Friday, September 12, 2008

Whitewater perfection: Birkenhead River

After paying homage to Rogers Creek, it was time to revisit civilization for food, supplies, and to check the local buzz about levels and such. After checking out the vertigo inducing sight of Nairn Falls of the Green, we drove into Whistler and ate. Then we headed down to Function Junction to set up camp.

It was rather quiet at the classic BC campground, and though it is usually the scene in SW BC for boaters, it was pretty low key and a little trashed out. We did meet up with many a southeasterner there, and I was able to call Bryan Smith, a local squamptonite, to get the low down on levels. Big thanks to Bryan. I wish everyone in certain other regions could be as cool and forthcoming with beta on runs and logistics. That evening we had planned on running the Cheakamus, but a light rain kept us in our street clothes. Boy, rain can sure keep morale at low levels. Drysuits and multiple sets of gear are the best way to fight it, but once all your pile is damp, it can be daunting to rally folks. We were all victims of this silent killer this evening and decided to pursue other activities. The young guys headed into town to pay some sin tax, and Tony and I hung at camp.

Bryan had told me that the Birkenhead would still be in, but that it would be low. But that night it rained well over an inch, bringing the Cheakamus back up significantly from an already high flow. Things were looking up for the Birk, so in the morning we ate at the awesome breakfast joint on the other side of the road and drove a short hour up to the takeout.

So the Birkenhead is 4 miles long, the first two are class 3, and the last two build quickly into a barrage of serious class 4-4+ boulder jumbles with long complex lines. One little thing though, these were BC Class 4 boulder jumbles. We had a solid medium flow from the rains, and there was allot of zen boating going on. The run gets harder and more complex each rapid. It is this huge climaxing crescendo of boofs, holes, curls, wood, boils, and every other whitewater feature out there. At the end of the run, some prominent Ashevillians had warned us about the last set, a quarter mile of class 5++ type meat, portaged by most. I vaguely knew of a drop called old black dick, for the unfortunate victim who I can only guess had a painful ride down the drop. But I assumed it to not be part of this last fringe stretch. So when we got to the last stretch, while it looked pretty sick, we didn't think we were there yet. So often, when paddling in unfamiliar areas, I will receive some little tidbit of info about an issue with the run, and it will end up tugging at your head the whole way down. Chatter of "this is the big stuff, right?", and "the power lines should be right around this next bend" dominated the on river communications.

The Birkenhead is the Bolero of whitewater runs. It gets harder and harder the further you go. Each rapid tests you and hopefully fires you up a little more. By the end many paddlers are running rapids they normally would likely portage or strongly consider doing so, but they have tuned in and calibrated incrementally as the run goes on. It is an awesome feeling, and with the beautiful aquamarine waters, encroaching gorge walls, and A+ quality all throughout, we came away having all felt like we just paddled the highest quality run we had ever done. And no portages either. It is all runnable. We were pretty much giggling the rest of the day. Nothing will ever top that high we felt after bouncing down so much chill BC class 4. There is no point in describing the numerous rapids and boulder gardens, but I got allot of pictures, so I will let loose below with a barrage of shots from the run. And yes, pics don't do boulder rapids justice.

The drop pictured above issued some citations

This rapid was the first of the truly burly drops, and had a horrible tree at the bottom. Pucker drop of the day for sure.

Keith is shown scouting Old Black Dick, the long megarapid near the end. The next many pics show various sections and angles of this drop.

Shane all smiles about to drop into the big one.

Bone is pictured here about halfway through Old Black Dick


Shane's head was the only part of his body willing to run this drop.

Celebrating the end of an epic day of whitewater bliss.
Stay tuned for tales of the Upper Ashlu!

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