Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What we do for plastic - The GC of the Elwha Boat recovery mission

The plan was simple, seamless and bound to go wrong somewhere. Its been a long time since I’ve felt my life was in danger for an extended period of time, a long time at least until Saturday when Jeff and I hiked into the Grand Canyon of the Elwha river on the Olympic Peninsula to retrieve his boat which was left above an unscoutable “unportageable” rapid 3 weeks earlier.

So the plan was something like this:

Start early: 8am

Hike 7 miles up the trail with climbing gear to where we were directly above the boat (2 hours)

Rappel 1000ft down the canyon to the boat (1 hour)

Accend 1000ft back up the canyon to the trail with the boat (3 hours)

Hike 7 miles back to the car with climbing gear and newly acquired boat (2 hours)

Total time: 8 hours

Expected return 4:00pm – plenty of time to enjoy the dozen cold PBR’s we had put on ice the night before.

This is what I knew: When Jeff and EJ decided to abandon their boats at river level and hike out they described the effort as hellish – loose slate scree on top of crumbling bedrock at a 60 to 70 degree angle. Every step caused an avalanche of rock and gravel. 5 pitches at least before you hit trees with another 5 pitches in the woods but still on a 60 to 70 degree slope. It was just screaming fun and I figured a little technical rope work is always good to keep you fresh on your skills so why not, and it was only gonna take 8 hours – that’s a standard honest days work.

A side note, A week before EJ had gone in alone and roped himself down to the river and then paddled out. That was when the river was still running and by the time we were there there wasn’t enough water and our only option was to hike back up. EJ had some rope trouble and ended up leaving a 30m 8mm rope, a throw rope and a 50m static 11mm rope on the last 3 pitches down to the river.

As it turned out things didn’t go seamlessly, the plan remained simple but the execution got muttled and if the fine people who make climbing gear hadn’t put as much thought into how to make a piece of equipment as safe/idiotproof as possible then there would have been even more close calls than there already were. ..

Phase 1: The approach

We brought 3 litres of water with us, finished the hike in 2 hours (right on time) and stashed some food on the trail with plans to eat snickers bars at river level and lunch back on the trail after we had hauled the boat up. Morale was high, we were stoked, we were also hydrated.

Gearing up for an early start:

The hike was cruisey and we were stoked to have phase one complete. Disclaimer - jeff is in fact adjusting his harness and not sticking his finger up his but, however much it may look that way.

Phase 2: The goods

With the last 3 pitches already having ropes set on them, all we had to do was scramble down the wooded slope and get down to the first 2 pitches with our own gear. This was where the fun was had, no real hard work going down hill just lots of scree running, rappelling and good clean fun. It did, however, take us an hour longer than we predicted but eh, who’s counting.

Jeff on one of the pitches down to the river - very happy too, this was some serious fun and the sun wasn't too hot yet.

Phase 2 complete - easy as! We relaxed down at the river, drank a lot of water, ate some snickers bars and enjoyed the shade.

Organizing our ropes and sorting out our plan for the accention con Boat (phase 3).

View from the river: this was the first pitch and a half - 4 more on sketchy ground above it and then 5 more in the woods above that.

Phase 3: Hell

This is where we lost it, pictures were few and far between, we ran out of water, ran out of food, ran out of energy and we still had 2 or 3 pitches to go before we even hit the trees and then 5 more after that in the woods. At one point Jeff and I spent 5 mintues yelling at each other over which end of the rope to pull the boat up with when in fact it didn’t matter at all, it was like arguing whether a cord of wood was 4ft x 4ft x 4ft or 4 ft x 2ft x 8ft. The boat got stuck often, we had to rap down to it and then accend back up more than a dozen times, we got a bit dilarious for a while and it got sketchy with dodgy footing, falling rocks, poor anchors and sloppy rope management.

The boat came up quick and easily on the first pitch and we given a false sense of hope.

The sketchy anchor. The ground holding the rocks in was unstable, the rocks holding the tree in were not overly secure and the little tree was our precious little anchor.

We hit a wall at pitch 4 - anger and frustration began to settle and flicking taking it out on the camera seemed appropriate:

If you were the boat, this i how i felt about you.

Finally we made it back to the trail. It was 7:20pm. Our hopes to be back to the car by 4:00 had come and gone hours ago. We had been going without much of a break for 10 hours and we still had 7 miles to hike out.

We started our hike with no water but 2 miles down the trail we crossed a large trib and sat and drank our fill and then moved on slowly up hill. as it turns out the hike downstream is actually up hill. It got dark on us, we began to fade and sometime around 11:00 we crashed and actually fell asleep on the trail for a while.

Jeff and boat D.U.N. Done

Midnight or so and finally back at the truck - 15 hours after we started.

All told we ate 5 snickers bars, 2 bagels, and a bowl of blackbeans and rice during the day. We each drank 3 gallons of river water. I peed only once in 15 hours and it was the color of pumpkin pie. I could hardly grab the steering wheel of my car the next day - my hand were covered in blisters and cuts from handling the rope all day - all in all we made it just fine and it was a good solid mission.
Apparently the Olympic Peninsula has cannibalistic trees, take this one for example.

The hike out was aided by a full moon. The green dot is some refraction in the lens and the lighter area in the bottom of the pic is the river a thousand feet below.

We found a nice dam to sleep on that night and i passed out to the world.

What an incredible place to open your eyes to in the morning.

The downstream side of the dam. there's some good gradient to be had under this lake if the dam were ever to be removed.

Happy as. Me and Jeff on the ferry to the mainland and heading to the Northern Cascades for a 3 day canoe trip up Ross Lake.

A week at the Beaver Lodge

After a month of sleeping in beds, showering and living a generally standard life it was finally time to pack my shit up and make my push toward 9 months in British Columbia – not without spending some time in Hood River first though.

Highlights from the week include crashing a raft guide wedding party and walking away with 14 foot long sandwiches, 5 pounds of 4 bean salad, a 10 pound cheese platter and a case of wine – the gypsies strike again!

We also swam over punch bowl falls, I swam on the little white, ran the truss a bunch and chilled a bit on the lower white salmon as well…all in all it was a damn fine week but it didn’t prepare me well for the next mission coming up…

SHIT!!!....Someone hit the big red button...A-bomb testing in the Willamette Valley (or just a grass fire).

Punch Bowl Falls

As you slid down you got engulfed by the folding water at the lip and your view instantly went underwater, then just as quickly you fell inside the curtain of water off the lip of the falls, if anything could come close to feeling like a trapdoor had just opened under you it would be this - 25feet of falling in a white out - the landing was soft though and multiple laps were done by all. I highly reccomend this to anyone in Oregon - it was the shit. Have a close look at the picture you can see someone halfway down falling in the curtain.

HoodRiver...beautiful weather, beautiful views and some world class kiting, not to mention two world class rivers.

Some days you feel blue, some days you feel brown. EG on a brown day on the Green Truss

Back on the Road in the Pac NW

July flew by and before I knew it I was back in OR picking blueberries by the pound. I spent 4 days out in John Day helping Julie install wells at here research site.

The wells looked more like giant missiles and were hilarious to play with until we had to actually pound them 8 feet through the river bed with a 60 pound hammer.

A bit of math…

Each lift and successive drop probably averaged about 1/8th inch of driving depth, so each well was hit on average about 650 times. 650 swings times 60lbs is about 40,000 pounds of lifting, do that 20 times in 95 degree heat and you’re on a roller coaster towards hating life and heat exhaustion…Jeff and I, on more than 1 occasion, were somewhat delusional and could no longer maintain a comprehensible conversation – at that point we usually went and laid in the river for a while until we regained some mental capacity.

Our home for a few days - a very unstable, hot and cosy camper van.

I'll set the scene a bit: these are the wells (on top of the car), they look more like missiles than wells.

This is Jeff, he looks more like a terrorist than a physicist.

The combination was inevitable.

And the combinations were endless...

We did do some actual work...i swear

After using the hand auger to start the holes (see above) we used the 60lb sliding hammer to pound the well in...these shots are for the ladies :)

Jeff looking thick

Me looking not as thick

Occasionally we hit big rocks that coudnl't be broken and then we bent the wells and had to start all over again...frustrating.

But sometimes things went flawlessly - Taa Da

Most of the time though, it was painful

Nice sunsets in Eastern Or.

An old settlers home.

Live Free or Die – A Month in NH

Sorry for the slow-assness of my blogging recently - well actually for the last 2 months, its been a bit of a whirlwind but finally here are some of the goods. The kayaking has stopped and i am currently in British Columbia squatting at a rafting compound where i'm slowing being worked into the system for the compensation of a roof over my head and all the food i can eat (which is incredible - i'm hoping to gain some wait cause i probably wont be eating this well again for a while - we get tons of fresh salmon from the river, local breads, lots of local fruit, good meat and its all there for me to devour - seriously its just about heaven for my stomach. The weather on the other hand has been all rain and theres no sign of it stopping so it may be a bit before you see any adventures from the BC area but for now here's a run down of the last 2 months:

My exit from California was quick and a bit painful, it involved packing my bags at 8pm and driving through the night to Portland to catch a 1pm flight the next day. The drive started with some amusement as I nearly got arrested for stealing two mtn bikes (that were actually mine) when I was assumed to be a prowler and the cops were called on me as I grabbed my bikes out of a friends garage. (I showed up unannounced around midnight and let myself in to the house – as it turned out only my buddies mom was home and she wigged out and called the cops). I got away before the cops pulled in, but only by a minute or 2.

New Hampshire was a blast. Caught up the folks, swam just about everyday, played with the tractor and the chainsaw and ate a lot of ice cream. The pictures do better justice than words…

The beautiful big red maple we cut down in the name of "my plants need more son" or so my dad claimed.

Nice chaps

My dad got a new tractor which made cutting some of the smaller trees down way too much fun.

One off the better swimming holes in town. The New England Quarries just through the woods behind my house. Anna and i took the tractor out for a ride. The jumps range from 5 feet to 40. If you open the picture up you may be able to make out the old man of the mountain painting right in the center - the white spot.

The hardest part of flying is coming down.

Here's me post bear wrastling - i lost and the bear tossed me off the cliff

The big one - known far and wide throughout New England as "Cunt" its even painted on it at the lip.

On our way to New York our car broke down and Anna and I spent 5 hours waiting at a pond making faces at each other.

On top of Mount Kearsage with the folks.

My dads reeeedonkulous pumpkin patch - these puppies will be about 400lbs come late september.

The classis Merrimack River cliff jump in town - you gotta build up enough speed to make the water and your best bet is to lean far back on impact cause its only a few feet deep but if you lean back you angle into the water at the same angle as the ground and you never hit - if you do it correctly of course - its hilarious to see people miss and flop.


Me and Anna on our way out to the cabin - gimpy had just had knee surgery and walking was out which was great cause it gave a good excuse to ride the tractor some more. Swweeeeet.