Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The (Chilliwack) Canyon

I put Chilliwack in brackets since people who live in the area and do it as their 'backyard' regular run just refer to it as The Canyon.

Chilliwack Canyon was actually the first whitewater I was ever on in a raft in the event that got me thinking of kayaking. But I tell ya, it's very hard to watch the river when rafting down it at a decent water level, you'll spend most of your time simply trying to remember what to do as the guide barks instructions at you while your heart beats wildly! ..at least that's how I remember it. It was also impossible after that to remember anything about the run and correlate it with kayaking once I started, especially seeing as how I didn't kayak at all at the time.

Aaah The Canyon, as a budding beginner boater you constantly hear about Tamihi as the big one, once you've done Tamihi, The Canyon is the next big one. It's all you think about in those early first couple times going down the classic run and running Tamihi wide eyed, preceded by the dodgy trailer park and campground rapids. I remember wondering how anyone could possibly kayak the canyon, of course I'd thought the same of Tamihi when all I could do was the beginner run.

I'd had a good preparation for the canyon, everyone said I'd run rapids and stretches on other rivers that were quite a bit more difficult (this was apparent in hindsight). I'd run Tamihi maybe 20+ times leading up to it. Kay would say you should be able to run Tamihi backwards and do 3 clean descents from Slesse to Raft Ranch before it was safe to go in the canyon, I agree, and I was probably close to this before I did it. All you ever heard was canyon this and canyon that, it really had a lot of lead up to it.

I remember heading up there to do it the first time, it was a fairly cold Saturday in mid or late October if I remember correctly, I'd been running Tamihi for a bit over a month. I could barely sleep the night before and my heart was pounding in my chest, constantly thinking 'what am I doing', 'am I ready', 'what am I getting myself into'.

I got to the takeout just after Slesse boof and the 6 other paddlers were there already, there were Marvin and Klade that I knew, and 4 others I'd never paddled with before who had a laugh at the fact that it was my first canyon run and I'd only been paddling 3 months! It turned out to be a really good run, Marvin was giving me the lowdown as we went and showing me the easy lines if I chose to take them, but I found myself most of the time reading and running on my own, it was at a good 1.2 level, not too pushy and not too bony.

That's it, it was done! I'd done the canyon, now I was on my way to being a bona fide class III+ boater! (you'll hear lots of different ratings on the canyon from III- to IV, and of course it largely depends on water level). With all the prep and fear I'd had going it, it was very anticlimactic, which is a good thing when you're doing something dangerous, better safe than sorry! I remember finishing the run and thinking 'that's it?' and that it was not too difficult, if sometimes more continuous whitewater than I'd experienced. I was really on my game that day too which made a big difference, and I had rolled 3 times as well.

The second run, not so easy, it was at 1.34 or so and I found it a completely different river, pushier, bigger holes, very challenging..I swam that day, into the big hole after godzilla, and that run really humbled me.

Since then I've done about 14 more canyon runs including insane pre-work 7 AM runs before it's even light, multiple runs a day, even 3 one day which started at 7 AM and went until about 330 before I got home..I've done it as low as 0.86 and as high as 1.5, most of the time in my Medievil, 2 or 3 times in my Riot Magnum 72 creekboat which I found took lots of the fun and challenge out of the run. I've gone with just 1 other person at a time when I probably shouldn't have, I've guided 2 kayakers at or just below my level and a tandem canoe down, which probably isn't the best idea either. I now know everything that's coming in the canyon and can tell someone what's coming up and what lines to take all the way down, which is nice. But the canyon will often throw surprises at you in the forms of wood or you being off your game, you can never be too complacent.

The canyon has colorful names for it's rapids and is very pool drop which is nice, with a few more sustained sections, and things can beef up between 1.4 and 1.6 quite a bit. One persons died in the canyon (due to the river), an Olympic swimmer by the name of Mel Zajac back in 1986 at a hole now called Mel's hole, which is probably the biggest, most dangerous feature of the canyon.

There is only 1 more difficult section of the Chilliwack River, but you don't hear about it as much, and that's the first 2-3 km right out of Chilliwack Lake...that's hopefully what's coming next in the near future!

Until then, I suppose I'll spend a lot more time in the canyon until it warms up a bit and I get another creekboat!

 Cocaine drop (also known as Double Whammy)
 Slesse Boof
 The bridge over the put-in
 Klade boofing Carousel
 Sitting a drop above Mel's (me in the big orange Creeker)
Marvin surfing surprise wave

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