As 2013 nears the end I’m looking back at another great year of paddling. I have to say though, the year really didn’t go at all the way I was imagining it at this time last year. That’s not a bad thing. This year was still filled with old friends and new ones and largely spent on the river. For me that is really the whole point. I prefer my time be spent out in the crevices of the Earth somewhere but at the end of the day, if it was spent with good company then it was a day well spent.
I started off in 2013 pretty fired up to do some things I’ve not done before. The first on the list was to do a self support trip. I had never done an overnighter without raft support. It’s not that I didn’t want to I just hadn’t had the opportunity yet and this year was finally time to do it. For my first self support I chose the Devil’s Canyon stretch on the Middle Fork of the Feather River in California. Just to make things more exciting I went with two others who had not been there before either. This in its self was called inadvisable by a few. Add to that the fact that the 3 of us hadn’t paddled together much before, and a few more folks registered their skepticism. It didn’t bother me any at all however. I was determined to seize this opportunity to go on a self support and see one of the Sierra Classics at the same time. Now, you may be thinking that this is starting to sound like a bad idea. It wasn’t. Despite not having worked together before, all of us were very competent paddlers and possessed the skills to execute this trip. The end result was what will be for a long time to come remembered by me as one of the greatest trips ever. As it turned out, we had a great group dynamic and worked very well together. It was a good thing too. As luck would have it, it was raining all night before we put on and all day the first day. It wasn’t just that it was raining, but it was raining at high elevation on the existing snow pack. The day before we put on the level was around 1000 cfs. Most people would consider 900-1200 cfs the ideal window for this run. I think the guide book listed something around 3500 as the max. Our flow peaked at 4600 cfs at the end of day 1, and it was still well above 3,000 when we reached the take out. There is something very rewarding about being in a deep river canyon with 30 miles of white water between you and the take out. It was very tiring having to scout every single horizon. Even more challenging still to try and look for specific landmarks that were mentioned in the write ups and are now several feet under water. It all came down to the 3 of us having to each pick our own lines and count on each other for safety. This is the very sort of freedom I was looking for on a trip like this. For those 3 days it was as if all the other goings on in the world no longer existed. There was just me, my kayak, and this never ending puzzle of white water laid out in front of me. It was challenging and scary at times but taking on that challenge was a truly rewarding experience. I hope 2014 brings more adventures like this one.
I graduated from the University of Nevada Reno with a degree in mechanical engineering in May. I am so glad to have this finally done. Truth be told, I was getting pretty burnt out on school toward the end. With the end of the semester came the Reno River Festival. This is always a favorite because it is the unofficial start of the summer time for me as well as a chance for my paddling friends from around the country to come to my home town for an event. I was extra stoked on last year’s fest since I didn’t know when or if I would be back for another one. There is that drawback to nomadic life I guess. I really don’t know where I’m going to be at any certain time.
After the festival Amy and I headed to Colorado for the freestyle circuit. We spent several weeks traveling around colorado. We started in Buena Vista for Paddlefest. Then we went to the Lyons Outdoor Games, the GoPro Games in Vail, and FIBARK in Salida. We ended the tour with a trip up to Cascade ID for the Payette River Games at Kelly’s Whitewater Park.
Last year was my first time racing the South Saint Vrain race. I haven’t done much creek racing but after this race I really felt like I wanted to do more. My origins in paddling were through racing after all. Pictured above is Mike Patterson closing in on the finish line.
Still stoked from the previous weeks race in Lyons, I decided to enter the Homestake race at the GoPro games in Vail. This race had been a goal for a few years, ever since I first saw it 4 years ago. After racing this short section of creek my stoke for creek racing is a lot less. It is generally agreed that the SSV race is harder than the Homestake race. I would have to disagree. I am glad to have completed 2 race runs on this course. In fact, my race runs were pretty clean compared to my practice laps. In practice this creek kicked the crap out of me every run. I had several pitons (notice the dent in my bow). I swam once after getting pinned upside down, and had a few other sketchy situations that I got out of by the skin of my teeth. If I find myself there for the race again this year I will race again, but I can’t honestly say that I’m looking forward to it.
The following week I kept up the racing theme at the annual Pine Creek Race. This year it was giant slalom format with 4 gates, 2 up & 2 down, spread over the 1/2 mile long race course. This was the first time that I started to feel the effects of my adventures on my mental state. This race was on big fast moving water, but it is perfectly manageable. There is one hole to be avoided though. Above, Bren Orton cartwheels the large Shiva in said hole. For reasons I can’t quite understand I couldn’t get out of my own head while racing here. You hear people talk about the quiet minded focus they get from paddling hard whitewater. I normally find this to be true up until this point. On this day and on far too many occasions since I have struggled to shut out the voice of fear and doubt in my own mind. This was a common theme that plagued me all summer and into the fall. I am starting to get a better handle on it again now though. I expect to be fully focussed and back in the game for 2014.
The last stop of the tour was in Idaho for the Payette River Games. I absolutely love this town, this event, and this whitewater park. It is hands down the best whitewater park I have ever seen. I could go on and on about Kelly’s Whitewater Park but instead I will just say this, if you enjoy playboating and you have not been there, go. I recommend sometime it late June. The weather is usually pretty nice, the water is warm and if you get bored of playboating the NF Payette River is just down the street.
Amy and I had the chance to visit a few national parks that we haven’t been to before last year as well. We have been wanting to see the redwoods and Yellowstone for several years and we finally made that happen.
We spent a couple nights in the Redwood National Forest. There are many campgrounds in the area that are not too expensive to stay at. Free camping is available but harder to find. We opted to pay for a spot so we could camp among these giant trees. There are a lot of things to do in the area. There are many hiking trails that will take you to see some of the oldest and largest trees I have ever seen. The largest tree we saw took 33 steps to walk around the base of it. The ocean is also very nearby. We went to some tide pools and took a nice walk along the beach. We found I wide variety of small sea creatures living in the tide pools, and we went to a whale watching over look. It was a bit foggy when we were there so we couldn’t really see the whales that well, but we could see spray from the whales exhaling just beneath the surface. It is a pretty easy stop if you’re traveling up or down the west coast. I’d recommend taking a day here at least to break up your trip if you are going a long way.
If you like hiking and waterfalls, Yellowstone is a good place to check out. The park is humungous. We spent a week here and barely saw maybe 30% of it. There is an abundance of wildlife as well. Especially bison. After a few days you get tired of seeing them because they’re usually blocking the road, but you will be close enough to reach out the window and pet them. At one point we had a bison walking right along side the truck with us. Also Grand Teton National park is just to the south of Yellowstone. The mountains there are impressive. I’d recommend spending a day in this park too. One ticket gets you into both parks all week. Camping in the parks and eating there is pretty expensive though. We found a nice forest service campground just to the east of Grand Teton that was only 12$/night. That is about 1/3 or maybe less of what it costs to stay in the parks but you do have to drive 30+ minutes each day to get to the parks so it’s a trade off. We liked it because it was quiet out there. We camped right on slide lake and got to go for morning or evening paddle sessions out on the lake.
Well if you’re a kayaker in the western part of the country with an abundance of free time during the summer, you would be foolish not to make a trip to Skook. The wave is epic and the place is beautiful. This trip, we were lucky enough to have 7 or 8 days of good tide levels for the wave. It is a pretty good way to spend your days when all you have to do is relax by the lake and wait for the surf wave to come in. There is a nice campground on Klein lake nearby too. If you go to the campground, have US cash to pay. It costs I think 12$ a night and they except US cash with a one for one exchange. If you were to exchange money you would get less than a dollar Canadian for your dollar US so you get a better deal using US money to pay for your camp. The lake is warm and provides a great opportunity to rinse the salt off after a surf session or to get some good tanning in while you wait for the wave to come in.
As the summer drew near it’s end Amy and I headed toward the eastern side of the country. The 2013 Freestyle Kayak World Championships were held in Bryson City NC in September and I wanted to be there to see it. This was the first time in a long time that the US hosted the event so it was fun to be able to attend. The US team did very well. They claimed the gold in every class but two.
For more pictures from worlds, click the link to Photos above.
Since worlds Amy and I have been basing out of central Pennsylvania. This is where we grew up and it has been a long time since we were really here for any length of time. It has been fun catching up with old friends and spending some time with the family. I’ve been doing some nostalgia paddling, revisiting old runs from my early days of paddling. It’s interesting how one’s perspective of a rapid can change over time. Places that terrified me in the beginning are now playgrounds that can be made interesting but teeter on the edge of boring. Every few weeks I try to get us back on the road to somewhere for easier access to better white water. It turns out there is more quality white water in the state than I had previous been aware of, but you do have to travel pretty far from here to get it. So we venture to NC or WV periodically to get good access so I can maintain my sanity. Too many days of no paddling have some rather adverse effects on my general well being. In October I got to go up to Moose Fest in NY. I was there once when I was 15 so it was fun to go back. I ran the bottom section of the Moose while I was there which was a really fun section of white water that when I looked at it 15 years ago I thought I would never be able to run it. I spent a week at the wet house in Fayetteville and got to hit all the area classics while I was there. 7 days, 7 new runs. Talk about your perfect timing. All together 2013 was a pretty good year. I may not have gotten all the days I wanted on the river but I still had 168 so I can’t really complain. In those days I was able to get on 21 personal first descents, in 10 different states, which include:
- MF Feather – Devils canyon (CA)
- Kern River – Forks of the Kern (CA)
- Kern River – Limestone Run (CA)
- EF Carson (CA/NV)
- South Saint Vrain – Narrows(CO)
- Homestake Creek (CO)
- Arkansas River – Pine Creek (CO)
- Arkansas River – The Fractions (CO)
- NF Payette – Lower 5 (ID)
- Watauga (NC/TN)
- Tallulah (GA)
- Nolichuchy (TN)
- Moose River – Bottom (NY)
- New River – Dries run (WV)
- New River – Lower New (WV)
- Mill Creek (WV)
- Manns Creek *first mile* (WV)
- Meadow River – Lower run (WV)
- Gauley River – Upper run (WV)
- Youghiogheny River – Top Section (PA)
- Stony Creek – Stony Canyon (PA)