Monday, August 08, 2011

Beginner Kettle Run

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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.  Nick Cliff

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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         By the end of the day, we were all bug-bitten and tired, but definitely left the river as successful whitewater paddlers! 

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Wolf Video

Here's the video from the trip down Section IV...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Peshtigo and Wolf

What do you get when you mix 8 good paddlers, 3 warm and sunny days, and some great whitewater?  A ton of fun.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 3OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         On the whole, it was a great trip.  I’m already looking forward to the Fall Colors trip!

Section III

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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         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. 




Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Cold, wet, and fun weekend!

What do you do when it’s about 40 degrees, windy, and rainy?  Lots, actually.   The weather last weekend definitely left something to be OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         desired, but it didn’t stop the fun! 

Saturday morning began with the Get in Gear 5k race.   It was the first time I’ve ever run a race in raincoat, but Kim and I and a couple of other friends managed to have a great time and get some much needed exercise.  Saturday night was a pretty awesome birthday party, so Happy Birthday Ben!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Sunday is where the real action started, with a trip up to the North Shore.  The Kettle River Paddlefest was going on in Sandstone, but neither the freestyle competition in full winter gear nor the downriver race against a 25mph headwind was all that appealing. 

Instead, a whole bunch of paddlers headed up to the North Shore of Lake Superior to hit the creeks.  The recent rain and snow had run right off of the saturated ground, so the creeks were flowing! 

There was a large group that was doing lapsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         on the Lester, and it sounded like they had a great time.  Nora, John J, and I decided to head up to the French instead to see what it was like at a medium-low level.  For John and I, this was our first time running that river. 

We weren’t disappointed.  Even though the water was low, the French had lots of little ledges on it combined with a few big slides.   We definitely donated some plastic to the rocks, but there was plenty of water to have fun.

All three of us had cameras, so there are no shortage of pics.   These are just mine – the others have better ones, but I haven’t been able to get them yet.  I’ve also included one video here, but there will be OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         more to come from Nora’s helmet cam when I get around to editing them.     








Monday, April 25, 2011

Verm Weekends

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Well, the old Vermillion has surprised me again.   After missing out on the two prime weekends on the North Shore, the shallow class II-III river seemed like a pretty meager substitute, but it turned out to still have one more trick up its wet, chilly sleeve. 

I went out for an afternoon run with Bill and Bob mostly just to get onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         some water and catch up with a couple of guys I hadn’t paddled with in quite a while.   I was having some knee problems that made it difficult to get into the playboat, so I was down there in a creeker.  It was a nice day with great company, but I still didn’t feel the excitement that paddling always brings. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Last weekend, a whole group of paddlers went down for a run, and this time I was able to get in the playboat.  We had a blast.  There were paddlers I’d known for years, some I’d only met once or twice, and even a couple people that were totally new to me. 

Graeme, who is the only person I know to paddle the same model boat for OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         as long as I have, finally got a new one!  It was great watching him put it through its paces.  There were also some people that were still getting their feel for some of the features, so there was plenty of new-ness to go around.      

The water level was good (about 165), the energy was great, and we ripped up every feature on the river in a way that I haven’t done for probably close to two years.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, now that my stoke has been refueled by some great paddling companions, I’m looking forward to some upcoming trips!  Wisconsin, Canoe U, and (hopefully) another trip out to Colorado are all in the cards for the coming weeks, so it should be awesome! 


Monday, March 14, 2011

Polar Plunge!

Wow, the 2011 polar plunge was a huge success!   People donated over OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         $2100 to Special Olympics for us to jump into a hole in the ice in Lake Calhoun.  It was definitely cold, but also definitely worth it. 

This was my fifth Plunge, and every time has been a day of awesome energy and crazy fun.   This year was no exception, with 9 other Plungers in our group.   We met up for breakfast and a little liquid courage in Uptown, then headed on the shuttle over to the lake.    At the lake is always a crazy and fun scene.  There’s music, all kinds of crazy costumes, hot tubs, and of course one big hole in the lake.   The best part of the whole thing is the energy that comes from a couple thousand people all soaking up the fact that they’re about to do something crazy!  Our theme OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         was W-W-W-Where’s W-W-W-Waldo, so be sure to look for Derek (aka Waldo) peeking out in the pictures! 

We had a ton of fun, but that really is balanced by how much good the money will do with Special Olympics.  We really can’t thank those who donated enough!









Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Verm!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I finally made it down to the Vermillion for the first time in 2011.  For the first time in a long time I wasn’t part of the ice-breaking crew that made  the actual first run of the year, but it was pretty chilly all the same. 

The temp was about 17 degrees when we put on, and there was a stiff wind that added a nice bite to it.  Nora, Amy, and I were all bundled up under our dry suits, though, so once we started walking/climbing/slipping our way towards the put-in we were fine. 

This was Amy’s first winter paddling OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         experience, and the ice ledges and frozen gear didn’t slow her down a bit.  She did great, even practicing surfing down in Donut! 

It was also Nora’s first descent in her new Big Dog kayak that she won in a nation-wide contest.   Though she was still working on getting the outfitting set, it sounded like the boat performed well overall.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As for the river, the level was probably only about 75cfs, but it was running winter-fast, so there was fun play at both Railroad and Donut.   Mostly, though, it was just nice to back on the water with friends.  Looking forward to a new season!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Krabi and Ao Nang

From Koh Tao, Kim and I headed across the narrow strip of southern P6080143Thailand to the Andaman coast.  The combination of a 6.5 hour ferry ride and 2.5 hour bus ride meant we arrived just about sunset on the first evening. 

This area’s known for beaches, gorgeous cliffs, impossibly steep mountains, and more tourists than you can count.   It lived up to all of those.  The weather here is hot – really hot.  The weather on the rest of the trip has been great – warm, but not uncomfortable.  This was the sweating-in-the-shade kind of hot. 

P6080053 Overall we were impressed with the landscape of the area.  The steep mountains and sheer cliffs combined with beautiful beaches to make unique and absolutely gorgeous views.  The only problem was that it was a bit too crowded and touristy for our liking.  We made a rough guess  that tourists outnumber locals about 1,000 to 1, and that 1 local is working at a hotel, restaurant, or tourist shop. 

The main reason we came was to do some sea kayaking along the limestone cliffs that make the area famous.  We made it onto P6080067a tour that took us along the huge limestone cliffs with caves reaching back from the water.  We squeezed through a tight canyon with huge palms hanging off of pockets in the cliffs and monkey s following us in the trees.   Our tour came out in a lengthy mangrove swamp where we paddled between the crazy tangle of roots standing above the surface of the water.   The whole thing took a couple hours and was definitely worth coming over to Krabi for. 



Thursday, February 10, 2011

Koh Tao by Kim


Hello! It’s Kim, guest blogging.

P6040023On Friday morning, we left Surat Thani  on the Southern end of Thailand’s Gulf coast on a coach bus bound for the port. At  the port, we caught a ferry that took us to Koh Tao via a couple other islands. The ferries were run by a company called Lomprayah; they were packed with people but  nice, fast, and air conditioned in the cabin.

We arrived in Koh Tao late Friday afternoon and much to our delight, our dive operator’s site (Crystal Dive) was right next to the port. We got lucky and got a bungalow for three nights in a nice, brand new unit just a few doors down from the dive shop. As a break from our hectic past two three days, we got dinner at an Italian restaurant and then Thai back, shoulder and neck massages. They were great for only 300 baht, but man were they brutal! Our masseuses cracked both of our necks and I thought my head might snap off.

DSC09390 Saturday morning we grabbed breakfast and signed up for the afternoon dives through Crystal.  This place is by-the-book to the extreme – they scrutinized our dive logs and certification cards and might have required a refresher course for both of us, but fortunately we were just shy of their 6 month cut-off from a last dive to require that. Whew – we’ve spent enough money on this trip!

After a quick lunch, we headed out on the boat which was full of mostly PICT0064 students either completing their open water or a more advanced certification. The dive master for our group of 3 “fun” (aka not participating in any course) divers was Richard, a young guy from England who only just obtained his open water certification last September and has logged over 200 dives since then. Having not dove since August, I felt a bit rushed by the operation as they were really quick about getting us geared up and off the boat. Both dives were great for seeing aquatic life – we saw two turtles! My ears hurt a lot on the second dive though.

For dinner, we went to a place called Safari and were surprised by how dead the town (called Mae Haad) feels at night. Where is everyone on a DSC09373 Saturday night? After heading to nearby Sairee  Beach (the more tourist/party area) for a bucket of a vodka mixer and being the only people in the bar, we reasoned that the diving community must be early to bed and early to rise.

After Sunday’s breakfast, we again signed up for the afternoon’s fun dives and were again grouped with Richard, and two other men – one from Ireland and one from California. I wisely took some cold medicine to help my ears and employed Bryan’s suggestion of continually equalizing my ears on my descent and it helped immensely. Aside from a flooding problem with my mask which caused me to surface momentarily, it was a much better dive for me and I focused on staying horizontal, not using my hands, and enjoying the underwater sights! The second dive was to a drop called Twin Peaks which had some  amazing angelfish, coral and stingrays.

DSC09344We ate dinner at Dirty Nelly’s the island’s obligatory Irish bar (again, it was completely dead) and ran into Andrew, our dive group member from Ireland.

All in all, Koh Tao was a great place to visit and is definitely THE place to go in Thailand if you want to scuba dive. Lonely Planet says it is the number one place in the world for issuing scuba certifications. It’s a shame we don’t have one more day to dive. Perhaps Krabi will offer something…

Monday, February 07, 2011

Chiang Mai

We flew into Chiang Mai, which is in the most mountainous region of the country.  The weather’s a couple degrees cooler than Bangkok, the pace of life is just a little slower, and there’s a great mountain backdrop to the city. 

Cooking Class

When we checked into our hotel, we pretty much just dropped our bags then immediately set off for our Thai cooking class.   The teacher’s DSC09232 husband picked us up in his pickup truck, which we road in the bed of.  We stopped to pick up other people from the Netherlands, Columbia, and the UK.     They wound up being a great group and made the evening alot more fun. 

Our instructor was Vannee, a short, fiesty lady with a great sense of humor.  In between instructions and tips we were treated to good-natured barbs at her husband and comments about what we were doing.  

Once again we were able to choose dishes from a menu.  I made pad Thai noodles, massaman curry, sweet and sour chicken and fried bananas; Kim made fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, green curry, and spicy flat noodles.   This time we ate each course as we prepared it.   The food was awesome and she gave us each a recipe book DSC09234 with complete recipes for everything that was on the menu.  Look for Kim and I to host a Thai/Cambodian food night soon!

By the time we finished cooking and eating it was near 11:00.  We were stuffed and tired, so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  

DAY 2: 

Bamboo Rafting

We got picked up at 8am to start a day of adventure in the hills outside of town.  We started off by climbing aboard bamboo rafts that were about 20 P6020021 feet long and 4 feet wide.  They were made of long bamboo poles lashed together and came with a local guy at the front with a long push stick to steer. 

We travelled down a narrow, windy river with beautiful scenery and class 1-2 rapids.  We were riding standing up, with nothing at all to hold onto, and on bamboo poles that flexed under your feet so you rarely had stable footing.  It was great!   There were four tourists per raft and it was sort of a cross between surfing and being in a conga line.  Shifts of balance and shouts of “wooooo-Ahh-WO!” were nearly constant as the raft navigated the turns and obstacles.  It was a totally unique experience and a lot of fun!

Elephant Ride

The raft ride ended at a little suspension foot bridge.  When we walked up from the bank, a family of Elephants were waiting for us, munching onP6020044 Palm leaves.  There were two adults and a baby, who carefully picked up a hose and brought it to me in his trunk so I could give him a spray.  

Before I had the chance, though, our guide was rounding up the group.  Up from the river bank came 5 or 6 more elephants, and these were already outfitted with seats on top for riders.  To get on them, we had to climb up to the second story of a small building that was there and board from the deck.  Really surreal to be up that high to get on something… 

The ride took about 45 minutes and wound through the forest, crossing a couple of small streams and zig-zagging up and down the hills.  The elephants were allowed to roam off the path a bit, which they frequently P6020025 did to grab some leaves to chew on or just to take a different route.   Ours was pretty docile, as her baby was walking with us.  At one point she even stopped for a couple minutes so he could drink her milk.  

The ride was an awesome experience and I have a whole new respect for how smart and social elephants are. 

Waterfall Trek

Our final adventure of the day was a “jungle waterfall trek” that turned out P6020069 to be a short (1 mile?) walk down an unpaved road through the forest with a nice 30 foot waterfall at the end. 

The falls was beautiful, coming off of domed rock so that the top 3rd was a steadily increasing slope and the bottom was vertical.  I hiked up the side to find that there’s another little waterfall and pool at the top.  The whole thing might be runnable, though there’s a layer of rock running diagonally across right above the vertical part.  If you could keep from having the boat damaged as you cross that, I think it’d be a real fun ride. 

We had the option to swim in the pool, but the air temp was still fairly cool P6020086 and no one felt inspired to try it out.  Afterwards we drove 1+ hours back to town, had dinner, and called it a night.