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Yardsale Today! where: S.Frk Skokomish. When: 12- 4pm

Skokomish, S. Fork
Class: IV-V      GMap
Browns Creek to Vance Creek (Gorge Run)
Trip Date: 1/24/2010
Written on: 1/25/2010
Written by:

The S. Frk Skokomish is an 11 mile run through two class V canyons seperated by an "intermission" stretch of open class II, bracketed by two longer stretches of class II on either end of the trip. A 10:00am gauge reading was 1100 cfs and rising.Me, Pernick, Gordon and Burger launched late. Not before Noon. I made it clear that we should paddle hard through the first class II section to the first canyon. Little did we know how long of a trip we were in for.

Everyone cranked out the flatwater and we quickly arrived at The 1st Canyon, the walls gradually closing in. We may have scouted a few drops, but we all scouted the first major drop on R. Left. I remembered it from my previous trip more than a year ago. We took the left line between two "meatcleaver" rocks. Everyone had clean lines. There may have been some other bee-bop or boogie water before we reached the 2nd obvious scout.

 I got out on R. Right to scout. I was playing T.L. since I'd run it before. I overlooked a constricted rapid that stairstepped down to squeezed up funnel of a ledge hole. I think this is the rapid named "Bad Mamba Jamba" or something. Big boulders flanked it on either side, and this should have warned me to walk further down and inspect the hole. Instead I remained up at the top of the rapid where my view of the crux hole was distorted and flattened (Mistake #1). What happened next will illustrate why it is important to scout thoroughly and unrushed, preferably as a unified group. I've picked up a few bad habits by rolling with some of my class V friends. Haste is one of them. Regardless, I saw the thread of current that I thought would exit me through the hole.
   The other guys were queued up in the eddy across the river on R. Left as I got back in my boat. I followed the current Center-Right, and basically hit my predetermined line about the way I had vizualized. But the Hole turned out to be a keeper with a steep backwash formed by submerged boulders backing up the drop. In some ways the hole was similar to "The Plunge" on Icicle Creek. Despite the purchase of several good paddle strokes, I was reeled in and detained by the Maw. I was trapped surfing In a Fluffy Room of Doom, soon yelling "HEY! HEY! HELP ME!!" as loud as possible.- it seemed as if my friends were slow to respond. My boat gravitated into the lowest pocket. A localized vortex around which all of the hole's energies circulated. I'd achieved an equilibrium where for the moment I felt relatively stabilized. Afraid to upset this delicate balance by trying anything abrupt, the game now was to avoid panic, maintain stability, and buy time for a throwbag to reach me.
   After what seemed like eternity, Pernick was on the R. Left boulder, readying a toss. At some point I tried to charge out the R. Left corner where a diagonal kick almost helped me escape. But the steep backwash made it a near impossibility. I was already psychologicly fatigued but I knew my salvation lay in remaining as physically calm and relaxed as possible, conserving my energies for when I'd need them most. I had ample time to decide that when I eventually flipped, I would pull my skirt. Pernick's first throw fell woefully short of its mark, drifting off downstream of me. Patiently I maintained, waiting for his re-coil and subsequent throw. Again it fell too far downstream of me. One tangled throw didn't get far from his perch. With the exception of some of the more elite White Salmon raft guides, most of our rope skills, mine included, leave lots of room for improvement. This is because we generally stay out of trouble as kayakers. We don't get the opportunity to practice in action. We all should toss our bags more on dry land.
   By now the other guys were on the scene and ropes were thrown with greater frequency. I lost count after the 5th or 6th throw, but every throw fell too far to the downstream side of me, where I couldn't quite grab it. in this scenario the rope needs to cross either the kayaker's deck, or to one side of the head over a shoulder. Through out this I cycled around in my limited roam zone. After almost stern squirting out, the boil shoved me deep into the R. Right corner pocket, beneath the undercut boulder, my shoulder pressed against it. Burger's final throw came the closest. Too bad this wasn't horseshoes or hand grenades. When I finally caught my upstream edge, I pulled my skirt loop. I also let go of my paddle (Mistake #2). I grabbed my cockpit rim, which can be a good exit strategy in a hole. But I instantly felt a strong jet of current that drew me deep and abruptly flushed me out of the hole. My boat stayed behind to surf some more. Pernick was on it now with the rope. As I grabbed it the current swung me toward the eddy line. An experienced human body can often have its own mind and execute its movements independent of the brain during stressful situations. My rigid arms extended from my shoulders to the rope like the struts of a hydroplane. I pulled my hands down toward my crotch. This lifted my upper body up and out of the water, over the eddy line. My legs were spread eagle behind me for stabilization, back arched like a dynamic "Cobra" (Do your Yoga) body surf. Pernick says this helped keep him from getting peeled off the rock but I think it was Gordon, who held onto him. Meanwhile my boat and paddle had gotten impatient with our antics and had gone on downstream without us.
   Once I was clinging to rock coughing up the generous gulp of water I inhaled, my river sense was still working in the background of my mind. It cataloged Burger's movement along the bank just downstream of me. Pernick and I caught the lime green flah of Burger's boat, which somehow now was surfing in the Fluffy Room of Doom. This visual information was incongruous to the brain. My reason pieced it all together as I saw Burger's paddle drift out of the hole. Burger had failed to properly stow his boat before joining the rescue efforts (Mistake #3). "You fuck'n Dumbass!!" I yelled 3 times. But this was not constructive or helpful in anyway. His boat got broached immediately downstream on some midstream boulders.
   Pernick dropped his rope and took off in hot pursuit of my gear, Gordon paddled to Burger's boat and got out to rescue it. I was still catching my breath as they analyzed the secondary problem of rescuing gear that never should have got loose in the river. I was missing an elbow pad. I started scrambling down along the R. Left canyon walls, hesitant to leave them in case Burger's boat should get loose again. But their process was consuming precious time, and I trust Gordon and Burger, so I continued on. At the tailend of a rocky class III rapid I got walled in. I dove halfway across the wavetrain. 3-5 strong swimmer strokes pulled me into the eddy on R. Right. I made more progress along the right wall but soon was forced back into the river again. A long straight view downstream revealed compressed, swift class II+ deep greenwater with few obstructions. I weighed my options: Slow progress and laborous exertion trying to stay dry by walking/climbing versus swift progress with more exposure to the risk of hypothermia. I dove back in and chose efficiency over comfort. Ironicly I was more comfortable this way, swimming right down the middle of the river in the fast current. An eddy further down on R. Left signalled the approach of a rapid. Swimming for it I saw my paddle, verticly displayed by Pernick, who had continued down after my boat. Way to go Pernick! My sense of hope rekindled as I walked around the rapid. If not for the colored tape on my paddle, I might have overlooked the dark carbon fiber and passed right by it!
   I'd seen Rob and other paddlers swim with the aid of their paddles, and now I was eager to try this technique out for myself. I once again jumped back in the river. What I learned was that by lying down very flat on my back with my toes pointed downstream, I could paddle quite well. Planing my body on the surface contours of the water kept the drag co-efficient to a minimum. I lifted my head enough to see where I was going and now my body was transformed into a hardshell kayak. Now I was actually having fun- I even made some upstream ferries in this manner. Quickly now I closed the gap, with increasing optimism. When I caught up to Pernick he was attaining along R. Right and had good news for me: Around a bend or two my boat had found some rocks easily within reach from the R. Right bank. I got down to the eddy on R. Left above this rocky class III and portaged it, jumping back in at the bottom and swimming back over to my boat on R. Right. Pernick waited in the eddy there as I made it up to my boat. By now Gordon and Burger had caught up, and I was glad to see Burger had his boat and paddle again. It was quick work to pulll my boat off and our trip was whole again as we paddled out of the first canyon. During our paddle through the class II "Intermission", Burger even found my missing elbow pad! It's always nice when the river spirits show you mercy.

The river narrowed again as we entered The 2nd Canyon. As soon as boulders obstructed our view I was out scouting. There was NO WAY I was going into any of these rapids blind, now.  Earlier my complacent lack of discipline set off the catalyst that caused our trip to unravel,and now it was in a loose bundle again. But the ripple effects could still be felt, and would later refract off of the canyon walls to once more upset the balance...
   My stress level remained fairly low, although undeniably I was gun shy. We picked our way down cautiously, and I was glad Gordon and Burger maintained their reslove. we would trade off the lead for a bit. Mostly I felt physically fatigued, often out of breath despite frequent rests. I stayed on line but with greater effort. At one spot where we scouted I ate an apple. This greatly boosted my energy level. One should always pack food because you never know when your flimy perception of reality may rupture once a trigger event unfolds and robs you of energy and much needed calories. Our caution carried us down to "High Steel Falls". Pernick took to the pedestrian route while the rest of us scouted. I think all three of us flipped here but basically flushed through ok. Below there we scouted a complex rapid with a long skinny tree (at least 30' long) that turned out to be very much in play. We miscalculated how difficult the line really was. Me and Gordon each narrowly averted disaster up against the wood, but we made it to the left. Burger was a wee bit further right and got tangled in the wood, but flushed back to the right with a flip and a quick roll. He's a good solid boater.
   Next came a long pour-over studded mess of a rapid. I followed Gordon and Burger all the way through it and into an eddy on R. Right. I think we were now above "Bobbing For Butler" but it didn't seem familiar. I glanced upstream in time to see Pernick's capsized boat up against some gnarly rocks. As soon as his head popped up I began yelling for him to swim into our eddy. "Forget your boat, we can't get it here!" His paddle followed the boat through "Bobbing For Butler" but he made the critical eddy. I should have been quicker to hustle down the portage after him but my fatigue created extra drag. after attempting to scout I came to my senses and ran up got my boat and began portaging in pursuit of his gear. Burger was quick to catch on and helped me lower my boat to the water.
   time was of the essence once again as I sprinted off after Pernick and his gear. less than 100 yards downstream and in full view was the Landslide Portage on R. Left. I got out here as Pernick was getting ready to hike up around the gigantic boulders there. I mentioned how much work it had been last time I was here with catboats, how I had no intention of scouting it under these circumstances.Pernick's response was "seems like a great place to lose a Burn". To whick I replied "we don't know that. I'm confident we'll find it yet." As I said this I believed it. And saying it aloud helped reinforce this belief, even though later in my more solitarymoments, my confidence would wane some. This portage has a cave-like crack obscured by a stump that is jammed into it. I pointed it out to Pernick, because it would be easy to overlook. Climbing up and over would require a rope and a rappel. By now Pernick and I realized that for whatever reasons, neither of us had a throw bag anymore.
   Looking back upstream I could see Burger put back in, but not Gordon. I had to make this portage happen to continue the chase, but first I had to make sure they knew to portage, and where. (Mistake #4): Gordon paddles these UPS pool boats. Tons of people are always using them so they usually seem to have broken backbands, rachets, thighbraces, or a missing hip pad, ect. It always seemed to take him, like, 10 minutes just to skirt up and paddle off. His recuring lag time was straining the trip as we tried to make haste. A boat with sound outfitting is key.
   Once they arrived I klined them out, and decended into the crack, lowering my boat 15' down into a dried up flood channel, over a second dry drop, and back into my boat. From here I sprinted past Pernick through several twists and turns of mostly calm class II-III, hoping I hadn't overlooked his boat or paddle somewhere around the landslide. Pernick had thouroughly looked though.
   Then around a corner I saw the bright yellow color we were looking for on the outside of the turn (R. Left), jammed into a logjam pocket at the very top of the next rapid. I got out, extracted the boat, stood it up on end to drain and be seen, and pulled out a Cliff Bar. Shortly after,all three arrived as I ate half of it. I wasn't sure if Pernick had any food with him, so I save the other half having just lived through a similar experience. When He informed me he had his own snacks I wolfed down the other half.
  From here we paused enough to have a real pow wow about what to do. We decided to split up into pairs as we briefly had upstream and this was a good solution. Gordon and Burger would chase down the paddle ahead while I would hang back with pernick to keep an eye out for him. He was going to be hand paddling as much as he could form here on out. But neither of us had a rope. Mine must have flushed out of my boat during my swim because I must have failed to stow it properly. Pernick's I believe must have been left behind by us when we turned our attention to the yardsale in the fisrt canyon. I bet it's still on the R. Right hand bank beside the "Fluffy Room of Doom".
   At any rate, Gordon had a bag and I quizzed Burger about his status, assuming he had 2 bags (was one of them Pernick's?) When he didn't respond the nano second I expected him to, I blew up at him. Gordon had to tell me to cool it, and I can to my senses and apologized. My second outburst today. Not good. Those two were a good nimble pair, so they took  off in search of the paddle. I was confident again, reasoning that if the boat made it through the landslide rapid, most likely the paddle did as well. We had  plenty of flatwater to find it.
   It really wasn't long before I saw Gordon portaging what would turn out to be "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride". This rapid was big, powerful and kick'n today! By now I had completely lost my appetite for whitewater for the day. I'm sure everyone else shared my sentiments more or less. As Pernick and I completed the portage, we found cause to rejoice as Burger cried aloud and held Pernick's paddle aloft!
We were all quite stoked to see miles of class II stretch before us. We stopped at a gravel bar briefly to rest, and "cope with uncertainty": what had been the uncertainties of our adventure, now nearly complete. "I'm CERTAIN there's only 2 canyons on this run!" Pernick exclaimed. When we paddled past the stick guage it read 2.60', and later when we were off the river, a 4:00pm update of the gauge read 1200 cfs, rising "600 cfs per hour" (not that the text message forecast is to be trusted that accurately).
We got off the river before dark, thankful to have recovered all of our gear with the exception of two throwbags and Pernick's shoes. We valued the experiences and lessons we were priviledged to take away with us. I had an awesome day on the river. Sounds funny, but it's true. And despite any criticisms I had or have now (they are only for the sake of learning and improving-being better boaters next time we hit the water), I want to emphasize that given the circumstances our group held up well. These are the building blocks that build strong crews among those paddlers willing to be receptive to their expieriences and learn from them.

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