Sunday, April 26, 2009
The Stoney river is a fairly remote stretch of Class II-IV whitewater near Babbitt, MN, and right on the fringe of the BWCA. Like many creeks in Minnesota, it only runs for a week or two each year, and I didn't even know it existed until Alan F invited me along on this trip Friday night. Since it's not too well known, I'll try to give a more complete description. Apologies for the length.
Well, about 9 hours after I found out the river existed, we were on the road. In Two Harbors Alan and I met up with Dan and Dave and we headed off into the middle of the Arrowhead. After finding the river and running shuttle down the logging roads, we put on to bright sunshine and temps in the neighborhood of 50 degrees. The river was at 2.8', which the guys said was a medium flow.
This river doesn't make you wait long to get to the fun stuff. About 40 yards downstream from the put in is the first rapid. It's only a II-III, but it's got some fun wave trains and gets things off on the right foot.
Not long after that, you encounter the first major rapid. Always Right Sluice is a curving, two-stage Class IV with a nasty little falls starting on river right, then a huge, powerful, barrel-roll hole that's about 5' high and 40' long (it runs parallel to the general run of the river, instead of perpendicular) and ends in a turbulent mess where it meets water coming from two other directions. This was the first time I'd seen a feature like that before and I was a little intimidated. It looked like it would easily pick up a boater and corkscrew him into the bottom over and over again as he moved down the length of the hole. I was told to charge the hole with as much speed as possible in the hopes of riding up onto it and around the huge mess. I took that advice to heart and hit it as fast and hard as I could get my boat to go. The advice worked, and I shot through it no problem. It was amazing watching Dan and Dave run it in open boats. Those guys are better and more fearless paddlers than I'll ever be. It was great to watch.
The next major rapid was Triple drop, a class III+ with a couple opportunities for unhappiness if you hit the wrong line. It also has a cool boof rock right in the middle. I missed my line on the rock, but Alan hit perfectly. At the bottom, Dan spent some time sport surfing a hole that I was happy to stay out of - and he was in an open boat. Afterward we sat in the sun and had lunch.
#3 on the notable drops list is The Box, a constricted canyon with the most impressive side-curler I've seen and it's very own geyser! After a II-III lead-in, paddlers get a 50 yard stretch of quiet to eddy out before dropping into the canyon. As the water funnels in, it drops about 20 feet and ends in a huge left-to-right curler that was well over head-high and smashed against the cliff on river right. As an added incentive to get left in a hurry, the river makes a natural fountain against the right wall towards the top. The water shoots straight up anyhere from 4-8 feet. It's pretty amazing to see. Anyway, you run the rapid right-to-left, paddling hard at the rocks on river left. As soon as you hit the shoulder of that wave, your speed doubles and you start moving diagonally to the right. If you hit your line, you ride up onto the top of the curler, through the crazy out flow and into a calm stretch. If you don't, you either get slammed into the stone wall and beaten silly, or flip in the outwash and get hammered by the cheese-grader rocks. Luckily, I got to skip both of those experiences and ran it clean. Dan amazed me by running it perfectly clean in his OC, and Alan led off in Dave's OC, making through the meat of it fine, then getting caught up in the outwash.
The last big rapid is Desensitization Falls (I called it Dome Falls in the video). It's 10-12' falls with a variety of lines ranging from auto-boof to auto-pencil. As I found, the difference between those two scenarios can be about 2 feet. After a boogie water lead-in, you follow the wave train down river left and off the falls. My first run I was just on the right side of the wave crests and penciled into the pool for my only flip of the day. On the second run, I lined up on the left side of the wave crests and had a perfect boof line. It's definitely a game of inches. It was really cool to see the OC's hit the falls.
After that, it was some flatwater (where we stumbled upon 3 huge Trumpeter Swans), some more II-III's, and into Birch lake to the take out. Mixed among all of the above rapids were wavy II-III boulder gardens and wave trains. There is some flatwater on the run, but not enough to be a problem.
Huge thanks to Alan, Dan, and Dave for having me along on the trip. It was great to paddle with those guys and exciting to watch them style rapids that I would have been certain were impossible in canoes. They also made great guides/instructors, and I don't know how I'd have made it down without their insight. Finally, Dan brought along his HD video camera and has put together some great video from the day. If you're on facebook, you can check it out on his page or mine.
I've got a couple more pics and short video clips from the day that I'll try to post tonight. Check back!