Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Royal Gorge 13'

This year, 2013, was a weak snowpack year in the Sierras. As soon as the snow cleared from the road leading into the Royal Gorge, the flow dropped below the recommended level. I couldn't be held back from getting in there, and convinced Ben Coleman and Charles King that it would still be 'fun'. The gauge at Clementine was reading around 650cfs, and we normally do it around 1000.

Once we got in there, we were actually surprised at how good it was. Sure, it was really bouncy and slow, but just getting to experience that wilderness is worth it. Halfway through a gnarly section that we were portaging part of, I was confronted by someone on foot shouting at us from above on the opposite side of the river. I couldn't understand him at first and kept inspecting, what seemed to be, a familiar human. I was right, and recognized him as someone I had talked to at the dog park in Grass Valley. He asked, "are you guys certified?". I answered with a "Yes sir". I reckoned we were about as certified as it gets to be kayaking in there. So, we continued working our way down to the famous Heath Springs gorge without trouble.

I love the lead-in rapid to Heath 1 waterfall, and quickly decided to run it. Ben and King on the other hand were questioning running any of the Heath series. The reason I love the lead-in rapid, is because you go super deep! That I did, except I flipped in the process and barely hit a roll before going over the next slide. Stoked on the lead-in, I then waited on Ben to walk around and get photos of me running the 40 foot falls. This is something I'm not very good at-- waiting on the cameraman to get ready before running a significant drop. I much prefer having the camera ready before I even get in my boat, and then go exactly when I choose to. I was ready, but Ben wasn't. I kept anxiously looking over the horizon line waiting for the thumbs up. When the time finally came, I charged the lip too hard and ended up landing a little flat and crooked. The impact was massive, and the sound of my boat echoed through the canyon like a gunshot. I knew something wasn't right.

Surprisingly, after the impact, I got out of my boat and started to scout Heath 2, which has been on my check-list for quite some time now. The realization set in pretty quick that I wasn't going to be able to run Heath 2 or maybe even the rest of the river. After a little time of sussing out the situation, it became clear that I had hurt my ribs. Ben and King helped me make the decision to continue downstream to Rattlesnake and make the call whether to hike-out from there, or not. The main reason for this, being that the land, leading up to Heath Springs is private, and kayakers hiking-out is greatly frowned upon. Whereas, the trail that leads out of Royal Gorge at Rattlesnake Falls is public.

Portaging around Heath 2 and the Crux Gorge wasn't easy with throbbing ribs, but I manage to stay safe and get back down to the river. The first rapid I was faced with after said portaging isn't easy-- a solid class V rapid. But with some positive reinforcement from Ben, I successfully limped my way down the rapid. With only a couple more painful portages on rapids I would have normally run, had I not been hurt, I found myself stoked to be resting above Rattlesnake Falls.

The area around Rattlesnake is incredibly beautiful, and I began to appreciate being there with some good friends. Even though my ribs were killing me with every breathe, I was staying positive and hoping to feel better in the morning. Sleep was good, and I awoke the next morning feeling with much less pain. I made the decision to paddle out with the boys, over making the grueling hike-out alone. I immediately realized this was a good decision as I was able to reasonably deal with the low-flow rapids that ensued. Sure, I portaged my ass off because there are some huge drops in there like Scotts, Wabena, and some un-named 20'ers. I did decide to plop off Split Falls and had a decent line without having to roll.

To make a long story, slightly less long, we paddled the extremely long paddle out below Wabena falls before darkness set-in. As I continued to paddle, my ribs actually began to loosen up and feel better with every mile, surprisingly. I even probed a couple of the burlier rapids simply because it was more painful to eddy out, than it was to simply brace my way down. Moral of the story-- take your time, don't get over-excited for a drop, be calm, and go kayaking-- even if its only half the flow you're used to. The Royal Gorge is an amazing place that I hope to experience many more times, with more wisdom from my previous descents. I hope to only become stronger, wiser, and calmer as the years continue. Here are some of the few shots from the trip. Keep Charging!

King Charles gearing up for Royal!

Mr. King sending a sweet boof.

Will Pruett about to plug in.

Still good at low-flow.

Looks like a good line, but wasn't.

Twisted fire starter.

You could have still run it, but none of us did.

Magnificent scenery.

Charles doing some river-side Yoga.

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