Though he is not technically a hurricane, C&K contributing photographer Erik Boomer is certainly a Class V force of nature. It’s fitting, then, that The Weather Channel profiled him and this epically audacious 2010 first descent of 65-foot Wahclella Falls in Oregon.
Here, from Canoe & Kayak’s 2011 Whitewater annual, is Boomer’s first-hand tale of this knife-wielding super huck, as told to C&K Managing Editor Dave Shively.
Anatomy of a Money Shot
FIRST DESCENTS AREN’T GETTING ANY EASIER.
Capturing that contagious, never-before-seen footage requires grueling effort, plenty of creativity, the right crew, the optimal conditions, and in Erik Boomer’s case, three dollars wisely spent at the gas station.
Wahclella Falls on Tanner Creek is less than an hour outside of Portland, Ore., but it had never been run for a reason: sheer inaccessibility. Of course, you don’t earn a nickname like the Honey Badger by writing off the impossible. So, like the ferocious cobra-eating carnivore, when given one shot—a moment to cut himself off belay and land a single stroke through the hole setting up the un-run 65-footer—Mr. Boomer, 26, seen hanging at right, showed no signs of fear.
The visceral scene unfolds in Rush Sturges’s 2011 film release, Frontier (river-roots.com). The footage leaves you slack-jawed, trying to process what you’ve just seen—what the … ?—but the film just charges on to the next teeth-clenching drop, and another after that. When the credits roll and the ride is over, it’s worth doubling back for a closer look. Here we break down the coordinated elements that go into those few seconds of disbelief, in the words of the one athlete with everything on the (200-foot) line. — Dave Shively
We committed to the hike, a five-hour bushwhack to the rim, peering over a 200-foot cliff. I saw a waterfall with logs and an undercut wall—real hectic, with a hole right above the lip. Lowering in was an option … and we’d gone all that way and brought all the rope. I saw a line, so it was just thinking about a method, and I decided to go for it.
Seth Swallen lowered me, Tyler [Bradt] was also up there, Rush was filming below and L.J. [Groth] was filming, too.
I had a whistle to start and stop lowering—one for go, two for stop.
The hole was really big, so I continued past the ledge until my bow was touching the current. I braced on the wall and started sawing with a little knife I’d bought from a gas station, a $2.95 souvenir, but a great rescue knife. There was good tension. The paddle was in my left hand, I turned to the wall and actually had to free my hips a little in the boat and stand on my bulkhead to reach, sawing with my right hand.
As soon as the rope cut, I turned, threw the knife, grabbed the paddle, and used my knees to lock as I landed in my seat. I took a left-hand stroke on what was a good little uphill hole, barely got up on it, then went through a little sluice box off the lip. So I landed on a stroke through the hole, then took two off the lip.
I was trying to be center-left. It was a pretty good line—I faded and tucked, stayed tucked, kept falling, then I thought, ‘Where’s the bottom?’ picked up my head. And the water hit my paddle/hand into my face. I didn’t break my paddle, but lost it and hand-rolled up.
It was just a little violent and I got my bell rung a little. I had to get three stitches in my lip.
When you have the right crew, there’s good energy, optimism and maybe it’s easier to believe—but ultimately it comes down to how you’re feeling.