Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whistler Classics

Three weeks ago I went to Whistler for the first time ever and had what was probably the worst paddling experience I've had. First off on the Soo river I went to roll about 3 rapids in and popped out of my boat only to find the nuts holding the ratchets to the thigh braces ripped out of the plastic. Luckily Ryan from Western Canoe and Kayak was coming out that night and able to furnish me warranty replacements to get my boat going again. The next morning we were putting on the Upper Cheakamus at about 2.65 and I had my first swim in the new boat after blowing the eddy before bridge drop under the suspension bridge and biting it in the left eddy line after the hole. I lost my paddle but luckily Ryan and Dave were able to recover my boat intact. My paddling, however, was done for my 4 day weekend. Luckily there are lots of things to see and do in Whistler, especially for a first timer, what a beautiful place it is!

So with a better result in mind and lower water levels I came back for a nine day stay (my first real dirtbag kayak trip lasting longer than a weekend) armed with an AT2 Superduty paddle as well.

First off was to get back on the Upper Cheak, which I did with a clean run at a less pushy 2.4 ish level. This river is amazing, a pool drop barrage of fun drops at low levels that gets continuous quickly with some water. Fun rapids like cobra and bridge drop build it up to the tougher triple drop, of which in classic fashion the 2nd drop is the kicker. You come in and get blinded going through the first drop to find yourself near the second, but at lower levels it seems as long as you get some speed and punch it with a strong boof stroke left of center there's no problem, however I did see some people swim out of there during the week. Setting safety or walking it is fairly easy as long as you get out on river right before the first drop. I remember feeling a lot of relief after hitting this drop successfully each time! The most fun drops I thought on the run were the one further down where the river constricts a bit around to the right around a big rock that juts out and the final drop with a neat boof at the bottom right just below house rock that I enjoyed running off the right of. It's a quick run after you know it. There is also an optional waterfall at the start, which looks awesome when run correctly, and offers beatings when it's not.

Next was Callaghan. I wasn't too happy to come to Whistler the weekend prior and not hit this one up. This was my favorite run of the week by far, it starts off with a 10 foot bowl type drop that everyone portaged and seal launched, the seal launch is a bit sketchy and the second time I did it I managed to find a slightly submerged rock with my bow and piton in, which didn't feel great. Next up at these water levels is a mank fest rapid before the first waterfall, a 16 footer that comes up fast. The first time I ran the rapid above, I eddied out in a bad spot on river left and flipped upon my return to run the last half upside down and roll up before the waterfall entrance. The first falls gives you a sweet autoboof, so just get a bit of strokage in and lean forward. You want to hit it near the rock in the middle but still be able to make it to the eddy at the bottom on the left, which I didn't do the second run.

The rapid between the falls is one of the more difficult ones, with the water nozzling through some odd rock formations, I actually found it easier to enter on the right the time I missed the eddy and just comitted to running it coming in from the falls. Then you eddy out before the big one. The main event waterfall at Callaghan is one of the cleaner, most popular falls out there, coming in between 20-25 feet with a beauty rolling lip it is something to behold. You can get out and scout it and watch people run it, you can even hike in and just see the waterfalls if you want, though not a hike I'd like to do with a boat, especially out. The idea is to run it just to the left of center, and I found a left boof stroke will keep you away from the wall you otherwise get pushed into on the left. The first time I ran it I was too far left and the flake surprised me, I froze up a bit and burning man'd myself down to plough through the water and surface upright. The second time I was more prepared, but still came in too far left but managed to get in a bit of a stroke to right my trajectory and braced up at the bottom heading into the left wall. The rest of the run is fun boulder gardens with a class V drop that we all portaged, and another drop of note, island drop, where you try to stay away from the hole on the right. Callaghan was the most fun, and I thought most cruisy of the 3 classics at low water.

Lastly is the Soo. I finally got onto this run after we'd gone out to look at Rogers Creek and spend some time at Skookumchuck hotsprings. The Soo feels different, it is bigger water with bigger holes and boulder gardens, also more technical. I think I'd have a much better time on a second run, but it felt more difficult to me. Most of the holes the you run near the edge of the river I managed to do backwards after coming in with too much speed and hitting the wall. I also got stuck in one of the bigger, wider holes, but bumped out thanks to Dan. Overall it was a bad run, and I wasn't very on my game that day...I still got through it without flipping though, and found Linda Lovelace, the typical hardest rapid, to be one of the easiest with the sneak line. Miracle Mile at the end was also lots of fun to run around in and explore.

On the way home I joined Sandra and Jean Luc to run Ashlu Mini-mine near Squamish while Ryan and others went and hit up Tatlow Creek. It was the first time I'd actually seen the Ashlu run of river private power hydroplant in person. Also first time I'd seen any of Ashlu box canyon and 50/50 waterfall, quite the sights to behold! Unfortunately I hurt my ankle a bit on the hike down to mini-mine so took off the river after the first drop and a half. Too bad, I really wanted to run the final rapid, last tango, without getting into 50/50!

Overall it was a great week spent with good friends in an amazing place with great weather, so I can't complain. I got 3 Upper Cheak runs, 2 Callaghan and 1 on the Soo. It'll be great to come back next year and hit things like the rest of Mini-mine, and perhaps Balls to the Wall on the Cheakamus and Upper Birkenhead, but running Callaghan, which is something I never thought I'd get to do this year, was enough on it's own to make the trip worth it and put a smile on my face! It was also great to have a totally succesfull week after the botched prior weekend.

...and I got my paddle back!

Corey May on high water Upper Cheak Falls. Photo by Adam Frey

Luke Morris on Callaghan island drop. By Adam Frey

David Sitar on the rapid between the Callaghan Falls. By Adam Frey

Sandra Ramsey on Ashlu Mini-Mine. By Adam Frey

Sandra dropping a mini-mine boof. By Adam Frey

Me dropping Callaghan's 16 footer. By Montana Wes

Me and Dave watching people drop the Callaghan 25 footer. By Montana Wes

Dan Bentley laying a massive boof on Callaghan's big one in a Topolino! By Montana Wes

Me set for the big one. By Montana Wes

Ryan Bayes dropping low water Upper Cheak Falls. By Annie Lagueux

The amazing hand paddler hitting Upper Cheak Falls. By Adam Frey

Topo puts a smile on Bentley's face. By Annie Lagueux

Callaghan's big one from the bottom. By Annie Lagueux

Looking upstream at Ashlu's hydroproject that they don't call a dam, yet it somehow dams a lot of water. By Adam Frey

Me dropping the big one on Callaghan. By Annie Lagueux

Good video by Luke Morris of The Upper and Balls to the Walls sections of the Cheakamus: http://vimeo.com/29566891

..and the Callaghan: http://vimeo.com/33365620

Andrew Quinn also did a good Cheakamus video: http://vimeo.com/30577244

..and the Callaghan: http://vimeo.com/33486923