Saturday, July 10, 2010

Low Water Boating

One of my goals was to run bigger water this year. This sort of amounts to doing the popular kayak runs at "normal" flows. So I ran Six Mile's three canyons (minute 2 onwards) just under 10 feet. We looked at a juicy Magic Mile and walked 3/4 of it. I did the Campground Rapids loop when it was running high, too.

Part of this is probably a reaction to kayak sneering, and part of it is wanting to push my limits. But what I have discovered is that low water is where packrafts really excel and where kayaks are overkill and canoes and IKs unwieldy. Nothing puts a grin on my face as long and strong as low water Ship (back when it was legal and below 5 feet), Bird (when Ship's running below 5 feet), Montana (5.5 feet or lower), Honolulu (white rock in 4 inches water, gray rock dry), and Little Su below 3.4 feet. Same goes for Six Mile below 9 ft.

By low water I mean steep creeks that are substantially below their normal flows and the style is unloaded, sport boating for whitewater as substance abuse -- hormone dosing "naturally".

People often ask me "Why not just get a hardshell?" And after yesterday's double "flip" on Little Su, I know why: It's because I am too old and testosterone-dry to run "the brown" and "the gnar-gnar". I am not a "bad-ass". I am a packrafter and this is my favorite style of packrafting:

Yea, the Little Su is super fun right now. So fun I ran it three times in the last week. Once with Erik Tomsen, who boated a bunch with me in NZ. Then again yesterday with Luc Mehl in the sunshine and crowds. What a beautiful day! And we ran into other packrafters, some with mountain bikes and others with open boats(!).

The best place to put in when it's this low (3.3 feet) is at 11 Mile Fishhook Road. Leave a bike at the Fishhook Bridge (about 8.5 mile), then drive up and park at the Government Peak Picnic Area. Walk up the road 50 yards and put in. Upstream of 11 Mile is too bony and flat for my tastes at these super low flows. Brad M. would likely give different advice. He likes longer runs and somewhat higher flows (I think his adrenaline habit is a bit chunkier than mine, these days). I prefer to pick out the steep sections of creeks and run them multiple times -- what kayakers call "running laps" but what I called "flipping" in an earlier post.

Luc Mehl and I flipped Little Su twice yesterday and it was great.

Not much of a warm-up but super fun when you put in at 11 Mile. Anywhere upstream of the Fishhook Bridge a swim can be bruising and whatever you do, if you fall out of your boat, don't try to stand up as the rounded granite boulders could grab your foot like a lock.

There are about eight or ten wild drops and lots of boulder gardens between 11 Mile and the Bridge. Even after running it three times in a week I'd be hard pressed to list or describe them in series. It's never dull, always exciting and a bit like a miniature golf version of New Zealand's boulder garden runs like the Hokitika and Arahura, but instead of a thousand cfs past boulders that are big as a bus, it's a couple hundred cfs past boulders maybe as big as a VW bug.

As you drive up the road you can see the creek here and there. Early on (upstream of the bridge at the third time the river comes in view, starting with the bridge view) there is currently a log under water, jammed between the river left bank and a midstream boulder. Also visible from the road at about nine point something (maybe the fourth view?) is a long stretch alongside the road. You'll see a big triangular boulder midstream and it's undercut. We met a couple other butt-boaters and they got a boat stuck under it. I like to run far right of it as trying to go left seems to bring you brushing by the undercut. Upstream and still in view (there's a dirt pull-out) is a flat-topped rock with an undercut also. Again, I go way right of this. Worth looking at these two rocky drops as you drive up to the put-in by getting out and scouting from the road.

Between 10 Mile and these roadside views are several steep rocky drops that can be boat scouted, but might better be bank scouted the first time through. "Death Ferry" is pretty radical as are two other super-steep drops, one maybe 5-10 minutes above and another 5-10 minutes below.

In general, follow the main flows and biggest tongues everywhere. If you don't/can't then you run the risk of running up on a boulder and falling out of your boat. Staying in the best water demands a lot of maneuvering and quick turning and the "snicker-snack" technique, where you are pivoting and alternating back-stabbing back-paddles with forward power stroking to slalom through the rocks.

Anyway this is a classic packrafting creek, worth multiple runs in a day.

By the way, best to use the USGS gauge rather than the NOAA one. USGS seems to have a more accurate stage to discharge relationship.


  1. Whoa, kayakers are still sneering? I'd long forgot the drama. Up for an afternoon/evening adventure this week?

    Timmy J.

  2. Once you've been sneered at it's a bit like childhood trauma -- takes years to get over it.

  3. 人生中最好的禮物就是屬於自己的一部份..................................................

  4. Looks like fun! I think it would be really fun to hike up to the Mint Glacier and float out from there. The rapid at 2:53 is one of my favorite rapids. At higher water it sets up a really fun snaking tongue that runs you through the rapid in a snaking turn from right to left.

  5. Oh Roman, you hold a grudge like an old woman:^) lol. I believe it's time for us to hit the water together again upon your return.

    Timmy J.

  6. Well these East Coast boaters are about the friendliest I have yet met (outside of AK, of course)


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