Keeping Skills Sharp - Get into the Gnar

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to get on a creek I have really been wanting to see for quite some time, Canyon Creek, a tributary coming into the East Fork of the Lewis in southern Washington state. It was just a good friend, Erik, and myself. We are both lifetime paddlers, ex-slalom racers, strong creekers - and both paddle C1. This garnered a few interesting looks. This was our first time down the creek, we were at least taking a peek over the horizon line when we could not see downstream.

The second drop we stopped to take a look at was about a eight foot drop into a meaty, but relatively flat hole. Both sides were guarded by rock going straight down into the river, a wall on one side and a ledge about four feet up on the other. The boil line was about 15-20 feet downstream. Although it was easy to run the drop and skip across the boil, if you did not, it was going to be beater city and either swim out of the bottom of the hole or get throw-bagged out.

Looking at the drop, I instantly saw about three lines that went good. At this drop we had caught up to a group of about eight kayaks, so we watched their lines and decided to use the same far left line.

Still, standing there looking at the drop, I could not help but think, I have not really been in a sticky hole for a long time. I should just ensure somebody is ready with a throw bag, jump in, go for a few recirculation cycles, see if I can flush out the bottom and if I cannot, get throw-bagged out.

It is pretty much guaranteed, if you are not a whitewater paddler, at this juncture, you have already dismissed me as pretty much 100% crazy. In fact, there is likely a pretty large portion of the active kayaking and rafting community also thinking the same thing.

Knowing what it is like to be in a nasty hole, get tossed around and know how to get out, this skill has come in handy more than once for me. This skill was not developed by accident, though. When I was much younger, I spent a summer raft guiding on the Ocoee. Just for the fun of it we used to swim into the stickiest holes on the river and body surf them until we wanted out. Then we would just flush out the bottom of the hole and swim to shore.

Since then, for a multitude of reasons, I have found myself swimming in some really nasty holes. Remaining calm and actually knowing how to flush out of the bottom of the hole made what easily could have become a very bad situation, just a very waterlogged swim and gear recovery exercise.

Now, with a real job and a family, I do not charge anywhere near as hard as I used to. This is fine with me. Still, many of the skills on the river, skills like keeping calm when getting beat down in or out of the boat, while it may seem odd at first to actually practice something like this, these skills have come in handy more than once for me in the past. Next time down Canyon Creek at this drop, if somebody is willing to hold a rope for me, I think I may just jump in and get in a little practice.