Sunday, February 23, 2014

Box Canyon Creek, October 2013

Down near Seward on the Kenai Peninsula are a number of excellent USFS trails that are good for hiking, biking, and running. One famous trail is the Lost Lake Trail that heads north from near the Seward Fire Station. It's well known as a great mountain bike ride and trail-run race, too.

One day, maybe, the Lost Lake Trail will be well known as scenic access to one of the best high-end (i.e. steep, low volume, Class IV) packrafting creeks in SC AK: Box Canyon Creek.

This past Fall, Fairbanks-born multisport athlete Paul Schauer and kayak legend Trip Kinney dragged their kayaks into the top of Box Creek Canyon off the Lost Lake Trail and recorded this:

Paul Schauer's inspirational edit.

Paul and Trip likely made the first D on many of these amazing drops in mid-September, but Doug Demarest, who was a hard-shell boater on the sharp edge 10 years ago and a packrafter on the sharp edge now, hiked-in and ran most of it solo back then -- pretty impressive.

Anyway many thanks to Paul and Trip for their pioneering effort and documentation as it inspired Luc Mehl, Todd Tumolo, G. Ganey and me to head in a few weeks later and run it ourselves.

Not sure where I first saw the vid, but Tim Johnson and I watched it together and he said, "It looks perfect for packrafts." That's all I needed to hear and with Tim's words and Paul/Trip's vid I had Luc, Ganey, and Todd sold on an early October trip.

We made quick work of the hike in. Leaving the parking lot around noon, we followed the trail as it wandered through rain forest to the edge of Box Canyon, where a brief glimpse of a rocky creek looked un-promising --  rocky and shallow.

Later there was a  bit of anxiety about where best to drop in, how best to miss the 500 vertical feet of alder shlapping.

We climbed down to the mouth of the visible canyon.

Our choice, where the Lost Lake Trail ends its parallel run to the creek and heads away uphill through meadows, seemed the least brushy alternative but had a steep drop down to the creek bed. I am sure there are better approaches. We walked and waded for about a quarter to half a mile, before shear walls forced us in at about 2:30 PM.

The water was so shallow and any rock out of the water so sharp that I think we were all wondering why we were there. If it wasn't such a gnarly climb out, we probably would have bailed.

Luc at the put-in

Instead we scratched and paddled onward on a bunch of little drops that seemed bad for the boat but were nonetheless fun .... and then about an hour and a half later we came to this six foot slide followed by a ten foot boof:

Luc approaching the Veracruz-style double drop

I gave it ago first and made the entrance drop nicely but didn't even try to boof and landed on my head off the 10-footer. Subsequent group members made some comic efforts, too, but both Luc and Todd styled the boof, thanks to their Jan 2013 trip to Mexico.

fuzzy -- but you get the idea

I referred to this as the "Veracruz Boof" in honor of their Mexican boofing school.

"That was awesome!" I called out to Luc as he made a successful boof, "Class V for sure, right?"

"No. That's not class V. It's not burly or pushy or big enough water."

Stylish eddy out below his stylish boof

From here it picked up, but we felt like some more water would have been nice.

In Paul's video there's a wild little pencil lead-wide slot that we were sure would cut our boats. Instead it was fun. In fact, everything was fun, except the fear of a cut boat on the sharp, raw Kenai schist, and got fun fast as we neared what Luc called the "Four Horsemen".

As we climbed down and scouted we were excited. It looked like a mini-version of North Carolina's Horsepasture Creek that Luc and I had paddled with Timmy J. in Jan. 2012. There was a slide drop to its lip:

Then four more slides. Luc went first and I tried to snap some photos with my point and shoot. I had the only camera but it was a dark, October day, getting late, and I was cold and excited so the shots are blurry. I doctored them up a bit to help capture the mood and magic of the moment.

Luc ran the sequence first -- four slides in a row, each about ten feet tall and with sort of sticky holes at the bottom.

"I can't believe this run!" gushed Luc, "I have never been on a run that I can point to specific winter  boating I did before that prepped me. These slides are so like the Dixie runs we did and the boofs -- the Mexico trip so prepared me for those. January paddling is awesome!!"

We were just getting started on a quarter mile that drops maybe 200 feet or so in about 15 stacked back to back drops from 5-15 feet high. In this quarter mile there were the Four Horsemen with the entrance above -- then a chossy drop into a Class V we walked -- to a Class V that Paul and Trip walked and Luc tried but swam backwards and head-first, asking for my help as he went over and that I couldn't deliver -- to another drop we walked -- to one that shot Todd out of his boat (ask him the name of that one) and me into a roll -- to some more portage drops -- to fun drops -- to a swirly corner -- to the final Class V "California Nightmare" pothole that trapped Ganey upright for a minute or five before Todd pulled him out, wide-eyed but still upright, with a throw bag.

Looking down an un-run drop that Luc swam upside down and backward

At the end, as we walked down the creek to the Resurrection River valley and the roads back to the Seward Highway with darkness dropping hard, we were bubbly.

"This is exactly what I want to be doing in a packraft," claimed Ganey. "Exploratory boating on a new run with big drops."

I couldn't agree more. It was a solid crew on a run that as far as we knew had been run once a few weeks earlier by expert kayakers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Todd's Mexico Video

 Yes, I want to go back and I will.

Mexican Packrafting Fiesta!

Last year I bruised/broke a rib and missed out on the Mexico: Show up and Blow up and famous Orizaba-Rio Antigua traverse. But this year for a couple of weeks I joined Cody Roman who was midway through a winter trip in Mexico, Brad Meiklejohn who came for a weeklong stint, Mike Curiak who's plopping class IV in his second season, Todd Tumolo who styled all the beautiful drops we came to, Gerard Ganey who sort of made the trip happen, Jeremiah Phelps and Doug Demerest for a couple weeks paddling in the state of Veracruz.

 It was freaking cold and rainy, with the cold weather that brought snow to Alabama blowing across the Gulf of Mexico. But the paddling was so good, so was the food and lodging at Aventurec in Tlapacoyon.

 I almost learned to boof, especially on the "Big Banana" and roadside section of the Alseseca as well as its Ship Creek-like tributary, the lower Jalacingo ("Little Jalapeno").

"Big Banana" is a famous Class V run that seemed ideal for Class IV packrafting. Todd and Luc did it last year with some kayakers, and by the time C. Roman, Brad, MC and I joined up with the others, they had already run it and were eager to run it again.

 We headed down the day after we did Roadside where I had one of the top swims of my life in Sophie's Hole -- the kind where you think, Oh I see, so this is how it can end. MC's boat sprung a leak at the put in and so he walked back out. Three drops in and Ganey had a bad swim in a pocket hole under a manky drop and I was ready to walk out. But Todd talked me off that ledge and I was happy to keep going.

 The must-do rapids were all either easy class IV or, in two instances what Todd and Ganey called "mandatory swims", both sort of back to back. Below is Todd's photo of the entrance-drop to the first mandatory swim: a twenty footer into a walled-in, cliffed-out amphitheater just above another 20 foot drop into a slot canyon called Mordor.

All the other rapids we'd not likely run in packrafts -- a.k.a. Class V -- were easily portaged and so beautiful to look at from above as we walked by them. After most mandatory class V portages we had to "drop and plop" or "toss and go" or something like that. Fun and exhilerating cliff jumps with packrafts that might be sort of a long drop as a seal launch.

 Anyway, I was again reminded of what wonderful tools packrafts are for amphibious exploration and what a great crew we had that day on the Big Banana, one of the greatest high caliber packrafting day trips on the planet.

If walled-in Class IV and mandatory plunge/swims off 20 foot waterfalls/cliffs doesn't cook your bun, there's still a great week or two boating among the Barranca Grande and Pescados section of Rio Antigua as an overnight (just don't leave a car at the put in!), the beautiful waters of the Actopon and the fun Class III/IV- boulder gardens of the Filo-Bobos, not to mention the travertine father north we never got to.

 I would go back next winter -- it's so cheap to get there and the Aventurec set up is ideal. We have even discussed an APU whitewater packrafting course down there, since in just the week we paddled the Alseseca and its tributaries we all improved markedly
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