Monday, July 13, 2009

More Rivers

Thanks for all the comments, real opinions and historical smack-talk on the last post--yeah, I remember the Wave Sports days and Chan well. A great era, be fun to see Chan and a few of the guys again (ran into Jordy, also from the same era, on the Skook). More on boats later, but I've just gotta write about rivers for ten minutes when I should really be doing other things just 'cause I'm so fired up! I've run a bunch of new, for me, rivers lately: The Elbow, Ram, and Toby Creek. Photo at left on the Ram, thanks Shane.

Elbow River: Show up at the put-in at six p.m., meet a crew, start paddling toward the lip of Elbow Falls without looking at it. I'd scouted this once at higher water while on a climbing mission in the area and remembered it as a kind of four-foot flop into a pool. At low water it's a bigger drop, which I figured out as I hauled ass off of it with hard boof... Landed level-flat on green water, hurt my back/right little stomach muscle a bit more. Continued on down the river without actually having read anything about it in the guidebook as usual, so it was all a pleasant surprise. Super fun slide. Warm water. So stoked to catch this run with enough water in it, thanks to the crew for a fun evening paddle.

Ram River: The South Ram is one of those "Gotta paddle it man!" rivers, an epic two or three day wilderness run through some of the best canyon scenery in the foothills of the Rockies. For those who know the area it's sorta between Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House. The only problem for me is that I'm a family man without the wife part of the family at the moment--this means I'm limited to one-day runs. My mom is in the house to help out and could likely deal with a longer trip, but there's a fine line between help and abuse of same. The solution was to do the two or three-day trip in a day. About 45km of river, with three burly portages and enough action to make paddling that far in a day difficult. Especially because we've had a lousy water year here in the eastern Rockies, and low water wouldn't work. My bud Patch wrote a little story up on the trip here with some more photos from Shane. We had a magic rise in the water level thanks to perfect rains, and a magic run.

It was a really solid day, a sort of alpine climb on a river. I would paddle the river again instantly, especially with the same or more water. There are literally hundreds of little waterfalls pouring off the edges of the canyon, and a strip of green grass running along the rim above the black rock for what seems like the entire run. It's just a magical place to kayak, with enough gnar to keep it interesting but also a lot of nice cruising where you can just relax and look around while paddling and boat-scouting ledge drops. Our day didn't feel rushed at all, just a nice long and difficult but ultimately smooth day out with friends. I could write a long article about the day, we saw and did so much that it was almost impossible to believe everything happened in one day. So many cool canyons, big waterfalls, animals (it was like a safari film at times!), driving, moving in a wild place with solid partners... Yeah!

Out of Canmore at five in the morning, back at 10:00 or so, just in time to put the kidlet to bed. Thanks to Shane (the recon probe--send him in) and Patch (Logistics--I still have no idea where the river really goes, I just drove where he told me to) and Rachel (A fierce shuttle driver--farm kids always have cool skills like how to operate bolt cutters).

Toby Creek: So it was the Elbow on Wed., Ram on Friday, toilet replacement and work on Saturday, and then the Toby on Sunday. The Seven Canyons run is bad-ass, and unlike the last half-dozen or so runs I actually read Stuart Smith's guidebook before I put onto the river. I've been really enjoying the on-sight nature of the last few rivers, but I remember Toby Creek from when I did a race there when I was 14 or so and wanted a little info. The reputation of the canyon below the race course was huge then, and hasn't slackened much since, but we had a solid crew--Shane, Mark, Larry and myself. The run's reputation is well-deserved--the 7 Canyons on Toby Creek is one of the finest canyon runs I've ever done. We had a little excitement before we even hit the first real canyon. One of the first drops had a couple of big diagonal holes in it (Oh, the water was at a "solid" level--most people run Toby when it's low for smart reasons), plus a river-wide log right after the holes that was just off the water enough to slip under--a technical drop. I did a deep exploration of the pour-over on the left side of the second hole, but managed to reach up with my paddle onto the rock beside the pour-over and yank myself out. Cool! Mark wasn't so lucky, and went for the full rodeo in the same hole. I was eddied out behind a rock and couldn't see what was going on--Shane hopped out of his boat with a throw bag, and I decided to stay in mine in case I need to chase a Mark or his boat. Eventually Mark flushed free, and Shane hit him with a five-star throw-bag toss. Wicked. Mark manned up and ran the rest of the river cleanly; I might have walked out after the beat-down he took, but he's tough.

The rest of the run went smoothly except when I rolled right above the only must-make ferry, my first combat role in a bunch of runs. Toby is definitely a really serious run, with some must-make moves and gnarly drops/portages in awkward places. I'd have to say that it's my favorite river of the year so far in terms of its paddling in the canyons and just general in-your-face nature. I don't think you can paddle Toby at any level and not find yourself very deep into a hole or two, which is cool if you're not right above some "Well, you might live but I ain't paddling into that if I can help it!" kinda drop. Shane has been the man with the plan on at least three (Cataract, Yoho and now Toby) new rivers this spring that I've done, thanks for that.

OK, that's the last week's sports action. I really, really love running cool rivers with good people! And my elbow is healing up at roughly the same rate I'm destroying my back/stomach muscle as I learn how to boof modern boats off drops, and how not to lift toilets... The water is definitely low now in the Rockies, but all we need is a little more rain to make it all dreamy again! I've done six (seven?) new rivers this season, which is a record for me--modern kayaking is awesome!