Thursday, September 18, 2008

Steep Creek Shangri la: Tatlow Creek

If it wasn't for the internet, I don't know where kayaking would be. Sometimes we wish that we could go back in time to the pioneer days, when nothing was known, and everything was to be gained. Various forms of media have accelerated the development of paddling and its ever growing reach into the great unknown. Meteorological prediction tools have taken off, the boating industry is well rooted and supported, and the knowledge base has fully been shared via the many forms of getting info out there, mainly the internet.

It is due to this environment, its potential, and the people willing to share the information with all of us, that we owe thanks and appreciation to. Because without this structure, we would never have been able to board a plane to cross the continent and then proceed to strategically and confidently knock off the best creeks in the SW BC area, one by one, cold and calculated, to achieve true whitewater euphoria. The phone calls, hydrologic beta, weather info, and logistical and practical specifics published on the internet allowed this experience to happen, and Tatlow Creek was to be the grand finale of this celebration of being alive in the modern age of boating. This is the time we are in, and there are great things to be had.

But this post isn't about our era, but one single day on Tatlow Creek. It is impossible to name the best mile of creekboating, simply for the fact that not all of us have done all the creeks. So until the age of the streamlining and equilibration of our collective consciousness, this will just have to suffice as one single attempt from one angle, to make the uberstatement of what THE best mile of creeking in the world is.

There are many paddlers with much more place to determine such truths, but I can safely say that the best creek run I have EVER done is Tatlow Creek. Its kinda hard to follow the same trip report format of previous posts, when the stoke behind Tatlow would really be better explained in loud shouting, or more likely some type of higher art form that I have yet to master. So in standard blog prose and style, here is the account, in chronology.

Once the Callaghan had dropped out again, it was time for the peak of the trip, and we loaded up with enough food for the rest of the trip. We were heading to Tatlow, and were praying levels had dropped out enough to allow our passing through the gorge. Callaghan's quick draining overnight had us optimistic, but every watershed is different, and wanting too much and not getting it is always devastating. Driving over, the best mindset was that we would "settle" for a world class high flow Mine run. But after checking in with Ledcor and driving over the double bridge, it was clear that flows were looking perfect for Tatlow to be in. We took a short look at the 50/50 bridge area, much more realistic looking with lower levels, and made quick work of the drive up to Tatlow, catching another crew on the drive up.

The other group turned out to be none other than the guys who had given us all the information we needed to have such a bomber trip up to this point. Bryan from Squamish was taking down some guys from Nova Scotia, and along with Chris and Ryan of Belingham, there were already more than a few paddlers getting fired up to get into the canyon. Not wanting to waste time, I got my act together and geared up with the others so as to not slow everyone down. The hike up to the end of the drivable road wasn't too bad, though if you got the rig for the road, it makes it less work in the end. From the start of the hike, one can look North back towards the Ashlu, where it can be seen quietly meandering down through the play run far down below.

Bryan and Chris finished running shuttle and we began the short hike up the road before breaking off to the left at an open area to begin the drop in to the creek. It can be difficult to follow the path, but it is getting more matted down every year, and the key is to keep yourself directly across from the tributary cascading in on the other side of the valley of Tatlow.

Much thanks goes out to the locals who put in good hours keeping the access roads and trails groomed for us out of towners. The hike in wasn't as bad as Rogers Creek, but still took a solid 20-30 minutes. If you got off the beaten path, this number would go up big time.

photo by Chris Tretwold

Finally we broke out of the bush into the open valley bottom. Looking upstream yielded a typical sight when putting on a micro creek of this nature. Unrunnably low levels. Immediately downstream though, the creek channelized to 1/4 its former width, and would hold this clenched fist all the way to our takeout pool.

Upstream view from our put in.

Looking down from our launch point into the breach.

The last 50 feet down to the creek was a steep unstable mess of avalanche debris, and the remains of various materials unfortunate enough to get caught up in this grand display of mass wasting.

During the first descent of the upper reaches, a group hiked out here, as when the upper is adequately padded, the lower gorge is not advisable. Wanting to hike out light and come back later, Jonaven Moore left his Jefe in here, in hopes that a few weeks of summer would bring the level down to return and paddle the boat out. It got cold, the creek dropped out, and one winter season is more than enough to render a kayak no longer a kayak. Maybe they can pull a Johnny Cash and paddle it out one little piece at a time.

After the junky final rapid of the upper creek, we were hurriedly ushered into the unmistakable beginning of the next 350 feet of verticallity. After about 100 yards of comfy warm up we hit the first series, and what a perfect entrance it makes to the run. I apologize about the bad pics, but many of these were taken while bouncing up and down in an eddy, so the quality is lower than desired. No footage was taken either, in hopes that the next day would be the media frenzy style float trip.

The entrance series is three drops into a 20 foot falls. The first is a ramping boof through a big hole on the left wall, then a nice uniform sloping ledge, and then the final sluice to line up the big drop. The twenty has a nice extended lip on the right side and care should be taken to not interact with the wall on the left or the huge cave most of the water charges into on the right. Landing on a stroke with some direction should be sufficient. What a start to a run. You are locked in at this point, and there isn't a better feeling on earth.

Bryan and Kelsey soaking it in.

After this vertical initiation, its time for more of the same, as right around the bend the creek enters another set of great drops.

The staging area for the next set.

Here Tatlow drops down a 25 foot waterfall on the right with a unavoidable and epic meltdown waiting at the bottom. It is a great move, riding the line between getting too far up on the launch pad, and not enough. Driving it greedily but hanging on your stroke to pull it back in is the technique, shortly followed by some type of crash position, so as to travel as deeply and slowly into the depths below.

above two photos by Chris Tretwold

Watch for skirt implosions here, as the pool empties right into a 15 foot double drop with holes.

Bryan Smith, local fighter for what is right and good in the Ashlu Valley.

After these fun drops, and around the bend, Dave's Rapid looms. This one is tricky and has a scary hole at the bottom. It can be portaged on the left, up and over, with an easy launch back into the pool at the base. Everyone who ran it had no problems though, and next time its a must do.

From here to the next big one is the only set of boogie inside the main run, with a nice 100 yard set of class 4-4+ boogie water with some boofs and slots. Its read and run, but knowing where to get out above the next portage is really important. There is an eddy on the right here, and missing it would be bad. This rapid changes every year, but the basic gist is that you don't want to blind dog into it, because more often than not it is a portage. This year there was wood in it and a new rock shift, so we portaged.

This involves handing boats up a few platforms before traversing around a point to where a fault plane creates a 40 foot shaft that drops straight down back to the creek. I would NOT want to solo this climb. So you set up the line and lower boats then paddles. Then people climb down, and ideally you have two ropes so you can pull the other one down once the last person gets down. Not a good place to be in a hurry, but you could get this walk down to 15 minutes easy once you know the drill.

Once back in the creek, you will notice: A)you are totally walled in, and B) all you can see downstream is where the creek drops right in front of a wall, and allot of mist shooting up in the air.

You are now at Wall Drug, the highlight or main problem of the run, depending on your attitude and or water levels. It is a 30 foot sliding waterfall that lands in a huge wall. The clearance gets tighter the more left you are, and with a vertical wall on the right preventing a crisp top move, you are faced with the classic late move critical moment. Add to that the fact that you can't portage or even look at it for all practical purposes, and you have one of the most classic drops ever. It goes well, and you can even keep your head dry if you are patient. Keep it quiet in your head as you roll off, plant the left stroke and wait for the halfway point, where you will suite your stroke with a nice kick from the rock beneath you, performing a full body sweep stroke to the right, rolling right, with your hull to the wall. This could be the best drop on the run. It is a true head game move, and it feels awesome to hit it right, fully concentrated.

A bad shot of an incredible drop, Wall Drug.

Immediately below Wall Drug, the creek s-turns down a smooth rapid into a 10 foot boof off of the left wall. It is a great move, necessitating a switch of the hips mid air so as to have a stable drive away from the left wall at the bottom. Eddy out right below for the biggest rapid on the run.

Drop between Wall Drug and the big one.

Here you can see the top of Wall Drug, and in the foreground the 10 footer. This picture was taken from the top of the next huge drop. This run is stacked!

Right below this boogie drop, get out on the right to check out the biggest drop on the run. Here the creek necks down and charges off of a 10 foot spout that runs left to right. Crossgrain it a little to keep it in the middle, as there is some serious recirculation here. Then float the fuzz carefully into the next 40 foot drop, making SURE to be on the right channel. The left channel is some BC class 6.

This is a view of the lip of the 40 foot slide. Stay right here!

This is another highlight, with a great boof to slide. The slide is not super steep, but builds the speed enough to where you want your weight forward and to keep the bow down upon landing. Keep the wall at the bottom in check with a nice left ruddered landing. The immediate drop below is a common portage.

photo by Chris Tretwold

Below the big slide, the water pushes right into an 18 foot falls with bad caves, and a poorly placed old growth log in the entrance, creating less room than one would wish to make such a move. A number of people have run it, but the portage is fun too, a slippery and careful throw and go into a cauldron against the left wall. Get good clearance on the jump.

After reuniting yourself with your boat, watch for the next drop, which as of 2008 is still a portage, though the bottom is now runnable. Walk the first little part on the right and then slide in for a little manky class 4 drop at the bottom.

View of the last portage

After this last bit of dealing, you are 4 drops from freedom. The first is a seldom seen double drop that is quite fun. You drive off the center left side of a ledge dropping around 6 feet, turning mid air 90 degrees to the right, and then finishing with another 4-5 foot boof. Next, eddy left for the last great boof, a clean and pristine drive back right with a big stroke. The final two foot drop through the notch into the takeout pool is a proper ending, trifle to the big stuff hidden upstream. It can give up some excellent cartwheels too.

So that is Tatlow Creek, top to bottom. It is the best creek I have ever run, and hopefully it won't be the last time I run it. There is a license pending that would put a diversion at the put in and a powerhouse at the takeout pool. Nothing is sacred. Go before it is too late.

After taking out, we were so taken aback by the beauty of the takeout pool that Tony and I decided to camp on the bridge overlooking the spot.

While we were on the creek, Corey Boux showed up with some tools and did a little work on the culvert move on the Tatlow spur. While he showed some others down Tatlow, Tony did about 4 hours of serious labor on the move, making it to where a Honda Accord could do it with some finesse. They could really use Tony in BC. He is always fired up about helping sort out the rough patches on getting to and making our way down through these places. He is no different in directive while on vacation either. So we camped at the takeout dreaming of another run in the morning, only to wake up and find the level rising after an inch or more of rain. More on our final day of BC later.

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