We’re
lucky being only 75 minutes from Little River Canyon. Last November
my canoe survived a 110′ cliff drop there. And last week 3 of us
paddled it, enjoying 1000’s of 5 foot long stalactite-like icicles
as resplendent as sparklers in the night sky (coldest damn water I’ve
ever felt). This was same day roads iced over. We’ve taken it
levels low, and levels we previously thought high until yesterday
(2400 cfs). It rose from 700 to 1900 in 4 hours, so we decided to
run the “Upper 2” (miles), as well as the chair lift, 8 mile
(lower) section.

Those
of us who have paddled hard streams for years relish a little higher
water for new challenges, and never get jaded working new places in
the same rocks. It was more than a little higher. It was Fat
Tuesday, and on departing, my brother said something he had never
before uttered — “keep safe” — which struck me as sorta odd.

Jason
(Kayak) has the quickest roll — even hand roll — I’ve seen in
years. It stood him well today. My good buddy Rodney, who has
paddled the Grand, New, and Gauley, is one of those efficient, fun
kayakers who makes it look easy. I’m the equipment freak, with
pulleys, ascenders, first aid kit, carabiners, prusiks, hot
chocolate, or extra water, and emergency food. All of our collective
talents and items were accessed this day.

The
put-in has a sign nailed to one of two trees at cliff’s edge that
says “No Camping” over a vertical 35 ft. descent to a goat trail
hugging the rugged mountainside and just above a worse 200 ft. drop
two feet beyond the tree. To get to the goat trail you step off the
cliff onto an 8 inch wide tree trunk and shimmy down 15 feet, then
transfer your trust and your future to a 4 inch thick cedar tree
further out towards the drop. When you touch terra firma again you
actually smother the cliff with kindness. Then you lower or belay
the boats to the goat trail. Three hundred feet more down a gosh
awful incline (probably averages 75 degrees) brings you to the froth
for which you gave up a vacation day. Obviously, we do this for
enjoyment.

The
nameless first rapid was new, pushy and BIG. The next, On the Rocks,
had a masochistic lean about it today. Following that was Deep
Throat, and this day it was the nastiest, scariest, strangest rapid
I’ve witnessed in 28 years of paddle time. Rodney got blown
through its first section, but Jason got caught upside down in a hole
he couldn’t roll out of. When he took his swim he lost the paddle.
Rodney got caught in a whirlpool that overcame his ability to
attempt saving the lost paddle. Using my brain for more than a
helmet rack, I went ashore. Upon closer inspection, there were (in
sight) 3 rapids that would require safety portaging in the first half
mile. Considering that Deep Throat had at least ten extra feet of
water than whenst last I survived it, and ten times the drowning
capacity, we made a difficult decision — to climb out!

Jason
hiked downstream and luckily found his paddle. We studied Deep
Throat and decided on the only possible river route, then sanely
retreated upstream over rocks and side streams to the embankments.
It was not pleasant. Sometimes we pulled our own craft; at other
times it took two to pull one boat. We used three ropes tied
together to belay, prusik, and just hardy pull. This week it was a
hot 70 degrees vs. last week’s 22 degrees.

We
sweated and used every drop of water we had. We walked under
mini-waterfalls to cool off. Rodney lost 4 lb. (he weighed) of water
weight in this one day. After 3 hours we were at the bottom of a
sheer precipice, looking up at least 200 feet, wondering if we could
run a rope to a car and raise the boats straight up over the edge.
Instead we opted to finesse the goat trail back to the two trees.
Not a piece of cake!

I
was last up the two trees, and I will admit it scared the poo-wad
outa me. Ten minutes later it was to be nighttime, but I was so
exhausted I needed a rope to help me up that last 10 feet and off
that skinny, wobbly tree onto solid earth. Our arms were pulled,
feelingly, out of their sockets from the strain of backtracking up
the inclines, cliffs, over downed trees, and slippery and often loose
rocks. The sunset was pink, quick, and the water was still roaring.

The
river had risen even as we climbed. Sitting on that ground regaining
our strength and enough momentum to re-load the boats onto the car,
my nephew said to us the quote of the year: “If I ever come here
again with you two, and it looks like I may have to climb back out,
I’m not going!”

Spoken
with true grit!

Jason
and Rodney, Kayak, and Fred, Open Canoe (55 years young).

Monday,
March 18, 1996. “It gets better.” We went again — this time
it was 1000 cfs, an ideal level. Class IV, IV+, V, and the Upper Two
proved the wisdom of our earlier climb out decision. It took two
hours to run and each of us portaged two different challenges (all
passed on Humpty Dumpty). I took the left (an eight foot drop) and
found the Adam’s Apple on Deep Throat. Mike and Rodney sailed off
Squeeze, a straight double hydraulic drop.

70
degrees and sunny…. decided after a winter of paddling in
horrendous conditions that we like warmth. Jason (True Grit) opted
out on this one. Mike Poe & Rodney Snead, Kayak, Fred Couch,
Jr., Open canoe. Another vacation day….

by
Fred Couch, Jr.
From The Eddy Line, May 1996