Eric Deguil's Wednesday training lap. Photo Chris Gragtmans

After covering the Dominion RiverRock festival, C&K correspondent Chris Gragtmans crossed the country for this weekend’s North Fork Championship in Idaho. After the success of last summer’s inaugural event, the event returns to the storied banks of the North Fork Payette, where an invited list of some of the world’s top paddlers (plus a top group of qualifiers) race a gated course through the crux of the roadside Class V classic. Here are Gragtmans first impressions of the course and field of competitors. Stay tuned for more on-site coverage and updates HERE on our Facebook page.

Marcos Gallegos in Taffy Puller. Photo Chris Gragtmans

SHIFTING LEVELS. The water was super-duper low yesterday, about 1000 cfs, but they turned the dam on today and bumped it up to around 2200 for the race, which should be perfect. Some people have been in town trying to train for a while, even a week-plus, and this may throw off their program a bit. The water coming up changes the game and turns this race into the NORTH FORK RACE.

THE CREW. Lots of people out yesterday—Marcos Gallegos, Jules Domine, Andrew Holcombe, Ben Marr, myself, Eric Deguil, Mikkel St. Jean Duncan, Galen Volckhausen, Kyle Hull, the list goes on.

SUMMER CONDITIONS. Super-high temps of 85-plus degrees means skin-to-the-wind is doable and refreshing.

REAL DEAL. Even at low water, Jacob’s Ladder is awesome! Big-water moves up top and technical down in Golf Course. I’m watching the best guys really pick apart some ninja lines, and trying to keep up. The hole in Rock Drop (third move in Jake’s) is pretty sticky. Yesterday I watched Eric Deguil go for multiple surfs and Jules Domine go for one. It flipped me upstream like a champ as well!

LEVEL UP. The best guys that I am seeing thus far are Holcombe and St. Jean Duncan. Louis Geltman, defending champ Ryan Casey, and Evan Garcia should be powerhouses as well. I’m calling Galen Volckhausen to hurt some serious feelings.

THE START. Gates were going up early this morning, the water’s coming up, the ramp is getting put in, and things should kick into high gear!

VIDEO BREAKDOWN. Check out my (lower-water) run yesterday to get an idea of the course, before the gates went up. The top two drops are the crux of the North Fork Race—Rodeo Hole and Rock Drop. Rodeo Hole is difficult because it wants to throw you right onto a bunch of jagged rocks and into a little cave. Rock Drop is tricky because it wants to sub/flip you (like it does to me at 1 min.), and the upstream ferry to Gate 2 is tough as hell! Very few people were making that yesterday. The bottom section (Golf Course) is death by a thousand papercuts.  If you can keep your boat skipping and planing over the waves and holes it’s awesome. Once you start having trouble, though, it becomes exponential and one wave after another pummel you into exhaustion. That section is very very big at this new water flow.

Today is the qualifier Lower 3 Race. Tomorrow is Boatercross and Saturday is the main event. We were all rocked last night by the very sad news of a paddler from the Southeast passing away above Jacob’s Ladder (read more about the tragic events HERE). Extremely extremely sad stuff—I don’t really know what to say other than that it throws into the forefront the fact that consequences are very real on this river (and any river).