Wednesday, April 27, 2011

West Coast Waundering (Part 2) Eagle Creek

Eagle Creek was the last stop on our paddling fiesta of a spring break. For a glimpse at the first part of our trip go here. After a 9 hour push from the Cal Salmon to Hood River, Oregon Leif Anderson, Natalie Kramer and I pulled over for the night and caught a few hours of sleep with dreams of Metlako running through our heads. After a rainy night we woke early and were ready to get after the day’s mission.

Assessing our food stuffs for breakfast you could tell we probably needed to get home soon. After a delicious breakfast of cold tuna, hot sauce, and macaroni sans cheese, we were ready to move on to bigger and better things. We met two other crews at the put-in and planned on meeting them up the trail. We geared up and set off on what would become the most enjoyable hike I’ve ever taken. Carrying your boat for 4 miles isn’t really that much of a chore when you’re engulfed in a big beautiful dynamic landscape. Gorgeous cascades, stunning views of the canyon below and the ultra-scenic footbridges crossing side tributaries made for a pretty easy going trek.

An 8 foot Fluid Solo for scale, simply gorgeous. photo: David Schmitt

First look at Metlako. photo Leif Anderson

Skoonichuck was our first test, and when I say first I mean it was put on, float 20 feet and be at the lip of the waterfall. The drop itself is around 40 feet into a small pool followed by a 10 foot boof. We all decided to fire it up. After leif went off the second drop backwards and I chose to perfect my roll to boof technique Natalie took the cleanest line award on our first drop of the day. We worked our way downstream through pristine basalt gorges that were out of this world. The hike up may have given an incredible view of these gorges below, but on the water they became a kayaking sanctuary.

Leif on Skoonichuck! photos: Natalie Kramer

Basalt gorge bogey water. photo: Leif Anderson

A few fun read-and-run boofs later it was time for round two, Punch Bowl Falls. The other two groups were either taking their last glances at the lead-in, or already waiting at the bottom when we pulled up. The creasing lip on this drop makes it a little more challenging, but all in all our lines came out great. All it took was a little speed to ride up on the pillow and one steady sweep stroke into a tuck. I popped up in the pool below to find everyone beaming ear to ear. With the adrenaline still flowin we paddled downstream to the take-out before the big boy, Metlako Falls. Five of us decided we were in, Leif, Natalie, myself and the Montana boys Jared J. and DJ Stoneman.

Punch Bowl scout. photos: Leif Anderson

For those unfamiliar with Metlako Falls, it is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the U.S. Its height has been debated from 80 to 100 feet. It’s enclosed nature has made it a little difficult to get a true measurement. I don’t claim to have the best eye for measuring waterfalls but I’d put it at about 85 feet. Really it’s neither here or there, it’s a big drop, but one of the most beautiful out there. If in some twisted way you can consider throwing yourself off a huge waterfall “easy” then Metlako is probably one that is. The lead-in to the drop is “relatively” simple; just line-up downstream, in the center of the channel, and paddle slowly into the lead-in sloping chute and away you go. The key is “relatively”, running big drops is a serious undertaking and takes a cool head. Free fall in general, let alone in a kayak, is not a natural feeling for the human mind or body and takes sense of very acute control. Knowing that this is what we signed up for we all headed downstream.

Aside from the thought of the upcoming falls I really can’t picture a more serene setting than the float into the inner sanctum above Metlako. Sitting in the pool above the drop is a feeling of nervous tranquility that can’t really be put into words. We waited for a while to make sure our cameras got into place and then started discussing the inevitable…. “so, who’s gunna go first?”. Well, long story short, as all of us guys made dumbfounded faces and tried to come up with the best excuse, Natalie made sure we knew how big of pussies we all were. She said something along the lines of, “You all are acting like a bunch of little boys” and then peeled out of the eddy and out of sight over the lip. Well like any little boy who’s just been taunted we hid our shame, buffed out our chests and showed that we weren’t chicken. Leif went after Natalie, followed quickly by DJ and Jared. Bringing up the rear isn’t the most fun, 1st off you don’t get to see everyone else’s runs and 2nd it can get real lonely real quick at the top of a big drop, so much so that talking to yourself is actually pretty reasonable. After a minute or so in the eddy I finally got myself together and went for it.

85 feet is a long ways, the second or two it took to reach the bottom were undoubtedly the longest of my life. I made sure not to tuck to quickly after separation from the lip but even then I found myself having enough time to peek halfway down and specifically remember thinking “am I there yet?”. Well pretty quick thereafter my question was answered. Apparently I went a little over the handlebars and was immediately ejected. The group in the eddy said my boat flew about ten feet in the air when it surfaced and I believe it, it came off fast that’s for sure.

After a cooldown swim to the eddy, I caught my bearings and realized that Jared had got ejected too. Leif and Jared had also thrown there paddles which were still missing. Natalie, who’s skirt imploded was standing on the bank watching the junk show, while DJ wrangled paddles and gear. It was actually a bit comical how misconstrued we all were, but overall we were fine and overwhelmed with excitement. I had to take a moment in the midst of the pandemonium to look up at Metlako. Between emotional relief and the cascade that thundered before me I was in a state of sheer euphoria.

Leif, chucking the paddle on Metlako. photos: Maddy Niermeyer

Eagle creek is unlike any place in this world. It’s a site that has to be witnessed first had, whether you kayak it or not. It draws you in deeper with every bend in the trail or horizon line downstream.


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