Alright folks, update number three. After the las month’s series of fiasco’s,thankfully, this last month has been without electronic or mechanical hassle, and I have been able to focus much more on what I set out to do. Paddle, take pictures and connect with the paddling community.
I started out by shooting FIBark (freestyle national championships) and helping post news feeds on www.worldkayak.com. It was a lot of fun, but mostly, it lead me to Crested Butte, Colorado the following week to shoot paddlers getting ready for the Oh Be Joyful (OBJ) Giant Slalom (class V race down big drops and slate slides). What a sweet spot: lots of kayakers, four classic creeks, easy access and free camping by a river. Oh, and Crested Butte is pretty stinking cool.
Sounds effortless right? Well, it still presented it’s own challenges, one of which was crossing the Slate River fully loaded with gear and cameras in order to get to OBJ. The water was tame enough in the morning to make the easy wade across, but by late afternoon, it became an icy brown torrent of debris, strainers, sharp slate and undeniable strength. You can probably guess where I am going with this.
That’s right, during one of those late afternoon crossings, I watched as my younger (but bigger) brother battled it out and made it across, instilling a bit of confidence in me. I naively started my way across with a 50-pound camera laden backpack above my head. Hindsight is apparently 20/20, but this sounds pretty dumb to me as I am typing. Anyways, it really didn’t take long before I found myself completely numb, gasping for air and yelling for my brother to “Grab the pack, grab the pack!” as the river had its way with me.
Christian did grab the pack as I washed by, and luckily I was able to get myself to shore as well. Feeling a bit like an almost drowned cat, I rushed the gear over to the van and checked inside the garbage bag I had lined it with earlier that day. Safe! A lifetime’s investment in camera equipment was dry. Lesson learned.
The next adventure came about in a coffee shop with Clay Wright and Bryan Kirk (professional kayakers). All of us were trying to figure out our next move when one of Clay’s acquaintances mentioned some sweet, but rarely seldomly paddled drops around Lake City, Colorado. Done. An hour later we were on a weeklong search for big, unknown waterfalls.
Entering small Lake City with our unmistakable convoy of kayak-loaded vehicles was a scene itself. A local onlooker on a dirt bike flagged us down and, to our surprise, gave us some really good beta on the local creeks. All sharing the same mentality, we followed his directions and determined that one drop had too much water at the moment, and another, well, was owned by a hydroelectric company. And yes, we were kicked off the property.
Another search of Cottonwood Creek showed some promising rapids, but would require some log removal. Later on and, once again trespassing, we hiked into Cinnamon Falls, a crazy looking 60 footer spewing from a very narrow crack in an otherwise solid 200-foot rock wall. To my knowledge, it has only been run by two people back in ’05. And again, the water was too high.
We went back and shot a bit on Cottonwood Creek, then crept our way up the 4-wheel drive road of a lifetime to 12,640 foot Cinnamon Pass. It took a majority of the day, but El Guapo handled it like a champ. Next stop, Silverton, Colorado where we spent a few days on South Mineral Creek and Ice Lake Falls.
We parted ways with Clay (he had his own upcoming adventure) and caught wind of an Upper Cherry Creek (classic high Sierra overnight run) run in the next few days. Some deliberation, phone calls, bank account checks and hamburgers later, we figured it out and started driving back to California the next day. Christian’s end of the journey was over, so a quick stop in Reno to see some friends and let him catch his flight left me back where I started; in a van in California going solo. I can’t believe we spent a month together. It went quickly, and turns out, I really could have used his help in the coming days.
Some frantic shopping, driving and packing put me at the trailhead a 2 a.m. but I was ready. The hike started the next morning with one paddler throwing up even before donning his 100-pound kayak and overnight gear. Unfortunately, that never ended and we found ourselves six miles in with a buddy who just shouldn’t have been there, but whose determination would not allow that realization. He couldn’t hike anymore, and everyone’s judgement was clouded by the desire to run this amazing river, the classic climber who can’t turn back in light of a bad situation.
Suddenly my thoughts became pretty clear, and I realized the only safe way out of this predicament. I would stay with him, and if his condition didn’t improve within a few hours, I would hike him out.
As expected, his condition didn’t improve, so we headed back. He walked away from the trip of a lifetime, and I walked away from a dream of my own. Money is one thing, but people are beyond measure, and sometimes you just have to ask yourself, “At what cost are you willing to pursue your endeavors?” The river will be there next year.
After the group returned from their granite waterfall adventure, there were talks of a Middle Kings run. To the folks out there that do not know about this run, it is a 32-mile big Class V paddle with a 12 mile Class V hike in over an 11, 972 foot mountain pass. Oh, and it typically takes four to six days to pull it off. Yeah….Burley.
Anyways, one more chance to photograph some good stuff, so I joined to shoot the hike in (paddling this run is out of the question for me at this point). Oddly enough, just hours before the projected hiking time, one of the paddlers began throwing up without break. He was in bad shape, and seeing his resolve to get it out of his system so he could stay on the trip, I was getting a little frustrated. I was hoping they weren’t all thinking of me as the safety net on this one too. At best, he would be exhausted and out of it for the hike in.
It all came together, and before I knew it, we were hiking. It took 11 hours, and a lot of fortitude from a lot of the guys, but the crew made it to the river. Beat from the hike in, we all fell quickly asleep on a large granite slab looking up at a night full of stars with the sounds of water all around us. It was a nice reward.
I tried hiking farther downriver to catch some action over the next few days, but realized I was trying to pull off a two-person job and turned around. I came out of there wrecked from a couple of days worth of hard hiking with an overweight pack (camera gear, climbing gear, camping gear and food for a week), but pleased that I had completed my main mission. Unfortunately Bishop, California is 100 degrees at night in the summertime and the thought of roasting in El Guapo was too much, so I stayed in a cheap motel and reveled in my first shower in over a week.
As I left Bishop, I stopped in to check out Galen and Barbara Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery (two very prolific outdoor adventure photographers), and I have to say that was one of the highlights of this trip so far. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been somewhere and seen something that has struck such a deep chord within me. It is something I cannot explain, but even sitting here, typing this, I just got goosebumps. Truly amazing.
After a short stay with some friends in the Reno / Tahoe area, I am on my way to British Columbia where I will likely spend the next month. I am sure I am in for some letdowns, some successes and, in all likelihood, a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, this is what it’s all about.