Putting it to the test
BZ section on the White Salmon and
my first run on the Upper Wind
Sunday afternoon I
arrived at the White Salmon River as the last kayaker in the Northwest
who hasn't run the BZ section. Basically I'm a surf kayaker
and I live right on the beach so the gorge is a bit of a haul for me,
but hey, I was in Portland, so what the heck. I ran into some
guys who just got off the Truss and marveled at the willful disregard
of life and limb common to people under the age of 25. That stuff
scares the pants off me! I hiked down to Top Drop, planning to
solo the run, and took a moment to just enjoy the place.
Top drop is a long and twisty class 3 that you just have to drop right
into with no warm up. No big deal though. It was a
fun way to get started.
On the river I ran into a couple guys and followed them down.
This is Bruce, he's just getting back into his kayak after healing from
breaking his foot. He missed his line by just a little bit
on the 30ft Big Brother waterfall on the Truss, and melted
through the curtain and pitoned at the base of the falls.
On the river I got to practice one of my favorite sports, photographing
other paddlers WHILE running class 3 behind them. It's a
great way to get amazing shots, and knocks the difficulty up a bit.
Class 2+ never looked so exciting!
Soon enough we arrived at Husum falls and got out on the right.
Option number one, this very attractive stone stairway.....
Option number two, the boiling cauldron of certain death (not
really, but when you're a wuss, everything looks like
doom.) Bruce showed me the line, "All you have to do
is get onto that flume next to the rock and it'll spit you
out." Which translates into: "Why don't you try to
get onto the flume and I'll watch to see if it spits you out so I can
decide if I want to run it." Nice try Bruce!
How about option number three? I found a nice technical line over
a left side sneak route. Mission accomplished.
Back at the parking lot while petting a huge white fluffy dog,
Bruce and I hatched a plan to run the upper Wind river the next
morning. I was feeling pretty good about my boating and a
heard good things about the wind, and of course, I was in the
The next morning I got up early and drove a boat to the airport to be
shipped to a customer. While unloading the kayak and looking at
my truck I suddenly realized that I am a completely self contained
kayak economy. I build boats and sell them, and then I use
the money I earn to buy different types of boats (surf kayaks,
whitewater kayaks, and surfskis). Hmmmm.....
Next I drove to pick up Michele. Late the night before I
decided that Bruce and I needed some backup, so I emailed Michele
whom I met at the Creeking Competiton a week earlier.
The email said: Michele, do you want to run the Upper Wind
tomorrow. Translation: Michele, will you
lead me down the Upper Wind tomorrow and rescue me when I need
Before the run Michele and Bruce exchange Upper Wind Swim Stories.
Then I see Michele waxing her paddle.... wait a minute, I
don't have wax, I didn't know we needed wax!
It's about this time that I decide to have a beer, not so much to
deal with the anxiety, (I strongly believe you should never boat
anything you are afraid of) but just to loosen my body up a bit
(and I just like beer). One thing you absolutely don't want
is to be tight and stiff when you are getting ready to bomb a 2 mile
long class 4 boulder slalom. This photo is not an
endorsement for drinking and boating, use your own judgement.
Our adventure begins!
I'm so jealous of Michele's boat, it's Green! I
bought a brown Jefe but it had a factory defect so I had to bring it
back and settle for an orange one.
Checking the gauge, 5.7 feet today.
Bruce is ready for takeoff.
Our fearless leader drops into the first class 3 warm up
Soon we're on top of Initiation and Michele eddies out to give us some
beta. "whats the line?" I ask, "left of center
on this first part" she says. I thought that was
pretty short beta for a rapid that doesn't stop for 2 miles! but
really that's about all you can say. Initiation is all about bombing
down and adjusting as you go. Michele peeled out and
dropped over a horizon line. I said to myself, I WILL NOT
SWIM, and followed her down.
Initiation was AMAZING for me, this was my first experience with
continuous read-and-run class 4, I didn't know what to
expect. I was relaxed and confident and actually having a
lot of fun the whole way down. Sweet! Michele in one of the
many rapids in or below initiation.
I think Michele was pretty stoked on it too.
Typical Upper Wind rapids, there was miles of this
stuff! Super fun if you are a solid class 4
boater. The action was pretty
continuous but there were lots of little eddies
to catch. The rapids were just amazing, but I didn't
photos, I sorta needed to focus on boating.
eddy too late, we pulled in behind this rock to discover that
there was no way we were going to get on line for the next
rapid. "Go for it!" I say to Michele, "You'll
be fine." Translation: "Go for it, so me and Bruce
can see if you are fine."
Michele cleans the less desirable side of this short drop, no
Packed into an eddy above Ram's Horn Michele explains the line. I
really want to get out to look at it but the last eddy is
flushing. "Boof on the left or punch the hole, then drive
hard left to avoid a huge hole at the bottom."
Ok, here we go!
Bruce makes the move. I wasn't really sure how far left the
top boof was so I missed it and punched the hole. Driving hard
left I just kissed the left side of the main hole. It's not
really a big deal, not retentive, totally flushing, but still, as I
sailed by I thought to myself "thats a BIG f***ing hole!"
Bruce below Rams Horn.
Michele looks back at Rams Horn.
The look that says: "Are you coming or what Brian?"
Next up was Balls to the Wall Right, Michele says: "stay on
the right." which is the good line, but wait, didn't
I see something on the internet about a big hole on the right halfway
down the drop...
...forty five seconds later... OH SH*T! At the very
top of the drop I got pushed a little off line by a small lateral
wave, lost my angle and speed, and gutted the
hole. My invincible new Jefe threw it's very first
cartwheel and as I came around I was actually pretty calm, then I
cartwheeled again, and thought, "this sucks," flipped again, and
settled into a bouncy sidesurf for .3 seconds before flipping again, my
paddle caught a bit of the outflow and I pulled myself out of the
hole. Normally it might take me a second or two to get
oriented and roll up in this much turbulent water, but it's
amazing what you can do when you know you NEED to. I knew
there were two more drops and a bunch of rocks under the water and
wasn't about to wait around for first contact. I popped up
like the energizer bunny just in time to drop sideways into the next
hole where once again I flipped. This time I caught the
outflow right away and pulled through, rolled up again, squared the
boat up and punched the final small drop. I blasted past Michele
in the eddy with wide eyes and a holy crap look on my face.
Bruce, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. While I was
throwing creekwheels in the top hole, Bruce tried as hard as he
could to back off and not land on top of me (thanks Bruce!) which
of course caused him to lose all hope of punching the hole, and
just as I pulled through he dropped in for a somewhat worse
experience. Michele and I watched Bruce try to roll but the river
gods did not smile upon him and he would get pushed into a hole at just
the wrong moment, hitting rocks underwater all the way down the
drop. I could get all cocky and say it was skill that
caused me to do better, but the reality is I could have just as easily
had Bruce's line.
Whew! Bruce and I take a short break below the Balls to the Wall,
and recover our nerves. Below BTW Right, I
started boating a little sloppy and got flipped in a smaller hole at
the top of Balls to the Wall Left, maybe I needed the
symmetry. I windowshaded and then surfed out of it and bam,
made brief contact with the right wall before getting the boat
straightened out. I talk to myself when I boat (one of the first
signs of mental illness) and as I came out of the hole I said,
"Breathe, relax, paddle!" as I spun the boat around and bombed
the rest of the rapid.
Next up was Climax, a bouldery ledge into a hole that looked
pretty meaty to me but Michele and Bruce said it was good to go.
Michele guts the Climax hole. I thought for sure she was going to
...nope! Michele and Bruce both cruised right
through. I was pretty nervous dropping into Climax, and I
got a big tail stand, but nothing worse.
Big smiles all around in the eddy below climax.
Climax is considered the end of the harder part of the run, but
below it there was some pretty solid class 3+ action before the
river mellowed out to class 2 for the run out. I let my
guard down and got flipped in yet another hole below climax,
bringing my total of real river rolls to four for this
For me, running the Upper Wind was an amazing trip, the rapids
were fun, a little pushy, and pretty non-stop. I've boated
scarier class 4 with easier moves but worse consequences, but this was
my first experience with continuous harder water and I really didn't
know how I would react when things went wrong. I'm totally
stoked that I managed to pull out of some sketchy situations and keep a
cool head, not to be cocky though, it seems like sooner or
later everyone swims on the Wind. The Wind was a good test
of my boating skills and it definitely let me know whenever I was
off-line or boating sloppy. I don't think I'll be
boating the Little White any time soon, (or ever), for now
the Upper Wind is all the excitement I need.
Michele and Bruce at the take out. Thank you guys so much
for showing me the lines, and special thanks and kudos to Michele for
taking the lead.
Heading back to the coast I stop in Portland at Naomis Garden Center,
to visit my friends Naomi and Neil and pick up supplies for my
farm. If you are a gardener or small farmer in Portland be
sure to check out Naomis right off 99E in sellwood. They
sell supplies and baby chicks and they have adorable Pygmy goats!
My final stop was Saburo in Sellwood where I ravenously replaced the
calories I burned on the Wind. Today was a good day.
Back to Class 4, the
Cape Falcon whitewater blog