Darren and I saw someone running the Snow Creek Cataract at stomping high flows. For those unfamiliar, it is the gigantic seived out unrunnable monster just upstream of the Snow Creek trailhead parking lot, below which is the put in for Lower Icicle. Unrunnable perhaps, until today..
We were portaging at the time while linking the Upper, Middle, and Lower runs together (portaging what we needed to/wanted to on the Middle stretch). So just as we were parallel to the nastiest part of this horrific cascade, I glanced over and there she was. Darren heard me exclaim aloud, and then he saw the trip leader's CHILDREN SWIMMING down the meat (but what part of the Snow Creek Deathtrap isn't "meat"?).
Ok, read on, because the fact that this bold lady was a Common Merganser does not diminish the awe of this feat. If she was "Common" as a Merganser before today, I'd say running the sh*t makes her quite uncommon at this point. Definitely the most bad ass boating I've seen water foul achieve. Puts those Glenwood Wave Geese to utter shame! Her flapping skills were adept, because she was staying on the surface and hitting her lines like no bloke in a 90 gallon creek boat could hope to. Just at the boulder jumble sieve where all the wood gets pinned she was charging radical ferries and even a few power attainments to get to R. Right where the class V+ "sneak lines" are.
It was right about at this moment when Darren spotted several ducklings ("tennis ball sized") who flushed out of the malestrom on R. Left, obviously unable to make Mom's sneak route. I instantly felt really sorry for the poor unsuspecting ducklings, now way in over their heads and "haired out", as we used to say in the 80's. Kinda reminds me of how most boaters go about leading novices down whitewater they aren't any way qualified to run. Shameful. Just Shameful.
Mom got out on a midstream pyrimid shaped boulder across from the uppermost put in to have the vantage point to look for her 'lil crew. We completed our portage to decend to that general spot and put back in above the giant ramp of greenwater we love so much. D had just seal launched into the backed up eddy pool we typically put in at for the Lower. I was climbing into my boat as he discovered one of the ducklings floundering around in this eddy, walled off from safety by large granite boulders. Darren gently scooped him up onto his spray skirt, and we were both astonished.
Then, just next to me another duckling began the duckling's equivilent of a 5-10 climb up a steeply inclined large granite boulder, just a foot or so away from me. I pointed this out, and we agreed it might be best to put the two together, on a boulder up out of the river.
The duckling next to me impressed me with his eventual summit of this steeple of granite. His gangly large duck feet doing it all, wings too small to fly yet, not to mention lacking the fingers human climbers have at their disposal. He wasn't as bad off as Darren's duckling, it would turn out.
Darren paddled over to me as close as he could. I cantelevered out over the current, arm extended, to catch the duckling as Darren pitched it the foot or so between us, and I gently caught it. But when I tried to reunite him w/ the other duckling who had saved himself, this more capable guy fled from me, puting himself back into the water, though it was an enclosed cave like eddy. Into the darkness he dissappeared, shivering.
So I carefully took the weaker duckling Darren had rescued, and nested him in a mossy trough. Hopefully sheltered enough from any raptor threat from above (upon Darren's recommendation). But the stronger duckling wasn't to be found. Presumeably he'll survive, but the weaker one may not. He was shivering and looked like he was too weak to bounce back. His leg looked as though it may have been tweaked.
It was up to nature now.
The remaining questions that linger for me are these:
How would Mama Duck find these two lost ducklings? Would she assume they did not survive?
I'd need to ask Darren if he knew roughly how many ducklings total he saw- I couldn't see them when he pointed them out during their action flushing through that G-G-Gnarly beast of water. If enough of her offspring were collected again, would she just write the other two off?
Lastly, and this is of gravest concern to me, even though its nothing I had control of:
Did our presence cause this catastrophe? Ducks get frightened by kayakers all the time. Me, Jon Shelby, Jed and Adam were chasing some down the entire length of Peshastin Creek when we did our Ingalls To Cashmere trip. I'm always frustrated that they can't just duck (pardon the pun) to the side and let us go by, or turn and fly upstream. Sometimes they do. These ducklings couldn't fly at all yet. They were probably out getting swimming lessons from Mom.
We took out to portage the Snow Creek Cataract not very far above the lead in rapids to it. I didn't see any ducks, but that area from the Green Guage House through the diversion dam to the top of those rapids is great duck habitat. I can't entirely feel guilt free about the possibility that we sent them into peril, unknowingly.
And its not like I can be my normal callous self like I am on this forum often and say "well that damn Mama Duck shoulda scouted". Anyway, nature runs its course and fortunately there are plenty of Mergansers.