Archives for June 2012

Devils Punch Bowl

Devils Punch Bowl, South Fork of the Crystal

With Ben Lucas’s trusty Subaru loaded down with our paddling gear, boats and a full box of Double Stuff Oreo’s we left the campsite above Homestake creek early. We were on route to the Crystal Drainage with one goal in mind to seek out and run the Devils Punch Bowl, located in the south fork of the Crystal Gorge. (Actually sitting in the backseat of the car, I had a personal goal to quietly eat the majority of the Oreo’s before we reached the trailhead to the creek.)

 

We had gotten beta from Chris Baer, and Brandon Renner a few days earlier that Sunday would be a good day to watch the gauges and the two tiered drop that is Devils Punch Bowl would more than likely be in. Banking on this beta and the very little knowledge of the Crystal Drainage held by three southeastern paddlers we went ahead and put all our eggs in one basket and decided Sunday would be the day to undertake the one day expedition.

From Homestake, we drove into Leadville and each had an amazing breakfast burrito at Proving Grounds, the local coffee shop and bakery. If you are in the area you should stop and eat!

Max eating a delicious breakfast before going waterfall hunting!

After a good breakfast we pressed on and had a bit of a drive to get to the Crystal Drainage. We drove over Independence Pass, which Max said was truly an amazing view. I wouldn’t know since Ben and Max had driving and navigation under control & I was asleep in the backseat.

We eventually made it to Carbondale and stopped off at the gas station to have one last look at the gauges before all phone service was lost. At that point we got a call from Brandon Renner letting us know there is a guy who paddlers regularly pay to give paddlers a ride to the falls in a chopped up off road ready Subaru! Brandon sent me his number and we gave the guy a call, but alas no answer on the other end of the line.

That sealed the deal, Ben’s Subaru was going to show us what it was made of! At this point we had reached the town of Marble and all cell service was lost.The guidebook said to take your vehicle as far as you could go and then start walking. We knew it was a minimum of 6 miles from the town of Marble to the falls so we were determined to make it as far as the Subaru would go. The terrain became gnarly and most of the time Max and I were out of the car guiding Ben, as he gracefully maneuvered the Subaru down the class V road.

 

Ben’s Subaru on the mellow section of rough road!

The further in we went. The more beautiful the vista’s were and the more technical the road became.

The drive in was littered with beautiful vistas!

After 4 miles of gnarly road we made it to the town of Crystal. The town of Crystal is a small town, maybe a total of five houses/buildings make up the entire town and a gentleman by the name of Roger Neal lives in the town

( he has a website http://www.crystaltalebooks.com/)
and sells story books and history books about the town of Crystal out of his home. I am not sure how well business can be with a town out of reach unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle but nonetheless he was a wealth of information about the approach to Devils Punch Bowl and an all around nice fella. He even offered up his ATV for us to take to the falls, but quickly remembered his son had just taken it in to town. However, he did seem a little concerned when we told him we were all from the southeast and we were here to run the drops, we thanked him and headed up the road in the Subaru only to be entirely shut down by the size of rocks that made up the road. It was to time to park the trusty Subaru on the side of the rocky road and begin up the mountain on foot with boats and gear strapped to our backs.
Hiking in!

As we made our way up the final 3 mile stretch of road leading up to the devils punchbowl, gaining a total of 1000 ft of elevation. We quickly realized the underbelly of the Subaru would have been totally shredded by the large and sharp rocks had we tried to drive her any further!

As we crossed over Schofield pass it was still snowed in and the entire river disappeared underneath the snow only to appear on the other side. In certain parts the water was visible where holes had melted in the snowfields and we could see the class V hydraulics exploding in the open pockets of the snow field.

You can’t tell, but the whole river floes underneath this snow pass.

Once we realized the entire river was flowing beneath us, we didn’t waste time crossing Schofiled pass and as soon as we crested the last of the snowed in section, Devils Punch bowl was immediately visible and was truly an amazing site to be seen!

Devils Punch Bowl in all its glory!

We set down our boats, took a swig of water and began scouting the two tiered drop, deciding how to best set safety and capture the mission through the camera lens at the same time.

If you look closely in the top right corner you can see me walking around scouting the drop and feeling small! Look for the white dot of a helmet.

As we took a look at the possible options for a put-in a decision had to be made. Do we run the burly lead in or seal launch from a steep scree field into the fast moving slide that constitutes the lip of the first drop?

After some discussion, we decided to lower the boats to a flat pocket in the rock on river left above the drop and seal launch in. We then carefully scrambled down hanging on to the rope we had tied off to a tree at the top of the scree field. The set up was as follows: one of us would stand next to the paddler, hanging on to their boat as the paddler got into the boat and put on their spray skirt making sure the paddler didn’t unsuspectingly get swept into the current and over the lip of the first drop without their skirt on and paddle in hand. The other would be at the bottom of the drops with the camera and a rope ready to capture the action and then catch the bow as the person running the drops paddled the boats hard into the rocky beach directly after the drops, to avoid any possibility of floating downstream under a bridge and into a rowdy set of big boulder gardens that then disappeared under the snow pass!

Fortunately our planning and coordination paid off, I went first and probed the drop for the group and we all had safe runs of the Devils Punch bowl, maybe next time we will run the lead in above the slide above the first drop.

Myself Llning up the Second drop!
Ben Lucas Showing us the ideal line!
Max keeping it clean, and eyeing his landing through the whiteout!

One lesson we learned, is when entering into a fast moving slide from the bank it helps to have someone to push you so you match or go faster than the speed of the water. By matching or going faster than the speed of the water your boat is easier to control. If you don’t do this the water can very easily spin you out because it is pushing around the stern of the boat. This happened to me as I slide into the current only to get pushed more sideways than I would have liked and ended up going over the first drop note quite as straight as I wanted to be, thankfully all was fine and I got small and forward on my boat creating a very soft landing. Ben and Max both benefited from this knowledge and I gave them a good push into the slide so they were up to speed and did not get spun out at all. The second drop was super clean as I drove hard across the boil lines of the first drop and lined up the kicker on the far right, in hopes to clear the hole at the bottom with a monster boof.

Going to boof town!

After we all ran the Deviils Punchbowl we celebrated, taking in the beauty and power of the Crystal Gorge.

That day Ben Lucas was a happy kayaker!
Waterfall Gear

After a snapping some photos we loaded up our boats and began the 3 mile hike out to the car, remembering in the back of our minds, the burly 4 miles of driving we still had to cover until we reached paved road.

Hiking down to the snow pass.

 

Max and Ben crossing the snow pass.
Grand views on a grand day!
100 yards from the car!

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day before my birthday!

Here is to good friends and clean lines!

See you on the river,
-Sam

 

Red Bull Flow Hunters: Campbell Live Story – YouTube

Red Bull Flow Hunters: Campbell Live Story – YouTube.

Homestake Creek

Stuff all the gear in the car, stuff all the people in the car, did anyone tie down the boats? Ok cool, let’s roll! Drive to Owensboro, Kentucky. Hang out with John Schroeder (he is the reason Kentucky is cool, not to mention a great paddler).

John Schroader, making Kentucky cool!

Wake up, drive through Missouri/Misery, I am not sure how it is spelled? Now brace for the awfulness of Kansas, it is such a wide state, however it is surprisingly beautiful in its own way, a lot of windmills near the end most of which are not spinning. Not really sure why. It is windy. Now wish you had an aero plane to fly across Kansas! Finally arrive in Colorado. Oh wait, it still looks like Kansas. Make it to Denver and realize you are home free and the high country is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

We rolled into the dirt parking lot above Homestake Creek at 3 AM, very excited to have finally arrived in Colorado. On the other hand, we were all exhausted from the drive across the country starting in Roswell, GA. So we set up our tents and crashed hard hoping to recharge the batteries and keep our body clocks on a healthy schedule.

 

Camp Site

Even though we were tired from travel, it was hard to sleep in for long. After all we had just arrived in Colorado, and we only had so many days to do as much kayaking as possible! As Max and I were cooking breakfast and drinking fresh brewed coffee, we spotted a moose crossing the calm waters above Homestake Creek. I struggled to think of any better welcome into Colorado!

Can't think of a better way to start off the day.

As we were eating breakfast, a dude with a green Dagger kayak showed up in the parking lot, and we got to talking. This dude ended up being no other than Team Dagger paddler, and more importantly a Colorado local, Chase Nobles. Chase had raced the creek before in the previous year’s Teva Mtn. Games and knew Homestake Creek well.

Chase Nobles Training on Homestake

Homestake Creek is a great creek for a race due to a couple of factors. It boasts a healthy gradient of 480 feet per mile. It starts at an altitude of 8,000 ft., which levels the playing field due to the fact that most of the kayakers racing live at much lower altitudes. Since the air is thinner at higher altitude, I found myself sucking wind as I neared the last set of drops. It is entirely roadside, which makes for easy access for spectators. This is convenient because it draws a fairly large crowd to watch all the kayakers in big plastic tupperware containers race down the creek. If you can imagine pouring lots of water down a set of stairs and turning all the stairs into sharp rocks that is essentially the nature of Homestake Creek.

Looking down on Homestake from across the Valley

Chase and Max and I geared up and spent the morning training on the creek doing our best to pick out the fastest way to go down the creek.

Walking the banks. This guy was nice enough to give our boats a lift!

The first two laps were spent focusing hard on finding the best lines through the rapids and dialing them in. The next two laps were spent working on linking everything together as fast and smoothly as possible. Throughout all of our training laps on day one we all had minor hang ups on certain rocks. The nature of the creek creates a very high likelihood of pinning a boat, so we kept a close eye on each other, prepared to hop out of our boat at any moment to help each other out of a pin situation, which we all experienced at some point throughout the training laps.

Day one training concluded with exhaustion from the altitude and Max and I collapsing next to the car worn out, tired, and hungry. We slowly loaded boats onto the car and headed into Vail for the afternoon and found a little place named La Cantina for lunch. The burrito I had for lunch was only a little bit smaller than a full size football. It tasted so good after a morning of paddling at an altitude higher than I was used to. I was so hungry I could have probably eaten two more burritos.

 

Giant Burrito!

That afternoon we walked around Vail Village and just enjoyed hanging out in the mountains.

Vail Village in full Swing!

We decided to train in the afternoon on day two, the goal being to wait till the sun was out and the air was warmer. The water in Colorado is fairly cold since it is all snowmelt, so warmer air temps help increase the amount of fun you’re having while on the creek. We hung out in Vail in the AM and registered for the race and then drove out to Homestake for afternoon training laps. We did 5 in total, and the water was higher than the day before, which was nicer because it cleaned up a few spots where kayakers had been pinning.

Max training hard on the course!

Race Day!

We woke early to make sure we could eat a good breakfast, but got distracted by all the people showing up at the put-in and ended up just eating Cliff Bars. We geared up while the air was still cool and crisp. We had left our gear on top of the car that night, and it was frozen solid when we woke up. So we turned on the car and de-iced the gear with the car’s heater to the point where the gear was flexible and no longer one solid block of ice. The race course was set up and was quickly filling up with paddlers and spectators and the media crew there for the Teva Mountain Games. It seemed as though every other person had a full-on camera set up and a little tag hanging around their neck that said press pass, ready to document every second of the day.

Max and I both did training laps, zoning out and doing our own thing, focusing on the course. I honestly didn’t really see any of Max’s training runs. I was in my own pre-race world. Once I finished my third lap, I was happy with my lines and ready to race. I ate another Cliff Bar, drank some water, and stayed away from the crowd of folks waiting for the pre-race meeting. The pre-race meeting gave everyone the race format: It would be women first with 2 minute intervals between the start of each racer, then Men with a 1 minute interval between each racers’ start time. This meant that if you got hung up, pinned, swam, or were slow, there was another racer barreling down the course ready to boof on your head should you be in the way! We were also given notice that the safety crew would not help you unless you asked them for help, or you were pinned upside down.

Pre Race Meeting. Not sure what that guy is doing?

I was bib number 33 and Max was 32. This meant Max was putting in right before me, and I got to chase him down the course, YES!

Max launched, and as he paddled hard around the first bend in the river, he was out of sight. I heard the announcer say a few things about Max’s lines through the beginning of the course and after that went into my own world. As I put my skirt on my boat and readied myself on the starting ramp, the clocked ticked down 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, 3, 2, 1! The horn sounded and I was off hurling down the put in ramp. I hit the water, took a big righty stroke on the entrance, and booked it downstream through the class II lead in. I hit the first part of boulder garden, and even though there were spectators lining the banks and announcers giving a play by play of my lines, I heard and saw none of it. My sole focus was on the water. I was super smooth through the boulder gardens cleaning my lines.

Manky Boulder Garden Fun!

I hit the first drop and boofed hard stomping my bow down so as to come out planning with speed.

Planning out of the drop with speed

Planning out of the drop with speed

I was taking strong strokes to pull through some boulder garden boogie and cranked hard on a lefty boof stroke into the first and only big pool. I paddled strong and fast across the pool into baby sunshine, and I got pushed further right on the eddy water than I would have liked. I dug in to make up for lost time and came off the next drop with good speed coming over the broken-up ledge drop that led into the final drop, Leap of Faith. I came in hot and bobbled my bow on a little rock. I got it straight, pulled a lefty boof stroke, subbed out under the water, and came up next to the right wall, a nice undercut with a cave underneath the right wall. Exactly what I wanted! Holding a lefty stern draw as I resurfaced and as soon as my head was above water, I saw Max and Bryan Kirk waiting at the finish line yelling at me to “PADDLE!” I crossed the finish line smiling and out of breath!

I sat in the eddy congratulating Max on his clean lines. We were slapping each other on the back, both of us fired up to have just completed our first ever creek race!

As we climbed up the bank feeling the effects of altitude, we loaded our boats into the Thule-sponsored golf cart that brought our boats back up to the put-in!

Also, I would like to throw a shout out to my buddy Ben Pattison  for his 7th place finish out of 17 for the citizens’ bouldering comp during the Mountain Games. And his brother Dominic and him also summited Mt. Massive while we were out there, well done!

-Sam

Ben and Dominic (Brothers) on Mt. Massive Summit, well done fellas!

 

More pics of Homestake

Max lining up the boof!

 

Max cranking a lefty to avoid the pin spot!