IMAGES BY (the illustrious) Wilderness Tours CHEF JEFF
I leaned up against a tree trunk and his eyes looked at me and then slowly traveled up the tree. I thought ‘what is he looking at’. I might better take a look. (Stewart Smith) was staring at huge gashes left in the tree. At first I thought it was a joke, some guy having a good time with us. About 10 feet up the tree, slashed and raped of its bark was the distinct claw patterns of a carnivore. Not a big fan of bears in the spring so we picked up our boats and hustled our neoprene covered kill me signs to the river hooting and hollering as we scuttled. The topic of bears came up earlier with the Kiwi on the trip.
The Kiwi guy, funny dude, from Greymouth has a real problem with bears.
Kiwi “are there Bears out here”?
Billy, “hell ya man there are”.
Kiwi, “what do we do if we see one”
(Imagine) We are all standing in a group on the bridge. I turned to him with as straight a face as I could muster and say.
“outrunthefrenchman” all at the same time, not three feet from the nice little French Canadian.
Kiwi, “what did you say?”
Billy, “justoutrunthefrenchman”. You could see in his eyes that he thought I was kidding but he defiantly was sizing the French man up.
The first rapid a good chunky rapid claimed the first yard sale of the day. John, or “dead man walking” as he is known, had had several near death swimming instances in the prior days and carried his winning streak of carnage on to this trip too. He with his gear made an ugly slot so narrow we were all surprised when the paddle came out and the paddle was the last to go in. Boat, body, paddle, went in: paddle, boat, body came out. He was at the top of the river when he announced, “I forgot my helmet” and that should have been a sign, bandages all over his legs from the days prior. I of course the nice guy in training lent him my bran new, Pearl red, NFA original. A Monet of perfection, the helmet was made for me by, all-star NFA owner Ferron Alstead. It was so perfect, metal flake flames and sized skillfully for my fat head. Poor old DeadMW might have well take a sand blaster to her; there was paint from one end of the river to the other. If you follow the pricy paint on the rocks with a bird’s eye view, you can work out exactly where he had been by the trail of red paint.
The Gong show continued, Robby Cartwright, or “Right Blunt” as we call him decided he would do his impression of Harry Potter he was casting spells with a his paddle and getting beat on so bad. He ended up loosing his wand, regaining it and swimming into a little cave on the right. Standing room only in this cave, paddle in hand boat in the other and no way for him to make use of either one. The first throw bag of the day was unleashed in an effort to rescue a slightly stupped right blunt from the eddy. Evidently it had been a while for the young American and the bag disappeared in the sky, it went so high. Gravity working as it does brought the bag back down, coiling on top of itself as it gained speed and landed the would be hero hucking it. I peered a Stewart behind the rock with a grin; He looked at me with an equally large smile and mimicked a ringmaster smashing a Gong.
All this was going on at the same time. To my left Dead man walking the man whom made the nasty gap was bleeding all over his hands. Adding to the loonsy of the show all he kept saying over and over again, “this rapid has changed, this has changed” and it must have been the cold or something but he had never run it before. James decided enough was enough and took the rest of the group around the drop rigging belaying gear on shrubs sticking out of the rock wall. Stewart and I cringing in the eddy at the climbing the techniques being used but the Spanish jumping spider pulled it off. The Gong show as we called it carried on and on. The first rapid over we had 3 more hours of exciting action under the big top. Undercuts, melt downs pinning, and DMW using his head as a rudder. I tried to stop watching; occasionally the wasp nest of paddlers buzzing around would collide in a frenzy of eddy hopping and dash away again. There were good lines, I just can’t remember any. Mole a conservative creek boater made good lines all day, “the Chef”. Chef Jeff astounding me with some great lines, never underestimate a chef. Stewy for an old guy leading the way, was a great guide, he led like he new it. However he had never paddled it at this level before or since the floods.
The river bottlenecked into an eddy the size of a boat. Stewart the first to arrive in the eddy warned me “only room for two”. The others came around the corner of the gorge hearing the rumble below and looking frantically for an eddy. Stuart seeing the eddy and seeing the hive of boaters coming bolted to the last eddy before dead mans gorge. He told us that the second last eddy was small about 5 minutes earlier and guessed correctly that none of us were listening. The boys came around the corner, a swarm of weaving and wild paddle strokes. Every once and a while 2 would run into one another and dart away again. Paddler 4 squeaked into the 2-boat eddy all hell was breaking loose, “don’t go down there, James yells”. All of us could see that it looked like hell down there by this point and I made a break for the last eddy as Stuart hopped out. The insanity of it all was driving Stuart nuts, like dancing with road cones wacky too, he was standing in the last eddy in his shorts (waters fricken freezing too) hauling people onto the rocks as fast as he could. Dead man walking comes around the corner, cutting off the Crazy French man whom was doing quite well all day.
Greasing a newbie in five easy steps:
Point 1 bring class 3 boater on class 5 creek
Point 2 be sure there is no escape from canyon
Point 3 lend all new equipment to weakest paddler
Point 4-find completely foreign river to said fellow and insert bears
Point 5 for final death stroke remove all rolling technique under pressure and bring in the clowns.
Figure 1 Billy looking into 50-50
Billy Harris Makin life a mission,