April 4, 2009
The EF Lewis has 2 large waterfalls, 18′ Sunset Falls and 22′ Horseshoe Falls and a beautiful Class IV mini-gorge section with easier mellow stretches in between.
The fist big falls is Sunset, we scouted on the way to the put-in, it’s 18′ and completely vertical except for the right which had a log in it at the time. The preferred line at this (somewhat healthy) flow is the center line and that is where the kayaks went.
The center line had a very tricky entrance and high probability of cats being sideways so it was decided the left would be better for cats. The entrance is still tricky, there are lots of rocks to mess you up, including a very large boulder to your immediate right (which means your right oar will be shipped from that point forward) and a really beefy hole at the bottom. We were told that occupants of most boats that flip at the bottom on the left either end up behind the falls or in the cave on the left (large cave, not a death trap). I honestly had more reservations about running Sunset than I did about running BZ Falls, I knew it was too vertical and I knew I would get hammered at the bottom. Getting violently separated from Catalina was a very real and very scary possibility. However, Sunset Falls is still considered a generally safe waterfall and our kayaking friends said they would go first and paddle into the cave and set safety. The R3 team went first and all three paddlers got as far to the back of the boat as possible – to no avail. They had very little speed and the boat nose dived hard, disappeared entirely and ejected all occupants. Boat stayed right side up and occupants quickly returned to boat. Any reservations I had about running Sunset quickly multiplied after seeing that. Still, I told Dave I wanted to go next. Plan A was “stay with my boat”. Plan B was “stay with my boat”. I negotiated the tricky and technical entry and dropped over the edge fairly straight (actually) but kept rotating more and more to the right and landed sideways at the bottom with all of the water falling on my right tube the boat very quickly and violently flipped sideways upstream into the maw of the hole.
I got violently ripped off the seat and was quickly being sucked to the bottom but luckily, Plan A was working. I still had one hand in a death grip on my frame, my body was vertical and the river was pulling me hard down and away from Catalina but I (somehow) was able to hold on with one hand – maybe at last all those pull-ups have paid off. Anyways, after what felt like forever, I floated away from hydraulic still holding my frame and was able to climb back up and self rescue. I very much hoped that Dave would not have to go through that.
I looked upstream at Dave and briefly, he looked like he was in a great position but something happenend and his boat spun 90 degrees to the right just after going over the edge. It looked horrible but Dave told me later that the landing was actually quite soft and instead of getting beatdown in the falls, he got shot into the cave on the left to a quiet eddy and quickly self rescued there.
The mini-canyon section was beautiful and user (aka “cat” friendly) Class IV, the only regret is that it was too short. Sky Pilot was one of the neatest drops I’ve ever run.
Before long we were at 22′ Horseshoe Falls. Dave and I pulled our boats up on the rocks in the center of the river at the lip of the falls (because that is where the preferred line is).
Horseshoe is 22′ feet but if you run the center line, the fist half is a glassy slide (albeit very shallow) into about a 10′ vertical falls. Kayaks can thread through a narrow slot at the top but rafts and cats need to pull up and over the rocks and launch from the eddy behind them.
Dave and I and the R3 team were ‘beached’ on the rocks. The drop looked totally clean and good to go. It looked fun! – not scary like Sunset. The R3 team went first while I held them in the eddy with a line until they were situated. They slid down the auto-boof launching pad and landed cleanly 22′ below. Dave said I should go next and he would hold my tag lines while I got into position. “That’s great” I said, “Who’s going to help you?”. Dave said he didn’t need any help but I really wasn’t OK with that. Regardless, SOMEBODY had to go next and my boat was in front of his. Dave held my rear tag lines while I climbed in – after I told him I was good, he let go and I rowed over to the little hump that marked the entry I wanted to the launching pad. The best way I can describe Horseshoe is “Super Happy Fun Slide” – yeehaw! I went sailing over the edge at high speed and at perfect angle, dropped ten feet and touched down gently in the river below.
Afterwards, I quickly pulled my boat up on some rocks, grabbed the camera and scrambled upstream to catch Dave’s run on video. Dave jockeyed his boat perfectly into the eddy and launched over the drop with grace and style and a perfect landing.
What I DIDN’T know and didn’t see (as I was making my way upstream) is that the handle of his cat completely ripped away while he was pulling his boat over the rock causing him to fall backwards into the river on the LEFT SIDE (aka the Suicide Line) and potentially swimming over the falls. Luckily he landed in waist deep water and was able to climb back onto the rock. OK, that was just plain SCARY.
Photos from Zach can be found here: