liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

Trip Report: middle White Salmon

Yesterday morning Kathy picked me up and we headed over to the Columbia River Gorge, crossing the toll bridge at Hood River and finding our way to the takeout. The falls is right at the takeout, so we scouted it from the bridge. We left Rick's car at the takeout and headed to the putin, BZ something. The level was 2 and a quarter, which is the high end of the levels that these boaters consider good to go. Any higher and it would be very fast with few eddies and stout holes. Any lower and it would be pleasant eddy hopping without push. At this flow it was bankfull and slightly pushy, but only when it was narrow. There were lots of eddies but the mid-river ones were small and often behind rocks that were just below the water's surface, making them hard to see from upstream. The run is BZ Corner to Husum, 5 miles, 90 feet per mile.

There were four of us: myself, the two already mentioned, and Laurie. All were reasonably solid boaters. I told everyone that it was my first time running the White Salmon, and more than they probably meant to, they treated me as if it were the hardest river I had ever attempted. I asked Rick to give me his briefings about the big ones. We scouted the first rapid because it is right at the put-in, and three of us launched in the middle of the rapid. The last drop in that first rapid had a stout hole which was easily missed by boofing right. I was almost surprised when my boof worked just fine. I don't have much confidence these days, because I get in a kayak so sporadically.

Below the rapid I turned to photograph Kathy coming through. I was surprised to find that my hand was shaking so hard that I could not get a clear image. I have never had the problem of shaking hands on the river before. I was a little stressed by the fast start on a new river, but I wasn't really all that fearful, knowing that the run is given as a class III, and my skills are up to class III even off the couch. But there it is, my hand was shaking. Badly.

On downstream Rick kept giving me his advice on how to run things. He reminds me of Charlie Walbridge and some other senior boaters who have become very conservative. He always took the very sneakiest route he could find through each rapid, avoiding all holes. His directions for me were confused. He would focus on one feature which was the thing in the rapid that he wanted to avoid, and talk all around it, leaving me without any idea what the rapid looked like or what the normal route was. I humored him by listening to him, but it only increased my stress because he was so worried about certain rapids, but unable to describe them to me.

All I wanted was a brief description of the rapid, and some idea about where one could run it. My idea of a rapid description goes something like this: "this is a series of ledges with breaks in them" or "this is a steep wave train with a pourover hole in the main flow at the bottom" or "this one is rocky but you can go anywhere". Instead he made it sound like the river was one huge hazard and there was only one very tiny window of safety which I had to hit, but which he could not say where it was. When he talked about where he liked to run it, I discovered that meant the sneak. I have no need to sneak class III rapids. I can run them. He could too if he wanted to.

The meat of the run was in the beginning, with several fun class III's. Aside from a general feeling over overstress I felt pretty good in my boat, though the bone in my wrist was a little bit painful. I started singing to myself in the boat, because that calms me down and brings me more to the moment. There are certain songs that I sing when I'm boating including "Today", "When I'm 64", and rounds like The River is Flowing, Babylon, and the Appalachian Hymn. People don't know what to make of my singing. I have learned to just get in the front and sing away from them.

The rest of the run is easy class II. It was pretty and I took a few pictures. Recognizing my own stress and lack of real enjoyment, I was thinking about taking out above the falls. But when the pullout above the falls came into view, I handed my rope and camera to Rick, and set out to run the falls with the other two girls. The last time I can remember boating with a pack of women who choose to run the big ones when the men walk was on the Big Sandy with Charlie and Sandy... But anyway, we ferried over to river left and Kathy and I scouted again, then we made the run.

I asked the other two gals to run first. It looked like Kathy had a good line, and then Laurie looked like she got knocked left with the main flow. I was watching Rick and all the other photographers and rope holders below the drop, and I could tell she was having trouble because all eyes were on her, and there was some gaping going on. I had ferried across and was in the flow, and I backpedaled a little to allow the situation to unfold before I came down there and complicated it. Then I committed and ran the drop, hitting it not quite perfectly but basically where I meant to go, landing with a nice flat "boof" at the foot of the drop. I was just a little bit slow or late, but not much, considering how fast things move when you're headed for vertical.

Teresa runs White Salmon falls
T runs White Salmon falls

Below the drop I watched Laurie flushing downstream into a pile of rocks, still upside down after missing her first and second attempts to eskimo roll. I was headed for the eddy behind the rock she was headed for, when she rolled up. She was calm and smiling, a pleasure to behold. We chilled for a moment in the eddy before heading for the takeout.

The takeout was two narrow rocky climbs up to the highway. I chose the first one, which looked easier to me. Kathy tried to talk me out of it, saying she saw poison oak up there. I looked and looked, and saw none. It was no trouble to take out that way.

I was glad to have run the falls with the girls. It was probably the best part of the day.

This day highlighted a button of mine. I really hate being given advice by people who know less about something than I do. And this reaction on my part is not particularly helpful. I find it insulting when people think me more ignorant or unskilled than I am. This is not in line with my own beliefs about how I should be. Part of the four agreements is to not take things personally. Another person's suspicion that I am ignorant and unskilled has no bearing on who I really am. The question for me is one of where the line is, between standing up for myself or just letting them assume whatever they assume. I can get even more irritated when I attempt to stand up for myself. I find some way to say that actually I am not a beginner, and can't we move this conversation up a notch? But it seems that those around me are perpetual beginners on the river, and so they can't move the conversation up a notch... they will always assume that they know more about it than me, because I am new to their world, and because they cannot imagine the skill and comfort that some people have on the river. I need to just let them assume whatever they want, suck it up, and not take it personally. So I'm working on that.

On the way home Kathy drove us along the Washington side of the Columbia, which I had not seen before. There are fires in the mountains around here, and there was a haze over the landscape. She pointed out how the weather passing overhead tends to cloud up and be the rainiest when you pass through the area that is in line with the crest of the Cascades. She says that in the spring and fall she'll often drive just far enough up the gorge to get past the thick clouds, and find that there is pleasant weather up there. I'm going to have to try that.

After we crossed back to the Oregon side (another toll bridge) I was suddenly exhausted. Kathy got off the interstate to drive along the old scenic highway, but I wasn't watching. My eyes were mostly closed and if I had been laying down I would have fallen asleep. She came in for a cold drink when we got back to my place, but I was still woozy and she soon left. My river gear hasn't dried all the way yet because it's so humid today....
Tags: buttons, kayak, oregon, river, the four agreements, whitewater

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