Mile 13.8 (Fire Island) to mile 32.6 (Sunflower Flat)
The entrance to Lake Creek Rapid.
Woke up to reasonably clear skies (compared to the previous night's downpour), made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, felt good about ourselves.
This was the first place I noticed something which eventually bugged me no little bit: Sparky slept in.
On other multi-day trips we had taken, Sparky and I usually got up at the same time: got our crap packed up, made breakfast, and went for a hike or swim.
On this day, I got up, went over, made breakfast, took a cinnamon roll to her in the tent, and waited. That first day, I thought it was kind of cute.
But throughout the whole trip, she slept in. This really started to gall me by the third morning: her sleeping in meant that generally I had to do most of the work in the kitchen, I couldn't pack and load our camping gear, I basically had to just wait.
I don't wait well.
I view making people wait (for no good reason) as extraordinarily disrespectful: it says implicitly that your time (and therefore your life) is more valuable than the time (and life) of others. I have no respect for that, and it really pisses me off.
As it turned out however, Sparky did have a good reason.
This was the first time she really rowed her own boat, the MF was near the limits of her current ability, and as such, she was much more exhausted than was typical. So she needed more sleep. I can live with that.
We unfortunately did not communicate these facts well with each other those first few days, and for me, it darkened what should have otherwise been a couple of glorious days. Hopefully, I've learned a lesson there. But probably not. I can be pretty thick.
This day saw what was for us the most dangerous part of the trip: the Lake Creek blowout. This relatively new rapid formed when in 2003 there was a huge flash-flood up the Lake Creek drainage. This caused a really big mudslide to effectively dam the river. The river quickly cut a new channel through the dam, but not in its previous course.
So now, the river actually runs through trees in a couple of places. The rapid itself is no big deal: it would be a lot of fun, except for the fact there are all these trees (standing and fallen) you can run into. As has been pointed out elsewhere, wood in the water is one of, if not the most dangerous thing a boater can encounter.
Click on the picture for a good panoramic view of pretty much the whole rapid:
Linked to from Idaho Rivertime. Quick note, the rapid had changed (and most definitely will change much more too) since Jerry had taken these photos: when we went through, the water was definitely lower, but ugly strainer #2 was gone. There seemed to be an even bigger strainer in it's place, but much closer to ugly strainer #3 which opened up a much wider channel on the right.
Here are a couple of our photos:
On my second run, entering the rapid.
Just dodging some trees (I don't often get to say that when rafting)
CB and Bama missing ugly strainer #1
This is a great picture: it really looks terrible, but they are actually just drifting with the current towards the end of the rapid.
A quick aside about CB. I've known him since he was about 10 years old, and I've seen him do a lot of rafting. As far as being able to make pulls, hit lines, and the sorts of things that in my opinion make a rower a good rower, he is as good as anyone I've seen.
Once when we were guiding on the Lower Salmon, I was rowing a boatload of passengers, and he was rowing a really heavy gear boat. We came to a rapid called "Half and Half," and noticed there was quite a commotion going on below it.
I went through first, and saw that a boat from a private party had flipped, and was floating downstream. The rower and his passenger were nowhere to be seen. When I was almost at the bottom of the rapid, I finally saw them: the were upstream of me just above a really big hole, clinging to the side of a cliff on the right side of the rapid.
I pointed CB, who was still upstream, to them and he was able to make an epic pull in the middle of this rapid over to these people, where they scrambled onto his raft.
Did he save their lives? Maybe, maybe not. The other boats in their party hadn't been able to make the pull, and were on the opposite side of the river below them, so they weren't going to soon hike up and drop them a rope. They probably would have survived swimming the hole if they just would have let go of the cliff, but they definitely would have gotten thrashed (it was a big hole).
The point being, CB was able to make a pull with a heavier boat that at least 4 or 5 others hadn't, with even less motivation. So I had great confidence in his ability at Lake Creek.
So we take a look at the Lake Creek rapid, and Sparky and Backstroke decide they don't want to row it. CB and I are fine with that, so I take Sparky's boat through first since it was the lightest, and I wanted to see how the currents were pushing things around with the most possible margin for error.
CB followed me in his cataraft.
Towards the bottom of the rapid, there is a choice to be made: if you go to the right of ugly strainer #3 with most of the water, you'll have the most direct route, but you have to punch a big diagonal coming off the right bank. If you don't punch through the diagonal wave, you'll get surfed right over into the the ugly strainer.
If you go to the left, there is less water, and a good chance you'll scrape the bottom of your boat, but you get to stay further away from the strainer.
In Sparky's boat, I took the right hand channel, and on my second run with my boat, I took the left.
The left was definitely easier.
CB did the same thing: took the right with his cat, and took the left when he rowed Backstroke's boat.
He did go a little too far left and got momentarily hung up on a gravel bar in Backstroke's boat, but if there was any mistake you wanted to make in that part of the rapid, it was to be too far left.
So we all got through there safely. After I ran my second boat through I was going back up with a throw bag to act as "safety" for CB's second trip, and was surprised to be approached by the leader of a commercial group that had also stopped to scout.
He wanted to know if I thought he should make his passengers walk the rapid. I found this somewhat odd, since I had never been there before, wasn't a guide, and didn't know him. I'm sure he was just suitably impressed by my two runs. So I was feeling pretty full of myself.
In any case, I told him I thought it would be safe to run his paddle boat through as long as they took the left channel at the bottom and just didn't worry about dragging bottom, but his gear rafts (oared) could make the pull to the right if they didn't mess around.
He had them all run left, which I too would have done.
So feeling full of myself, we then ran Pistol Creek rapid and I managed to hit the left bank. Twice. I was glad only Sparky saw that, the commercial guy would have been rethinking taking my advice if he had seen it.
It was then an easy float on down to Indian Creek Guard Station where we had lunch, used their fine composting toilet, and topped off our potable water. Good place to stop. Also checked on the water level, which the previous night's rain had increased by almost 800 cfs.
After a leisurely lunch, we continued on down to our next campsite at Sunflower Flat.
This was our "hot-springs camp." And the hot springs there were very nice: there were several pools, one in particular was quite hot, and there was even a "shower" of hot water down by the river's edge. No soap allowed, but still a nice place to warm up if the day was cold (which it wasn't for us).
Sunflower Flat was really ill-named however. There were both no sunflowers, nor was it flat. Given a choice, I would not camp there again. It would be a great place to stop for the hot-springs, but camping required a pretty steep carry, and the landing eddy was not well suited for loading and unloading boats. Good view from the kitchen area, but right across the river from another camp (made peeing in the river kind of uncomfortable).
This was grilled chicken breast night with roasted vegetables and apple crisp topped with whipped cream for dessert. Yummy.
Update: Here are a few pictures of Sunflower Flat:
Looking upstream at the "shower" with people in a couple of the pools (upper left)
Watching the people in the camp across the river (Lost Oak camp) hump their stuff up the hill.
The small and crowded eddy at Sunflower Flat camp.
Update: I can't believe I forgot how to spell "roll." Fixed now.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Mile 13.8 (Fire Island) to mile 32.6 (Sunflower Flat)