Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dipper Creek: The Lower Canyon

((Be warned, this is a long report.))

Recall from our first Dipper Creek post that we encountered significant hesitation & resistance on our exploration of the Lower Canyon. Here's how it played out.

After hiking out of the Upper Canyon, we bid farewell to our land support team & headed to Dipper Camp, where Chris whipped up a Thai green curry masterpiece (suggestion: include a backcountry chef jedi in your crew). In the morning, Bryan & Shane jogged in for one last peek at Vertigo Gorge to make sure the flow was appropriate, while Chris & I cleaned up camp & set shuttle. Upon our return from setting shuttle we got the radio call from the boys saying, "It's pretty iffy. It definitely goes, buuuut .... You guys should come down here & look at it & decide for yourselves."

Not the report we were hoping to come back to.

Spent the rest of the day bushwhacking, rapping into the gorge, & just trying to get enough of a vantage into the gorge -- to simply see what was going on in there. We hemmed & hawed, ultimately deciding to pack it up & leave Dipper Creek defeated & demoralized.

In a high risk environment such as this, it's fascinating how the group dynamic can swing so swiftly from total confidence to total concession. When it comes to backcountry exploratory missions, we, as a team, are generally pretty gung-ho for a challenge & some adversity. And we are at home in difficult whitewater & box canyons. We'll run some shit. But at the same time, we tend to err on the side of preparedness & caution. All of us are over 30 -- way past college, so to speak -- so we're not as loose in our approach as we may have once been. And I'd attribute our longevity in the exploratory side of the sport, along with our relative lack of "episodes" (epic injuries in the backcountry, multi-person blowouts, near-death experiences, gnarly evac's .. you know, just general stupidity) to that conservative approach. And so, if that leads to more "hardcore" crews sometimes calling us pansies, or if it means the occasional trail-of-tears slog out of some ridiculous canyon, then so be it, at least we gave it a shot ...

I'm reminded of when we were in Peru last year. After we conceded defeat & hiked out of the Rio Huallaga, we headed to Cusco for more adventures. I ended up stuck in town by myself, sick as hell, while the rest of the crew was out paddling the Abysmo del Apurimac. After a couple days just hanging around our friend Piero's empty house sleeping, I got restless & decided to catch a taxi to another part of the city. I visited Piero's sister who owns a little restaurant/lounge & drank tea & tried to eat some food. I thumbed thru a coffee table book about mountaineering in the Andes & came across a quote that really resonated at the time, & still does now:

As mountaineers we look for challenges that make us feel alive, because we love life & challenges. These challenges allow us to decide when to continue or when to go back. After all, the mountain will always be there. The decision to stop is an opportunity to return again.

Renzo Uccelli

So there we were. At the take-out. But not because we successfully navigated our way down Dipper Creek, but because we were in fact being pansies. And what a lame feeling that was. The seeds of doubt had rooted into the collective consciousness & grown into a show-stopping lack of confidence. This is common in kayaking. An internal battle between that which you know you're capable of doing & that which is unknown. Part of you wants to push on, while the other half is wracked with uncertainty. We all knew in our hearts that we were more than capable of dealing with whatever the gorge put in front of us, but in our heads we were experiencing a blockage that kept the whole team from executing on that.

Turns out, sometimes the "easy" way out can prove to be even more stressful than the alternative.

Thankfully, Chris was not content to let us just leave the valley so hastily. At least not without a couple beers & some further discussion. We had another day to work with. So as the story goes, we turned right back around & went back up to camp. Chris had a strategy in mind for dealing with scouting, setting safety, running &/or portaging the 30-footer that drops into the gorge. It was already starting to get late in the afternoon, but once we got back up to camp, the plan was to run down the Cougar Trail as fast as they could to Vertigo Gorge to inspect Chris's plan & to drop some ropes from anchor points on the upstream & downstream ends of the gorge.

Suddenly we were reinvigorated. We had beer, we had food, we had a plan & we were sticking to it!

Weeee're baaaaaack! Oh man, I love the look on Bryan's face here, which foretells the trouble he's gonna be in with his wife upon his eventual return home!
Photo: Chris Tretwold

Chris prepping for his racing-daylight rope-setting mission.
Photo: Todd Gillman

Chris explaining to Bryan just WTF is goin' on here.
Photo: Todd G

Bryan & I got dinner rolling while those guys did their duty. We were relieved when they returned with the news that Chris's idea for dealing with the waterfall would likely work out. In the a.m., we hiked straight out of the back of camp, down into the canyon at one of the only places throughout the length of the creek where river-level access is relatively easy.

Chris admiring one of the huge Doug firs at camp.
Photo: Todd G.

Photo: Todd G.

Heading in!
Photo: Chris T.

Lower Canyon scenery
Photo: Chris T.

The first significant rapid in the Lower Canyon .. a tight, twisty s-turn thing.
Photo: Chris T.

After the 1st rapid there's a handful of fun slides & ledges in the 10-ft range .. then almost before you know it, you're at the cusp of the main event, Vertigo Gorge.

You'll need one of these (ascenders) ..
Photo: Todd G.

Photo: Todd G.

We anchored to a tree that hangs into the gorge on a rocky outcropping upstream of the entry falls ... then rapped down into the LZ on the right, where there was a tiny slimy ledge adjacent to a tiny eddy at the base of the falls. From here, I'd be able to scout the LZ of the falls & set safety, as well as figure out whether or not we'd be able to drop into the gorge without running the falls.

From this angle you can get a feel for how bowled-out the LZ of the falls is.
Photo: Todd G.

The eddy room backed up by a huge boil against the wall downstream. You can also see the limited view we had into the gorge.
Photo: Todd G.

So what's up with the falls anyway? Well it's 25-30 feet tall with a very narrow channel of water on far river-left that slides/rolls off the lip before going vertical about 15 feet off the pool. The falls is almost entirely river-left, with a big granite block that keeps you from being able to go right .. so it falls into a room backed up by a huge caved-out wall. The exit of this room is via a tiny opening on far river-right. A tall boil forms along the downstream (river-left) wall, & it feeds fiercely either back into the eddy room, or directly into a nasty undercut pocket on the river-right wall.

I gave it the double-thumbs up!

Bryan was fired up to run it, thinking that he could either air it out directly into the outflow (threading the needle between the boil/eddy room combo and the undercut right wall), or just plug it into the tiny river-right eddy. We decided to run the whole gorge in pairs, so I stayed down in the landing to set safety while Shane ascended all the way up to the Cat Perch to run the cameras, & Chris hung on the lip of the falls manning ropes. There was lots of mist & although I was on belay, I felt very unstable on the slippery ledge .. so I left my camera in its drybag.

Bryan exploded unexpectedly into my peripheral vision, looking to be angled a little more vertically than we'd imagined, then he disappeared beneath the boil. He resurfaced upright but in the left eddy-room .. dang.

Bryan penciling-in on Vertigo Falls
Photo: Chris T.

I watched as Bryan battled unsuccessfully to traverse the boil & impact zone. Exhausted, he signaled he was ready to get bagged outta there. As he was being pulled thru the impact zone, being drilled by the falls, he lost his paddle, but I got him into my little eddy, which was the important part. The eddy room was unbelievably powerful for such a low-volume stream. His paddle would have remained in the room for an eternity, but we were able to fish it out. There was not room for the both of us & two full boats on the tiny ledge. It took a tense couple minutes to sort everything out without ending up in the water or losing our gear downstream.

Fishing for Bryan's paddle
Photo: Chris T.

Now Bryan & I were faced with the decision of whether or not to proceed. From where I was at, I could see down into one of the most beautiful & intimidating gorge views imaginable. Once Bryan caught his breath, he asked how it looked downstream & I told him not to look, he wouldn't like it. The double-drop at the exit of the falls room lands in a much bigger, cavernous, bowled-out room, then disappears into a steep, narrow, dark crack in the earth. We didn't know much of anything about this drop from previous scouts high on the rim of the gorge. It looked bigger & more vertical than we had imagined. We did know that if we dropped into the rapid directly below us, the only way out of Vertigo Gorge would be to run it & everything else below it .. none of which we really seen. I was sure that I could squeeze past the boil/undercut & from what I could see, I thought I'd be able to scramble out onto the left wall to scout the next falls. Problem was, if we didn't like what we saw, it didn't matter, we'd have to run it. This was a nerve-wracking but almost giddy experience.

We decided that we had to trust ourselves & trust that it was good-to-go. I dropped in first, battled against the boil & slid past the undercut & into the fun double-boof into the calm green pool. We were surrounded by waterfalls, but it was eerily quiet in this incredible sanctuary-like room. The view downstream was unreal -- nothing but dark polished rock with a tiny portal disappearing out the bottom of it all. Our scout of the drop was quite obscured, but it looked okay. We could see downstream the corridor to the next blind corner, which appeared to be a crisp right-hand turn waterfall. There would be zero safety & zero egress. Bryan went first. I could hear the hull of his boat make that hollow, throaty sound as it impacted water, but the drop was so overhung, I couldn't see him until he came into view downstream under the roof of the right wall. He howled in approval, then disappeared out of sight as he cranked a big cross-current boof off the corner falls.

Bryan in the double drop below the entrance falls .. this lands you in the heart of Vertigo Gorge.
Photo: Chris T

Bryan scouting a super-tight falls in Vertigo Gorge.
Photo: Todd G

Bryan running the super-tight falls in the middle of Vertigo Gorge.
Photos: Todd G

At this point, Bryan had disappeared around the corner. I had no idea what was going on beyond what I could see. He was on his own, I was on my own, & I was nervous & wanted to record the heaviness of the moment ..
Photo: Todd G

Turns out the falls I was standing on top of was great -- maybe 10 or 12 feet, slide-to-vert & very tight .. the landing moves fast to the right & resurfaces under the roof on the right. The corner falls is exactly what it looks like from upstream -- a super-crisp vertical cross-fader, maybe 15-20 feet or so. The surprise bonus was yet another mandatory falls of maybe 12 feet to exit Vertigo Gorge.

Bryan on Vertigo's exit falls, with the corner falls visible just upstream..
Photo: Todd G.

We were ecstatic! We ran down to our pre-set egress point above an unscouted huge falls .. and then gave the good news to Shane & Chris, who then made quick work of the gorge.

Overlooking the breadth of Vertigo Gorge .. Chris & Shane about to rap-in.
Photo: Todd G

Shane running the double & celebrating in the cathedral room
Photos: Todd G

Shane & Chris in the heart of Vertigo .. from waaaay up above. The corner falls is clearly visible on the left.
Photo: Todd G

Chris T.
Photos: Todd G.

Shane R.
Photos: Todd G.

Vertigo exit falls
Photo: Chris T.

Overhead look at the pool just downstream of Vertigo Gorge.
Photo: Todd G.

Fun slide below Vertigo Gorge
Photo: Chris T.

Shortly below Vertigo there is a very large waterfall that is impossible to scout without dangling into the gorge. We were racing daylight at this point & decided to expedite the completion of our mission -- we portaged the big falls & headed down to the next available river-level access, which happens to be just upstream of the two confluence waterfalls.

Shane running the confluence falls
Photos: Todd G.

Chris, with motion-blur, running the confluence falls
Photo: Todd G.

Me ..
Photo: Chris T.

And Bryan ..
Photo: Todd G.

At the Squamish confluence
Photo: Todd G

Shane & me running out to the Squamish ..
Photo: Chris T.

From here you just have to figure out how/where to climb out of the Squamish R. Downstream there's a significant gorge that we ran a couple years ago. The climb out wasn't too bad there, but we opted to hike out at the confluence .. bad call, don't do that.

We'll work on a wrap-up with all the vital details about the creek .. put-in, take-out, rapid count, etc. In short, we ran all but several individual rapids & one short section at the end of the Upper Canyon. Bryan sez there's one mandatory portage falls in that section, but apart from that, I didn't see a single rapid on Dipper Creek that wasn't runnable -- this includes both huge falls & Rowdy Flatwater. We left some serious scraps on the table, but we did what we had to do in order to get down the creek. I guess you could say Dipper Creek is like an amped-up version of Tatlow. So if that's your style then go get it!


Anonymous said...

Top to bottom that creek looks absolutely incredible. Nice job sussing it out and givin' it!

Thanks for sharing such an exciting/complete TR and outstanding photos. Cant wait to peer over that canyon rim soon...

waterwacko said...

You guys are fucking men. Amazing place.

RonSavant said...

Sickness. Sickness. Sickness. How about that formation that creates the last waterfall! Dang! I will fly in. Frequent flyer miles are stacked and ready to fall like Jenga. Call me doggy. Woof.


dis said...

Awesome story! Great work guys. Was there any video taken and if so, will any be posted on the site?


Chris Menges said...

Sick! Solid work TRL!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Speechless. Such an unbelievable find, place, everything. Definitely not pansies. Sick.


Chris said...

Excellent write up on an awesome adventure. Thanks for Sharing this!
-Chris Gallaway

Anonymous said...

Finally sat down and read the report, amazing stuff you guys got into.

Not sure if I've got the cajones to lock in on that one, glad you guys did...for some reason I have the feeling one day I'll get dragged down this one.

That last conflunece falls is pretty sweet. Awesome photos Todd.


Geoff said...

Better than anything on TV. Ever. Thanks for helping to remind me to always keep exploring.

Wet Willie said...

Great stuff, guys...thanks for sharing it.

Tyler said...

Sick! the stuff you guys get into never ceases to amaze me. love to see that gorge someday!

Anonymous said...

Fucking sick. I wanna drop the confluence falls!!

Swede said...

yeah... speachless....

Anonymous said...

Dipper looks like the icing on the cake for the Squamish drainage! Unreal. You guys just gave me one more reason to get back in the area. Cant wait.


Anonymous said...

Stand up work boys! That is pretty cool. I want in on round 2!


Monk said...

Any plans for another kayak session spread? I could use a centerfold shot of that place. And what of this remarkable tatlow shoot I've been hearing about?

From a long dry spell,


gemini said...

Nice pictures!

Anonymous said...

Oh I love the feeling where the hell am I and I hope my bro is ok


Fred Norquist said...

killing it, nice work

Andrew said...

yes boys....thats the shit