Monday, July 15, 2013

The "New" Upper Willow Creek

Upper Willow Creek is like a friend that has had a serious brain injury; it is essentially the same, but it isn't quite all there.

Brief rapid descriptions from a resent descent at ~350 cfs for those of you who are curious.

(Note: I have not run Upper Willow Creek at this low of a flow and do not know exactly what it looked like before the floods in fall of 2012).

The Shire: Essentially the same.
Trip with a nice boof in The Shire

Gazebo: The entrance is probably going to be run on the left as there may be a few new hole scattered above the top drop. The top drop is essentially the same. The second drop is about 5' taller (again I haven't run this at 350 cfs before) and the left size is jammed with rocks creating much more of a sieve. The right line is the way to go. The bottom portion has a bunch of rocks that moved around and doesn't drop as much as it used to.

Boogie water between below gazebo to Three Stooges: Essentially the same.

Three Stooges: Pretty much the same. Maybe a little more of a sticky hole at the very bottom above Spider Monkey (you would still run that part far left).

Spider Monkey: Completely different. The sweet boof on the left is gone. The line at the top is on the right. Who knows if the waves at the bottom will come at you from all sides during higher flows.

Sieve 57: Completely Different. See the photos. There is no more slalom move above the big boulder, but the bottom is essentially the same. The top is definitely easier.

Top half of Sieve 57 at 350 cfs.

 Bottom of Sieve 57 at 350 cfs

 Looking up from half way at Sieve 57, 350 cfs

 Looking up from river right at Sieve 57, 350 cfs

Pancake: The top boof has some funky water and perhaps an undercut close to the landing. There is a "sneak" on the far left against the wall that sets you up for the bottom half. A new boulder has fallen in on the left above where the final ledge used to be, blocking the old line. At 350 cfs there is a snaking tongue that leads through boulders/holes where the ledge used to be. Curious what this will look like at higher flows.

Triple Drop: I believe the sieve has opened up at the bottom. There is A LOT of water going under the bottom boulder. So much water that there is a spout of water coming up at the base of the boulder on the downstream side. The left line has a big triangular rock at the bottom splitting the flow, diverting the majority of the flow under the bottom boulder. There are several boulders at the bottom on the right that have shifted moving more water to the left, under the boulder. There is one rock you can see hiding under the water upstream of the river right triangular rock that feeds the nasty sieve (that has recently gotten bigger). Between the bottom river right triangular rock and the wall there is another rock hiding under the surface that you can't see (hit it with my boat paddling through). It would not be a good idea to do the low water river right swim (like I have heard of packrafters doing at low flows)! We portaged on the right below the top portion slipping in under the top river right boof boulder and hugging the river right wall for dear life. The Bottom Line: It is REALLY hard to tell what is going on under the water. There is a lot going on in this rapid. But one thing is for sure, there is A LOT of water going under the bottom boulder. Any ideas on a better portage option? Zip-line?

River right side of Triple Drop, 350 cfs

River left side of Triple Drop, 350 cfs.

River left sneak below Trip Drop: It looked like you could potentially run this rapid (that we previously couldn't) on river right. The river left sneak is still there.

Rapid above Aqualung: This rapid is essentially the same. There may be some potentially river wide ledges in here at higher flows at the bottom (But those ledges we ran into could also be a low water feature).

Aqualung: Essentially the same. There is a big boulders piled up on river left making it much easier to get on top of the big boulder at the bottom and thus set safety.

Boof below Aqualung: Where the sweet boof once used to be in the rapid below Aqualung, there is now a pile of rocks. This rapid is probably best run on river right the entire way down.

Maxwell House: The boof on the top right seems to be gone. The bottom drop is now a manky boulder pile. Where there once used to be a sweet flake right of center, there is now a manky rooster tail. The once fairly uniform ledge looks to be more like a pile of boulders with a flat sticky ledge at the bottom. It did not appear that the majority of the water in the creek was going over the boulders at this flow. It did look like you could probably run this one with more water.

Bottom ledge of Maxwell House, Early May 2010, at about 250 cfs

Bottom ledge of Maxwell House, 7/14/2013, at about 350 cfs

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Media Bomb

2012 had plenty of water, I might start to venture to say too much water. Some things raged nearly out of control all summer, while others would hang out of control for most of the season just to plummet to less than ideal. All in all it was a good season, that always had something to do. Between the endless water and endless light there was a lot of kayaking.

Archangel Creek this spring was a prime example of the water (and kayakers?) raging nearly out of control:

I finally made it out on the Talkeetna with Paul Forward, John Cox, and Will Lyons this summer. The Talkeetna is definitely an Alaska whitewater classic and a must do if you are in Alaska (definitely made sweeter after an epic on Bench Creek, which is NOT an AK whitewater classic). The river isn't hard, it is just plain fun; miles and miles of class III/IV wave trains.

I didn't get a lot of video in 2012 mainly because most of the new runs I did turned into a misadventures that typically consisted of crawling through the devil's club in a giant sweat bag dragging a +50lb kayak. Here's the good stuff from all of that, the B-Sides per se:

With the late fall high water a bunch of the crew headed north to run laps on Upper Willow. I'm really thankful that we were able to get out and route the run multiple times, as the major flooding that occurred in the fall of 2012 changed all of the major rapids. So in a toast to the old Upper Willow, here are a few shots of the guys on Alaska's class V gem.

Timmy lining up for one of the many unnamed rapids in the Upper Willow canyon.

Upper Willow boogie brought to you by non-other than Timmy J

Tim getting his boof face on at Tripple Drop, Upper Willow

 Henry Munter at Tripple Drop, Upper Willow, defining how to boof

Henry showing everyone how it's done...again, running the left line at Gazebo, Upper Willow

Matt Peters locked and loaded, left line at Gazebo, Upper Willow

Xavier Engle getting ready to launch the left line at Gazebo, Upper Willow

Matt in the top third of Sieve 57, Upper Willow

Henry setting up to finish off the second half of Sieve 57, Upper Willow

Xavier, Matt, and Henry all lined up blue angeled Sieve 57, probably the longest and most complex rapid in Upper Willow. This shot is looking down the second half of Sieve 57 with both Matt and Henry.

Xavier with a nice boof at Pancake on Upper Willow

Henry having as good a line as you can hope for at Maxwell House (good until the last drop), the last rapid on Upper Willow

The remaining few shots are of Bench Creek. My only words of advice on Bench Creek is, only go up there if you are really ready to fire some stuff up. There are only four rapids and they all mean business. The run is pretty remote by South Central AK standards and any injury out there could start a major epic. We had far too much water when we went in there and all of us walked everything, except for Henry, who ran one rapid. I don't think I'm every going to go back. The majority concluded that Bench Creek is not an Alaska whitewater classic.

If you get to the bridge and the channel looks like there is a good amount of water in the channel, put in there and save yourself a world of hurt!

Also, I hope you're not allergic to cow parsnip, as there is A LOT of it on the hike into Bench Creek. Henry hiding among the giant cow parsnip.

Where's waldo (aka Will Lyons)

With that 2013 is off to a raging start. Tim Johnson, Matt Peters, Tyler Dyer and I are off to New Zealand for a month. Update to come in February (maybe that will keep me honest).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Spring AK Photo Fest

A few photos from the last month of kayaking in Alaska.

Matt breaking on through to the other side at Gazebo, the first rapid on Upper Willow Creek

Matt showing pure freedom launching Triple Drop, Upper Willow Creek, on the 4th of July

SGT Peters on a little scouting mission, Aqualung, Upper Willow Creek

Matt dialing in the line on Aqualung, Upper Willow Creek

Mr. Clean styling the line on Aqualung, Upper Willow Creek

Matt enjoying the feeling of being in one of the coolest places in Alaska, Upper Willow Creek canyon

Muddy boats on the way in the the Kings River

 The mud guppy

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

AK Creek Report

Ingram Creek

There are a few things to note on Ingram Creek. First off the Upper run has a lot of wood in it as of June 17th. Be sure to take a good look at the Bowling Alley and decide if the wood in there is acceptable for you if you decide to run it. On the brighter side of things the big log jam upstream of Breach Baby is totally gone, but those trees may have hung up just down stream of The Green Room. Besides lots of wood lurking in and along the creek the speed trap hole in the slide below Gilligan's Island seems to be extra munchy this year. Either things have changed since last fall's high water events or I just haven't been in there at this high of a water level. Be sure to run the slide way river left and tuck up tight. If your lucky there may still even be some snow to hike in on.

Matt showing how easy the hike into Ingram has been this year.

Matt, aka Huckstar, firing up Grandma Falls, the very first drop on Upper Ingram.

 Timmy launching into the first drop of Ingram's Triple Drop (seriously we need to be more creative on rapid names....)

 The Huckstar showing us how its done on Moonshine

Peters Creek

Last night a few of us went out for a high water Peters Creek run and were sent scurrying away with our tails between our legs. After running Baked Alaska we were immediately confronted with trees in Zig Zag, Skateboard, and The Zit. It took us nearly two hours to make it from Baked Alaska to The Zit (probably no more than 400 meters). After running into all that wood we decided to hike out from there. Fortunately there is a nice trail along river left. If you do decide to take a trip down Peters Creek, watch out for a lot of wood! While hiking along the rim we saw another log all the way across the creek potentially between Rodeo Drive and Big Dog.

Kings River

Early in June we had a great trip down the Kings River at medium high water. It was my first trip down the Kings and I'm definitely looking forward to getting back for more and seeing what the creek is like at other flows. Medium high water was pretty fun, but it would certainly be nice to check out the creek in its classic turquoise color.

While we were on the run I dropped my paddle in the water. If by any chance anyone comes across a blue werner side kick paddle with a FILGO and Johnny Kayaker sticker please fire me a note, I would be stoked to get it back! Thanks!

Also of note on the Magic Mile. There are two trees to look out for: first there is a tree in the next major rapid after Bubble Gum, where the river turns to the right; secondly there is a tree in the river down stream of Pick Your Faith.

Archangel Creek

As the Little Su was on the rise we decided to head out to the Talkeetnas for a high water Archangel run. When the Little Su is running at 1300 cfs Archangel creek is a total flush. Close calls were had and if anyone finds a straight shaft werner sho-gun paddle on Archangel of the Little Su, fire me a note. I'm sure the owner would be stoked.

Video coming soon....

Monday, June 4, 2012

Game On

An hour and a half North of Anchorage is one of the best creeks in Alaska. Upper Willow Creek has everything; pristine clear water, a dramatic granite canyon, steep gradient (the canyon averages 250 ft/mile), lots of sieves and undercuts, gigantic boofs, and challenging rapids. For lack of a better word, Upper Willow Creek is stout.

Timmy J, Matt and I suited up on 6/2/12 for the 2012 inaugural descent of Upper Willow Creek. The creek (or should I say river) was holding steady at 800 cfs and everything was good to go. No trees as of yet, but the water is rising. However, unlike Six Mile, Upper Willow doesn't have a bunch of trees lurking along the banks.

It's June and time to get the butterflies flying in formation and send it! Game on!

Timmy puckered up and styling the mandatory Triple Drop

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Six Mile Creek, Early Season Advisory

This is Paul Schauer with the Glacial Facial Crew on Sunday, April 29th. This will serve as a general whitewater advisory issued for Six Mile Creek, this advisory applies to all three canyons of Six Mile Creek.

This will be the first and only advisory for the 2012 summer season on Six Mile Creek- 6 months of AMAZING paddling has already begun! Susitna Sled and Kayak will be hosting the second annual Willow Creek Whitewater Festival on May 26 and 27. Check out their website for more details.

There is a
 MODERATE danger in all three canyons of Six Mile due to snow bridges, snowy banks, and eddies filled with snow. Warmer temperatures and or rain should keep these concerns mostly at bay. Keep a close eye on constrictions as these have a higher chance to catch wood as the water begins to rise. In the case we have a rapid increase in the water level, there will be a CONSIDERABLE danger for strainers until it is determined if and where new wood has lodged.

Trip Kinney, Matt Peters, and Brian Graham and I made the first trip down Six Mile yesterday (4/28/12). The four of us ran first and second canyons and Trip, Matt, and I continued down third canyon. Little snow bridge activity was seen on the river yesterday. The only complete snow bridge was just below Waterfall in the first canyon. It was easily portageable on river left just upstream of the snow bridge (at 9.5’, ~750 cfs). There was one other small snow bridge blocking the sneak at Suck Hole. The boot track is set at the second and third canyon take outs, get out there and enjoy the river!

Primary Concern – New Strainers
 are our primary concern until the commercial rafting season gets going. Although we did not have any issues with wood yesterday, a small rise or drop in water level could change things. After running The Nozzle small branches were seen sticking up from under the water at the bottom of the rapid. If the river drops, be sure to scout The Nozzle. There were a lot of new dead trees lining the banks just waiting to head downstream and lodge themselves in the river. Be extra cautious as the river continues to rise and keep your eyes out for new wood. If you see anything please be sure to add your observations to the comments section below.

Secondary Concern – Snow
The secondary concern on the river in the early season is snow. There is snow lining the banks most of the way down the river. In some places it is just a sloping snow bank, but in others it is overhung, making it impossible to get out of the river at some points. Swims on the river right now could be very long and very cold. STAY IN YOUR BOAT. In some cases there is snow filling eddies you may normally catch, and your traditional stopping points my not exist until the river thaws out completely. In the next week or so (if we have nice sunny weather) the risk due to snow bridges will likely decrease. There was only one complete snow bridge across the river, just below Waterfall and it was easily avoided on river left (at 9.5’, ~750 cfs). There was one more small snow bridge blocking the sneak at Suck Hole. As of our run yesterday you had to run Suck Hole.

Other Observations
It is also worth noting that Merry-Go-Round has changed. There is no more giant boulder at Merry-Go-Round. Where there once was a giant boulder there is now a massive hole. The late season high water events last year have probably rolled the boulder. That being said, the line is still the same; drive hard left and ride the top of the curling wave off the wall and avoid a big wave/hole at the bottom left.

This concludes the first, and only, advisory of the season for Six Mile. If you see anything new on the river please submit your observations in the comments section. As the river rises be sure to check the comments section for where there might be new wood. The season is just beginning, as I make it out to other rivers this summer I may add additional advisories if there is anything new of note (wood, giant snow bridges, lost paddles, etc) in the rivers. Thanks and have a great summer!

Jon Combs seal launching into the river last year on an early season mission

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rules of Engagement

Sixmile is on the rise, boats are thawing out of the snow banks, and the stoke is high. It is nearly time to get out there and start firing it up.

While there is plenty of time this year to unleash the honey badger, now is also a good time to review essencial skills. How are your first aid/cpr skills? Do you know how to set a dislocated shoulder? Need a refresher? Is your first aid kit complete? Do you even have a first aid kit? Did you put your rope away wet at the end of the season? Is it a moldy mess indistinguishable from your nasty booties? Do you still remember how to set up a z-drag? How are your swift water rescue skills? Need to take a class?

The crew is essencial. They fire you up, provide positive energy, make you laugh, and save your ass. I've heard some really scary stories. I've been involved in scary situations. Thankfully everything has worked out, mostly because of the skills of the people involved. While you wouldn't go out in avalanche terrain with out a shovel, probe, and beacon, you shouldn't head out on the river without at the VERY least a rope. It's not for you, its for your friends. How would you like to be in this situation without a rope, staring at your friend getting thrashed (or staring at your friends not able to do anything)?

Not having a rope should dictate mandatory drain plug beers (downing a beer through the drain hole on your boat). Not having a rope with you when you get out of your boat should dictate buying a round for the crew. Shit happens, and shit happens fast on the river. While it is awesome to tap into the river's power and work with it downstream, it is also an unrelenting force. In the end, the river does not let up or care. Be ready to act, and act quick.

I came across a few things this winter that are great to mull over while we are waiting to get back on the water. Jeff West has a great article on the Jackson Kayak Blog "The Subtleties of Safety" with a bunch of great points to think about before heading out.

On my way back from Chile, sitting in the Houston airport, Tyler shared these words of wisdom with me. We were reeling from just getting back in the states and trying to comprehend what we were wrapping up; all the sites we saw, what people were willing to throw down on, what we ran, and the portages that were nagging us. These words by Pat Keller put everything into perspective for me:

"Fellow huckers! Allow me a moment to speak to you on a crucial point of the code. The level of excitement out there is so proud to see, so proud. That being said, with this excitement we must stay within our own boundaries and our own skill level. Now hang on, I'm not sitting here and preaching that you shouldn't do dumb things. I know I often go there, and probably many of my actions are inspiring y'all in yours. Thats awesome. I learned much from watching Tao, Tommy, Clay, BJ, Andrew (even Travis Rice recently) and many other shredders. Watching them over and over. Thats great. Its a big part of how we learn. But know that it is plenty ok to take you're time, taking baby steps, to ensure that you've got that line - and that you'll stick it on the first try. Growing up, my dad would show me a cool new slot or boof rock and tell me to try it. Those around me wouldn't let me step it up until I was ready to take that step. And I thank them for that. My parents also got me into years of slalom training. Hard moves on easy whitewater. That is the path. If you dial in everything you can where the consequences are likely to be small and you WILL succeed in the harder stuff. If you think, "It'll be ok - I'll probably make it" - you set yourself up for a possible fail that could put your life (an especially those around you) in grave danger. See the line, the alternate plans, know it. Know them. If you KNOW, then set safety and go. If even just one aspect is troubling you, walk. No shame in saving it for another day. Again, I'm not suggesting that you don't get out there and push. PUSH ON! It is in our nature and it is the ultimate search. But stay safe, surround yourself with people that you are certain know whats up, and listen to your gut. We don't have to fire just because its there, just cause its running on this particular day. Thats the great thing about our rivers. They stay. They wait patiently for us to be ready. When we are, they give us the most delightful sensations ever. If we are not, they can be the most unkind, unforgiving realms we can possibly enter. We all must respect these realms and tread lightly in them. Practice practice practice and wait for an invitation to step it up. Don't try that big leap that is so tempting. Nail and dial all the little steps along the way. Rivers teach us patience. We have to wait for the right time to try and roll - or it won't work. The same goes for new hard runs, new hard rapids. Visualize and practice, practice and visualize. Also, bring you're rope. Have it in hand. Always. It is our sword, our sniper rifle. Set that cover fire and don't let you're fellow soldiers rush into a trap - even those that may be self induced. Stay safe out there, have fun and style those good lines. Share this around if you agree with these points. Lets get river respect back on top of our priorities. Cheers to all, see you in the next eddy."

Its going to be a good year! See you on the water.