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Archive for September, 2007

Snowhole Canyon- note: this does not qualify as big water
Well, today was the big water day. I’m happy to report that we emerged upright and no worse for wear.

First was ‘Bodacious Bounce’ rapid, Class III (VI being unrunnable). I think this one is probably easier at higher water levels. As it is (around 3500 cfs), the rapid is a long tongue guarded by large rocks on either side so that you can’t run anywhere but right down the center. Of course, down the center at the end of a long wave train is a very big hole. It is just runnable; the kind that boats the size of ours can run 6 out of 7 times with no problem. But watch out that 7th time!

Dad was almost that 7th run. His 14′ cataraft climbed up part of that big hole just as it was surging and then he stalled out. He sat there for a full 3 seconds before a wave came up behind him and shoved him right over the top of the wave. I was rowing our 14′ raft, which is pretty heavily loaded, and we crushed right through that hole with no problem.

Next up was Half and Half Rapid, Class III. It is supposedly named so because half make it and half don’t. I guess the half that don’t make it run it at higher water. Other than me smacking an oar against a rock, Dad and I both easily cleared this one.

The biggie for the day and for the trip was Snow Hole Rapid. Holy moly… As soon as I got my first glance at this Class IV monster, my heart leapt into my throat and wouldn’t budge! The rapid is littered with enormous boulders. I don’t fear swimming large rapids that much. It can be unpleasant, but once one is clear of the boat, one generally gets flushed out the other end no worse with no more than a few bruises (assuming a life-vest and proper swimming technique). Big rocks, however, pin boats, pop tubes, destroy gear and take lives. The safest way was easy to pick out. It required entering the rapid on the far right and pulling hard left for a few strokes to miss a triangular boulder jutting from the river. After that, keep your boat straight, go over a pour-over and enter the fray, praying that none of the numerous holes and general frothy mess can flip you.

We scouted for almost too long, but it was like trying to tear your eyes away from an accident that was about to happen. I conferred with EZ and we agreed that I would row Snow Hole. He may be new to rafting, but he has quickly picked up the fundamentals of rowing a rapid successfully. I still probably have better judgment in rapids due to many years of rowing, but EZ easily makes up the difference in size and strength (in rowing, size is a huge advantage). I wanted to row because I wanted the challenge of this rapid, the toughest I believe I had ever rowed, even though it terrified me.

As we walked back to our boats, Dad and I must have seemed as though we were walking to our executions. He was worried about entering the rapid in the wrong place. I was more unsure of whether I was really strong enough to make big move to the left than I care to be (but not enough to let EZ row!). The intensity of entering something like this, feeling like you have, at best, a 50/50 shot at emerging upright with everyone inside the boat, is a bit overwhelming.

We shoved off and decided that Dad would run first. The pool above the rapid is incredibly slow and perhaps Dad was stalling a bit. I just wanted to get it over with, so the wait seemed excruciating. Dad finally entered the rapid and I got to see most of his run. He entered in a good spot, nailed the move to the left, but got knocked sideways on the pour-over. Just as I was entering the rapid, I say that he had righted himself and had gotten through the worst of it.

I went into the rapid just where I had wanted to be, turned sideways and back-rowed twice hard. I felt good about my setup and straightened out. There is a lot of second-guessing that goes on in the midst of a tough rapid and I began to question whether I was really far enough from that rock or not. It was too late to do anything about it, though. As I passed the rock, I could just hear the end of my oar barely knick the rock, putting me a safe distance away from it. I dropped into the frothy chaos, meaning I’d safely gotten through the section I felt was potentially the most dangerous. I was able to stay straight and find my way through, so I let out a hoot! It always seems the appropriate response after such an endeavor.

After Snow Hole, I could feel my adrenaline drain away. I soon gave the oars over the EZ because it left me feeling weak. And anyhow, he had demanded the oars for at least one of the big rapids of the day. We both love to row, so someday we may just have to get 2 boats so that we can both row all the time. No compromising.

EZ rowed China Rapids, a long Class III supposedly named for a group of Chinese miners purported to have died there. The rapid is a long s-curve, entering right then pulling far left around the bend and then dropping down a sneak route between the bank and a boulder on the left. Technical, but not particularly big water. Eric got turned sideways at the bottom, but the worst was over at that point and it made no difference. I hardly even got wet, but he lost some style points.

The other thing of note today is that the weather finally broke. We got up this morning to blue sky peeking between the clouds. The day was in the high 70s to low 80s with large cumulus clouds rolling through here and there. It was very pleasant. Mostly, I was relieved to have relatively warm weather on a big rapid day. It at least removes the worry of hypothermia from the list of possible dangers.

Tonight we have a nice camp with a long, multi-level sand bar. Eric fly-fished for a while and caught and released a 12″ smallmouth bass. Our camp tonight is out of the yellowjackets, which were quite prevalent at other sites. We had been setting up a cup of Margarita mix to attract and drown them at the other sites. We didn’t even have to give them tequila!

Well, I’m missing out on a nice evening of conversation now. Goodnight!

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Well, we’re water logged by now, but really no worse for wear. It scarcely stopped raining all day, but the rain never fell hard except for a few brief bouts. Mostly, it wasn’t exceptionally unpleasant because the winds were very mild.

I did a very poor job of packing for cold weather this trip. I generally give it more thought, but as it always seems to go lately, work was crazy the week before I left. Idaho and Montana have not had weather like this since back in May. The firefighters must appreciate a non-windy, rainy day like this. For those fires, I’m grateful for this weather, but my selfish side wishes this crap could have waited a week!

Dad modeling his cold weather gear

We only made it 13 miles today, so we will have some ground to make up in the coming days. We would have gone further, but we were about to enter a long canyon with several large rapids and few campsites.

We passed up a fairly good site a couple of miles ago because the guide book indicated that there were ‘several’ in the area. I guess ‘several’ means two if you write guide books. The other site was already taken.

We ended up at an expansive campsite at Whitehouse Bar. Of course, being the last large site for many miles, we knew we’d have to share. This is not a prospect we are ever excited about, but tonight, our camp-mates are a 20-30 person group of Christian high school age kids. They alternately pray and scream. We ended up camped next to them at the put-in and a couple of the guides ended up annoying me more than most of the kids. One would compulsively find a stump, rock or other elevated platform to stand on, then proceed to make incredibly inane announcements. Other than a few screeches and squeals, however, they have been pretty mild tonight.

They set up their tents closer than we had originally agreed upon, so after a few beers, I offered Dad 20 bucks to start setting up our shit bucket (in case you’re not familiar with river trips, you generally have to pack your poop out) a few yards from them, just to see the reaction it would elicit. He began to bargain for more money, but seeing that I was willing to up my price significantly, eventually declined.

We had our dinner of ‘Bachelor Hash’ (a 1-pan meal of potatoes, veggies, and ground beef) and then a dessert I prepared and froze at home, Peach-blueberry-huckleberry Crisp. Then we played guitar and sang and now it’s about bedtime.

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