Thursday, June 26, 2008

Little Dorky

A little more than a week from now, with thanks to my good buddy Dave, I'll be at Lee's Ferry getting ready to push off into the Colorado to float 297 unbelievable miles of river with 7 friends, taking 21 days.

Dave's dory "Hellgrammite" will ride again, after a flawless on-sight run last year. I'll be rowing the gear barge - my 16' Achilles HD bucket boat, with the help of Ginger the Kid. Larry will split duty with Iris rowing brother Al's NRS cataraft, and Bug will be rowing Blue Boy. Whitney and Dave's pop are also along. A fine crew, almost everyone an experienced boatman.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Big Water Rescue w/ Carbon Rec

Had a fun weekend of flipping boats, swimming rapids, righting boats, rescuing swimmers, learning knots, setting up z drags, and gaining valuable in-stream experience with situations I hope to never, or at least rarely, encounter on the river. The class emphasized big water situations typical of the rivers we run around here, as opposed to swiftwater techniques which rely heavily on shore safety, etc. The Green River provided the perfect big water classroom, humming along at 26000 cfs as we ran our scenarios.

The class was organized by Steve Christensen at Carbon Rec in Price, and taught by his son Bo. I would highly recommend it to anyone spending time on the rivers. Check out Carbon Rec for more information on upcoming workshops and other programs.

Photo Copyright Steve Christensen.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The wild and free flowing Yampa

Following Photos copyright Ray Bloxham.


Yampa/Green Rivers

Deerlodge Park, CO to Split Mtn Takeout, UT

12-17,000 cfs

Jeremy Christensen, Kylan Frye, Larry Hedrick, Paul Leo, Dave Inskeep, Bug Inskeep, Scott Olsen, Cory Weir, Dan Lustig, Ron Weigel, Jeff Peak, Brad Weaver, Ryan Weaver, Karen Webster, Ryan Pearl, Cory Hart, Ray Bloxham, Bob Mitchell, Scott Braden, Franklin Seal, Krissie Killoy, Josie Byer, Allen Inskeep.

“Day Zero”

As memorial day weekend approached, hot weather in the headwaters was pushing the flows on the Yampa up and up, bringing it terrifyingly close to its all time peak of nearly 28,000 cfs recorded in 1984. When I left Salt Lake, the flow had peaked at close to 25,000.

We stopped into River Runner Transport in Vernal to talk with Melanie about our shuttle. She told us that two of her trips in the last 2 days had backed out when they got to Deerlodge. Commercial guides had been into her store looking visibly worried, buying up her steel carabiners and rescue equipment.

Seeing the Yampa swollen beyond its banks when we reached Deerlodge Pk. on the 24th was incredible. The campsites and the boat launch were under 2 ft of water. Seeing the river flowing around old growth cottonwood trees and through the picnic tables of the camps was truly humbling. We gathered in the parking strip along the road and ate pasta with beef bourguignon, drank beer and rum and fell asleep with the big water weighing heavy on our minds.

There was a point where the thought of bailing on the trip was very real. But we trusted the hydrographs and predictions we had from NOAA that the river would drop over the next couple days, and decided to chance it. It was the right decision. I would have regretted bailing on this trip for the rest of my life.

“Teepee” (Day 1)

The next morning, the Yampa had regained its banks. The flow had dropped to 17,000 overnight. I had planed to try and be on the river by 10 to make our 22 miles to Big Joe, but the other group launching that day had monopolized the boat ramp; so we leisurely rigged and waited our turn. They finally departed; we put the dories in the water, had our safety talk, and pushed off into the current. It was incredible to be moving that fast on the river – probably 7 mph the first day. In no time we were out of Deerlodge and into the canyon.

The first 22 miles of river was a nearly continuous class II wave train. A couple named rapids were nowhere to be seen, and dozens more materialized.

Our first bit of excitement occurred at Teepee rapid, which at normal flows is supposedly a read and run class II. At 17,000 cfs it was a stout run with a 20'+ wave hole in the left-center, bigger than almost anything I have seen before. In an instant, the wave-hole flipped Bug’s 16' Achilles, 2 boats ahead of Ky and I in the dory, end over end (the long way), ejecting she and Karen. They both swam for maybe half a mile through continuous smaller waves before being rescued.

Ray, rowing our 16’ Achilles, was lined up right behind her. He and Bob saw the flip and Bob blew his whistle - 3 sharp blasts - just as I was rounding the corner and setting up to run where they had. Seconds later he and Ray drifted into the same wave-hole and almost flipped. Ray was washed out of the boat by the wave crashing over, but he was pulled immediately back into the boat and wrestled with his loosed oar the rest of the rapid.

Hearing Bob’s whistle sent me into full alert, and I managed to make the pull to the right, avoiding the wave-hole while watching it almost flip Ray. I actually thought he had flipped until after I passed the hole, which I peered at in terror as it passed by my bow. Then I saw the boat somehow upright, and Ray back in his seat after swimming.

Allen was rowing Dave’s dory (“Hellgrammite”, a 16’ framed Tatman with a Grand Canyon interior) ended up running the hole as well. They hit it straight on and sailed over it like nothing. This to me says a lot. I think if I would have set up and ran the hole in my dory that I would have been fine as well. But glad I didn’t try it.

The swimmers were scooped up, paddles and flotsam were collected, and the flipped boat was finally wrangled, though not without nearly pulling Scott (it’s wrangler, in an 18’ self Hyside) into a nasty strainer on river left. It was a scary moment.

It was nearly 2 miles after the flip that we were all able to eddy out and gather our wits. The flipped boat was eddied and righted. The only lost gear was an 18 pk of Tecate, what we saw as a fitting sacrifice to the river, seeing that everyone was safe and uninjured. Tired, cold swimmers were put into dry clothes and given a bite to eat. With daylight slowly waning, we collected ourselves and continued downstream to our first camp at Big Joe, a gorgeous stream fan camp at the head of Big Joe rapid. Dinner was perfectly poached salmon, garlic bread, steamed asparagus, and cinnamon rolls from the dutch oven.

“You Christensen?!” (Day 2)

The next morning we all slept in. Ray and Bob made burritos. Lots of bacon which made Ky and I happy. We had only a few miles down to Mather’s Hole that day, so we took our sweet ass time rigging. Around noon, our friends from the put in showed up, somewhat put off by our presence at their day’s camp so late in the morning. Unwilling to let them dictate our schedule, we continued with our business until we were ready to leave, around 1pm. As Ky and I rode some big, pushy, fun waves down through Big Joe, their permit holder came up to Dave and a couple others at the scout.

“You Christensen?!” he cried. ”Nope, he’s downstream, purple and green dory” Dave answered. “Well, it’s a little rude for you guys to still be in camp at 1pm.” “Dude,” Dave exclaims, “we’re only going 6 miles today. No reason to be in a hurry.” The guy huffs and puffs for a minute. Turns out they were only going about 4 miles the next day. Dave asks him if he’s going to get everyone up at 6am to get on the river and make 4 miles down to Anderson (which would take about 30 minutes at these flows.) The guy thought about it for a minute, and decided that maybe sleeping in wasn’t such a bad thing.

We didn’t encounter them again until Jones Hole. The same joey and his wife were yelling at us, asking if breakfast was ready or something as we finished rigging on the beach, again around noon. Then they told us how hard it was going to be making it through the parks and Split Mtn. in the afternoon winds. Thanks mom and dad.

We had a nice mellow day on the river down to Mathers. Tricky pull in around the point of an exposed island (probably the beach at lower flows), ferrying across a swift channel against the bank. Some of us stopped on the island to bask in the sun and drink, then lined our boats around the point and up the channel a ways in order to make the ferry and have a nice spot to park. What an incredible camp, in an unspeakably beautiful part of the canyon. Ky and I made white chili with chicken, cornbread, and vanilla pound cake. Not a single crumb or drop was left.

“Warm Springs” (Day 3)

I was nervous waking up at Mathers Hole. Warm Springs was on the brain. But I was also really excited to see the Grand Overhang, and the Tiger Wall.

The Grand Overhang was hands down one of the most impressive features I have ever seen. Tiger wall was impressive as well, in a much more understated way. I feathered the dory in close so Ky could lean out and kiss its varnished face for good luck.

Spotted another dory parked at one of the camps on the river – an open, framed boat that looked like a Tatman or something. No flotation, nothing. I had nervous thoughts about that boat, which unfortunately seemed to come to fruition as that crew made it down the river. From what I’ve pieced together, I guess they ended up flipping in Warm Springs, and again in Moonshine in Split Mtn. after smashing into the rock wall. We saw them dragging the boat off the rocks a ways below Moonshine, and they caught up with us at the takeout, the dory in tow behind a raft. Smashed up bow post, cracked hull, cracked gunnels, busted up interior, and some crusty old boatmen with another story to tell.

We spent way too long scouting Warm Springs. I was terrified. The whole run reminded me of Crystal in the Grand; that maytag hole was every bit as big. It was crankin', and the must make line looked nearly impossible. What’s more, Dave convinced me I needed to go in backwards and “Powell” stroke to build up enough momentum to bust through the powerful lateral, which was guarding the right hand sneak of the massive “maytag” hole in the center of the current. Several people helped Josie portage her kayak.

I put Ky in my drysuit and helmet, went through the line again in my head, and powered the “Desolation” out into the entry. 0-60 in no time flat, and I caught some of the big upper waves. I tried to stay to the right of the initial wave train but underestimated the power of the current leading into the meat. I got slightly sideways in there before ferrying left to right, busting through the lateral a little right of where I wanted to be, and completely filling the boat with water; but that was better than being left. We pivoted around and watched the maytag hole pass by our bow. I let out a war cry and we pulled into the eddy at the Warm Springs camp.

I threw up a couple times in the eddy, juiced from adrenaline after running my first truly big water in the dory. And one by one, our boats came through right side up. All 10 of them. Everyone made the cut. No carnage at Warm Springs.

Continued down to camp at Box Elder 3 where all hell broke loose for the ABWS party. Dinner was Larry’s – we had pasta with meatballs and sausage, DO French bread, and an out of this world cobbler.

“Confluence” (Day 4)

A Sherri Griffiths group camped upstream at Box Elder 2, slightly put off I think by our late night antics, woke us up at 6:30 am with what sounded like artillery shells. Turned out to be some paco pads being slapped on the sand, echoing in the canyon. Thanks guys. Sure do appreciate it.

Rallied the troops and floated down to Echo Park. Seeing Steamboat Rock appear at the confluence was awesome. Being memorial day week, I kept looking up and imagining houseboats, waterskiers, and jetskies zooming around a couple hundred feet above my head. Incredible how close we came to losing this special place to another fucking dam. Unfortunately, Glen Canyon was the trade off.

Things are a little hazy after this point. Alive below Warm Springs, our crew delved into full on party mode. If you are (un?)lucky enough to find yourself around the campfire with some of this crew, you might hear some stories about our night at Jones Hole that will make you blush. You will probably also hear that it was one of the most fun nights of their lives.

“Conclusion?” (Day 5)

Thursday was bitter sweet. We had a nice long day of leisurely barge floating through Rainbow and Island Parks, finishing off with 7 miles of continuous class III through Split Mtn. But no one was ready to take off. We took our time leaving Jones Hole, tied the boats together, and napped, ate, drank, and smoked our way through the long flatwater sections. This was nice, I love long river days of which we had very few on this trip.

We approached Moonshine Rapid, the first of several in Split Mtn, with some trepidation having heard that in the higher flows that had proceeded us, it had been pretty gnarly. We all took one look and got back in our boats, charging the big fun waves right down the center, being sure not to edge too close to the wall and hole on the right. Split Mtn was beautiful, but before we knew it, it was over. At least for most of us...Dave would continue on through the Uinta Basin and down through Desolation Canyon in the following weeks, joined to Ouray by Scooter, Cory and Ron.

One for the history books.