Monday, December 31, 2007

Dreaming of a White Nile Christmas

The White Nile is a big river. Others have said it before but I will say it again.
On December 7th, only twenty minutes after finishing my last final paper for fall term, I walked up to the check in desk for NorthWest Airlines.
"Anything to check, Mr. Ross?"

I handed her my gear bag and pointed behind me where my kayak sat wrapped up and concealed.

"Yes Ma'm, just this and my surf bag."

She looked at me puzzled.

"Are there any waves to surf in Uganda?"

A little smile crossed my face, because now my dreams of a big-water Christmas were becoming very real.

"I hope so, Ma'm."

After 28 hours of plane rides and customs checkpoints I landed in Kampala, where I was picked up by my good friend Karl (See more of him at and his girlfriend Tara. I had just met his dad on the flight from Amsterdam, but I'm 90% sure he would have picked me up anyway. They waited for an hour for us to appear out of customs, watching my kayak run laps around the baggage carousel.

The Day One Section...

The first section of whitewater, commonly referred to as Day One, begins at the Nile River Explorers bar and ends at a rapid called Itunda. After the entrance ramp (which can only be described as a leap of faith into an unpredictable but luckily non-retentive hole) most paddlers take a few seconds to roll up and orient themselves. The next move is to ferry across the backwash of a hole named The Pencil Sharpener (see the author in the above photo) and avoid the next one called The Cuban (see below).

The second time I ran this rapid I opted to punch the Cuban, and after two perfectly vertical back flips I flushed out of the backwash on a nose stall looking straight into the next hole: The Ashtray. (In the above photo I am taking my last stroke into The Cuban, while Mexico City kayak star Rafa Ortiz skirts The Ashtray.) Below The Ashtray the water slides down a shelf toward the last hole, The Bad Place, on river right, but most of the time a little left momentum is enough to flush through.

The Day Two Section...

At Itunda the river splits between three channels. Itunda is on the right and the far left is Kalagala Falls, a stout class two waterfall with class six consequences and a reputation for breaking paddles. It doesn't seem to matter if you boof it or plug it, as long as you avoid the left side. The middle channel is Hypoxia, and infamous unavoidable hole that has flushed everyone who ran it so far at higher flows. Although my new friend Rafa was stoked to follow me off Kalagala completely blind, neither of us wanted to attempted a low-water descent of Hypoxia. It looked like a cross between a geyser and the Sand-Man from Spiderman III. (see

The Day Two Section begins with one of these three rapids, meanders through some easy channels, some flat sections, some play waves, Steve Fisher's island, and ends at the best wave on the continent: Nile Special. (See right)

At higher flows a little shoulder pocket allows paddlers to access the wave from the eddy, but lower flows necessitate a tow rope. Either way the wave is sick, and everybody seems to get ample airtime.

Just downstream is an island resort called The Hairy Lemon, where fifteen dollars a day buys camping, all you can drink tea, three solid meals a day and back-yard access to Nile-Special.

Parting Shot...

After three weeks of areal moves, ant attacks, and big-water beatdowns, this was the only sticker remaining on my boat. Go CKS!!!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Meet the CKS Sqaud Part 4: Leif Embertson

Meet the CKS Squad Part 4: Leif Embertson & Check out his top days on the river last season- North Saint Vrain, Yule Creek and the Big South.

This is Part 4 of a Series that introduces the members of the 2007 CKS Squad. Included in each section is the squad member's Bio and a brief photographic Trip Report of their Top 3 days on the river during the 2006 season.

North Saint Vrain, below Cali Section. Paddler: Leif Embertson. Photo: Kyle McKutchen

“Strap your helmet down tight, check out your group and try to find the victim...if you don't see him in your group, IT'S YOU!” Gary Edgeworth

Oh, how true that is but what a great day, an awesome run, and a special place. The North Saint Vrain is one of the least impacted rivers along the front range of Colorado. Being within its canyon and along the river is akin to glimpsing into the past and seeing the landscape unaltered and as it was before the area was settled by early Americans. As soon as the larger than expected local crew meet at the java shop, aka the crack shop, in Lyons it was on. Within the first ¼ of a mile our group had cracked two boats with one person walking out, broken one paddle, and pinned one boat requiring a delicate z drag extraction. After the initial excitement, things calmed down and everyone seemed to fall into their grove. The crew worked great together with veterans showing the lines to the newbies, people setting up safety where needed, everyone cycling through the rotation and basically working great together as a team to make sure we all had a safe and rewarding day on a classic Colorado front range creek.

Yule Creek, Ball Check of the Big Four. Paddler: Leif. Photo: Kyle McCutchen

I don’t really have words to describe how big the “big four” on Yule Creek are but they are big. Dropping into the big four is one of the more committing things I have ever done while kayaking. Peering over the edge of drop 1, Ball Check, felt somewhat similar to looking out over the edge of the earth. On this day we were lucky enough to have fellow CKS Squad member Kyle “Cutch” McCutchen show us aspiring Yule creek students the lines, plus, the conditions were great. The drop that sticks out in my mind is drop 2, Wall Check. After watching two paddlers leave the safety of the eddy below drop 1, I was alone and wondering how their lines went. Not being able to hear very well below drop 1 I eventually decided just to go for it. Now the general plan with Wall Check, is to enter far left; get your nose over a slanting ledge 20 feet below the entrance; then brace for a rough impact against a vertical wall 40 ft below. While at first glance the slanting ledge looks like a reasonable line, it leads a paddler dangerously close to a rock pile at the bottom of the drop. After dropping in on the far left where I wanted to be, my nose didn’t quite get over the ledge and instead turned down the slanting ledge towards the rock pile. Before I knew it, I was hurtling at an ever increasing rate towards the rock pile. Just before the severe impact, my boat deflected away and off the rock pile putting me in the safety of the eddy below. Whew, thank goodness for displacement hulls and bow rocker. Drop 3 and 4 went surprisingly smooth and before I knew it we were paddling across the lake to our shuttle rigs, but not before finding a few marble river

Big South, Primetime Gorge. Paddler: Leif. Photo: Evan Stafford

While I’ve done the Big South many times, it is always one of my best days from each season. It’s great getting up there and seeing the younger crews figure stuff out and also catching up with the old guard who are getting in their obligatory 100th run. Coincidently the gate to Long Draw Reservoir, the access to the put in, normally opens right around my birthday, thus creating the perfect opportunity to give myself the best present a kayaker could ever want, a day on the Big South. On this particular day, another fellow CKS squad member, Evan Stafford, and I made plans for an early season mid week run. After calling in sick to work, and securing access to Long Draw Reservoir, we were off. While I didn’t run every drop that day, it was just a great day out on the river. We had the whole run to ourselves and practically blue angled the entire run without incident, only stopping to scout or portage the big three, and get a few pictures along the way. Days like that are why I choose to be a kayaker.

Bonus: Some photos of the Big South by Leif below-

Friday, December 07, 2007

Awesome quality Lake Creek, CO video of local pro paddlers

This is one of the best quality videos I've seen online. It documents Buena Vista, CO local pro paddlers Jed Selby, Andre Spino-Smith and Dustin Urban paddling their local after work class 5 creek run Lake Creek at medium-high flows.

Thanks to Buena Vista's Foresight Multimedia Inc. for the video. These guys produce awesome photography, videography and graphic design. Check out more of their media at

We have a vid from Foresght of Jed, Dustin and Dre playboating at the local wave which will be releasing here next week.