Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Upper Tatlow Creek First Descent

Last summer, a pilot friend of Jonaven's offered to fly a plane over some rivers in the Squamish area. From the air, the boys discovered 3 good 1D projects, & ever since we've been working out a floatplane-serviced mission into the headwaters of Tatlow Cr. Logistics would be tricky given the tight landing zone & the small window of "optimal" flow, when the Upper would have enough water to make it doable without blowing out the ultra-committing lower gorge. We were on standby for much of the summer, as the go-time phone call would almost certainly be a last-minute, hurried affair. In the end, the floatplane idea was scrapped in favor of heli support. And, as expected, when the call came in from Squamish, we were afforded a 48-hr lead time to get our shit together, get time off work & get across the border.

I'll let the inimitable Mr. Brock "I don't jog, I RUN" Gavery, Esq. spin the rest of this yarn:

I was sitting in my office Friday a 2 o’clock, litigating the hell out of some ambulance chasers, when my secretary told me my cell phone was ringing of the hook - eager voice- & text-messages from Hot Toddy: “Bro you need 2 call me right away.” Knowing that this must mean the much-anticipated First D was about to happen, I contacted him immediately. Sure enough, the crew had a heli flight booked to the headwaters of Tatlow Creek. Like a Minuteman in the Civil War, I was prepared, having planned to leave for this at a moment’s notice.

Todd assured me, prophetically, that this opportunity could not be passed up, & that “this could b the next cherry cr with hundreds (yes plural) of slides & waterfalls.”

"Whoa SNAP!!," I thought. That sounded like a mission worthy of losing my job over.

As such, I squared away my absence with my partners & my wife. And the next morning, Todd, Shane & I were off with visions of waterfalls dancing in our heads.

Our plan: 1) Drive from Seattle directly to the Black Tusk Heli Pad in Squamish to meet Jonaven; 2) Shane, Todd & I would then load up quickly & fly into Tatlow Lake, getting a brief glimpse of the creek followed by a night of bivying under the stars & a whole bunch of granite; 3) Joey Vosburgh & Jonaven would wait for Bryan Smith, who was supposed to be en route to Squamish from a Chilko-Chilcotin trip. They'd fly in to meet us the next morning; 4) Run the shit.

The heli flight seemed to confirm what lay ahead – beautiful scenery & low water. Nonetheless, we remained confident & the hopes of amazing hidden whitewater numbed the onslaught of blood-sucking mosquitoes that assiduously attacked us the rest of the night.

Joey got some nice shots of the glaciers in the Tantalus range.

Looking up the Squamish River valley.

Looking up the Tatlow Cr valley at the boat breakin' low flow we'll be dealing with the next morning.

Our camp at Tatlow Lake on night 1

Early the next morning, we heard the whipping blades of the chopper & saw our boats emerge from beyond the glacier glow. Unfortunately, Smith never received the team's urgent memos, his cell phone hijacked by dissident coastal natives. The rest of us reunited under the granite walls surrounding Tatlow Lake.

Tatlow Lake morning view.

The rest of the day (as partly predicted) we manked & portaged through high country, steep, partially runnable & mostly unrunnable rapids which eventually spattered out in what seemed like miles of flat braided troutwater. Somewhere, amidst this endless slog, I heard the infamous words that are almost always uttered when the hopes of whitewater are crushed – “God this sure is beautiful.”

The steep manky cascade that served as our put-in. God it sure was beautiful up there ...

By around 4 o’clock, the team's morale was lower than the water level, & talk of setting up camp had already begun. Although weary, no one truly wanted to let the day end at such a bust, so we pressed on. Shortly thereafter, the river steepened & we heard a familiar roar as we approached a misting horizon line: finally, a 20-foot waterfall followed by a sweet double-drop. We all had good lines (Joey running it twice) & it was decided that the waterfall would be fittingly named “Morale”, as we had none before it and plenty afterwards.

Joey sticking the tricky lead-in to the 20-footer.

We camped shortly thereafter, knowing that night was rapidly approaching & that we were finally in the steep section between the aforementioned mank & Tatlow Gorge. The morning held so much promise.

Our class V bedrock camp on night 2.

Unfortunately, with low flow, the second day was also a relative bust. Although the section above the gorge has some great potential, there was just not enough water to realize it. Regardless, within a couple of hours, we found ourselves at the gates of Tatlow Gorge – this at least we knew had some huge runnable drops. And Whoa SNAP! Tatlow Gorge has to be one of the best one-mile stretches of whitewater I have ever paddled.

A decent series of bedrock drops upstream of the lower gorge.

Overall the trip was incredible & satisfied our thirst for adventure, even without hundreds of slides and waterfalls. Like all remote first descents, it was a roll of the dice. Thanks to a solid crew it was still a successful mission.



B-rock said...

whoa Snap!

Anonymous said...

Anyone happen to come across a red Mystic in there anywhere?

Todd Gillman said...

There was a boat up on the R-left wall of the lower gorge .. maybe halfway down the run, or less. We'd heard from Jonaven that it belonged to a guy from MT (you?) .. or something like that. Hiking around in there: not fun.

Shane Robinson said...

If this Jonaven's friend from MT, talk to him about the boat. One of the local Squamish boys hiked in and pulled it outta there for you. good luck.