Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chemainus Copper Canyon/Return to the Island

Different people have different goals with kayaking, some people want to become class V paddlers right away, others want to just have fun running easy, non-consequential stuff. Some just want to surf. My goal with paddling is to challenge myself with creeking and constantly up my level, but still be reliable on the river for safety and rescues and not be 'the action'. The second part was not always a priority for me, and has crept more and more into my psyche as time has gone on, hence me spending a lot of time on easier runs just trying to improve my skills to bring them up to the level of ballsiness I had when I first started. I seem to have been fairly successful finding that balance so far.

This weekend for me was a weekend of 'firsts'. It was my first time guiding someone down an easy class IV run, just the two of us, my first time running a IV/IV+ run I'd never ran with 2 guys I'd never paddled with while feeling comfortable and confident in my skill and ability on the drops involved (typically I'd often paddled with the same groups of people in the past), and my first time sacrificing myself to bump someone out of a hole...not to mention it was my first time running anything challenging since October!

Thursday a buddy came down from the frozen wasteland of Grande Prairie, Alberta to do some paddling, since everything in northern (or all of) Alberta is frozen this time of year...we did a quick after work low water Chilliwack canyon run to get the blood pumping then headed on the ferry early Friday morning...

We ended up at the Koksilah canyon put-in atop the recently repaired/rebuilt Kokish trestle, probably one of the most beautiful, historic pieces of art I've ever seen. The river was running a low 13 cms (though higher than the 6 cms I ran it at May 2011!). We headed on down to have a nice warmup creek run for the weekend and get a feel for things. Koksilah is an extremely scenic river, and it has to be to run it considering the long flat water paddle out! In the meat of the run are about six easy class IV drops. Some of them, notably the two 'monastery' drops are close-ish together, depending on a persons level, making it difficult to stop in between, another reason this is a great training creek run. We made short work of it, portaged the fish ladder...though I was disappointed to see the left looked runnable, had I known I probably would have run it. The tight slot drop on the run was at a horrible water level creating a huge pin potential, so we both walked that one, which I had run last year. This creek normally gets run at much higher volumes (60-80 cms), it must have a completely different character at those levels, I would love to experience it sometime! All in all it was a great day on the river with sunny, warm skies which would continue through the weekend (rare this time of year on Vancouver Island).

After the run we headed for a quick look at Mill Bay Creek, which I also ran last year, it was pumping indeed. I thought it still looked good to go, but the pools were short, the drops stout and it was getting dark by that time so we packed it in and headed to Victoria for cold beer and hot food with friends.

Saturday we joined the University of Victoria kayak club for a medium-low run on the Upper Gordon, which I'd run super low and high before. I actually found the medium low level more challenging than both other levels, ended up running the second of triple drop upside down even after airing out the boof on the first but failing to land cleanly. My moment of the day came with a perfectly timed edge-transitioning boof launch off of the flake in Horseshoe, everytime I tried this in the past someone was stuck in the drop forcing me to backpedal and lose all momentum at the last minute. On the almost river wide hole before Terminator someone broke their paddle, and it turned out I was the only one with a breakdown...I suppose someone's taught me the proper way to boat and gear to carry, since this came in handy!

Terminator looked more retentive than it had at either level I'd ran it, though still straight forward as long as you got on the left side. With safety set, we got treated to an amazing rodeo show as every kind of move was made and someone ended up getting throwbagged out while in their boat, good to see. The next person to get munched wasn't so lucky, after almost punching out they got the old upside down drag back to the maw treatment, resulting in a quick exit where unfortunately a kneecap was dislocated on the cockpit rim as it's understood, effectively ending his weekend, which sucks. We made it to the takeout where I drove buddy to the Duncan hospital to get looked at while the rest of the group split into either heading into the middle/lower or redoing the upper. Turned out that in the middle someone hit their ribs pretty hard resulting in a hikeout and another hospital excursion. A little bit of an epic day.

Sunday there was a low water Copper canyon run going on up at Chemainus river. Copper is a run I've been meaning to get on for awhile now, a classic island run chalk full of awesomeness. After an aborted island trip in early January this was the perfect opportunity to redeem myself and close off the weekend on a high note, so I ended up doing something I hadn't often done to this point, I joined up with a group I'd never paddled with on a run that might push my limits that I'd never paddled and wasn't very familiar with.

All of this ended up giving me the butterflies for a run I hadn't experienced since my first run on the Upper Cheakamus if I remember correctly. It's hard to explain, and I'm not sure other kayakers experience it or maybe it's just me. Driving to the meeting spot to head to the river even, and at the top of some of the early drops, just a tingling 'why am I doing this' feeling of nervous excitement and anticipation that in the end adds up to heightened senses, calm confidence in ability and an elated feeling at the end of a sweet drop of 'oh yeah, that's why!'. It's awesome, and pretty much the ultimate feeling of overcoming something challenging. I wonder if this is what other extreme sports are like...though I see whitewater kayaking as more of an enjoyable way to spend time with friends and do some adventurous exploration than an extreme sport.

It ended up being a great experience anyway. Copper puts Koksilah to shame in terms of scenery. There has to be 20+ waterfalls coming into the two canyons along the banks for the duration of the run. We ended up having a clean run, with good lines for the most part and no real drama. Someones boat did break unfortunately...but it might have been due, being 7 years old!

Two experiences on Copper really stood out for me, besides the fact that I felt totally comfortable and confident on the run. At the end of the drop before 'Flume' I boofed the hole only to land on buddys bow who was stuck in the hole at the time, bumping him out and trapping me in the hole. I managed to come out and roll up before the undercut and in time to eddy out and scout Flume, which I then proceeded to style (and probably never will again since I've now jinxed myself!). There are some amazing drops in Copper canyon, not just the major ones, but the cool III/III+ ones all along the run, this is definitely top 5 of what I've run at this point. I would've run the waterfall at the takeout as well, but it was pretty boat destroyingly low, the last thing I need is a wrecked boat...with more water it would be sweet.

Great beta and photos from Copper can be found here: Liquidlore - Copper Canyon

On a side note, the Nomad is amazing. I thought the Burn was amazing when I had it, but the Nomad seems to give me more confidence with it's predictability and stability. I'm also finding it's singular soft edge to be everything I need when I want to engage it, and after some time learning can accurately ferry in it like I could with the Burn. I'll get in a full review after I've run more stuff in it here.

Go to Vancouver Island. Drop Copper canyon. Great times.
Me running the large seive drop on Copper. Photo by Stephen Hunt

Some more and better pictures of Copper can be found here: Passionate about Paddling - Copper

Danny dropping a sweet boof on Koksilah after 'Monastery'. Photo by Adam Frey

Danny running the first drop on Koksilah canyon. Photo by Adam Frey