Friday, 12 September 2014

The Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Paul Bayliss showing the Stikine some love...
After pretty much working the whole of August to save money the time finally came to finish up work and head north to paddle the Stikine. On the way Ash and I stopped off at the Thompson for a little bit of a class 3 big water warm up. As I hadn't been in a boat much for the most of the last month I really wanted a chance to warm up. That night we met the british lads that had come out to join us, Barney, James, Rob, Paul and Tom and Corey and Adrian came up from Whistler too. After two more days of driving and a day to do the shuttle we were putting on, all 11 of us. Leif and Natalie also joined....  
Photo - Leif and Natalie
Pass Fail. Photo - Leif and Natalie

Day 1 consists of Entrance falls, Wicked Wanda, Three Goats, Pass Fail and Wassons. Due to the huge group we split in to two for part of the day. When we put on in the morning the level was 265 but the rain overnight was clearly going to bring the river up. The first day was big, fun and scary. Paddling a heavily leaden boat had its advantages and disadvantages, maneuvering was harder and slower but one you are going you don't stop for much as I found out when I had a seriously questionable moment going through rather than around Wassons hole...

AFP - Photo: Barney Prees
At Site Zed camp that night the rain only picked up, and a mouse ate through one of my drybags. Day two started in the rain finishing the portage around Site Zed. The run out of Site Zed is great, a big wave train with some big holes to boot.  This is followed by a bunch of no name rapid which are great before AFP (Always a Fucking Problem), the Hole that ate the

Wassons. Photo - Leif and Natalie
Photo - Leif and Natalie
 Hole, Wall I and Garden of the Gods I. I had a bit of a problem with a pourover in AFP and the whole group portaged the Hole that at the Hole. Garden of the Gods I is great and a bit different to the other rapids as the river opens up a bit.

Scouting the Wall I - Photo: Barney Prees
Photo - Leif and Natalie

Adrian coming through Garden of the Gods I

Wolf Camp - Photo: Barney Prees

The camp that night is great! Wolf camp is under a cliff so nice and dry!

Day three has some of the best white water and waking up in Wolf camp is a great way to start the day. The temperature had however dropped quite a bit and the pogies got some use! After Garden of the Gods II the canyon encroaches and the rapids come thick and fast, the Wall II and Scissors are followed by The Hole that ate Chicago which we all portaged before you arrive at V-Drive.

Ash on Wall II
Adrian on Wall II
V-drive is a huge wave train hole mess..... hard to describe but its big and fun and scary all in one. We watched theother group get some fantastic lines such as Barneys air to plug and Rob getting totally eaten only to reappear 10 meters down stream getting bashed against the wall.
Barney on V-drive
Tom - V-drive
Rob before he got eaten...

After some rowdy read and run the whole river goes through Tanzilla slot and then has its last big rapid in Powerhouse. 

James on Tanzilla Slot - Photo: Barney Prees
After the slot - Photo: Barney Prees
Powerhouse - Photo: Barney Prees
Natalie on Powerhouse
Cold beers and big grins all around at the take out. The Stikine is a really fun, big water wilderness trip. Its a classic for a reason.

Driving back to get burgers - Photo: Barney Prees

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Grand Canyon

A trip down the Grand Canyon was something that I had always wanted to do, but stories of 10 year waiting lists for permits, the difficulties of flying with kit out to America and the sheer scale of it never made it an option I pursued. That was until Jonny asked me to join himself, Dan and Paul on their trip last April and I learnt just how easy it is.

We left Lees Ferry with 226 miles of river and countless rapids in front of us and began our 12 day journey through the Grand Canyon. I had relatively little knowledge of what was in store for us as we set off, apart from that it would be the ‘experience of a lifetime’... and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The quickly got settled into river life and by day two we had learnt how to paddle the raft in time for the Roaring Twenties, a section of the river with one rapid after another with big waves trains and a few holes to dodge as well. The kayaks led the way picking the line for the raft to follow until we arrived at Red Wall Cavern.  This massive cave is incredible, with huge bright red walls, and was the perfect place to have an ice cold beer and a game of Frisbee. 
The raft, 'Vanessa' as we came to affectionately call her, was a four oared cataraft which turned out to be an uncommon sight in the canyon. Every group we passed would comment on how unusual it was - it seems this cataraft has a tendency for rafters to argue about who was in control. We luckily didn’t have these problems and got the most out of the power the four oars gave us. When fully loaded up it was very heavy, so this definitely helped given our limited experience in rafts. Our lack of skill did make for a much bigger thrill down rapids than the kayaks with much less control due to its size and weight. This size did have an advantage though, allowing us to take all the comforts usually left behind on a multi-day kayak trip. We ate like kings. Steaks, nacho mountains and many lunch time burritos were all washed down with cold beers, gin and tonics or glasses of wine. 

Being a small group we were unrestricted as to where we could camp and would pull up to any of the numerous beaches that took our fancy. With no tents we lay under the stars until we fell asleep listening to the river. This was perfect apart from the night it rained, which resulted in a sleepless night trying to shelter under anything waterproof we could find. It didn’t help that this was the night before we were faced with some of the hardest rapids of the trip and we all set off cold and nervous towards Horn, Granite, Hermit and Crystal.
Our guide book gave us very little information on the rapids, just a grade from 1 to 10 and the elevation it dropped. This led to some apprehension as we approached a big horizon line with just a huge splash of water appearing every now and then as we drew closer. We soon learnt though that most were just big wave trains that should be run straight down the middle and once you were on line you just had to hold on for the ride. These massive waves, that were easily large enough to throw around the Liquid Logic Stingers we had hired, were often followed by swirling water and whirlpools as it flattened out, and always followed by cheers as we'd made it down safely. 
The best rapid for me was 'Upset'. We had been told to run it river left, however I lead the way down only to discover I was not far enough left, crashing into a diagonal wave and thrown right. Luckily the speed of the Stingers let me get back on line and miss the hole at the end on the right. I then sprinted to the bank to watch Dan and Paul on the raft take the exact same line and having to hold on as Vanessa bounced about. They surfed their way out of the same hole before getting safely down to the rest of the rapid.
We managed to spend some time away from the water too, exploring some of the tributaries that feed the Colorado as it made its way to the Hoover Dam. A few highlights were Elves Chasm, Deer Creek and the Little Colorado and Havasu with their bright blue warm water. Deer Creek involved a steep climb up to the top of a waterfall giving breath taking views up the Canyon and then a stunning walk through a very high but narrow gorge.
Even after 12 days I couldn’t get over how amazing the scenery was. I was constantly finding myself going around a corner and being amazed at the view, only to go around the next corner and be amazed again. All too soon Diamond Peak appeared in the distance marking the end of our trip and our lift back to Flagstaff for a hot shower and comfy bed. 
Before this a trip down the Grand Canyon appeared to be something that I would never get around to planning due to the logistics and costs involved. However it turned out to be much easier than I ever expected and something that anyone can accomplish. Dan got the permit on his first time applying, which is apparently pretty common, and Brady at Moenkopi River Works sorted us out with all the kit meaning we could travel hassle free. All we had to do was to get on a flight to Vegas and from there to Flagstaff to pick everything up and start our adventure.


Thank you to Jonathan Noblett for the photos and video

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Head Games

At my happiest on a sunny day on the Awe. Photo by Ben McKeown.

It's been a long time since I hopped in a boat. The last time was with my friend Astrid last June, when I took a deep breath and launched back onto the awesome River Garry. It might even be my favourite river - big, bouncy, and every rapid memorable. I always see it as a challenge to make my way down it without swimming, and if I manage then I know my paddling is in OK form. Adding to the fun is the number of people bumbling down in front and behind, particularly at Wet West, and the friends alongside me. There's always enough carnage to feel that I alone wouldn't be in the spotlight should I flip. Yet it's been a year since then, and my boat FantaBucket has been ignored. Poor FantaBucket.

I guess it's fair to say that I have a love-hate relationship with paddling. Well, perhaps "hate" is too strong a word, but I certainly fall in and out of love with the sport. And once I've fallen out of the habit of getting out regularly, I find it very hard to persuade myself to go again. I worry that over the time I haven't been boating, I'll have lost what few skills I had, and that something terrible will happen. I think I've heard this feeling referred to as "the fear" before. It's funny how it's something that seems to grow on people too. When I started boating it was all laughs, and swims were no big deal. Yet over time, swims became something entirely different. All manner of concerns pestered my brain - what if I can't get out of my boat? What if I get stuck in a strainer, or pinned upside down? And alongside that was always the worry that I was being a pain in the arse. Someone would be chasing me, helping to haul my boat out of the river, patiently waiting while I struggle to empty the heavy brute, and persuading me that it's all good and to hop back on the river and continue downstream. Yup, swims are a pain in the backside.

Put frankly, I am a terrible sufferer of head games.

Nerves showing as I follow Sandy down a rapid on the Findhorn. Photo by Ben McKeown.

At University there was always someone encouraging me that I am capable of that grade 4 rapid, telling me "go on, else you'll be pissed later that you didn't try", and suddenly -  yes! I can do this! I go for it, and on many occasions I get to the bottom and it's like a weight's been lifted, and I get that amazing feeling of accomplishment that I really got something out of the day. Other days I'd be following someone down a new, unknown and more technical rapid and "the fear" would become too much for me, and before I knew it I'd be upside down. There's no calm in me to even comprehend trying a roll - in a split second my hand's pulled the grab loop and I'm out, taking in the big, panicked gasp of air. Those days would lead me to wonder what I was playing at. I'd spend the rest of the outing a big ball of stress, the enjoyment of the adventure sucked out of me.

Over the past year or two, once Uni was done and dusted and I left the dear Canoe Club behind, I've come to accept what kind of boater I am, and what I want to get out of whitewater kayaking. I'm not fearless. My roll remains hopeless after years of practice. But that doesn't mean I can't still enjoy the sport. Johnie Gall, the wonderful creator of the blog Dirtbag Darling, described it as being a "perpetual beginner", and I love that expression.  I've come to realise that my kind of river is the more mellow kind. Ideally, grade 2 and 3 to keep me on my toes. I no longer want to feel bad if I choose to walk round something. I want to feel that I made the right decision for how I'm feeling and how I'm paddling. I want to be able to hop back on the river with a smile on my face. More than anything, I want to defeat my head games.

Good river, good weather and a good group. What more can you ask for? Photo by Ben McKeown.

Lately, I've come to miss paddling. I miss seeing the world from a different view, and bouncing over waves with a big smile on my face. I miss being on the river with friends. And I miss that tired, accomplished feeling I get after a day of adventuring. Don't fear FantaBucket, I will get back out again, and I will smile my way down a river again!

Thoughts by Rachael Haylett, whose thanks go out to all the people who have put up with her head games and swims over the years.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Paddling, Racing and Breaking Stuff in Whistler!

Katrina Van Wijk on 50/50 with Alyssa Salloum - -  Photo: Adrian Kiernan
Winter in Whistler came later than usual this year (or so I'm told) but when it came it really snowed. I thought winter would be a hard act to follow. Its tricky to imagine any ski resort in the summer. When you are used to constantly checking the forecast; praying for snow and heading to the gondola at six a.m. on a powder day in the dark, its hard to think about summer. However a little over two months ago, I took my snowboard boots off for the last time and I haven't looked back. At first there was still two feet of snow on the ground and the water was ice cold. But in the last few months I have found myself swapping shifts and taking as much time off work as possible as one opportunity after another comes up to paddle a new and exciting river or to take part in some cool race or festival.

Hector on the Ashlu double drop. Photo: Francois Brassard 
After getting familiar with some of the whistler classics such as the Callaghan and the Cheakamus I met Ash and got to head down to the Ashlu for a weekend. We set up camp at the put in above the 50/50 waterfall high up in the mountains above Squamish. The Box Canyon is hands down the most beautiful river I have ever paddled. A steep sided committing gorge packed full of awesome drops and rapids. Over the two days we managed six laps but I still only ran the intimidating 50/50 drop twice.

Ashlu Box. Photo: Adrian Kiernan

Ashlu Box. Paddler: Katrina Van Wijk. Photo: Adrian Kiernan

Ashlu Box. Paddler: Geoff Price. Photo: Francois Brassard 
Shortly after the weekend on the Ashlu came the Whistler GoFest. GoFest was set up as an attempt to change may long weekend in Whistler, from a weekend which traditionally has a reputation for violence, thanks to the influx of city based gangs. There were a bunch of events including a down river race on the Cheakamus. The Upper Cheak is a continious section of class 4+ with a cool waterfall at the top. The race included a down river race (ca. twelve mins) to seed for the head to heads.   

Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Andraž Krpič. Photo: Claire Lang
Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Me. Photo: Ollie Chew 
In the down river race I came eighth with a pretty respectable time. After the long race the winner was to be decided in a series of head to head races over the last three rapids. I made it through my first round but was totally out classed by Andraz in the second round. Andraz then went on to smash all the competition and beat Joules in the finals to take home $600! A good bit of river karma must have been on his side as he was the only paddler to stop during the seeding to rescue a boat.

Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Corey Boux. Photo: Claire Lang

Cheakamus River Race. Paddler: Me and David Sitar. Photo: Claire Lang
My main paddling partner has been Phil another englishman, without him I would littlerally just sit at home doing nothing! One morning before the Cheakamus race he sprung a surprise film crew on me and Ash. The edit was part of the GoPro GoShow competition and won Zach Moxley the videographer a big cash prize!

Puntledge River Fest. Paddler: Ash Bullivant. Photo: Dave Prothero Photography
Through Phil and an eight a.m. Cheakamus lap I met Corey May and ended up heading with him and Dan to Vancouver Island to the Puntledge River Festival. A super chilled event, it was fun to paddle the upper and get to run the slides and drops on offer. I did however manage to break my paddle, incidentally the friday before I also broke my downhill hell of an expensive weekend!

Puntledge River Fest. Photo: Dave Prothero Photography
Two weeks later the random adventures continued when Laura one of my friends from work messaged me to say a mountain bike racer friend of hers was looking for a kayaker to take part in the Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Some frantic schedule rearranging was done and two days later I was heading down to Vancouver. I met Colin the mountain biker on Saturday afternoon and stayed with him and his girl friend Alicia in his beautiful house on Bowen Island. I only met Colin our runner the day of the race, we weren't 100% sure he was coming.....

Red Bull Divide and Conquer, mass start. Photo: Dan Carr/Red Bull Content Pool

Colin working his way up the field to put us in third.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool
The race consisted of six thousand foot double ascent of grouse mountain for the runners, followed by a thirty kilometre mountain bike ride on Vancouver's legendarily tough north shore trails and rounded off with a ten kilometre paddle down the class three Capilano river and out in to the harbour. The Capilano was really, really low...a bit of a bump scrape. The normal minimum I am told is three on the gauge, but the river was at one! This meant the course went from fourty minutes to almost an hour of mostly flat water, it was brutal.

Connor launching a couple of minutes before me. I managed to reshape the front of my boat.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool

Cedric chasing Corey on the brutal beach run after the 10km paddle.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool
After the run we were in forth but Colin managed to put his foot down and gained about fifteen minutes during his section. This put me in third, with second just in front. I was pretty jealous of the RPMs the first two paddlers had but I pushed hard in my mamba and kept the team in front in my sights most of the way. By the time we were coming in across the harbour I knew I couldn't catch the guy in front and there was no way I could loose third place but I tried to carry on pushing hard and came in about a minute off the fastest time (not bad for a creek boater!).

Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo: Mason Mashon/Red Bull Content Pool

Third place saw us on the podium (with me looking like a massive goofball), taking home $750 in prize money and a nice North Face Sleeping bag! That pretty much paid for the parts I needed to fix my all I need is to get that paddle fixed.


P.S. A huge thanks to everyone who has taken me paddling over the last few months and also to Immersion Research for their continuing friendship and support.