Thursday, December 28, 2006

Creeking Technique: the STOMP

Watch Stomp Video

Hey Folks,

Just checking in from the mountains of North Carolina, where I've just had a month of incredible creekboating on the Green River, the Raven's Fork, the Toxaway, and the Horsepasture. I'm super pumped about being in my Magnum right now, so I thought I'd share with you an important technique that all creekboaters should have in their repertoire, the stomp.

This technique is very useful for drops under 25 feet that you don't want to pencil, but may be painful to boof. It also provides a way to correct from a big auto-boof off the lip, or to get a bit of angle so that your boat scoops forward out of a big hole, rather than backendering. It also looks way cool!

A little bit big to boof, too shallow to plug... a prime candidate for el stompo.

So without further ado here's how you do the stomp:

1) Approach the lip with a reasonable amount of speed, and confidence that you're going to be able to finish your boof stroke and be in control.

2) Take your boof stroke, but remain in a neutral position, don't thrust your hips forward, moving your body back, or pull your knees to your chest, moving your body forward. Just stay relaxed and neutral.

3) Once completely disconnected from the lip and in control, jump forward and punch out with one or both hands on your paddle.

4) Without losing a beat, focus on kicking your heels away from your body, and returning to that neutral position you started with.

5) Land with the paddle blade forward that you want to take your next stroke with.

Pat stomping Frenchy's 40 on Big Kimshew...

This is an awesome technique for when you want to save your back, and I've used it in emergency situations on drops up to 50 feet. On drops that big however, it's way better to roll the boat over with the water, and tuck from a neutral to a forward position more slowly.

Anyways, good lines out there everyone.

Stomp Video(19 mb)

-Chris Gragtmans

**All shots by Max Kniewasser, thanks bud, you da man!**

Team Riot in the Green Race!

Watch Green Training Headcam.

Well here we are again, in Green Race season... This is a pretty incredible time of year as almost a hundred people hit the Green hard, training for the perfect run on race day. I'm always amazed by how many new faces and young boaters are coming out every year to race for their first time. It's very cool to see people stepping up and racing what many(myself included) consider to be the most challenging extreme race in kayaking, and this event is only getting bigger and more competitive!

Here's a couple of pics of myself and some fellow Riot paddlers charging on the Green in preparation for this event:

Nathan Silsbee is a member of the Riot team, and has been paddling with Spencer and I quite a bit this year. He looks scrawny but can kind of keep up once in a while...

Here's Nate-dog charging at the Gorilla.

Just kidding, Nathan's actually an awesome all-around paddler and it's been a pleasure paddling with him and especially introducing him to the Raven's Fork this year(more about that later).

Cooper Lambla is a recent member to the Riot team, and I'm sure he'll rip it up in the race this year. Last year he killed it getting somewhere in the 5:30 range in his time trials and winning the short boat head to head. Here's Coop sticking Sunshine rapid.

Dave Finney is another Riot paddler who will be in the line-up at the Green Race... word is those boys have been training hard up there in Blacksburg, so Dave should definitely be a contender in the short boat class... not sure if he's going to race long boat or not. Check out this link to a picture of Dave doing everything in his power to finish the Russell Fork Race... that is dedication!

I have the luxury of the Green as my home river, so I've been working hard to have fast times this year. I plan on competing in both long boat and short boat classes this year, and hope to defend my title as Green Race Ironman.

Here's me coming out of Sunshine in my Magnum.

And asking for some help in the Gorilla in last year's race...

Spencer Cooke is kind of the Riot team captain here in the Southeast, and has done a tonne of cool stuff this year with Riot boats. He is also an extremely powerful athlete, and often comes off of the couch to beat my ass in competitions! I would include Spencer as a top contender in any extreme race, and this is no exception... He is also a new father so it is still to be seen if he will make it this year, but regardless Spence is the man and I hope we will have him out there on the starting line on Saturday!

On another note, the Riot Magnum should prove to be a real contender in this event... In spite of it's comparatively short length of 7'11", it's surprisingly fast through the flatwater, and the edges in the stern and large-volume bow make the boat skip out of the rapids and carve while on a plane.

Watch Green Training Headcam.

Alright, well that's all I've got folks, hope to see you on the banks of that beautiful river this weekend, send us some good vibes from shore because we are all going to be very scared coming through those rapids.

Good Lines!
Chris Gragtmans

Canada's got the goods...

Greetings fellow whitewater enthusiasts!

I'm back in Asheville after what has so far been the best year of paddling of my whole life. Just thought I'd share a couple of pics from my favourite wave, High Tension on the Upper Gatineau. Click on the picture for a larger version.

I don't know how it could be more perfect...

I got to spend a total of six days at High Tension this year... which is kind of unheard of in the summer, and was brought about by some very large storms in the watershed. My friends and I decided to do a playboating overnighter in order to avoid the crowds, so we each hauled in like 50 pounds of crap through some pretty big water to make it to the wave. It was all worth it after our first session; I can't really imagine a cooler place to fall asleep.

Paradise Island.

Kelsey Thompson can make a very good fire!

And on to the paddling... This wave is unique because of its glassy face and uniform shoulder that helps you launch pretty much anything you want! It was awesome getting back in my Astro; it's the best boat that I've ever paddled at just sticking past vert, tweaked out tricks every time. I kept on thinking that I was just going to slam into the green water and flush under the pile while landing big tricks, but the boat would just land flat on the green water and plane sideways without even touching the pile. Very cool feeling...

Panam in the Astro.

The thing just launches...

Helix out in the green.

Here's a cool pic of my friend Ed Smith from Scotland going huge on Garb. Ed is one of the best wave paddlers I've ever boated with, and along with Ben Marr, I think there are going to be some serious dark horses in this World Cup. Good luck boys!

**All pics by Jon Best.**

Anyways, school's started again so I guess it's back to the real world... I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some Toxaway/Raven's/200% Green sometime soon!

Good lines.
-Chris Gragtmans


Download California/Colorado video HERE (12 MB).
Download South Silver headcam HERE (22 MB).

Hey Everyone,

Just checking in from the banks of the Black River near Watertown, New York. Last week wrapped up a sick one month trip to the great state of California, and it being my first time out there, I certainly wasn't dissapointed...

Check out some previous posts from this trip on the
Level Six Blog.

Anyways, during the last week of our trip, Max Kniewasser, Pat Keller and I were super stoked to get on the Royal Gorge of the North Fork of the American. Justin Patt and family were gracious enough to let us crash at their house near the putin, and we woke up excited and feeling good. Unfortunately it was not meant to be, and the Royal Gorge had dropped over 150 cfs overnight to a super bony level. It was a bummer for sure, but the river will always be there, and I don’t plan on making that my last trip to Cali…

So the plans quickly shifted to a South Silver session for a couple days and then some backpacking in Yosemite. South Silver is an ultra-classic one mile run between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, and it is incredible. It’s definitely one of the steepest creeks I’ve ever run at over 700 fpm, but surprisingly doable for that amount of gradient and not especially scary or dangerous… just good clean fun!

Max hiking up for more action on South Silver.

Because of the ridiculous amount of snowpack this year in California, and the recent boiling temperatures in the Sacramento area, South Silver was at a pretty pushy level, which I was told was really high, but seemed awesome for that run. As you can imagine from a gradient like that, the run is nothing but action from the beginning and the sickest section of river comes about halfway through the run, where the river drops 100+ feet over a series of beautiful teacup boofs, and then a stomping big rapid called Skyscraper.

Max charging on Teacup #2.

Dropping into the first tier of Skyscraper.

Lane Jacobs launching out of the first tier of Skyscraper.

Max dropping into the second tier of Skyscraper above the portage.

Pat stomping that shit.

So one of the more tense moments on the South Silver at this level is the hole above a rapid called Plastic Surgery. It’s a symmetrical hole at the bottom of a slide, and backed up by a wall on both sides, 2 drops above a pretty manky 30 foot or so drop. A surf there would be horrible, and for me it was probably the most stressful drop on the run.

Dropping into Plastic Surgery after clearing the two entrance holes.

Fun boogie down to the take-out.

Anyways, South Silver treated us well for the couple of days that we were there, and I was able to shoot a headcam run of Max's and my second run down. Our trip ended with a visit to Yosemite National Park, one of the most ridiculously beautiful places ever, in spite of the crowds of people there. We were able to get off of the beaten path in the north end of the park and go on a cool little backpacking adventure, so it was a fitting end to an incredible trip.

Max on top of a 10,000 foot dome enjoying the experience.

Download California/Colorado video HERE (12 MB). (Features Big Kimshew, Dry Meadow, Upper East, Middle Thule, and others)

Download South Silver headcam HERE (22 MB).

Good lines everyone.
-Chris Gragtmans

Quebec Creeking: part deux.

Hey sports fans, just checking in from the great white north, or the province of Quebec more specifically. I love coming back to Canada every summer, and the past three weeks have not disappointed, its been sick around here.

Max enjoying the hospitality!

Unfortunately I was not able to get up in time for the infamous BusEater wave on the Ottawa River, High Tension on the Gatineau, and other classic big water play, Spencer and I were neck deep in editing for our new video, Enter the Donkey… however, my friends Benny Marr and Max Kniewasser showed me some of their footage from these waves, and trust me they’re destroying it, check out LVM #19 for a look into the future of aireal playboating!

Anyways… Many people don’t know this, but Quebec is actually a completely untapped creeking mecca. The Laurentian Mountains offer plenty of gradient, and with the nonstop rain and the recent snow melt everything was going off. In addition to Max, Ben and myself, we were joined by a fellow Riot Team member, Adam Johnson. Adam’s never been anywhere in Canada but Lachines and the Ottawa, so it was cool to show him around to some really incredible creekboating.

So this week started off rather inauspiciously. We all woke up at Max’s house on Monday and Max and I did a “stealth” mission on a large waterfall in downtown Ottawa called Rideau Falls. It’s an awesome drop, somewhere around 30-40 ft. of freefall or so, really tough to judge. It’s got an 8 foot lead in drop into a slide and then off the big drop, and the horizon line is pretty scary at the top! Anyways, long story short, it would be a fun 45-60 degree landing, but I’ve been jonesing to practice my big waterfall technique whenever I can, so I tried to land completely vertical.

Max rolling off Rideau.

When I landed, my left blade caught the pool and pulled out of my tuck and slammed the shaft squarely into my face. I popped up at the bottom and realized I had a sizeable cut in my nose, and after Max came off and stuck the landing at like 60 degrees we agreed I needed some stitches. Dammit! I tend to overanalyze my paddling and it bugs me for a long time when I make mistakes, so going to the hospital was just adding insult to injury. Anyways, I got stitched up and took a couple days off while Adam and Max did some cool runs that I’m sure he’ll update on soon.

This weekend we headed out to Quebec City to beta that everything was at a perfect level. After a fun but bony run on the Talayarde on Friday, we showed up at the Basse Cachee Race on Saturday. This creek is absolutely incredible and Dominic Chaput and Dominic Lavallee were cool enough to put their time into organizing an event here. For those of you from the Southeast, think Big Creek meets Horsepasture, and roadside! Anyways, the river was at a high flow, and we immediately heard a bunch of practice run horror stories from Steve Fischer, Tyler Curtis and Shannon Carroll about their first run… Fischer pitoned and front flipped, Tyler surfed and almost swam, and Shannon fell on her head on a rock! When those three paddlers are getting worked, I gotta say anyone should be nervous! So since the race is a team event, Max and I decided to race together in our Magnums, and put on for a couple practice runs. The level was incredible! We all had smooth lines through the 2 km or so of class IV-V whitewater and rarely had time to duck into an eddy… it was definitely seat of the pants pray that you’re going to skip over that ledge hole style creeking.

So things got underway quickly and 6 teams got ready to race at five minute intervals. Fischer and Tyler lined up and went first, followed by David Laroche and friend, Dom and Dom, and Shannon and Vincent. Max and I were last to take off, and we had a sweet run until the big double drop rapid, where I plugged a big hole and took a sharp hit on the eyebrow with my paddle. Not super painful and I resurfaced thinking that better not have broken the skin. Well as it turned out, it did, and after finishing the race with a decent time, I had yet another cut on my face, from a rapid that I generally wouldn’t be too concerned about. Pretty humbling for sure… more stitches and this time without the advantage of the English language! Through my hand gestures and Max’s goofy German accented French I was able to tell the people at the hospital what had happened and how to charge it to my Ontario health card, even though I live in the United States.

So, to recap the Quebec experience, we collectively paddled a half dozen or so incredible new runs, put around 2500 kilometres on our cars, paddled and placed 3rd in one of the best extreme races I’ve ever done, got seven stitches, and almost got a whole lot more when Max and I nearly got into a huge bar fight with the locals in St. Raymond! Not a bad pseudo-international experience if I do say so myself…

Catch you clowns next time, hope you enjoy the video, California here I come!

Download Quebec Creeking video HERE (17 MB)
*Some foul language from Max, the crazy German.*

Chris Gragtmans (aka FRANKENSTEIN)

Tallulah River and the phantom water drop...

Hey Folks,

This past weekend I got the chance to paddle with my buddy Coop and a bunch of other cool people riding around in Sanders' newly acquired "Huckabego" RV... We had sweet runs on the Cheoah on Saturday and then on Tallulah Sunday; thanks for all the food and shuttles boys!

Anyways, a bunch of my other friends were out at Tallulah, so we shot some cool video of Oceana and some POV headcam footage through the rest of the river. I am constantly amazed at how many people are running Oceana... it's a super dangerous rapid(especially the left line), and deserves some serious respect.

The headcam footage includes most significant rapids of the Tallulah, but unfortunately my lense is not shedding water as effectively, so there's a big fat drop right in the middle of the frame for alot of the rapids below oceana... Sorry about that, I'm gonna hit it with some rain-x today.

Hope you enjoy.

Download Tallulah Video HERE (22 mb)

Chris Gragtmans

Nile Report # 5 Million

Greetings sports fans,

Well, I'm getting my life back together after a one and a half month trip to deepest darkest Africa. I tagged along with a couple of good friends from Canada and was able to experience the White Nile for the first time!

I'll keep this brief since there have already been hundreds of other posts about the White Nile... All's I have to say is that this trip has truly been a perspective shifting one for me in learning to appreciate just how fortunate I am. In spite of the miniscule amount of money that the people of Uganda live on, their attitudes are some of the best that I have ever seen. They walk for miles in the blazing sun for only marginally clean water, and in many cases are malnourished and not properly sheltered from malaria and other diseases. Yet they're extremely happy and welcoming. I think we all can learn a lesson from them, and I know I will think twice before complaining about any of my petty first world problems. (Dismount soapbox)

On to the boating... The water was a bit low, but we were still able to access Nile Special via a ski rope that Billy, Dave and some others built, and which we all pitched in for. It's still an awesome wave that gives up bow clearing aireals if you're patient.

Another highlight of the trip was certainly running the big rapids of the Nile. It's a much different beast than trying to stick
hard lines on a low volume creek, and it's certainly great practice for keeping your cool in big boils and holes. I'd have to say that Itanda scared the crap out of me when I ran it for the first time, especially since Ben Marr, Ed Smith and I didn't have a guide to show us down. The rapid is about a half a kilometre of sprinting back and forth to avoid some gigantic holes.

Cool, well I hope you enjoy the vid, there will be a full Uganda section on the new video, Enter the Donkey, by Effort Inc. Should be pretty good in spite of the name! ;)

Dave says: you stay classy San Diego!

Download White Nile vid Shaklacky! (22 MB)

See you on a river in the Southeast...

Toxaway and Big Creek update...

Download Toxaway Headcam Here(44 mb)
Download Big Creek Headcam Here(25 mb)

Well, this has been one of the more fun/eventful weeks for me. I missed out on a great deal of paddling last semester because my full days of class always seemed to correspond with the heavy days of rain. Everything always ran on Wednesday! I don't understand exactly how this works, but I have read that the smog in our atmosphere from the workweek actually does have an effect on the "schedule" of precipitation. For some reason, the weekend is the least likely time for rain to occur, because there is not nearly the same amount of hydrocarbons entering the atmosphere from industry. I also think that this is exacerbated by the fact that Asheville is in a thermal inversion area, in which the mountains trap polluted air from the nearby industrial centers of Knoxville, Oak Hill, and other Tennessee cities. Quite unfortunate considering the fact that many residents of Asheville really care about the environment. Anyways this is just my interpretation, I'm not sure if it's accurate, but I digress...

I am now free from school for a semester, so I have the luxury of a fairly flexible paddling schedule. This past week was a great one to have no commitments! I didn't realize until Tuesday night that we had a gigantic front coming in from the east, and there were going to be plenty of options for where to go paddling. At the very top of my list was the Toxaway River near Brevard. Spencer and Josh Bruckner took me down this river for my first time, and after running it I was convinced that it was the best day of my entire life! I've run it five times since then, and each time could be described in a very similar way. It is my favourite place to be in a creekboat.

Pat Keller was nice enough to allow me to crash at his house Tuesday night, and we started narrowing down our options for paddling the next day. After waking up to snow flurries outside, Pat headed off to an early class, and Toby McDermott and I started our rigorous waterfall preparation, sitting in Pat's new hot tub! After some breakfast and rechecking of gauges, we decided to head in the direction of Toxaway, and if it was too high, to run the Whitewater. Upon arriving at the put in around noon, the day had warmed up considerably, the sun was out, and the river was at an absolutely perfect level. We were all amped. John Grace and Jason Hale joined us at this point, and everyone was super pumped to get back on this bedrock playground.

I've kind of been getting back into the groove of things since a very scary experience on the Chattooga on Christmas Eve. I was pumped to get on Toxaway, but admittedly pretty nervous because it's a very demanding river with some huge consequential drops on it. I made a dumb mistake on the third rapid of the run, a 15 footer, and took a pretty hard glancing piton at the bottom. Lesson learned on that one, and I tried to get super aggressive after that and get rid of the uneasiness and timidity that a bad experience like my Chattooga pin will give you. The rest of the day was filled with nothing but good lines, a couple backwards ones on Energizer and Landbridge(!), and a tonne of fun being out there with the boys. I have nothing but respect for each of these guys, and it was really cool to have the opportunity to paddle with them on such a great creek. They are a very safe and solid crew.

The 3.5 mile hike out at the end is always painful, but only adds to the expedition style experience of that river. I always end up daydreaming about the rapids that I have just run anyways, and it seems to go by fast. Another incredible day on my favourite creek!

Toxaway Headcam(44 mb)

The next day I was kind of looking for a non-stressful natural flow day of paddling. My friend Chris Schell called me that morning and said that Big Creek was running at a perfect level. I was super pumped about that, because I've only run this creek 3 times, and it really is an awesome place to practice boat control skills without being in a great deal of danger.

We arrived at the put-in and started the hike up the creek(pretty painful after my previous day's hike out of the Toxaway), and before long Mr. Chris Harjes came running up the trail after us. This guy is a ball of energy if I've ever seen one! We hiked the rest of the way up to Superman with Chris, about a half mile above the bridge, and put on.

The day was going super great until Action Alley. I ran the first four drops direct, and caught the eddy below the rapid to wait for Chris and Chris. I saw a red boat come out of the foam in the third, horseshoe shaped drop, and fall over the last one full of water, and soon thereafter Harjes swam off of it too. I was bummed to see my buddy swimming, but I wasn't too concerned and started ferrying into the flow to drag him back into the eddy. When I saw the look on his face though, I realized things were more serious than a little swim. His right shoulder was out of socket, and Schell and I got set up to try and help him get it back in.

I couldn't believe how tough he was about it. I had an idea before this of how to relocate a shoulder, but Harjes is a nurse in Asheville, and knows exactly whats up when it comes to this type of thing. In between winces of pain, he was giving us directions on which way to rotate the shoulder and how hard to pull on his arm to try and get it back in! I couldn't believe he could keep his composure. Anyways, Chris and I rotated off between keeping Harjes static and trying to pop his shoulder back in for about 20 minutes. That thing was not cooperating!

We finally decided it was time to seek outside help, and after roping Harjes across the river, we started blazing downstream to try and get back to the car before he could hike the trail back. Thanks to Glen Theiling for helping with getting him out of there too! Long story short... his shoulder was out for probably 4 hours total, and they finally popped that thing back in at Asheville Mission hospital with him on strong sedative drugs, and with three people holding him down and one huge doctor pulling on his arm! It's a majour bummer that Chris won't be out paddling with us soon, but he's got an awesome, super positive attitude, and I'm sure he'll kill it with Physio and be back out there soon. Good luck Harjes!

Big Creek Headcam(25 mb)

Anyways, I used my headcam both days and got some pretty cool footage. Some of the Toxaway audio is choppy because my CD was scratched, but that song was too good not to use!

Hope you all enjoy, I'm off to Africa on Wednesday for a month and a half!

Chris Gragtmans

Also, thank you so much to all of my sponsors for allowing me to live the lifestyle that I do; it would not be possible without you! Please visit their sites and check out their products:

Riot Kayaks
Level Six
Fortress Watches
Shred Ready
H2O Audio
Keen Footwear
Plug-It Noseplugs

Green Headcam...

Hello everyone,

Well, I've recently acquired something that I've wanted for the past couple of years... my own headcam! Since I started editting videos recreationally, I've always thought it would be incredible to have shots from the paddler's point of view, and be able to show the viewer that ominous horizon line that is always in our subconscious, and the view that we recieve when we paddle off of it!

I went out for an after-class paddle on the Green Narrows recently with my friend Scott Harcke. Scott is a young local boy(19 i think), that has been ripping it up on all the Southeastern creeks for the past couple of years. Scott was a competitor in the Green Narrows 275% extreme race last year (1 of only 8 people), the most extreme kayaking event that I think both of us have ever done, and arguably the most core whitewater race that has ever been held.

Anyways, this footage was taken at a base 100% level on the Green, and the video includes all of the majour rapids, top to bottom. I tried to edit as little as possible, so that those who have never paddled the Green can see how the rapids link up. Sorry about the subsequent large file sizes. The Magnum is sick out there! It stays on the surface really well, and basically just takes care of me at all times. It is significantly shorter than Scott's Nomad 8.5 (by six inches) but seems just as fast.

I'm pumped about having this new camera, and I'll get some other footage up as soon as I can get out there and paddle the rivers... Toxaway, Triple Falls, Horsepasture, and high water Green are on the list for sure.

See you out there!

-Chris Gragtmans

Monster Mile headcam (28 mb)

Lower Narrows headcam (18mb)

November Rain...

Download Elk Falls Video (6 mb)

Well, the Southeast finally got some rain! 3-5 inches in the Western North Carolina area put every single creek that you could possibly want to run at a high or blown out level. Toxaway was too high, Ravens Fork was running, and the West Prong was juicin! Our sights today were set on a different creek however, in the Boone area. I have done the Elk River once before, and I remember it being a super quality run, with good class 4-5 and two absolutely incredible waterfalls, one 35 feet tall, and the big one somewhere around 50 feet tall.

In spite of the fact that everyone that I called said that this river was too high, Adam Herzog, local guru, was pumped on doing the run, and willing to see what happens. Oh yeah, did I mention that last time I ran the Elk the indicator gauge(Watauga) was at 1200? Today it is at 6500! Anyways, Zog took me down this run last time as well, and is a very safe, very solid paddler to follow down the river. Also joining us on this adventure is Spencer Cooke, who in spite of being a gnome, is the man in a kayak, and behind a camera(thats the only reason I hang out with him anyways!).

The crew during the shuttle.

The highlight for me over anything else on the last run was the 50 footer at the put in. You literally put in, paddle through a bit of class 2, and if you want to, run a very large waterfall! I broke my paddle with the huge impact last time, but otherwise it was a clean run. I had heard that the two pockets on each side of the curtain get really horrible at high water, so I was not expecting to get to run the drop today, but theres always a chance...

Upon arriving at the put-in, the river was a nerve wracking site. Standing waves and deep boily water mached past where there was a small shallow slide last time. The Elk appeared to be running somewhere in the vicinity of 1000-2000 cfs. Very hard to gauge though. Paddling up to the drop to scout, I could not believe how much more of the lip was underwater than last time. That is a horrifying horizon line if Ive ever seen one! We hopped out to look at the drop, and although it was super intimidating, it certainly looked doable. A quick scout from the bottom revealed the hazards of the drop. The two pockets on each side of the waterfall had big boils backing them up, and were recirculating very powerfully back into the waterfall. The left pocket went behind the curtain, a very scary thing to look at. Spence and Zog opted out, but I was feeling pretty good about it, and walked back for another look from up top.

My heart was in my throat looking at the falls from the top, but I felt confident in my ability to stick the line, and privileged to be given this opportunity at such a high flow. We had decided that because of the massive amount of aeration at the bottom, and the fact that ending up in either of the pockets would be absolutely horrible, I should land the drop at a 45 degree angle rather than the preferable 80 degrees for a drop of that size. I got in my boat, did my warm-up, and everything was great cruising up to the lip until a big log popped out of a boil right next to me! I did not at all want to be falling with that thing beside me, so I turned around and took about 8 or 10 hard strokes upstream to separate myself from it. I was still moving downstream towards the drop however, and turned around just in time to line up with my curler and watch the world open up in front of me...

Big waterfalls are an entirely different experience than any other aspect of kayaking because of the self control that is needed to successfully run them. Every single instinct that you have as a kayaker is telling you to paddle like hell and charge the lip. The key, however, is slowing down to the speed of the water, and not disconnecting from it, but sticking to the angle of water with your boat as you go off. The last stroke is the most important part, and should be held fairly vertically and given only slight pressure until about halfway down the drop, to stabilize the angle. My last stroke on Elk Falls was a righty, and I got just a little bit too gung-ho with it, pulling myself a bit too flat before tucking up on the way down. I felt myself engulfed in the vail after a long, long fall, and landed at about 40 degrees. This angle made my boat arc up very quickly, and my head took a pretty big hit on my cockpit rim through the sprayskirt. I planted my left blade coming out of the tuck to charge for my life if I saw myself being sucked into one of the pockets, but I was safely in the main flow and at the bottom of an incredible waterfall!

The drop was an awesome experience, but did take a ding out of my eyebrow. An important thing to remember about hard whitewater is that it is not by any means an individual activity. Spencer and Adam were there for me to offer the safety and support that they could if something were to go wrong. It is important for everyone to take into account that when you run a big drop, your mistake is not only your own problem, but could lead to friends putting themselves in danger coming after you. Short of this, noone wants to ruin their day to hike another paddler out of a gorge and take them to the hospital because of a dumb decision. Be safe out there.

Anyways, in spite of the cut in my eyebrow, we decided to continue on with our adventure. After running the first drop of the gorge and subbing out through a monster hole, Adam matter-of-factly told us that this was way higher than he, or most likely anyone else has every paddled the river. The whitewater was a combination of class 5 steep creeking and Zambezi style drops. Pretty nerve racking! The drops linked up like crazy, and we needed to scout a number of them to make sure they were still good to go. After getting out of the main flow and catching an eddy just above the inescapable lead-in drops to Twisting Falls, we were faced with a couple of options to proceed. We went ahead without boats, and quickly decided that the normally-run mini gorge after Twisting Falls was not an option. Some of the ugliest keeper hydraulics ever, and the fact that the running 35 footer would probably mean getting sucked behind the curtain, made us decide to go high and portage the set. The 45 minute portage was brutal and very scary for a person as afraid of heights as I am, but we made it, and paddled the class 3 boogie to the car with an extreme sense of relief that she let us pass unscathed.

The aftermath: two stitches on the forehead. Things happen off of big drops, even with a good line.

Anyways, I hope that everyone else got on some good whitewater with the rain. See you on the river!

-Chris Gragtmans

Download Elk Falls video HERE.

All photos and video taken by Spencer Cooke, Effort Inc. Thanks for being there man!

**Check out the money shot of this sequence in the Spring issue of Paddler/Kayak Magazine.**