May 9, 2009
Fish and Hans (R2)
JP, Ben, Ian (Kayak)
Dave and Shelly Becker (Cataraft)
Friday afternoon as I was leaving the takeout of the Green river I got a call from Fish. “Icicle Creek tomorrow – the level will be PERFECT!”.
Dave and I had run Icicle Creek 2 years ago at very very low water – most would consider it an ELF flow – the Wenatchee at Peshastin was almost 800 cfs higher this time and I knew that this time would be a little different. The last time we ran, it was a second Cat descent. To our knowledge, it hasn’t been run since in a cat so this may have been the third Cat descent.
Normally, I eagerly look forward to “Cat Missions” but I had been sick all week with the flu (literally ALL week – and I never get sick) Dave had it the week before and I was feeling about 75% at best. I knew that Icicle was one of the hardest most technical runs I have ever done — still — Dave and I have been wanting to go back for a long time so I figured I would just have to cowboy up and boat smart.
Ricochet Rapid looked scary and terrible when we scouted it that morning – full on solid Class V+ for over a quarter mile – there were about 5-7 absolute must make moves and 9 or 10 highly recommended ones. With the extra water it looked to have the push of the North Fork Payette – at the time I really really wasn’t feeling it because I was still kind of sick. I figured we would go up top and run down to the portage at Bridge Creek and see how we felt. On the way up we scouted Limbo Log (another big Class V) and Roadside Attraction. The entry ledge to Limbo Log (with water in it) actually looked better than the time before and Roadside Attraction looked fun. We launched a little bit above “Roadside” and right away I knew I didn’t have my “A” game, I dealt with it and was able to make all the moves I needed to but I definitely would have preferred my timing to be what it normally is.
When we got to Limbo Log, Dave ran first over the big entrance ledge. The previous time I ran this ledge, there was very little water and I got stuck and had to crawl out to the end of my tubes (over a 7′-8′ drop) and bounce until the boat came through which was a bit scary considering the good piece of Class V water directly below. I watched Dave run the ledge and the next thing I saw was his cat go sideways and then I saw his entire right tube as his boat was almost sideways vertical. Hanging on to a boat in that position is extremely difficult, let alone highsiding to prevent a flip – yet somehow, Dave probably made the highside move of his life and stayed on the boat and brought it down. I ran the ledge next and was a bit further left which enabled me to stay much straighter – still my cat popped up pretty hard on the landing. Both of us successfully negotiated the Class V below and eddied out to set safey and film JP and Ian.
The next big thing is the portage at Bridge Creek. Dave and I ended up taking out at Bridge Creek and loading the boats. Fish was the only one truly fired up about running Ricochet, Ian was taking out there which would leave JP as the solo kayak if he ran. Secretly, I really wanted to look at it just one more time hoping it wouldn’t look as bad as it did in the morning – it wasn’t very far downstream – we could always drive back up and put on if we really wanted to. Fish and Hans decided they were going so Dave and I helped them carry the raft down the very long portage at Bridge Creek – we had 2 cameras and 4 throwbags and went to set safety as best we could. About this time, JP hooked up with another kayaker, Ben, who had carried up for another “lap”.
Dave and I hiked down and set up on two different rocks for Fish and Hans and JP and Ben. Ricochet is one of the most unforgiving pieces of whitewater I have ever seen. You can set minimal safety but you are really really on your own for much of it. I knew that at any time I might need to quickly trade the camera for a throwbag. Fish and Hans came down first and literally styled it – they nailed the move at Ricochet rock and had a great run. JP and Ben came down next and both had successful runs.
Everyone hiked back up from the eddy downstream of the long Class IV+ runout hooting and hollering and rightfully so. Dave and I were very happy that everyone had done well (there really is no other choice here). The little voice in the back of my head had been talking to me “you can do this — you did it once before”.
I knew Dave wanted to run — I figured we could maybe launch just upstream at Eight Mile Campground instead of dealing with the long portage at Bridge Creek. There is 1-2 miles of busy water (Class II-III) between Bridge Creek and Eight Mile but no big drops. Fish and Hans said the entry had gone really smooth for them and not to worry about the towering breaking wave because it was soft……. (we still needed to scout the entrance on the way down from river right). Dave and I handed over the cameras and quickly drove up to the super easy put-in at Eight Mile. I was about as scared as I’ve been in a long time, I knew I could do this, I knew I should probably do this — I just wasn’t sure if I should do this NOW. We put our cats in the water and I said “Please God, let both of us have our A game for the next two minutes”.
We very quickly got down to the entrance and pulled out on river right to scout from the normal place. We saw the monster breaking wave that Fish and Hans told us about. We also were very grateful to see…. Ben!! on a rock for safety. Ben had hiked up again and this was his 3′rd run of Ricochet that day. Dave wanted to run first and I was more than happy for that on this day – I watched him disappear over the large entry ledge and then started rowing downstream with a crystal clear picture of the sequence of the next 7 moves. The entry ledge was big, the breaking wave in the next drop was big but it was all good to go and for the first time all day I felt good in my boat and fired up to be right there right then. I could see Dave was totally in control through the next section and I followed suit.
The move at the Ricochet Rock was enormous but if you are in control and driving hard forward, the water will take you where you need to be next. We both did well here, the water was incredibly powerful but incredibly smooth – I felt like my boat was softly deposited at the entry to the next move. It was still Class V and technical here – there was still quite a bit more to go. Eventually it eases to Class IV+ and you can see the bottom eddy which we were both happy to see and happy we made the decision to run.
Instead of taking out at the footbridge (like every other cat run in the past) Fish thought there may be a better eddy a little further downstream. If you go too much further downstream you will encounter Class V+ rapids that are NOT runnable in cats and rafts for various reasons. After that, you are into the Class VI / Unrunnable section at the Fish Hatchery (and it is very continuous). We continued downstream reading and running some very stout rapids (Class V moves in places), the road was getting further away from the river and I was absolutely positive there was not going to be any kind of takeout.
We came to a huge horizon line with something that looked very bad below. This was the first big one, called The Sieve (seemed appropriately named). Downstream was zero recovery and disappearing huge horizon lines as far as you could see. Dave and I unanimously decided that this was our takeout and the road was about 40 vertical, boulder strewn feet above us. We may or may not have been able to get our cats through that rapid, if there was a huge green pool at the bottom, I may have tried but there wasn’t AND the takeout options were worse. Fish and Hans did make it with their 13′ raft but had boat width issues and had to do some very creative highside/lowside work to get through the narrowest place. They took out immediately downstream from that and had a harder carry out than what we were looking at.
Dave took his oars off and the two of us were slowly making progress getting his boat up — we were looking at a lot of work between the two of us. THANKFULLY, Fish, Hans and the others had hiked back up and helped haul the cats out so it ended up not being all that bad. We are not completely sure but we think that Dave and I may have the first Cat descent of that last mile and so it was totally worth the effort of dealing with the gnarly takeout (especially after lots of people showed up to help).
Next time, we take out at the bridge.