Monday, January 16, 2006

Soggy NW Weekend

Hope everyone had a great holiday season. It's been awhile since we updated The Range Life, which is a pretty good indicator that at least one of us (me) hasn't been up to anything worth reporting. So anyway, here's the first entry for '06.


We’re in the midst of a solid six-week run of cool, wet, winter weather up here in the PacNW. And yeah, it can be a real downer if you don’t just charge out & make the best of it (which, for various lousy reasons, I have not been doing). The mountains have consistently been getting snow, & the rivers & creeks have been raging. Much of OR & parts of WA have been declared under states of emergency. Up north, the ranges in BC have been getting it as well, & I assume the rivers in the Squamish area have had plenty of water, though I haven’t heard one way or the other.

This weekend a plan to get out & play finally came together. Chris Tretwold organized a slideshow & film party at a studio in Bellingham on Sat. night, & Schertzl was working out details to head up & stay at Chris’s house. Basically, the idea was to just pack the truck with as much gear as we could to cover all the bases & then just hope for the best. The forecast was for continued precip, but the temps could go either way. If they dropped, Baker could be epic with tons of new snow. The possibility of combining a morning of riding deep powder with an afternoon of creeking could be a reality. If temps stayed warm, snowboarding would be out but the creeking options would be plentiful.

By Fri. night Baker was claiming over 9 ft. in 5 days w/ sketchy & unstable conditions. By Sat. a.m., they had decided to close the entire mountain due to unusually high accumulation & continued warm temps. Here’s what the snow report sez:

“This storm cycle has been extremely unusual the past few days. We have received approximately 112 inches of total snowfall in a very short amount of time--with most of this amount of snow falling on Friday at a warm 33 degrees … Recently, we have received more snow in such a short time than has ever been measured in our recorded history at Mt. Baker.”

Accordingly, our mission would be to go kayaking. Our crew (Chris, Schertzl, “Effigy”, Ethan & Ryan) headed up the Middle Nooksack drainage in hopes of getting on Clearwater Cr., Racehorse Cr., the Middle N., or some combination thereof.

Chris & Schertzl preppin'.

The Middle looked big, as did Racehorse. Clearwater was in on the low side. It’s a short but classic low-volume creek that’s stacked with quality drops & is ideal for multiple “hot laps”. Here’s a quote from the AW description:

“Despite being just over a mile in length, Clearwater has more action and quality packed into it than all the other regularly run rivers in the area combined. Thirty-one distinct rapids with no drop being more than 7 or 8 feet…”

The run drains the SW side of Mt. Baker & is situated deep in a canyon below a logging road making for easy access & a super quick shuttle. The character of the run is “boulders-on-bedrock” forming endless slots & boofs mixed in with nice ledges & slides. Along the entire run, huge slabs of bedrock intrude from the canyon walls, forming the smooth creekbed. We kept a rapid pace & scouted nothing, so I didn’t break out the camera until we got to the takeout .. maybe next time.

The view from the Clearwater takeout bridge looking downstream. This rapid is in no way indicative of the "Boulders-on-bedrock" stuff upstream!

Ethan & Chris finishing Round 2 on the Clearwater. What's up with "RPP" anyway???

That night we hung in B’ham & mixed it up with the local crew over beers & movies. As temps dropped, we hoped the mountain would open up in the a.m. allowing for a Baker/Racehorse multi-sport day. Baker would end up shutting down again, so we decided to head north to BC & check the Norrish. I had only heard this run mentioned by Chris & Ethan & apart from that, no one I know had even heard of it.

We had sunshine along the whole drive but could see that the range that the Norrish drains was completely socked-in. There’s a foot gage at the RR trestle at the takeout. We were looking at 8.6, which is reportedly a good “medium plus” flow. I was surprised to see how much water was in this “creek” – it was more like a river. On the way up, we'd heard bits & pieces about the run, including some subtle references to a must-run gorged-out rapid with a river-wide beater hole & tricky entrance line (um, sweet …). I was nervous at the put-in, coming straight off the couch & into the always-interesting BC backcountry. First things first – this place is absolutely gorgeous. It’s BC after all, so the beauty is just on a grander scale – clear green water, polished granite slabs & boulders, a deep canyon with gorge walls & waterfalls cascading in from high above.

Schertzl & Dale posin' at the put-in.

Nice scenery early in the run.

The first rapid is optional -- the last bit involves catching a tiny portage eddy in front of a skanky pile of rocks, or, taking your chances with an 8-foot slot with a nasty hole. This is followed by a number of low-stress super-fun boulder rapids with big boof potential & fun slots. Eventually, the walls close in & the scouting begins. A long slidey rapid leads into a deep, calm pool snaking through an intensely beautiful gorge. I was totally relieved to learn that the mandatory crux drop was in fact scoutable (for some reason, I had imagined that it was totally blind). The main hazards of this rapid have to do with the undercut left wall at the bottom & the nasty hole just upstream of it. It can be run a couple different ways at the level we saw, but I bet with more water it becomes dicey. Either way, make sure the first person to run it is confident & can set safety for the rest of your party from the eddy/rock on river-right at the bottom. Exiting the gorge from here has been done on river-right upstream of the drop, & involved hours of difficult steep climbing & rope-work .. not recommended, but just sayin' .. After this, the rapids pick up in frequency & difficulty, but nothing is particularly hairy. Somewhere in here is another mandatory rapid that wasn’t mentioned on the ride up. It’s marked by an intimidating vertical-walled gorge, several huge logs lodged high above the water, & a noticeably abrupt loss of gradient. It’s a great line that starts far river right, heads cross-current back to middle, & ends in a huge boof into a hectic runout. The gorge is dark & narrow with walls that go up several hundred feet. A couple more Km’s of great rapids & you’ll be out of the canyon & back to your rig. We were fortunate for the second day in a row to take out to bright sunshine.

Erik (Schertzl) sticks a great boof line.

Ryan about to drop into a super fun steep slide.

Tretwold running the same drop.

Denny & Erik scouting the first must-run rapid with the sticky hole in the foreground. It's bigger than it looks.

Ryan running left in the middle part of the crux rapid. The lead-in to this drop is long, fast & tricky.

B'ham local Hale Hanaway.

Denny boofing in the foreground, Dale in-tow ..

Chris in the middle of one of the more complex rapids on the run.

Tight gorge with the second must-run rapid in the background.

The Norrish is a very high-quality run that, for the most part, is low-stress class V. I can’t believe that it’s relatively “new” or unknown given how obvious a run it is, how convenient it is, & how good it is. At about 6 Km in length, it will take several hours to get down your first time. Most of the rapids have easy portage lines except for the two mentioned above. The run is convenient to both Vancouver & Seattle (about an hour & 15 mins. Out of B’ham).

*** Stay tuned & check back for a Norrish video segment that Tretwold is working on. We’ll have that posted asap! ***

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