Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Raven Fork

The Green Race inspires confidence within all the racers that participate. Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t always enable us to use this boost in confidence. However, it did finally rain again in the SE, and got all of us kayakers into a fluster as to what will run and when. I had been chilling in Asheville at the Dirtbaggers Inc. hostel, aka Lee, Murph, and Stone’s house, enjoying the daily routine of going to paddle the Green. It didn’t run a few days, and actually, went out skateboarding and golfing with the hostel owners, which was quite fun. Nevertheless, it rained a little, and I began weighing my options on what I thought would be the best option for the day. As they often do, the Smokies took the brunt of the rain, and there was word that the West Prong was running. I rendezvoused with Dustin Marquart over at his house and began debating on what the Raven Fork was doing, using the Oconoluftee gauge and Newfound gap rain gauge. The Ocono was at around 700 and not really rising or falling, but the Newfound Gap gauge was showing an increase.

The decision wasn’t very promising, but we took off toward Cherokee with the best of intentions to paddle the Raven Fork. Once in Cherokee, the first sight of the Ocono in town was neither discouraging nor encouraging, as it is difficult to judge how much water is in the wide, shallow, stream-bed. Thus, we continued on to Emmanuel’s house, and were pleasantly surprised to find the Raven stick-gauge to be reading 7 inches. It was on! Having just one 2wd car, we thought driving straight to the put-in road would save us some precious time, as it was already past noon. We soon found out that the put-in road was under construction, and got trapped between two massive excavators moving rocks. We aborted that mission and went to Emmanuel’s house. Emmanuel informed us that we could use the rough road and just park at the bottom, as he was certain nobody would be using it.

It was raining, and made the hike more pleasurable than normal, knowing that the river was coming up, not down. Once at the river, we quickly scouted Anaconda for wood, as we had heard from previous groups that there was new wood in Mortal Kombat and Caveman. The snake was free of wood, but still very intimidating. As usual, Dustin was quick to charge the first big rapid of the day. I followed suit, and we began bombing at will. It is nice to get on a river with a good friend where you both know the lines well, and you can just give the nod and go.

In no time, we were standing on the perfectly placed boulder overlooking the lip of Big Boy. Dustin immediately declared he wanted to run it, and I agreed to set safety first. Once in the pool below, I patently waited to see Dustin come charging down the face of the beast. In typical Dustin fashion, he styled through the curler and landed in the nice soft pillow below at a perfect 45 degree angle. His line was confidence inspiring for sure. I hiked back up to my boat, and began to mentally preparing myself for the drop. This would be my second run of the waterfall, and I had a different line in mind than my first. I allowed myself to drift towards the right side of the epic hallway that leads to the lip, and then turned my bow back to the left and began sliding down the slab on the right side. I waited until the very brink of the slide to take my stroke and it worked like a charm, sending me left into the pillow at a nice 45 degree angle also. We were both stoked to be all good after running such an amazing waterfall. We took our round with the Champ, and then portaged the first few drops of caveman because of a new strainer. The bottom boof was still open for business, and we took full advantage of laying her down like an F-16 on an aircraft carrier. Never forget though, the mangler lies waiting downstream for those still hungry for more, or just accidentally miss the last eddy before dropping into the maw. It’s always refreshing to reach Emmanuel’s house after a great run, to take a few pulls of strong water and warm up by the fire. What an amazing place to go kayaking in the magical smoky mountains.

There’s a reason why the Raven Fork is rated Number 1 in Tommy’s Top Ten Creeks of Western North Caroina. Therefore, I showed up early at Emanuel’s house the next day, in hopes of finding other Chargers looking to route before she dropped out. I waited for a while, easily killing time, swinging on the front porch with The Man, listening to timeless stories I hope to hear for many more years to come. Mark Taylor showed up with a gift for The Man, as always appreciated. Soon followed by some Team Jib home-boys; Taft Sibley, John Trimbley, and Nathan McDade, looking to get their Charge on this glorious November day. To my surprise, Charles Armentrout, whose nickname will be mentioned later, rolled into the driveway in his 2wd Tacoma. We loaded up, and I made a clutch decision to bring my big, yellow, tow-strap. Sure enough, the tow-strap enabled us to pull the Tacoma up the steep section of the muddy road with Mark’s sweet 4wd Isuzu Trooper. Not having to hike that extra bit of road makes the experience so much sweeter. After a quick pre-hike safety meeting, we were hoofing through some of the most beautiful woods in the world.

Second run, just as scary, and just as fun. Everybody made it to the river, and we began unraveling our mind from Anaconda. Taft had to execute a little snake charming to keep himself sea-worthy, as to be expected from at least someone in a group of six. This trip was to be a different sort of trip than the previous day with Dustin. It was Charles and Trembley’s first time down the mighty Raven Fork, and I was going to make certain that it was a good one. I like to give minimal beta, meaning I focus on where you need to go, and briefly go over the hazards. I like to think solely on where I want to go, not where I don’t want to go. Thus, rapid names like Right Right are great because they express beta.

As mentioned before, it’s always amazing how quick you get to the Big Boy. After a quick scout, I was somewhat surprised, yet also relieved to hear the boys asking me if I was going to fire it up first. I guess I have gotten to a point in my kayaking where I feel pretty comfortable running big drops without safety. Now, other people realize I am comfortable with it too. Once again, I found myself mentally preparing myself for the Big Boy, quietly reciting the Vajra Guru mantra I learned while studying at my Tibetan Buddhist institute. The mantra helps me focus on my breath and connect with the three main shakras of the body. It must have worked because once again I found myself peacefully floating through the hallway to another portal of experience, where thoughts take a back seat to instinct. I resurfaced in the eddy to look up and see none other than the elusive double rainbow! I didn’t know what it meant, but I motioned for the boys to fire it up; so that, they too may catch a glimpse of this rare, natural, occurrence.

On par with most spectacular rainbows, it didn’t last long enough for the following chargers to enjoy the grandeur. It didn’t matter though; they were stoked enough from running the waterfall cleanly. Props go out to my insanely good squirt boating buddies, Taft and Trembley for boofing the dog poop out of it their first run on Big Boy. Mark Taylor also had a stellar line, which is featured along with other great footage from the day, in his Raven Fork movie at the bottom of this page. We routed Mike Tyson and re-united with Charles and Nathan at the bottom. Unfortunately, the wood in the entrance to Caveman hadn’t miraculously moved on its own from the day before. So, we portaged the first two drops of caveman, to (in the words of the legendary blogger/kayaker Evan Garcia) ‘lay treats’ on the final boof. Not everyone ‘laid treats’ per say, and I was lucky enough to save a few wary boofers from taking a lesson with the Caveman.

Onward we moved to the proud beat of some satisfied chargers. Once at the Mangler portage, we began casually joking and discussing the various lines of the day. I let my guard down for a brief instant while performing a rock climbing maneuver, which we kayakers aren’t so accustomed to. This resulted in a wicked fall that ripped my shoulder upwards in a fashion that did some damage, but luckily, nothing too serious to paddle out. To all you up and coming Raven Forkers, or even veterans, be careful while portaging. Rocks are hard, especially when not at least somewhat covered by water. I hear that 90% of river injuries occur while portaging. On that note, if you see the line, and feel confident in making it, don’t let anything stop you from making it happen. At the same time though, there is no shame in portaging. Just be careful and aware while out there in gutters of the earth. They are amazing places. Dear Raven Fork, stay primed for all the chargers out there. We greatly appreciate every second spent in there.

Here are a video Mark Taylor made from my 2nd day on the Raven. Cheers.

Raven Fork from Mark Taylor on Vimeo.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cali Crunch Time

Bear River Falls, California

Change is the only thing that is constant. With that I mind, I strive to continue changing for the better, and embrace change to work for my advantage. Rivers, mountains, people, economies, islands, boats, mind-sets; all of this things are constantly changing. Its pretty exciting to think about what the future may hold because we don't really know. If we knew what was in store for the future, then it wouldn't be so intriguing. As a kayaker, I am able to explore places that I couldn't otherwise without my boat, paddle, and skills. These places often shake the core of me, which I try to hold as being the constant of my existence. The rapids force me to decide whether I am mentally, physically, and spiritually ready to encounter something that could possibly change my life forever. And they often do. I believe that, just as a river, we cannot hold a certain level of paddling. We are either progressing or regressing. There can be no other. In my own opinion of course.

As of late, I have been pushing myself to progress as a kayaker. Moving to Nevada City, California has put me in a position to paddle amazing whitewater almost every single day of the year. While most of the stretches of river in the area have been run in the past. We have begun exploring places that no other kayaker has gone before. Luckily, there is a great crew of paddlers in the area who are motivated to seek out and test these virgin waters with me.

Back sometime this February, when it hadn't rained in weeks and the rivers were beginning to dry up; Cody Howard, Cory Tucker, and myself were going to paddle the Bear River near Colfax. Seeing as this was the only thing running in the area, thanks to a dam. We were just stoked to get back in our kayaks, even though the flow was low and the stretch is short. Then while gearing up for the run, a pivotal moment in my life happened. Cody said that Robby Hogg had mentioned a 20' waterfall above the normal put-in, and the spark was ignited. Despite some speculation as to whether the falls existed or not, we hiked up to find out the truth for ourselves. After a short hike up the river, I was greeted by a grand sight of spillway to waterfall after waterfall. It is beautiful there to say the least. The sun was shining and the falls looked totally charge-able. Not knowing whether anybody had run these falls before, I was stoked on the thought of a first descent. I ferried across the pool, and gave the landing zone a quick scout before making the short and easy climb to the top of the falls. I looked back to the trail to see Cody and Cory wide-eyed and grinning at the sight of these cascading beauties. Cody signaled for a Ro-Sham-Bo match to decide who would get to run the falls first. But I was already at the staging pool, and he was still on the other side of the river. I opted out of the Ro-Sham-Bo, and quickly got in my new, custom-outfitted, Jefe Grande. A small side slot led to the lip of the falls perfectly, and before I knew it, I was sending a huge boof off a sweet 20' falls. I didn't stomp as much as I would have liked to, but the impact was still fairly soft. I motioned to the boys that it is good-to-go and the huck-fest began. Heres Cory Tucker having a nice line.

All of us proceeded to rally off this drop multiple times the first day, and none of us received the same results twice. In other words, its a tricky lip that will give you various lines depending on how you run it. What more could you ask for? Well, it just so happens that a larger, less-runnable, drop lies just upstream of previous said falls. After the first day of hucking Bear River falls, I receded back to my off-the-grid cabin up in the woods with hopes and dreams of running the upper falls. A couple of days later, we were back at the falls, and I was seriously contemplating the upper falls. With much debate as to how and where to run it, I chose my line and decided that hand-paddles would be a good choice for this technical, low-volume, 25'er. The hand paddles enabled me to lift and scoot myself into position out of the small, precariously located, eddy at the lip. There I was, changing what I thought was possible for me to run in my kayak, with hand-paddles that I have very little experience with. A few quick strokes and I was sliding down the slab into a free-fall that gives you a moment in time where no thoughts exist. I entered the pool at a nice vertical angle, but the landing zone wasn't very aerated, resulting in a pretty massive hit, that even ripped one of the hand-paddles off. Not to worry, my body was fine, and rolling with one hand-paddle is easier than with none at all. Success, and a great feeling of accomplishment overwhelmed me as I cheered in celebration with Cory, who was standing at the base of the falls shooting photos and setting safety. Also of note that day, a buddy from Auburn named Alex Conheim, charged a RiverBug off the lower falls. If you aren't familiar with a RiverBug, here is a shot of him falling off the lip. Good times there for sure!

Turns out, that the lower Bear Falls was first run by some guys in inner tubes; so, congrats to them. I do believe I am the only person to have run the upper falls. Not that it really matters. What matters, is that I continue to change as a kayaker/person, and keep exploring new rivers and waterfalls. I hope we all will continue to explore and find what it is in life that makes us feel alive and special. This is just one of the many stories I have from the past few months. I plan to record them all here, for my writing pleasure, and (hopefully) your reading pleasure, as I see this as a useful tool for a number of different reasons. Hope you are Charging whatever it is you love to do. Until next time, Charge On! Cody Howard of made a sweet video from these days. Check it out towards the bottom.

Auburn Goods from Huckin Huge on Vimeo.