Friday, October 28, 2011

The Homathko: Dubious at Best

My season got a late start this year. With a broken rib in May and a full season of work, my kayaking was mostly local until September when a couple spare weeks allowed me to road trip up to B.C. I presented the idea to Xavier Engel who optimistically informed me that he would go and that we would undoubtably boat around Whistler for exactly two days at which point the Homathko river would drop to a runnable flow. Xavier never lies! The prophecy delivered, and our third day in Canada found us heading north with some trepidation as the river dropped nearer to a runnable flow.

                                                   Hector Darbymaclellan guiding us down Tatlow creek near Whistler

As we neared the put in it became apparent that cold weather was working in our favor and the run was in; if a little bit high. What could possibly go wrong? In the town of Tatla Lake we were greeted with some local skepticism - the result of several kayaker evacs from the canyon in past years - however that did not lessen our optimism as we neared the put in.

The Crew: From left Chris Gragtmans, Pete Lodge, Xavier Engle, Louis Geltman, Ric Moxon and I

Day 1: One of the factors that makes the Homathko such a classic expedition is the fact that you run the river from source to sea. The trip starts with a paddle across Tatloyoka lake to the outlet where the Homathko river begins with a few hundred cfs. Over the course of four days you cut through the B.C. coastal range, running six canyons (and portaging one) before ending at the Bute inlet on a flow of over 20,000 cfs! On our first day we battled bitter headwinds across the lake. Once on the river the flow seemed to increase continually as glacier charged side streams made their contribution to the Homathko River. We camped on a huge sandy beach just above the start of the Great Canyon and the whitewater.

Morning at camp 1

Day 2: Shortly below camp the walls started to tighten and the gradient escalated as we paddled into the Great Canyon. Most of the morning we worked our way through high quality boulder gardens which had a fun big water feel and were all runnable.

Louis Geltman the rally master. Louis found out we were going on the
Homathko about three hours after he should have left Hood River OR!

Louis again. Somewhere in the Great Canyon.

Chris Gragtmans in yet another classic rapid with no name.

The highlight of the day came shortly after the exit of the Great Canyon when the river dropped into the shallow but committing mini-gorge known as Birthday Canyon. Amazingly polished and fluted rock frames this beautiful rapid, which ends in the entire Homathko river going through a slot about six feet wide.

Pete Lodge in the entrance to Birthday Canyon

Chris Gragtmans fighting the boils above the slot

Ric Moxon above the crux

Unfortunately we did not get to enjoy the high of Birthday Canyon for long. Shortly below we came upon the the large tributary on the left that marks the start of an arduous portage. Several hours later we got in our boats at the foot of the canyon and paddled a short ways down to camp at the confluence with Mosley Creek just as darkness fell.

Day 3: Day 3 picked up fast. With the added flow of Mosely Creek the Homathko was starting to get a big water feel. After several miles of spicy read and run we got to the first of the three Tragedy Canyons. This canyon was fairly short and easy although a little bit intimidating. The second Tragedy had an unrunnable log in the entrance forcing a portage of the first bit. Paddling down to a midway scout point we had no idea what was to come! Several big rapids led to a point where the river dropped into a massive river wide hole!! After much deliberation we decided to go for it and like sadistic little ducks we paddled in a neat line into the massive, walled in hydraulic! It let us all through and the adrenaline high from this rapid (which we called Dubious at Best) carried us through the final Tragedy and the intimidating - but mellow - Waddington Canyon. From here the walls opened and the cliffs gave way to views of ice fields and peaks in the distance. Several fun, but far less intimidating rapids led us to our final camp

Day 4:  The last day consisted of a mellow float through a beautiful valley topped with glaciers.  After several hours we began to smell the ocean, and even saw seals swimming up from the Bute Inlet.  Shortly after we arrived at Homathko camp.  Upon arrival we were immediatly offered coffee and hot showers by our friendly hosts, and we spent a pleasant several hours conversing with chuck, the owner of the camp, while we awaited the plane. 

Xavier and Louis framed by Bute Mountain near Homathko Camp

Chuck enthusiastically showed us the entire camp including a hydro-electric generator and a thirty-foot power boat all built by hand.  Unfortunately our time here was short and before long the plane showed up.  What ensued was the best shuttle ever!

Chris, Xavier and I excited about our shuttle rig

Saying farewell to the beautiful Homathko

Thursday, October 27, 2011

CO Highwater Recap Part 1: Clear Creek

As anticipated, the huge snowfall of last winter (La Niña I…) led to highwater flows for a majority of this kayak season in Colorado. Especially for the rivers and creeks of northern Colorado and the Front Range.

One of the highlights of the season for me was enjoying our local mini-Payette; that is, Clear Creek. The river ran at over 1000 cfs for more than a month – no rocks in sight!

The afterwork classic run, Black Rock, gained a big-water feel and was not to be missed. I will let these great photos capturing a late evening Black Rock rally at near-peak flow tell the story (photo credits: Justin Merritt):

Lower Narrows in early July:

Rigor Mortis (aka rigo):


A successful highwater blue angel run through rigo is too good not to celebrate:

Here is a video edit to give some perspective from on the water:

With round two of La Niña (Spanish for “the Niña”) appearing to be on tap for this winter, I can only hope more of this is in store for next year. In the mean time, I am looking forward to some fall paddling in the creekin' heartland—the Southeast—with the Huckin Duckie and company.


Forkin' Fun

So Colorado just received their first foot of snow!  Cheers to a good season in the Rockies this winter and next spring.  But meanwhile, I plan to continue taunting y'all with a little Southern comfort - whitewater style.  I am always hungry for new personal first descents, so it has been awesome to live in a different neighborhood where they come aplenty.

Last weekend, in-between 16 hour operating room shifts, I was able to squeeze in a trip to the legendary Russell Fork Gorge.  On the way there, my beta was relatively limited.  I knew there was a release happening and I knew the river had bad sieves.  I didn't have a guide or anyone in mind to meet.  The only important piece of information, however, is that there was a water release happening - I was on my way with a cooler full of PBRs looking to make friends.

Some texting paid off and I was able to link up with a true legendary whitewater paddler as a guide down the Fork!

The Man, the Myth, the River Gypsy - Leland Davis

 If you have not paddled with the River Gypsies, then you haven't been around the proverbial whitewater block.  After all, they wrote the book on the classics of your whitewater neighborhood.

Speaking of classic - peering down into the Russell Fork Gorge with full Kentucky fall colors in effect

Yayaya, so it is purdy.  But how about the boofing you ask?  The Fork is down right boofalicious.

Rolling into Triple Drop (courtesy of
I should mention that the Russell Fork at 8-900cfs has relatively easy IV+ with a spice of V- rapids.  However, it is not a place for those looking to progress to IV+.  Any of the rapids could prove disastrous again as they have in the past.  The sieves live up to their reputation.  You're playing for all the marbles in this gorge.   

Jeff Matonis laying into the Horrendous white fluffy pillow of joy
People always talk about this infamous rapid El Horrendo - spanish for 'The Horrendo'.  The name brought sweat to my palms as we rolled up to the huge horizon line and witnessed the whitewater spray distorting our view of the large group of gathered spectators.  Leland and I spun circles in an eddy while he described the line to me.  As Andria and Leland disappeared off the lip, a little light of joy flickered in my mind.  The thought brought a huge smile across my face while I remembered the legendary Daniel DeLavergne quote, "You only get one chance to run it blind!"   
Some of the best Glory Boofing east of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish! (courtesy

The River Gypsies missing their faithful hound Hudson - possibly one of the most famous river dogs?

Leland proving with his Golden Stroke that he's been in the game longer than you know.

Thanks for making all these pretty pictures!

So check it out.  The Fork is holding heavy with intense fall colors, glory boofs, one of the deepest gorges in the Eastern US, a sweet play wave at the takeout (bring the playboat!), and great camping.  But one of the most important things in my criteria is good eats near the takeout.  Again the Russell Fork comes through with an unbelievable Southern BBQ joint smack in the middle of the shuttle!  Five star paddling trip, represent!
Baby back ribs, pulled pork sandwich, smoked sausage, spicy baked beans and homemade potato chips covered in a spicy vinegar based Southern BBQ sauce.  Legit.
Andria, Leland, Jeff, Sean and I got into a conversation over a 30 rack of PBRs about how guidebooks are dead.  People are not willing to pay for what they perceive they can find for free on the internet.  These are sad times my friends.  I surf the world kayaking web as much as anyone, but it has limitations.

I love guidebooks because you get tons of information from people who actually know what they are talking about unlike the internet.  All the information for lots of runs is in one place (putin, takeout, nearest watering hole, kayak shops, camping, etc)  The authors perceptions and stories enhance my enjoyment of the river.  For a prime example, read the description of the Clark's Fork Box in Whitewater of the Southern Rockies.  

Most importantly, as one author stated, "I love buying guidebooks to all regions of the Earth because the act of buying one significantly increases my chances of finding myself on an adventure."

In that thought, I bring you a list in no particular order of some of my favorite whitewater books:

...Colorado Rivers and Creeks II - Out of print.  Mine is double laminated to help me keep my first guidebook forever.  The book to which all others will be measured.  Still has the best directions/maps for kayaking Colorado classics.
...The River Gypsies Guide to North America - Spectacular book that will get you on the classic runs all over the Continent.  It'll steer you toward the nearest watering hole as well!
...Whitewater of the Southern Rockies - Probably the most complete compilation of kayaking runs ever created.  Legendary stories, epic commitment.  Easily the new standard that is likely to never be met again.
...North Carolina Rivers and Creeks - Continued the stellar tradition of CRCII for the Southeast.  Introduced me to a whole new world.
...Canyonland River Guide - This book welcomed me to the idea of 7 days, incommunicado.  Beautiful.  Probably one of the best covers!
...Montana Surf - also out of print and I can't get my hands on one.  Bummed.  One quote for you: "Poach that Shit!" - YLA forever.  
...New Zealand Whitewater 4th edition - A classic book that will help you get it done Kiwi style.  Excellent illustrations and Kiwi speak.  The West Coast is truly one of the best kayaking destinations in the world.
...The Kayaker's Guide to Ecuador - The best travel destination for Class II-V- boaters on the planet!  This book was written by the people that made it the destination.
...Whitewater Classics - I love kayaking culture and this book brings all of the personalities into the rivers that made them.
...The Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande - My only companion and advice for 7 days on the Mexican boarder.

So go buy yourself a whitewater guidebook and have one hellva adventure!  I can't wait to hear about it.

Every river should end in a huge Climax:


Sunday, October 16, 2011

A True Lover

So I recently ran into a long lost love of mine. She's truly a beauty. Possibly the one that got away too soon. As all boaters fail in attempts to verbally describe their love of the river, so it is that the words escape my tongue for the love we shared. She had her kinks to be sure. Every day I would have to touch her just right to get her to open and sometimes I had to pet her to turn her on, but she always came around. And crucial to winning the heart of any boater, she was extremely low maintenance. She reveled in being ridden hard all day then being put away wet and dirty.  We shared epic sunsets on the Baja coast and found rivers from Wyoming to Arizona and across the country to North Carolina and West Virginia.  Once, during a Gore lap, she was even stolen from me by another man, but found her way back even if a little worse for wear.  Her name was El Toro Rojo - The Red Bull.
Not one of her finest moments....  Notice that we had to unload everything and then find rocks to pave the road Roman style for the truck to get out.  Thanks E-town!

Here's an old school photo of C.Mo loading an inner tube so we could impress some ladies on the Filter Plant!

As many of you may know, I have a colorful driving record.  So after rolling a Tacoma loaded to the hilt full of beer to bribe some Alta ski patrollers in the Utah desert during a blizzard, I found myself in need of a new rig.  Sure enough, like lots of my very best friends in life, I found her on Mountainbuzz.  A rafter was selling her with just under 100,000K.  1996 manual Xtra cab 4-cylinder Toyota Tacoma.  Or a 'Yota Taco in the parlance of our times.  She came fully tricked out with an Alpine stereo, 4" lift and monster BF Goodrich tires!  Even had the topper, roof rack and a custom made padded bed/shelf on the inside.  I became the second generation boater to own her.   
She only ever got stuck twice and a Southeastern boy was driving here.  Sure was a beautiful day to be buried at the South Mineral Creek road.

We had loads of fun together.  She made it to the North Fork of the Crystal - no small feet.  Clarks Fork Box, Embudo, Crystal Gorge, and countless other putins were no match.
Real men rock pink boats on their monster rig!

After all of the years of fun we had together, her broken AC finally forced me to shed her from my life as I moved to Texas.  But like all good kayaking ladies, there was another bro waiting eagerly to pick her up.  And so it was that after selling the ole Truckster to my buddy Paulie we parted ways.  

Loading boats or discussing "Good touch/Bad touch" scenarios at the North Fork of the Payette takeout?
However, she has been surprisingly easy to keep up with and met me for a Labor Day weekend at the North Fork of the Payette last year.  She even brought me a boat all the way to Idaho from Colorado!  

Upper Gauley get-in with full fall colors in effect.

Over the last year, Paulie moved to New Zealand for some graduate level kayaking work.  He passed El Toro Rojo onto a true whitewater connoisseur, Tango.  I have received random text photo reports of the Truckster being at kayaking hot spots from Bailey to Stone Bridge and all places Colorado between with even some Minnesota hucking.
Pretty amazing when the fall foliage can out color a group of rafters...
Tango even rallied the truck out for Gauley season!  It was hella good to see the both of them.  And even though Tango's never been there, El Toro Rojo knows the way to the Green putin, so fire 'er up!  So good to spend time with close kayaking friends on a beautiful river....
Represent for CO and the CKS Squad!
So always remember to show your rig some loving.  Oh, the places you'll go.  As the fourth generation of boater to own her, Tango's got El Toro up to 230,000 hard earned shuttle miles with no signs of stopping any time soon!

Russell Fork fall boating on the way to your flavor hole for consumption next time.....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Following the water

After such an amazing summer of hopping all over the US, I have come full circle to my winter home of Chattanooga TN. The spring started off with competitions on the east in Connecticut and North Carolina, then rallying the RV all the way to Reno and back to Colorado for the summer Circuit. After Teva Mountain Games I traveled to Germany to compete in Worlds which was a huge highlight of the year. After jumping off the plane and going to the OBX for a quick surf vacation, I traveled to Iowa to sell smoothies for a road biking tour and then headed out to the OR show in Utah to check out the new products for 2012. As soon as the show ended, it was back to Salida, CO to finish up season on the Arkansas river. When the water started to run out in Colorado the Gauley was calling with warm weather and good friends. The Gauley is an awesome place for relaxing and getting to paddle world class whitewater.

To kick off our time at the Gauley, we hit the New River Gorge at 6 ft and 9ft. At 6ft, upper and Lower Railroad had great potential to throw wave moves and it was a great level to run the whole river and catch a ton of waves on the fly. Although 6ft was a great level, 9ft was better. Listening to local beta, we heard that the play was not the best, but we hit the jackpot when we arrived at Greyhound bus wave. The wave was big, glassy, and surgy and allowed for any big wave tricks. The river left side of the wave formed a monster hole, but the shape of the wave kept paddlers from getting kicked into the meat. Getting the opportunity to paddle the New was a great way to warm up for our month in West Virginia.

The Thursday before Gauley fest, we got the chance to compete in the first ever SUP event on the New River Gorge. It consisted of an attainment race up river about a mile above Fayette station and back to the beach, as well as a 3 mile downriver race to Teays landing. Paddling down Fayette station was defiantly the most exciting part of the race because I got to work on my whitewater swimming with about 20 other people swimming at the same time. It was awesome to paddle with so many people that are excited about SUP on the river. Look for a bigger and better event there next year. Check out the video of the race SUP WAZOO

The Gauley River is a magnet for all of our friends from around the US and is a great time for us to paddle big water with good friends. With extra water releases this year, I was able to get in a bit more training than I have in previous years. I playboated for 6 about hours each day working every playspot until I was exhausted. One highlight of Gauley Fest weekend is the Upper Gauley Animal River Race. This year I had the opportunity to paddle my “new” dancer and had the chance to get in multiple practice runs in the week before. The race starts at the put-in and continues about 9 miles down to sweets fall, where racers looked both exhausted and happy to finish the grueling race. My dancer treated me well through both the big rapids and the long flat water stretches. This was another great way for me to broaden my paddling skills and I look forward to being even fasted next year. Heres a quick video of the awesome play on the Gauley.

2011 has been a great year in kayaking and I am excited to see what 2012 holds. I have been able to push my boundaries as a kayaker and broaden my horizons in the outdoor industry. Now that I am in Chattanooga, Tn, there will be plenty of paddling left in 2011, but I have my sights set high for 2012.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall Boating in Washington

In mid August, after an awesome summer in Colorado, I headed back out to the Northwest and to school. On my way I stopped in Hood River and camped out there/loitered at the Truss take-out for a week. I happened to meet up with Jay Gifford and the brothas Wells, Todd and Brendan, who showed me the sickest lines down their backyard run.

After a week in HR I linked up with a group of boaters and headed to the beautiful Ohanepecosh. The Ohane comes off of Mt. Rainier and offers some fun creeking and excellent camping at the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park.

Here are some pictures courtesy of Matt Kurle:

After a couple days on the Ohane, we headed to Lower Lewis Falls. Lower Lewis is a sweet 40 footer that stays in through late summer.

Photo by Brett Barton

A sick photographer from Portland named Isaac Koval came along and shot some super rad pictures as well. Check em out

Sick shot Isaac took from the overlook

Base of the falls. Photo: Isaac Koval

After Lower Lewis we headed to the Upper Upper Cispus. UU Cispus is a cool run with several waterfalls on it, the biggest being Behemoth. Behemoth is a sliding 20-30 footer that lands in a boily pool before exiting in a pretty stout hole. We had a pretty scary/eye-opening situation happen on this day. One of the crew came off of the drop crooked and went into a nasty cave behind the falls. We had to vertically extract him out of the cave and up a sizable cliff face. I did not have a pin kit on me that day, but fortunately several others did. This served as a reminder of how important it is to practice rescue scenarios such as this so that you can react quickly and efficiently if and when the situation actually presents itself. And to never forget my kit again.

Fall boating in the Northwest has been really good and is just going to get better as the rainy season approaches. I have been paddling on Robe and the Middle Fork of the Nooksack several times this fall and I am excited to get on some new runs once the rain picks up.

Stay tuned for a BC update and the sickness that lays within the Ashlu river valley.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

2011 Summer Wrap - Part 1

There are a lot of reasons why I kayak. Sure I like the adventure, the challenge, the beauty of seeing new and unexplored places but at its core kayaking is a lot of fun. In the words of Don from Small World Adventures "whats wrong with just fun?". In this vein of thought, I had a few goals for 2011 of doing this run or that river, having less out of boat experiences, etc but my top goal was just to have fun and do whatever is in good and no else embodies fun whitewater more than Idaho.

This year I had my sights on the Secesh South Salmon combo and while flows/weather didn't cooperate for the Secesh. The South Salmon was oh so good...albeit quite a bit lower than the previous year we were in there at. If you're looking for a wilderness river in Idaho to do sans permit I would highly recommend the South Salmon, in fact having done it twice now I think I'm going to make it an annual pilgrimage.

Every trip to Idaho should include some time spent on a white sandy beach. Ideally you will also have access to a blender.

Running through Devils Creek

They don't call it the whitewater state for nothing

Yup, its good, its fun, and there have been rumors of a Bikini Creek hidden deep in Idaho's wilderness runs.

Boof clinic take 1 - Fall Creek Rapid and the end of the goodness

A good forward stroke

Boof clinic take 2 - I'm pretty sure this man might be the most bad ass human being I've meet in recent hishtory

Paddlers in Idaho like long fast boats and usually aren't this color coordinated.

If you venture to the SF you'll also get to enjoy a scenic ~20 mile paddle on the main and get to see a bit of this.

If you venture to the SF you'll also be about 2hrs away from the best 15miles of kayaking in North America which no self respecting kayaker should drive away from. I heart the NF