In all of us lives an explorer that’s always curious about going around one more corner or over the next ridge. We all have that drive to go one step further, yet some of us take that to another level of exploration. Our lives are a journey into the exploration of each day we live and our past becomes the theatre for others.
As kayakers we all practice the art of adventure and it seems to keep me going from one creek to the next. This exploration was a much bigger adventure then any others for the season and very committing. After carefully google scouting and going over topos we figured our day would consist of a 5 mile hike in and 11 miles of river that drops almost 2500 feet.
To most people it would seem very logical to break this into a multi day trip which was my original plan. After to talking with Austin he was fired up to do it in one day which I was game for as well just a little apprehensive about what the 11 miles would have in store for us. Being a climber im all about pushing things lightweight and fast but as we found out, that can only be pushed so far in the kayaking realm. The biggest obstacle is when it gets dark you can still climb, but when you have been on the move for 15 hours and its gets dark and your still in your kayak…..your fucked.
After many phone calls the crew consisted of Tom Sunderland, Austin Rathman and Aaron Mulkey (myself). The guys that did not make it (you know who you are), sorry but it was an incredible kayaking trip and your excuses were lame. We woke up to a 29-degree chill in the air and felt sorry for the guys on Bull Lake. I knew we were on the tail end of a cold front and blue skies were forecasted for the entire day so we set off on the trail at 6:00am with high expectations.
The hike in was about 5 miles and the first small pass wasn’t to bad but we soon lost the trail and started side hilling thru the woods, which went surprising well. We crossed a meadow below the pass and found the trail once again and it led us up and over the biggest pass. At this point the Mosquitoes began to come out in herds and stampeded towards us every time we stopped for a breath. This provided good incentive to move fast and not stop; in fact it was almost impossible to stop very long.
Not sure where all of the water went on this drop but the huge granite walls rising behind it were incredible. Austin entering Fantasy Land
First of many long slides to come and a nasty little hole in the middle, that dished out a surf session. Austin in Pirates of the Caribbean
Austin in Alice In Wonderland
3 hours later we were sitting at the rivers edge and felt like we were in Cali. It was a granite paradise and although the water looked low it looked boatable. We quickly re-fueled our bodies and were on the river knowing we had 11 miles of unknown water ahead of us. The top section was full of pool and drop slides and boofs which then quickly turned into bigger drops.
After a few hours we found ourselves peering down stream into a tight granite gorge that gave vibes of pure commitment to the entire group. We managed to connect eddies thru the gorge and scout from the right walls as we connected all the drops together.
At this point we had been paddling class 5 for about 6 hours solid and were preying for some flat water to take a mental break but it seemed like the drops just kept coming at us.
Big slides, boofs and some manky rapids finally led us to a mile of flat-water which gave us a needed break and we were able to soak up some of the incredible scenery. Huge fish roamed in the waters and I remember passing by a huge elk shed laying in the river bottom, it seemed like very few people ventured into this remote canyon. The trail we followed was more of a game trail and I never saw signs of anyone else on the hike in or on the river. We were in a remote granite paradise!
Soon the meadow stopped and big slides began to form pouring from one pool to the next
It was amazing. We could see the big sandstone walls below and knew we were getting close so we kept thinking this was where the 800 feet per mile section was.
Small gorges began to form up after the big slides and you could see a huge horizon line below us. We had been paddling for about 7 hours at this point and we were all fatigued but pushing forward very hard.
We knew there was a huge unrunnable waterfall at the bottom of the run that we had seen from some hikers blog so we were all very cautious moving thru the gorges.
I believe we were all maxed out at this point but pushing each other to dig deeper. The walls began closing in on us and downstream looked super committing. We scouted a long tight narrow gorge with 4 big drops within it that led to a small pool at the end. The small pool led to a tight squeeze where the walls almost closed in on each other.
At this point the sun was starting to set and we were all feeling the possibility of an unplanned overnighter. Silence began to take over the vibe of the group as we were all pushing beyond our limits in our 9th hour of paddling. The 4 drops into the gorge were incredible boofs and fast slides. Austin was able to get a look downstream after the small pool and it looked like a big boof that led down a narrow hallway with a small eddy on the left that looked like you could escape from. With nerves and fatigue super high those strokes into that gorge were memorable and luckily we were able to escape a 30 footer that was marginal at the bottom of that gorge.
We roped boats out of the gorge and gained a high point to see exactly where we were in relation to the flat water below the gorge that led to the lake. We couldn’t see the flat-water but knew we were within the 800 feet per mile section and decided to portage the last big gorge with only an hour of daylight left. We portage almost a mile as mosquitoes at us alive and we stumbled across granite domes and swamps. Eventually we reached the flat-water below the huge cascade we had seen online and dark came upon us quickly. We floated the flat-water in relief that it was all over and we would make it to the car. As we floated Tom mentioned he thought there was maybe one more small gorge of limestone just before the lake. Our hearts dropped and so did our motivation as I spotted the moonlight illuminating large limestone walls choking of the river in front of us. We got out at the top of the gorge and I think we were all ready to give up but we knew we were so close. Tom remembered that the gorge was short so we portaged river level on the left, which led us to a small pool, and we then switched of taking the sharp end probing in the moonlight through the gorge. I know we ran some big drops in that gorge but don’t remember them very well perhaps because you could barely see what you were running but luckily the moonlight led us through it safely and we reached flat-water once again. I believe we ended up at the car around 11p.m after almost 17 hours on the go. We were all physically and mentally exhausted but glad we pushed on. I have had some long days in the mountains but this was by far one of the hardest.
The run was incredible and should be on the top of any serious class 5 boaters list, however it should be done in 2 long days or 3 days to really enjoy and experience the trip. In the end it was a good thing there was only three of us paddling otherwise we would have camped out that night. We left some drops in there to be run, and the last gorge needs to be unlocked so there are still some goods to be conquered. I believe more water would be great and we had the minimal amount of water needed, so next time im going in with more water for sure. Since we were moving so fast I was not able to take many pics so I hope the ones above are enough to motivate the next group!
Self Portrait, at the 15th hour after the huge portage. I took it to remind myself how much fun I was having!
Stay tuned in for the next mission
Mulkey getting some more fresh action in Wyoming! Photo: Matt Mcfadden