Heee’s baack…. Prior to heading out to Idaho for our Middle Fork trips our young friend Connor Dixon came down from Washington to try his hand at his first self- support kayak trip. We’ve got a lot of time together on the water with Connor and knew that the MF Feather would be the perfect fit. Our good friends Randy Calvin and Mike Fentress joined us on the run. You can read about Connor’s trip with Phil to Idaho last year here.
I flew down to California for some boating with long time friends Phil and Mary DeRiemer. I spent the first two days doing local runs with them and the next three days with Phil and company doing the Middle Fork of the Feather. It was a great way to start the summer, going from cold, wet Seattle to sunny, hot (but not too hot) California. Phil and Mary were kind enough to not only put up with me, but also show me down or point me in the right direction for drops (although in the end Phil offered to let me lead.)
Mary took me out on my first descent of the Chamberlain section on the North fork of the American. It was an awesome run with lots of class IV. My favorite rapid was Chamberlain Falls, a slopping 7 foot ledge. We boat scouted the falls on river left and without being able to see much, Mary led the line down the left side. Then I paddled timidly up to the edge, saw it was not the death trap I had envisioned beyond the steep horizon line, and was swept by the current into the pool below. The falls and the rest of the run were a great way to get used to the Mamba (since my Nomad had been denied by Southwest Airlines at the airport in Seattle). Even though not as easily boofable as the Nomad, the Mamba has similar speed and edging. All in all, a pretty easy transition.
The day before the Middle fork of the Feather trip, Phil and I decided to do something local: Kyburz. This run was a workout! From left to right to back again and again, Phil led me through the rocky river (apparently it was pretty low). The run had a lot of really fun ledge drops and nice technical rapids. Again, I was still getting a hold on how the Mamba boated. It showed when going through a class III rapid, I went into a hole, pointing strait with little speed and was stopped in my tracks. I then proceeded to get sucked tail first back into the hole and then did an involuntary stern squirt, going completely up and over. The hole feeling generous, however, blew me out right away and after a little while, I rolled up A.O.K. After a short day of boating, Phil attempted to hitch hike up to the put in. The drivers must have smelled his booties and drove right on past for a good hour before some gracious person decided to give him a ride. After that, we went to the super market to buy a ridiculous amount of food for the next three days.
We met friends Mike and Randy for the drive up to the Middle Fork of the Feather early in the morning. At the put in we stuffed our kayaks full of gear and pushed our kayaks into the water. After a lengthy warm up section the rapids started to pick up a bit. It was here I first noticed the difference between float bags and gear bags in the back of my kayak: momentum. Although in some cases momentum can be good (punching through a hole), most of the time it adds more difficulty, like when trying to turn your boat or drive in a different direction. At the end of the day, we set up camp on a nice turn in the river with lots of sun. The weather was holding out beautifully and Phil and I were thankful (we gambled and brought no tent or cold weather gear- it was California after all).
The second day on the Feather was a long day, full of fun rapids and boofs. On the second day we saw nobody else which added to the experience of a multi day trip. You don’t know if civilization is just over the ridge or hundreds of miles away. It’s a secluded world: just you, the canyon and the river.
I portaged a few of the drops, which in retrospect might have required more energy than running the them. Carrying a loaded boat up, over, and around boulders is not an easy thing. The run seems to go on and on with class IV boulder gardens and now and then a IV+ that we have to scout. While long, that second day was very satisfying. Thankfully, Phil and I brought more than enough food for us to fill our stomachs for the last day on this wonderful river.
It didn’t seem as if two days had gone by since the start of our trip. We woke up lazily knowing that we would be out easily before 2 pm. Our kayaks were lighter and spirits were high as we headed into the last day. I was under the impression that the difficult rapids were gone with the second day. However, the most hair raising rapid (for me) was just ahead. Phil, Randy, Mike, and I got out river left to scout a rapid called “Helicopter”. “It’s called Helicopter for two reasons”, said Phil, “The first being that people seem to spin around like helicopters in there. The second is when you look for a way to portage, you’re going to need a helicopter”. The whole rapid depended on how you hit the first hole, which was along the left wall that the current was pushing into.
The first one down, Mike, was endered in the hole but made it through upright to complete the second part of the rapid. Randy was next and got a perfect backender and managed to head rudder out the bottom of the drop. Next was Phil, who despite charging right against the hole, got spun around, surfed the hole, got spat out into a pocket on the left wall and charged out to finish the rapid. I was still sitting on the scouting rock, seriously looking for that absent portage route. So far, 3 runs by some very experienced paddlers and 0 perfect lines. Well, the only thing left to do was to get in my boat. Adrenaline pumping through me, I eddied out, and after the entrance on river left, charged as hard right as I possibly could. I hit the side of the hole with a good boof strong carrying me through to the rock backing up the hole on the right side. I then back paddled my way out and made it through the second part fine. It felt good to nail the “line” on this challenging rapid. Helicopter is engrained in my memory as one of the most difficult rapids I’ve done. Most of day three was relaxing however and a nice way to finish an awesome trip. After this awesome experience, I can’t wait to do my next self support trip!
All photos © Phil DeRiemer, DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking