Monday, May 12, 2008

Hot Spot: Gold River; Part 2

There in our back-o'-nowhere version of a cul-de-sac, in the scrappy remains of what once was a noble coastal subalpine forest, we set up camp, ate, drank & told stories around a raging fire. Throughout the afternoon & evening the cloud cover had all but vanished, leaving us with clear mountain views & a setting sun that painted the snow-laden high peaks of the Strathcona with orange & pink alpenglow.

We drank a lot of beer, celebrating our good fortune & the fact that 36 hours in, Schertzl had somehow managed to avoid sabotaging the trip with some kind of ridiculous injury or accident. Jakub, the Czech, opened & passed around a bottle of hooch. I crept off to my tent & drifted off, listening for the chugging noise of the morning's first whitewater between the frequent howls & cackles coming from the fire ring.

Our morning plan was to expedite shuttle & breakfast & try to get on the river early-ish so we could make quick work of the Lower Ucona before tackling another river objective in the evening. Shane & I ran vehicles down to our takeout at the confluence of the Ucona & the Gold, & came back to a hot breakfast waiting for us. Ryan had done the short hike down to where we'd left boats at riverside & reported that the level had come up.

Our post-coffee wake-up call would be "peel out of eddy, drop into tight mini-gorge".

Bryan Smith about to wipe the sleep out of his eyes.

Shane forgetting all about his bad dream about not passing the Bar exam

Tretwold boofing-up on the right side of the bed

The geology of this first gorge was similar to that of the middle stretch & of Pamela Creek's creamy white granite. It continued that way for maybe another mile, with intermittent class III & IV & occasional vertical-walled sections. Rather abruptly the geology changed, & the appearance of chunky boulder obstacles became common.

Downstream view without "chunky boulder obstacles"

Upstream View with "chunky boulder obstacles"

While studying the maps the night before, Shane had said, "Here's our first red flag," pointing at the topographic feature due south forming the river-left canyon wall ... "Crumble Mountain." Appropriately, the canyon downstream of here, was not only steep, very deep & narrow, but also choked-off in many places with monstrous boulders that had broken off the canyon walls. These boulders lying on bedrock & pinched between walls formed the majority of the seivey rapids. As Jeff R. had mentioned in the comments section on the previous post, parts of the Lower Ucona were very reminiscent of Ernie's Canyon near Seattle .. which translates to "Please try to avoid contact with rocks & walls." We rounded a corner in a flatwater section & the river-right wall soared upward over a thousand feet. "Remember, river-left is our friend," Chris said.

Jakub on a random rapid

Shane about to get all Air Jordan

The author of this here blog post, gunnin' for a slot. Photo by Jakub Drnec, not by me.

We ran a handful of fun rapids before being faced with hideous boulder shut-down. We could have really screwed ourselves here, having gotten a little greedy with a series of fun boofs which lured us into a totally walled-in gorge section. Fortunately, we were able to squeak through the upper bit of this zone in our boats on river-right & portage easily down the rest. This put us deeper into the gorge with no real egress in sight, but everything we saw downstream indicated that it would be manageable at river level .. so we ate lunch & pushed on, which really was our only option anyway.

Shrtl "dusting it off & stomping it out" very much on the radar

Tret threading needles

The view into the top of the gorged-out section .. beautiful & sketchy

Easy portage around sieved-out mess

Slow, safe downstream progress prevailed through more fun, walled-in & sometimes sketchy rapids. Chris had a close call with a gnarly wood/rock sieve while leading through one section. Shane was able to set up midstream safety/assist so the rest of us could fly through the rapid. Several times from upstream rapids would look impassible, but we'd find a narrow slot that would allow us to stay in our boats.

Radley about to clear a big hungry hole

Dig the sidewall design on that Everest! Nice boof in the background ..

Kato driving the Everest through some heavy channelized stuff

Jakub closing the deal

Before long, we could see in the distance the river-right canyon wall of the Gold River, indicating that we were nearing the confluence & the end of the Ucona canyon. Just when we thought we were home free, we came into a section of raging Death Metal -- waterfalling, cascading, sieved-out chaos in a sheer-walled gorge. Sweet.

The calm before the storm. We were able to run the next steep tight slot along the left wall, but then the bottom fell out ...

The bottom of the first part of the nastiness. Chris' little point & shoot doesn't accurately capture the scale of this mess. Believe that it's large & very unrunnable.

Chris, Shane & I volunteered for scout mission, which involved scaling the river-left wall high above the gorge. We looked for an end to the madness below & a way to deal with it at river-level. Failing that, we wanted at least a short up/down route around the (hopefully) short sieve section.

We found neither.

The BS continued for a long way, carving ever deeper into the gorge. We were way off the deck looking down into nasty nasty whitewater. I wish I had taken my camera with me on the scout, but it was a brutal walk that I knew I would be doing twice, so I wanted to minimize the baggage. As such, we have very few images of that chapter in our story. We reached a bit of a plateau with fairly manageable terrain/vegetation for portaging, & we felt like we were beginning to work our way down toward the Gold R. (as opposed to back toward the Ucona). We decided that we would be portaging at least to this point & that it would be best to just get everyone moving together as a group. Chris & I guessed that we wouldn't be back in this spot for at least another 2 hrs. Shane & Chris were the only ones the day before with any interest in "just dropping in" on the lower Ucona at 4pm. Now, faced with a 'Nam walk, we agreed unanimously that a loose decision like that would certainly have resulted in tales of desperation & woe -- at best, a sleepless night spent shivering in the woods trying not to think about bears.

People like us, we ascribe a certain value to suffering. As much as we fear the brutality involved in dealing with hike-in's & bail-out's, nights spent huddled on a rock, crawling through the understory on hands & knees, solo, in a bear tunnel .. or having to knock on the door of a single-wide in Meth Country to beg for tap water .. Hard as we try to avoid those scenarios, we also take a thinly-veiled, sadistic pride in our propensity for colossal failures. The suffering allows one to truly appreciate the fleeting moments of glory that we are fortunate to occasionally achieve. And just as important, these episodes make for great story fodder (add a couple beers to the mix & you'd think half the stories are worthy of being turned into a screenplay) ... & really, who doesn't love recounting the tales to friends & family? Which, ultimately, is the whole reason that The Range Life even exists.

The easy stuff

The not so easy stuff

Merely one hour later, we had the whole group of 7, plus boats, up on the bench looking for the best way back down to water. A long multi-pitch rope-assisted descent ensued, & we re-launched within sight of the confluence. All tolled, we portaged for only a bit over 2 hours .. 2 steep, sweaty, dirty hours.

Two senior citizens .. This Doug fir, at the end of our portage route, was a couple hundred feet tall.

About to finish out the Ucona to the Gold confluence. (((Our run was not a first descent, but it may well be a LAST descent. Construction on a hydro project will likely begin on the Ucona later this summer.)))

Then, of course, we set up camp, ate & told stories around a raging fire. And drank a lot of beer .. celebrating our good fortune & the fact that now, 48 hours in, Schertzl was still with us in good health & without any new black eyes, broken teef, bones, "blisterpacks", "cankles" or "punji stick" incidents. Cheers to that!


Anonymous said...

Quote: "People like us, we ascribe a certain value to suffering." Love that paragraph - some good prose there that captures a lot.


Meistarinn said...

I get all fired up reading these blogs that playak deliveres :-)

Damn I wanna go paddling!!

One question though, what´s your review on the Everest? Cause I´ve got my eyes on one.


Kevin said...

I also love the 'People like us, we ascribe a certeain value to suffering...' paragraph.

Looking forward to your next adventure!


Bryan Smith said...

I have really liked the Everest the 4 or 5 times I have had it out. It will be incredible in big water. It is fast which takes some getting used to. I'm only 155lbs but would certainly not consider it too big. For the bigger guys out there this boat is going to be such a sweet ride. I have found the stern to be much more forgiving and very different than the Burn. Don't think you could go wrong with an Everest! Burn ain't to shabby either.

Anonymous said...

Sweet write up, and to respond to Meistarinn: The everest is sick, I got one a month ago and love it, loaded and unloaded, handles like a dream for a 220 lb 6'3" guy...

Shane Robinson said...

Nice words Todd! You really like that first rapid coupled with waking up puns :)

Also, agreed, that you really captured the essence in the "People like us ..." paragraph. Like we always say in the moment, "Why do we do this shit." Sitting at home, I remember more of the Ucona boating than the portaging, and the portaging just makes for good story-tellin!

Can't wait to go back.

Melina said...

This has got to be the best TRL post yet. That paragaraph everyone else mentioned is beautifully written and really holds true to a fantastic philosophy. Keep it up!