Hello all! I've got a heck of a story for yall!
Yesterday Evan Garcia, the Wells brothers (Todd and Brendan) and myself fired over to the Upper Lewis Falls, an ultra classic in the Mt Adams/Mt St Helens area. An absolutely beautiful waterfall that provides the paddler with many options to choose from as far as which line he/she wants to take - with none of them being easy.
The classic line - which comes into play later in the season when the flows are lower - is to come in far river Right, bust right over the first 20 footer and boogie off the next falls wherever you want. the proximity is close, but youve got plenty of time to roll up and take multiple recovery strokes.
let's take a look at the rowdier lines...
Far river Left - a no go unless it's maching high water. sliding entry, super fast lip, then a good 55 to 60 feet of freefall - I'd heard Steve Fischer and gang may have run this line back in the day, and it would be action!
Center - what I know as the "Evan Garcia line" I dont know who did this first - but the first shot I saw of it was an epic one in the Demshitz video where evan comes off the scrapy vail in the middle of the river, boofs a good 30 feet to land in a super aerated hallway where immediatly upon landing, he makes a 90 degree Left turn and on the same stroke, launches off the final 20+ footer. beautiful, super asthetic and high speed line.
Upon arriving, our posse broke off from our photo posse (Lucas Gilman and Candace Sanders) as we slid our kayaks into the beautiful blue waters of the Lewis River. Optimism was high as we entered in and launched off the 15 foot entry boof, which immediately plastered a huge smile on all our faces.
Just around the corner, we all got out to scout the Upper Lewis. Meeting up with Lucas and Candace, we discussed our lines. Evan, Todd and Brendan all decided on the ultra aesthetic "evan garcia line" - but my eye caught something else. Just to the river Left of evans entry marker, there is another spouting lip that reconnects literally 5 - 10 feet down the bottom 20 footer, effectively making a spot where the kayaker can make a twisting step-down double jump, then land in the hole at the bottom and work their way out. Although the dangers of having a gnarly reconnection or a severe swim in the cave to the river Left of the landing were very high, I was just beside myself about the possibilities of this line. On my moto/downhill bikes, I've always loved the feeling of launching blind off of step down jumps the most - the unknown trajectory until you actually see your landing spot.
I couldnt help myself. Brendan mentioned something about taking a massive leap into the bottom pool from the overlook if something went awry, so I nodded at the boys and started walking up to my boat.
Coming in on the entry slide, I was able to find all my entry markers easily and round the corner exactly where i wanted to be. I boofed in of the entry bounce, held my long Right blade boof stroke and upon disconnecting, rotated my head to my left and got my left edge down. perfect. I aired down to reconnect at the perfect spot midway down the 20 footer - the angle was good enough that i didnt even feel a significant hit. the volume of my boat submerged in the transition and as it was rebounding back to the top of the falling waters, i felt a bump just behind my seat. Before i knew what had happened, i felt the sensation of doing a Right blunt! BOOM! - i feel the terrible feeling of water on my thighs and in my lap. Blown skirt from the blunt into the incoming water.
I feel, to my dread, my boat spiraling off the wrong side of the boil and towards the middle cave. The same cave that I was worried about instantly became a very bad situation. If I'd have stayed in a dry boat, it would have been just a slightly worrisome, slightly difficult spot to exit. Now I'm being pounded by the veil as I'm swimming out of my newly swamped boat. A few deep breaths, and i prepare myself for the long duration rescue situation i've found myself in. Strong currents were pushing out of the boil where i landed and around the corner where a severly overhung mossy basalt cave was my new living room. No footsteps whatsoever here. Swirling around with my boat, i even tried at one point to climb back in - no emptying option, but maybe i can be more stable in my boat. no good. plastered up on the wall with no handholds but one or two slick crimpers, i calm myself and try to relax to wait for Evan. I know he's coming, but i also know that itll be a long while. Although i'm warm and floaty in my IR drysuit, it is hard to keep myself from swirling around in the cave to be bashed against the wall again. Stay calm, save your energy. It was extremely hard to get a good breath with the pounding mist. Stay calm, save your energy. Looking around to see what i had at my disposal, i saw the terrible back corner of the cave, where my boat was moving towards - and suddenly wedged. not wanting to share my kayak's fate, i looked to my Right while plastered on the overhung wall. It looked like it would be really tough to get around a big buttress where the walls went from my overhung living room to the 'pearly gates' where i'd hoped there would be a foothold, a handhold, something. i still had my paddle cocked in my elbow so i grabbed ahold of it and went for the swimming ferry. I managed to get myself to the buttress, but the current picked up the pace and plastered me against the wall ferociously. Threw the paddle. Couldnt breathe. Sucked down. FIGHT!! Scrambling and frantically splashing, i managed to get on the good side of the buttress, but it was still pounding with the rivers fury and allowed me little air to pull out of the mist. Just as i started to get panicky, my foot hit a small protrusion in the wall. My fingers found their own respective slippery crimpers and i found myself climbing up out of the dreadfully cold water. It had already been over three minutes. I had to climb. I couldnt fall. My fingers continued to find the slippery crimpers in the moss, my feet finding their small steps. One epically difficult upwards traversing move, and I found myself in a far better spot. Shimmying on. The steps continued to appear and my frozen fingers continued to stay locked on to the slippery sloping crimpers. "I'm getting close to the far river Left end of the falls," I thought to myself. Pinned up to another buttress - this one with a rediculous amount of pounding water from the close proximity of the Left Line going over my head - "I can't climb past this one...I've gotta jump for it." Leaping off my micro-traverse ledge, I dove out onto my right ribs and into the Left veil. Feeling the veil push me down - but luckily out to safety, I emerged from the falls to give Brendan (whod lept off the massive overlook and swam over to pull me out) and everyone on the overlook - the "I'm ok" head tap. Evan came skying off his aesthetic line, paddled over and gave me a huge bear hug.
I was upbeat about it, but I knew all too well how close I was. Relieved to be out of there, the focus came upon my paddle and kayak, still chilling in the grotto.
Evan tried three times to break through the veil in his kayak to check the status of my paddle and boat, but was unable to break through. I hopped in his boat and had the same results. Ferried out in the flow and tried to go in the way id been sucked into it - no way. Strong current, blasting mist and a thick veil. Tried entering under the Left line - nope. Rejected and pounded intensely by the veil. Looking over at Evan and Brendan, Evan nodded and said, "You almost had it!" One more try. Forcing myself at race pace into the pounding veil, i tucked forward and stroked on the Left over and over. Freedom! - or something like that. I made my way back into the terrifying grotto and managed to retrieve my paddle fairly quickly. My boat, on the other hand, was deep in the darkest pocket with a severly undercut wall and a cave in the back. I had my cowtail out and was biting down on its cord, ready for the extraction. But, again, i was all alone in the dangerous cave, and it looked grim. Boat was upsiedown and wedged on a log with both the bow and stern in their own respective cracks. I hate leaving man-made things in natural spots, but on this occasion it was just too dangerous to try an extraction. Later in the season, someone will be stoked to pull that out and get themselves a new craft.
I always knew there would be a time where i would just have to let my boat go. I'd always thought it would come in a portage situation. But here, in the cave, I looked to my trusty steed and said "See ya later." Now focusing on paddling out. Main exit - denied. Side exit - denied again. Hard enough to get out myself (even in a boat), i knew there would be no way i'd gotten my boat out. Not at this high flow. Second try on the side (same place i jumped out, and paddled in) full speed ahead, full tuck to protect skirt. THE POUNDING of a 1 foot thick veil falling 60 feet was intense, then it let me go, back into the freedom of the clouds, the light, the trees.
A wonderful unrun stepdown line! One of the most fun moves I've ever made in my kayak...but i will always remember it in both aspects - the aesthetic fun stepdown line and the cave that almost ended it all.
Long story short, im a have to ask the Dagger posse to hook me up with another boat for the rest of the trip. haha - small price to pay.
Assess the situation. Find your exit. Keep fighting - and the pearly gates will appear. Dont ever give up.
But above all else - GOOD LINES!