Page 1

The Dirtbag’s Guide To Whitewater

BECAUSE CARNAGE HAPPENS…


!"#$#%&'()*+,&!"*,,*-.& !(//,+0%&1(00*.#)&2+(& 2*3+0%&4(5,+&60++78&92&


!"#$#%&:;#$$&<(0$*)& !(//,+0%&=#//&6(>(& 2*3+0%&?#//"@,,&60++78&AB & &


!"#$#%&<($$&C(7+0& !(//,+0%&=#//&?+,,.& 2*3+0%&:@DD*$&60++78&?E&


!"#$#%&C0*()&<@0-"F& !(//,+0%&6*(0()&C0#G)& 2*3+0%&9(7&90;"(0/&60++78&AB&


!"#$#%&:;#$$&<(0$*)& 2*3+0%&'++0H*+,/8&<E&


!"#$#%&C0*()&I*."& !(//,+0%&C0+)$#)&!+$0*,,#&


It’s dark down there. And quiet. It happens faster than you expect it to, and now you’re disoriented and you’re struggling just to keep your head above water. You know the others haven’t left, but you’re in different worlds now. It’s you and the river. Hang on, fight just a little longer, you have to… there are no other options. Carnage happens to everyone. Sometimes the cascade leading up to the event is obvious, others it’s less clear, as if the river just decided your number was up. No matter what, beatdowns, swims, and epics make for great learning experiences and even better stories. In this issue of TDBG, we celebrate the things we didn’t plan for that make our time on the river interesting. From an outsider’s perspective of a rough swim to a misguided first descentturned-suffer-fest we hope you enjoy issue 5 of TDBG:

The Carnage Edition &


Contributors

C0*()&I*."&!"#$#&

40*;&E/.*$& & &

&

&

!"#$%&'#(')*#+,& 40*;&E/.*$& & )%-+&./*%$%. :;#$$&<(0$*)& & 0%&"1. & & & & & &

&&&&:+$"&C@0/+$$+&

/*%$%1. 40*;&E/.*$& & & & & & & & & & &&&&&&&&&<($$& C(7+0& E0$&C(07+$&& & & & & & & & & & &&&&C0*()&I*."&& C0*()&<@0-"F&& & & & & & & &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&!+$+0&:D*$"& :;#$$&<(0$*)&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&'()&!"*,,*-.&


Contents

!+$+0&:D*$"&!"#$#& & On The Other Side

Eric Adsit’s worst beatdown, from his family’s perspective

Turning 30 Sucked Seth Burdette’s “sucky” dirty-thirty birthday paddle

Carnage of Mind & Soul Acknowledging the worst kind of carnage

10 Days at Denny’s “ [Carnage] everywhere else is just training for B.C.”

A Dangerous River Full of the Unscoutable, Unportageable


Turning 30 Sucked By Seth Burdette

!"#$%&"'(#$)*+#+$


I’ll never forget my 30th birthday. Not because it’s a milestone birthday, marking the end of the youthful, carefree 20’s and being solidified in one’s mind by all the responsibility you've somehow been unable to avoid, such as work, mortgages, car payments, taxes, marriage (don’t tell my wife I said that), and such; but because it was the day I almost paid the ultimate price for the joy of kayaking.

When we got to the put in, the other group Eli had been paddling with was already putting on, so we hurried down to the river and launched. The river was at a low level that day, about 230 CFS, and the weather was the typical Appalachian late autumn: cloudy with temps in the 50’s. As we paddled under the bridge at the put in, we saw the group ahead of us dropping over swallow falls in the distance. Not intending to paddle by ourselves, we I awoke early on Sunday the 20th of picked up our pace in an attempt to catch November, 2011, slightly sore from my them further down river. active defiance of my fading youth the previous few days. I had taken a couple The lower flows were immediately days off work before the weekend and had noticeable, as I found myself out of the spent the last three days kayaking, first ideal flow on Swallow Falls. Despite nice warming up on the Loop in Ohiopyle, boofs and quick paddling below moving on to the Lower Big Sandy, and Swallowtail Falls, we still hadn't gained on the third day I bagged a trifecta of any ground on the group ahead. We found personal first descents on Laurel Creek, ourselves dropping through the slots and the Arden section of the Tygart, and boulder gardens that make the Top finally the Middle Fork river into the Yough so fun without stopping. Despite Tygart above Buckhannon. It had been a the bony character of the river at these great extended weekend of boating with flows, I was feeling good about my good lines and good friends. The plan was paddling. I thought to myself, “What’s to finish out the paddling vacation with as Suck hole going to be like at this level? many laps as possible down Maryland's Maybe today is the day I’ll take the main Top Yough with my good friend Eli line instead of sneaking down the left.” Loiben. Shortly after I got to the takeout, Eli came down the road having already finished his first lap with some locals who had arrived early. I suited up, loaded boats and we headed to the put in. The stoke was high for another great day of boating!

At most levels, Suck Hole is a class IV+ rapid due to a well-known sieve on river right about halfway through the drop. The sneak line involves eddying out behind a mid-river rock above the drop, then catching an eddy on river left before


dropping through a slot that leads into the final drop of the rapid. I had taken this sneak many times and was very comfortable with it, always observing the main line as I ran it in preparation for the day when I felt ready to step it up. The main line involves punching a couple of stacked holes in the center of the river, which can be tricky due to some inconveniently place rocks. The main line is not terribly technical, but the sieve makes a swim very risky. Over the years, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been said that a good number of boats have been swallowed by the sieve and are usually recovered only when water levels drop.

As we came through the final boogie rapid above Suck Hole, I felt a splash of water run up my back inside my boat. I asked Eli to check my drain plug. I had forgotten to screw it in and now there was about a gallon of water in my boat. We could see the group we had been trying to catch just ahead of us, so Eli put my plug in and I continued on without draining or sponging the water out. Breathing hard from our speedy descent so far, we entered the lead in to Suck Hole. After I hit a piton rock, we eddied out right above Suck Hole, with the other group in sight just below the rapid.

!"#$%&"'(#$)*+#+$


“Let’s run the main line, I’ll follow you.” I said to Eli. He ferried out and dropped into the rapid while I followed as close as reasonably possible. It was at this point that our run quickly went from another good day on the river to life and death.

I looked left, hoping to see something I could grab, and there was Eli, eddied out behind the rock I had broached on. At once, Eli paddled towards me and yelled, “Grab my boat and swim right!” I let go of my paddle and went for his boat. As he ferried out to me, the current grabbed his As I dropped over the first horizon line, I bow and turned him downstream. We immediately realized that I was too far were now side by side, the current right and was headed right into the steep carrying us right into Suck Hole. and sticky part of the first hole, made all the worse by the low water level. I The next few moments are ones I will plunged into the hole and was never forget. As we approached the cave immediately thrown into a stern squirt opening, I continued to look for that ended up flipping me. I set up and something to grab onto; alas, there was rolled as hard as I could, but the funky, nothing but smooth rock on the right side aerated water stymied my efforts. “That of the sieve. Even as I watched my own was your best chance to recover, now you paddle disappear into the sieve, Eli threw have no idea where you are in the rapid or up his paddle and broached it between the which way you are headed,” my mental two rocks creating the opening. I instantly voice coached. I went to set up for grabbed onto the paddle, realizing this another roll, but before I could get was the only thing that could stop me. completely into position, I felt my boat Even though I was able to keep myself come to a dead stop. At this point, not from going any further, the current was knowing where I was pinned, I became still pushing Eli and his boat further in. completely unraveled and pulled my grab Worse, the same paddle preventing me loop. The flush of cold water over my from being sucked into oblivion was lower half (having only worn neoprene pinning him to his back deck. “Pull my leggings) put my survival instinct in skirt! I can’t reach it!” Eli yelled. Clinging desperately to the paddle quivering overdrive as I popped up to the surface. against the rock, I was unable to react before Eli popped his knees through his As I surfaced, I instantly knew where I skirt. He ducked completely under the was in the rapid; river right, about 10 feet paddle, grabbed onto a large piece of from the sieve and directly in the current wood wedged in the opening and leapt pouring into the shadowy cave. ! from his boat onto the rock. !


With Eli on the rock, and his boat in the cave, I was able to inch my trembling hands along the paddle to the left side of the sieve, certain the right blade would slip at any moment. When I had finally reached the same piece of driftwood Eli had climbed out on, I handed Eli his paddle, the Werner that very likely saved my life.

Even as I watched my own paddle disappear into the sieve, Eli threw up his paddle and broached across the sieve. As we finalized our recovery, some other paddlers arrived on the scene. We gave the head tap showing that we were OK and they continued to the pool at the bottom of the rapid. They yelled to us that my paddle was there floating in the pool; I gathered my gear and we proceeded to paddle to the takeout.

With the immediate danger abated, Eli moved into a position to pull me upI sat down, shaking both from fear and cold, and thanked God I did not have to find out whether I could have flushed through or not. I heard my own nervous laughter slip out as I realized the sieve had gotten one of my shoes. I’m pretty sure Eli thought I was going crazy for a moment, Perhaps understandably, I had changed but I explained, “If I don’t laugh about this my mind about getting “as many laps as right now, I’m probably going to puke.” we could manage.” I was still shaking lightly, so I told Eli I wasn’t going for After a few minutes, I was able to mostly another. He agreed and suggested we compose myself and Eli and I worked head back towards home and grab a Loop together to recover his boat from the pool run on the way. That sounded great to me just inside the sieve. By some act of fate it and we loaded up and went to the Pyle. hadn’t swamped and was floating in the top of the cave. We then unpinned my When I arrived home that night, the full boat from its improbable resting place on weight of what had happened that day river right, exactly how it ended up there really hit me. I tried not to focus on how I’ll never know as it should have come the outcome could have been severely right in behind us and been pushed into worse if even the smallest of things had the sieve as well. There was no sign of my happened differently. It definitely made paddle, but I could see my long lost shoe me take a step back and think about why I floating in the pool behind the cave. kayak and who I decide to kayak with.


"#$%%!&'(%)*!+,$%$!

While I had definitely been scared for my own life, that night I realized my biggest fault was taking a risk that could have had the same result on my fellow paddler. Eli instinctively jumped into action, risking his own well being to help me and I will likely be forever indebted to him because of it. I hope I never put someone else in a similar situation again, but I can say without a doubt that I learned the true meaning of friendship that day. Seth Burdette is Mid-Atlantic local and key contributor to Armada Media, a homegrown group of whitewater paddlers "Exploring the world of falling water." !


On The Other Side

!"#$$%&'($)*%+,#$#%

On Easter, I paddled off Metlako Falls and fell for a little over 80 feet. Sitting in the pool above felt a lot like sitting in the pool above the Beaverator rapid 5 years ago. I was excited and nervous. There was no one waiting for me at the bottom, and there was no one that would be following me down either. The difference was, this time I wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be recirculated for nearly a minute while my father watched me struggle for air, unable to help on shore. I thought a lot about my family up there, and what they would say if they were watching me now like my father was back in the day. So a few days ago, I picked up the phone, and I asked them.

The Dirtbagâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Guide: So what was going through your mind when you first saw me flip over? Dad: I have to admit, I did show some concern. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the first thing I did was start looking around for someone with a lifejacket to throw in after you. TD: You mentioned once that you have nightmares associated with that event every once in a while. Tell me a little about those. D: The dreams are isolated to the hole itself, it could be on any river. The worst part was not being able to do anything. At the time, and in the dreams, time seems to slow down.


TD: Well that probably wouldn’t have done much good. That’s especially interesting because! I almost have no memory of it. Did that event change your perspective on whitewater kayaking at all? And if so, how did it shift? D: I would definitely consider it an eyeopener, but my thoughts on kayaking didn’t change. I was thrilled about you doing something adventurous and demanding, primarily because you were such a sickly child. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had been scared away from kayaking after that, and it was one of my more proud moments when you decided to get back in a boat.

The first thing I said was “Never again, I can’t take this anymore.” You stopped smiling then. TD: That sounds about right. How did that change your perspective on kayaking? And how do you view it now?

M: It was this moment of epiphany, it made me realize that I couldn’t always protect my children. Until that point, I thought kayaking was just a fun pastime, but then I thought “he could really die.” Now I have a greater respect for the river, but at the same time, I get it. It makes you stop and think, like “ok, you can’t panic, what’s your next step.” I just have to trust that you do think When I began the interview, the primary things through when you go paddling. focus was on my father’s point of view. He was there, actually experiencing my In the final portion of the interview, I asked beatdown in real-time. But as he answered each of my parents how they reacted when and my mother broke in with her own they watched the video footage of the additions, I realized that she had just as beatdown. While my father suggests that much of a shock as my father had. The hindsight is 20/20 , my mother just questions following reveals her perspective as I arrived why the other paddlers were so slow to react. home, bruised and stitched, several hours after the actual injury took place. The interview brought about some interesting questions about the nature of TD: So how do you remember that day? experience and perception. While the beatdown itself was brutal, it’s something I M: I was at home, thinking everything was wouldn’t trade for the world. It put me in my fine. It wasn’t too late or anything, so I had place and taught me to respect the river. no real reason to worry. But then you walked in, and it was kind of like shell shock. There I’m fortunate enough to have a family that I was no processing time. I thought it was a can communicate easily with, and therefore joke, your dad came in saying “It’s not as bad mitigate the stress of my near misses. But if as it looks…” but there was this sort of this were not the case, I have to wonder if my anxiousness in his voice. You were right passion for wild rapids would blind me to the behind him holding something over your eye, well-meaning concern of my family, and but you were smiling. damage my relationship with them.!


Carnage of the Mind & Soul


Amidst the highest peaks of your imagination lie deep canyons and valleys. They contain sieves and undercuts, and a dangerous assortment of wildlife. Unfortunately, to get from one peak to another, we are often forced to delve into the shadows. The descent into darkness occurs all to quickly. Following so closely after the brilliance of your successes, the river of life appears murky, the gloom surrounding it all the more sinister. Some hazards are clear: financial insecurity, substance abuse, dishonesty. Others are more subtle, like the telltale seam behind an undercut rock. Seemingly innocuous choices can commit you to the unscoutable, unportageable. If you’re lucky, you can claw your way out, digging in to the freeing current of truth and grabbing hold for all you’re worth. But sometimes you’ll find yourself in a recirculating eddy, facing the same broken relationship, the same moral cracks, over and over again. You can drown down there, and not just in your mind. It grabs hold of the soul, stiffens it and squeezes out the air. It might be the weather and it might be the distance, but it does not get tired, and it does not let go. To go limp here is to sacrifice everything. The only escape is hope. And truth. It’s scary and it’s hard, but there is a line, and you can make it through. You will find it when you tell the truth, when you speak up for what you believe in, and when you follow through with your commitments. You will make mistakes, but you can recover if you keep an open mind and apologize when you know you are in the wrong. In the darkness you will find light. ! !


10 Days


At Dennys

By Eric Adsit


There’s a canyon in B.C. They say it’s unrunnable, but maybe it’s not. Maybe we can make it through. Maybe… After talking for hours with Harrison Rea, and even as I read his journal from the trip, it’s hard to understand exactly what he was thinking as he embarked on what would become a 10 day epic in the backcountry of British Columbia. Mostly I imagine he really did wish they had chosen to spend 10 days at the 24- hour Denny’s well away from the Klinaklini River. And yet at the end of the trip, despite encounters with bears, committing to the unscoutable, unportageable, and later a portage that was measured in days instead of hours, the scrawny college kid before me shows no sign of regret, no inclination that he would have chosen to spend that time any other way. This is his story. Harrison met his partner and the impetus for the Klinaklini expedition, Ben Orkin, shortly before his first self-support trip in January of 2012. It was a brief exchange, but long enough for Harrison to recognize that Ben was organized and efficient, well traveled on rivers near and far, and driven to explore. Shortly afterwards, they paddled the Illinois River in southern Oregon, Harrison’s second selfsupport, and biggest volume river at the time. He remembers Orkin as quietly confident, conservative even. Within the month, Orkin approached Harrison with a serious B.C. mission: The Klinaklini Canyon. The expedition hinged on the existence of a logging road running parallel to the canyon, it was their “out,” the last chance to get out before committing to the canyon if it really was unrunnable. Without that road, neither Harrison nor Ben would even consider the trip.

They spent hours on google earth, following the river as it meandered around islands, and narrowed into a deep canyon between the Waddington Range and Silverthrone Caldera. As Harrison put it, “From thousands of miles up in space, it didn’t look that bad.” From the same perspective, neither does the Klinaklini’s sister drainage, the Homathko. Nevertheless, Harrison and Orkin were confident in their ability to access the logging road if the canyon proved unmanageable. They developed a loose plan to put-in at the last bridge on the Chilcotin-Bella Coola Highway and arranged for a seaplane pickup on Knight Inlet from a service in Nimpo Lake. They would wait until late August for the lowest flows in the canyon, also leaving themselves a full season to prepare. Harrison spent the summer paddling a fully loaded boat. Orkin had spent some 5 weeks on wilderness runs like the Alsek, the Chilcoten, and the Anwar. I joined them for speed run down the Illinois in a day. They printed and laminated topo maps, refreshed their safety practices, and braced themselves for over a week in the wilderness. After meeting the “big, tan, dirty, skinny, bearded man” who turned out to be an already travel worn Orkin in a tiny town near the put-in, the two scraped into what appeared to be a small creek run. “It wasn’t graceful,” say’s Harrison, “The boats were heavy, and it was kind of a shitty put-in, so it was really scrappy as we entered the river.” The size and placidity of the river wasn’t something either paddler took much note of. Harrison says, “It wasn’t even [possible] in my mind to comprehend the change of scale that would occur.” It was August 14th They had enough food for 11-12 days. They were 112 miles from their rendezvous with the seaplane pilot. And they could never imagine what lay in store for them!"


From thousands of miles up in space, it didn’t look that bad… In the first day Harrison and Orkin covered roughly 10 miles of intermittent class III with the occasional gorge to navigate. The water was cold and blue-green from glacial silt. Old growth trees drooped towards the river, but only occasionally blocked their way. At the first major log jam, they also encountered the first major rapid on the river, Klinaklini Falls, a banking slide into a roughly 20 foot vertical falls. After careful scouting, Harrison claimed the first descent, and Orkin followed with a much cleaner line. That night, they feasted on trout caught feet away from their tents with spirits soaring. The second day followed much the same as the first, although with more intensity. Logs now posed enough of a presence to cause the occasional portage. The rapids grew in significance as well, plunging through chutes, over drops up to 15 feet tall, and beneath the occasional undercut rock. The rapids and wood built to a climax the two dubbed “Bad News, Good News”- A 20 minute log portage followed immediately by a clean 15 foot waterfallbefore slowing to scenic flatwater. Despite seeing bear tracks and, according to the journal, a “god damn beaver” plaguing the campsite, their second night was pleasant enough. After a morning spent drying gear, Harrison and Orkin found more flatwater that built slowly to class IV before ramping back down again. First one tributary, then another poured into the growing river. The second was cold, freezing even, and doubled the flow. An hour later, on Klinaklini Lake, they were surprised to meet some fishermen that had flown in to stay at the mysterious cabins built by a man known as Ghosty.

Likely even more surprised by the two young men paddling in an area miles from civilization, the fishermen loaded Harrison and Orkin up with food, likely suspecting they were providing them with their last meal. On day four, Harrison and Orkin reached the first commercially rafted section of the river. The ‘Little Drop of Horrors’ followed shortly after, a stacked series of intense holes backed up by rocks, and lined with hazardous wood on river left. They put in above the final hole, where Orkin pitoned, flipped and rolled, no doubt lending some additional anxiety to Harrison following shortly behind. This time Harrison had the cleaner line though, and they continued down into the continuous class III that lay below. !


Things pick up significantly from here, the As he speaks, his eyes widen. It’s as if he’s back on journal referencing miles of class III+, a gorge they the river, still unsure of what’s to come. He named ‘Christmas Comes Early’ featuring class V describes the islands as “more like hills with water big water: Big retentive holes, razor sharp rocks, flowing over them. That’s when we’re like ‘Holy and boily seams. Harrison opted to portage the first shit. We thought this was going to be flatwater… pourover, while Orkin styled a right side boof, and We have to scout every eddy, because getting both cleaned the rest of the gorge. More big class gorged in has become a threat a day earlier than we III-IV+ filled the rest of the day until the river thought.” seemed to disappear in braided channels that The journal and my “We talked about numbers, meandered out of the notes begin to blend apparent riverbank and gradient, miles, cubic feet per together, belying both into the woods. Harrison’s beleaguered It was here that second, but they didn’t mean state from nearly a week the scale of their spent in the wilderness, anything until then…”! undertaking begins to and the sheer scale of set in. “We talked about the expedition. The numbers, gradient, miles, cubic feet per second, but journal claims they reach the midpoint of the they didn’t mean anything until then,” says canyon’s first rapid at nearly 6 pm on day 6, but in Harrison. Orkin had been calling his father by my interview, he remembers scouting from one of satellite phone every other night or so, and this was the islands using Orkin’s camera to zoom in and the first night he couldn’t really explain where spot an eddy that may or may not actually exist. exactly they were. Although brought as an extra “But we don’t know, right? We’re not there. And if measure of safety, they estimated the phone would it’s not there, we’re in trouble, because we’ll have to only prove to be 30% useful in case of a real keep going downstream and we don’t know what’s emergency, and used it primarily to keep their down there.” Feeling the pressure of a limited food parents updated on their progress and location. supply and a seaplane deadline, they decide to camp Despite estimating that they have a day’s out, and commit to paddling to what they travel before reaching their final landmark (three desperately hope is an eddy the next morning. islands side by side) above the canyon, powerful The canyon continues squeezing in, rapids and cliff walls are building. What appeared compressing the five to six thousand cfs river into a to be flat water and riffly class II on the topo maps jetstream of roiling whitewater, crashing over and satellite images were big Grand Canyon style ledges and through chutes. And yet, Harrison rapids. “That’s when I first realized there’s a lot of recalls thinking “I don’t think this is as narrow as it water here when it funnels up like that. It was the can get… according to the map it’s just as wide as it biggest water I had ever seen, and it was only going was before.” ! to get narrower.” !


Harrison and Orkin squabbled over their location in the canyon, both certain they had at least accomplished rapid one. “Then we get to this horizon line… the whole river goes into this 10 foot wide slot that appears to go into the abyss, it feels like the end of the earth. And every once in a while this volkswagon sized bunch of water shoots up from god knows where.” Finally, they had reached Rapid One. A thirty foot ramp plunges between a forty foot cliff on the left and a house sized boulder on the right, creating the biggest hole Harrison had ever seen. Orkin was excited, exclaiming “This is why we’re here!” Harrison says he was just scared, feeling like he would “have to search [his] soul just to run the drop, let alone whatever came after it.” A long scout reveals a mile of gorged out holes, each one setting a new precedent for the biggest hole Harrison had ever seen, all culminating in The Hole That Ate The Hole That Ate Chicago.

50 foot canyon walls on either side vanquished what little remained of the duo’s audacious plans to navigate the canyon. And believe it or not, this is where the expedition gets truly epic. Weighed down with rescue and camping equipment, the creekboats would have posed a daunting enough load. But Harrison and Orkin also packed their wet drysuits in their boats to save them from the inevitable tears and holes they would endure during the bushwhack to the road, tipping the total weight of each kayak near the triple digits. If that’s not enough, Orkin is exhibiting the unmistakable signs of giardia. Three hours of painful bushwhacking through the dense temperate rainforest lands them on the banks of a ‘creek’ that they believe is their final obstacle before reaching the logging road and relative salvation. !


But the creek looks like more of a river, the kind with no eddies and vertical gorge walls rising some 60 feet above its steeply cascading waters. After an extensive scouting mission, Harrison spots a downed tree that reaches far enough across the creek that, with some rope work, they might be able to make it across. They spend the night on the canyon rim, where Harrison enters his last journal entry of the trip:

Day 8: Found the creek. It’s really big. Still have to bring the boats over. Then one final push to the road. In the morning, they abandon all hopes of paddling the canyon, burning or burying what little they can afford to lose in an attempt to save any weight they can for the long carry out. Harrison and Orkin both were pushing themselves to the limit of their physical abilities, no doubt battling through thickets of devils club and a wide assortment of brambles in shorts, the only way to prevent heat stroke. Harrison knew even then that “It was only going to get worse.” To reach their crossing point, they had to first scramble up a fifth class cliff to get their boats and gear, and then return down the same; this time laden with gear. A rope forgotten early in the day left them with only a 50 foot throwbag to lower their gear with. After three boat belays, they begin lining the boats across a gully, narrowly avoiding losing the first. After the most tense moments of his life, Harrison reached the bottom to find Orkin stowing the boats neatly at the base of a scree field. “That climb was the most scared I had been on the whole trip,” He says, “I was sure we were going to die.” Only a few minutes later he would wade into the icy, turbulent water and shimmy his way up the downed tree they had found the day before, leaving only a few hundred vertical feet between them and the road. When they finally reached it, both Orkin and Harrison were near tears.


But there troubles weren’t over yet. 10 miles of hilly gravel road often completely overgrown with weeds over their heads separated the two from the 16 miles of “easy” water to their rendezvous point with the pilot. They began dragging their boats fully loaded behind them, Harrison worn ragged from the most intense act of physical effort he had ever endured and Orkin doing the same, but unable to eat as he battled the effects of his giardia. At some point, an exhausted Orkin flipped his boat over to discover a flapper the width of two outspread hands in the bottom of his boat collecting gravel. !

!

No longer able to carry their boats, the remaining 8 miles of hiking turns to 24 as the battered duo was forced to shuttle first their gear, and then their boats the rest of the way. A brief encounter with their first bear provides a jolt of energy before they settled into camp near the water’s edge. As Harrison does his best to patch the gaping hole in Orkin’s stern with a few strips of Gorilla tape, Orkin confides that he has reached his limit, saying “I can’t do another day.” The final day was spent hustling through the braided channels of class II, avoiding any rocks that might tear away Orkin’s fragile patch, and dodging what Harrison refers to as “tumblelogs”-enormous old growth logs that somehow get enough momentum to be sent cartwheeling downriver erratically breaking the surface with violent force. He would later learn that Orkin spent much of the paddle out crying, utterly spent, unable to roll or even pull his skirt if he had flipped over. As they flew back up the canyon, the seaplane’s engine thrumming beneath them, they reversed a journey of 10 days in 2 hours, reliving each moment with the heightened perspective that augmented the scale, rather than diminishing it. I imagine the relief flooding their veins as they touch down back on Nimpo Lake, finally certain they have survived. Journeys like that are about much more than the distance traveled, the time spent in the wilderness, and the rapids paddled. They’re about, as Doug Ammons suggests, “journey internally.” As difficult as it is to imagine their thoughts as they headed into the unknown, the internal strength and wisdom Harrison and Orkin both discovered in 10 days is undoubtedly infinitely more difficult to grasp. “We did it ourselves, we couldn’t have been much more on our own. The experience is just so rewarding emotionally… every step took mental fortitude.” All photos credited to Ben Orkin and Harrison Rea, as well as major Kudos for surviving out there.


It’s a dangerous river, this river of life. It’s pushy and continuous, doesn’t stop in wide, slow pools like a lot of them. You’ve heard the beta, but it’s never the same. You’re running blind. The water is rising. You are alone. Sometimes someone will come charging down a tributary or a fork to join you, but they’re taking different lines, and on a river this big it’s not long before they’re out of sight. You can see your friends and family on shore; sometimes they’re cheering you on, and others they frantically wave and point you away from a hazard. It’s a first descent, and no matter how many lines you stick there’s bound to be some carnage. You’re timing was off once and you missed that critical stroke. A second sooner and you could have skipped right over it, but you were late, and you fell flat on your face. It felt like years you were getting worked over, beatdown, and just when you thought you were out, you’d get recirculated for another round. Twice you almost pulled the tab, but it wasn’t an option. No swimming allowed. Yes, it’s a dangerous river alright, but you’ve already put on, it’s too late to stop. It’s all you’ve ever known. All you can do now is keep looking downstream. !


A Dangerous River

!


To Those That Make Us Better


!

The Dirtbag's Guide To Whitewater Issue 5  

Issue 5 of TDBG brings you all kinds of carnage!

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you