Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Rest of the Best

After returning to Anchorage and seeing the snow in the mountains, I pretty much assumed I wouldn't be in my boat until possibly Thanksgiving when I head back to the east coast. Well I'd always been told not to assume anything in life and with that Timmy J (, gave me a call Thursday afternoon to see if I would be into running Upper Willow on Friday.

Timmy at the Put in

Having heard reports of decent skiing in the Hatcher Pass/Snowbird Glacier area I was a bit perplexed by the notion of there being water in the rivers. "It actually has water" I asked. Seeing as how most every lake/pond I had flown over on my return home from Mexico was either completely frozen or very close to it. He said "It's on the low side, but it's still good at that flow". Still being a bit skeptical I said I'd give him a call later on if I was into it. was on! Immediately after hanging up the phone I was on the computer to see for myself. Sure enough there was 347 cfs and while on the low end I figured what the hell. The run is very channelized and other than the long paddle in (which we have figured out how to avoid) low flow shouldn't be to bad at all. And so it was set, 9:30 in Eagle River and we would be under way.

Obie in one of the early ones

Timmy boofing near the bottom of Gazebo Drop

Cody looking on as Obie tries, with is bad shoulder, to avoid the cold one

Come Friday morning it was a bit different story and as most things kayaking related, time went right out the window and we didn't actually get on the road until about 11. Hey, at least it would be a bit warmer! (the sun doesn't come up now until right around or a little after 8) Joined by Obie Jenkins and Cody Tye, we had a nice group of 4 for our trip.

Obie finishing up Sieve 57

Reality sets in:

Having talked a big game in Mexico about how I had had enough of hot/humid weather and water that didn't even cool you off, I couldn't wait to get back to better paddling conditions.

Timmy making things a little safer, provided he doesn't fall in himself

Or so I thought. Shivering as I suited up to get on the creek I began to think of those high temperatures and sweltering heat in a different light. Then to top things off our first glimpse of the creek revealed that most every rock at river level was covered in ice.

Timmy mid way through the left line at Triple Drop

Good times to come I thought. After putting in on an ice shelf we were underway. The run turned out to be almost as quality as it is with double the flow, only without any push. A welcome thing given I don't know the run all that well and with the ice, moving around outside of your boat could pose a real challenge. None the less, we took Cody down with only scouting twice and both of those were in the bottom of the gorge were no one but Timmy really knew the lines. All in all an awesome day on what may very well be the best in South Central Alaska

The view down canyon towards Aqua Lung

Timmy entering Aqua Lung

Me somewhere near the bottom of the run

Mexico continued

After completing the Arteaga, it was time for the big adventure of the trip. Well that is, big in terms of the undertaking. With a 4-5 hour shuttle and then the prospect of potentially not having enough water to float at our intended put in we were not sure what we were getting into. So after driving to the bridge near our takeout to check flows we were on our way.

Taking it easy "recovering" after my epic ordeal

At this point I should probably mention a bit about how things work in this neck of the woods. This is an area that for all intents and purposes is a desert. Not in the actual definition since it does have the potential to get a massive amount of precipitation, but it is dry for some 6-8 months of the year. Just so happens we are there toward the end and a slightly more predictable time of the rainy season. Sort of. That said, observing rivers at take out in order to determine boat ability, particularly when it's a multi day trip and one afternoon thunderstorm could change everything in the matter of an hour, doesn't really do much for you. On day trips different story. Imagine floating down a nice tranquil class 3-4 interrupted by an afternoon boomer and then all of a sudden the thought crosses your mind that you and everything around you could be completely swept away. In most cases however, this rain is a welcome change as it pads out the run and can make for a much more quality experience. Not so if you are locked into some box canyon. Whole different ball game! But I digress as we would have welcomed any amount of rain that amounted to more than a sprinkle.

Back to the task at hand. After checking the flow, we needed to go to the Walmart in order to restock and to search for a new video camera. It's a long story but Rocky misplaced one of the other two that Cody had brought along on the Arteaga and upon returning to get it, the locals were already filming themselves jumping off the surrounding cliffs and refused to admit that they had found it. There you've been warned, you leave something behind in Mexico, it's finders keepers and your SOL. So after restocking we were finally underway. Everything was going great, for the first few hours, and then I crossed over into what can only be classified as the mis adventure of my trip. I got sick off the mornings eggs. And I mean sick! This made for a miserable shuttle ride that I remember nothing about followed by one of my most miserable nights on record complete with unbelievable pains in every joint and uncontrollable shivers. It was a truly great experience, one that no hang over can ever hold a candle too. Luckily it only lasted through the night and by morning I was good to go.
Having realized by this point that the river was to small this high up to float a boat, we set to the task of finding a ride down river to a point some 10-15 km downstream that we could. This is where we started to figure out that this whole gringo kayaking thing was kind of a big deal in Aguililla. We were introduced to most everyone in the city buildings, courthouse, police station, etc. Met the President or rather mayor and were then told that we would be escorted by the police to our put in. That is to say we were given a ride by the police. How much better could it get? So with that we were underway.

Rocky and I with the Mayor of Aguililla

Awaiting our driver

The river started out as meandering flat water with high cut banks and the occasional gravel bar. After a bit of bump and grind it finally started to pick up through a maze of purple conglomerate boulders that were a bit on the sievey side. Luckily things quickly changed for the better and we were soon in the thick of it floating through quality California style Granite. At this point the trip can be best summed up by visiting Cody's web page Huckin were he has produced an exceptional video of the trip from what minimal footage we were able to collect.

Rocky mid way through Day 1

All in all, this was the highlight of the trip and a river that is well worth doing if you find yourself in this part of the world.

Cody somewhere Day 1

Coming into the Sea

After finishing the Aguililla we needed to head back to Zihuatanejo so Cody could catch his flight out in a day and a half. But before that happened we still had time for one more day trip that was right on the edge of town. The Rio Laja proved to be another high quality class 3-4 run with one easy portage around a huge slot canyon that was only about 3-4 feet wide. It was a pretty cool site to see to say the least.

Cody in the meat of the Laja

Rocky boofing a hole

Rio Laja Portage

After finishing the Laja, I pretty much decided I had had enough of Mexico. Given the fact we were running out of rivers in the immediate area and the rain was not cooperating to give us boatable flows it was time to get back to a more suitable climate. So after a bit of waiting around I was able to get on Cody's flight out on Sunday(2 days earlier for me) and returned to Anchorage Monday morning and a balmy 29 degrees. With snow on all of the surrounding peaks, ski season is right around the corner!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


It didn't take much thought after receiving an email from my friend Tom Meinholtz in California stating Rocky Contos ( was looking for people to join him for a few weeks of paddling in the state of Guerrero around the city of Zihuatanejo. I figured what the hell, I haven't been to Mexico in a few years and with the trip only costing 20,000 Alaska airline miles how bad could it be? Warm water, sandy beaches, cocos. The prospect sounded better the more I thought about it. I was in!

View of beach from downtown

Leaving Anchorage on the night of the 24th, I hooked up with Rocky in LA for the final leg of the flight and got into Zihuatanejo the afternoon of the 25th. After some issues with Rocky's luggage, as in it didn't make it on his flight from Seattle, we had to get a rental car for the next two weeks of adventure. After a good hour or so of waiting around Rocky finally showed up with what would serve as our chariot. Everything was great. The car even had roof racks to boot! Well, that is until we met our first Topes. (for those that don't know, topes are speed bumps) That's when reality set in. Our cars shocks were, well, non existent and we had what might have amounted to about 4 inches of clearance. And so began what would be the routine when driving around, come to a screeching halt right before the topes so that we could hopefully creep over them without hitting. No such luck. Most of the time we would only drag once or twice, but there were plenty of times that involved a sudden "whack" followed by the standard scrape scrape, grind. Hey, no worries, it's a rental.

Our Chariot

So with that we were on our way to find some necessary gear in order for Rocky to be able to paddle. Mainly a helmet. After a little searching we were in luck and for $30 Rocky had a new helmet to replace his Protec. The next morning we headed out to run our first river the Rio La Tigra. This was a great little river and fortunately while finishing our hike to our intended put in the sky opened up and the rain began to fall.

The Hike

This made for very enjoyable class 3-4 paddling with only one mandatory portage. Along the way we found one great wave train with two decent waves and also got a birds eye view of how the locals use their traps to catch the local crawfish.

The Portage

A class 4

One of the waves

Locals setting out their traps

Sunset as we reached take out

After getting off the Rio La Tigra we drove a bit south and stayed in a hotel with intentions of running the Rio Coyaquia. Getting an early start we drove to the take out bridge and started to inquire about the dirt rode to put in. Word was not a chance in our car, which we already knew. So with a little wheeling and dealing we finally got a ride in a local delivery truck that makes the 2.5 hour drive everyday taking supplies up river to the little villages along the way. It was an interesting ride to say the least. We would stop periodically to drop off fruit, sell the villagers fresh tortillas, or give a few little old ladies a ride to the next town. All the while listening to the locals talk about the crazy gringos.

Our Ride to Put in

Long story short, this was one of the best runs we did requiring only a few portages and containing some very high quality rapids. Much like the day before, the sky opened up in the afternoon and again we received more water from the flooding arroyos to pad out our ride to the takeout.

After getting off the Coyaquia we made a mad dash back to the Zihuatanejo airport to pick up the third member of our party, Cody Howard ( Unfortunately Cody had grown tired of waiting for us and took a cab into town where we finally met up with him at our hotel. That night over dinner we decided that given the time we had we would head north to Playa Azul where we would base out of for the next few river trips. The first of these was to be a 2 day on the Rio Arteaga. Upon arriving in Playa Azul we checked the flows on the river and then went about locating a hotel which just happened to be on the beach as well as a hotel owner who was more than happy to drive our shuttle. With the hard work done we went for a swim and kicked back with a few cervezas to watch the sunset.
The next morning we set out to our intended put in and after driving about 2 hours or so finally made it there. At this point it was hard to believe we were actually on the right river as it felt more like an irrigation ditch then a river.

Put in

None the less, the amount of water slowly increased and then we finally made it to the point were the river begins to fall. The next few miles contained some very quality drops although the brush in the flat sections definitely took some of the wind out of my sails.

Cody on the first big one

The second good drop

Rocky on the third good drop of a 3 drop sequence

After the steepest section I found it easier to push my boat along while swimming rather than try and battle the never ending gravel bars. Not to mention it was too hot to be in my boat in the first place. Check back soon for the last two rivers, the Rio Aquililla and the Rio Laja.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Alaska Update

Well, after a good spring with plenty of water, the Anchorage area is finally starting to get a little bleak. Rest assured, there is still whitewater for those that are looking for a bit of an adventure! And that is indeed what we got when we imbarked on our Nellie Juan River Expedition.

Below the first portage

For those wishing to skip the Blah Blah Blah, click the link to see what photos we have of the run.

The first drop

Located on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsala, flowing north to Kings Bay in Prince William Sound, the Nellie Juan River is about as remote as one can get in this part of the state. If you were to search for info about the Nellie Juan you will quickly find that there isn't much. The best source of information out there, aside from talking with others who have done it, would be Andrew Embick's Fast and Cold. His description pretty much hits it on the head. After getting dropped off by float plane at Nellie Juan Lake, one paddles 20 miles down the Nellie Juan River to Tide Water at Kings Bay and then continues to paddle out 16 miles to Deep Water Bay where you can be picked up by boat. This bit of information, accompanied with the fact that the weather in this area is very unpredictable, boardering on wet, was beginning to sound like a good time.

Somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd canyon

Having done most, if not all, of the planning back in July when my two friends from California, Aaron Stabel and Norwood Scott where in town, setting it up this time would be a cinch. Now just so you know, Norwood, Aaron and I had spent the better part of three days doing all the leg work for this trip. Figuring out who would fly where, how many flights it would take, what it would cost, etc. Up here where the Bush plane and the boat are your main methods of transportation, logistics can take a bit to work out and we had figured them all out. Our original plan had been to fly in and float the river out and then paddle about 20 of the 54 miles back to Whittier where we would meet up with a water taxi who would exchange our whitewater boats for tandem sea kayaks and my wife and then the four of us would paddle the remaining 34 or so miles back to Whittier by sea kayak and truly get the most out of the trip. The ground work was laid, the plan was set and all arrangements were made. Only problem was the weather would not allow us to get off the ground. This meant the rest of their trip was spent sea kayaking rather than river running. Hey, you can't win them all, right?

One of many glaciers you see along the way

Introducing Eskimo's state of the art, German engineered, sock drying rack

That pretty much brings us back to how this trip went down. Having another group of friends coming to visit, Brent Heitzenroder from Pittsburgh and Adam Putnam, an ER doctor now living in New Mexico, I put the plan back in action. This time however, it only took two phone calls and we were ready to roll. That is provided the weather was on our side. As it turns out it was and the trip went off without a hitch. Although we did end up with a little more water than we would have liked. In all, we had 3 big portages, which seems to be the norm and were treated to some of the most incredible scenery anywhere. Did I mention the Nellie Juan is for all intents surrounded by ice? There are glaciers coming into the canyon from all around you, top to bottom. While we were fortunate to have great weather I can easily see how it could be as miserable as Embick describes. That said, if you plan on going, save yourself the hassle and take a synthetic sleeping bag and a good tent and tarp. Nonetheless, we had campfires all but two nights and only awoke to rain on two mornings. It could have easily been much worse.

Our first look down the throat of the final gorge

Figuring out the way around the final gorge

A big thanks to the Dwayne and the crew at Scenic Mountain Air in Moose Pass for the flight in to Nellie Juan Lake ( ) and also to Brooke and Obadiah from Epic Charters in Whittier. ( ) These guys have styled us out with a few water taxi's this year and run an awesome business. If you are ever planning on kayaking in or around Prince William Sound be sure and look this outfit up. Be it Sea kayaking or Anchor n' Huck, these guys can make it happen. Thanks again guys!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Green Narrows Headcam!

Too bad the water was too low to run the Gorilla this time. Guess I'll have to make another video. Not a very good video but the best I can do with what I have right now. Enjoy!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Drought Season '07

Not a whole lot to report lately..things have been really dry here in the Southeast since the last little bit of winter and now even the rivers with large watersheds are becoming too low to paddle. That leaves us with only a few options..but I'm still staying entertained, whether sliding down wet rocks on the Cullasaja, at Triple Falls, or running the Green!

Here are a few photos of my more recent boating ventures with my new Salto!

Triple Falls, NC
Photos: Megan Naylor

*Disclaimer* this rapid should only be attempted with adequate safety and at a favorable water level! These shots were taken just a few feet upstream of Cullasaja Falls, an unrunnable 100 foot drop that lands on rocks. DFW!
Suislide, Cullasaja River, NC
Photos by Casey Jones

Boof or Consequence, Green Narrows, NC
Photo: Chris Gorman

Go Left and Die, Green River Narrows, NC
Photos by Daniel Stewart

Gorilla, Green River Narrows, NC
Photos by John

Groove Tube, Green River Narrows, NC
Photo: Chris Gorman

Sunshine, Green River Narrows, NC
Photos by Daniel Stewart