Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Monday, April 02, 2012
Finally! After about 5 years of trying I was finally able to get up to the Baptism River at a good level for a first run down 35’ Illgen Falls. Illgen is the trademark feature of the Baptism and one of the highlights of Superior’s North Shore.
Standing at the top of the falls, you look out at tree tops straight ahead of you. Below, the curtain of the falls slams into the pool, pulverizing the water into foam. It’s exciting, inspiring, and scary as heck.
We had 11 people in our group total, so we had split into two groups when we put on the river. I arrived at the top of the falls with the second group just in time to see Anthony’s green helmet disappear over the edge. Even though I knew from watching photos and videos of others running the falls that it was a prime level for a first attempt, it was still comforting to see Anthony paddling around the pool below, still in his boat. With that, we knew that the game was on!
Our group hung out at the top taking photos and standing safety with ropes while Todd, then Dylan both had great runs off falls. James was up next and had a great start, but over rotated a bit and landed a little past vertical. The impact pulled him out of his boat’s seat, but luckily didn’t pop his spray skirt off. He had the presence of mind to try to re-seat himself while he was still upside down, which was definitely impressive.
Next up was Aaron, who threw just enough of a boof stroke to give his boat some positive angle and managed to stay upright. Kyle was up next and had a great run, though his boat twisted sideways in the air and he landed a bit more forcefully than he had hoped. The impact blew his noseplugs off, but he took the high-power sinus flush and still managed to hit his roll.
That just left me. I had planned the run in my mind for years. I knew exactly where I wanted to be, how I wanted to position my body, and where I wanted to land. Naturally much of that went right out the window when I actually got out into the current, but I still managed to keep the run pretty close to the plan.
Once I pulled out of the eddy, the nerves dropped into the background as I concentrated on finding the spot I wanted to hit on the lip of the falls. It seemed like by the time I had spotted it and lined up, I was already going over the lip and spotting the landing. At the last second I tucked tight and gripped my paddle as I hit the water.
The plan was to go in nearly vertically and use the deep pool to slow me down, then bob back to the surface. Even with that technique, though, I was amazed at how hard the water slaps you when you make contact. It’s definitely something you notice!
Another thing that was tough to miss was the big popping sensation I felt while the boat was under water. The pressure of the water had squeezed my plastic boat, compressing the air inside it. That pressure found its way out by popping the spray skirt that seals the boat and keeps the water out. So, when I rolled up I got the unpleasant surprise of my boat being 1/2 filled with water. Thankfully I was able to paddle it to shore that way, though, so it was all good!
I’m super grateful to have had Joi, Nace, Amy, and Nora there catching all the action with photos and video. It was an awesome day and I’m stoked about the footage. Congrats to everybody who ran it!
Monday, March 12, 2012
We dove every day, and I wound up logging 8 dives before the trip was out. I had initially planned to try to do multiple dives each day, but found that the relaxed pace of diving when we felt like, rather than whenever possible, was really nice.
All six people on the boat were scuba certified, so we’d usually dive in shifts, with 2 couples diving while the third couple stayed on board in case there were any problems. Thankfully, all of the dives were great and the folks on the boat usually just helped the divers get in and out of the water.
It turned out that the frequent diving was a good thing, because the shower on our boat had a bad hose and was out of commission by day 2. Aside from some salt-crystal build-up in the ears and eyebrows, though, the daily water time kept things tolerable on the boat for everybody.
The water was in the high 70’s with great (60-80’) visibility. To make it even better, the dive sites were all pretty easy to navigate and full of vibrant, healthy coral and other sea life. We saw a shipwreck, turtles, rays, a couple octopus (octopii?), and all sorts of cool fish. We spent a surprising amount of time in the presence of large (4-5’) barracudas, who paid us no attention except when I was chasing them to get photos.
Between the diving, the weather, and the company, it was hard not to love the trip. Hope you like the pics! Till next time…
Monday, February 27, 2012
Whew, it’s been a long time since my last blog. I’ve let lots of cool stuff go unnoted, but I’m finally getting back to it. At the end of January, Kim and I joined four friends for a totally different kind of trip than we’re used to - the British Virgin Islands! I’ve got too many pics for one post, so I’m doing one for the sailing and general trip stuff, then the next post will be about the (awesome) diving.
Kim and I started our trip bound not for the BVI, but for San Juan, Puerto Rico. We would have had a layover there anyway, so we decided to stretch it out a bit and have a day to show Kim around San Juan. I had been there a couple of years ago (the blog post is here), so it was really fun showing Kim around. We did Old San Juan, Fort Morro, a tour of the Bacardi distillery, and more. Really love that city!
After San Juan we caught a short flight over to Tortola in the BVI where we met up with the rest of our group. We spent that night at the Treasure Island hotel, then got on the boat the next day. That was the start of 6 days living on a 44 foot sailboat wearing huge floppy hats, drinking Ting, cruising from island to island, and scuba diving. No cell phones, no computers, no internet. Nothing but wind, water, islands, and great company. It was awesome. We’d get up in the morning, pick a destination, then hoist the sails and get moving.
Neither Kim nor I had ever really done any large boat sailing, so we had a lot to learn to make ourselves useful. Thankfully the other 4 on the boat had all done this trip before and got us up to speed pretty quickly. Before we knew it we were cranking on sheeting lines, reefing sails, and getting to know all of the cleats, drums, and other stuff that goes with sailing.
We had great wind (~20 knots) the entire trip, so the sailing was more exciting than I had anticipated. When we were under way, we spent a good amount of time heeled over to the point where the leeward gunwales were underwater and the waves were splashing up on the deck. It took a bit of getting used to, but was really fun!
Once we got to our destination, it was time dive! We had amazing diving on the trip that’s worth it’s own post, so for now I’ll just leave it at that. At night we’d find a sheltered bay, hook up to a mooring buoy (harder than it sounds, as you have to fish the mooring line out of the water with a long pole from a moving boat), then settle in for dinner, drinks, and games.
On a trip where tight quarters could have made for tough times, it was wonderful to have such an easy-going group. Ryan was our very skilled captain who managed to get us where we needed to go and keep us upright, Krissy was an amazing cook, Jason was the experienced first mate who caught mooring bouys and kept the halyards and reefing lines straight, and Kim, Suzanne, and I filled in wherever we could. Thanks to such a great group, it was pure fun from beginning to end, except maybe that broken toe.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Rachel, Barb, Lisa, and Kim all got their first whitewater runs in on a steaming hot day on the Kettle! Nick was along for his first run of the year, but looked like he’d been at it all season. Amy and I were there to help guide them all down the river at about 460 cfs.
Because of the state shutdown, we had to start about 1.4 miles above the normal put-in at the Highway 23 bridge. This gave us a great warm-up and a chance to learn some final skills before jumping into the whitewater.
When we did arrive at Banning, we took out, scouted Shoulder Hole and had lunch. The bugs were vicious and we looked more like a bunch of pox victims than paddlers by the time we got back in the boats. That didn’t slow anyone down, though.
From there, we put in and the newbies got their first taste of whitewater bumping down through Shoulder Hole. Everyone aced it! From there, it was off to the races. The waves in Teachers and the rocks in Mother’s delight each claimed one swim, but other than that the newbies absolutely owned the river.
The highlight of the day for a few of the newbies was the seal launch off of a cliff into the river. At this low water, the fall was probably close to 15’, so it was definitely exciting! Not a bad way to jump start a paddling career!
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Sunday, May 15, 2011
That was exactly the situation May 6-8 in Northeast Wisconsin. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a beautiful area with several fun class II-IV whitewater rivers set in white pine forest. It’s where I spent much of my early paddling days, and going back always feels a bit like going home.
Bill K, Brian J, Nora, Amy, Mike T, James I, and I all played hookie from work and drove out Friday morning. Amy and I arrived at Bear Paw in the early afternoon and shortly afterwards James and Mike arrived. Nora, Bill, and Brian had all arrived earlier and were out on the mountain bike trails in the area. Once they returned, we all headed out to the Peshtigo.
The Peshtigo is about 40 minutes from Bear Paw and has some the most continuous whitewater in the Upper Midwest. There’s a bit of a paddle from the put in, but then the fun is on for the next couple of miles. It was around 700 cfs (8” on the bridge) for our trip.
The first three rapids (creatively named First, Second, and Third Drop) are packed close together and include a big side curling wave feeding a hole in the middle and several river-wide ledges that had to be punched. Our group tried various lines through and around the features, and everyone styled it.
On Five-Foot Falls Bill led us through a sloping river-left line with 3 consecutive holes at the bottom. It was a fun route I hadn’t tried before and everyone made it through, though me and one other paddler got flipped in the final hole.
The final rapid on the Pesh was Horse Race, which is a long, curving rapid with a fun and chaotic final slope to it. I had Amy follow me down and she absolutely nailed her line. Everybody else picked their way down, taking a couple different variations of the same line. Great rapid, great fun, no flips.
Wolf, Section IV
Section IV is one of my favorite runs in the Midwest. It’s a long, its got a lot of flatwater on it, and you have to pay to run it, but those downsides are more than made up for by the beautiful scenery and fun, unique rapids.
There are 6 main rapids on the run and 5 or 6 more minor ones. The entire run is within an Indian Reservation, and the Menominee have kept the shorelines almost completely natural. There are no houses, no docks, and almost no man-made structures at all. Instead, it’s white pines, leafy trees that turn beautiful colors in the fall, and lots of wildlife. The only exception is the rafts. If you go between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it’s generally jammed with rafts. If you go outside of those times, though, you can pretty much have the river to yourself.
Each of the main rapids is unique from the others, and each changes significantly with different levels. When we ran it, the level was just under 700 cfs. That level opened up some different lines in Upper Ducksnest and both the Upper and Lower Dells. The line we ran through The Upper Dells involved riding the top of a barreling side-curler into a large, chaotic hole. The left line through the Lower Dells was looking very sketchy, but the far right was good and there was an easy line down the middle from left to right. There were also a few awesome surf waves in the canyon.
The biggest difference was Big Smokey Falls, which was about 4 times wider than it usually is in the fall. Instead of a narrow slip-n-slide lead in, it was more like a normal rapid with holes, waves, and side-curlers leading toward the falls. There was a bit of a hole at the bottom of the falls, and those that didn’t boof generally got flipped, but spit back out relatively quickly.
On Sunday most of us had to get back to teach at the intro night for Canoe U, so we opted for a quick run down Section 3 of the Wolf. The level was high enough to let us shoot right through the boulder gardens.
Boy Scout was a fun dodge and eddy fest with about a million possible lines and good river-running fun. Hanson’s had good surf at both the upper and lower tiers. There was also an audience of several fisherman on the rocks on river right.
Gilmore’s had several good, lively surf spots in store for us. It was at just the right level that you could wash off of one feature and right onto the next most of the way down the rapid. The surfs were mostly fun, bouncy pinball fests and it was a great way to end the run.