America is big! Yes, you already know this and so do I, but every so often I am reminded of this fact a little more.
Due to the low snow fall over winter here in California the rivers haven't run as long as they would most seasons so by mid-june California kayaking had pretty much dried up. After a painful week in Coloma with minimal kayaking I managed to rally a team keen to head north to Oregon and Washington to search out some better kayaking options. After a few frustrating logistical problems we got everyone one together early-ish on a Monday morning, packed the cars with gear and people and headed for the freeway. The 'real' team NZ, author Ben Jackson, Josh Neilson and Brendan Bayly and Team America, Dave Maurier.
Now, for a Kiwi a big days driving might be 3 or 4 hours driving but over here things are a little different. 12 hours, 4 sore arses, 1 hot chick meet on the freeway (ask Josh Neilson if you want to figure out how to meet someone while doing 120km/hr down the freeway) and 1100km's later we peeled ourselves out of the cars and into our sleeping bags some where in lower Washington state.
"OI, YOU KAYAKERS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!!! YOU CAN'T F@#!*N SLEEP HERE, GET UP!!! OR THE SHERIFF WILL GET YA!!! WHAT THE F*^$ DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING? Turns out that you can't crash out and pitch a tent on the side of the road in Washington either.
We decided to base ourselves out of the Hood River area for the trip as it was close to some fantastic kayaking. After a quick departure from our camp and some food we headed up to a river called the Little White Salmon.
The Little White is spring feed meaning that it pretty much flows most of the time making for a low but still super fun flow. Davey (our token American) had done the run once before so had a good idea where to go. The run started off with some fantastic technical paddling very different to most kayaking found in California but very similar to some rivers back in NZ. We worked out way down as a team stopping to take a photos or video. As the run progresses it the drops (waterfalls) start to get bigger and cleaner (less obstacles). Some of the drops that stand out on the run are 'double drop' or at least that's what we called it, Nate's room of Doom (again our name), Wishbone, the 'unscoutable, unportagable (can't look at it or walk it) drop and the amazing Spirit Falls. Feeling fired up Josh gave Spirit Falls (12m) a nudge and had a good line of the drop. After a big hit at the bottom came out smiling.
From here down the intensity eases off until the take out with a little over a kilometre to the car. With the photos and video, scouting and portaging we took three hours to get down this fantastic section of river.
Josh was feeling under the weather the next day so in the interest of not paddling anything new with out him we headed back to the Little White. Now that we knew the run we bombed (paddled really fast with few stops) down most of the run much to Davies dismay early on. Brendon felt inspired and stepped up to run Spirit Falls. Davey and I still weren't interested (My lovely girlfriend Margot was turning up in the U.S in four days and there was no way I was going to have a sore back for that.....)
An hour 40min's later much to Josh's surprise we rocked up to the car very happy kayakers.
Day three had us heading up to the White Salmon to a section called the Green Trus. Slightly bigger in volume and very different in it's nature the Green Trus is a pretty cool run but not quite of the quality of the Little White Salmon.
Due to the volcanic nature (Mount St Helen's is less than 70km away) of the area the river bed was very weird and sharp in places.
After lowering the boats into the gorge, we pushed out into the current and off down stream. With some nicer drops and cool moves the kayaking was fun, added to this we had no idea where we were going, an adventure was being had.
The biggest drop on the river is called Big Brother standing at about 25ft high (about 7m) and very impressive. Sticking to my 'don't hurt my back, 3 days to go' plan I offered to set safety for the cave at the bottom of the drop.
We didn't know it at the time but a pretty famous Olympic kayaker had drowned here.
Brendon lost paper, scissor rock so had to probe the line. The lead into the drop wasn't super straight forward but 'B' got a good line off the lip and landed carrying enough speed and got through. Josh was next up and dialled the 'line' completely making the drop look easy. Nice 1 bruva. With the team back in the boats it was off Little Brother and off down stream. Some pretty cool paddling followed but it was the scenery that had our attention. We were paddling down a beautiful gorge with fresh water springs pouring in from both sides at river level. Choice.
For our final days paddling we decided to head back to the Little White because the paddling was so good. We also wanted to see how fast we could get down the run as well... Fresh from the past two runs down this section the pace was hot and the paddling fantastic. None of the team braved Spirit on this run so with a quick portage we were back on the water and down to the take out in 1 hour 15... Sweet As.
Back in the cars with 3 hours to Bend in Oregon to stay with a good friend Jason Arbeter and then the final push back to Cali the next day with 10 hours in the car. America is Big!