Monday, September 15, 2008

The Linville Triple!!

Today was a pretty unbelievable day. Since I started getting into the creeking scene here in Asheville when I was 14, I've really looked up to Johnson City boater Adam Herzog. I've always thought that he is one of the most core people in our sport, simply because he never seems to care at all about the superficialities and corporate image bulls&#@ that consumes alot of people, and he just crushes it in a kayak, on a road bike or on a trail. He has won the Jerry's Baddle Greenman class two years in a row, run 40-40 on the Toxaway in a Perception Overflow, consistently beat the 5 minute mark in the Green Race, run the Raven's Fork and Cullasaja in a day, taken me down the Elk at richter flood levels (Watauga at 8600), and run the Linville twice in a day SOLO. Dude is an animal.

Adam and I have had conversations over the past two years or so about doing the Linville 3 times in a day, and how that would be the ultimate day of kayaking in the Southeast. I have always thought that my physical conditioning would allow me to complete the three river runs if that was all that was involved, but the hikes in and out of the river are over a mile each, with majour elevation changes. The first time I paddled the Linville I was 100% physically and mentally drained when I reached that takeout, and then even moreso after hiking for an hour back to the cars.

Here's the elevation profile for the Linville Gorge.

Credit: Chris Bell/Boatingbeta

I guess the only way to find out if you are capable of something is to try it... so I woke up at 3:45 in the morning, checked levels, and called Adam at 4. Things were looking good, the Linville was at a high level of 3 feet but appeared to be dropping in. Time to skip four classes!

The plan was to meet Fergus Coffey for the first, slower run in which we would have to look out for new wood, and then knock out the next two runs with just me and Adam. I left my house at 4:25 am loaded down with Gatorades, Powerbars, PBJ, a Mac and Cheese/bean mix that I concocted the night before, and 4 liters of water. After a lonely, dark, rainy, foggy drive up to the Linville that involved a lot of loud music to boost my confidence, I met the boys at the falls at 5:45. Adam said he had driven straight through the headwaters and they were getting slammed with rain, and that the triple plans were pretty much scrapped. However we set shuttle and kept a positive attitude, and Spencer and his son Mason showed up as we suited up at the Babel Tower parking lot to document the ridiculousness of our situation.

Babel Tower trailhead, 6:30 am.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

Heading in.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

RUN #1
...was intense for me as I've never paddled Linville nearly that high. All the rapids were really really awesome, but it just felt like we were flirting with disaster the entire time. As long as you keep your boat skipping through those holes its all good, but if you get stuck in one... I don't really want to think about it. It is a sick class V+ run at that level. Demanding lines with the most dire of consequences if you come out of your boat. We all had smooth lines through everything and I was feeling my groove by Cathedral Gorge. Sick run and we were back at the putin by 10:25, which meant 2 hours on the river and another 1:25 total for the hiking.

RUN #2
I crammed some food and water down at the put-in, but we started down the trail before I could really think about anything. The second hike in started hurting, and by the bottom, my quads and calves were feeling pretty flayed. We hiked in silence due to the fact that it was pouring on us. Pouring! I would be lying if I said that I wasn't very nervous hiking back into that powerful place. I did not want to disrespect the Linville.

Wiseman's Dome on a pretty ominous morning.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

We got to Babel and noticed that the water had risen by a good two inches on Adam's gauge rock. We ran Babel Tower for the second time and cruised downstream at high speed, leapfrogging down the river whenever one of us would get slowed down for any reason. I was feeling great still but was starting to get the brain fuzz from overdose of huge whitewater. It was still f@#*ing raining! We had smooth lines through everything and hit the Conley trail after 1:20 on the river. Adam pronounced at the takeout that he was 100% out for the third one and not to let him go if said he wanted to paddle again at the top. I was pretty exhausted myself but thought I might have the reserves for a third... I hit a carb gu and put my shit back on my head.

We got to the cars 35 minutes later and after feeling the hood on Spencer's car I figured I could catch those boys on the hike in. As we drove to the putin a very crucial thing happened... the sun came out. Adam proclaimed that he was back in for the triple, and we rolled into the putin right as a huge crew was getting ready to hike in. YEEESSSS. I put my kayak on my head and started stumbling down the trail again.

Adam and myself getting fired up for the third run.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

RUN #3
I got to the gorge drop-in overlook and took my kayak off my head for a sec. John, Toby, Al G and Pat were taking a break there, and they seemed pretty worried about my involuntarily shaking legs. I think my response was something like I'm fine, just need to get to the river...

Adam reaching the river on our third hike in.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

I think this is called the 1000 yard stare...

Credit: Spencer Cooke

Adam running Babel Tower for the third time.

Credit: Spencer Cooke

I hit another gu at Babel, and we put on with an 8 person crew chasing us, and the final run was incredible. Adam had a scary experience at Jailhouse rapid, but bulled his way out of it, and then made a good decision to hike Cathedral Gorge via the trail on river right. I knew that I was going to crash hard soon, as we had been exerting ourselves at a very high level for 11 hours, but it did not hit me on the river. I felt absolutely great and had a blast bombing the boys through some huge rapids. We hit the trail after a 1:30 final run, and after a quick celebration we got everything together for one last hike out.

I didn't take any breaks on the hike out, but about 15 minutes from the top my body was starting to crash. I stumbled up the last 5 or so switchbacks and up the final stretch... Pat was there with his camera and said that he has never seen me that tired, ever. Adam rolled in a couple minutes later and Pat came through with the celebration beverages! It was an absolutely incredible day, one that I will never forget.

Adam and myself at the takeout from Adam's blog.

Credit: Adam Herzog, Pat Keller

Also from Adam's blog, here is the Linville gauge. The initial spike resulted from Hurricane Fay and we caught it on the 28th.

Credit: American Whitewater

Here's the math on the Linville Triple:

Conley Cove(takeout) trail: 1.3 miles, 1100 vertical feet
x3= 3.9 miles, 3300 ft.

Babel Tower(putin) trail: 1.2 miles, ? feet
x3= 3.6 miles, ? ft.

River: 5.9 miles, 1009 vertical feet
x3= 17.7 miles, 3027 ft.

There will be a mini-documentary on the Linville Gorge and the paddling history and allure surrounding it on Spencer Cooke's first Rapid Transit DVD, to be premiered with LVM at the pre-Green Race Show at the end of October. More details can be found on the Rapid Transit Video website.

Chris Gragtmans


Cooper Lambla said...


Simon said...

Well done, Chris and Adam!

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