Tuesday, December 23, 2014

PNW: Packrafting iN Winter.

Last winter's paddling trip set a high bar in every way.  Hoping to experience and learn at least as much as I did then, I tried to recruit a handful of friends to head south again.

Alas life had other plans, and of the few that were able to get away no one could make it that far south.

Instead I joined Gerard Ganey, Russell Nyberg, Thor Tingey and Matt Boyer for some continuing ed in the art of creeking, all set within the general Portland-to-Hood River corridor.

West Fork Hood:

We paddled 7 rivers in 7 days:

Sandy Gorge at ~1600cfs
East Fork Lewis at ~1150cfs
White Salmon at ~1200cfs
West Fork Hood River at ~4.77'
Canyon Creek at ~400cfs
Upper Wind River at ~650cfs
East Fork Hood River at ~4.7'

Upper Wind:

Sandy Gorge:

Essentially, each day was an exercise in watching Ganey effortlessly rout every rapid, then trying to figure out how he did it/how to do it yourself.  Both learning by doing and baptism by fire.

Russell eyeballing Big Kahuna on Canyon Creek:

I never tired of the novelty of lush greenery, even when soaked and shivering while paddling into dusk.  Which we seemed to do every night...

Below: Ram's Horn rapid on the Upper Wind.  Russell and I didn't relish the idea of a high speed/shallow swim, which is roughly how we'd sized up our chances of success.  We walked it on the right.

Ganey plugged it dead center, cleanly punching the top pile then getting munched and subbed out by the bottom lateral hole.  Essentially he got destroyed, but was able to self-rescue and eddy all of his gear out immediately below.

I saw his swim as quasi-vindication for choosing to portage.  Proving that it takes more than good sense to be a great paddler, he saw this initial failure as reason to hike up and try again.

Round 2:

Ram's Horn 2, Ganey 0.

Below: Champagne, one of the iconic drops of Canyon Creek.  I'd love to see this'n with another ~200cfs.

Approaching Punchbowl Falls on the West Fork Hood:

Russell, boat-scouting Balls to the Wall on the Upper Wind:

Matt, in it on the West Fork Hood:

My backyard runs are muddy desert rivers: Immersion in these gin-clear creeks charmed beyond all expectation.

Ganey dropping Sunset Falls, EF Lewis:

Russell in the Sandy Gorge:

West Fork Hood takeout:

4-way stop, Carson, Washington:


-I experimented daily with different clothing configurations aimed at keeping warm enough without sweating.  Many combos of wool/fleece/micro-puffy were effective, supplemented with mitts and a neoprene hood.  What was most noteworthy was how much drier I stayed (day after day and swim after swim) in my Alpacka drysuit compared to the much burlier and more expensive Kokatat.

-We had 3 (zippered and decked) Yukon Yak's and 3 Alpackalypse's to choose from daily.  The Alpackalypse rewards a more experienced paddler with greatly increased performance.  The Yak is nowhere near as quick or nimble, but is much more forgiving of mistakes or poor line choices.  Which to choose was largely a function of our self-confidence that day.

-We got most of our beta from AW, OK, W&W, Google Maps, and Youtube.

-I drove all the way to Portland, even stayed right in town a few days, yet somehow failed to darken the doorway of Trader Joe's.  Also failed to snag any Sin Dawg's from Fred Meyer.  Total freaking rookie...

Big thanks to Russell and Ganey for everything, including meals, a couch to surf, navigation, photo and video clips, and especially pointing me into that one unmakeable line on the Upper Wind...  


Thanks for checkin' in.