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.

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