Austin in some majestic shit - Photo Cody Howard

A full week with the Mother in Law in town was going to allow for a little spring break trip for daddy. The stars were aligning, the forecast was for heavy rain just north of Lake Havasu, and a pickup truck full of cowboys were all loaded to drive south. Thing was the gauge hadn’t moved much, the radar image was breaking up and well, we couldn’t risk our spring break on a gauge 50 miles downstream that was flattening out.

We called it. It hurt. Deep down it hurt. When you’ve got the horses all saddled up, your guns packed and  you’ve got to cancel the whole thing, there is just going to be some pain. There’s always that, what if? And also that, will there be another hunt?

But then a week later it starts to happen again. The radar fills in and the cycle starts to build. The gear comes out, but you’re more guarded with it. You pull each piece out slowly to inspect it, clean it and fold it calmly into your bag. You’re ready. You have faith. You can’t hide your optimism but still, this is Arizona.

Rallying a crew for the mid-week three day mission, to the semiannually referred to skunk fest, which can be Arizona, is a little tricky. Some Wyoming boys were in before, and being the semi-employed slackers that we are  allowed for some finagling and a second attempt at spring break.

Barring a major detour around a fallen power line across the entire highway near Colorado Springs, we made good time through the night and ended up in Payson ahead of schedule. Our plan was to attempt the coveted Christopher Creek/Hellsgate of the Tonto combo, which to my knowledge has never been completed. Cody had to work one day in the middle of our trip but agreed to help us set shuttle and was in to huck huge with us on Christopher before we embarked into the wilderness. We also found out we got lucky and Cody had corralled a beautiful young lady into being our shuttle bunny, putting all of the pieces in place for an epic 3-day mission… with no shuttle work on our part. Brilliant!

Unloading in the snow - crazy winter in AZ - Photo Austin Woody

The snow was deep on the pass between Winslow and Pine, and we were greeted by puddles and sprinkling rain in Payson. All signs were pointing towards a healthy flow on Christopher and a probable high side of good… or high side of high for Hellsgate. We dropped our rig in Gisela and went up to the Christopher put-in. As soon as we got out of the car the snow started to fall. Wet snow and kind of in little bursts, so no big deal.

No big deal except in the flurry of snow and gear I decided against bringing my camera – uh hello, re – tard, this is a creek that rarely can be run so bring your camera! Luckily Austin and Cody brought theirs, but for my folly the photo Gods did not allow one shot of me in the canyon to turn out. Eh, whatever but it is just an amazing place and so worthy of photographic documentation. We geared up and made our way down to the box canyon. Just as I remembered it and with a tad more flow. Perfecto. I got excited and jumped in to get it going first. The weather seemed to be clearing and the anxious butterflies over dropping in to the gorge turned into a nice steady flow of adrenaline.

The fourth drop - just a sweet little ten - Photo Austin Woody

At the first drop, Tyler’s Lttle Bird, a bit too much boof led to a minor bonk into the left wall, a swerving little swing out into a ferry and a sweet six footer into a pool. Ahhh, looking up from a beautiful pool at the top of a bedrock paradise. Boof boof, boof boof and another good boof and we were at Roy’s Smiles to Trials.

Smiles to Trials for Roy, but all smiles for Cody and I. Yes I stomped this one but the photo is so blurry I can't even post it. Cody killing it here though - photo Austin Woody

From Roys it is pure goodness and was even more fun then I remembered it being with a little extra padding. We paraded through the Tripple Dipple, walked the White Russian and styled the “uh, I’m just gonna go find an ATM, tight as Bunny Double Drop. ” Yes, that’s the new name I just made up but it works right?

Me and Rando below Roy's above the Tripple Dipple - Photo Cody Howard

Ramirez Tripple Dipple - Photo Cody Howard

Tight ass Bunny double, so fun with some juice at the bottom - photo Austin Woody

Juice at the bottom of the Bunny double - photo Austin Woody

Then we started to get into the meat and the sensation of extreme nervousness returned. I could see it on  Randy’s face too. We were all a little scared as we made the good moves above Donnie’s. Launching off of Donnies is pure goodness. Especially with a nice soft landing zone. And then you are faced with the Big Lebowski or the Dude. “Look, let me explain something to you. I’m not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. That or His Dudeness… Duder… or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”

Rando launching Donnies

Cody had an interesting story about a mutual friend who is an extremely talented paddler getting his ass handed to him in the under-cut pocket at the base of the Big L at approximately the same flow. He also mentioned that the boat wasn’t retrieved until the next day as they had to lower into the gorge from forty feet up to remove it from the cave just downstream of the drop. Something like that happening seemed about 50/50 and would put a major damper on our Hellsgate attempt so everybody opted for the Dude line, a.k.a. the chicken shoot, a.k.a the Wyoming Otter Slide. There was enough water to not really scrape to it and the landing was aerated enough from the main falls that is was still a nice piece of vertical to add to the equation… but we’re pussies.  Mark one in the old man spring break category.

It was on the edge as far as running the Big L but no one wanted the beatdown so everybody took the sneak... kinda weak but also kind of a gnarly cauldron that if you swim out of is almost impossible to get your boat back from in the same afternoon - Photo ES

The room below the Big L is what you come to Christopher Creek for. Totally locked in above the beautiful twenty footer known as the Little Lebowski, you are truly in a zen garden of kayaking. You run the Lil’ L hugging the right wall to late blind boof and life is sweet, life is sweet. Another little fifteen footer leads into the sketchiest part of the gorge where you’re locked in above a portage on the left. A fine move into a small swirling eddy allows for a scramble into the junkiest part of the run.

Ya, it's a, like that good, Austin's favorite run to date

And then it started to blizzard. For a minute there the sun came out, I thought the girls in bikinis were going to be waiting for us at one of the cobblestone beaches after the gorge, and the next thing  I know were portaging some heinously tight drops over the slipperiest polished ice caked rock I’ve ever had the pleasure of portaging on.

Icy ass portaging

Trying to negotiate the portages was downright treacherous and the water was rising as the snow picked up. As we neared the end of the box canyon, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. Blowing wet snow made it nearly impossible to see and we ended up having to portage the last drop mainly due to visibility issues.

The weather can change in a hurry in AZ

It continued to blizzard on the paddle out to Bear Flat, although with the addition of the water from the Tonto Headwaters, the run-out became a fun class III sluice with good waves and a class IV gorge thrown in. By the time we got to the take-out though we were all pretty frozen and the prospect of trying to negotiate the gorges in the upper part of Hellsgate, with the already slippery rock, covered in ice, combined with the sleeping in the snow prospect, had everybody running for the car heater and begging Cody for a warm bed in Phoenix for the night. Chalk up another one in the old man category.

It hurt because the upper part of the run from all accounts would have been fantastic. My frozen toes were saying otherwise. We also had to consider the very real possibility that our high side of good was going to bump into the high road of the portage trail, as the gauge was nearing 2,000 when we put on. We later found out the gauge spiked to over 2,500 and we felt confident that our night in Phoenix was the right call. In Phoenix we all had to change into shorts and flip flops, and our shuttle bunny made the deal even sweeter by letting us crash on her cush carpeted floor, so we wouldn’t have to stay at Cody’s parents house. There may have even been something in it for Cody, not sure but THANKS  Brandi! You are a top notch shuttle bunnie, not to mention a kick ass motor biker from what I’ve heard. The return to Christopher was worth the drive in itself. We checked the gauges before bed, not knowing where the next days session would be, but everything seemed to running so we knew we were in for another treat. Sick Bird or Old Man Spring Break? You decide. Read Part II HERE.

Sunset on the way into Phoenix... no snow down there, just flip flops and board shorts

Unloading in the snow - crazy winter in AZ

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.

Posted by: evanstafford | January 29, 2010

Poland Creek Mid-Winter Solace – First 24 Hours

Some people just can’t understand the allure of winter paddling in Arizona. For them it just doesn’t seem to add up. The cold weather, unpredictable water levels, long drives and very real possibility of either embarking on a mis-adventure to remember, or just getting skunked all together seem to validate their misgivings. Certain members of the crew have even flown home early from trips to AZ and quite a few trips have ended in disappointment. But for the experienced AZ adventurer the very real possibility of embarking on an epic mission to be savored in the long Colorado off-season is just too much to pass up.

Dreams of a southwestern winter paddling paradise - photo by ES

And so under this spell it was that we made our plans to head south with a huge wet storm over the southwest, praying for favorable water levels on any one of a number of targeted creeks. Of course, when I say we, I mean McCutchen and I, with hopes for another crew to join for safety and for shuttle.  The email announcement was sent out, and when no one responded, the list was increased and the email was sent again. Still no takers. Mountainbuzz and Facebook posts were made and finally a small but hesitant crew materialized as we checked the gauges every 45 minutes. Things appeared to be shaping up nicely.

I dropped Kaija with my sister and parents in Denver and we started the drive through the night. Outside of Santa Fe the weather became a factor and I may have had to reign in a 70 mph tailwhip on black ice. By the time we got to Arizona the snow was falling hard and once we were on the rim the snow was deep. Much deeper than anywhere in Summit County this year.

Isn't the Christopher Creek put-in here somewhere? - photo by Leif Anderson

Our game plan was to head straight for Christopher Creek to check the level and best case scenario was going to be to put-on for a 3 day mission on Christopher thru the Hellsgate run on the Tonto. Well, the level looked good but the snow even around Christopher had become waist deep overnight and that didn’t seem like it was going to work.

Level looks great! The waist deep snow might be a problem though - photo by Leif Anderson

Before any trip to AZ it is generally beneficial to get some on the ground beta, maybe a visual or two. To get this done I generally try to consult two people before embarking. One being Tyler Williams, who wrote the book on Paddling in Arizona. Unfortunately he was in California. The other is Cody Howard, who has carried the spirit of exploration from his predecessors in Arizona to Japan to BC to Hawaii, which is unfortunately where he was at the time of our departure. When I got him on the phone he sounded genuinely disappointed that he was going to miss the storm (c’mon your in Hawaii man) and he said that if he were there he would head straight for Poland Creek.

Oh well, let's go to Poland Creek! and quick before that semi going 6 mph catches back up to us - photo by Leif Anderson

With Cody’s words in my head, we walked away from the snow covered Christopher Creek bridge, hopped back in the trucks and made a beeline for Cleator, the take-out town for Poland Creek. Cody and friends had quite the epic on the first descent of Poland Creek so were determined to get an early start on the day. Armed with “new and improved” beta and our gazateer we neared Cleator as the sun began to fully form in the partially overcast sky. At least we were out of the snow.

The take-out road runs  from right behind the Cleator bar, 3.5 miles across the desert to the creek. Our first real problem came when we thought we were in Cleator but we wern’t. After driving down every dirt road in a mile long radius in attempt to find the river we rounded up the crew, dropped a rig at a creek we knew confluenced with Poland and decided to just go for it. This was at about 10:30am. Then we drove a mile or two up the road and found the actual town of Cleator.

Cleator in all its glory photo by John Melrose

OK. So not exactly an alpine start here but the nice people of Cleator gave us directions to the creek, one truck went off to move the take-out car to the real take-out and the other went off in search of the take-out. No problemo, right? Wrong. Feeling kind of rushed for time we only checked out three of the four spurs of the road to the creek (which took over an hour) and decided to leave the truck again, at not exactly the take-out, but this time at a much closer spot, maybe a mile or a little more from Poland Creek. Sweet.

Poland Creek? Nope, never heard of it? photo by John Melrose

Back to Cleator to pick up the crew and off to the put-in, which was only five or six miles up the road. Turns out in those five or six miles you basically switchback to the top of the highest peak in the area.  Cleator was below the snowline, but Crown King, where the put-in trail starts, definitely was not.

It’s 1:30 pm, were unloading the trucks looking down from an outlook at a snow covered trail that drops out of the lightly snowing cloud were in, 1500 ft. and 1.5 miles to the put-in. Huh. There was talk of maybe a one day mission and maybe there was a chance for a one day mission, if we had arrived at this point at dawn, but now, at least in my mind there was no chance. Cody’s group had gotten themselves overnighted, and they got a relatively early start. There description also included words like

“This trip to our granite Disneyland was turning into a box canyon that resembled a never ending version of Mr. Toad’s wild ride. The gradient was relentless, and the sun was falling faster with each bend we passed. The time for lollygagging was over, we needed to get to the take out quickly. Unfortunately, the canyon was simply not going to allow this.” -Mike Fisher

Sometimes, for whatever reason, maybe it’s the length of the drive to get there, or the desire to get on something while it’s running good, but AZ can lead you to make some bad decisions. I was trying to not allow this to happen to our group when we huddled up to discuss the game plan. My exact words I believe were, “I would NOT do this run without overnight gear.” I think I even repeated it twice.

"I would not do this run without overnight gear" photo by John Melrose

Well, come to find out that Leif and Nathan did not even bring overnight gear, as they were hoping for a one day run of Christopher Creek and then a long drive home for work and school on Monday morning. Leif is a dedicated paddler, with some serious viking blood running through his veins (not to mention a sweet mullet on his head) and I could tell that he was just not going to be convinced.

Kyle wasn’t helping either, as the cold, high elevation AZ air must have gotten to his head. He was planning on traveling light with the remote possibility of an overnight, but he still thought he was for sure going to finish up the run in a day. I was just kind of nodding my head as he was packing his boat sans sleeping bag and even bivy sack and justifying it out loud. Inside I was thinking, “there is no way in hell we are not spending the night on this run,” while I packed my full overnight kit.

Looking down into Poland Creek from the put-in trail photo by John Melrose

Nathan smartly opted out (IMO). I mean he would probably have survived but he would have been exposed and at the very least have been uncomfortable. Everyone in the Denver crew + Scott Baker had their overnight gear and they were all smart enough to pack it. Tango opted out for a reason I never heard, but I’m guessing he just thought it looked like a bad idea. The double opt out was definitely kind of a blessing for the rest of us, as it meant we wouldn’t be driving to the top of this mountain again on the other side of the mission, whenever that ended up being.

With Leif and Kyle out front (they had “less” to pack) we began hiking the trail through the snow, down to the bottom of the beautiful, but deep and committing looking Poland Creek Canyon. I didn’t check the time but I’d be surprised if it was before 2:30 when we actually reached the creek. We actually put-in on a little tributary for a few hundred yards and before we knew it we were paddling in January, on no sleep, on an ill-conceived mission to still try and finish this thing before dark! Keep in mind the sun goes down early this time of year, even in the deserts of Arizona, and I was guessing it would be completely dark before 6pm.

Scott sussing it out - photo by Leif Anderson

OK. Let's do this! - photo by Leif Anderson

In as much of a rush as you can be with seven paddlers trying to travel safely down a tight and steep ephemeral bedrock riverbed, we made our downstream progress. We had what looked to be a pretty perfect flow of maybe 250 cfs and pretty quickly it became too steep to boat scout. We scouted a drop the first desencters had dubbed McLovin (I Love Superbad) and everybody quickly ran it as we pressed downstream.

Mclovin. Making a funny face since I hadn't boofed in so long - photo by Leif Anderson

Kyle managing an even funnier face - photo by Leif Anderson

Or at least that’s what I thought. Apparently somebody actually went for a little swim there as it had a fairly stout and funky hole at the end of the slide, but I was out in front and we were relying on the buddy system to move downstream as quickly as possible. You see, there were some among us who were still under the impression that this was just a novelty run, that there was just going to be a couple of waterfalls in a short gorge and that we were any minute going to paddle out into open class III and route down to the take-out, which we still didn’t exactly know where it was.

In retrospect I think everyone could agree that there is no way this could have happened. Even with just two extremely solid paddlers, boat scouting everything even remotely possible, you just can not finish this run in a day by putting on at 2pm in the middle of January. I already knew this, with some assurance, however I was just kind of going with the flow, knowing that when it got dark we would just have to camp and that’s how it was going to be. Looking back I wish I had been a little, or maybe even a lot more firm in my assertion that we were definitely going to spend the night.We then could have taken our time and moved as safely,  not as quickly as possible.

Scouting the lead-in to the Big Dipper - photo by Leif Anderson

We did make it down to the known waterfall on the run pretty quickly, the Big Dipper, a slide to vert 30 footer, with a tricky entrance and a tree blocking half of the top lip. At this point things were obviously going to slow down. Everybody needed to scout, get out the cameras, pray to their river Gods etc. It’s gonna take a few minutes for seven people to run a sweet 30 foot waterfall, it just is. And it was a sweet waterfall that everyone styled, but at the bottom of this falls is where I wished I had made it abundantly clear that we weren’t getting out that night under any circumstance. It was pretty obvious.

Kyle probing - photo by Leif Anderson

Tucking - photo by Leif Anderson

...and Stomping - photo by Leif Anderson

Leif stomping it next - photo by ES

Blurry but you can still tell I'm going to stomp it - photo by Leif Anderson

In my opinion we ended up making a semi-bad decision shortly after the falls, portaging high through a steep and prickly slope, around a series of drops that could have been broken down and either run or portaged individually. There was a very manageable looking must run drop in the middle into a good eddy above the last stout drop, which then could have been portaged if necessary. It ended up not being that big a deal, but in the spirit of saving time, I didn’t even get out to look until it was already decided that we should portage. Scott had come up with the aforementioned route at river level, but he was overruled and he acquiesced to the portage, probably for the same reason I didn’t even look. I just thought it would probably be faster to start portaging if that’s what everyone thought.  Again, it ended up not being that big a deal. We maybe missed one of the better drops on the run, had to do a pretty sucky portage and probably wasted some time and energy doing it. One of those situations that was rushed, but in the end, would have taken less time if all of the options had been thoroughly explored. Really, after portaging I realized I wanted to run that  last drop and I should have taken the time to look for myself.

Taking a peak out in front - photo by Leif Anderson

Making some fun moves - photo by John Melrose

Below this portage though, the run got really good and we got back into a good rhythm, routing each other through fun drops and making some cool moves. The canyon was still really steep, there were a few more river level portages and some great drops. We were definitely in the meat of the canyon and the sun was going down. I kept wondering how it was going to come up, when the sun was finally low enough that the entire group would just realize that, it was time to camp.

With style and finesse - photo by Leif Anderson

Ben West charging a fun triple drop - photo by ES

Scotty Baker about launch - photo by Leif Anderson

Ben getting routed into a fun double drop with a rowdy and blind entrance - photo by Leif Anderson

Double drop Blind Glory - photo by Leif Anderson

Leif lovin it - photo by ES

We got out to scout a stout double drop with a gnarly lead-in, into a must boof five foot ledge, feeding an ugly looking sieve, directly into a twisting 12 footer with a boxed in undercut. The thing was actually pretty runnable but not at this hour. We had some people scouting, and then eventually portaging on both sides of the river. You could tell the next drop was stout too, and as it turned out, was unportagable on the left where most of us already were. We scouted the next drop as the light began to fade. It was runnable, but it had some bad looking consequences.

I looked across at river right and noticed a fairly flat zone, the first we’d seen in a while and multiple piles of driftwood from the flood the day before. I said, “that looks like camp to me,” to no one in particular, but it got the ball rolling. Either way we had to cross to the other side to portage the second drop so we began that process in earnest. It wasn’t the easiest ordeal as there was no pool between the drops, just a micro eddy not even big enough for a single boat, where Leif was set up to catch you. We made it work and pretty quickly everybody was on river right.

“This is where I’m camping,” was the next thing I said, and everyone, save Leif and Kyle, were more than happy join me. Those two, I don’t know how or why, were still under the crazy impression that there was time to get out of the canyon before dark. It was truly mind boggling in many ways. Here we were at dusk, the clouds were turning hues of pink and purple,  in a rugged and obviously deep and sketchy canyon, and yet I understood from my own experience the feeling of just wanting it so bad that you truly believe you can will it so.

Don't know about you guys but this is where I'm camping - photo by Leif Anderson

Well Kyle and I have had a lot of adventures together, and have developed a supreme, if not slightly guarded, sense of trust in each other. I got my serious dad face on and pretty much told Kyle that he needed to stay with us, with the soon to be raging fire. They were going to be camping either way and if they went for it they’d be spooning without our fine company. He was pretty easily brow beaten out of his neurosis, however I don’t know Leif as well and though I expressed pretty emphatically  how bad an idea I thought it was for him to continue on solo, I could tell he was not going to be swayed. The last thing I said to him as he was seal launching in below our camp was, “when it get’s too dark to paddle, hike back up to our camp, follow the fire.”

Posted by: evanstafford | August 5, 2009

North Fork Little Wind – Instant Classic

Cali in the Winds. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

Cali in the Winds. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

The mechanics of a first descent at this stage in my life pretty much = luck. And, as much as I hate to admit it, some well timed social networking. Maybe it’s the way I was raised, but I just can’t shake the stigma of admitting to using Facebook. So I guess this is my coming out party, but it doesn’t even matter anymore cause over half of you are already using Facebook, including my mom. And most of you already have seen some shots of this thing via Facebook, but hopefully I can fill in some of the missing details by telling my story of the run. Inquiring minds want to know you know.

Andy in the zone.

Andy in the zone.

I don’t want to offend anyone from Wyoming, cause I love the place like a second home, but here comes some pretty poignant words from a native. Most of you boys don’t really feel the same about CO (the second home thing), but as some of the Laramites know, the Poudre is about as close to Wyoming as you can get in Colorado.

Anyway, after perusing my daily dosage of status updates, I left my Facebook page up while I attended to Kaija (never a good idea) and Austin Rathman instant messages me, I’m paraphrasing here, “want to paddle the Winds? Can’t get any of these pussies here to hike!” Maybe he just doesn’t have the right cowboys numbers???

Didn’t get back to Facebook in time to reply to the message but I guess putting two runs in on Bull Lake Creek automatically qualifies you as “willing to hike. ” We got in touch, I found out what his game plan was and then proceeded to run through my Rolodex of pussies that I can’t get to hike. Until I came across Andy Blakeslee, who’s river boof ANd bedroom boof have both become quite invigorated since becoming a newlywed and, he was of course, IN.

Andy just about as stoked as you can be.

Andy just about as stoked as you can be.

I remembered Evan Ross talking about this one, to quote TG,  “giddy with the kind of excitement I’ve learned to be very cautious around.”  Despite my mild skepticism, I just had a good feeling about this one. It is only one drainage to the south of Bull Lake Creek and Brady Johnston confirmed that there were three waterfalls and that above it looked great on the map. Brady has actually had his eye on this thing forever, before Bull Lake was even on the radar, over a decade ago. He hiked down into the waterfalls in the last gorge and has been questioning if the magical place he had seen was real or a teenage mirage ever since. Turns out it was real, more real than anybody had imagined.

Brady and Austin taking it all in near the start.

Brady and Austin taking it all in near the start.

Evan Ross and Austin had made two prior attempts, getting shut down the first time because they didn’t have their reservation permits and a second time getting lost trying to access the creek from the South side. I felt lucky just to be invited on this bad boy but I was also still unsure of why this thing hadn’t gone down in the ten years since Brady found it.

Maps are good ‘n’ all but have you seen this thing called Google Earth? I don’t even use maps anymore. I confirmed for myself that the gradient was  within range (200-400 ft/mile) and that the section was indeed only 3 miles long and a manageable day trip. Access looked amazing for the Winds with only a short easy downhill hike to the creek and then a slightly longer, brutally steep slog out of the canyon. The shuttle was a mere 2.8 miles!

Relatively easy hike-in for the Winds. The Wyoming boys kept us entertained with some awesome downhill ghost boat runs

Relatively easy hike-in for the Winds. The Wyoming boys kept us entertained with some awesome downhill ghost boat runs

Brady and Austin showed up early in the day to scope the access points and to soak in the surroundings for a couple extra daylight hours. The majestic surroundings in the Wind River Mountains have some kind of magnetic attraction for these Jackson boys and myself, and really for anyone who has been immersed in the canyons and valleys they form.

Andy and I arrived right on schedule at about 1a.m. The lengths we’re willing to go to, to suffer our way through the wilderness in search of our whitewater bounties are great. About half way through the 5 hour drive from Fort Collins, we found that Derk Slottow had passed away on the Big South. This terrible news coincided with us being pulled over by the County Sheriff (story here).  RIP Count and this run, for me, is dedicated to his memory.

When we got to the run it was remarkable. There were perma-grins before we even put-on, as all we could see were granite domes in every direction and a perfectly sculpted bedrock river bed made for kayaking. We hiked upstream scoping the drops as we went and they just kept going so, so did we. Eventually we came to a cool slidey deal with good gradient and nothing substantial that we could see upstream so we called it there. Time to get down to business.

The top section was a Disneyland of granite slides and boofs. Andy B routing through. Photo: Austin Rathman

The top section was a Disneyland of granite slides and boofs. Andy B routing through. Photo: Austin Rathman

Andy about to launch through the first "real" hole.

Andy about to launch through the first "real" hole. Photo: Austin Rathman

Pulling some wood early.

Pulling some wood early.

Then running thorugh.

Then running through.

The Disnelyland section ended abruptly with this drop dubbed Double Deuce by Austin.

The Disneyland section ended abruptly with this drop dubbed Double Deuce by Austin.

Andy quick recovery smooth finish. Photo Brady Johnston

Andy quick recovery smooth finish. Photo Brady Johnston

DOuble Duece required a solid boof, some dealing with the curtain and then a strong couple of strokes to blast through the bottom. This be me finishing it off. Photo: Austin Rathman

Double Deuce required a solid boof off the top drop, some dealing with the curtain and then a strong couple of strokes to blast through the bottom. This be me finishing it off. Photo: Austin Rathman

Below this first Double Drop was a manky ass sliding falls with wood that could be run without the lumber but would suck. Portage left.

The next significant drop was another money double drop I dubbed Boofington Heights. Brady boofing into my subdivision.

The next significant drop was another money double drop I got to name Boofington Heights. I've been waiting to use that name for a long time. Brady boofing into my subdivision.

Boofington Heights has a couple of variations. Austin doing it my way getting as much height in his boofington as possible. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

Boofington Heights has a couple of variations. Austin doing it my way and getting as much heights in his boofington as possible. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

Brady in another little drop. Kind of sketchy read an run lead right up into into this.

Brady in another sweet little drop. Kind of sketchy read and run lead right up into this.

This mini-gorge goes ricktor but is an easy portage on the left.

This mini-gorge goes richter but is an easy portage on the left.

The next bit is essentially a 3/4 mile lead-in to the waterfall gorge reminiscent of the cascades on the North Saint Vrain in Colorado. Just as steep or steeper but slightly cleaner. While I was out scouting around I found this on the canyon floor. GO RAMS!

The next bit is essentially a 3/4 mile long, boulder garden lead-in to the waterfall gorge, reminiscent of the cascades on the North Saint Vrain in Colorado. Just as steep or steeper but slightly cleaner. While I was out scouting around I found this skull on the canyon floor. GO RAMS!

One of the biggest drops in the ultra-continuous boulder garden lead-in to the good stuff.

One of the biggest drops, at the bottom of the ultra-continuous boulder garden lead-in to the glory.

Austin scouting the first waterfall. This one dropped you into a very tight gorge with a nearly overlapping gorge wall exit that was kind of like paddling through a gate into another world.

Austin scouting the first waterfall. This one dropped you into a very tight gorge with a nearly overlapping gorge wall exit that was like paddling through a gate into another world.

Brady and Austin visualizing the line in the second waterfall. This bad boy rolled off into a big hole in a completely gorged out room pushing into a tree trunk with a carved out eddy room of safety upstream of the wood.

Brady and Austin visualizing the line in the second waterfall. This bad boy rolled off into a big hole, in a completely gorged out room, pushing into a tree trunk with a carved out eddy room of safety upstream of the wood. This was quickly followed by a perfect fifteen footer.

Brady found this gem so he stepped up first and killed it, inspiring everyone else to give'er.

Brady found this gem so he stepped up first and killed it, inspiring everyone else to give'er.

Brady dubbed this first one Larry and the two downstream Moe and Curly. Photo: Brady Johnston

Brady dubbed this first one Larry and the two downstream Moe and Curly. Photo: Brady Johnston

The other worldly portal below Larry.

The other worldly portal below Larry.

Everybody came out upright through Larry, so it was pretty much insert fist pump here for everyone involved.

Everybody came out upright through Larry, so it was pretty much insert fist pump here for everyone involved.

There was a minor little rapid and then you were in the this eddy looking at the tops of trees.

There was a minor little rapid and then you were in the this eddy looking at the tops of trees.

The bottom two stooges. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

The bottom two stooges. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

Blakeslee given'er about to go deep.

Blakeslee given'er about to go deep, roll up and fight the boil into the carved out eddy room, visible on the left.

Austin doing the same but about to be the only one to re-surface upright.

Austin doing the same but about to be the only one to re-surface upright.

Austin dropping Curly, which is pretty much a lay-out after running the first two stooges and battling past the boil lne from numero dos, Moe. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

Austin dropping Curly, which is pretty much a lay-up after running the first two stooges and battling past the boil line from numero dos. Photo: Aaron Mulkey

The North Fork of the Little Wind River is an amazing day run nestled in the granite bedrock paradise that is the Wind River Indian Reservation. This is one of my favorite areas on earth  and I wil return every year to run at least something in the area. This is a hard run but it if you have the skills it is a classic. Truly an instant classic considering eight other groups have ventured in to sample the strength of the Three Stooges. Please respect the reservation and the wilderness it encompasses. Below is a protocol from Austin that you must abide by if you intend to attempt this run.

Disclaimer: Follow the rules and make sure you get the proper permits before doing this run. The legality of kayaking on the North Fork of the Little Wind is controversial. This creek lies on Reservation land and access to these lands require you buying a fishing permit for the Wind River Indian Reservation for the amount of days you are on their land. Please buy your permits and don’t ruin the opportunity to kayak this run for everyone else. Also, please use caution when kayaking here. Do not draw attention to yourselves, use Leave No Trace back country techniques and be kind to everyone you encounter, especially the locals. We are guests on their land, never forget that for a moment.


Posted by: evanstafford | July 25, 2009

The Count Died in Bouncing Betty

This is the text I get driving around dinner time with a to-go box of Thai food from of all places Rawlins, Wyoming.

“The Count died in Bouncing Betty”

So matter of fact. A line of text could never carry the emotion of something so heavy.

WTF! I’m trying to process if this really means what I think it means and keep the vehicle under control, while Andy tries to dish me up some Pad Thai. Next thing  I know I’m on the phone with Randy in total disbelief and rapidly approaching what Andy keeps saying is,  “a cop, dude, that’s a cop.”

I can’t really comprehend what he’s saying until it’s too late, we roll right up onto the cop’s ass, he immediately pulls over, let’s me pass and on come the sirens and the flashing lights.

I’m still on the phone with Randy trying to get the story straight and imagine Derk’s smile and realize that our friend is really no longer with us, while the cop is pacing up towards my window. “Fuck Randy, I’m getting pulled over right now, I gotta go…”

I’m fumbling with my license, my registration, my proof of insurance. I’m usually cool as a cucumber with the highway patrol but I can’t keep my hands from shaking.

“I pulled you over cause you came up on me pretty fast. I clocked you at 73mph. (Looking to Andy) Are you just gonna eat your dinner right there in front of me without sharing? ”

I finally get my documents in order and hand them to him. “I’m all disjointed right now. My friend just called to tell me that our other friend died today.”

We drive away with the blue slip, which means I only got a warning. We’re on our way to the wilderness, the Wind River Reservation, a first descent in one of the most remote places you can get to in the Rockies.  I’m thinking “should we still be doing this? What would the Count want us to do?”


Derk everytime I saw him was all smiles

I only got to paddle with the Count twice. The first time he was holed up in a hotel in Wheatland, Wyoming after destroying his rig running the shuttle for Bluegrass Creek. He just kept posting on Mountainbuzz, “Help, stranded near Bluegrass, please take pity on a soul and swing by room 10 at Vimbo’s (just off I-25 in Wheatland, 5 minutes out of your way going to Bluegrass) and pick a stranded creeker up for an awesome day of boating.” We grabbed him, we had an awesome day of boating and then we dropped him back off at the hotel to wait it out another night until his truck could get fixed the next day.

I couldn’t help but notice his already well used copy of Whitewater of the Southern Rockies. It made me proud to know that at least one person was seriously making use of our work. I heard later how into it he really was and it felt good to know that it was furthering the adventure bug in a young guy who was already obviously way into kayaking.

I’m really grateful for the second time we got to paddle, as it was the Thursday before he passed. He ended up at the put-in for Big South, where a small crew gathered to make a coveted weekday run. Austin was kind enough to get pinned in Taco Bob which allowed our somewhat separate groups to run from Bouncing Betty down together. Everyone was smiling up and down, it was a perfect day with a fun group and a couple of BS virgins. Count seemed just so stoked to be there. He wasn’t trying to fire everything up, he was just making his way down, enjoying the fine scenery and reveling in this awesome place.

We high fived at the take-out and slapped mosquitos side by side. We never really got to talk too much but I felt like I knew him pretty well already. His online persona was way more outgoing, at least with me, than in person, but when you share two great creek runs with a person that bond is cemented and it was easy to feel that way with Derk.

Derk killing it at Adrenaline Falls

Derk killing it at Adrenaline Falls

Count would’ve wanted us to keep driving through the night, get up to the Winds and get it done. And that’s just what we did…

…but not without a heavy mind the entire drive. I just kept thinking why? Why, why, why why! Why? How can we continue to do something that can take our friends away from us, and their families, and their friends who don’t kayak and could never understand. I can’t explain it. Why we keep paddling. I can’t explain this either but I noticed that I took my driving down a notch.  Tried to keep it safe on the road. Tried to focus on everything, the same way I focus on the river, cause you can die anywhere anytime and you can’t let these moments in life slip by… and maybe that’s why we keep paddling.

Brady and Austin scoping the amazing bedrock near the put-in

Brady and Austin scoping the amazing bedrock near the put-in: photo ES

You can’t live your life afraid to die. That’s not living and the Count, judging by the outpouring of support after his death, definitely lived every day like it could be his last and left his mark on everyone he met. Rest in peace little man. You will be missed.

Brady Johnston on Larry, the first of Three Stooges: photo ES

Brady Johnston on Larry, the first of Three Stooges: photo ES


Posted by: evanstafford | May 21, 2009

Joe Wright/Spencer Heights High Water is Nice

As the gate opens people travel from far and wide to the Poudre drainage to sample the sickness which is the Big South. I can call just about any of the bros, say “Big South tomorrow?” and they are packing up their trucks in the morning. When I say “Joe Wright/Spencer tomorrow?” there is a decidedly different reaction.

“Um… I think I’m just going to run Black  Rock,” or “Well, we were thinking about SSV…” Even when I say high water JW/Spencer I just can not convince these fools that the combo pack is better than just about anything else on the Front Range when it’s charging.

The locals know and we always get it, so whatever… but maybe these pictures will help stoke the peeps for the early season high Poudre visit.  All photos by Frenchy.

Entering Cornholio, just to prove to Marty that I ran it...

Entering Cornholio, just to prove to Marty that I ran it...

Leif in Cornholio

Leif in Cornholio

Headed for Boofington Heights

Headed for Boofington Heights

I wish this picture had a sound file

I wish this picture had a sound file

Pulling towards the seam

Pulling towards the seam

Poudre Falls must make eddy

Poudre Falls must make eddy

JJ and I contemplating the action below the falls

JJ and I contemplating the action below the falls

The falls looking mighty stout

The falls looking mighty stout

Coming around the Cyclotron pocket of death

Coming around the Cyclotron pocket of death

Leif in the flow

Leif in the flow

I had my patented spin move around the pocket of death rode up on the big boil coming off the rock and then luckily found a way to get my nose up and boof through the other side

I had my patented spin move around the pocket of death, rode up on the big boil coming off the rock and then luckily found a way to get my nose up and boof through the other side

Punching the big water holes in Cyclotron... It is a really cool feeling to come off the charging micro creekbed of Joe Wright and peel out into the big waater feel of high water Spencers

Punching the big water holes in Cyclotron... It is a really cool feeling to come off the charging micro creekbed of Joe Wright and peel out into the big waater feel of high water Spencers

More hole punching above the fantastic fan boof

More hole punching above the fantastic fan boof

Heading into Boneyard

Heading into Boneyard

Dropping into the crux of Boneyard around Leif working on his playboating in his sweet crossover boat

Dropping into the crux of Boneyard around Leif working on his playboating in his sweet crossover boat

Leif punching Scratchy

Leif punching Scratchy

One of the last corners above the take-out

One of the last corners above the take-out

Wildflowers at the take-out

Wildflowers at the take-out

Local crew + ex-local Leif in for the b-day visit

Local crew + ex-local Leif in for the b-day visit

...and still back in time to play with my little beauty

...and still back in time to play with my little beauty

Boofington Heights is my new blog, if that isn’t obvious by now. I’m still working on transferring the blog onto my server, but eventually Boofington Heights will be the place for new content and the coloradokayaking url and archives will be accessible through the new site . Frenchy had these pics so I thought I’d at least start it off with this stuff. Let me know whatcha think!


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