Monday, October 3, 2011

Gordon River Trilogy

This weekend Dan Bentley and I headed off to Vancouver Island as is often the case in the winter as that's where the best boating often is.

Vancouver Island is amazing paddlingwise, and very unique. It sports a good amount of classics, beautiful deep canyons with amazing scenery surrounded by lush rainforest. The same things that contribute to long hikes to and from put-ins and take-outs, often partially bushwacked and loaded with gradient. It's a relatively unexplored place kayaking wise, but a few key people, most notary of them 'The island boater' Shayne Vollmers can get you directions to anything if you're willing to make the trek. As a less experienced boater the island scared me quite a bit with stories of sandbagging galore and difficult, rope requiring, sketchy single eddy portages abound. You just have to be prepared to get dirty and know what you're in for. If you're willing to put in the work, the reward can be amazing.

Island season goes perfectly with mainland season. There are a few things that run all winter long in the mainland, like Seymour Canyon and Norrish Creek...but it gets really cold sometimes, and snow can often prevent put-in access as well. For the most part mainland season is better spring through fall. Vancouver Island on the other hand is dry during the summer typically (though this year we were running things in July quite often with the oddly late season!), and starts to come in with the fall rains in October. This year seems to just keep on pumping with stomping high rainfalls occuring in late September putting lots of island runs in the forefront of peoples minds! The Puntledge River ran earlier than ever as there was a release this weekend (Friday night-Tuesday which is tomorrow, yes!). Very out of the ordinary in a good way. So basically, while the mainland is partially frozen over, the island experiences rain feeding it's rivers all winter long and decently warm 10-15 degree celsius temperatures much of the time, and it doesn't turn off normally until May or so.

I've had the pleasure of experiencing some of the great runs out there including Cameron, Lower Puntledge playrun, Upper and Lower Gordon at decently high levels, Koksilah which despite having lots of flatwater is one of the most scenic and history filled runs I've ever done, Mill Bay Creek which you can lap over and over. There are tons of runs I want to get on to this 'island season' including Upper Puntledge, Gold River, Ash, Chemainus Copper Canyon, Hemmingston, Harris, Alpine Browns, Upper Nanaimo...the list goes on! One of the runs on the list that I hadn't really thought of much was Middle Gordon.

Saturday a couple of Upper Gordon laps happened with the University of Victoria paddlers as well as Kiah Schaepe who just moved out there for school from Chilliwack. Then Sunday we met up with Ryan Bayes and Sandra Ramsey from Abbotsford and headed down to drop on the Gordon Trifecta!

Flows were low, lower than low. The Upper ultra-classic run was still fun with a bit of mank, so we thought it shouldn't be too bad, though after the extended low water portage around Entrance falls of the Upper, which Ryan ran, I was wondering whether this low water ultra-mank portage fest would be worth doing (turns out is was, once). I wish I'd ran the entrance falls in hindsight, especially knowing it'd get more difficult as the water rises, though the sneak would come into existence as well...Ryan browned it, made it look easy as a good paddler will often do.

Most of the run was, turns out, ultra-mank and low with a bit of portage-fest involved. Lots of rapids that go when it's higher have lines disappear with the low water. Sieve drop lost the push into the sieve, but developed more retentiveness to the hole prior. Rapids that normally just get run blind had to be scouted for lack of water. There were some standouts for me, including Minefield, one of the most fun rapids I've run, the falls drop, and mushroom drop, the last drop of the run. Bottom day is a bad day of boating is better than a good day of pretty much anything else! ..and I wouldn't call this bad either.

The lower run was mank and much easier than I remember, not surprisingly, the flatwater was not as good, but taking out at the end of the middle isn't that great either! Overall, this might sound like a not that great review, but don't get me wrong, the Upper is ultra-classic at any water level and you can spend all day running that. The middle is definately something I'll return to with more water to cushion things over, and the lower would be better with the water as well. All that and I think I'm running a fever, which doesn't help things. But go out and experience it with the right water levels, you won't be sorry, it's a rare feat to run the whole trilogy at once!

Someone disappears in Terminator while Andrew chills out

Upper takeout with our 12 watercraft

Ryan taking Entrance Falls to Brownschool

Bentley showing us the second best line on this drop of the day

Ryan stomping into Mankfield (Minefield) with the new Liquidlogic Stomper 80

Tim and Ryan going for the Minefield runout, this was my favorite rapid of the day

Tim sneaks the rapid above the falls on the left

Dan Bentley drops the falls with Tim waiting at the bottom, this is after my camera display broke, shooting blind
Pics by me

Sandra has posted up her first video edit of this trip!: Gordon River Upper/Middle video