Got the phone call Thursday from Mike in Casper that Box Elder Creek was coming into boatable range and that he was putting a group together to go in Saturday. The talk of this creek has been well known across the buzz community and my hopes were high that there would be some good stuff to be explored and run. I was also a little nervous having never boated with any of the guys in the crew, which is a very good component in exploratory kayak missions. Immediately after this phone call I get a call from my Ice climbing partner, he begins to tell me he was up the South Fork today and saw a new 5 pitch ice line high on the mountain in Boulder Creek. I must say new exploration is my weakness and I’m always up for an adventure so I decide to take Friday off and climb and then drive that night to Casper to hook up with Mike for the new run.
After about 6 hours of sleep I awake to a gorgeous day and hopes are high for another new route in the South Fork Valley.
Kenny from Casper decides to join our mission as well but after only 2 hours of sleep and driving all night and a couple night shifts in the oil field he is feeling a little tired. We get into the valley and Kenny G shows me where he saw the climbs and they are so far up on the mountain we really need binoculars to see if it truly is ice and if its touching down. After some debate we decide to go for it, Kenny was not happy about this but he was a real trooper. The climbs were located about 2500 feet up on the mountain and I figure the approach to be about 2 miles or so. It’s mostly hop out of the car and hike straight up. It was warm 50 degrees at least so I was a little unsure of how good any ice climbing would be but we continued to climb higher.
It was warm, I actually contemplated stripping my pants off but new as we got higher it would turn cold.
We finally reached the base of the first pitch which was very short and SUPER WET. We geared up in the shade and began to feel the chill of the shade. We went from t-shirts to bundling up in soft shell in a matter of minutes.
Kenny G and I ran up the first pitch and while he brought up Kenny I continued up to see what was in store for us.
Another easier pitch of ice and 3 pillars stacked on each other awaited us above.
It doesnt get much better then this!
The pitches of ice were great and the views may have been even more rewarding.
The pillars climbed very well.
After finishing the last pitch it was all-downhill to the car.
The car was in the valley below!
We rolled back into town around 7 and I quickly packed up and switched into kayak mode. We had a great day on the ice and the weekend could only get better.
I rolled into Casper around midnight and quickly jumped in the back of the van to catch up on sleep, but unfortunately with my anticipation of the mission to come it was a rough night for quality sleep.
7am – my phone rang, awakening me from a great dream which I will save for another post.
Mike says lets go, meet me at my place,
I meet up with the crew and we load up and head for the put in. Mike gives me a quick briefing on the run and what he has seen from this past winters scouting mission. Mike also lined up getting permission from the land owners on the put in and take out so that none of us would get shot crossing private land.
We get to the overlook and the water level looks low but boatable. One member of the group is there for support and to shoot video from the rim above which in the end he was the most valuable asset to our mission, thanks Robert. The float in is gorgeous but calm and uneventful for the first mile or so. The run begins to pick up and the walls begin closing in and the 70cfs begin to feel better.
We begin getting into read and run drops and I try to move thru eddy hoping and picking the drops apart to move forward as quickly as possible. As soon as we begin to get into some gradient I feel some water at my feet and then at the end of drop I’m full of water to my waist. My boat is shattered like a piece of glass with a 14 inch long jagged crack. I didn’t take a single hit on any rock that would have caused this type of damage. Looking up and knowing it was a long way out, I knew we were not far from the overlook where our support man Robert would be videoing so I decided to continue down stream and not hold up the group.
Just above this drop is where by boat broke.
I hiked the banks in the flat water and put in for the rapids and then would jump out emptying my boat ASAP. It would fill extremely fast. I finally saw our support man and it looked like a long ways up and below me sat the first really fun double drop so I quickly put in above and ran the drop and soon came the rest of the crew behind me and I told them I was going to hike out and grab another boat that Robert had brought and would meet them around at the overlook which was about a half mile downstream.
This drop was good even with a boat full of water!
800 feet straight up and I finally hit the rim and he was waiting for me. We loaded up quickly and headed for the overlook. I quickly tried to retro fit his Bliss Stick scud which was fit for him at 6’2 and I was only 5’9. I stuffed a bit of foam and my spare shirt and a throw bag in the feet so that I could actually have some sort of foot brace. The hips were the worst. They slid everywhere and were not ideal but would work. In no time I was on my way back into the canyon and couldn’t wait to get back in it. Bushwhacking a thousand feet back down into the canyon I found myself right at the top of a gorgeous triple drop.
Just some upper mank above where I came back into the canyon.
After 45 minutes or so they had caught up and I was finally able to fire up the triple drop since I was tired of looking at it. Nothing like firing up a serious drop in a boat you have never paddled and getting a warm up with one stroke being your boof stroke to warm up! Mike then followed and as the rest of the group moved thru I continued downstream to see what was next trying to keep movement in the group.
One big portage brought us to the entrance of a blind corner and committing gorge.
Looking into the blind corner.
I opted to go in first to see what was beyond the corner knowing that I was leaving the option of getting out of the canyon. I caught a small eddy right above a huge horizon line and looked to the other side out of the groups view at a spot I could get out on a pile of rocks. I told them someone needed to come down and we would rope me or someone to the other wall where it looked like you could gain some elevation and look beyond the horizon line. Mike came in and I roped him across and he decided this was the 20-foot slide he had seen high above this winter but it had ice on it then. Before hitting the slide there was a 6 to 8 foot boof then followed immediately by the slide. I asked him if he was sure he said he was pretty sure. I yelled back up to the group that they would have to run it blind and they gave us the walking fingers sign. I looked at Mike and said I guess it’s just you and me now. Mike had mentioned earlier on the drive in that he thought there might be a cave on the right side of the slide but that it was winter and hard to tell. The verbals went boof left then left on the slide, Mike decided to go first and I would immediately follow. There was a small eddy on the left after the first boof and as I entered I saw mike there but with no room and sticking to my plan I continued on and the slide follows the boof immediately after and as I rolled of the slide it became a waterfall very quickly and I started to tuck but as I came closer to the landing zone I had in sight all I saw was rock.
I hit hard and was upside down and missed my first roll and then realized I was underneath a wall or up against something getting hammered and my hips were no longer in my boat thanks to my quick hip pad retro fit. I tried again and again to roll but wasn’t even getting air anymore and realized I had no idea where I was but it didn’t feel good. At this point I have never swam since the day that I learned my roll 7 years ago, and I have remained to stay in my boat and hit my rolls and suffer thru sever hole punishments ever since.
In the back left corner of the photo all of the water is forced into a room where Mike and I ended up.
So there I was upside down running out of air and no idea where I was since I had never seen the bottom of this drop. All I can remember is Mike saying something about a cave and I figure that’s where I am its time to get the hell out of here and pull the plug. I pull and come to the surface carping for air and am immediately drawn back under the wall and I push hard to re-surface again. I come back to the surface again and see Mike he is the room of doom with me but fortunately he is upright and I fight hard to just grab onto his boat and stay on the surface. After grabbing his boat I realize I have to get out of the water because he cant get me out of this room and I’m able to grab onto some edges and pull myself out of the water in the back of the room. He decides to get out of the room to see if he can get me a rope and after a few tries the room releases him out of it grasps. As he disappears I assess the situation and realize he can’t get me a rope there is no way, we are completely walled in. I’m on my own on this one, I try to traverse the wall above the flow but there is no way. All of the water crashes down this waterfall and then immediately hits the wall and all of the water goes into my little room. I look at the drop and decide there is no way to run it and not end up in the room. About 15 minutes or more go by and I realize I’m going to have to jump back into the waterfall and hope to get pushed out the other side. I look downstream and I can see another 5 foot ledge drop and then some flatwater, At about this time I can see mike high above but he is well out of distance to give me any help the walls are to high. With an undercling and mono foot hold I launch myself back in the flow and was able get over the boil line on the wall and then was pushed out of the room. I was thankful to be out of the room and my new IR dry suit paid for itself and became priceless. I swam over the next ledge and then done thru a narrow 100 yard long granite corridor praying there wasn’t another drop at the end. At the end laid a pile of rocks and another portage. I was ready to continue on after we were able to get the boat unpinned out of a small sieve but I could not find my paddle.
This would have been the next drop/ portage which would have been interesting with another blind corner.
I did not want to hike out again I wanted to finish this thing but my boat stripped of its outfitting and me of my paddle there was no other choice.