Hanging Spear: Headwaters of the Hudson

A Trans-wilderness Kayaking Expedition in Three Acts

Hanging Spear Falls © scott martin-0564 copy

Searching out the prize on one of the steepest potentially runnable miles of whitewater in the Empire State. Photo: Scott Martin.

ACT I: INCEPTION


SCENE 1

Late 2000s: Professional whitewater kayaker Pat Keller is at home in Asheville, N.C. after long hours at his day-job as a financial Client Advisor. He cracks a beer and begins his nightly ritual of scouring topo maps and searching "waterfalls" in Google Images.

And there it is, a picture from deep in the 6.1-million-acre Adirondack Park, tucked away in the High Peaks Wilderness of the nation’s largest state park. It’s an immediate puzzle combining the difficulties of a long approach with the dangers of remote Class V whitewater, and climaxes with a 70-foot waterfall. It is exactly what Keller has been looking for. "What is that?" Keller wonders as his gaze moves up the frame, to the background where an avalanche of water seems to travel endlessly up into the sky. "Hanging Spear Falls … the Opalescent River," he repeats to himself. "I need to go there."

Hanging Spear Falls © scott martin-1193 copy

Keller and Fisher stare down the puzzle ahead. Photo: Martin.

SCENE 2

2013: Steve Fisher and Keller are jet-lagged and exhausted from a two-week waterfall odyssey in Iceland. Never too tired to consider the next mission, the duo discuss plans for the future during their return home.

"I don't think I need to try to one-up myself after the Congo," says Fisher, referencing his historic first descent of the world's largest rapids. "It nearly killed me. I'd rather focus on the trips that capture what kayaking is all about."

"I'm with you," Keller yawns, "I want to do more overnight trips … more exploration."

Fisher laughs, asking, "What? No more Aldeyjarfosses for you?" recalling Keller's stylish descent of the infamously dangerous 70-foot waterfall just a few days earlier.

Keller perks up, "Actually, that reminds me—"

"Oh boy," Fisher interrupts, not quite ready to consider another of Keller’s outlandish schemes.

Keller has not stopped researching Hanging Spear Falls or the logistics surrounding them.
Fisher is dubious, but he can't deny that it sounds like it would make a good story …

— Read ACT II: DETERMINATION, looking back at the first explorations of New York’s 950-foot-per-mile Opalescent Gorge, watch the teaser below for Fisher’s “mini-doc,” and check out ACT III: INSPIRATION, the flipbook photo-essay finale to the series, which includes the full film on the descent (or view the wide-screen version at redbull.com/hangingspear).