Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Silver Falls, Cispus and Lower Lewis - Washington

Jackson Hole is the biggest vortex in the world. The people are nice, the social scene is awesome but there is pretty much no whitewater after the Box is done. We had some car trouble, so 'reluctantly' had to commit to 10 days of hanging out, BBQ's, disco night, long boarding and the like. After this we got some new shoes for the van and made our way to the Canadian border. Its a touchy subject but we didn't make it. So 5 hours, two inspections and some frizbee throwing later, we crawled back into Washington state. Unsure what to do we decided we should at least go paddling so we made our way towards the Cispus River. On the way we decided to check out Silver Falls, and although it was low we decided to fire.

Winner goes, so I went! 

 Nick entering cool and collected.

So after getting our feet we went wanted more and went up to the Cispus, which is an absolute gem! Totally under-rated in my opinion, 6 miles of class V with no portages... a dream. So we got to work and banged out 6 laps over the following few days.

 Nick probing the right side of the 'Island'

Me entering 'Behemoth', a side 30 footer.

 Nick of his first lap of 'Behemoth'.

 The sweet boulder-gardens that lay down-stream.

But after a few days we had found our peace with this river and it was time to move on to bigger and better things, which happened to be Lower Lewis Falls. This beautiful 35-40 footer is road side and always has a live audience. Nick ran it twice but I only went once, took a hefty water-hit and wasn't keen to do it again. Nonetheless, another sweet drop for the tour.

 Nick about to slay it.

Me having a good entry angle but about
to take a hit.

So after this we decided it was time for good food and some 'social investment' with the boys at the Beaver Lodge, and their guests the Seiler brother. Enough said I guess, big nights, rough mornings and a little bit of paddling. Green Truss, and a surprisingly good LOW water lap on the Little White (@ 2.1). The blessed waters always deliver. And so has Washington!

Nick roosting BZ in the evening light.

Me about to plug the left side of spirit.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Box - Clarksfork of the Yellowstone, Wyoming

The Box. Sometimes I find it hard to write about a river without feeling that I am regurgitating similar lines about the 'great whitewater', 'epic setting' and various other common phrases in kayaking depiction. For the Box, however, I am struggling to find the words that do the place justice. But here is my attempt.

Contemplation during 'Ankle Breaker'.

We arrived to the take out around 1am after our lethargic rally from Jackson, with young buck Risto jumping in for the ride. In the faint moonlight I thought I could see the canyon walls upstream, but not even knowing if we were in the right place I cast this out of my mind and snuggled up in the passenger seat of the Previa and faded off to sleep. In the morning we were awoken by the Jackson-ites in a very enthusiastic fashion, they were fired up and not before long we were beginning to build our own internal stoke. Once we moved our rig down to the actual take-out I began to realise Nick and I had signed up for a 'charge train' of ten people for this trip. Well it was ten, until we seen a black Remix tearing down the river towards us. Now we were ELEVEN. Eric Parker had mobbed out the section below the Sunlight portage to catch us for another lap, which would turn out to be perfect as he would have the lines fresh in his head. Locked and loaded, we crammed our massive crew into two rigs and make our way towards the put in. 

The Box is deep, really deep.

On the way to the put in I found out that we were bursting not only Nick and my Box cherries, but also Risto, Teague and Frazers. Not to mention it was going to be their first overnight kayaking trip! The crew were opting for an alternative put in, where you hike into the river about halfway through the flat water between the 'Big Green Monster' portage and the 'Ankle Breaker' portage, which I think was the right decision for our crew. So after a 'quick' walk down to the river, my opinion wont be shared by some of the others in the crew as I am relating to the hiking/portaging in Bull Lake Creek, we were pushing off the banks of the Clarksfork and about to embark on yet another great adventure. 

The team cooling off after the hike.

The meandering braided river bed slowly leads you down into a canyon where the walls begin to close in. After soaking in to scenery and indulging in some 'warm-up' class III you approach a tempting horizon line. That is, until you inspect what is down stream. A series of falls that link together to make an inspiring cascade, this heralds the 'Ankle Breaker' portage. The steep and sweet portage is away from the river for a bit, blocking your view of the cascade but after putting back on you get to see it in all its glory. And more importantly, you are putting back on for some of the best route-able creeking east of the Sierra's. 

The boys finishing 'Ankle Breaker' portage.

A cascade to remember.

Boofs, holes, plugs and everything other than big waterfalls really. Nick and I were feeling hot, and just generally excited about all the runable whitewater so were charging most things first. Little did I know that this was fueling our crew and encouraging them to fire as well, with people pretty much paddling everything other than Snollieguster on day one. Nick, in true Truth fashion, couldn't let it go and fired it with Parker. Having the cleanest possible line. From here we made our way through 'Balls to the Wall', which is exactly that and eventually to a sweet camp just below the 'Toilet Bowl' rapid. We lifestyled, ate like kings and feel asleep to a strip to stars the gleamed down between the tall canyon walls. 

 The boys looking small in the epic canyon.

'Balls to the Wall'.... literally.


Snugg putting on a show for the young fellas.

Nick snapping away.

Day two was all go, with some more classic rapids down to Dillworth. A very New Zealand type rapid with multiple moves, multiple hazards and photos do not do it justice. Nick and I, as per usual, rushed to run the rapid with two different but good lines. Again the lemming effect went into over-drive and the boys came routing, which was so sick to see. 

 Charge-Train busting out of camp, 11 deep!

Mike feeling small but paddling big at Dillworth.

 Cheers for the shuttle Ducomb, we owe you!

 The future charging Dillworth at 16 and 18!

From here we charged down to Deliberation, which was on the high side of good for sure. But not to deter us, Nick and I were keen to give it a go. Nick was overly keen and decided to route first, cleaning the entrance move and eventually making his was past the imminent sieve and over the 10 foot drop. Unfortunately in the landing he was flipped to his left and although he rolled up instantly he was eventually pushed down the left channel into an isolated room. Action time, Sam and Teague went to work setting up an anchor for me to swim down to the rocks making Nicks room and Austin and Mike mobbed the next drop to see what the lead out was for Nick. To my surprise Nick had rolled up and had clutched onto the wall and was relatively in control, just unable to go anywhere. Eventually I was able to get from Austin that Nick could paddle out of the room he was in, but he would have to contend with a shitty hole with a sieve in play. Nick managed to make his was through this and to the safety below. Full on, and fortunately we got the best result. This being more than enough excitement for me and the group, I elected to portage and we continued on our way.

 'Calendar Gorge', oh really now?

Mike stoked on it all.

Next we had the portage into 'Leap of Faith', during which Parker paddled through the cave! After a seal launch like 10 footer and some mank we were confronted with a Sunlight portage between us and our freedom from the Box. So after banging this out we took a well earned reprieve and enjoyed some sunshine in one of the most spectacular canyons that I have ever been fortunate enough to be in. And better yet, we were able to float through some even more spectacular canyons before the walls fell away revealing some huge limestone and red-rock peaks. Which kept your attention right down to the take out. 

Leap of Faith

The end of the 'Sunlight Portage'. 

An amazing trip, where I was fortunate to make a ton of new life long friends, we came away unscathed as a crew and I now had first hand experience of how amazing the Box really is. But we weren't done, I neglected to mention we ran into another crew in the box. Comprised to two more Jackson-ites and our boys Cooper Lambla and Ben Luck. Nick and I were toying with the idea of trying to do the Box in a day but were having issues with organising shuttle, that was until Ben and Cooper came along with the exact same idea. After undoing our shuttle Ducomb hooked it up and dropped Coop's car to the bottom... and we were set. The plan was breakfast at the Fork and Spoon at 8am, and be back there for Cheese Burgers before they close at 7pm. We pretty much crushed it, putting on just after 9am and reaching the take out before 4pm. One of the sickest days of kayaking I've done, one lap to learn it then one lap of routing it. We also got to do the gorge below the bridge put-in and experienced the Green Monster portage, which is quite long but not too steep. Putting in at the bridge would be my suggestion for anyone doing the Box, as more time on the river is better than more time off it!

Yeah, living the dream!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

First Descent (?) North Fork of Bull Lake Creek

It's a funny thing, Bull Lake Creek is a run that had been calling at me since I first heard about it in 2008. I always loved the wilderness facet of kayaking and it seemed like this run would give you as much of that as you can handle. A 18 mile hike in, with two sections about 10,000 feet and 5 days kayaking through the rugged Wind River Range in Wyoming. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge about this run until about a week ago...

Nick and I had made our way to Jackson Hole in search of the 'Box' section of the Clarksfork of the Yellowstone, but on our way we were given a proposition that all kayakers love to hear... the elusive words, 'first descent'. Jim Janey has been looking at the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek since Demshitz and some locals managed to bag the lower two miles of it some years ago. Jim knew there was more river upstream waiting to be explored. Nick and I were lured in, obviously, and didn't even think to check out what we were in for. What would probably be one of the more arduous and epic kayaking trips we'll ever do. All we had to do was find a class V shuttle driver, thank you Emily Powell, I figure I am going to be paying for it forever. Meeting Jim and Chris at the Bull Lake Reservoir at 6am the adventure began. 

All smiles here... not for long (p. Emily Powell)

In short, accessing the upper reaches of the North Fork was plain murder. Jim had very optimistic aspirations of how far we could drive, we didn't make it that far. Although Jim's navigation was on-point and never failed, the hike almost ruined us. Nick, fresh off his 10day soft-bender, caught the short straw and felt it the most, having to take a couple of power naps to get him through the 10+ hour slog. Rain, shitty unsettled scree, the ominous threat of bears, fully loaded kayaks, severe gradient and the altitude all combined to make it one hell of a day. But, in saying that, some of the vistas we saw and the feeling of accomplishing our hike in one day did make it, well almost, worthwhile.

 Jim at the pass we climbed, looking towards the headwater of the NF 

 We hiked from well below the brown strip on the left, across the lake then 
up to this saddle... half way!

 Hurts so good

 Nick hating life

 Chris on the torture rack

Nick about to pass out... again

The last section of our access to the North Fork included paddling across little milky lake, which in the evening twilight was a sight to see. We camped on the lake and in the morning it was absolutely spectacular. A sight that rivals the view over Lake Pukaki looking at the snow capped Mount Cook in New Zealand. After sitting in awe we had to get down to business, we were hoping to make it to the confluence with Bull Lake Creek.

 Little Milky Lake

 Jim absorbing the surreal setting

One for mum

There was a mini gorge between Little and Big Milky Lakes that we were able to paddle 3 of 4 drops, tight class IV-V into another spectacular lake. Things were looking up, the setting was surreal and the whitewater started off well. But all that was about to change. Once we had made our way across Big Milky Lake we started what would be a series of hard portages, with intermittent mank paddling. Our first canyon had a boxed in 30' footer with a rock in the lip, forcing us to portage. After some mank we made our way to 'Cougar Canyon', which looks good to go from the mouth of the canyon, but with further inspection from high on river right you could see a burl 20 footer into 80+ foot cascade landing in a long/sieve mess. So we did the aptly named 'Jim Janey' portage on river left before the canyon, and made our way back down to river level below the falls.

 Jim in the Mini Gorge

 Nick paddling into Big Milky Lake

 Is that Burt Renolds - Check the Moe!

Big Milky Lake

Nick shooting the 30 footer we portaged

Looking down into 'Cougar Canyon'

The end of 'Cougar Canyon'

The Crux of the Canyon

From here there was some more mank until we reached a super steep section that had no reprieve and ended in a 50foot cascade onto a rock ledge. Yeah, another portage but at least this one was short and at river level. After this was some relatively good class IV boulder gardens for half a mile until we reached another canyon... full of wood... another portage. I think you're getting the picture by now. Did I mention it was raining sporadically, making sure the portages were slippery and our moods remained gloomy. The section below the canyon was pretty good, a lead, a tight triple drop and then a clean box canyon with a rowdy lead in. But all wasn't good for me. Due to the lack of classic whitewater I talked myself into running the tight triple drop after Nick paddled it. After I pitched off the top boof I landed one edge and my paddled became wedged in the horrid rocks of Bull Lake. Horrid in terms of their coarse and raw nature. Im not sure whether I snapped my paddled free, or it came free and we lost it in the rock pile down stream, but I took some big hits and then promptly swam as what lay downstream would be disastrous. We got my boat out all good, and other than a leg of bruises and losing some knuckle skin I was all good.

Nick selling the triple drop

 Jim selling it...

 and me eating it

Call it fate or whatever you will, but it almost turned out lucky I did swim. As it made me shy away from the next rapid, electing to portage the rowdy lead in to the clean box canyon, putting me in a good place to set safety for the boys. Where I was needed. Chris caught and unlucky rock and got pushed right of the spliting rock, where you want to be left, and got quite badly pinned. I was able to quickly sort him out before the situation became to dire, but if I had been in the line routing with the boys it would have been all but impossible to get back around the canyon to help him out.

Below the rowdy lead in.

Moving on, we had two more short scree portages and then made our way down to the 'Locked in Lake'. This is where things almost became a misadventure. Leading out of the lake was a long rapid ending in a boxed in 60+ footer followed downstream by a typical shit/mank pile. There was a chance we could get out of the canyon up through a line of trees but nothing was certain. The day was already dragging on and now we had to deal with this. Nick, Jim and I all took turns trying to find a route out of the canyon. But we were all dubious. Eventually we decided to try the tree-line opposed to portaging back upstream and trying to get out that way.

 What to do?

 Locked in, as always.

 "Are we now on a mis-adventure?"

Nick waiting for our thoughts on where to go.

 the lead in...

 and the boxed in 60+ footer

Just as I thought I had reached the canyon rim, Jim called me back down into the canyon as he had found a way back to river level. Although I was flustered as I had expelled a ton on energy getting high out of the canyon. It turned out to be a blessing as we were able to get to the other side of the river, portage the last West Cherry like slides and eventually make camp. And we needed the rest! We had only covered two miles this entire 8 or so hour day, leaving me to think how long will this actually take us. 

Day three was a lot more productive, and I guess began to make it worth while. After some boogie and short portage we had some good class V boulder gardens, although short lived it felt good to get a rhythm going. Another wood induced portage lead into a section of three slides, the first and third were all good. Then we had a meandering float down to the confluence, where we were surprised to see so little water. Nonetheless the flow topped us up nicely for the rest of the trip.

 Nick finding a reason to smile

Jim all about the clean slides

There is always a big wall behind you in Bull Lake Creek

Next came the 'Lakes Section' where its as pool drop as you want, and most the drops go. All the way down to Hagen Dazen. Excuses aside, Nick was the only one to run this opting to portage the entrance and run the finals falls. A clean line to our delight and we continued to press on to the Forked Tongue Gorge.

Nick routing Hagen Dazen

The gorge initially forks, with a hero's line waiting for a valiant charger down the right and some mank and short portage for the mortals down the left. Then the canyon turns it on, with great class V boulder gardens. There was a sketchy 10 footer we portaged and only Jim ran the lead out through the big hole. 

Jim mobbing into the big hole, and cleaned it

From here I think we might of portaged something choked up and then made our assault on the 'Jim Bridges' portage. I was dreading this portage as any portage with a name is usually heinous and long but this one didnt seem too bad. Maybe 45minutes of big boulder hoping. We paddled the final section into the lake, did ANOTHER little portage on the right and ran the final double drop. Not long after this, maybe a half a mile of paddling and I am guessing another portage, we made camp and tried to enjoy the evening sunshine. Thinking we still had two days to go.

Jim doing the 'Jim Bridges' portage. 

Always big walls. Resting on Jim Bridges. 

 Always searching for the Truth.

 Jim catching some dinner.

Soaking it in.

Breakfast was delicious, sick continous class V boulder gardens down to Bull Lake, all go. Out of the lake was a short portage then we ran another section down to Bull Lake Falls. A tremendous cascade the demands a moment to soak it all in. This portage wasn't to bad either, with Jim and Nick opting to paddle the clean(ish) 25 footer at the end of the cascade.

Bull Lake Falls

 Scree portage, who would of thought.

 Such an epic environment.

Nick doing as Drew Duval ordered, running the lead out. 

From here we had some more class V that slowly mellowed. Unfortunately, the Truth Boat had sustained some damage and we'd have to take a break and let Nick fix his boat. Not that we minded a hour chilling in the sun. Back on the water there was another 1-2miles of class III - IV before the Limestone Gorge. The two entrance drops looked dubious at best so we left them alone and portaged and paddled our way through this last little sting in the tail of Bull Lake Creek.

Nick fixing his boat... the walls still there!

Then almost instantly the gradient died off and we were in the flood plains, the ever present and daunting high granite walls fell away and we were in a vast open 'red-wall' arena. We pulled over to camp, figuring we were planning 4 days on the river and why not soak in the scenery. But after and hour or so in the mosquito plagued desert setting I somewhat pulled a mutiny on Jim and decided I would paddled out. Nick jumped on board as the mosquitos began to get the better of him and eventually Jim and Chris decided to come to. So after another mile or so of flood plain we reached the 'Final Slides' section and then finally made it to the lake for our 9 mile paddle out. And it felt all of that! Jim, Nick and I were all on pace but Chris fell behind early and it got to the point where he said to himself, "God damn, I cant even see anyone now!" The paddle out only took about 2 and a half hours but it took all of what we had left in us. We promptly packed up and made our way to Dubois for a ravenous feast and then a drive back to Jackson. 

About to stop smiling and commit mutiny... sorry Jim!

In reflection it is hard to decide whether I loved, liked, suffered or hated this trip. The whitewater isn't the reason for going I guess, it is to immerse yourself in one of the most unforgiving and isolating situations and seeing if you have the physical and mental capacity to work it out. In New Zealand we get dropped off in helicopters, way up in the alps. But none of those trips even nearly compare to the feeling of being way up in the Wind River Range. If someone asked me whether they should do the trip, I would say no. Only for the fact that if they are asking, they're not the type of people that will enjoy it. Bull Lake Creek is something a certain type of person seeks, and only after doing the trip will you understand my indifference in opinion about it. I think I loved and hated it, but more than anything I am stoked to have done it... because I will never have to do it again.