Monday, April 29, 2013

A Peak at Deer Creek

These days there is a very cool phenomenon that happens around the kayaking scene every weekend.  You get a text from one or two of your paddling bros, you make plans, show up at the put in, and without fail there will be 6-10 other bros that just happen to be there at the same time as you.   It happens every time regardless of where you decide to go and its awesome!

So a few Saturdays ago, we drove past Arlington, WA at the town of Oso. Myself, Mike Nash and Nick Hinds sat and waited for the fashionably late to arrive.  We were soon met by Brock Gavery,  followed by Brett Barton, Chipper Maney, Ben Hawthorne, Rob McKibbon, Christian Knight and Joe Howard.  Somewhere along the way Dan Patrinellis and Adrian Wigston showed up. 

This was my first time on Deer Creek and from what I understood about it (and with a group of this size) the odds were in favor of carnage.  The locals often refer to Deer Creek as Robe's big brother.  As in the big brother that doesn't think twice about knocking the snot out of your for not sharing your favorite toy.

Good beta on this run is hard to come by as it can be hard to access and only runs when Robe is in the 7-8ft + range.  We drove toward the put-in hoping the loggers kindly left the gate open for the remaining 3 miles of road past Lake Cavanaugh.  Not so much. Once we realized that we were in for a 3+ mile  long hike, a couple of the bros opted to run our shuttle and drink some brewskies.

McKibbon and Adrian Wigston hiking in

some of the group taking a snack break before starting the bushwack decent to the river

Deer Creek starts off with some pushy class III+ for the first mile or so.  The ominous feel of the canyon, the relentless nature of the whitewater and not knowing the wood situation keeps you on edge.  After a short paddle you come to the first big rapid which can be scouted from the river left.  The following shots are all from the 1st major rapid.

Ben running the right line  
Ben a little further down
Joe Howard on the sam rapid running left
Mike Nash driving hard and boofing to avoid a big hole
Adrian boofing the left entrance

Some continuous class IV and V read and run led the group to an eddy on the river left.  We got some vague beta above a horizon line and ended up blue angling into a pretty big set with some really nice features.  I vividly recall, "there is a big wave hole in the entrance, punch that and the rest is mellow."  So as we approached the rapid the wave hole was pretty obvious and I gathered some speed, took a big stroke, threw my weight forward and popped through.  Whew!  Glad that was out of the way.  What he failed to mention was that immediately behind the wave hole lurked a 6ft pour over with a massive hydraulic that required a crucially timed boof.  I didn't have the angle I needed and did a bit of old school playboating, flushed out and scrambled for a micro eddy on the river right.   

Super Joe from the correct eddy for the 2nd big rapid

Luckily everyone made it through and we ended up catching an eddy on the right above one of the longer rapids on the river.  I grabbed this shot of McKibbon making the ferry to line up for the rest.

Rob McKibbon

More class IV read and run lead to the 3rd big rapid.  Scout from the river right.

McKibbon maybe a little further left than he wanted

and resurfacing....

Kiwi Mike crushing it

and finishing it off...

From here the action continues for another couple miles.  I would grade the run out of Deer Creek as quality class V read and run at its best.  We had some flips and surfs and spins and funky lines but everyone made it through without a hitch.  When in doubt, its down the middle and boof!  This is an outstanding run with breathtaking scenery and solid rapids.  I would recommend it for anyone that wants a little day trip adventure.  

Here is a shot of the bridge at the takeout.  We were thinking this was probably a medium flow at about 1500 cfs.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Upper Wind Race: 2013 Edition

Last weekend marked the start of festival season in the Pacific Northwest. The Upper Wind Race features a mass start format and consisted of around 50 competitors this year, with several divisions. I competed in the Mens K1 division. There was also a Womens K1 class, a long boat class, and a r2 class.

The event is organized by The Oregon Rafting team, namely Tim Brink, and is heavily supported by Next Adventure, along with several other paddling related entities in the Portland area.

Seeing as this event was initially designed as a 'raft race' the course is quite long and a rather large portion of 'flat water' class III after the initial mile and half of IV+ whitewater. All combined, the course is just over 3 miles in length and takes over 20 minutes to complete. Needless to say, by the time you're at the bottom, everyone is pretty tuckered out.

The week leading up to the festival had been uncharacteristically warm for this time of year, but right on cue, we woke up on Saturday morning to rain and cold temps. Spring is in the air! The rain did bump the water level up to approx. 5.8 feet on the Stabler gauge, which made for a nice flow for racing.

After the long boat class took off, the K1 Mens Division was up. All 30 of us lined up along the banks above the bridge at the Stabler put-in. This year, someone decided to have us start with our bows towards the bank, so the first paddle stroke that everyone took was actually a back stroke. We were seeded based on a poker card we had been issued upon registration. Naturally, I had drawn a 7 of hearts and was towards the back of the pack to start.

The whistle blew and the river erupted into a flurry of boats and churning paddles. This was by far the most challenging part of the race for me! Trying to keep myself in the current while avoiding the serrated fiberglass blades of the guy next to me, the first 1/2 mile of the race was overly tiring and seemed to go on forever!

Just as the racers began to thin out and fall into line, we entered the meat of the run. Initiation down through Climax features a nice blend of class III and IV boulder gardens with one obvious crux at a rapid known as Ram's Horn. Having only paddled this river a few times in the past, I focused on keeping an eye on the guy in front of me as we dropped through the goods.

By the time we came to the last real rapid on the run (Climax) I was overly tired and kind of forgot the line through this often sticky ledge hole. Luckily, I was able to orient myself at the last moment and came through the hole in big stern squirt. Just another mile of flat water to the finish line!

I spent the last mile of the race jockeying for position with Jesse Becker and Michael Freeman. Jesse ended up winning the duel and I came in just a nose in front of Michael. After it was all said and done, I finished in the middle of the pack (9th place) and was a full minute+ behind Dan Rubado (1st Place) and Trevor Sheehan (2nd Place). Times were unofficial and haven't been posted as of today, but you can view the standings at

In the Women's class, which featured 7 racers, Kim Becker edged Heather Herbeck for 1st place and had a pretty exciting duel at the finish line with Nicole Mansfield and Katrina Van Wijk, who were charging in the topo-duo. I believe Kim held them off in the end.

Below is a collection of photos taken by Eric Adsit, Jacob Cruser, and my girlfriend Claire, who was kind enough to hike all the way into Ram's Horn in the pouring rain to watch the show. I've also put together a video of my headcam footage.

Hope everyone can make it our next year! And remember, the Northwest Creeking Competition is only a month away!

Until next time,

Dan Rubado, way out in front at the start of Initiation (Photo: Jacob Cruser)

 The front pack getting into the goods. (Photo: Jacob Cruser)

 More K1 Men routing through Initiation. (Photo: Jacob Cruser)

 Dynamic Duo. (Photo: Jacob Cruser)

 R2 Class (Photo: Jacob Cruser)

 More rubber. (Photo: Jacob Cruser)

Nicole and Katrina rocking the topo below Ram's Horn (Photo: Claire Rothstein)

 Jesse Becker, Leif Anderson, Harrison Rea, and Nate Merrill in the middle. (Photo: Claire Rothstein)

Random chargers below Ram's Horn (Photo: Claire Rothstein)

Dan Rubado trailed closely by Lewis Hooker (Photo: Claire Rothstein)

 Christie Eastman in the long boat division. (Photo: Claire Rothstein)

Harrison Rea and Nate Merrill (author) routing through the top of Ram's Horn (photo: Eric Adsit)

 Follow the leader. (photo: Eric Adsit)

The video!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A solid crew

I think when moving to a new place, many people wonder where and how they will make new friends.  Who am I going to watch the Sunday game with?  What will I do for happy hour?  Am I only going to meet people I work with?  For me, almost every weekend now I find myself spending time with someone I have never met before, and usually those hours are some of the most precious I spend all week.  For this, I blow off golf with my father-in-law.  I don't go out and party all night.  And I try really really hard not to make plans that could potentially cut into this valuable time.  I make these sacrifices because that time is spent building a unique bond that can't be emulated by any sized group  doing anything other than whitewater kayaking.

Having a solid crew for kayaking is crucial.  There is a certain level of responsibility you have for others on the river when shit goes down so you want to make sure you surround yourself with athletes that want to get it done and will be there for you when mistakes happen.

People in my office think I'm crazy.  The husbands of my wife's friends don't understand why I don't want to do one more shot.  My family wants to understand but it's just too far removed from anything they would ever attempt or enjoy.  People wonder why we do it.... I still don't have an answer for that. Or maybe I do, but that answer would go on and on because it changes constantly.  The questions from the people I interact with on a regular basis are always the same:  Where did you go?  Who did you go with?  How do you meet those people?  Is it cold?  Do you wear wetsuits?  Do you go upside-down?  

Sometimes I go upside-down but I try not to.  It is cold but we wear sick Kokatat dry suits.  We went to Robe which is near Granite Falls.  The question that always intrigues me the most is the one about how I "find" the people I go with.   "How do you know these guys?"

How do I know these guys?  I was first introduced to the Seattle crew by one of my boys from Colorado and fellow transplant to the Pac NW... one of the household names of kayaking, Nick Hinds.  If you don't know or haven't heard of Nick Hinds you should probably quit kayaking.  Nick is a staple to the sport.  

  Nick on Big Brother

another sweet shot of Nick on one of my favorite runs in Washington, the Ohanapecosh

  On previous trips to Washington Nick had introduced me to Scott Waidelich.  Scott always has a beat on what is running and who is going.  Without him I would probably have only half the days on the river I have so far in Washington. He is as smooth as butter on the river and the nicest guy you will ever meet.  As per his latest facebook post, right now he is down in Chile on the Rio Futaleufu.

Scott getting style points on the top tye

I met Adrian Wigston at his brother Nick's wedding a few years ago.  Nick is a living legend in Colorado and one of the best kayak and swift water rescue instructors on the planet.  Nick and I have logged some serious road trip hours together and had countless special days on the river.  

Sweet photo of Nick Wigston dropping on the NF Little Wind

I hooked up with Adrian as soon as I got to Seattle.  Adrian is a great person to know up here... so fired up all the time.  He is a sick surfer too.  If you are ever surfing in El Salvador make sure to connect with Adrian.  He is always ready to charge!

Adrian in the Chelan Gorge

Adrian introduced me to the Tom Janney of the Pac NW, Dan Patrinellis.  Speaking of Tom, he was a breath of fresh air to my kayaking career.  Tom was young ripper that moved to Boulder, went to CU and was ready to fire!  I had heard about Tom on many occasions before I ever met him.  Everyone made such a huge deal about how he swam in the Gore race.  I never knew why the local Colorado crews thought this was so funny until I finally met him.  The first time I paddled with Tom, he showed up at the NSV put in wearing shorts.  The temperature was below freezing, there were snowflakes in the air, and we were putting on at what we think were record high levels - close to 600 on the gauge.  I asked him if he was slow or something. Tom ran the entire river and didn't get his face wet.... I was thoroughly impressed.  I wish this guy would move up here.

Tom gettin some on one of our road trips to Hood River

Back to Dan!  Dan and Tom are similar in many ways but I'm doing my best to keep this post as kosher as possible so I won't go into details.  I love paddling with Dan.  He has a great sense of humor and always has a smile plastered on his face on the river.  Lately he has been getting on Robe 3+ times per week which is awesome!  I'm looking forward to letting him show me down some of the runs on the OP this spring.

Dan on Ohany falls

Through Adrian and Scott I was able to meet up with Kiwi Mike Nash.  Kiwi Mike is one rad dude.  He hasn't been in the States that long but already has an in-depth knowledge of the local runs.  I was lucky enough to have Kiwi Mike guide me for my first runs on Robe and Ernie's.  He loves to fire and is all about having fun all the time on the river.  

Kiwi Mike showing some Spirit

A few years ago I put on the Skykomish for a solo lap and ended up paddling with a guy named Sam Grafton.  Sam's name is starting to get out there now but he is not a big self-promoter and is probably the hardest charger you have never heard of.  Sam is not flashy, he is not about getting the perfect shot, and I don't think he even owns a dry suit.  I'm not sure how you can live in Index, run the shit all year long and not own a dry suit, but Sam pulls it off.  He is a soul boater to the core.  

Sam punching a little curler to avoid a massive hole on Eagle Falls at a juicy level.  Most class V boaters won't touch this drop but its just another Tuesday morning for Sam.  David Spiegel took this sick photo.  He has recently moved back up this way from Colorado as well and is just killing it out there!

Sam's mentor is a guy named Rob McKibbon.  Rob is a local legend here and another name you have probably never heard of.  Rob does things in a kayak that even the best in the sport wouldn't dare.  He has run Sunset Falls multiple times, Log Choke Falls is mandatory, and somehow he manages to run portages on a regular basis even when they shouldn't be run.  He is well into his 40's and getting it done with the best of them.  I'm thoroughly convinced he can breath under water.

Rob pretending to be human on another Robe lap

In spite of enjoying the hell out of the Washington crew, the core of my kayaking career have been my two best friends in Colorado and the two guys I have spent more days on the river with than anyone else... Andy Blakeslee and Forrest Noble.  I miss these guys a ton and couldn't imagine two better bros to spend a day on the river with.  Forrest and Andy are just sick!

Here is Forrest on his favorite run - Upper Cherry

Andy Blakeslee always making it look easy

I have been lucky enough in my kayaking career to connect with some world class athletes.  These guys are not only great kayakers but they are even better people.  Of course there are endless names I have not mentioned here but I'll throw in a few more shout outs for good measure...  Ben Martin, Jesse Steele, Wilson Bell, Gary Edgeworth, Josh Bruckner, Jared Johnson, Alex Clayden, Trey Chase, Max Sullivan, Chris Menges, Chuck Sission, Damon Hoydysh, Gordon Banks.... The list goes on and on.... 

Thanks again to Dan Patrinellis for some of these sweet photos.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Winter Grand Canyon

It's day 4 of our marathon sprint 7 day trip.  Ice has been forming on my gear all day long, a stiff headwind is stinging my face and it is 6pm and dark, we have been paddling for 9 hours.  Strangely I'm enjoying myself, I feel fine with paddling for a few more hours, I've been so cold that its funny to me and I'm laughing as we crush mile after mile; is the grand supposed to be a suffer fest?  Luckily I'm brought out of my focus for downstream progress by Ric yelling at me from a beach that I can barely see below a rapid.  I get out of my boat and every piece of gear I have is frozen, luckily I had undone my lifejacket straps a half hour before camp when I could still manage to.  I stripped off my frozen gear and got into my 5 layers of dry clothing, drank some hot chocolate, set up my tent and started a raging fire.  We all cooked our meals, drank some choice alcoholic beverages, went on a cool random night side canyon scramble/climb, and went to sleep satisfied that we got as much out of the day as we could have anywhere.

Most nights of the trip were something similar to the above short story above.  The canyon was the coldest it has been in 37 years, 7 days was WAY too short of a trip, it was as amazing as ever and fun as hell to paddle most of the big rapids in one 45 mile day (hance to blacktail).  Our group of 4 was made of of people that have paddled some of the hardest whitewater in the world and yet everyone was having a great time, paddling our 200 lb boats down the river.

Self support trips are my favorite kind of kayaking trips, no loading/unloading rafts is so much nice.  I have done the canyon 6 times now with half of those trips in the winter and every single trip is unique and memorable in its own way.  This trip was a boys night out kind of trip that lasted a week, and was a great way to start off the 2013 season, I have never felt so strong in January before, but paddling 40 miles a day will do that.  Enough of my babbling, I'll end with my top 5 pieces of gear to bring on a winter trip and some photos.

1) thermos: great for hot drinks and soup
2) The warmest sleeping bag you have (Louis had a 30 degree and froze his ass off)
3) Arugula, it adds a little bit of roughage to the diet and goes great with tons of stuff, plus its pretty hearty and can stand up the cold temps)
4) Gatorade powder (you still have to hydrate in the desert in winter, it's hard to do with cold ass water)
5) Your crossover boat of choice, I took the wavesport ethos and loved it, we saw pyranha, jackson and liquid logic crossover's and everyone seemed please.  I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the dagger crossover boat as well!
The crew at the put-in, looks balmy? (Tom, Louis Geltman, Steve Arns, Ric Moxon) 

Gotta love enjoying some fine local durango brew at redwall cavern, day 2

    Lots of gear fit in that thing
Myself at lunch on the coldest day of the trip

Staying warm by the fire

 fun class 3, grapevine (I think?)

 Louis in hermit

 Ric showing of his big water sea kayak form

Scenic flatwater

A nice cave out of the wind

Ric soaking in pumpkin springs (nasty)

My favorite shot of the trip, Ric getting western in lava