Trip Report: Clackamas River - Jan 15, 2018 - 2500 cfs

Three Lynx to Memaloose - Progression

Submitted by Shakya Baldwin

First Monday January 15th was full of warmth and sunshine.  It was in the high 40's, which is absolutely delicious for a mid-January day in the Pacific Northwest.  I had been on the river the day prior running the same section of river, Three Lynx to Memaloose.  This was still just my 6th run or so on the Upper Clack in Sunshine, my sweet cat boat.  There were 6 cat-boats, one ugly rubber ducky, five goddesses and two gentle-dudes.  The river had dropped from around 3000 to 2500 cfs from the day before which made it a slightly different run.  Not a huge difference but definitely uncovered some rocks and some Rebar that were not there the day before.

clackamas Feb 2018 Three Lynx.jpg

On this day there was hesitancy among the seven of us on who would lead.  All capable boaters but for a myriad of reasons we lacked the one person charging forth to the lead position.  For some it had been many moons since they had run this river, for some there was anxiety, a couple just wanted to relax and for others they wanted to hang back and surf.   I was busy having an inner dialogue/debate between my anxiety monsters, my sense of logic and my dislike of indecision, it was quite the debate going on in my brain.  Logic and dislike of decision squashed my anxiety monster into a puddle of nothing. It was time for me to take the next step.

Whitewater boaters range in how they react on whitewater.  My own journey has been full of bumps and scrapes.  I have had to start all over at the bottom again to increment back up just to do it again because of trauma.  Trauma management is a real thing for a lot of us, it has great power over us.  It is far easier to increment up slowly vs recover from trauma.  So if there is one thing that I can pass along to future generations that would be my thing to pass along.  Now I am a conservative, mama bear boater.  I try to not let my cautious side hold me back but sometimes it does.  It is a constant back and forth with the inner demons. 

I have done the gambit with kayaks, round boats and now cat-boats.  I recognize that cat-boats are "easier" in many ways.  However when you have a history with a section of river that you met under gnarly terms that knowledge doesn't stand a chance in the face of trauma.   For me this is that section of river.  I still remember this one rock, hitting my back after I swam out of my kayak.

So there I was with a group of lovely folk, disliking the indecision in the air and seeing the logic in that I had just run the section the day and I had the best familiarity.  Also knowing that my next evolution and progression with this river was at hand.   So I I dug my tie-dye oars into the water, moved forward and spoke up and over my shoulder indicating it was time to go.  I moved into the front of the pack.

In general I like to be in the front or in back, I am not a big middle of the pack kind of girl.  On new or scary (to me) rivers I like to follow the person I know that has cautious lines.  I recognize at some point I need to stop that and start looking at the water more than I do when I am following.  So this day since the river had been kind to me the day before I made the call to move forward.  Once I made the decision I was fine, my anxiety diminished.  My only point of concern was to ensure I was taking good conservative lines for the boaters that did have anxiety and would be following my lines. 

I can read water, and as long as I remember to not get lost in thought and forget to keep my eyes open I usually fair pretty well.  That being said there are two rapids on this section that give me pause, Hole in the Wall and Toilet Bowl.  Sure they are only class III rapids but Hole in the Wall has a ladder coming out of it, which when is kind of intimidating and Toilet Bowl is kind of notorious.  Hole in the Wall comes up early on.  We all flew through it with smiles on our faces.  It seemed tamer than normal, forgiving flow or maybe I have just gotten past some of my fears.  More than likely it is because I am up in a cat-boat versus a kayak staring at that ladder and wondering what souls have had to grab on to it or what souls have perished there to cause the ladder to be put in place.  But all is good and we meander down the river to our next challenges.

We come up on Carter Falls and I know my line through this.  I am not an adventure chaser on this river yet so I line up on the left to skirt the hole that I have seen eat boats and swamp drift boats.  After I get through the rapid, smiling of course I paused and turned around to make sure everybody else is smiling as well.  I turned just in time to see a fellow boater going sideways over what might be a middle line at different levels but definitely wasn't there this day.  I went to reach for my oars, whistle at the ready as oars went flying and rider got tossed around.  I was ready to spring into action as were some folks up above but our buddy stayed in their boat and was completely composed. Everybody made it through just fine and we had a good laugh about that "line".

Nothing on this run really causes me as much stomach churning as does Toilet Bowl.  Many people have stories about swimming in TB or seeing people swim in there, it is a pretty notorious rapid. Since TB is near the end I get to enjoy that stomach churning feeling for some time.  In fact the day prior I made a deal with the river that if I swam at there I would definitely come back the next day and run it again.  Well I didn't swim but I came back anyway.

After we all got some fun in at Rock n Roll we knew our time was at hand to face Toilet Bowl.  I am still in the lead as we rounded the corner, humming my rapid theme song.  It is the Indian Jones theme song in case you are wondering, it does wonders for my courage to hum it, the bigger the rapid the louder the humming.  I tell the river I love her and hope she is good to me.   I make sure I can spit, it's a kayaker thing I picked up along the way.  Rituals, we all have our rituals.  Before I went in I knew the general line I was going to take.  I didn't have words for the line I was going to take, just a general idea.  When I don't lead and I follow it is harder to have words for the lines I want to take, it is usually a blur of motion and then it is over. Today as I write this I have words because I took myself through the rapid without following and my brain was fully engaged.  At the top I tucked in on the left side, then once past a couple of little rocks I started to move to the right.  As I entered the meat of the rapid I dug in and I was a little right of center.  As the waves hit me I angled ever so slightly with a little left oar, then right oar and then there I was on that big last wave and I dug in hard.  There was that pause at the top of that last big wave as Toilet Bowl contemplated keeping me as she always does. I leaned my body forward digging in hard with the oars and seconds later I came down victorious on the other side hooting and hollering.  We all made it through with marvelous lines as we all did a little victory yell for each other.

I thought on this run about progression and how important it is to take those steps forward even in the face of anxiety and fear but also the balance of not doing it too fast.  There is so much joy and peace that I find in my whole life from spending these days on the river.  A day like this brings all of that anxiety into perspective.  A day like this with the river, with friends is what it is all about.  The progression and the stomping of the fear monster was just bonus material.