Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Part 3 Unlocking Wyoming's Secret Stash

Part 3

Life is the ultimate drug in the world
All of us are just a bunch of drug addicts for it
If you don’t know it, you will never know

Mulkey looking into the exit of the gorge

Stookesberry wishing there was sun and warmer temps

We had a great support crew on this trip and im thankful we did as they were able to run shuttle and follow us along some of the gorge walls as we probed further into the unknown.

Stookesberry givin’er

Tyson, Nate and Casper-Kenny were our gracious support crew and without them this trip would have been a bust. The Laprele Gorge is broken up into 3 distinct vertical Chasm’s of which the last is the steepest. Just above the last gorge Tyson was able to make it down from the rim of the canyon to river level. As I paddled into the eddy he had a big smile on his face “ looks big ahead” .

Matt looking into the unknown squeeze waterfall

A big chunky drop lead into a slow moving passageway and off a 25 foot waterfall, but the waterfall slowly constricted itself as it fell thru a narrowing granite hallway. At first look it seems not runable and there are no other options around the drop but to escape 600 feet up and out of the gorge.

Looking upstream from the top of the unknown waterfall

I can tell Stookesberry wants this thing and he begins climbing the gorge walls trying to gain a better perception from the top looking in. It’s an educational experience to watch someone like Stookesberry scout a big drop. Hes like a hunter stalking his next kill, looking for the best strategy and spot to capture his prize. He looks at the waterfall from every angle scrambling further up on the cliffs.

Stookesberry trying to get a glimpse of the waterfall

I swear I thought he was going to take a ride, I stood below thinking wtf is he doing and at times I couldn’t even look. I remember the line in hotel charley where Phil Boyer “says no matter how nonchalant Ben makes this look, this is seriously sketchy”. Ha well here I am wondering what the hell he is doing. I started psyching myself up to follow him off this scary waterfall with hopes he saw something I didn’t. He finally makes his way off the cliff edges and says I think it will go but its hard to tell without looking at it from the bottom at river level.

Stookesberry and Mulkey trying to gain a visual of the inner gorge

We decide to pack the boats up and over and get our first glimpse of the canyon from above since we entered into it in a blizzard. We soon realize were in the steep section and the drops looked super big from above which is good and bad.

One of the big ones that looked like a sick 30 + foot slide

This is after the squeeze waterfall and the big slide…looks so good

With very few options to get back into or out of the gorge we decide to scout as much as we can from above. After about an hour or more we realize our light is running thin and temps are dropping. The last drop exiting the gorge was going to take sometime and imagination to successfully run and exit the gorge so we decided to portage.

Squeeze waterfall, big slide and another waterfall…Its Steep!

More time is going to be needed to explore and unlock the last gorge and we figured it would have to wait. With only 2 miles of river left we figured we were faced with some class 3 at best. As we took in the incredible scenery of this granite wonderland we foolishly floated into a mini gorge.

Stookesberry scouting the exit of the gorge

Sitting in an eddy it looked like an 800 foot long gorge and looked to have very little gradient. Ben sat in the last eddy before a big horizon line and I sat in the one above it looking around for escape options if needed and we were screwed from where I sat. Ben waived me in to the last eddy formed by a massive boulder the size of a small house and as I got closer he says “waterfall”. At first glimpse it looks good to go but after a closer look were unsure. The house size boulder we stood on was entirely undercut and as the water plunged into the pool below it hit a wall and then turned into the undercut boulder. As the water plummeted into the pool it powered this blender effect that pulled water as far as we could see behind the huge house rock. The only move would be to boof it and that move was non-existent. The walls rose over our heads 70 feet to freedom above. A part of me was ready to just give it and there was a bit of room to get your roll and paddle out if all worked well. Safety was not much of an option and cold started to set in to all of us from the mist of the pounding waterfall.

Last rapids of the upper gorge

A few minutes later I found myself clinging to a wall high above the waterfall trying to escape with nothing but a throw rope attached to my lifejacket so that if I fell they could hopefully pull me out of the blender below. Suddenly the freezing temps were ignored and my thoughts were purely about escaping and not falling. I couldn’t feel my hands as I striked them against the slick granite walls hoping for a positive edge to cling onto. My core temperature escalated as adrenalin was infused in my blood. I looked back at matt and Ben below and I think they were more scared then I was, There was an unspoken word of don’t fall in there eyes as we both noticed a nice granite ledge that would meet me first before I hit the swirling pool below. Two critical moves to the top and I kept slipping and catching myself on what looked to be like the last good hold. It was impossible to go back and reverse the moves that had gotten me here and I knew I was just going to have to go for it and hope for the best and not set a flight plan to the bottom of the gorge. My mind was clear and focused nothing else mattered in my world at that moment but making the move. I slapped my foot over the corner of rock and tried toeing in like a ballerina with anticipation of my foot grasping on to something but it kept popping of each time I weighted it. After a few more attempts I spotted a slopping edge a little higher up and cranked off my last good hand hold and as I locked off I slapped my foot across the face of the rock and it stuck. With no despair left I trusted my feet and made the next move carefully letting go of my last good hold. Finally a sketchy moss soaked slab of granite led me to the top. The first half of the epic was over now I had to get them out, I hauled gear and boats up the cliff and was exhausted. With no anchor points or climbing equipment I was forced to use myself as an anchor as I body belayed them up the cliff. Thankfully friction was my friend as Matt peeled off the top and yelled at the top of his lungs “ Got me , Got Me’ I yelled back “I think so” Ben stood freezing at the bottom of the gorge nearly seeing matt rocket back to the bottom and decided to take another line up the cliff and ran into a problem that way as well. I quickly made a step etriers out of another throw bag and he was able to escape but by now matt and Ben were both freezing cold. The light of the day was slipping fast as we quickly got back into the water with hope of no barb wired fences or gorges below as we paddled into the pastures and valley of the Laprele valley. Half hour later we paddled into the takeout glad it was all over and glad to see our shuttle posse.

Ben Stookesberry, Aaron Mulkey and Matt Mcfadden stoked after a good/epic day!

For some reason these are the days I love and live for, its pure exploration adventure at its best and worst but yet the drive never goes away. It draws me back like a drug that keeps on giving,,,,,

Part 4 -An epic adventure into another unknown creek coming soon…..

Mike Copeland glad to see something other then bushes!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Part 2 - Unlocking Wyomings Secret Stash, Laprele Gorge

Wyoming traffic jam on the way to the river

Mulkey running Hall Pass

As the ice begins to melt each ice season all I start thinking about is kayaking and it becomes an addiction to scan over maps and search for creeks of the unknown. Ever since my first trip to Casper to paddle with Mike on the First known descent of Box Elder my mind was constantly thinking about what other creeks were hidden in the range. Deer Creek is one of the bigger creeks in the range and is in my top 5 trips in Wyoming. Deer creek remained unknown for many years after its first descent in 1995 by Ed Conning, Steve Varland, and Calvin Burgstrom. A group of us got to paddle this incredible creek last year, trip report with photos here DEER CREEK TR.

Living in Wyoming this granite range seems to be the perfect start for any creeking assault early in the season. With so many micro creeks and massive canyons its hard to know what has water and what doesn’t. A couple of creeks stuck out on the map and one in particular ran thru a very obvious canyon known as the Laprele Gorge. This creek then dumps into a reservoir that has pretty much dewatered the creek below it, hiding it from the elusive kayaker that passes by on I-25.

I was able to round up Nate Winning from Red Lodge, Mt and Matt Mcfadden and Ben Stookesberry were contemplating meeting us for a Sunday run if things looked good. I had 2 creeks in mind and made numerous phone calls trying to figure out access issues. I was fortunate to have climbing partner and friend CasperKenny to help with logistics and private property issues. We had no idea if anyone one had ever ventured into these canyons.

Who needs a nalgene when you have a Clorox jug for water!

Kenny is pretty much the man to have behind the wheel on any adventure. Without him this run would have never happened.

Cool temps and snow were forcasted for the day and before we knew it we were trying to navigate thru blinding snow and huge drifts. The storm would lift every few minutes allowing us to try and gain our bearings but after too long we were shut down.

It was deeper then it looked Kenny told us!

Time to get the chains out…..

We decided to navigate back and ended up in the Laprele creek drainage. The storm started to lift and so did our spirits as huge granite outcroppings began to rise out of the valley above the gorge.

We drove across a side creek that flowed into the main Laprele creek and decided there was enough water to get down to the confluence above the main gorge.

Unsure if the rest of the crew was going to show up we decided to put on and paddle into the unknown. The side creek offered some mank and some fun drops that reminded me of Arizona paddling. After a small rapid we were at the entrance to the gorge that had a mandatory 20 foot waterfall/slide that we named Hall Pass.

Mulkey running Hall Pass Photo: Nate Winning

The next rapid has a punch, with 3 big boofs over chundering holes and a slide at the end that we named Mean Streak. After running the right side successfully Nate decided he didn’t like the odds and chose a left line that ended up having a hidden hole at the end with some serious teeth. I watched Nate recirculate with his boat a couple times and then was able to rope him and his boat out of the nasty hole. With no paddle to be found and Nate very cold we had no choice but to abandon our mission and come back the next day with our crew. As I looked downstream it was like a kayakers dream of steep granite walls and pool and drop rapids. The hike out sucks and we were lucky to follow a narrow passage way up and out of the canyon.

Looking downstream before hiking out

As soon as I had cell I was on the phone calling in the troops and by morning Ben and Matt had arrived along with a foot of fresh powder. Despite the cold temperatures and snow falling we were motivated to get back on the river.

It was fucking cold and shitty out im not going to sugar coat it but our motivation to explore the canyon further was pushing us.

Ben Stookesberry not worried about the snow and 28 degree temps

Gorgeous canyon and slightly intimidating

We pushed on further into the canyon and each drop got better and better and so did the weather. After a few hours the sun started to break through the clouds and gave us a little warmth.

Ben gives a big boof on Classroom Bully. Don’t ask about his pink boat or his classic old school paddle.

Matt Mcfadden in the midst of Classroom Bully

Matt running Bitches Brew

Ben running Left Ventricle

The Moratroium …must boof!

Ben running The Moratorium

Mulkey and Stookesberry running One Arm Bandit

With some many drops and freezing cold temps I wish we had taken more pictures of drops but trying to stay warm somehow was more important at the time. After One Arm Bandit the river stepped up a notch and big drops started to form…..

To be continued part 3 very soon!