This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The story

Photo by Daniel Brasuell
This is Cherry Bomb. It is the reason you hike into Upper Cherry.

First Time
This time I decided to shoulder it in. The 9 mile hike into the put-in of upper cherry is daunting, but I knew people have shouldered their boats in so I wanted to know what it was like. As we were packing Ben Coleman drove up on a little motor bike "You guys better get in there or it will be too low, run it out tomorrow". We nodded our head in respect to the advice from a man you typically hear stories about. "Ben Coleman was just in here at Richter high flows". Legend. We continued to pack with a little bit more anxiety about getting to the top. We arrived at the put in 10 hours later to what we thought looked like a medium-high flow(550 on inflow to hetch hetchy), which was surprising considering we were just told that it was going to be too low to run. We spent the night out on the cool granite, somehow avoiding mosquitoes that seem as though they have been genetically modified to reproduce at absurd rates.

We put our water gauges out, and the next morning it had risen a few inches(600 at hetch hetchy). We made our through the class IV gorge and as we came out it seemed as though the creek was really filling out. Things that I remembered being shallow now were fluffy and pushy. We decided to portage Cherry Bomb. As we rolled into what would be the entrance slide to Cherry Bomb we found two people waiting. A Kiwi, Gordy, and a Tennesseen, Curt. They said they were going and that it was a medium level. Medium? Okay. We run the entrance gorge, which was really good, and get to the lip of cherry bomb. Problem. None of the water lands in a pool. It smashes into the wall on the other side of the gorge, make a spray that hit about 40 feet above the falls. Richter high(650). We back off and start the portage out of Serenity pool, choosing a crack to ledge combo with a boat haul about of about 80 feet. We spend the night at the bottom of Cherry Bomb, hoping the water levels back off.

Shit. The water level rises(700). There are seven of us now, and later we hear that there was someone trying to catch us solo, who ended up hiking out. We decide to leave our stuff and begin the hike out of the canyon to the ridge and back to the cars. We vow to return.

Second Attempt
We arrive a few days later, but apparently a day early. We predict that the water will drop precipitously each day so we need to be near to seize our opportunity. Brian and I decide to go in a day earlier than the rest because he has work. The others also believe it will be too high, but Brian and I catch it as it begins to fall and paddle out on a nice flow(600-550). The high side of good for most stuff. We hike in and paddle out, portaging what we believe to be too risky with just two people. Success.

Third Attempt
I get to the takeout, go down to Groveland for the night. The next day I repack my stuff and begin the hike all over again. We make it to Flintstone and the water level is a nice medium flow. We hike up to the top of Cherry Bomb and begin our way down. We make it to the lip. Nervous. The flow looks good. I decide to take the line that I had the last time that I ran it, not spending too much time thinking about it. I look at the features and go back to my boat. Curt and Chris are up top taking photos and Gordy and I are in our boats. There are two channels you can take at the entrance. I take the left one, but as I go down my nose is deflected to the right, either by the confluence of water or a little pothole downstream of the entrance. Look at the photo. I land absolutely sideways in that pothole.

As I have watched more video and looked at more photos, I realize now that I probably was very close to having a good line. If it were a little lower I could have ferried out, if it were a little higher I would not have hit the pothole. But I ended up in the pothole. It is just big enough to give you hope. You can roll sometimes, you can almost ferry out. Almost. I am upright. I am upside down. I bracing and flipping and missing rolls and flipping and spinning. I am trying to ferry. I almost make it but fall back in. I am upside down. My head is hitting rocks. My boat is smashing against the walls. My left roll works. Then it doesn't. Then my right roll works. Then it doesn't. It has been a minute. Everyone is watching me and my green helmet bob up and down, in and out.

Soon I breath in some water and thats when I decide it is time to give up on the in boat portion of this event. Until then I had decided I would use all my energy in my boat and not save any energy for the swim. Sometimes it works...

I am underneath the boat. Grasping. I grab something. The paddle. That doesn't float me. I keep trying for the boat. Soon I am swirled into the back right corner of the pothole. Look at the photo, see the corner of the pothole that is hidden? That is where I am. I feel a boulder under my feet. I can stand! I can breath!

No one can see me now. All they see is my boat upside down floating downstream and nothing else. They all think that I am dead, or at least unconscious in the pothole. But I am standing there. I had just caught my breath when I started thinking about Dave. Dave swam here a few days before me. He got stuck in the hole right below the falls. We was in there for three minutes. He stopped breathing. He was revived and flown out in a helicopter. I don't have $15,000 for a helicopter. I can't get out of the pothole. There is no way. All the walls are undercut and polished granite and the waterfall just slams into it. I just sit there, wondering, up to my chest in bubbling, swirling force, plastering me against the wall of the pothole.

A throwbag plops right in front of me. What the? Holy shit. I am going to get out of here. I can't hold onto this thing. Do I have a Carabiner? No. Damn it. I try to tie it onto the lapelle of my PFD, the Ronin Pro. I hope this thing is strong enough. But they pull it away. They can't see me. They think I am unconscious. They think it is getting caught on rocks. I start looking for a way to signal them. I blow my whistle. Nothing. I look at the corner of the pothole. I stick my hand out there, sun hits it. Sploosh! Another throwbag. They must have seen it. I tie onto my lifejacket. Curt and Chris, on a small ledge, drag me, a 200 pound man, up and over a pothole, through the bottom of the falls, and up a polished granite slab. Damn.

I am a little nauseas and tired, but otherwise unharmed. Understandably, no one else wants to run the drop, so we begin the hike out for a second time in a week. As we hike out, I glance at my boat, it is sitting there in the weir hole, surfing happily by itself. It stays there for an entire day. We get back to camp and decide that I will paddle Clancy's boat out and he will hike out. I portage every class V drop on the remainder of the run, happy to be alive.

Fourth attempt
The kayaking community comes through; my boat, camera, throwbag, and breakdown paddle have all been recovered. So I hike back in, see the level is very low(360) and begin the hike out. 2 hours in, 7 hours out and my fourth hike in lead to about 40 miles of hiking and 15 miles of kayaking. Good Riddance.

Hiked in May 25, diurnal between 600 and 700 each day. Everything up to cherry bomb was awesome. Swimming hole in the rapid before the crux of the class IV gorge. Crux goes great, run it.  Hiked cherry all the way to dead bear. Double pothole probably runnable but consequence is likely death, so hiked it. Great rapids all the way down the red gorge, portaged regular portage as well as the swirly hole down there, stayed low. Finish of the red gorge is AWESOME. Portaged the nozzle gorge. Probably not worth it, but it is if you are already in there.

Thanks to Kokatat for gear that kept me safe and New River Academy for employing me. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thinking back

When I first rolled in the cold waters of Lake Almanor, it seemed like a small feat. It was a moment of exhileration, my head popped up and I shook the water from my hair as a chill ran through me. I quickly thanked my teacher and paddled to shore to warm myself, feeling pleased.
Thousands of river miles, swims, accomplishments, learning moments, and smiles later that moment still sticks. It is rare you can trace a passion back to its conception, it's birth, no matter how symbolic or contrived that moment may seem.
How does something start?When you first see it? When you first want to do it? When you sign up for you first class? It is hard to define. For many kayakers, their first experience in a whitewater boat is to roll, is to experience the chaos of being disoriented and upside down under water.
What an appropriate beginning.
It has it all. The difficulty of unnatural movement, the struggle against the water and yourself, the desperation for oxygen and life, the thrill of escaping the situation to return to the surface; triumph! These are the qualities that separate kayaking from other experiences, that lead to its unique feeling. They never stop, and kayaking becomes quite a long journey.
For years, after this moment of completion through struggle, people who fall in love with the sport tangle with its grasp, fighting to get back to the river and learn what it has to teach. Soon the hardy soul on this journey is running the drops once watched on youtube or bombflow; running whitewater that was once unimaginable, impossible. The journey is scary, humbling, and now you too fumble over how to describe what you do, and why. The fear in the movies is real but the actual danger still seems intangible.
Then is the first real injury. A flip in a quick rapid and 20 stitches now decorate your face. Then a subluxed shoulder. An underwater pin that forces a dislocated shoulder leaves you sidelined for three months.  You come back from the injury and are strong for awhile. But then you swim, not just a swim. You have a moment where you contemplate death. It enters your mind as a viable result of the situation. You make it out! Close one...

The risk sets in, the honeymoon phase is over. Kayaking is real, and the stories the old kayakers have been telling you for years starts to sink in. They have seen friends pin, swim, and die. But you always thought it wouldn't happen to you, but it is. Kayaking doesn't feel so glamorous anymore.

Friday, June 1, 2012

MF Feather

This trip was for Rivers For Change: 12 Rivers project. Rivers for change is a non-profit organization that is raising awareness of our watersheds through community events and running 12 rivers source to sea with coverage by Canoe and Kayak

The Story:
"I am out of shape and all I have is a t-shirt" the shuttle driver says. Eric loads back in the car to take our mortified shuttle driver back out of the canyon. It is hailing and the road into the Middle Feather is steep and treacherous(if you want to put in at the PCT). The shuttle driver started showing signs of weak nerves as trees brushed the side of the truck. "Are those going to knock the paddles off?" he wondered aloud as he checked his phone for the fourth time. As the road gets steeper and steeper it becomes increasingly clear that our shuttle driver is scared. We step out of the car at the bottom of a challenging section and Eric announces that he will be returning to the take out with the driver. "My friend, my responsibility" he says,  so we were down to three... Apparently being overweight and wearing a t-shirt makes you a bad candidate for driving MF shuttles, so beware of that. 

I follow the boys down the steep hike to the water. 
We make it part way, but still 1 mile away. Which way is the Trail?
The rare overhead shot
Rivers for change is trying to protect little guys like this. 
It never gets ugly.
This time down Galen and I ran a rapid I have been dreaming about for years: The Portage.
Down through bald rock
No one hates clean thirty footers