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!