Monday, February 25, 2008

Random Wintertime Musings...

Whats up everyone!

So with some good water hitting the southeastern US over the past month, I've been getting pretty fired up about kayaking again, and I figured I'd do some rambling on the ole' blog.

To start things off, I'd like to mention a new video that was produced by one of my best buds, Spencer Cooke. The video is called Night of the Living Donkey, and it features a number of whitewater athletes doing their thing on various different rivers around the world. I was psyched to contribute some footage to the project, and then just sit back and watch what Spencer came up with for the final result. Needless to say, it's a really entertaining video, and there is some very sick creeking, playboating, and surf kayaking in it.

Check out the trailer or order NoTLD here...

Something else of note for 2008 is the fact that there will be another mustache growing contest... Immersion Research is the title sponsor for the event, and the winning prize is a drysuit, not too shabby a reward for making a fool of yourself!

Anyways, moving on... I took a trip to Mexico with a couple of friends from both the East and West Coast of the US back around New Years, and upon returning from that trip, things were looking up in the southeast. There is a grassroots head to head race on the Chattooga River every year, and I rode down with Chris Gallaway and Daniel Windham this January to line up with about 10 people and sprint down that ultraclassic stretch of whitewater from Woodall to Soc-em-Dog.

Adam Herzog powering out of the Soc-em-Dog hole to finish the race. Our times were in the 27 minute range this year, and I was pretty close to puking while taking this shot.

Daniel Windham boofing off Soc-em-Dog.

The Chattooga is a dangerous place, be careful out there.

A week or so later we got some good rain, and after getting shut down on the Toxaway, myself, Brad Kee, Rob Tompkins, Chan Jones, and Chris Gallaway ran the Horsepasture at a perfect flow.

Paparazzi on the Horsepasture.

Chris and Brad sticking it.

400 foot Windy Falls dropping off the face of the earth... such a beautiful spot.

Chris Gallaway is currently working on a video short of that day, so I'm not gonna share too many images. Check out Chris's documentary video from 2007, The Green Race Movie. Chris won the Professional Documentary and Best of Show awards at the NPFF this year for that vid, congrats bud!

So I also figured that I'd dig up an old post that I put up on Boatertalk a while back in response to Brian Miller questioning if he was ready to run the Toxaway, Raven Fork, or Linville Rivers, three steep, challenging creeks in North Carolina. I figured it might be worth putting on my blog. Here's the post:

"Hey Brian,

Well, first of all, let me say that I know that you are capable of paddling all of those rivers safely, and I'd be glad to take you down them anytime.

So for anyone else who may be interested, it's none of my business who paddles these rivers. It's your personal decision to put on any river, and everyone has a different perception of what it takes to be "ready." For me personally, I prefer to overprepare for hard whitewater, because let's face it, the consequences of messing up are not losing a game or taking a hit to your ego like other sports... we are all aware that class 5 rivers can kill us. So I know that you can get down these rivers without putting in nearly as much time; the following is just what works for me, because I love the feeling of sticking a hard river, and knowing I've still got reserve energy at the takeout.

I like Clay's comments about "on-siting" rivers. It's totally true that we are not necessarily capable of paddling rapids as big as the biggest ones on our local runs in foreign territory... Familiarity breeds complacency, and I am sure that if Gorilla was on any other natural flow river, it wouldn't get run nearly as much. Both Toxaway and Raven Fork require you to run rapids that are as big or bigger, and you can't spend an hour scouting each one, and watch ten people go first, like on Gorilla.(keep in mind I am talking about RUNNING these rivers... if it's your thing to drop into huge rivers, and walk all of the rapids, that's your choice, I just don't see a point in this) So in preparation for the Toxaway and Raven's, I would advise that you be mentally capable, have the fitness required, and have the paddling skills required. If any of these are missing, it's going to be a long day. Here's how I think of it:

Mental Skills... The simple fact of the matter is, adrenaline wears you out. It gives you short lived bursts of incredible energy and excitement, but during a long day of class 5, the adrenaline spikes will beat you down and cause your mind to slow down. Ever hear Tommy Hilleke talk about the thousand yard stare? That's what he's talking about... So in that respect paddling the Raven Fork, Toxaway, or Linville(or on the extreme edge of the scale, Middle Kings, or Stikine, or Tsangpo) will be mental overload if you're not accustomed to dealing with more than just one or two runs on the Green River. Basically for this I would suggest thinking about how you feel after getting off a class 5 creek. If you get off the Green after a run or two and you're exhausted and spent, think about paddling and portaging for another couple of miles, and then hiking 4 miles up a ridge to get back to your car. Basically, paddling those rivers requires you to be in control of yourself, and on your paddling game for extended periods of time. This takes practice, and all of us eventually get exhausted and hit a mental wall, you just have to know at what point that will happen for you personally, and if the river that you are going to do is realistic considering that.

Paddling Skills... There are hard moves on those rivers, and you need to be able to stick them every time. I like to put myself in hypothetical situations on rivers that I know are not too dangerous, and test myself... ie tell yourself "make that eddy, or you flush into a sieve", or stick that boof with a fader right stroke, and then carve over to river right and stick that other boof into an eddy. If you don't make it, think about why you didn't make it and what you will do differently next time. When you screw up big rapids, don't just laugh it off and think that it's no big deal! Obviously not everything about a river can be in our control, but we should strive for perfection with lines that we know. Big Creek and the Green are my two favourite places to do skills training, they are both incredible for that. I would suggest learning how to run each of these rivers(or any local river for those that don't live in NC) in race mode, straight downstream and fast... as well as know how to catch every eddy in the rapids. On the Green, check out the recent issue of LVM with Tommy's top ten eddies... then go catch them! If you are running Gorilla every time(and in my opinion you should be if you want to run Toxaway or Raven Fork), practice every line. Sit in the eddy above and visualize exactly what strokes you are going to take and where you're going to be looking. Decide if you are going direct or catching the notch eddy. Try and run it with the minimal amount of strokes possible... substitute rudders to keep you on line. If you can start breaking down big rapids like that, you're definitely ready to take a look at the Toxaway and Raven's. Basically the point is just push yourself on your home rivers, at a number of different water levels, to see what you are actually capable of.

Physical fitness... I've been in situations where I'm exhausted from portaging drops, and paddling hard class 5, and even though my arms are limp, I know I need to stick another mile or so of boogie until the takeout. This is when dangerous mistakes are made. On my first run down the Toxaway when I was 17, my only carnage of the day happened in a class 4 boogie rapid after wintergreen... I was exhausted and not paying attention, and fell off the wrong side of a boof rock, directly into a log. This wouldn't have happened if I was in better shape and had the energy to stick every move on the river. These days, I incorporate Ledges attainment training sessions into my creekboating schedule, as well as something else that Pat Keller has always been into... the Green River shoulder shuttle. This is sick training for hiking out of Linville, Horsepasture, Toxaway, or for the even bigger Cali hikes. It also saves gas... and allows you to poach without needing anyone else to give you a ride. Paddle down to Sunshine, take out, hike back up to Groove Tube, and hike up the trail and out of the gorge to the road. It's about 2 miles to the road, and then leave your boat and jog 3.5 to the Gallimore parking lot. It takes almost exactly the same time as paddling out, loading up, and shuttling back. It is painful, but it gets you in shape. That's just a suggestion, other cardiovascular sports are great too, but I enjoy putting on music and grunting that shit out. Either way, the point is... be in shape.

Phew... anyways, sorry I'm getting a bit carried away. Here's what I personally think about the Toxaway and Raven's Fork preparation in a nutshell:
-Run the biggies on the Green(up to a medium to high 100%) or other rapids elsewhere of similar caliber and STICK them. Just because you're flopping down shit and making it doesn't mean you're skilled enough to run it.
-Be in shape.
-Be prepared and relaxed about running some very very big rapids. Go with someone who knows it well, and go with your gut instinct on the rapids.
**Ask your friends who know you well and who have paddled the rivers what their honest opinion is.**

You will be so stoked when you finally run these rivers, especially if you're prepared for them. Anyways, I'm no authority on these matters, this is just how I think of it and what works for me as a bit of a perfectionist, hope it helps any of you folks out there who are interested. Dismount soapbox...

Cheers, and good lines!"

The link to the full thread can be found HERE.

I don't really read Boatertalk too much, but I feel like that site can be either a great resource for us paddlers, or a venue to put others down and create drama over the smallest things. Unfortunately, most of the time that I get on there, it seems as though its the latter. But... I figured I'd dig this post back up because I put some thought into it when I wrote it, and I feel like a lot of people are thinking about making that big step up and want some added perspective into whether its a good idea. To be honest, I'm pretty surprised these days at the number of people that are crowding themselves into the Raven Fork or Toxaway. I haven't been on the scene too long, but even since I started paddling these rivers back when I was 17, things have changed alot. I truly hope running these rivers doesn't become a status symbol or some kind of peer pressure thing for people, because I've seen it happen before and have experienced it myself from time to time.

It's all good though, those places are still some of the most incredible rivers to find yourself in a kayak... and as long as we're all staying safe and maintaining access, noone has the right to judge whether others are allowed to be there.

Hiking in for a beautiful wintertime run on Raven Fork.

Credit: Rob Tompkins

Exiting Headless Horseman.

Credit: Rob Tompkins

Getting dwarfed by the top of Landbridge on the Toxaway.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

So I talked a bit about this in the aforementioned post on Boatertalk, but I've definitely been thinking about the fitness aspect of extreme kayaking recently. With Jerry's Baddle coming up, and a couple of other ambitious marathon day plans that I want to do in preparation for the California and BC summer, I've really been trying to stay motivated, eat well, and train hard.

This is the Ledges Park on the French Broad River.

The Ledges are probably responsible for more than half of my overall fitness as a paddler, and I spend a lot of time out there, especially during Green Race season.

Daniel charging upstream.

Another thing that I've really been getting a kick out of is riding a mountain bike. This is my recently acquired bike, a Trek Remedy 6 after a very muddy Bent Creek ride. I looove her.

Riding is the perfect crossover sport for paddling, because bombing downhill is a very similar sensation to kayaking, and the uphills will get them kayaking chicken legs into shape! Plus for mountain biking it needs to be dry, so it's perfect for when there's no water.

My little bro Nick going for it.

The author riding the Clemson freeride course down in South Carolina.

My roommate, Chris Schell doing his thing.

Goofy self portrait at the top of Kitsuma Ridge... such a sick trail!

I've been using my Shred Ready Phly helmet for riding. It works well as a crossover helmet for a number of sports, and even has a goggle groove thing on the back for snowboarding or skiing. Check out the Shred Ready website HERE or just click on the link in the toolbar on the right side of the blog.

As I conclude this cathartic blog post of rambling, I'm gonna go on record and say that I love Big Creek. Getting back to the whole peer pressure thing, I get made fun of almost every time I say that I'm gonna go run that creek instead of one of the sicker runs of the area, but I just don't care. It's so much fun, and every bit as challenging as any run in the Southeast when its running high. Here's a picture of the takeout at a prime level of 4 feet. Action!!

Alright, well hope everyone gets outside and enjoys some good water. I'm gonna wrap this gong show up... hope you enjoyed my ramblings!

I'll leave you with this picture of Rob Tompkins boofing the crap out of left side Sunshine in his long boat!

Chris Gragtmans

Friday, February 08, 2008

DeSoto Falls First Descent...

Whats up Everyone!

Well, I'm still in a bit of an afterglow from an incredible day of paddling in Alabama yesterday. There have been a number of waterfalls and rapids in my life that I've considered big stepping stones for myself as a whitewater kayaker, and the waterfall that I ran yesterday has kind of been the pinnacle goal for me over the past four years.

This is DeSoto Falls.

This picture has been on the desktop of my computer on and off for two years. Every time I turn on my computer to do schoolwork, edit video, or check levels this is the first thing I see, and I've literally spent hours just daydreaming and staring at this beautiful drop, and wondering about its runnability.

DeSoto at a runnable flow.

I first discovered DeSoto four years ago, while on one of my obsessive Google image searches for waterfalls. I researched it online pretty thoroughly for a while, and Spencer Cooke and I finally went to look at it three years ago after the North Alabama Whitewater Fest down near Birmingham. It wasn't running, but it was sick to just stand at the lip and think about the possibilities. Since then I've been in touch with Adam Goshorn, who is fortunate enough to live 5 minutes from the drop... and I've kept a pretty close eye on the gauge for the West Fork of the Little River, hoping to some day time it at the perfect flow of 300-600 cfs.

The past week has been a good one in the Southeast, Saturday was a sick day out on the Raven's Fork of the Oconaluftee, and after a morning run of the Green on Wednesday, and an intense afternoon run of Big Creek at 4 ft., I realized that I was paddling as well as I ever have, and with the West Fork gauge at 1100 cfs, well above floodstage, the stars might just be aligning for that incredible waterfall.

Raven's Fork... such a beautiful place to find yourself in a kayak.

Credit: Clayton Gaar

One of my favourite people to train with, Daniel Windham, and myself in Caveman.

Credit: Rob Tompkins

So early Thursday morning Chris Gallaway and I loaded up my Subie with our sights set on Alabama. After a 4.5 hour drive that seemed to last an eternity we rolled into the DeSoto Falls parking lot, and immediately saw a wall of brown water rolling off the big dam upstream of the first drop of the monster. Adam Goshorn took work off and met us up there, and after about 40 minutes of scouting and discussing with the boys, I decided that I was ready to get into the flow and paddle off it. Adam was very cool to hike all the way around and down to set safety for the drop... cheers man! Can't thank you enough.

So this drop has always appealed to me/scared the shit out of me because of the commitment of running a 15 to 20 foot drop directly above the 70-80 foot main waterfall. I chose to run the top drop down the far river left side, and knowing that the landing was only about a foot or two deep, I had to roll off vertical, and then hit a late boof off the shelf halfway down. This was also made a bit more stressful considering the two gallons of water sloshing around in my boat waiting to take me safely into the vertical plane on the big drop, rather than boofing out.

Top drop without water.

Credit: Chris Gallaway

So when it finally came time to go for it I made eye contact with Chris on the bank to make sure everything was ready, cleared my mind of all other thoughts, and reached a state of focus that I have only felt once or twice before in my life. I rolled off the first one and boofed into a stomp just as I had hoped, and then I set up really close to the left wall to keep from being pulled towards the center of the river, and the abrasive, shallow crack/shelf thing that would send you into a pitchpole or spiral into green water off the big drop.

Working out the first drop. The curler in the foreground is at the lip of the big one...

Credit: Chris Gallaway

Moment of truth.

Credit: Chris Gallaway

I took a right sweep as my left edge connected with the curler coming off the left wall at the lip, and then placed my left stroke in the water as the world opened up, and I rolled off to vertical. I have never fallen that far before and it was surreal slowly pulling my left stroke into a tuck, and staring at my landing for what seemed like an eternity as I accelerated towards it, with all the solid water around me exploding in the air and turning into spray. About fifteen feet above the bottom I finally closed my eyes, clenched every muscle in my body, and prepared for what I thought was going to be a gigantic hit.

Trying to lock in the angle... you can see the lip of the entrance drop in the very top of the frame.

Credit: Adam Goshorn

Tucking up and preparing for impact.

Credit: Adam Goshorn

I was ripped out of my tuck on impact, but DeSoto was merciful with me, it was not nearly as hard of a hit as I had anticipated, and I let out a big victory scream as I resurfaced upright to the left of the boil, staring back up at where I had just come from.

All in all, it was probably the most incredible drop I've ever done, and I feel honoured to be the first person to run it. Adam, Chris, and I finished the day off with a great run of Little River Falls and the Canyon at a great level of just over 12 inches. Thanks again for showing us the lines Adam!

Signing off from cloud nine,
Chris Gragtmans