Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dipper Creek: The Backstory

I. The origins of interest

Bryan: Back in 2005, a boater friend of ours, Jay Mitchell, had just received his pilot's license and was trying to log as many flight hours as he could. He offered up a handful of scouting flights, including checking out the Upper Tatlow, which was one of Jonaven's big priorities. Jay had also been flying up both the Elaho and Squamish and kept telling us that we needed to check out the Upper Squamish.

One afternoon after a flight over the Upper Tatlow, Jay flew up the headwaters of the Ashlu, around to Salmon Arm, and then up the Squamish drainage for us to get a look. Jonaven was busy taking notes on rapids, while I tried to film what I could. From the air the Squamish looked really impressive. There was a rapid in the lower reaches that we called "Science Fiction", and in trying to get a good look at it, we saw a tributary just upstream that looked like it had a 20-footer into a 40-footer dropping right into the Squamish. So now in addition to the Upper Squamish, we had another creek we needed to inspect at ground level.

Todd: From the get-go, they called it "Waterfall Creek", and it was immediately on the list of must-do missions.

Shane: During this time, Jonaven and Bryan were really excited about the Upper Squamish. None of us knew much about it, and information from the older locals was skimpy at best.

Todd: Our "beta" was limited to,"It's got teeth!"

Shane: The funny thing was, after the first Squamish flight, all I remember Jonaven and Bryan talking about was this "Waterfall Creek". I really had to pry the actual name from them. We all got really excited about it, but at the time, we were narrowing in on running Upper Tatlow. Then with the whole Vacation to Hell thing, everything got shelved while we planned for Peru.

Todd: Dipper wasn't even the main thing; it was the Upper Squamish we were after, which, after a year or more of talking about it, Bryan, Drew & I finally got on in March '07. It was on that trip that we got our first real look at "Waterfall Creek".

Bryan getting his first river-level look at the waterfall at the confluence of Dipper Cr. & the Squamish R. in March 2007. Very enticing!
Photo: Todd G.

Todd: Shortly after we did the Squamish, Bryan, Lise-Anne, Drew & I spent a day trying to scout. Looking at the maps, river-right seemed to offer the best access, but we hiked all day through the BC jungle & never actually got to the creek.

Photo: Todd G.

Bryan rapping into the canyon.
Photo: Todd G.

Todd: Right when we got back from Peru, we began planning a couple weekend multi-day trips on the Stein & Clendinning. Bryan had worked out a deal with Darren at Black Tusk to fly a heli up to the Clendinning put-in, & to take a route flying slowly up the Dipper valley on the way.

Shane: I got tasked with riding shotgun in the heli, scouting and shooting video of the creek on the way up to Clendinning Lake. I had two initial thoughts. First, I was excited, because both Todd and Bryan had at least seen the confluence waterfall, and I really wanted my own peek at this thing. But my second thought was that I was nervous to be in the position of making the call about whether it was worthy of further effort. Upper Tatlow had been billed as a valley full of granite waterfalls, but was somewhat of a bust. I didn't want to repeat that by giving the go-ahead on yet another BC suffer-fest. However, flying over "Waterfall Creek" made that decision very easy for me. There were three others in the Heli who had no idea what we were scouting, and they were all piping-in on the intercom system as Darren buzzed the creek, "Whoa, look at that!" Steve said, and "Did you see that drop?" followed Tim. I think even Darren offered up, "that river looks pretty full-on."

Todd: It was really hard to contain our excitement when we saw the footage. I remember watching it with those guys, saying "15-footer, 20-footer, 10-footer, 15-footer .. Whoa! Big one! .. 10-footer, 20-footer .." I think it was pretty obvious we were onto something.

Bryan: Because we let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, with the heli flight on the way to the Clendinning, I was a little worried that word was going to spread on this thing. Steve Rogers and Tim Loubier were on the flight with Shane, and they both were very curious about the creek as well. I remember trying to suppress the rumor mill by telling them a couple weeks later, after our first real bushwhack scout mission, that the creek was choked with wood and way too steep. Every successive scouting mission up there was kept quiet, and I just kept telling those boys that we were working out the Upper Squamish

II. Just put on!

Todd: In September '07, we were talking about getting another flight over the creek. Shane ended up sending an email saying "I can't afford a heli scout, so I'm advocating for the Huallaga approach: Drive to the top on Saturday, drop in, be safe, hike out if necessary." Bryan replied, "We got topos, couple long ropes...ready for a big mission. From the topo it looks like about 400fpm. Bound to be a couple classic waterfalls somewhere in that section!" We all kinda came to terms with that approach & decided to just go for it..

The dudes at the Elaho/Squamish confluence, planning our approach. At this point, we still thought we could access the creek from river-right.
Photo: Todd G.

Route-finding. The valley in the distance is the Upper S., while in the foreground, where Chris & Bryan are standing, is the river-right side of Dipper. The mountain behind that is river-left. We are pretty much right across the valley from Dipper Camp, which serves as the halfway point on the run.
Photo: Todd G.

Todd: We drove up the river-left & came to a bridge in the headwaters area. The creek looked like junk there, but downstream there were some hints of fun bedrock. We decided that would be our put-in in the morning .. junk be damned.

Bryan: Just finding the creek was a huge success in my book. We had been up there 3 times prior just trying to get a view of the creek from river-right, with no luck. The heli flight had revealed logging roads in the upper reaches that crossed the creek and drew us further up the drainage. I could not believe we were actually putting on this thing.

Sunrise @ Dipper Camp, Sept. '07. We had clear, cold nights which kept flows off the icecap low .. right where we wanted them for an exploratory into a steep, deep gorge.
Photo: Todd G.

There are cut-blocks surrounding Dipper Cr & the Upper Squamish, but there are also plenty of huge, old Doug firs & cedars that were left standing. Good mornin'!
Photo: Todd G.

Chris is bummed he sold his Syncro Van!
Photo: Todd G.

Just put on! Shane approaching ..
Photo: Todd G.

Shane: I remember our excitement at that put-in. Just upstream we could see some low angle bedrock slides that got us all excited for what might be hiding around the corner.

Todd: But for the next couple hours we bashed our way through steep, low-flow boulder mank .. total boat abuse.

Shane: I think I was the first one into the eddy above Double Dip. It kinda sneaks up on you, especially when you are in the mank-bashing mindset. I just remember the horizon line was huge. I didn't know whether to be excited or scared. Actually, I'm pretty sure this sentiment followed all of us throughout this entire mission.

The first rapid into the gorge is Double Dip, a two-tiered 50-footer into a beautiful green pool ... that drops immediately into Big Dipper Falls, a +/- 70 footer into another beautiful green pool ... that drops into a nice 10-foot slot.
Photo: Todd G.

Chris: I pulled into the eddy last and Shane gave the "tall drop" signal. I remember everyone had that wide-eyed look on their faces, it was just the first of many more of those looks.

Todd: I saw lots of mist rising downstream & remember Bryan looking back saying, "I think we got a waterfall! Looks big!"

Chris: I remember standing across from "Double Dip" with Todd, the two of us looking at each other, and Todd saying with a nervous and excited tone, "We're gonna run this S@*T!" Slightly unsure, I nervertheless agreed with a "Hell yes," and then headed down to set safety for Bryan's probe attempt.

Bryan: We when got to Double Dip, I was feeling pretty fired up. We had been trying to run this creek for over 2 years now, my energy was high and we had finally found a waterfall after a morning of boat-bashing mank. The drop had issues for sure. It had a twisting 8-foot slide leading into the first of the 25-footers, which was going to make the entry hard. The obvious boof on the left of the first tier was scaring me a bit because of the caved-out left pocket eddy in between the two waterfalls. The pool at the very bottom was plenty big, but it did exit straight into Big Dipper Falls. We scampered around for a bit and found out that you could get out above Big Dipper. I told the crew I was ready to fire it up. Todd and Shane got set with cameras, Tretwold sat in the pool below with a bag, and I walked back to the top. I made one last radio call to the crew before I got in my boat and then made history, of sorts.

When bad things happen to good people. Dang.
Photos: Todd G.

Shane: After Bryan's crash, I think we all decided we were done paddling for the day - at least I did. We decided to use the remainder of the day to walk the rim and see what else was downstream. We were blown away! It was hard work navigating the bush, but it seemed like every time we got another view of the river we spotted another waterfall ... she was really living up to the moniker we gave her!

Todd: I'm pretty sure we knew before Bryan even ran the Double that we were going to be spending the rest of the day bushwhacking, not kayaking.

Chris: The real eye opener was the amount of time it took us to just get to "Double Dip" and then deal with setting safety for Bryan. We thought by about the third waterfall we saw while scouting further downstream, if each of these huge falls was going to take an hour of investment, or more, how long would it take to run this creek in its entirety?!

At the lip of Big Dipper Falls .. the river-right wall was vertical & very very tall, & would prove to be that way for the entirety of the length of Dipper Creek.
Photo: Todd G.

Photo: Todd G.

Photo: Todd G.

Big Dipper & the 10-footer exiting the teacup as viewed from downstream.
Photo: Todd G.

Chris: The boys had been making noises about this creek for a while. My only view of it pre-trip was some of the heli video, and it looked like some good stuff, but, you never can tell what's going to happen when things get this steep and small. Fortunately, the creek was sliding, falling, and pinching its way through a nearly squeaky clean gorge. Just scouting it was a lot of fun.

A sweet 12-footer into a plucky hole ..
Photo: Chris Tretwold

Typical Dipper Creek gorge scenery ..
Photo: Todd G.

Todd: We spent the rest of our day looking at nothing but gorge walls & bedrock features, one after another. We spent a bunch of time at an obvious crux -- a long, stair-stepping, sliding rapid that was formed where the vertical river-right wall met the dome-shaped river-left wall, & was only a boat-width wide for the length of it. It had a super steep lead-in that dropped onto what looked like a mandatory piton, backed up by a series of bad holes. We called it "Rowdy Flatwater".

The dudes sorting out Rowdy Flatwater.
Photo: Todd G.

Todd: Even though it was obvious the gorge continued on downstream, we had to call it here. It was getting late & we still had to climb out of the canyon with our boats. We knew there was lots more work that needed to be done on this before we could come back with boats.

Shane: The hike out was brutal! One of the worst I have ever done. There was one steep section about a quarter of the way from the road where I was really hitting the wall and losing my footing with every step. I almost ditched my boat there, and the excitement about finding a waterfall-studded canyon was quickly fading. I charged ahead with one last burst of energy and eventually hit the tangle of alder at the road cut. That s&*$ was so thick, I could barely get my body through it, let alone my boat. But I knew we were at the road ... what I didn't know was if I ever wanted to come back to this creek with the thought of hiking out.

Chris: Haha! I remember Todd slipped and fell, and yelled something about ditching his boat. All of us thought about it at one time or another, I'm sure. That hike was Hellish. We took a break and I actually climbed up a tree with the hope I might be able to see how close the road was -- it could have been a quarter-mile or few hundred feet away. Thankfully, it turned out to be the latter. After the hike I was sure -- in a nervous sort of way -- I wanted to come back. But the thought of hiking out would curb my enthusiasm each time I thought about Dipper Creek over the next year.

Bryan: As we hiked out, the morale of the group was at an all-time low. Yet it was this trip and what we learned about the waterfalls lurking downstream that cemented our desire to come back again and again until we figured this run out. We had seen the potential and despite the hellish hike out, we would go away obsessing about this place, and keeping a lid on the details until we discovered more. It was still "Waterfall Creek" and we still had a massive amount of work ahead of us.

Over the course of the next year Bryan would make several more key scouting trips into Dipper, connecting the dots working upstream from Dipper Camp to "Rowdy Flatwater". He learned that, even though we had seen many big runnable drops that day, there was still a lot more to the Upper Canyon. And we still had no idea what lurked in the Lower Canyon from Dipper Camp down to the confluence. When the team returned in Fall '08 to give it a go, the Elaho was hovering around 80cms. Turns out, Dipper was too high .. not by much, though. This creek runs through a very deep slot canyon from Double Dip the whole way to the Squamish; to be in there too high would be terrifying, and being an exploratory mission where we'd only seen bits & pieces, we'd prefer to err on the low side. Instead, we spent the day scouting, finally getting to see the Lower Canyon, including everything leading up to the spectacular Vertigo Gorge (which was named because, after peering into the deep chasm from high above, Chris & I both quickly backed away from the gorge rim with an eerie spell of vertigo). We saw several other slides, a huge waterfall, & the two waterfalls at the confluence.

Nothing we saw in the Lower did anything to deter our motivation to return .. in fact, it only strengthened it. Below are a handful of images from our various scouting missions.

Late summer & fall means huckleberries.
Photo: Todd G.

Bryan looking in on the Lower Canyon.
Photo: Todd G.

Shane about to scout a waterfall.
Photo: Todd G.

Lead-in to a waterfall.
Photo: Todd G.

Landing zone of a waterfall.
Photo: Todd G.

Bryan working out a line on a waterfall.
Photo: Todd G.

Photo: Todd G.


Paul Kuthe said...

nice one boys...can't wait to see more when you get down er'

Anonymous said...

soooo glad you're back online!

AdrianTregoning said...

It's been a while since I last something from here. First article is looking good! Keep it up.


Anonymous said...

that has to be one of the most brutal sequences I've ever seen. I don't even boat and it made my nuts shrink into my chest cavity.

Rad pictures of a beautiful place. Keep 'er coming.


Ethan said...

Sweeeeeet!!! I was in that heli-scout too... and damn, was that creek intriguing from the air. Glad y'all got on it.. I can't wait for the rest of the story.

Shane Robinson said...

Thanks ya'll for all the positive comments. Ethan, I totally forgot you were in the heli as well. That A-star holds a lot of people. With my memory jogged, we were worried about you ... that you might spill some info south of the border before we could pull this thing off. ;-)