Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nooksack North Fork and Horseshoe Bend

After my defeat at Mamquam I had to turn down a trip invite for the first knuckles were badly beat up from my swims and I couldn't make it to The Upper Seymour the next day. However next weekend, pogies (mittens around your paddle that your hands slip into) in hand, I would be venturing out again...this time into the most technical section of river I've done even until now.

Whitewater is like snow in a way I find...there are straight up sections where you just go...and there are some technical parts where there is only a single runnable line, lots of rocks and holes and you have to make a series of maneuvers to stay on your line such as jet ferrying or boofing, or simply lining up your momentum and direction on the approach. The more technical aspects come into play moreso with what's called creeking, descending steep creeks that require portaging, lots of scouting, and must make moves is probably the most difficult and risky kind of kayaking people can do, and it's my goal to become proficient at this.

The best way to practice for creeking and develop your skills is to seek the advice of the best kayakers you can find and watch to see how they do things as they descend the river. The other thing you need to do is practice yourself! If you can find what you consider difficult whitewater, practice your moves, ferry across holes, get your duffek down, dropping into eddies and hanging out there with aerated water surrounding you, eddy turns into strong currents, ferry across the river using series of features, holes, waves, rocks. Boof everything, try to hit boofs one after the other and link all these moves together, each time hitting bigger boofs and more difficult ferry lines! That is how you prepare yourself to take on more difficult whitewater where things like this MUST be performed. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms in here, they're all available on Wikipedia if you're not afraid to do some research!

Now the Nooksack is in Washington near Mount Baker, geographically about half hour south of Chilliwack, but because of the border crossing location in Sumas it turns into an hour plus journey! The water was low, very low, 600 cfs or so, which is considered the bare minimum runnable level.

After leaving a vehicle at the takeout we parked at Douglas Fir Campground and quickly discovered a trail leading upstream of the bridge...we followed this trail for some time (most of us, some stayed behind at or near the bridge as we had a varied group this time, for the first time I wasn't the least skilled kayaker, despite being the least experienced), after going for awhile and crossing a large tributary bed we started to hit some very challenging rapids, we were scouting as we went. I suppose you might be able to follow this all the way to Nooksack Falls? At least the town of Glacier anyway..

We finally got to a large rapid deciding if we were to venture more upriver we'd need creekboats instead of the smaller, less buoyant playboats we all had..there was one big rapid before the main run we were going to do. Kiah and I were the only ones who ran it..thankfully with 7 boaters total there was lots of safety around since I was definitely in over my head on this one.

That first rapid was a real challenge for me, it was a big drop with wood wedged in the top right of the lip after which all the water squeezed into a small, churning channel which led straight into a big rock, which you could go right of, or more difficultly go left of. The height of the drops and froth of the confluence at the bottom really made it intimidating to me. I watched Kiah get in and warm up a bit, then run it without much difficulty, he is a better boater than me and had a much bigger boat as well. I got in and warmed up a bit, doing some rolls, eddy turns, stretching and ferrying, it's always fun when the first drop of the day is the largest! I headed into the drop of my line from the start, I was too far right! I managed to skid across the log and fall into the froth at the bottom, the hole immediately after flipped me, I rolled up and into the big rock at the bottom only to flip over again..I knew all I had to do was wait it out and I felt my boat slowly turn then run down the rapid as my head dented on some rocks then rolled up in the pool at the bottom. I'd done it, mostly upside down, but for my level at the time I was happy, everybody clapping in disbelief and happy that I didn't swim!

The next stretch to finish off Horseshoe Bend was a series of rocks with pourovers between them where moves had to be made in quick succession to stay on the often only line possible down the stretch at this water level. Hopping down there was the most fun I can remember having in a kayak, it was so challenging, I missed one ferry and got pinned up on a rock with my bow in the air, it took a bit but I managed to wiggle myself off only to get flipped over in the hole just after, I rolled up half against a rock and unable to breathe with the water rushing into my face resulting in a brief swim. We would finish off the last leg of Horseshoe Bend with less difficulty as we met up with the other members of our crew and avoided the almost river wide log near the end by going far left.

The class 3 section after the Douglas Fir Bridge was fun and seemed easy after Horseshoe Bend, going through a very scenic little canyon. It was a bit shallow however, even the next day friends of ours would kayak the same stretch at more than double the water because of rainfall!

I wish we'd taken out at the next bridge, as the last 5 km or so was a long float through shallow gravel beds and trees, but now we know...

This is a definitely a run I can't wait to get back to at the level I'm at now and maybe with a creek boat so I can hit more of the difficult rapids upstream of where we put in...maybe in the Spring! Like the Chehalis, this river is largely water reactive, so it's flows can often be very sporadic, keep your eyes on the skies!

 Scouting the first rapid, wish I had a better picture of this
 This is one of the more open areas

 Marvin finishing off the first section
 Kiah making it look easy
 Some of the typical boogie in the low water Bend
 Eddy hopping at it's finest, with nice big eddies

 The long float home...

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