Sunday, January 10, 2010

2 Grand Canyons One Fall Chapter 1

With business winding down at the kayak school last September, my mind started to wonder to what adventures laid ahead. Many of my usual cohorts were tied up with other obligations so I figured I would go out on limb and drop a line to John Grace of Lunch Video Magazine. We had meet this past May and had done a freighting descent of the Rio Brazos at high water. Surprisingly he got back to me, "Good to hear from ya,, wanna to go to the Stikine"? My routine day of office work in Telluride instantly changed to thoughts of Wasson’s and V- drive. Committing to the Grand Canyon of the Stikine is not something to take lightly. Many paddlers train on big-volume rivers, such as the North Fork of the Payette, all summer long before heading to the big beast in Northern British Columbia. While I ‘d been kayaking a fair bit, Southwest Colorado isn’t exactly the Mecca of big-volume paddling. But what the hell, this would be a good chance meet some new paddling partners and run one of the best rivers in the world.

Two weeks latter I was in the mail flying to Seattle. Upon arrival I met up with the posy consisting of, Erik Boomer , John Grace, Jason Hale, Jay Moffatt, Mike McKee, Fred Coriell and Melissa Decarlo, who had somehow agreed to do ground support. Eight strong we rented Cheorkee Escalade and charged across the boarder with minimal problems. The two day drive up to the Stikine is the most brutal part of the trip. Many of our conversations focused on horror stories of swims and bad lines. I thought it was an interested technique. I guess it was a step up from utter silence.

Our weather and water flow looked good when we arrived at the put-in- bridge where the Cassiar Highway crosses the Stikine. Henry Munter, my good friend from many other paddling expeditions, met us there having driven from Girdwood, Alaska. It was good to see his familiar smile. "Grand canyon number 1” he said, as we were due to put-on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in about three weeks. In the morning we stuffed our boats full of provisions and personal rescue gear. Before we launched off into the “great river“ we took the obligatory and awkward group photo at the Warning sign.

After a few miles of eerie clam water we arrived at Entrance Rapid ,where the games begin. With a bit of a scramble up we got right on top of this beast. Jason Hail asked me” what worries you the most about this one” I responed with “this is the easiest one, my worries are what’s downstream”. I’m not so sure that put him at ease. Paddling in blue angel formation we got our first taste of what the river had to offer. Usually eight kayakers is too many for any river, expect this one. It was an awesome feeling being in a floatilla of bad-ass kayakers. If anything did happen to go wrong, boat based rescues were the chance for survival. (Photo Melissa DeCarlo)

Daily Digger-Stikine River from Lunch Video Magazine on Vimeo.(A little footage of yours truly getting trashed in Three Goats)

The Crux of day one is the Pass Fail / Wasson's section. Jay Moffat took a good ride in a monstrous hole in Upper Pass Fail though we all made the eddy on the right above Pass Fail proper. At our particular flow the fail option looked mandatory and nobody wanted to test that line with Wasson’s lingering below. We portage the crux on the right. The following rapid Wasson’s is where Stikine trips have gone wrong. It’s a basic move in theroy though if you miss the line and get stuffed in the river-left hole you will be swimming for sure. From my previous trip to the Stikine, I remembered the most difficult part of Wasson’s being the egress back into the main flow from the scout. I asked Henry if he wanted to “route it” without scouting. He seemed a little hesitant though, after a moment, agreed that it might be a good idea. We knew at this level the sneak-line on the far right was out and the standard line would be our only option. A quick glance and a nod, we were on our way. The first part of the rapid is a boiling mess of erratic eddylines where you must keep your left to right momentum to line up properly for the main drop. Going through the entrance room I was so stoked to be in a Liquid Logic Remix 79. The hull speed and shaped held its angle perfectly through this top section. With both of us making it left we rode the curler of the first hole which then shots right of the trip-ending monster hydraulic on the left. Arriving at the bottom ,Henry and I had a huge sense of relief . We made a plan of what what our rescue option might be, though luckily it was not needed, as everyone popped through the other side with big smiles. We got a few more splashed through some read- and- run class IV until the first camp at Site Zed.

The Site Zed camp is set on a flat bench about hundred feet above the river. It over looks one of the biggest and possibly run-able rapids on the planet. This is the location where a dam was to be built during the early eighties. This dam proposal was abandoned due to severe Native First Nation opposition. The Stikine river and its tributaries are held sacred to Tahltan Indians. This region of the Sacred Headwaters is still threatened by a (Photo:Erik Boomer Padder:Jason Hail/Wasson's)multitude of mining and hydroelectric developments. Our time at Site Zed was spent reminiscing in the days events and Jason Hail kept us in good humor as a he continually channeled comedy from some external source.

At the dawning of day two the river level had dropped noticeably. This was encouraging and we lounged around camp procrastinating the inevitable. After the portage of site zed the entrance back into the river requires breaking a violent eddyline. Getting to the last bit of our portage, Freddy found a little nook between some rocks. This spot set us up well for the eddyline- from -hell battle. Erik Boomer, the youth of the group, decided to make things a little more interesting and put-in upstream of us. After getting through Site Zed the rest of day two is chalked full of rapids, with such notables has AFP (Photo:Put-in Below Site Zed), The Wall and Rock Garden. I would consider this the easiest day though it is where the canyon is most dramatic and constricted. After Rock Garden, is camp #2 which something straight out of Main Salmon.

This is a huge football-field-sized beach. You almost forget that you’re sitting above one of the most difficult sections of whitewater in the world.
Day 3 will send shivers up the spine of any kayaker. Things get nasty right away with the long and complex Garden of the God’s. Next is the series of constrictions calumniating in a uphill recirculation eddy with guard rocks blocking the exit. Then it’s the Wall 2 , where we all got pretty much annihilated. With about swimming-pool-length of a break comes Scissors. After our Wall 2 performances we opted for the high and dry line on the left.
(Photo :The Wall day 2) Shorty we found ourselves at the Hole that ate Chicago. This is a gut churning river wide ledge that usually requires a serious dose of sacking up. Swimming out of the hole would mean swimming through V drive, which would be horrible to say the least. We were elated to find that the rapid had changed due to rock fall or high water and subsequently made a portage /seal launch route around the hole. It felt a little bit like cheating, though no one was about (Photo:Erik Boomer Padder Matt Wilson/The wall 2)upholding ego ethics when we all knew what laid downstream. V drive is straight- up awesome. This infamous rapid has a vertical drop of at least thirty feet and two gigantic opposing curlers that can you flying in either direction. We staged it in two groups and most everyone got a good spanking. After V drive you can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Though it is not a time to become complacent, with the Tanzilla Slot still to come. This is the where the entire river is pushed through an 8'-wide constriction and huge old growth tress like to pile up. We took the extra time to climb the ridge line where the Tanzilla river confluences with the Stikine to make sure the slot was clear. Thumbs up were sent from the scouting team and we bombed through the slot.
This last bit may be a bit cliché, though Doug Ammons would appreciate some deeper words. Comming through that slot life seems to have new-founded enery and possibilities. One could even say "reborn". Honestly I wish I could bottle-up the intesty and mind-fullness that I feel only on the Stikine and aply it to my everyday life. Perhaps that is what the great ones have done. I guess I will just have to seetle for a taste of it. Stikine is Full commitment to the present.

Thanks goes out to: The A team for letting Henry and I tag along. You can check out some of the footage of this expediton, and our Istuk adventure in LVM 32. Shred Ready helmets for providing the rental car, The Remix kayak from Liquid Logic for getting me down the river in one piece. Melissa DeCarlo, thanks so much for the work you did as our ground support. The beer at the take-out was awesome!

Photo:Henry Munter/ Tanzilla Slot

Monday, May 26, 2008

Swiftwater Rescue on the Grand Canyon

One of the major perks of living in the Southwest is the close proximity of the Grand Canyon. Since moving to Telluride in 2006 I have gotten on 4 canyon trips. The following is a post of a swiftwater rescue course Mitch Sasser and I taught in March of 2008.

My friend and mentor Mitch Sasser got the contract to teach the guides of Arizona Rafting Adventures a Swiftwater Technician course on their annual Grand Canyon training trip. Mitch lives in Futaleufu, Chile where he manages Patagonia H20. We’d worked together on the Futaleufu river for Expediciones Chile 2000-2004. He dropped me a line in February indicating he needed help with this course. This was quite the opportunity for me to get on the canyon and teach some rescue since I had just recently become certified as a instructor.
An interesting side note about this trip was the fact that Glen Canyon Dam was going to be releasing 50,000 cfs during the first five days of our trip. Although we didn’t get to see the big drops at the high flows, it was just cool seeing that much water in there. Here’s a few shots:

After the water dropped back to normal flows we started into our course. The group was a great mix of very experienced boaters and rookies. One stand out Brad Dimick a legendary river guide wowed us with his historical interrup and geologic knowledge of the canyon.

Our rescue courses start off with some traditional class time, which is usually a bit of death by power point. Obviously power point was not options, so we made do with a dry erase board and the incredible back drop of the canyon. During this lecture we cover swiftwater rescue absolutes, river hydrology /morphology and the details of the certification. The certifying body that recognizes this course is the IRIA (International Rescue Instructor Authority). The IRIA is an independent third party governing body that sets a very high standard for participating rescue organizations to adhere to. The IRIA has set itself apart by forming the Risk Management Matrix™. To learn more about IRIA visit A major portion of this technician level course is the testing of all the skills that we cover.

Throwbags: This can be the most effective tool for a quick rescue. Many Grand Canyon guides complain that they are never used and can be dangerous. This is especially true when you don’t know how to use them. We generally start off with a throwbag course so students get the feel of just throwing the bag without deploying it. There a lot of different types of throw bags out there and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. The key is to find one that works for you and became super familiar with it.

Why are most students initially so horrible at throwbaging? it’s a pain in the ass repacking it. We address this issue with excessive target practice.

The second throw: After students get the hang of deploying their bag we move into the throwing of the coiled rope. Coiled throws work well for two situations. First being you missed your victim on the first throw and you still have time for a second toss. Rescuers aren’t going to stand there and repack the bag as the victim floats out of range. We teach students an effective method of quickly re-coiling and deploying the rope without the bag. This technique is also good for short throws when your victim may only be 10’ away and throwing 75’ of rope on top of them would only add to the victim’s problems.

Swimming: Self-rescue is the name of the game. You cannot be an effective rescuer if you are a victim. This means aggressively swim for your life and get out of the water. Only assume the defensive whitewater position if you swimming shallow and steep whitewater. And never stand up until the water depth is below your knee.

Entrapment: This is the one of the big killers in whitewater fatalities, along with flush drowning. Entrapments suck!! And there are some situations that are futile. The bottom line is to get that victim an airway,, quick!! (I carry a long tube which maybe helpful in some situations). The standard methods of a fixed line stabilization and then additional synch lines is good team- rope-work practice, though this technique is pretty much worthless if your victim doesn’t have an airway. At rapid action rescue we teach some additional rescue methods for entrapment.

Knots: Know your Knots: Family of eights, Bowline, Munter hitch, Clove hitch, Water knot, double fisherman’s, prusiks knots. These are the building blocks of both river running and mountaineering.

Mechanical advantage: Students love to set up z drags. Just remember that in large part that mechanical advantage is for stable situations and gear retrieval. These systems also help students put the whole rope and knot puzzle together.

Testing: Yes testing is stressful especially the throwbag staion. This requies two 50’ throw into 3’ diameter circleThis added stress does force students to truly learn the skills, and it is garmented you will be a throwbag nija after the course.

Thanks to AZRA management for hiring Mitch and myself to put on this course. It was a blast. Many companies teach rescue in-house, though we believe it is worth it to have a third party come in and offer fresh perspectives & testing. AZRA is blessed with some very talented guides! Hopefully we can do it again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

TKS Instructors enjoy spring run-off in the San Juan Mountains. Photos by Chason Russell

Stan givin it to Fuzzy Little Bunny Vallecito Creek

Annie Quathammer & Alex Hotze in Narrows of the Uncompaghre Gorge

Matt Wilson on South Mineral Ceek

Escalante Creek

Lisa Dickinson launching in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Stan Prichard entering the Uncompaghre Gorge

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Summer 2007

I can't believe it is already September, what a season. Now I have time to work on my much neglected website and blog. Myself and the instructors at TKS would like extend a big thanks to everyone that joined us for lessons this summer. Kayaking is wonderfull life long sport to enjoy with friends and family, so keep practicing everyone. The following images are just a few of the many adventures we had this summer.
Matt Wilson

The Pringles getting warmed up with some yoga for day three of the San Juan River

Another day in paradise with family and friends. The Pringle Family/San Juan River

Erin Raley rock'in the cotton shirt

Telluride Academy's Outdoor Leadership Challange 07 program works out the kinks before a big day on the water.

David Satisteban enjoys the scenic Hanging Flume Canyon of the Dolores

Getting some late season splashes.The TKS crew chilles at the M-Wave

Monday, March 26, 2007

matt wilson

Matt Wilson takes advantage of the pre-runoff on Escalante Creek. At this moment Matt is in the process of becoming the new owner of TKS.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kayaking is like pathology but different

Cassie, an employee of Jagged Edge Mountain Gear, spent the morning learning the subtle nuances of kayaking. Cassie was an exemplary student, surely a bi-product of being a molecular bilogy major...Nice work Cassie!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Luke with the signature TKS shot in an EJ Boat

Luke, Hugh and Josh spent the day kayaking, but refrained from the roll session in the afternoon claiming fatigue. A little too tired after last night's midnight movie marathon...there's a lesson hidden in there somewhere boys...See ya next time...

AM Paddle in Telluride

Even though you stayed up 'til midnight watching movies, it was still a nice morning for kayaking with your buddies in Teluride. You know what they say Josh: "if you hoot with the night owls, you can't soar with the eagles!

WOW...that's fun!

If not a bit chilly...