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!
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