Archives for December 2012

SMAX Goes to Ecuador

We leave for Ecuador tomorrow for 23 days!

Alzar School: Interview with Sean and Kristin Bierle

Alzar School: Interview with Sean and Kristin Bierle.

Sean and Kristin, Where did your passion for paddles sports begin?

K: I was really fortunate in that my father was always into outdoor/adventure sports.  As a girl, we did lots of caving, sailing, and canoeing.  I got into whitewater kayaking as a camper at Camp Green Cove in Tuxedo, NC.  My older sister had already started, and I followed her lead.

S: I first got started in the outdoors thanks to a climbing gym in Gainesville, FL, where I went to college.  My uncle, hearing that I was getting into camping and climbing, suggested I come out to Idaho to be a raft guide.  I had never even been on a river before!  But, a company on the Payette hired me, and that first summer blew my mind.  I loved rafting and more importantly, the lifestyle of being outdoors every day.  My first summer in Idaho, I was primarily guiding rafts.  But, the company I worked for took clients to Chile during the US winter.  I was able to join them as a dishwasher and in exchange, learned to kayak on some of the best rivers in South America.  I loved that I was able to explore places via kayak that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.

When did you first think of starting an outdoor school for kayaking?

Sean and Kristin Exploring for Classrooms

S: We worked together at a kayak camp in Idaho.  We loved that kids and teenagers had so much fun in kayaks, but wanted to make it a deeper experience.  We wanted to create a school that would hook students by engaging in fun sports like kayaking while teaching them broader lessons about leadership and community membership.

K: Since the school started, we have really expanded our offerings.  Students kayak and raft, but also climb, hike, ski, etc.  We attract some students who love to paddle, and others who have never been inside a boat before.  While whitewater will always be a big part of the school, we have definitely involved to be more of a leadership school that paddles!

A True Outdoor Classroom

Do you mind telling us the process involved in starting a school for paddling, where exactly does one begin?

Building a school is no small feat and it is only a small part in the entire process!

K: Whew!  It is quite a process.  The first step was fairly easy… We took a posterboard and some markers and drew out an imaginary school that we thought would be the coolest school in the world.  Then, we formed a LLC with a form and $50 at the state office.  We weren’t sure what we were getting into!  Since then, we have constantly been growing and updating.  For example, we became a 501c3 nonprofit, earned accreditation, applied for and received special use permits for the areas we wanted to explore, and worked hard to fundraise and recruit students.

Aside from becoming phenomenal paddlers and good students what do you intend for students to come away with after their time at Alzar?

 ALZAR SCHOOL: The World Awaits...

S: This is an area of the school that we are especially proud of.  We want our students to be lifelong, empowered community leaders.  We want them to make the world a better place.  Specifically, we ask all students who finish a semester at the Alzar School to complete what we call the “Culminating Leadership Project” or “CLP.”  The CLP is a way for them to demonstrate their leadership skills in an area they are passionate about.  Students design a project and put a lot of time and energy into it.  We think that once these young leaders get started, they will keep finding issues to address in their communities.  In this way, generations of Alzar School graduates will create positive change.

Now that we have talked about your paddling adventures. I remember hearing about a epic motorcycle trip you both did, can you tell us more?

I am sure it can be fixed...

I am sure it can be fixed…

K: That’s right!  We did an amazing journey around Mexico in the Fall of 2007.  We did over 3,600 miles, traveled to the bottom of Copper Canyon (the deepest in North America) and saw both coasts.  We even took all of our paddling equipment with us and were able to paddle in the Veracruz region and at the Cascadas Micos.  We are pretty amateur motorcyclists, but have a great time doing it.  This year, we rode from our campus in Cascade, Idaho through Glacier National Park and into British Columbia.  It was quite the adventure!

Thanks for your time and we are stoked for you about Alzar!

S: Thanks Max and Sam!  Keep up the great work!

K: Thanks Smax Brothers!

To learn more about the Alzar School check them out at

Dinkey Creek By: Joe Ravenna

Dinkey Creek By: Joe Ravenna 

Five and a half years ago when I started my career as a professional bum in the Nantahala Gorge, my parents were in town visiting, and my dad had a copy of “The Seven River’s Expedition”. If you’re a whitewater enthusiast and you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend buying a copy. Lead by the LVM crew of Asheville, “The Seven Rivers Expedition” chronicles the effort to paddle seven of the most commiting over-night runs in California in one summer. Fantasy Falls, Royal Gorge, Devil’s Postpile, Middle Kings, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, Upper Cherry Creek, and Dinkey Creek now live on infamy among creek boaters across the globe.  As I watched this video, I thought “I will never run anything like that.”

A good number of paddlers in the film live an hour from the Nantahala Gorge, in Asheville, NC. I assume preparation for this expedition wasn’t really on their minds as they paddled The Green, Raven Fork, and West Prong for years, as frequently as anyone living in Western North Carolina. As cliche as it sounds, when we’re on the river, we’re not preparing for anything except the next horizon line. Every rapid we run prepares us for the next one. Every run, new or old, prepares us for the next run.

The beautiful (and scary) part of whitewater kayaking is that initial success is not essential to our progress. In fact, failure might be more essential, because learning from mistakes prepares and drives us to succeed. Whitewater kayaking can be very frustrating at times, especially at the beggining. Without a firm foundation, grounded in countless attempts at perfection, kayaking beyond class III is ill-advised.

Unbeknownst to me, while watching the first segment of “Seven River’s” over 5 years ago, I was mentally preparing myself for what would become my favorite run of all time: Dinkey Creek.

South of Yosemite and north of Kings Canyon National Park, Dinkey Creek falls down the Western Slope of the Sierra until converging with the North Fork of the Kings north east of Fresno, California. The section known as “The Dinkey Waterfalls” is six and half miles of some of the biggest, cleanest and most continuous whitewater found anywhere in the world. The scale of rapids in California dwarfs anything I’d seen previously. Darin McQuoid told me prior to putting on “If you look at the put-in slide, and have any doubts about running it, go ahead and hike out, because it ain’t gettin’ any smaller downstream.”

The famous Laura Farrel and I had just enjoyed a high water, spring day on the East Fork of the Kaweah when we got the call that the Dinkey window was open. In California, flows are dependent upon snow pack and weather, and in a low snow year the runnable window for many rivers can be limited to a few days. Trying to predict when certain runs will come in is futile. We planned on running Dinkey a few times prior, only to have the weather change last minute, and in turn, the level drop or spike.

Farrel and I loaded up and drove to the take-out…or so I thought. To Laura’s chagrin, she had mixed up the take-out with the put-in. To make matters worse, there is no service at the take-out, so Laura spent the next hour frantically calling anyone and everyone who might get a message to our crew. Her efforts were in vain. We figured the best thing we could do was drive to the put-in trail, and wait. Off we went, bummed out and fully expecting to run shuttle for the crew whom we were supposed to be paddling with. Dinkey seemed to be evading us this year…

A few hours later, the crew arrived. They told us not to worry about the shuttle mishap, and to get our gear together because we were comin’ with! Needless to say, Laura and I were stoked. Fortunately for the rest of the crew, we stoke responsibly.

I had recieved ample warning that the hike down to the river was not fun. Laura “Muli-task” Farrell explained there were three phases of the hike: The forest phase, the granite phase, and the creek phase. Part way through the forest, we got our first look at the river.

The forest phase was short, and not too difficult. The granite phase came next. For anyone who has never hiked down steep granite with an 80-100 pound boat on their shoulder, let me be the first to tell you how fun it is. Fortunately, I own the best in whitewater footwear. My 5.10 savants are certainly the best investment I’ve made in the last 5 years of kayaking, if for no other reason than they allowed me to move slowly and carefully down the polished granite.

As we reached the final phase, I thought the worst was over. The creek phase is only called the creek phase because it begins after crossing a small creek. It could be considered forest phase part 2, but that doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. This is actually the steepest part of the hike, and, for those of us who aren’t quite coordinated enough to walk down a 50 degree pitch, involves sliding down the dirt slope, towing or possibly being towed by the afformentioned 80-100 pound boat. After hucking our boats down the final part of the hill and a short walk, we arrived at the river. Praise Jah.

The put-in slide is massive, and super fun, as are the rapids stacked up below it. Prior to this trip, I had been hearing quite a bit about The Willie Kern rapid. After running a number of huge rapids, we arrived at Willie Kern’s. A ten foot boof, two low angle slides, and a near verticle 40 foot drop make up this incredible rapid. Laura “Minney Mouse” Farrell put it best: “Hit your boof, look for the horns, and don’t forget to tuck.” I did just that and as a result, this might be my favorite rapid of all time.

After a few more 15-20 ft. waterfall rapids, we arrived at the infamous portage. It involves getting yourself to a giant notch in the canyon walls, about 15 feet above the water. With one brave soul holding your boat, you get in and seal launch below the giant, un-runnable mess just upstream. Once everyone has succesfully launched, that one brave soul must attempt the never scary “throw-n-go”. Basically, if there is nobody there to hold your boat, you’ve got to chuck your boat in to the river, and then jump in after it. Darin McQuoid had no trouble, and we proceeded to the next rapid.

Below “The Pendulum” is the crux of the first day. “Spike” is a very impressive rapid, with a giant vortex hole just below a 10 ft., double tiered drop.

I underestimated the distance above the vortex hole, didn’t get far enough right, and plugged it. My paddle got sucked out of my hands, and I was forced to hand roll below the drop. One of our crew members grabbed my paddle, so despite botching the line, I came out unscathed.

The series of rapids below “Spike” are the reason I keep kayaking. Big, clean, fast, one after the other. We actually ran the “Good Morning Slide” (traditionally the first rapid of Day 2), and a few below it, in order to reach a more ideal camp spot. There were 2 other crews ahead of us, so the normal spots were taken. We set up camp, built a fire, and enjoyed a well-earned dinner, some beer, whiskey, and wine.

Day 2 began with a bang, as we ran a funky dog-leg rapid right next to our campspot. We woke up, took a look at the rapid, and ran it. An awesome series of boulder gardens and slides followed, after which the walls closed and and we hopped out of our boats in order to get a better look at the mini-gorge below. Skipping the top section of the first rapid, which included a narrow lead in to a boxed in ledge hole, we all managed a sketchy seal launch and ran the big rapid below. This rapid consisted of a near horizontal move to the far right over a 10 ft. ledge in an attempt to avoid a very shallow landing, followed by a move back to the left side, in order that you may move toward the middle for another big boof.

The final rapid in the mini-gorge, “Anaconda,” looked pretty tough. “Anaconda” was a series of ledge holes stacked one on top of the other, with a big move to the right, then back left through a super funky looking hole, finishing through a big curling wave in the middle of a narrow, sliding slot. After a long look, I decided to walk. Next time, perhaps…

The rest of the run is a blur of continous, super fun rapids with a few exceptions. “Prison Love” came shortly after the mini-gorge, a sloping drop gradually becoming vertical ends in a pretty nasty hole notorious for handing out beatdowns. It was looking particularly juicy, so the whole crew opted for the easy portage to the left. Below “Prison Love” were two back waterfalls, 15 and 20ft respecitively and “Near Perfect.” Once again, I was left in awe of the continued quality of this run. It really doesn’t get more fun.

The final rapid that stick’s out in my memory, and probably the most famous rapid on the run, is the “Nikki Kelly Slide.” Made famous by some good carnage in “The Seven River’s Expedition,” Nikki Kelly’s is a GIANT rapid. Beggining with a funky ledge, you must boof and be ready to turn your boat and the perfect angle as all the water  pushes in to the left wall. The rest of the drop is 35 ft. of giant compression holes, all sliding towards the ledge hole at the bottom. I watched Darin sub out at the very top of the hole, resurface a little ways below, and drop into the bottom sideways and backwards. He got beat down for a bit, but managed to surf out. He then ran it again and had a stylin’ line.

We all enjoyed an extended break, ate lunch, and allowed our gear to dry in the lovely California dry heat. The rapids below the “Nikki Kelly Slide” were super fun and low stress (like the majority of the run), and if my memory serves me correctly, involved no more walking.

Arriving at the takeout, we all de-geared and enjoyed a few beers. This was the culmination of my career as a whitewater kayaker, and I was left with a euphoric feeling of accomplishment. I hope to run Dinkey at least once a year, for as long as I am able.

Thanks to Darin McQuoid and Laura Farrell for making this trip happen.

Additional Links (with mo’ better pictures)
For Darin’s write-up and pictures of his numerous trips check out:

For Laura’s write-up and pictures of OUR trip, check out: