By Mike Kord
first appeared in Canoe & Kayak August 2005
The boys from LVMVideo took some cameras down Mosley with them..check out the Mosley Creek video clip …“Combat Paddling at its finest!”
We’ve all experienced it in one form or another, the unmistakable hole-in-the-gut feeling after you’ve made a horrible mistake—showing up for class and realizing you’d forgotten to study for an important test, sleeping through the alarm clock the morning of a big job interview, or speeding through a red light with a cop at the intersection. Whatever your worst oh-shit moment, multiply that by 100 and you’ll begin to understand how Pat Keller felt as he was perched helplessly atop an 18-foot-high boulder smack dab in the middle of a terrifying maelstrom below.
The Class V+ Homathko River was first run in 1988. Hardcore boaters who have since camped at the trifluence of the Homathko and Mosley and Tiedemann Creeks soon recognized the appeal of being the first to run Mosley, and the chase for the first descent was on.
Keller was part of a six-man crew (Riley Cathcart, Daniel DeLaVergne, John Grace, Tommy Hilleke, Johnnie Kern, and Keller) of North Carolina boys that helicoptered into the heart of the Coast Mountains last April to become the first to run Mosley Creek, a remote, inhospitable Class VI tributary of the Homathko River. Though only a three-day expedition, it would be jam-packed with inclement weather, heinous portages, and the usual life-threatening situations, much like this worst predicament of Keller’s young life.
After four hours of solving Mosley’s complex upriver rapids, the crew approached the crux—a seemingly unrunnable garden of bus-sized boulders. They spotted what they presumed to be the least-lethal route. A cave perpendicular to the flow looked like a welcome eddy in which to gather composure amid the chaos.
DeLaVergne and Cathcart ran it first, but they soon realized that the entire cave was undercut, and the flow would suck both of them under the downstream wall. With skill and a touch of luck, they avoided the deadly cave but had no way to warn Keller, at 18 easily the youngest on the expedition, and the next in line.
The others could only watch and hold their breath as the flow carried him deeper into the cave, then out of site.
Regrettably, Keller took the bait and eddied out. He soon realized that he was on the verge of being vacuumed under and battled the powerful flow in a manner only a man fighting for his life could do. The others could only watch and hold their breath as the flow carried him deeper into the cave, then out of site.
While the crew was being helicoptered to their put-in, DeLaVergne scouted the creek and was struck with a severe case of the willies. It was clear that the expedition wasn’t going to be one of chuckle-headed playboating; it would be hell-bent survival paddling, hoping that your next move wouldn’t be your last.
Mosley’s huge, boat-eating sieves were only part of the problem. A dumping of fresh snow also made scouting and portaging a slippery and treacherous undertaking.
Just as the sense of doubt was most palpable, Kern, a veteran of the 2002 Tsang Po first-descent expedition remarked, “I’m not worried about the river. I’m worried about the snow.”
Then a shout came from the back of the chopper. “I’m in!” cried Hilleke, who couldn’t even see the hazards below. His bold statement was indicative of the group’s cajoes. DeLaVergne’s doubt was, for the moment, removed.
“Had the team not been what it was,” he said, “I would have just said, ‘Jesus, man, let’s just cut our losses.’ “
The copter moved closer to ground zero. Go time was just a moment away.