Thursday, June 03, 2010
This year has not been a good year for whitewater in the Midwest. The creeks came and went so fast in Minnesota I changed my vacation plans and went to the Southeast for water. Sturgeon Falls, our usual Memorial Day destination, was dry also. Bryan, Caleb, Jade, and I made wise plans to go to Colorado instead.
We came into Salida late in the evening and got our playboats wet and then had a beer with my friend Chris at the "Rope". The next morning the river had risen to nearly 3000cfs. Our plans for the day was to do the Fractions. We hit up CKS in the morning for their Riverfest Sale. I was pleasantly surprised to see Nick Troutman there and also meet Clay Wright. I admit I was drooling over the Jackson Villain . I'm still waiting to get mine from my local dealer, Midwest Mountaineering. Then something happened that I have never seen before. Clay and Nick said to go and take one of their personal Villains down the river today and give it a demo. Yowza! I went down and picked the color I liked and we headed to the Fractions. Thank you team Jackson!
On the way to the river I started to wonder if this was a good decision to take a new boat, not outfitted for myself personally, on my first run of this river at extremely high levels. It turned out not to be a problem. Jackson's outfitting adjusts so easily I fit snug in a matter of seconds.
We met another group at the put in and we arraigned shuttle with them. The Fractions start out very fast at 2900cfs. I was feeling the edges on the new boat and seeing what she could do. On the first rapid one of the guys we had joined up with for shuttle swam. We got him to shore and the crew chased the boat down around the corner and out of sight. I stopped with the swimmer to make sure he was OK. I looked around and saw I was the only one who had stopped with him. I told the swimmer to walk downriver and I was going to find the crew. I looked out and saw a rock and wood strainer taking up half of river right and I would have to do a must make ferry to river left and head down by myself until I caught up with the boys. OK lets see what this Villain can do. Dropping my blade into the water I headed across the current and made my line with ease. Right now I'm feeling a lot of loving thoughts about the Villain! Down a ways I found the crew... but no boat. It was gone. The swimmer joined us and we told him we'd keep an eye out for it.
The rest of the river was high speed fun! Back at Buena Vista I was reluctant to give back the demo Villain. I had bonded with the boat and really didn't want to go back to my old boat for the rest of the weekend. They will be in soon at Midwest. I don't do "waiting gracefully" very well but I will have to wait for my "personal Villain".
That night we listened to music and watched the pro boaters and drank some very good local brew. It was a really great day.
Day two and the water just kept going up overnight! We decided on Brown's Canyon. We hooked up with three Minnesota boaters we ran into the day before. Again at 3400cfs the river is fast. The easy start to this river lulled the paddlers that hadn't ran it before. Don't worry...it picks up further down and boy did it! We picked up a couple of swims from one of our group who is a good kayaker but was just having a bad day....we all have them. After her second swim she decided it was enough and started walking.I myself had a bad turn of events at the bottom of Zoom Flume when I was flipped and rolled and rolled and was slammed down each time again before I could get a breath...after several attempts I was out of the thin stuff they call air up there and pulled out. Caleb got me to shore and asked if I had hit my nose cause there was a little blood...no just a little too long under water. After that episode he suggested my name should be Gnara....I kind of like it...lol! I got back into my boat and we all paddled on.
Before setting out that morning I had wondered what the Giant Steps would look like at 3400cfs. I ran them at 1200cfs so I knew what the structure was underneath. I could only imagine what it looked like at this high level. It was incredible!!! The biggest and longest wave train I have ever ran! Some waves were over 10 feet high! Unfortunately one of our crew swam at the top. FORTUNATELY...she was out of the river in seconds as a swim here would be a nightmare. This is the start of the infamous boat rescue! Bryan, Caleb Jade, and Jeramiah chased that boat for over a mile through huge rapids. The strength and stamina to be able to do this is huge! I was running sweep so I didn't realize there was a swim until I saw her boat in an eddy part of the way down. I pulled over to get my breath on the river right of a huge rock and started looking for the swimmer and paddle. Since Jeramiah was running after the boat I knew the swimmer was OK and headed down the rest of the rapid alone....again....as everyone else was so far ahead of me. This rapid went on for over a mile before letting up. At one point one of those waves knocked my paddle out of my right hand and threw me back on my boat. The river here is very constricted and the waves refracting off the shore made for quite the paddle down. I loved it! The boat was rescued and the paddle was lost. Again a good paddler just having an off day...everyone has theirs. Back at the take out we all headed to Salida for beer and food...a great end to a great day!
Monday and we only had time for a very quick paddle before hitting the road home. I opted not to paddle the Fractions again but the boys made a bomb run down. I took photos of them at Frog Rock and went back to CKS to drool, again, over the large Villain. So maybe I like bad boys. We enjoyed a few more beers at the Buena Vista take out with the other Minnesota crew and headed home.
I did make a big mistake that I will mention here. While packing I reduced the gear I usually take along. I had to pick one PFD and chose my rescue PFD. What I didn't realize at the time was while it fits snug at an elevation of 800 ft. things change at 10,000 ft. When I started running rivers at that level I found I couldn't breath....literally! It was scary to say the least. When I asked Bryan to help me zip it before Brown's he pointed out it was too tight and that's why I had so much trouble breathing! Your chest has to expand much more to compensate for the thin air. Once it was loosened I had no trouble.