Posted by: evanstafford | February 2, 2010

Long Clear Night, Long Bluebird Day – Poland Creek 24-48 hrs.

So where did we leave off this little adventure? Ah yes, with Leif seal launching into a boxed in 10 footer at dusk…

Oh well he’ll be back, so, where’s my camp spot. Assuming silver back status, (John must not have heard me, I think he was the true silver back), I claimed a beautiful sandy groove in the granite, while simultaneously vetoing the fire in the same exact spot, as down in the rock pile would allow for more people to be huddled/sleeping around it. I might be a dick, (I try not to, but it’s been known to happen unconsciously), but I needed some sleep after driving through the night. I mean these guys (except Leif and Kyle) had five dudes rotating through their drive. They could sleep on the rocks.

The true silver back rise and shine face - photo by Leif Anderson

Pretty sweet camp even though it was a rock pile - photo by ES

In my luxury liner pack job there were some fire sticks, which are pretty essential for paddling after a major rain event in Arizona. There was tons of wood around, but any wood even remotely near the river had been bobbing around in an eddy 10-20 feet above the current water level the day before, so it had become kind of damp. We got the fire raging and pretty soon we were having a great time, reliving the days lines and chowing down on our backcountry provision.

Pretty soon it was pitch black, but really only for a few minutes before a smiling half moon crested the rim of the canyon and lit the scene with an eerie almost fluorescent black light glow. We chuckled over missed lines and bitched about the portage, but I think we kind of collectively forgot about Leif. Then, the kind of rustling and grumbling that can only come from a large man of Scandinavian descent interrupted our boisterous laughter. There was silence around the fire as a blond mullet emerged from the shadows.

He was back and we were thankful for his safe return. Sounded like a full on mission for him to hike back, so we all passed around our water bottles and shared our food with him trying to revive his spirits for the long night ahead. At least he’d have Kyle to spoon with.

Hunter and Ben spooning - photo by John Melrose

Full bellies and layered up properly, people began to slowly pull back from the fire and slip into their digs for the night. I was tired and I pretty much fell asleep the instant I was in my bivy. When I looked down on the rocky camp at daybreak, it seemed like Leif and Kyle were in the same positions as when I last saw them the night before – with as much of their bodies as possible, as close to the fire as possible.

Kyle burning Leif's bed for an hour of sleep - photo by Leif Anderson

Kyle said he slept an hour or two after he took the wood that was making up Leif’s makeshift bed for the night to stoke the fire. Leif said he sat on a comfy rock through the night shivering, even though he was almost sitting on the hot coals. But it was morning, the skies were clear and we had some more creeking to do, plus we still didn’t know where the take-out was.  I was pretty stoked to get on it, as Leif’s report made it sound like if he wasn’t trying to race the daylight, the stretch he did would have been good fun.

Leif in pretty much the sme position he spent the night in photo by Kyle McCutchen

It was still chilly though, so the crew took their turns defrosting frozen skirts and booties. By the time we got on the water the sun had nearly reached the canyon bottom. It looked so enticing in the sun downstream, it finally motivated us to get moving. We had Salmon, Lara Bars and a sweet little boof for breakfast before we made our first short portage. Leif was walking along shore and helped break down the next couple of major drops before we spotted his boat about a half mile from camp. Considering how much light he had left and how steep the canyon still was, he made it pretty far. As far as river miles go though… he didn’t make it anywhere near the take-out, as we would all soon find out.

Breakfast boof with Hunter - photo by ES

Breakfast boof with John - photo by ES

Kyle lining up a slot - photo by ES

Scott Baker same slot - photo by ES

The water level had dropped a bit, but the sun came out as the canyon opened up and the drops remained consistent. I mean tons of boofs and manky drops and clean ledges and a couple of boxed in gorges. It just kept going and going and going.  It was awesome but eventually Leif looked at me seriously during a short portage and simply said, “I’m tired Evan.”

“Me too. I’ll keep an eye on ya. Do the same for me.”  We helped each other drag our boats around a sieved out mess and we seal launched back into the boulder maze. I probably commented falsely that I thought we were nearing the confluence with the creek we parked near, Black Canyon, probably three or four times. It just never seemed to come and the gradient had lessened but refused to let up. I couldn’t believe it but the sun was serious threatening to go down again!

Kyle on a sweet striped corner shot - photo by ES

Launching in - photo by ES

We passed a small confluence and it looked like the gradient was finally relenting. A road appeared a few hundred yards above river left and it looked enticing. We stopped at a beautiful beach to assess the situation. Everybody busted out some snacks and treats to re-fuel, but since Leif didn’t have any he headed up to check out the road. He came back into view pretty quickly after following it for a few minutes downstream and then headed the other direction. He charged up a hill near the draw we had just passed and went out of sight. We continued to eat and get properly safe.

Hunter Petitt working through a thin line on a fun slide - photo by ES

Ben West on one of the last significant drops - photo by ES

John taking his turn - photo by ES

I was pretty convinced we weren’t close enough to where our car was parked and that we needed to go downstream further. Group moral dipped along with sun, as it disappeared below the canyon rim. There was talk of walking the road out and then bringing the trucks back, but even if the road went to Cleator, our trucks weren’t in Cleator, so that didn’t quite make sense. Leif still hadn’t returned, but we joked that when he came back we wouldn’t know anything new, so what’s the plan?

When he did return he actually had some incredibly valuable beta. The road ended a few hundred yards downstream. OK. So let’s paddle, and quick, it’s getting dark again! We hopped in our boats and raced downstream. We literally rounded the next bend and off in the distance there were two very bright and colorful objects leaning against a couple of Saguaros in the distance. I looked at Kyle, “you see those?”

“Boats!” Our compadres had managed to not only get our trucks about a couple hundred feet from the river, they had also marked the take-out with their boats. Spirits rose to new heights for the trip. We wouldn’t be hiking a long mile through the cactus in the dark to find our friends and shuttle! Instead we’d be drinking beer and slapping high fives.

Beers and high fives instead of hiking through the cactus in the dark, thanks bros - photo by Leif Anderson

Special thanks to Cody and Hucking Huge for uncovering this bad boy and dishing the beta, Nathan and Tango for running the shuttle and finding the real take-out and all the bros for rallying a long drive through adverse conditions to get it on.

I hadn’t paddled with many of the peeps on this expedition and in some ways it was kind of a cluster F, but in the end I had a great time paddling with some solid boaters, made some new friends and got a good winter fix. Poland Creek will never be a classic. It just doesn’t run very often and at most flows you’ll have to deal with a fair bit of mank, but it is well worth the effort. With the proper flow there are many, many great rapids in there and the scenery is grade A. As for the one day mission, I still think it would be possible with a pre-dawn shuttle and hike-down to the put-in. That said it would be tough and would requiere every last second of daylight on a short winter day. It does appear that it is best done as an overnight and if you make it a little further than we did (i.e. put on before noon) you will be rewarded with some great beach camps, at warmer elevation, amongst the saguaros.


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