Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 NW Creeking Comp - EF Lewis (4.20.13)

Festivals/competitions have never really been my thing, I typically prefer to boat with a small group of friends in secluded locations – just getting away from it all on the weekends. Therefore, I was not originally planning to go to the 2013 Northwest Creeking Comp, but after thinking about it a bit, I figured it was about time that I attended one. I was excited about seeing a bunch of friends/acquaintances in one location and doing some catching up. I was also looking forward to doing some boating (non-competitive) and taking lots of photos! Furthermore, I hadn’t done the EF Lewis in many years, so it would be good to get on that again.

Roman and I left Eugene on Saturday morning and planned to meet up with some other buddies at Sunset Falls at around 11am. When we got there, the parking lots were packed and the road lined with vehicles, adorned with brightly colored boats. After cramming my Suby into one of the few remaining spots, we hiked upstream to Sunset Falls to take a look. Along the way we ran into many freinds, which drew us into some much needed catching up. When we finally reached the falls, it looked like a sweet flow, and quite a bit higher than any time I had run it back in the day. Folks were already doing practice laps at the falls, with a variety of lines. At this flow (~1,800cfs on the “EF Lewis, near Heisson” gauge), the best line seemed to be center-right, off a nicely formed/angled boof flake. At low water, I had run the left line, but the boof looked tricky and the hole looked a little sticky – However, I did see a few folks run it over there without issue, and even a couple free-wheel attempts!

Nate Merrill takes a practice lap on Sunset Falls

A boater with the standard line off of Sunset (at this flow)

Airin' it out

Before long, our buddy Chris Arnold showed up, and we decided to get geared up and on the river before the race started. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to put on, the race had just started. With that, we hung out for a bit to watch the first couple racers start their time trials. With the racers starting 60 seconds apart, it soon became very apparent that we were going to be waiting for a long while. Eventually we decided to put on between racers, but not wanting to be complete dirtbags with poaching the course, we put-in below Sunset and made sure to eddy out each time we saw a racer coming up behind us.

Racers, staged in the eddy above Sunset

A racer starts his run

Patiently awaiting his turn

As we motored along at a fairly good pace, we ran a few fun little drops before reaching the first major one, “Sky Pilot”. Without taking a look, we dropped in, noting the well placed safety along the edge of the river as we passed through. Sky Pilot was a super fun drop, which we entered left and finished river-center, through some nice juiced up hydraulics.

Entering Sky Pilot

Not far below here, a vertical cliff wall appeared in front of us, signaling “Screaming Left Turn”. I could see that there were a few spectators on the scouting platform along the river-left bank. I figured it would be a good place to take some photos of the racers coming through, as well as scout the drop myself, since I hadn’t run it in a long time or at this level. Sure enough it ended up being a great place to capture some of the action. There was lots of good safety setup here, and I could see Brandon Bloomquist and Michael Williams wrangling a boat that had lost its passenger – Chris, who had already run Screaming Left, and was eddied out between it and “Dragon’s Back”, headed over to also help out. Meanwhile, racer after racer dropped in, most of which were running the “race line” down the right side, through a couple of beefy wave-holes. There were lots of interesting lines, including a couple flips and people getting pushed against the right wall.

A boater enters Screaming Left Turn

Kim Becker takes the race line at Screaming Left.
She ended up taking 1st in the women's Pro Category!

Nicole Mansfield & Katrina Van Wijk doin' it Duo

A boater drops down the Dragon's Back, as Chris and the safety crew look on

Brandon Bloomquist & Michael Williams pull an unmanned craft from the water
in Dragon's Back, with a little assistance from Chris.
After watching Roman take his run, flipping/rolling up between the two drops, I packed up my gear and prepared for my turn. Since I wasn’t racing and wasn’t too concerned about getting a fast time, I decided to enter using the more conventional/easier left side. After sailing through Screaming Left without issue, I lined up for Dragon’s Back, dropping down with a left draw and last minute stroke to blast through the hole. As I was paddling away, I felt some drag on my paddle, which happened to be the tether from my waist-mount throw rope that must have come unspooled in the chaos above. After tucking it back in, I continued downstream, with no sight of my paddling buddies.

Lining up Dragon's Back...

... and planting the required stroke

After a short calm stretch, there was another gathering of folks lining the banks, at “John's Swimming Hole”, the last and perhaps the most difficult drop of the race. I could see Roman was out of his boat and standing on the left bank, so I paddled over to join him, as well as take a look at the drop. As soon as I got out of my boat, Roman told me that he might have separated a rib, while rolling in the drop above. It was bad enough that he wouldn’t be able to paddle the short stretch between John’s Swimming Hole and the take-out, at the Copper Creek confluence just downstream. With that, he did a ferry-over to river-right and spectated for a bit before starting his hike out, with some assistance from the safety crew that was setup on that side. During this, I was able to watch and take photos of the race, which was still going on. It ended up being a spectator’s dream, with lots of carnage to be seen, caused by either the wall directly below the drop, or the hole on the right at the bottom.

Richard Young gets ready to drop into John's Swimming Hole

Richard with a left line, which worked out well for him.

Lucas Glick lines up for a direct hit

A boater drives for the right side line...

...and still catches a bit of the hole.

Carnage like this was not uncommon

Even a couple of IKs got in on the action, as Nick Hymel demonstrates here.

After taking some good shots and helping with some cleanup, I packed up my gear once again and prepared for my turn. I had originally planned to stay center-left, cut the edge of the hole while sweeping to the right to avoid the wall, but after seeing so many racers getting plastered against said wall, I decided to try my luck down the thin right line. With the benefit of watching all the other boaters, I set my line and was able to hit the line I needed to, blasting though the hole on the far right and avoiding a faceplant into the wall.

Diggin' in for the bottom hole at John's

Blastin' through

Just around the corner was the finish line, where I got out, hiked up the stairs and went looking for Roman. I soon found him still pulling his boat up the hill, where I threw him a rope to drag it up the rest of the way to the road. After that, we waited for the shuttle service to head back to camp. Even with Roman's injury, we decided to still camp out and hang with folks before calling it a trip -- we'd evaluate in the morning to see if it was worth heading to the Canyon Creek leg of the race. Since we'd be hangin' out, Roman agreed to take some photos while I ran a bunch of laps off Sunset Falls, with all the other boaters that were doing the same. I think I got in 8 or so laps (which is super easy to do) before my lines started going to crap and I decided to call it a day. At some point during the waterfall session, the mass-start race began, which provided some great entertainment, despite a complete lack of carnage...

The author takes a fun lap on Sunset Falls
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Mid flight on one of my laps
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Evan Garcia, off the lip during the mass-start race
(photo by Roman Androsov)

 The afterparty started off with a raffle and awards ceremony, which was presented by Next Adventures, Alder Creek, and had many other great sponsors -- a long list of them can be found, here. This lasted for quite a while before everyone headed back to their encampments to start the real festivities. Chris had left for the evening, but once again Roman and I had decided to stay, and were based close to a bunch of other friends, including Ninkasi's camp, which provided a campfire, music, dancing, and of course there was beer to be drank! The party lasted until about midnight, when the place eventually went dark and I retreated to my tent for some much needed rest.


And awards

Women's Pro

Men's Pro

Who doesn't like a good fire?!

The sign says it all

Let's get this party started!


I actually didn't sleep very well that night, and the sound of screaming kids at six o'clock in the morning didn't help much -- the bitch of it is that I was just starting to get some real sleep... I procrastinated for a bit before I was drawn from my tent, actually driven by the need to relieve myself. At this point it was also starting to drizzle a bit, which certainly wasn't helping my motivation level. I made the short trip to my car to grab the half-assed breakfast I had assembled from Safeway the night before. I also took a walk to Sunset Falls, hoping to gain some energy from the exercise and sight of the falls. When I returned, Roman awoke and we decided to mingle a bit, once again at the Ninkasi camp, who already had another fire going. People were already starting to pack up and leave, most of which were racers headed to Canyon Creek to sneak in a quick practice lap before the race. After checking in with Roman, we decided to get an early start heading back to Eugene, with a few quick stops along the way to scout/potentially run a couple drops downstream. After bidding our farewells, we headed out.

Morning rush hour

A gloomy start to the day

Our stop was at Big Tree Creek, which flows into the EF Lewis just upstream of Moulton Falls. The drops we were looking at were Yacolt Falls, which can be seen through the trees from the intersection of NE Lucia Rd & NE Sunset Falls Rd. The few times that I had driven to the EF Lewis and caught a peek, I wondered what the falls looked like from a kayaking standpoint. Roman and I had actually scouted them the day prior, where we found a ~25'er that looked like it would be completely runnable at higher flows, and I was sure it had been done. At this flow, the entrance was just too scrapey to setup cleanly, and it would have been pretty silly to run. There was, however, a fun looking drop right below it, which dropped about 8' directly underneath a footbridge. Arguably, it wasn't worth getting geared up for on its own, but since I was also contemplating a few drops downstream and thought it might also make for a good photo or two, I decided to give it a go. With that, I geared up and shouldered my boat down the convenient hiking path and over the footbridge to put-in just above the drop. The drop itself was really straightforward with a nice boof flake that called out for a strong right stroke off the lip. Not much else to say about it other than the bridge made for a cool backdrop.

Yacolt Falls -- Might be sweet with more water!

The fun drop just downstream
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Pretty easy boof
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Same drop, from a bird's eye view
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Once we were done at Big Tree Creek, we headed down the road to give Moulton Falls a look. After scouting for about 5 minutes, I decided not to run it -- not because it didn't look fun, but because if something went wrong, there wouldn't be anyone else on the water to assist in the gear cleanup. The next stop we made was at Lucia Falls, which also looked good, but again I passed due to the same reasons. From Lucia Falls we headed home, only stopping at Fire on the Mountain Buffalo Wings for a quick lunch -- damn that place is the bomb!

Roman scouting Moulton Falls

The author looking for a line
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Lucia Falls

Looking at the runout and drop below Lucia Falls, which also looked fun!

I have to give a big shout out and thanks to everyone that played a part in making the 2013 Northwest Creeking Comp a big success. Although I didn't compete myself, I can certainly appreciate all the effort to make it happen. Festivals such as this are extremely important to the sport, and who knows, maybe one of these years I'll strap a number on my chest to test myself against the clock!

Some footage of our run on race day:

Poaching the Course - 2013 NW Creeking Comp from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Breitenbush River, OR (3.30.13)

With one of our boating buddies, Jason, coming back to Eugene for a visit, it seemed like a good opportunity to reunite some of the ol' crew for a day on water. On Friday, Jason, Bobby, and I went to The Mile (NFMF Willamette) for a few laps -- with 12" on the gauge and 65 degrees under sunny skies, it doesn't get much better than that! Since the next day we would have a much bigger crew, including those that hadn't been in their boats much lately, we decided to do something a bit more mellow. After reviewing water levels, it looked as though we would only have a few options. After some discussion, we decided on the Breitenbush River (~800cfs), which was fine by me, since I hadn't done it in five or six years. I did remember that it was really beautiful, so I was excited to take some photos and video as well.

Jason, gettin' it done on The Mile (not the Breitenbush)

In the end we would have a crew of nine, and after meeting in Eugene in the morning, we headed northeast toward The Bush. I had forgotten how long of a drive it actually was, more than 100 miles / 2 hours from Eugene. Before heading to the put-in, we all met up at the take-out to change into our boating gear, so we’d have nice dry clothes when we got off the river. The temperature was around 70 degrees with bright sunny skies – really amazing weather for one of the last days of March. Since there were nine of us, it took us quite a bit of time to actually get up to the put-in and on the water; Personally I wasn’t much in a hurry, and was looking forward to a relaxed day on the river.

Once we had all slid into the water, we started downstream. There was quite a bit of wood built up around the first right-hand bend, where the river became braided and flowed through multiple channels. The far left channel was the most clear, but even it required a portage around one of the logs – this ended up being pretty easy by walking down the island between channels. After putting back in, I jumped out ahead so that I could get setup for photos at the first major drop, The Slot, which lay just downstream and around the corner.

After running the small lead-in section, I eddied out on river-right, just above the lip of The Slot. As I was taking a look at the entrance ledge and trying to determine what the best camera angle would be, an upside-down boat was making its way toward the drop. Shawn was doing his best to plow it into the eddy, but since the boat was full of water and the current was fairly fast, he was unable to do so. Once I knew that it was going to drop into The Slot, I started running down the bank hoping that it might get stuck in the entrance hole for a bit. Sure enough it had, which allowed me to jump into the feeder eddy and grab ahold of the bow and pull it to shore. Whew, crisis averted! Once the boat and the pilot were reunited, we went back to scouting/discussing the drop.

Essentially, The Slot starts off with a ~4’ entrance ledge, with a very sticky hole at the base. Assuming the lead-in isn’t too shallow, it’s a pretty easy line, with a well-placed boof stroke allowing you to easily clear the hole. Just don’t plug it; I’ve personally witnessed a swim here, which included a couple of body recirculations. There is also a left side chute that bypasses the ledge hole, which can be used if you don’t feel comfortable with your boof stroke, or if the water level is too low to effectively run the ledge. Below the entrance, the river pinches down through a flumey drop, with some fun juiced up hydraulics, before depositing you into the calm water below. All of us decided to run the entrance ledge, with everyone having good lines throughout the whole drop – pretty good for such a big crew!

Brandon gets it started with a nice line off the top ledge

Shawn drops in while Scott and Ken look on

The author gets the boof off the entrance ledge

Ken takes his turn, entering stage-right

Ken digs in part way through the The Slot

After The Slot the river runs through some fun class II+ drops in a beautiful setting where small moss covered cliffs lined the banks. Before long, a large river-wide log came into view, with passage underneath it on hard river-left. Immediately below the log the river ran down a shallow bedrock drop, feeding into The Notch, and the next named drop of the run. To scout the drop for wood, we caught an eddy on river-right just above it, which has a good viewing platform. The Notch is a very straightforward drop, running the right channel off the nose of the ledge. The one concern here is wood, so if it’s been awhile since you’ve run it, make sure it’s clear.

Scott takes the standard line at The Notch

Jason at The Notch

Just below The Notch are a few more class II/III drops before the river exits the first gorge section and mellows out for a bit. This is a good time to take in the scenery and relax. At this point Brandon and I had jumped out ahead so that we could communicate any wood hazards that may creep up. I was also on the lookout for a good place to setup for some photos, but nothing was motivating enough to get me out of my boat.

Before too long we reached a river-wide ledge, signaling the start of the second gorge section, and which I had remembered being pretty sticky when I had paddled this river back in the day -- after warning Brandon we both dropped over. Brandon boofed the center without issue, but I was flipped as I tried to boof into the river-left eddy. Luckily it wasn’t as sticky as I had remembered and I was able to easily roll up and paddle into the eddy. Right below this ledge is S-Turn, a fun twisty drop with a few holes, most notably the one on the right just below the entrance. I hopped out on river-left to scout for wood and setup for photos. After I confirmed it was clear, I gave everyone the beta using hand signals and took photos as they dropped through, all with clean lines. After everyone had taken their turn, I packed up my gear and headed down to join them below.

Roman blasts past the biggest hole in S-Turn

Soon after S-Turn is Sharon’s, a class II/II+ lead-in to a 4’ to 5’ ledge. Since the run-out to the ledge is blind, I caught the last-chance eddy on river-left, just above it, to scout for wood. After quickly climbing up onto the giant rock I could see that it was good to go, which I let the others know from my perch. We all ran the left side, with Brandon probably having the best line by catching a nice boof off the left side of the center rock.

Scott enters Sharon's

Brian, just above the final pitch of Sharon's

Brandon, with the money line

Below Sharon’s there are a few more fun class II/III drops, and some wood here and there, before the walls peel back and the river mellows out again. Eventually a road bridge comes into view, which can be used as an alternate take-out, if you aren’t interested in running the drops below. On this trip, we continued down river.

Not far below the bridge, the river splits around an island, with most of the water going around to the left, which is the channel we took. Once we started getting close to the end of the island I recognized that it was also the entrance to Barbell. From my recollection the left side had a pretty sticky hole, but I couldn’t quite recall what the best line off of it was. With that we decided to get out on the island, wade across the right-side channel and take a look. Sure enough it looked sticky, with a sneak line down the hard right side of it. You could run the meat of the hole, but you’d definitely want to get in a good delayed boof stroke. I signaled to the others who were either waiting in their boats or on the island, that the hole was sticky and to either take a look for themselves or run the left channel, away from the hole. Bobby decided to charge the hole, so I readied my throwbag and camera. He ended up taking a premature boof stroke and went pretty deep, barely clawing himself out of its grasp. Shawn also decided to run the right side hole, but got hard right and was able to skirt the hole with ease. The rest of us ran the left channel without issue, which is actually a really fun line as well, and more of a boulder drop.

Bobby takes the meat line at Barbell...

And almost pays the price

Shawn takes the safer route

Roman takes the left chute

As we continued along we found a few more fun rapids, one with a couple of nice back-to-back wave-holes, which caught me sleepin’ and sent me ass over teakettle. After getting pushed against the right wall and missing one or two rolls, I was deposited in the calm water below where I was able to get’er upright. Just below this was Woo Man Chew, the last major drop of the run.

Getting out on river-left at the cement structure, we hiked down to pick out our lines. To me the left/main line looked really sticky, with lots of water pulling back into it off the left wall. The right line, which supposedly goes much better at high flows, looked pretty trashy, and not something that I’d choose to run if there was an easy walkaround. Scott, who didn’t even get out of his boat dropped down the right and gave us the all good signal. Bobby had also decided to run it sight unseen, but going left instead. I was given the signal and once again readied my camera and throwbag. He came through with a nice stroke and sailed over the hole and out of harm’s way. Everyone else (including me) decided to run the junk slot on river-right. There were a variety of lines, both good and bad, and it actually produced two swims. My advice here would be to look at the drop and choose your line wisely, just make sure you have a bag setup if you choose the left and flows are good. There isn’t much in the way of whitewater below Woo Man Chew, so take in the last bit of scenery and be on the lookout for where you parked your car at the take-out.

Bobby runs the hero line, in style

Brandon, making lemonade out of lemons

Jason dropping into the right line...

...And bustin' through

I must say, it was good to get on the Breitenbush and boat with the ol’ crew again! We had ~800cfs on the gauge, which I’d consider a medium/medium low level. At this flow the river has a class III feel to it, with a couple of class IVs mixed in for good measure. This is a great steppingstone run for up and coming creek boaters to cut their teeth on, or for more experienced boaters looking for a less stressful day on the water - the drops are plenty fun and the gorge sections are beautiful. That said, I’m not sure I’d make the long drive there very often, but would certainly do it if I was already in the area or hadn’t done it in a long while. Of course, if you’ve never done it, it’s definitely worth the trip.

After party

The view on the drive home, after a long day...

The POV footage of our run down The Bush:

POV - The Breitenbush from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.