Thursday, August 22, 2013

Trouble at the Alter

The Little White Salmon River, with it's legendary status and easy logistics holds a special form of respect in the PNW.  Many paddlers aspire to one day travel this special waterway.  The crown jewell of this run, Spirit Falls may hold even more allure than the run itself.   Some paddlers run the Little White many times before finally finding themselves in the pool below this falls.  With a number of pro paddlers moving to Hood River specifically to run this river (for which most probably don't even have the word portage cross there minds on this river at normal flows) and the saturation of media from the canyon there has been a loss of mystique regarding this stream for kayakers.

With the recent resurgence of the rafting community however, this river and waterfall have become a true proving ground for the best in the business.  Only a few years ago I witnessed more than once, and heard many more accounts from kayakers telling Dan it was a terrible idea to take a raft down this river.  He took no heed and today has logged over 50 successful runs down this stream.  There are many other rafters who also run this stream now, with many having logged in the double digits.

However, Spirit has posed a problem for rafts in the past. With a handful of descents, only one attempt was successful.  Most resulted in lots of pain, followed by some downtime.  Dave Saquety and Doc Loomis reported taking the hit of a lifetime on the earliest attempt of this drop.  This low success rate keeps many rafters away, but also creates a draw for the daring to attempt following the few that went before them into one of the most special pools in the PNW for whitewater boaters.

Josh Sheldon is one such boater who wanted his own Spiritual experience on the Little White.   The following account is from Brandon Bloomquist, who was on the trip where Josh took the risks involved with reaching the sacred pool.  Not all went to plan, take what you will from this account.



Sunday was a fantastic day on the Little White, at least once things got organized.  Nice weather made the three hours we were waiting for the final member of our party to show up more bearable.  We finally got on the stream a little after 1:00.  Jacob, Brandon Lake and I put on a little earlier than the raft and we all had nice lines through Gettin’ Busy.  There was a quick scout of Boulder Sluice, and I followed the green tongue in front of me to a porn star finish. 

Brandon ran Island, with a degree of success.  He made it halfway down when he pitoned the nose, which spun him into a tail piton.  He rolled quickly and we kept moving downstream.  Sacriledge and Double Drop were awesome.  I walked S-Turn and had a creative line over wishbone where I didn’t get square to the drop until I was 5’ from the lip.  It wasn’t good, but it worked out.  After watching the raft get hung up sideways on every rock and hole in the gorge, I was happy to see them catch the eddy on right below Horseshoe, which cleared us to follow into the gorge through which I was happy to have a stylish run.   I haven’t run the right side of Stovepipe before, but, wow, that’s a cool rapid. 

We got to Spirit at 4:00 with the sun shining.  We knew the rafters were going to take their time to consider the drop, so we broke out a lunch of smoked oysters, salami, cheese, crackers and snickers right at the lip.  We wave to the gathered crowd of about eight who hiked in from milepost 2, including Paul Thompson, Josh’s Mom and the Manimal, Trevor Sheehan.  

I turned to Jacob at one point and said “this feels civilized.”  I gave Spirit a lot of thought, but decided that I can’t afford an injury right now and told the boys I’d be at Chaos for them.  I was able to lower my boat into the Chaos eddy, where I delicately got in, then ran the ledge to the left of Chaos straight into the proper eddy. 

By this point in the day, I was feeling like the river was actively helping me be a better boater. 
When I got into position, I was surprised to see Jacob standing on the rock on river right in the pool (The Alter as some have called it).  He’d already styled the big drop thinking I was positioned at Chaos.  We were glad it worked out well, because I was a few minutes late.  Jacob practiced his throws, both into the boil and into the current past him.  I uncoiled my ropes a little in my defensive position slightly below Chaos and we wait. 

Jacob approaches the pool.

At 4:51, Brandon signals from the lip that the rafters are paddling.  Dan was on the right, Josh on the left.  They look good coming over at the lip.  One second and twenty-five later, the over-rotation was obvious.  They hit, the boat just went deep, then rebounded straight up with the paddlers still in.  Their weight pulls the boat down on top of them.  Dan and the raft are kicked out to the eddy on the right.  Josh goes deep in the boil and surfaces behind the curtain.  We don’t know it yet, but he didn’t square up his feet on the front thwart at the landing, and severely rolled his ankle (crutches for two weeks). 

Even seemingly good lines don't always work out.

As a recap, we have Brandon at the top, John the Grizzly on the left, Jacob on The Alter and me at Chaos with Josh’s Mom freaking out at the viewing area.  

The folks up top can see Josh moving around behind the curtain, but I can’t.  All I know is that they aren’t panicking, so I’m just staying put.  In any case, I can’t leave my station in case one of them comes around the corner.  Brandon tries to throw his rope gamely over the lip, but because of the undercut, it wasn’t going to work.  John tries to throw through the column of water from the right, but is rejected.  Jacob gets in his boat to paddle over to Dan, and they get the boat flipped over.  Jake gets back in his kayak and paddles over to river left, just below the left side of the falls.  There is an eddy there, where he gets out, then throws a rope to Dan and pulls him across.  It is already 5:15.  Jake has Brandon come to above him to lower a line with the intent of pulling them up the convergence zone and then into the undercut area.  They clip the line onto the raft, have Brandon walk back upstream on the cliff and start paddling, but the rope gets snagged in two places on the cliff.  I’m the only one who can see both halves of what’s happening.

At 5:30, they give up on this approach and move to simply paddling upstream directly.  Dan decides to first pump up the thwart and adjust it back to paddling position.  15 minutes later they make their first attempt and only get to the nub that sticks out on the right, and Dan is getting pounded by the waterfall landing on him.  They are within ten feet of the point where the current flows into the wall, but just can’t do it.  Over the next fifteen minutes, they try four more times and are rejected each time. 

I can’t see it from my post, but John managed to get a rope to Josh behind the veil.  He attempts to pull him up, but can’t.  Josh can’t climb, either, with a bum foot and an overhung wall.  He eventually cuts himself off the rope, landing on the bad foot, making things worse.  He’s getting cold, too, with the constant mist.  It’s been almost an hour.  Jacob switches boats and paddles his kayak through the veil, only to realize there is a secondary room and he cannot contact Josh from this lower room.  He paddles back out through the veil and down to Dan to further discuss. 

At 5:45, Jacob gets back into his boat, to the massive disdain of Dan.  For the first time, I can hear him through the roar.  Jake comes back to the river right eddy to study the situation, then gets in the current to catch the left eddy above Chaos.  He misses, but knows it and turns to face the challenge directly.  I’m relieved to see him simply style it and carry on to get out at the left, where we normally put in after the portage.  He runs up to where Brandon is, where they confer.  They pass a single line down to Dan again, but I know this won’t work.  I frantically motion to Jake and Brandon to clip the lines together.  They do, and start walking.  I blow a short whistle to stop them.  I get Jake to stay put, holding tension on the line, while Brandon walks around the curve of the falls to where we had lunch.  This keeps the line from snagging on the left wall. 

It’s 6:00 by the time that Jake walks to meet Brandon at the top, then with Dan in the raft.  The boys at the top start pulling, with Dan simply highsiding to keep the boat upright .  They are able to pull the raft straight in to meet Josh.  I can’t see this for a long time, as there was mist from both sides of the falls jetting across my view.  Eventually I see a second piece of red clothing, and from the positions infer that it has to be Josh.  Then things get weird, and I see Dan break out the K-pump.  It turns out that they’d deflated the raft a little for the drop in an effort to make it taco on landing, but it is just confusing from my post.  I’m starting to dance to stay warm, and I haven’t been getting blasted by mist. 

Finally, at 6:15, with the left falls pouring on them, I see the raft emerge with two paddlers.  We all cheer, but they are just ten seconds from Chaos.  Dan knows it, and is shouting at Josh, but Josh is so cold that he can’t paddle well.  I see the look of a shelled soldier on his face.  The boat keeps turning to the right with Dan’s power.  They drooooop over the main drop at Chaos.  Josh falls out of the boat, right into the main pourover and loses his paddle.  I’m ready to hit him with a rope, but he grabs the chicken line.  He stays there for a few seconds, yelling at Dan that he can’t get back in.  The fear reaches through the air.  Dan hesitates, as he’s keeping the raft from flipping in Chaos, but pulls Josh back into the boat.  After a few more rounds while Josh retrieves another paddle, they are able to carry on downstream.  I watch the paddle make rounds in the hole for another two minutes before it finally spits out.  When I get back to my boat, it was waiting for me in that eddy. 

We run Master Blaster blind and catch up with the raft below the hatchery.  We drink beers on the float to the take out, where we carry Josh up the hill to the road and analyze how we can deal with situations like this more efficiently in the future.  
Brandon Bloomquist

Monday, August 19, 2013

Whitewater Creek: The low hanging fruit

With a name like Whitewater Creek, easy access off a major HWY, reliable flows and no beta we should have known it would be a suffer fest.

I guess in reality I did know that, in fact I was going to go on my own so that the suffering was applied to the fewest people possible.  In the end I decided to invite Willy Dinsdale as he had mentioned wanting to check out this creek before.

Willy and his brother Ben met me after work and we drove on up towards Detroit.

The result was pretty predictable.

It started out fine on a very steep creek with about 20 cfs, dropping around 500 fpm that we paddled and pushed our way down for a awhile before just hiking through the woods to a confluence. From this point on there the wood increased substantially and there was enough push now to make it hazardous. The Dinsdales are fearless and capable boaters, following them down this stream was about as uncomfortable as I had ever been on a stream. We knew light was going to be an issue and these guys were willing to charge to try and mitigate that.  I was following them under and over logs, ducking only to turn a blind corner and do it all again.  There were probably 20 corners I would have scouted if these guys hadn't just kept cruising around them.  After watching how well they worked together, I became quit confident if things went wrong they would be able to take care of whatever situation came up.

This proved true when they both boofed a sketchy looking log and I followed.  One of them got hung up so I slowed in order not to run into him, pack paddling and pushing on the gravel as I had passed by the last eddy.  Once he cleared the long I didn't quite get back up to speed as I approached the log manuever.   Boofing the first log, I landed on the second log as a third log became dislodged and I slid back into the gap between the two original logs.  I leaned into the downstream log and within a few seconds the front half of my boat was shoved under the log, and while my head was well above water I was pretty well stuck and couldn't see over the large log I was wedged against.   Before any plan to escape had come to mind Ben had ahold of the tail of my boat and yanked me out of there.  By the end of the day we had all gone through something similar to that.

I was continually impressed by these guys as they would paddle straight at log jams, yanking their skirt just before contact and leaping onto the jam before turning and pulling the other guy out, shortening the length of each portage.  I generally took out a few yards upstream of these situations, and resigned myself to the extra portage distances.

At one point Ben got pinned and swam, his boat lodged itself under a log.  It was in there pretty good and it was nearly dark, so I was looking around for the easiest way up to the road.  After 30 seconds or so I looked over and the brothers were jumping up and down on the log in the middle of the creek.  I decided I clearly had a thing or two to learn from these guys, as I wouldn't have considered what they were doing as an option worth pursuing.  And sure enough, 15 minutes later the boat was out and we were back on our way.  The catch was by this point the sun had set and we were no longer able to see well.  After what felt to me like some sketchy log maneuvers in the dark they bought into my plan of hiking along the bank for a bit, but it was slow going and Willy had a busted foot, so after a few minutes he decided to get back in and continue on in his boat.  Ben hiked with me for awhile longer, but it was starting to become futile, on one 30 yard section literally took us 5 minutes.  A couple times I would get my boat stuck in a tree and couldn't figure out how to get it unstuck (because I couldn't see it).  In the darkest parts with the most tree coverage, I was unable to see my hand in front of my face.

Ben made a case for putting back on, at least out there we would get some refracted light on occasion.  I didn't like the idea, but agreed that hiking wasn't turning out to be fruitful.  So we put back on and in two separate occasions I crashed into an unseen log at chest level.  Both times I was able to work myself free without flipping over, but at least I was clearly working with credit on the luck front.  Eventually I was just no longer willing to risk the river and though Ben was more interested in floating into the logs rather than walking into them still, he was willing to hit the bank one last time.  Turns out we were pretty close at this point and within ten minutes we reached the bridge!

Ben and Willy headed off to get the shuttle vehicle and I waited with the gear.  Making a fort with two boats and Ben's drysuit, I was able to fall asleep a couple times but was getting pretty uncomfortable by the time the brothers returned.  The put in road had been so small Willy had walked right by it on the way up!

By the time we got back to the main HWY it was 11:30pm.

So now Iv'e got some fond memories to reflect upon each time I cross Whitewater Creek while taking Hwy 22 to Bend.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

West Forkin' in the Wallowas

Wallowa Lake
Many people have seen the grandeur of Wallowa Lake; it's proud moraines and towering peaks.  People come from all over to swim in the clear alpine waters coming out of the heart of the Wallowa Mountain range, to take the tram up to Anaroid Peak and peer across Hells Canyon into the vast Idaho Wilderness, and to enjoy the bucolic countryside of Wallowa County.

So far as I'm concerned, that's stuff's cool and all, but it ain't the main event. There lies a hidden gem at the head of the lake that has been overlooked by tourists and locals alike.  The West Fork of the Wallowa has a trail that begins along a boxed in granite gorge that you can't avoid if you're on the trail.  As it nears the lake, it takes a turn to the West and drops over a hidden waterfall, with no good view points unless you're standing right over it.  It's hidden enough that the vast majority of  folks that I've talked to that have been up the trail have no idea there's a 40 foot series of drops right before the creek flattens out and hits the lake.  Amazing what people miss right under their nose!

When you do find it and you stand over it, what you see is a beautiful piece of whitewater, technical, big, and consequential.  The drop consists of a 5 foot ledge into a 8 foot ledge, kinda like double drop on the truss, but smoother and smaller, and the second drop slams into a giant boil, turns 70 degrees to the left, splits into two flows, the careens off a 25 footer that's sloping on the left with a reconnect and spouting on the right out of a bath-tub slot.  Add a deep cave on the left and a nasty pocket on the right and you've got yourself a nice little stout, one we lovingly call "Boy Scout Falls"  for the boy scout camp just downstream. 

I've stood above the falls and stared into the canyon dozens of times, at all manner of flows, and only a few times have I decided to go back to the car, gear up and go for it.  When it's too high,  the boil off the wall consumes the whole flow and the pocket and cave combo at the bottom looks marginally survivable at best.  When it's too low, the top ledges get chunky, the reconnect looks painful on the left, and the bath tub line would do an aweful number on your elbows and/or face.  That leaves a limited flow window that's fortunately pretty reliable before and after Lostine season, so we always get the chance to run it in early spring and mid-summer.

Connor Ross and I mustered up the gusto to go for it this summer, after all our other local runs had last their water to the long hot days of summer. With a great support crew, sunny weather, and high spirits, we went up there and had a good time of it, with some extra excitement thrown in for good measure.  More on that later.

But now, Con and Matt's guide on how to run boy scout-   you start the trip with a 5 minute walk then lowering your boat down a steep cliff into the canyon (if you don't run the gorge, which is unfortunately full of wood at the moment (on my winter to-do list)).

Once you get down to water level, you boat about 50 yards of mank then catch the scouting eddy at the lip.

Once you get to the eddy, hop out, take one last scout from river level, and feel your heart beat faster.  You didn't realize how big it is until now.  And that turn of the second ledge looks like anything could happen.  And although you can hike out from here, it's difficult, and you've already got your buddies set up for safety and media, so you might as well give it a go.

You hop in your boat and splash some water on your face.  The fear melts away and all that's left is commitment and pure presence  (Jacob once told me "you know you're running something really hard when you aren't scared anymore," so true).  You peel out of the eddy, ride the ramp in the first ledge, whiteout, boof the second, whiteout, line it up, stroke at the lip, land, and WAHOO!  You've made it to the bottom! 

Matt King First Ledge

Lining it up.  Note the thin line between the fuck you rock on the left and the bathtub.

Loving the late stroke!

Connor Ross First Ledge

Connor Boil Bashin'

Lining it up, bathtub just off his right blade

Coming off the lip, looking good.

Now, as you might notice in the photos, this line is pretty thin.  You don't want to go into the bathtub (at least nobody has tried that line yet), and being out of control/upside-down would likely result in a hospital visit if you bounced off the reconnect on the left.  Not to mention getting through the top two ledges.  This particular day illustrated the thin-ness of the line; Connor came off the lip looking good, but ended up a little bow-right on landing.  He subbed out (which pretty much always happens on this drop), and came up in the water from the spout on the right (underwater).  He felt his skirt implode and was able to come up upright.  Much to our dismay, he was in the nasty pocket on the right, and had to swim.  He was able to get stable on a shelf, and we started to work out the extraction.  

Connor stable on the ledge.

First we got a bag to him from river right, and we got his kayak and paddle roped out of there.

Safety spot/rope throwing ledge.
Boat Recovery.
Once we got his gear out, he decided to free climb a portion of the wall to a vantage point, from there he would either continue up, or jump into the main flow and thus avoid a scenic undercut swimming tour from trying to rope him out of the pocket.

Once he got to this ledge, he paused to take in a new view of the falls (the second new view since nobody has seen it from river level on the right) while we set up a belay for the second, and much steeper and exposed pitch.  We used a hodgepodge of gear to get him on belay, and he climbed out without issue.  All in all, it was a pretty textbook rescue, and actually kinda fun.  Even Connor enjoyed it (although he was bummed that we didn't have time to do another lap)!

The La Grande Branch of the Into the Outside Crew

All in all, another great day on the river, big thanks to Aaron and Damiana Maxwell and Silje Christoffersen for their support and safety and media.  We wouldn't have done it without you! And thanks to Kathie Baird for remembering a couple hours later at Terminal Gravity that Connor needed to do a booty beer, which he dutifully drank, the first ever in the TG grotto!

The dogs decided to not R2 it this particular day.  Maybe next time!

A trailer style video showing some of the classic whitewater in the Wallowa's

Friday, August 2, 2013

Press Play

I finally took the the time to throw together some footage from the last few months. Despite the title, a lot of the this film was shot during my stint in fun-employment land. However, since I've re-donned the shirt and slacks, I've been feeling more and more like a weekend warrior. Although I don't have as much time to spend out in the woods, I have to admit that I'm as motivated as ever to get after it once Saturday and Sunday roll around. We've managed to bag a lot of great stuff this Spring/Summer and here are some of the highlights.

Location: Various
Boaters: Friends

-Nate M.