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