[The following story originally ran in our Dec. 2012 issue. Check out the highlights from Jules Domine's footage from the Homathko-Waddington expedition, and look out for his forthcoming spring 2013 release "State of Matter," a film following water's cycle, including Domine's recent paddling expeditions in Canada and Columbia.]
By Eugene Buchanan
It was an unfamiliar place to be on a kayaking expedition: wedged inside a crevasse high on the slopes of 13,186-foot Mount Waddington. “Luckily, after I fell in, my crampons and backpack stopped me and my partners were able to pull me out with the rope,” says expedition paddler Maxi Kniewasser, who, with teammates Chris Tretwold and Jules Domine, paddled the Class V Homathko River in order to climb and then ski down British Columbia’s highest peak.
“The crevasse was scary, but I think getting caught in a hole in a river like the Homathko is scarier.”
Kniewasser had plenty of big hydraulics to contend with on the Homathko, which contains some of the most remote and difficult whitewater on the continent. The team paddled the river in May—late winter at this latitude—during a year that had seen record snowfall. On Day Two they came to an avalanche that bridged the river, forming a massive snow cave. Inside was a stout Class V rapid. “We could see light at the other end, but we couldn’t see the entire rapid,” he says. “We weren’t really convinced it was good to go, but Jules styled it and so we followed.”
That brought the crew to the bottom of the Tiedemann Glacier, 12,400 feet below the summit. There they retrieved their mountaineering gear and began three “excruciatingly tiresome” days skinning up the glacier to establish a base camp, where a two-day storm nearly ripped their tent to shreds. When the weather cleared they pushed on to the summit, then skied the mountain’s northwest flank. They returned to the river after 12 days of hard climbing, to face the trip’s biggest challenge: three more days of white-knuckle paddling.
While they were away climbing, the Homathko had more than doubled in volume. Soon the exhausted paddlers discovered that a landslide had clogged Tragedy Canyon, creating a manky, high-stress section with no end in sight—one that Tretwold described as “continuous, Payette-style with big holes and waves that we just had to run, catch little eddies, and scout a little where we could.” The team ran all of it. “We didn’t have any more energy left for portaging,” Kniewasser says.
Though their mountaineering gear had arrived via a helicopter drop (meaning they didn’t have to strap skis to their kayaks), simply paddling the 60-mile wilderness run that bisects the Coast Mountains is a major achievement, says northern whitewater pioneer Doug Ammons. “To add the multi-sport aspect makes it a hard-core, multifaceted epic—one of the all-time epics.”