nap, Jay got home from work and we all loaded up and headed out to get our boof on on the Little White Salmon River. Ever since the time I was considering coming out here, I kept hearing about the Little White and just how great it is. It definitely lived up to my expectations! All throughout the trip Anne and I were discussing how people kept calling things "class 5" (i.e. Gore Canyon and the Payette) when in reality we felt they were class 4. Well, lets just say that the Little White lived up to its class 5 rating and I would consider it the most difficult section of river that Anne or I have ever paddled. It was full of steep, continuous water and left us always questing what would be waiting around the next corner.

It started off with "Getting Busy" a very continuous section of class 4-5 boogie water and finished off with an array of vertical drops, ranging from 13 to 35 feet. One of my favorite moments was when we all eddied out and Jay explained the next drop- "you're going to go around that corner, go over a hole, look for a hump, then paddle off a 20 foot fader boof." He followed up that sentence by putting in his mouth guard for the first time all day and peeling out of the eddie, leaving Anne and I questioning what the hell we were about to do. We both ended up having good lines on the rapid I now know to be "Wishbone Falls," one of the more significant drops on the river.

Me running "S-turn" on the Little White

Anne, Jay and I's self portrait at the lip of Spirit Falls

That day was a pretty magical one for me as it commenced not only an amazing roadtrip, but also an amazing summer. The summer was pretty much training for this trip. Anne and Chris put lots of long hours into teaching me how to mountain bike (which was mildly successful aside from the fact that I still can't seem to get unclipped from my pedals before falling over) and in return I tried to make them see what bad-ass paddlers they were (the highpoints being running Go Left and Sunshine with Anne as well as watching Chris style the Green for the first time since shoulder surgery).

Its been exactly a week since the trip ended and I am still feeling the need for more adventure. The trip definitely made me realize just how many amazing places there are in this huge country of ours and how many more things there are for me to see and do in it. Fortunately, I am sitting on Jay's couch in Hood River at the moment and plan to hit the Little White again tomorrow. I guess thats going to have to hold me over until my next epic journey....
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