Part 3 Unlocking Wyoming’s Secret Stash

By September 22, 2009 2 Comments

Part 3

Life is the ultimate drug in the world
All of us are just a bunch of drug addicts for it
If you don’t know it, you will never know

Mulkey looking into the exit of the gorge

Stookesberry wishing there was sun and warmer temps

We had a great support crew on this trip and im thankful we did as they were able to run shuttle and follow us along some of the gorge walls as we probed further into the unknown.

Stookesberry givin’er

Tyson, Nate and Casper-Kenny were our gracious support crew and without them this trip would have been a bust. The Laprele Gorge is broken up into 3 distinct vertical Chasm’s of which the last is the steepest. Just above the last gorge Tyson was able to make it down from the rim of the canyon to river level. As I paddled into the eddy he had a big smile on his face “ looks big ahead” .

Matt looking into the unknown squeeze waterfall

A big chunky drop lead into a slow moving passageway and off a 25 foot waterfall, but the waterfall slowly constricted itself as it fell thru a narrowing granite hallway. At first look it seems not runable and there are no other options around the drop but to escape 600 feet up and out of the gorge.

Looking upstream from the top of the unknown waterfall

I can tell Stookesberry wants this thing and he begins climbing the gorge walls trying to gain a better perception from the top looking in. It’s an educational experience to watch someone like Stookesberry scout a big drop. Hes like a hunter stalking his next kill, looking for the best strategy and spot to capture his prize. He looks at the waterfall from every angle scrambling further up on the cliffs.

Stookesberry trying to get a glimpse of the waterfall

I swear I thought he was going to take a ride, I stood below thinking wtf is he doing and at times I couldn’t even look. I remember the line in hotel charley where Phil Boyer “says no matter how nonchalant Ben makes this look, this is seriously sketchy”. Ha well here I am wondering what the hell he is doing. I started psyching myself up to follow him off this scary waterfall with hopes he saw something I didn’t. He finally makes his way off the cliff edges and says I think it will go but its hard to tell without looking at it from the bottom at river level.

Stookesberry and Mulkey trying to gain a visual of the inner gorge

We decide to pack the boats up and over and get our first glimpse of the canyon from above since we entered into it in a blizzard. We soon realize were in the steep section and the drops looked super big from above which is good and bad.

One of the big ones that looked like a sick 30 + foot slide

This is after the squeeze waterfall and the big slide…looks so good

With very few options to get back into or out of the gorge we decide to scout as much as we can from above. After about an hour or more we realize our light is running thin and temps are dropping. The last drop exiting the gorge was going to take sometime and imagination to successfully run and exit the gorge so we decided to portage.

Squeeze waterfall, big slide and another waterfall…Its Steep!

More time is going to be needed to explore and unlock the last gorge and we figured it would have to wait. With only 2 miles of river left we figured we were faced with some class 3 at best. As we took in the incredible scenery of this granite wonderland we foolishly floated into a mini gorge.

Stookesberry scouting the exit of the gorge

Sitting in an eddy it looked like an 800 foot long gorge and looked to have very little gradient. Ben sat in the last eddy before a big horizon line and I sat in the one above it looking around for escape options if needed and we were screwed from where I sat. Ben waived me in to the last eddy formed by a massive boulder the size of a small house and as I got closer he says “waterfall”. At first glimpse it looks good to go but after a closer look were unsure. The house size boulder we stood on was entirely undercut and as the water plunged into the pool below it hit a wall and then turned into the undercut boulder. As the water plummeted into the pool it powered this blender effect that pulled water as far as we could see behind the huge house rock. The only move would be to boof it and that move was non-existent. The walls rose over our heads 70 feet to freedom above. A part of me was ready to just give it and there was a bit of room to get your roll and paddle out if all worked well. Safety was not much of an option and cold started to set in to all of us from the mist of the pounding waterfall.

Last rapids of the upper gorge

A few minutes later I found myself clinging to a wall high above the waterfall trying to escape with nothing but a throw rope attached to my lifejacket so that if I fell they could hopefully pull me out of the blender below. Suddenly the freezing temps were ignored and my thoughts were purely about escaping and not falling. I couldn’t feel my hands as I striked them against the slick granite walls hoping for a positive edge to cling onto. My core temperature escalated as adrenalin was infused in my blood. I looked back at matt and Ben below and I think they were more scared then I was, There was an unspoken word of don’t fall in there eyes as we both noticed a nice granite ledge that would meet me first before I hit the swirling pool below. Two critical moves to the top and I kept slipping and catching myself on what looked to be like the last good hold. It was impossible to go back and reverse the moves that had gotten me here and I knew I was just going to have to go for it and hope for the best and not set a flight plan to the bottom of the gorge. My mind was clear and focused nothing else mattered in my world at that moment but making the move. I slapped my foot over the corner of rock and tried toeing in like a ballerina with anticipation of my foot grasping on to something but it kept popping of each time I weighted it. After a few more attempts I spotted a slopping edge a little higher up and cranked off my last good hand hold and as I locked off I slapped my foot across the face of the rock and it stuck. With no despair left I trusted my feet and made the next move carefully letting go of my last good hold. Finally a sketchy moss soaked slab of granite led me to the top. The first half of the epic was over now I had to get them out, I hauled gear and boats up the cliff and was exhausted. With no anchor points or climbing equipment I was forced to use myself as an anchor as I body belayed them up the cliff. Thankfully friction was my friend as Matt peeled off the top and yelled at the top of his lungs “ Got me , Got Me’ I yelled back “I think so” Ben stood freezing at the bottom of the gorge nearly seeing matt rocket back to the bottom and decided to take another line up the cliff and ran into a problem that way as well. I quickly made a step etriers out of another throw bag and he was able to escape but by now matt and Ben were both freezing cold. The light of the day was slipping fast as we quickly got back into the water with hope of no barb wired fences or gorges below as we paddled into the pastures and valley of the Laprele valley. Half hour later we paddled into the takeout glad it was all over and glad to see our shuttle posse.

Ben Stookesberry, Aaron Mulkey and Matt Mcfadden stoked after a good/epic day!

For some reason these are the days I love and live for, its pure exploration adventure at its best and worst but yet the drive never goes away. It draws me back like a drug that keeps on giving,,,,,

Part 4 -An epic adventure into another unknown creek coming soon…..

Mike Copeland glad to see something other then bushes!