Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dispatch from the BLC

Fort Collins-based amigo Leif Embertson scored a Win this summer on what may be the biggest accomplishment in Rocky Mountain expeditions: Bull Lake Creek. For the uninitiated, The BLC is a major catchment in the Northeast part of Wyoming's remote Wind River range. It was first explored by JHole's Aaron P., Brady J. & Evan R. some 5 years back, but the lid was kept tight due to tenuous relations with the tribal authorities who manage the land. I'm not sure what changed with the tribal issues, but in any case, the run is no longer a secret & is now something of a new "classic" a la Headwaters of the Kern or Middle Kings. So if being swarmed by mosquitos while humping your gear TWENTY MILES over high passes to access several days of grueling, high-quality class V sounds like a neat way to pass some time, then please read on.

Leif's BLC report:


Tuesday 10:15pm

I get a call from fellow Front Ranger Cutch that goes something like this:

Cutch: I got you on a trip to Bull Lake

Me: What? When? Who? Huh???

Cutch: A trip on Bull Lake. Ben and Eric were looking for a fourth so you’re in. They’re leaving the trailhead Thursday morning. You should go … it’s the shit.

Me: Cutch, I got a real job, remember? I need a little more than a days notice for a five-day trip. Is it even running?

Cutch: Whatever. You should go. Give Ben a call.

Wednesday 8am

While I do a have real job, the idea of Bull Lake Creek sounds interesting enough to risk it. I decide to go for it and give Ben a call. Yup, they’re leaving the trailhead tomorrow morning. The rest of my day is a blur of getting beta, checking flows, getting gear together and re-checking flows. I get to Lander around 1pm, meet the crew, and we finally make it to the trailhead at around 2am, right on schedule as Petey would say. Even though I’m tired, I don’t sleep much and proceed to read the guidebook description for the 26th time and scout the hike on the topo maps.

Thursday – Day 1

Big day. Things are reasonable until the mosquitos come out. Lizzy puts it well when she said “I’d like to complain but I chose to be here so I only got myself to blame”. This helps me for a minute or two but I chose to handle the situation with a little less grace.

Friday – Day 2

Big day. Mosquitos prove to be rough again. I turtle-shell while carrying my 90lb backpack and break my paddle on a rock. #$%*!!! Ben says "Don’t worry, I’ve got a sweet breakdown." Reaching Deadman Lake is a relief and is deserving of a needed rest. We decide to try to make it as far as we can with the remaining light, and while boating on the South Fork is "ELF" boating at its best, it feels good to be taking some strokes even if they purchase more rock than water.

Saturday – Day 3

Bigger day and the first real day of paddling. The lake section is as good as it sounds, complete with bedrock slides and waterfalls in a pool drop character.

We inadvertantly eat lunch 500 yards upstream of Haagen Dazen, the climax of this section. After looking at it for a few minutes I get a little impatient and give it a go, and while there was a flurry of strokes after the entrance, things went reasonably well (read: just barely made it to the right). Things didn’t go so well for Eric when he split his eyebrow open on his cockpit rim requiring some creative first aid.

The rest of the day is a blur of one quality rapid after another in a small granite gorge, but we complete the USB section without too many incidences and then make camp.

Sunday – Day4

Big day. Day 4 is made up of the biggest portages of the run interspersed with more quality rapids, one right after another. The Jim Bridger portage is big and long but manageable. The rapids for the most part actually look like manageable V+ interspersed with a few unrunnable drops. Go get some fellas…

It feels pretty surreal floating into Bull Lake (the actual lake). We take an extended lunch to make some repairs and catch some dinner only to shortly thereafter get to work on the second biggest portage of the run: Bull Lake Falls. Sitting below the chaos of Bull Lake Falls, the power of the place is hard to escape. We boat a few more miles through more classic whitewater and make camp above the Limestone Gorge.

Monday – Day 5

By the fifth day we are all pretty weary and beat up, but there is still a lot of whitewater left to go. After breaking camp we enter one of the last gorges of the run with a handful of great slides and waterfalls and eventually make our way to Bull Lake Reservoir. As we approach the reservoir I remember Dotcom saying we would really want a boat shuttle, and the realization that the possibility of a local taking pity on us this day is pretty slim is depressing. After taking a short lunch we get the 9-mile flatwater paddle out over with. It’s actually not that bad (it took us around 4hrs). As Lizzy would say “its all about your attitude”.

Before experiencing BLC for myself I had a hard time believing the effort required for the run was really worth it. But after getting through the run, BLC is easily the most memorable place I’ve experienced while kayaking. Is it better than the Middle Fork or other multi-day Cali classics? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a new Rocky Mountain Classic. Just be prepared for an adventure complete with a huge hike, spectacular whitewater, pristine wilderness, and a truly memorable canyon.

If you go, keep the following in mind:

Top 10 lessons learned during Bull Lake Creek

11. Even though your river shoes may have laces they do not constitute or take the place of real hiking shoes, and Hydroskin socks are not great for hiking long distances.

10. Paddling a straight-shaft breakdown paddle the entire river is not ideal, but if you learned on a straight-shaft it'll do.

9. I don’t care who you are, carrying a fully loaded creek boat for a 5-day expedition 15 miles over and around 2 mountain passes up to 11,500 ft will destroy you. Just accept that it will break you, put your head down, and slowly put one foot in front of the other. Your suffering will not end quickly.

8. God help you if you’re a wannabe.

7. If you think the blisters on the bottom of your feet will feel better once you begin paddling you are partially but not completely correct.

6. Just because someone else ran a hard rapid clean doesn’t mean you will, and just because someone else did not run a rapid doesn’t mean that you can’t.

5. No first aid kit should be considered complete without Superglue.

4. In most cases, its easier to run class V+ than to portage.

3. No matter how much you yell, curse, and swear at mosquitos they are not going to leave you alone until they suck every last ounce of blood from your body.

2. Ibuprofen is a vitamin and should be taken three times daily to ensure proper health.

1. Memories do not just happen. You have to earn them through blood, sweat, and determination. Go get some…


Thanks for the report, Leif!
For more info on The BLC, check out Evan & Kyle's new book, Whitewater of the Southern Rockies.

1 comment:

Darin said...

Glad to see Ben finally put those sweet elbow pads into use after showing them off all spring.