Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013-The Year in Review

2013 was a big year, despite its humble (and hungover) beginnings on the Middle White.

After a few warm up laps on the class II-IV rivers in the Portland area, I quickly set out to help my friends get stout. Gus Kilgore, Kyle Gnarsper, and Harrison Rea found ourselves involved in a surprising rescue at the lip of 45 foot Celestial Falls. Swimmers will remain anonymous, but needless to say, we were all fired up at the end of the day. Harrison made 2 laps, allowing me to get some stellar photos, one of which was featured in the Stephen Forster Flipbook from Bombflow.

As usual, Harrison exhibited perfect form.
About 2 weeks after our adventure at Celestial, I skipped out of work to join Harrison for a sunset Eagle Creek mission. Harrison probed Punchbowl, taking a big hit to the nose, and I followed with a line that I would later regret. We were both in some pain in the pool below, but because the level was so good, I had to continue downstream to run Metlako. Harrison graciously took photos, while Dan Phillips headed further downstream to maybe catch a shot or two and more importantly get a visual of me in the pool below.
Harrison looking stylie as always, unfortunately, punchbowl was feeling extra punchy on this day.
Dan Phillips Photo

Me, pulling some hand stroked to straighten out after the paddle toss.
Harrison Rea Photo
My poor line on Punchbowl left me with a torn Labrum, no kayaking for nearly a month. It felt like forever, but forced me to actually earn some money, which I promptly blew on paddling trips when my shoulder was feeling better.

I tentatively paddled at the Creeking Comp held anually at the East fork of the Lewis and Canyon creek in Washington and made a bunch of new friends from Whitman College. Little did I know, these friendships would be my key to a whole slew of kayaking adventures I never would have expected. I also made it onto the C&K blog along with Adam Elliot for our coverage of the event.

Adam Elliott looks down on the East Fork from a unique vantage

Gus pulls the trigger at Big Kahuna.
I believe this was only his 3rd time down... style!
After warming up, I felt surprisingly good. I caught Canyon for another low lap with great friends (and the generously lent DSLR from Chris Rourke), and then was somehow convinced to make my way down the Little White again.
John Edwards with a steezy boof at Champagne
The Little White, which I had held synonymous with "Terrorfest" from my previous speedy laps at med-high flows, was actually pretty fun with Johnny Ott and John edwards leading the way. We took plenty of breaks, and the flow of 3.2 was actually rather perfect. I would go on to make one more lap before other, bigger trips took priority.
Johnny and John lead the way...
Kim Becker Photo
The 3rd annual Sandy River Showdown hosted by eNRG Kayaking allowed me to create more work with C&K, all the while being reminded about my cracked boat by Mike Braun.
Greg Babikoff standing out at the racer's meeting
My budding friendship with the Whitman College crowd would be solidified in early May with a trip to the Lochsa. Within hours of arriving at camp, it became clear to me that a certain Tom Whipple would be a friend and paddling partner of great promise (and incessant self expression, in an endearing way, of course). High water lead to multiple laps of Fish Creek, the spectacular Lochsa, and one nonstop blitz down Boulder Creek.

All you need to know about Boulder
Tom enjoys the ride at Lochsa Falls
And Chloe refuses to accept her fate.

Needless to say, I was hooked on Idaho, and weasled my way onto a Middle fork trip within the week.
Michael Jorgenson, Katie Chapman, Devin Kuh, and Adam Michel would all be making their first trip down, and it was only during the long drive to the put in that I discovered we'd also be paddling the Main Salmon- upping our trips mileage to the low 200 mile range. In 4 days. Not bad for my second ever multiday. 

Remarkably, we managed to find a pit toilet every day on the water... no Groover for me.

The crew takes a gander at Dagger falls, the biggest rapid of the trip
As we slowly returned to the daily grind, I had the fortune to show Adam and Tom down a near flooded Canyon Creek. They performed well, especially considering they had anticipated the usual intro to class IV+ creek and were met by a pushy class V river.

After an aborted mission to Upper Lewis Falls inspired by Harrison, we concocted a 36 hour blitz to the Skykomish drainage, inviting Mr. Whipple at the last moment, ensuring a true adventure. Faced with a raging Top Tye, we opted for the (still) wood-choked Lower tye, followed by an exciting Foss lap. Poor Tom biked our shuttle... in the wrong direction in the fading light. An easy Skykomish lap provided a good warm down the following day, and we battled traffic to Portland.
Upper Lewis, burlier than expected 
Tom being Tom, and Harrison being Harrison
I somehow found myself joining Jarred Jackman and Nate Merrill on their first Salmon River Canyon trip. We were fortunate enough to have first descent mastermind Jacob Cruser along to offer beta. Half canyoneering adventure, half kayaking trip,  Salmon River Canyon is not to be missed. Anotyher C&K writeup found here.
Nate and Jarred look on while Jacob styles the first drop of Frustration Falls
The next day, I hopped aboard a plane and entered the wettest June my hometown has seen in recorded history. Great friends highlighted the high water, best described via photos.
Whitewater Zenmaster  and Mountain Man Outdoor Manager Will Crimmins
hooked it up in a big way, providing me with a boat to paddle while in NY.
Morning Moose with Brian Murphy
 Chris Peck and Tony Gianfagna followed me blindly down the highest water descent of Brokeback Gorge, a new classic in the Northern NY region. When there's water, this creek offers one of the most committing series of drops in NY, perhaps the entire Northeast, culminating in a blind 45 foot waterfall.

High water Independence is nothing for Todd Caza

Scott Martin's first time down the Otter,
and first time having his photo taken?
Finally in a real creekboat, Scott Martin goes huge, running Rainbow Falls on the Oswegatchie River.
Will Crimmins finishes the crux of Brokeback Gorge, 3rd descent.

David Carey amidst stacked action in Brokeback Gorge's fourth descent.
Just as the rivers were drying up, my flight for the PNW was set to leave. I rejoined my Portland friends for the classic summer season Oregon and Washington, joining Gus Kilgore for his first lap down the Green Truss on the White Salmon
A stellar line through Double Drop
Tom Whipple would again inspire a long string of far fetched boating dreams come true...
Somewhere on the Ohanapecosh

Probing down the lowwater (but still great!) Cooper

Myself, feeling confident in the thick of Last Exit on the Tumwater
Tom Whipple Photo
A successful Upper Upper Cispus and nearly portageless Truss to Columbia run on the White Salmon capped off the summer season in the PNW.
Tom and Connor Dixon at the Cispus
Stuart having fun on the Middle White.
I hopped aboard a plane to revisit the ultra classic Beaver River Festival near my hometown in NY. There, I was joined with tons of friends and family. With nothing left to prove to myself, this year's beaverfest was the most relaxed I've ever had. It was great too, since I got to show Scott Martin around for his first time.
Scott follows Dustin down one of the best rapids in NY, Moshier Falls.

Danny Siger skies the boof on one of many laps.
Less than a week after my return to the northwest, I rallied north to BC with Harrison Rea, Niko Peha, and Ben Ghertner. We joined Matt Taylor and Sam Swanson on an ominously high Clendinning River, which resulted in an epic portagefest, and some seriously stout whitewater run blind in loaded boats.
Stoked on our shuttle
Unwilling to let the dream end, I joined a big crew from Portland for their first time down the Ashlu Box.
Shortly afterwards, the Whitman connection grew yet again, with an invitation to Hells Canyon on the Snake. New friends Kira McGuisssomethingorother and Thomas Moo-My would also be joining.
Thomas took the hero line.

For my 22nd birthday, I somehow convinced Harrison Rea to run Metlako for his first time, and my third time. He ended up styling it. I did not.

Harrison in a classic place
This is what happens when you boof an 80 footer.
somehow I didn't break my back, and I'm still grateful for that.
After my near miss at Metlako, I no longer had a boat, and I was honestly a little scared of running anything too stout. For some reason, Upper Upper Cispus at a high flow didn't register to me as "stout" (more likely didn't register at all), so I joined Ryan Cole and Jah Bradley for their first ever laps down the classic. We decided the water was a bit high at Island, and discovered a relatively easy hike out there.
Ryan boofs, while I realize the river is definitely rather high.
Halloween proved to be a gorgeous day. We even spotted some wild horses on the river.
Myself on Big Bro
Gus Kilgore Photo
A surprisingly warm november day on the Truss with Jarred Jackman
I've been shooting Big Brother a lot, but it's hard to find a unique angle. Some brainstorming and Harrison's background in slacklining provided the perfect opportunity to do something a bit out of the ordinary.
Alex Loren on the line, Harrison Rea on another kind of line.
2013 was a huge year for me, made possible (and even better) by great friends. My new year will start equally blessed by these people in the Grand Canyon. I'm especially excited by the support from eNRG Kayaking and Clif Bar for the extra snacks, Pyranha Kayaks for designing the bad ass Shiva I'll be taking down the river, Goog's Oceanside Pizza for the longest pizza delivery in the history of the world, and of course my family, who have been so incredibly supportive of my ridiculous habits.

Thanks for reading, and for more photos from 2013 and beyond, take a look at the Photo Annual of The Dirtbag's Guide to Whitewater, due out New Years Eve!
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Take a walk

The last time I went kayaking, I walked off the Upper Upper Cispus. And about a week before that, I landed very flat off 80+ Metlako Falls. As much as it sucks to bail off a river, I was pretty happy to even be able to walk.

The Cispus is one of those rivers that got a bad wrap after a few groups had some rough trips, and now holds a slight connotation of menace. While there is no doubt the boulder gardens have their fair share of pin spots, and the only alternative to running a 30-footer with a cave behind it is an "involved" portage requiring roping boats at least twice, the Cispus is actually a really fun run and a great stepping stone between the Green Truss and the Little White.
This run starts with a bang
A 15 footer waits around the first bend, and plenty of class IV-V boulder gardens follow. The river has a continuous feel, although there are pools dispersed throughout the boulder gardens pretty regularly.
It's also incredibly scenic
Ryan Cole finishing up one of the tighter lines.
Many of these boulder gardens have tight lines to hit to avoid pitons or pins. It's advisable to follow someone who's done the run a few times.
Our fearless leader Nate Merrill winds up for a boof
We had ventured on despite other groups avoiding the river for fear of high water. At the put in, and coming through the first few rapids, the level didn't seem much higher than my previous trips. After coming through a particularly pinny boulder garden and thinking, "man, that was fun, not nearly as scary as I remember it..." I began to realize what we had gotten ourselves into.

The crew regroups below the steepest section of the river, shortly above Island, the second major drop.
Despite a feeling of general discomfort about what the added water would do to the crux drops downstream, we had driven a long ways and decided to continue downstream. When we reached Island, it became clear to the group that we'd be portaging Behemoth. We deliberated for a short period and decided to save ourselves the effort (and the potential beating in the massive hole at the base of Island) and hike out above the drop. It only took us 10-15 minutes to reach the road, and although steep, the climb was short.
Andrew "Jah" Bradley was even smiling at the end of it
We decided quickly as a group to avoid a potential suffer-fest, and I really appreciated how quickly everyone realized the potential for the trip to go downhill if wee continued down river. It's always hard to walk away from a river, whether it's your first time down, or your seventh, but recognizing things are getting out of hand before they get over your head is skill that will not only allow you to keep boating, but prevents a river from getting a bad reputation.

Thanks for keeping the trip positive Andrew Bradley, Ryan cole, and Nate Merrill!
Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Aliens and Spaceships

Disclaimer: This is a literary post, if you just want to see people hucking their meat and where they did so, just scroll through the photos and read the captions.
Chris Peck, hucking his meat. Knife's Edge, Bottom Moose, NY.
We are aliens. Our boats are our spaceships. 
Dramatic? Yes, but no less true. 

In the strictest sense, our boats transport us through space and time. That they travel only linearly and with roughly the same velocity as most other things through time will do nothing to discourage me from calling them time travel devices. Even the shape of a kayak is similar to the rockets we often envision time machines taking on.
Nate Merrill, blasting off. Split Falls, Salmon River Canyon, OR
And if we loosen those restrictions to account for the perceived shift in the space time continuum, you might just start seeing what I'm getting at. It's said that time flies when you're having fun, and quite often I end long river trips wondering where exactly the last 6 hours have gone. Mental playback of the day happens at high speed, skipping by at a blur.
Crystal, Bottom Moose, NY with an unfortunately foggy lens
When things go wrong, or get committing, time slows down. We plan our strokes in slow motion, gentle smooth strokes fill our minds eye when we know our paddle blades will be spinning like a windmill. When we watch a friend getting beatdown the seconds stretch out and settle in, like unwelcome guests oblivious to their transgressions. When you're the one in the hole, it's twice, three times as bad. A minute feels like an hour.
I imagine Jacob Cruser experienced a bit of time dilation here. Final Falls, Salmon River Canyon, OR
And then there are the golden moments. They happen most often at the horizon line, when the world you know is suddenly expanded, abruptly made real. Those instants stay with me, paused, or running loops over and over again. Groundhog Day with no opportunity to make right the wrongs, just plenty of time to observe, acknowledge, and accept. And improve the next time. It happens in the slow moving pools, too. When the light bounces down the canyon wall, or the massive bull moose steps across the river like it's a small stream.
Cruser's golden stroke.
Frustration Falls, Salmon River Canyon, OR
And how many times do we find ourselves in the heart of a foreign wilderness, feeling just as at home as our local backyard run? Or on that backyard run and feeling as out of place as we would on the moon? Even roadside runs can feel committing and remote. No matter what our physical proximity to town or even the next person is, the river can sweep us away into another world.
Chris Peck and Danny Mongno at Agers Falls, Bottom Moose, NY
So there you have it, our boats are our spaceships. And what does that make us?

We could call ourselves astronauts, or simply travelers. But I prefer to think of myself as an alien. Alien, at least, to "those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators" that Ed Abbey struggles so hard to tolerate.
Tony Gianfagna making the move at Fowlersville, Bottom Moose, NY
We wear our specialized space suits, our harnesses and safety equipment. We probe, discover, document. We choose to live in a different world. As we leave the remote river, it feels less like coming home and more like immersing ourselves in a strange, sometimes hostile planet. And when the humans reaching out, making contact with our world in their own ways, encounter us, it's usually with surprise, even shock. They wave from shore, staring, wondering how we got there. They rarely speak, as if they believe we speak another language. And we do. Our lingo may as well be gobbledigook, and we read the river like a book.
The Space Suit
Jarred Jackman on Vanishing Falls
Salmon River Canyon, OR

So you can keep searching out there in the void if you'd like. Maybe you'll even find something. But I think I'll keep my focus on these aliens that call themselves "Normal." There's plenty of them around, and they're pretty easy to observe. Not much travel involved. And as long as I can make it back to my planet every once in a while, I think things will work out.
Dave Gardner stomping Fowlersville, Bottom Moose, NY

Will Crimmins with the Steeze on Knife's Edge, Bottom Moose, NY

Dave Gardner and Tony Gianfagna finishing up Agers Falls, Bottom Moose, NY

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.