Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rogue Specimens

I had run the Rogue once before a number of years ago in an IK and was not ultra impressed.  However, I had seen a couple tributaries that I had half a mind to check out.  This last week my friend Aaron Leiberman invited me on a trip to the Illinois which I had also done and felt so so about.  However, the Illinois was projected to spike and common community knowledge says don't do that run if its spiking.  Aarons backup was the Rogue, and while the stream itself didn't appeal to me much, the company along with a couple of interesting specimens in the drainage did.

All photos: Priscilla Macy

Priscilla and I drove down in the morning to meet our OTT friends of old and new, did a quick load and were on the river before 11.  Things went smoothly that first day, with Aaron and Priscilla telling me all the cool stuff about the river they had learned over years of guiding the Rogue. Near the end of the day we dropped off my kayak at the mouth of Mule Creek before lodging just downstream.

We woke early-ish the next morning and I headed upstream to get my boat and start hiking up the creek.  Water levels were reasonable, but low-ish with the Rogue around 10,000 cfs at Agness.  We got to the bridge where the stream forks and we continued up the West Fork, excited by the rapid visible from the bridge.

Neat, whitewater!

 As we hiked upstream it became clear that portaging was not always going to be an option.  Luckily it looked from the trail like everything went.

Eventually we hit out planned time to put in (9am) which corresponded to about 3/4 miles up the West Fork (I suspect there is harder whitewater above where I put in).  Priscilla helped rope me into the gorge, then ran back down the trail with a throw rope keeping an eye/ear on me in case I reached a point where a vertical extraction was needed.  The run was neat with clean, easy rapids in a deep gorge.  The base of the gorge was often just over a boat length wide.  I would call the run classic class III(IV).  There was only one rapid I ran, where had the portage been easier I may have taken it.  This was a class III with a log creating a hazard and tight move.  Later on I was happy with the low flow when I had to portage over a root wad jammed into the heart of the gorge. Aside from those spots, there was only one other portage (easy) and wood was of no further concern and it was just neat drops at the bottom of a tight gorge.  Just downstream of the root wad portage was the rapid at the confluence.  This rapid was fun and I enjoyed the runout to the Rogue.

Jack be Nimble

I paddled down to the lodging location while Priscilla jogged, we met up with the rest of our crew about 10 minutes before our planned departure.  I hopped on the raft as the oarsmen expertly negotiated the rapids between here and our second specimen to be examined for the day (Stair Creek Falls).  Upon arrival the team set to work shuttling people/gear to where they needed to be and giving me valuable information about the issues with the drop.  In the end it was decided I would run the upper 15 foot falls and steer clear of the lower drop.  Some rope work was needed, but we had some good beta on access from Alan Bergman and before long all was set for me to run the drop.  It was a straight forward lead in to a deep water boof, not very difficult but oh so fun!

Straight forward lead in

Fun boof!

After the drop Priscilla helped rope me and my boat out of the canyon and we headed back to the Rogue and downstream to our take out.  With the high water most of the rapids were reduced a class, but the large boils were neat to see and we moved along quickly.  The most challenging part of the day was reining in a bladder at capacity for the last 20 minutes to the take out.  The 3 hour shuttle was unpleasant, but was quickly remedied by a top notch film found at the OTT head quarters titled "Slammin Salmon", which was an hours worth of 90s raft carnage on the Cal-Salmon.

A parting shot looking downstream from the bridge at the Mule/WF Mule confluence.

If I were to repeat this run, I would continue hiking to where the stream forked again at "the ruins" before putting on.  I believe this extra hiking would add more notable rapids.

Naming the rapid Jack be Nimble: A mule is the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare).  The line on the rapid was not a point and shoot, it require nimble maneuvering to keep from colliding with the walls.  I don't imagine the breeding of two different species being straight forward either.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gladiator Creek: Middle

  Photo: Emile Elliott

Gladiator Creek: Middle
3 miles (+4 on lower section)

After crossing over the Lower Bridge, there is a steep 1 mile stretch of uphill hiking.  After a left turn towards the waterhole, it's flat to the Middle bridge.  Below the put in bridge for the middle section, the creek starts off bouldery.  If flows are not up, this will feel a bit janky.

Once the bedrock appears, diligent scouting (right bank) is recommended as it is not long to the waterfall, and rapids lead up to it. 

Vesuvius Falls
  Photo: Priscilla Macy

Portaging Vesuvius can be done with a rappel on the right at lower water, or a throw and go appeared possible as well (get as far out into the middle of the pool as possible if you jump).

Adam Edwards repelling around Vesuvius at low water (1.8').

Below Vesuvius the rapids continue.  While they begin to ease in difficulty for awhile, the abundance remains consistent with a mix of small boulder gardens, ledges and surf waves.

The rapids kick back up at Ludi, a long parade of fun class IV rapids.   The Ludi have plenty of variety and is my favorite stretch on the whole creek.  Everything is scout-able from the shore, and aggressive boat scouting can get you through too if that's your style.  You can even put in here if you want to skip Vesuvius.

 The start of the Ludi is marked by a rapid that requires a move to the left and through the small bedrock pinch Joseph is floating through. 

Jacob Flock part way through a multi-part rapid of the Ludi stretch. 
 Photo: Dax Kirkwood

As the Ludi fade away, be on the look out for the creek to be diverted left by a low outcrop of bedrock at the end of a sliding straight away of easy bedrock, and into Venator, a 5 foot drop into a carnivorous hole.  This is one spot in particular where aggressive boat-scouting could backfire.

Taking a look at Venator from the low bedrock outcrop that diverts the creek left.

Spearing to the right.
Photo: Priscilla Macy                                                                                          Paddler: Chris Korbulic

Just downstream from Venator is a straight away leading to the bridge marking the beginning of the lower section of Gladiator Creek.

Emile's Video from our first time down the Middle section in 2014.

Flows:  Refer to the Gladiator gauge page or the main page for flow specifics, Vesuvius is best at or over 2.5' but the rest of the run can still be fun down to 2' and can be run lower (1.5' is too low for most everybody though).  If it's low, it's probably best to skip Vesuvius, and just paddle the Rock Quarry Section.

Access:  As of 2020, walking in is allowed during the rainy season.  When driving up the access road you will quickly cross a bridge over Gladiator Creek, this is where you take out.  To get to the start of the Hall, continue up this Fire road to a gate.  At the end of the day it's an easy 1/4 mile walk up to the gate from the take out bridge so no need to set a vehicle shuttle.  

From the gate the hike is 6 miles, 4.5 miles are relatively flat, 1.5 miles is an uphill slog.  If you are running the middle section, you will be paddling 7 miles.  The wheely-walkers are ideal for this hike, also bring food and water.

- From the gate at the bottom of the road, it's about 3 miles along the mainline to the put in bridge for the lower section, staying right towards the creek if in doubt.  There are mile markers painted on the trees to orient during the walk and you will be on the mainline until the bridge.

- To get to the middle put in, cross this first bridge, and it's a steep mile up to a quarry with no turns.  A few minutes past the quarry veer left at a "Y" (it's not the first turn) onto a road marked "waterhole", this road leads down to the put in bridge in under 1.5 miles. 

If it's your first time, it wouldn't hurt to print this and carry it with you, but a phone with GPS capability and a cached map is better.


Note:  If you don't want to run Vesuvius Falls, you can take the first left after the rock quarry for the Rock Quarry Section onto an overgrown road that will lead to a nose of land you can follow to the creek at the top of Ludi.  This makes for a fantastic day of IV/IV+(V) boating and is the option I most often take when paddling the creek.


Ebbinghaus Horizon


By the time Emile, Ben and I ran the Middle section of Gladiator for the first time, I had been to this creek 5-10 times for scouting and boating and had a number of failed attempts at kayaking the middle stretch.  I had seen Vesuvius at very low water, and had hiked around it to see if a portage with a kayak was reasonable (it wasn't).  This hike dropped me and my hiking partner back to the creek well below the falls so I didn't get another look at it.  Standing at the top of the falls before heading off into the woods, it had looked about 30' tall.

When Ben, Emile and I finally got in there with a good amount of water in the creek, we were again standing at the top of the falls thinking it looked about 30' tall.  Ben, the most proficient waterfall runner in our group agreed to go first.  He had a good line, but adamantly signaled we needed to tuck.  After we were all in the pool below we understood why, looking back up at the falls from here our estimation of the height now ranged from 40-60' depending on who you asked.

For a few years the thought of running this drop had kept me from going back.  I just don't have the technique required to safely run waterfalls I need to tuck for so don't like to roll the dice with my back (which has already fractured once) on drops in the 30+ foot category.  However two trips in 2019 have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for paddling this creek.  On one trip we just put in below Vesuvius, and the other we repelled around it (though I'd like to throw-and-go next time).  So now that I know dropping Vesuvius is not mandatory for paddling the creek, I need not fret anymore about going back to what is almost certainly my favorite creek in Oregon.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Broke Back

L1, third from top, crushed into a wedge.
It all started with the world famous Green River Narrows, following the infamous Green Race. The Green Race is the greatest kayak race in the sport. It holds a certain allure that no kayaker can deny.  Personally, I’ve been interested in going over for the race for many years now - not necessarily to race, just to be a part of the event as an observer and get to run the Green River Narrows, one of the most famous stretches of river in the world.  

As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, North Carolina is a long way to go. The logistics of sourcing a kayak, finding a place to stay, and finding paddling partners present some hurdles. For whatever reason, it all came together for me this year; my friend Conor from Oregon was coming back from Spain and planned to be there, another friend, Eric Adsit, had recently moved from Portland was kind enough to lend me a boat, and some other friends that spent a couple summers working at a wilderness lodge very close to me were back at their house (called Girl Island- that’s another story) in Asheville and offered up their couch.  To top it off, I was on my way to Africa to work and had to fly through Atlanta a few days after the race.  In short, I finally had my chance to go run the Green and witness “the greatest show in sports.”

I arrived the Friday before the race and dove into the Halloween festivities. After some good times dressed up and dancing, we woke up in Asheville to several inches of snow on the ground, which caused quite the delay getting ready.  By the time we made it to the take out, the race was soon to start despite having been delayed an hour by the cold conditions.  We made our way up to the put-in and I ran into a friend from Kentucky that I’d met kayaking in Ecuador.  Kayaking is such a small world!  We got a group together and paddled down through the course to Gorilla, making sure to not get in the way of any racers hauling ass.  The river was like nothing I’d ever boated before, really steep and quite manky, and yet somehow all good to go.  We had a blast spectating, there were good lines and bad, and tons of folks that had made the hike in just to watch, have some beers, and maybe grill some hotdogs on an open fire.  

A solid crowd below Gorilla despite the snowy morning (and this isn't even half the folks)!
After all the racers had passed through, Conor gave Gorilla a go and styled while I carried through the portage, leaving the beast for another day.  After some quality slides, a quick portage at Sunshine, and more smiles, we made our way down to the takeout.  Such a great day!  If you haven’t been to the Green Race, it’s worth a trip just to spectate!

The next day, we planned to paddle the Green in the afternoon, only to find that the water would be cut off and we wouldn’t make it in time.  That left Monday as the last potential release for us to get back on the Green.  

When Monday came around, Conor and I were ready, and we got to the river and ran into some of the best boaters hanging around those parts: Clay Lucas, Robbie Gilson, Chris Harjes, and Tommy Penick.  We rallied our way down, really enjoying the some sunshine on the Green, highlighting the beauty of the canyon.  The water felt great as did the crew, and I was feeling pretty solid in the borrowed boat and gear, so when we got down to Gorilla, I felt ready to go for my personal first descent. 
If you aren’t familiar with Gorilla, there are really 3 drops that make up the rapid, Flying Squirrel, a small broken ledge, the Notch, a tight slot that turns almost 90 degrees, then the main event, Gorilla, a 18 foot or so waterfall that lands on a rock slide and shoots down a narrow flume.  There’s a brief pool after the flume, then another big slide, leaving little time for recovery.

Back to the story, we arrived at Gorilla and decided that Robbie would go first, followed by Conor, then Clay, Tommy, and me.  I had planned to run through Flying Squirrel, catch a small eddy immediately below the Notch, then run the main drop from there.  Following behind Clay, I ran the Squirrel and saw that Clay had caught a small eddy on river left and could see that Conor was in the eddy at the Notch.  Clay signaled for me to stop, and I was able to catch an eddy on river right, out of site of anyone but him.  Tommy came through and ran the Notch directly, and ended up also joining Conor in the eddy after the Notch.  At this point, I wasn’t sure if something had gone wrong, or if everyone was just paused.  Clay tried to get Conor and Tommy to clear out of the eddy, and ended up just running the Notch and Gorilla directly.  I then worked my way into the eddy that Clay had been in on river left, right above the Notch, and was trying to signal Conor to clear out when I realized I was drifting into the current.  I tried to back paddle on a shallow shelf and get back in the eddy so that I wouldn’t run into Tommy or Conor if they peeled out, but wasn’t quite able.  I immediately yelled to Conor as loud as I could “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going,”  and entered the Notch a bit off-line.  I still intended to catch the eddy; the Notch on the other hand had different intentions and pushed me left toward Gorilla, putting me on a hard brace.  I was able to recover from the brace and was pushed a little further right than the ideal line. I had seen several boaters get pushed that way and knew that there was a rock shelf about 4 feet down from the main lip.  Having to make a split second decision, I committed to trying to get on the shelf and bounce off of it into the flume.  As soon as I was airborne, I hit the shelf with the front half of my boat, and barrel rolled, landing in a tucked position.  I took a huge hit to my back, with the kayak basically landing on top of me, and still had to deal with the flume and getting back upright.  I was having trouble rolling in the short pool and Robbie was able to give me a hand and get me fully upright before running the next rapid.  

I was able to eddy out in the next rapid and did a quick self-assessment.  No stars, no head pain, no nausea, just a severe pain the middle of my back.  I wiggled my toes and fingers, no shooting pain or numbness, and quickly the crew caught up with me in the eddy.  They asked if I was alright, and I said something along the lines of “I’m alright, just took a huge hit.”  After I ran the next couple rapids and was clearly in a lot of pain, Tommy did another assessment and had me touch my fingers to my thumbs and checked my back for any protrusions.  Everything checked out, and I made the call to continue down the river.  

The next couple of miles of paddling were the most painful experience of my life.  Being a low volume creek (200 cfs or so), its damn near impossible to not hit rocks, and I sure found a lot of them on the paddle out.  Each and every one reminded me that I’d really crashed hard and made me wonder if things weren’t worse than I’d hoped. 

Getting back to the cars, the boys took care of all my gear for me and I tried to find a position that was comfortable.  After a while, and another check, we looked up the nearest urgent care and decided I should get checked out.  We found the urgent care facility in Hendersonville, FastMed, and they were able to do some x-rays and inject some much appreciated narcotics in my butt, all for a very reasonable fee of $132 (my insurance is catastrophic).  The x-ray tech didn’t notice the fracture at first, and I was discharged, only to get a call from the radiologist an hour later to report the fracture- a mild compression fracture on the anterior side of the L1 vertebrae corresponding to a 25% decrease in vertebral height.    

The whole experience was a physical and emotional roller coaster.  The initial pain and disappointment at having botched a line I know I’m perfectly capably of, the relief that I was still able to paddle and would not need to be hiked out on a backboard. Then the pain setting in and deciding to go to Urgent Care, only to be told that I was clear, at which point I about cried in relief.  Then the call from an unknown North Carolina number with the report that I had a stable compression fracture of my L1 vertebrae and would need to see an orthopedic as soon as possible, at which point I about cried again.   Then the relief after talking to my dad, who happens to be an orthopedic, and hearing that I could anticipate a full recovery, followed by the realization that I wouldn’t be back in a kayak for a couple months, and would be missing a Grand Canyon self support for my 30th birthday.  A total roller coaster.

In the end, injuries always suck.  They set you back, they’re painful (the case of a bone fracture like this one, all the normal pain killers slow bone growth, so I didn't use any).  The recovery process is always longer than you want, no matter how healthy you are and how much physical therapy you do. Injuries are part of the game though, and in the end I’m so thankful for the resilience of the human body.  And I’m so stoked to get back on the river soon!

Thanks to Robbie for putting together this video.  He did a great job of portraying how it felt like a normal day on the river until it didn't anymore...

Broken Back - Gorilla - Green River Narrows from Robbie Gilson on Vimeo.