Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Intro to Creeking

With Easter weekend around the corner I had no plans and a hankering to get out in my creeker, so with my 4 days off I got really excited to find that circumstances had caused a drop in difficulty for a Southern Washington trip planned by some friends of mine, I managed to slip in with the group and we went to tackle some classic creeks running at low volume(400 cfs for the Lewis one), good for a gentle intro for a guy of my skill level. I was stoked.

After long waits at the border thanks to a strong Canadian Dollar Friday morning we all met in Granite Falls to head to nearby Canyon Creek which drained into Stilliguamish River (paralelled by the difficult Robe Canyon on that river). This was supposed to be the easier of the 2 Canyon Creeks we intended on tackling and also a fairly short run. With 2 days of sunny Mid Twenties(celsius) temperatures ahead no one could complain!

To my surprise, going into the first part of the river where it seemed gorging in, dropping altitude and presenting a juicy horizon line, everyone disappeared over the lip...that got the 'ol heart rate going, a sizeable boof over/through a hole, sharp bend with a few more pourovers and swirling sidecut rock later I found myself upside down, only to roll up into a pool surrounded by everyone. Off to a good start :) I remember this as the most difficult rapid of the first run probably because of the surprise factor.

There were definately some memorable drops, I have no idea what they were called, one involved a couple decent sized ledges into an aerated pool into which your boat would disappear and you'd be up to your eyeballs in 50/50 air water mixture, the exit not wide enough for a paddle even. There was one really nice boof with an undercut wall on the right to avoid. Later came a seive laden boulder garden that is normally a mandatory portage, but we managed to sneak far left on it.

It was an interesting experience running drop after drop with each one being bigger and/or more technical than anything I'd run before, no longer were you faced with a wide river featuring numerous lines and no real danger besides a retentive hole or two. Now coming into play were complex must make moves (moreso anyway), and things that could actually cause a decent amount of distress to someone hearing about it having no idea how to handle it...or even someone who knows how to handle it in the event things do go wrong. Seives, undercuts, strainers, river wide holes, ledges, pourovers that you could not avoid and had to simply deal with by finding a way around, through or over are becoming the name of the game from here on in it seems. I imagine these creeks at the low water we had were about as easy as it gets with those things involved, but I'd hate to be in there as a true green beginner!

It was also interesting that none of us had run the two creeks we were doing, and so we ended up getting out to scout every drop as horizon lines were presented. For me this was the ultimate learning experience in setting safety, seeing what the more experience creekers were looking for/at, and reading what the water was really doing to figure out where the dangers were and decipher the line, it's like putting together a puzzle really. I was also, when I could, observing how people were running the drops, sometimes using different gain experience for when I'm eventually potentially leading people through similar terrain.

Another big part of it was the gorges, the rocks are often wet and slippery, making it hard to get a look at things, often impossible to hike out unless someone had some climbing gear...and even then...but at the same time, beautiful places that the only way to get down into safely would be to navigate the waterway or rappel down the sides. I was truly in awe of the whole experience.

After camping out at Sunset Falls on East Fork Lewis we headed up Saturday to run Canyon Creek that joins Lewis River (yes, a different creek by the same name, there's a third and maybe fourth one in the state). This was the one I was looking forward to, primarily because I'd seen to much video of it, wanted to run it the weekend prior but the water was too high for me, and the falls...3 gorgeous picturesque waterfalls of 18, and 2 x 10 feet.

Lots of the drops on this run were little ledges into holes that you often wanted to make a move off of a flake (rock outcropping) to get over or around somehow, but tons of fun each time. The most memorable drop for me (I think called 'Terminator') was when the creek totally gorged in and became horribly constricted, though beautiful. There was a big eddy with a small island overlooking a churning pool that you wanted to run to the right, followed by a river wide hole that it looked like you wanted to go left of. We couldn't even all fit on the little island to scout. After watching the guy in front of me deal with a bit of a busted line or something that sterned him pretty good, I was a bit nervous going in, but pulled it off without any difficulty, I was all smiles and high fives after that, and feeling good!

At one point in the gorge shortly after there was a bungee jumping bridge overlooking the canyon, with people going off of it. I remember wondering what would possess people to spend a good amount of money for a 5 or 10 second thrill that would be nowhere near as fulfilling or long lasting (the whole creek exploration took us almost 5 hours!) as what we were doing, let alone even the singular act of hucking one of the three waterfalls coming up...

Another memorable drop involved a ledge into a big hole you had to just run to the left of a flake then punch the next hole and run left of another river wide hole, I ended up going too far left of the river wide and got stuck in a boiling, caved out 'eddy' beside it...after flipping on my attempt at current reentry I ended up rolling up at the end. Then came some fun boulder garden boogie into the waterfalls!

First up was Big Kahuna, a punchbowl style falls with a nice autoboof flake into a giant carved out, stadium-esque looking part of the canyon about the size of a football field I figure. Next up after another rapid was the famous double drop (champagne followed by hammering spot with a 60 foot pool in between). Champagne was straight forward with a large extruding boulder you could easily boof off of the side or top of even.

Hammering Spot was a different story, I wish I'd looked at it, but I stayed in my boat and got directed how to run it (not that I would have necessarily tried anything different!). All the water seemed to feed into a large hole on the left, with a green wave more towards the middle (that seemed to feed into the hole), and a flake on the right that looked boofable. Our first guy ran the wave and was fine, just before me Geoff ended up going for the flake but missing left and dropped dead stopped into the hole which he surfed for awhile, until it let him go, I went for the same line and the same thing happened, except that I missed my boof and penciled right in to lay upside down at the base of the waterfall with the curtain beating down on me for a couple of seconds before it kindof let me go, I rolled up and hit a churning little eddy to the side only to find my spraydeck had collapsed (5th time in 2 days, need a new deck!) and my bow was tilted upwards! The fact that I didn't even feel the piton and the boat wasn't smashed open is a testament to Prijon plastics and boat design in my estimation...and comforted me big time! I'm also very happy I leaned right forward into the dive as I remember it, otherwise I may have hurt my back...that was the big difference for me that really improved my game this weekend, I remembered to lean forward most of the time and stay more stable, aggressive and in control whereas in the past I haven't always. The few times I did flip over were often because I leaned too far back I believe.

The next rapid had a seive to avoid followed by 'Toby's', where Toby got pinned and I believe perished. We ended up seal launching off the left here to avoid the rapid, good thing since we found the potential line being considered was where he got pinned! Ben seems to have good instincts for these things, seeing as he wanted to portage right away.

After a long mile and a half paddle-out across a lake to the takeout, I was spent, especially with the heat in full force now that we'd exited the canyon.

The final day in the morning a couple of us ran East Fork Lewis waterfall run, I again missed my boof on Sunset Falls and ended up going screaming right on 'screaming left', not recommended, but turned out ok, and got flipped at 'hippie john's'. I wasn't on my game, and looking at that, the fact that I didn't want to bust open my boat and was the only one driving home without any company, decided to head home and skip the second running of Canyon Creek of the Lewis (which I hear only took 1.5 hours! Things are much faster when you know them fresh in your mind).

Overall it was an awesome trip with no carnage or even bad issues really, well played. I can't wait to hit some more creeks here in the future continuing with upping my level at a steady, reasonable pace in my opinion, it's not so much a race anymore, I just want to enjoy my progression and be comfortable with what I do...especially as the stakes get higher.

I'm looking forward to practicing my boof and line retention in my comfy old backyard Chilliwack canyon run once the levels start finally coming up...

Hopefully in time for next weeks Vancouver Kayak Club Festival!

Thanks to Annie and Denny for the photo goodness

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