Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Year's Day 2009 (A tale of cold rain and snow)

It's pretty much tradition in our house to celebrate New Year's by paddling... in the past we've paddled on New Year's Eve, last year my buddy Aaron and I headed up to the Cispus River in Washington State and this year, my wife Shell and I were joined by 16 of our closest friends on the Hood River in Oregon.

Now, we've had some pretty weird weather out here lately... snow, more snow, etc. Most of the snow in Portland had melted by the time we woke up on New Year's Day, but it was raining pretty hard when we left the house and continued to do so as we pulled into Hood River to meet up with our paddling partners. The prediction was for the rivers to come up due to rain, but with the gauges on line reading at under 5 feet, we figured we would be pretty safe and anticiapted a fun and easy float to ring in 2009.

We drove up to the put and realized that there was a considerable amount of snow on the ground and, with the rain coming down, quite a bit was rolling into the river. The group opted to paddle the lower section of the Hood (Tucker Bridge to the Marina), which is rated a Class II -III run, rather than attempting the upper section (Class III/IV). However, the river rating is roughly based on the features and average river flows... rivers can become more difficult as flows increase, making a Class II/III run, more like a solid Class III/III+. (Photos: The put-in at Tucker Bridge... the parking lot we usually use was snowed in, so we had to park on the road)

Once we were on the river, I noticed that the normal gauge was under water, which meant the river was at about 5 feet... as we moved downstream, it became evident the river was coming up pretty rapidly. Overall, the run had the character of being a fun, bouncy Class III continuous run and provided some great water for paddling. That said, it did have a slightly menacing quality to it, as you could tell there was a fair amount of water coming from upstream, based on the chocolate color the river had taken on.

About a quarter of the way into the run, we had a couple of pretty bad swims, which resulted one of the paddlers injuring her hand. Once we got the swimmers reunited with their boats, we continued downstream to the dam, which requires a mandatory portage. Unfortunately, one of our group was bested by the hole that protects the pool just above the dam and swam. Now, swimming above a dam is not a terribly good idea, since you run the risk of getting washed over the the lip. Luckily, we got our swimmer to shore, but his boat did not fair as well, being stuck on the lip of the dam for about 10 minutes and then being "ragdolled" at the bottom of the dam for an additional 20 minutes. My buddy Brandon and I raced around the dam with our boats to be ready to give chase when the boat eventually got spit out. While we raced around the dam, the boatless paddler and the girl who was injured decided to hitch a ride back to their cars... a daunting proposition given the 18 inches of snow on the ground. (Photo: Looking upstream as we waited for the lost boat to come out of the dam.)

As Brandon and I sat in position down stream of the dam, I noticed several trees that had been chewed on by the local beaver population... a very cool sight and a reminder that there are still very wild areas right outside Hood River, Oregon. (Photo: Some of the recent work performed by the Hood River Beavers.)

Once the boat came out, Brandon and I gave chase and finally got it to shore with the help of some other friends. I hooked onto the boat and ferried to the opposite shore, dragging it up and out of the river and down a nearby trail to make retrieval later on a bit easier. While I was doing that, the rest of the group moved downstream, except for my wife Shell, who waited in an eddy downstream. When we finally made it down to Shell, she told us that the river had come up at least 3-4 inches while she waited. With this in mind, we decided to make our way to the take out as quick as we could. Moving downstream, we picked up some other paddlers, who were cleaning up a couple of additional mishaps, one of which resulted in a lost boat and another paddler hiking out. (Photo: My buddy Brandon Bloomquist struggling to maintain his "safety" position behind a rock mid-river as we waited for others to follow our lines.)

The float down was tons of fun... lots of big water, big holes and fast moves. As we approached the take-out, I took some time reflecting on just how cool New Year's Day 2009 had been for me... paddling with my best friend and wife, Shell, and other good friends (a special thanks to my buddy Brandon for working safety with me), a beautiful river and spending time in a relatively untouched piece of wilderness... all topped off with some fine Mexican food and beer at the Crazy Pepper in Hood River.

To everyone out there... have a great 2009, spend time with those you love and cherish and walk softly in our wild areas.

See you on the river,


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