Archives for November 2012

Andy Hinton: Gently Down the Stream: Oar Rigging the Horsepasture.

Gently Down the Stream

Oar Rigging the Horsepasture River

Andy Hinton

 

      I stand on a rock island in the middle of the Horsepasture River, scouting a rapid named Exit Ramp B.  The water drops over a ledge before erupting into cauldron of chaos, turning and churning upon itself.  There are no identifiable tongues, just an erratic mass of waves and seams leading into a large hydraulic.

I watch with a sense of jealousy as my buddies walk their kayaks through the brush and boulders on river left.  But I knew from the beginning that portaging would not be an option for me.  For the boat I have chosen to take down the Horsepasture today is not a kayak, but a 12-foot raft with a frame and oars.

Once my friends set rope at the bottom, I launch into the current, pulling on the oars to get right.  But the water is too shallow, and my left tube hangs on the lip of the ledge.  As I come off the drop sideways, I begin to wonder if taking an oar rig down this river was such a good idea.

My dream of rowing the Horsepasture originated a couple years ago.  After kayaking for 18 years, I had lost some of my passion for whitewater.  I was no longer inspired to push my limits or even maintain current skill levels.  But then I began guiding rafts on Alaska’s Six Mile Creek, and oar rigs became my preferred way to experience the river.  So last fall I bought a lightweight raft, rigged it with a frame and oars, and tested it on runs down the Cheoah, the Tallulah, and the Chattooga.  Then on a crisp clear January morning, I walked down the mile-and-a-half long trail to the Horsepasture, wearing a sweaty cotton t-shirt and carrying a raft on my head.

After dropping off my boat below Slab Falls, I head back to the parking area, arriving just as my friends Steve Yook, Scotty Smith, and Kenny Duncan are unloading their kayaks.  I place the aluminum frame across my body, pick up my oars, and put the last of my gear in a backpack.  Once we reach the river, the kayakers go upstream to put-in below Rainbow Falls, while I position myself midway through the third rapid, giving me time to rig my raft and avoid having to line around a log.

Although the Horsepasture is a steep river, many of the rapids have a creek like quality.  In between the named drops are long labyrinths of loose boulders, dividing the river into narrow slots.  Some of the passageways dead end as the water disappears into sieves.  Others contain submerged rocks forming nasty pin potentials.

As I meander through these mazes, the motion of the oars gives me the sensation of walking down the river on stilts.  My strategy for the smaller rapids is to get as far into them as possible before low siding the raft through a tight gap or shifting my weight over a shallow shelf.  After spending years as a guide on the Chattooga River, I consider getting stuck as much a part of rafting as waves and rocks and drops.  I don’t mind enduring a multitude of miniature, wet portages if it gains me access to a few magnificent areas.

We bounce through the boogie water to a point where the river disappears over a large horizon line then re-emerges as a fine mist.  The lip of the ledge is wide and shallow, forming a thin veil of white that covers the face of a steep slide.  A short distance downstream is another drop then another.  In this one rapid, the Horsepasture descends seventy feet in a series of cascades known as Stair Steps.

I row up to the falls, brace myself, then give a final push with the oars before going over the edge.  As the raft hits bottom, I straighten out one leg and pull back on the oars, slowing myself down to adjust my position for the next ledge.  I repeat this again and again over the course of six drops.  When I reach the final pool, all I can do is grin as my friends sit in their kayaks, hooping and hollering.  But despite the excitement I know my day has barely begun.  Although Stair Steps is one of the best-known rapids on the Horsepasture, it is also one of the easiest and most forgiving.

Downstream we encounter some of the Horsepasture’s more complex falls.  These rapids are large and intimidating.  But the raft handles the drops well, and the oars are able to gain purchase even on the shallow slides.  Some of runs could have been better – I have to wriggle through the top slot of Side Pocket falls, and after dropping Exit Ramp B sideways, I go through the rest of it backwards and lacking an oar.  But I always come through smiling, even if I’m just laughing at a less than ideal line.

My only portage of the day comes below Highway to Heaven when I have to line my raft around the first half of a small rapid with a low hanging log.  And my only swim of the day comes while going off a straightforward two-tear falls.  I don’t work hard enough to get right for the second ledge and drop off with too much angle. But that mistake makes me focus for the last rapid, which results in one of my cleanest runs of the trip.

But the final obstacle and perhaps the hardest part of the day isn’t a rapid – it’s the trail out.  We all work together to get the raft and frame from the river to the start of the take-out trail.  After a quick break at a campsite, my friends place their kayaks on their shoulder, and I put my raft on my head.  Although the trail to the parking area is only a little longer than the trail to the river, it is steep and not as well maintained.  My carries get shorter and my breaks longer as I work my way up out of the gorge.  Scotty, Kenny, and Steve get their boats to the top and are already heading back down for my frame and oars when I am only two-thirds of the way up the hill.  Once everything is loaded, we roll out of Gorges State Park just before the gates close and a fine mist begins.

My trip down the Horsepasture was neither meant to be a publicity stunt nor was it intended to provide a pedestal for my pride.  But it gave me a challenge that I had to approach with respect and leave with humility.  And that is what I love about whitewater.  I never come off a river feeling that it has been conquered.  Rather I walk away having experienced something more powerful than myself.

Green Race Recap

Rolling out of school late Thursday evening I met up with Sam in Roswell, switching gear from my car to his we took off and headed north to Hendersonville and the Green Race. This was our first Green Race so we were super stoked and ready to go fast! In our usual fashion we registered extremely late so we were both last in our respective categories. Sam signed up for longboat -racing the Perception Stikine. I registered for short boat – racing a patched up Dagger Nomad.

Video of Gorilla Footage:

Sam look at 5:25

Myself look at 4:25

Sam and I rolled in to Hendersonville around midnight. We found a pull off on the side of the Takeout Road to lay out our sleeping pads and crashed.

Friday morning we woke up with the sun and the sound of the Lower Green rolling by. We packed up and headed straight to the Put-in since there was a 2 hour release from 7-9am. For sure we had to get up early in order to get our training laps in. We had not been on the Green since late summer. We warmed up with laps through Frankenstein, and headed downstream. Our friend Matt Heath, a first timer down the Green was looking super solid and had one of those first timer Green smiles that just can’t be wiped off a face!

Sam and I fired up Go-left and felt great and the same with Gorilla, it felt great to be dropping some gradient! We ended up catching the tail end of the flow so we boogied down before we had no water.

With the whole day left (it was only 9AM) we joined friends for a hike up Looking Glass Mountain in Brevard, NC.

It was an awesome hike and an amazing view at the top. After the hike we needed some food and ended up at a Mexican restaurant. Needless to say Sam and I killed some chips and salsa in record time along with other great items of sustenance! We turned in early so we could be prepped and ready for Green Race in the morning. At daybreak we headed out to Cracker Barrel (we have a thing for food), then raced to the Take out to bum a ride back to the Put-in. We were successful in shoving 6 grown men into the back of a small truck bed. Once at the Put-in we got our waivers and bibs (thank you Katie Dean!). Then it was off to the pre-race meeting where Jason Hale, had a great speech and down to the Put-in. It was awesome seeing the line of boaters filing down the trail to the Put-in and everyone knowing that we were all racing each other. We ran Frankenstein to warm up and then pulled our boats of to the side and hiked down the trail to get a look at the racecourse- it was running at a fluffy 12inches! Thank you Duke Power for being so aware of the race, I hope you guys enjoyed the show.

I had a nice long wait to get my nerves all hyped up. I heard my name called in the line up and my boat and I slipped into the lineup.  One by one the people in front of me were let loose and then it was my turn. 5..4..3..2..1 and GO! My mind cleared and my blinders went up- I was focused on the race and my lines alone. The racecourse was going smoothly, the lines were fast and smooth with everything flying by. As I approached Go Left I caught a glimpse of people, heard them cheering. I went through Go Left, Zwicks, Chiefs, then

towards Gorilla. I picked my head up for a quick breath and got a view of the spectators- dam there were a lot of people.  With my headback down I let my body do what is has been trained to do- made it through Flying Squirrel and then the Notch, of the Pad and through the flume I noticed no one.  As I was looking down the throat of Scream Machine I was thinking to myself “dammit this is not going to be fun” after coming through Speed Trap I had flipped and gotten “typewrited left”. I was setup for the meat I went for the plug, got stuck, rode the hole, pulled and swam. Thankfully Tommy Hilleke was on a live bait and I was pulled in before I was even out of the hole. Big shout out to the Pit Crew and all other safety, it was great!

 

I was sitting in the middle of the river and my brother was screaming at me to get going. My boat was stuck in a hole being recalculated and I was sitting in the middle of the damned river without my paddle. Lucky for me Tommy Hilleke had found a paddle and tossed it to me. I was able to grab the boat, empty it out and get going. I was peeved at myself for swimming but happy to still lay down a time. Overall the race was a hoot, and Sam and I both had a blast! Can’t wait till next year.

 

-Max

4 Tallulah Laps

We were able to get 4 runs down Tallulah this past Sunday loads of fun and a good crew. Filming was not the priority, but I did stick a GoPro on my head to capture the fun. Enjoy the Classical music and Local paddling, (Make sure to watch in 720).

Happy Turkey Day!

-Sam