Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Labor Day on the Indian River

After some checking, with the newly acquired state lands of the Finch Pruyn land purchase, the Gooley club access point on the confluence of the Hudson and Indian Rivers is now public. Therefore it is entirely possible for those without the time or technical proficiency to run just the Indian River which is about a grade easier than the Hudson and quite accessible if something should go wrong. At summer flows this is a fairly consistent class III river with some sections of II. It's mostly non stop wave trains that really aren't very technical in nature. However, the length of consistency of the rapids makes this a fun run. This river is a basically a 1/5 scale model of what you'll encounter on the Dead River in Maine at 3500cfs.   

Downsides of this are that the official state takeout and shortest walk to the car is quite a ways up the Hudson. It might be possible at higher water levels to paddle most of the way up, but there are two issues. First, the takeout is just upstream of some rapids. Second, the water level this summer was very low and at best you could paddle about 1/3 of the way up, pull the boat while walking another 1/3 but the last 1/3 required portaging over wet slimy riverbed that wasn't ideal by any means. 

Aim ultimately found the state takeout while I found the longer portage but easier takeout trail on the point at the exactly confluence of the rivers. Neither option was ideal, but in low water the longer trailed portage was the lesser of evils. 

Fortunately for us the Aire Tributary Nine.Five deflates and rolls into a fairly compact package that we wheeled up the portage trail (this was basically an old jeep road). Unfortunately, the walk is uphill (seemingly) both ways which mean the double carry of about 1 mile was not fun (could be done in a single carry for sure, but we needed to go get the other car and the portage cart (beach cart). 

I'd say if you can put in at the beginning of the release you might be able to do two runs, but it would be very close. We didn't put in until almost 11 but I'm not sure I would have done two runs anyway. 

Hopefully next year we have the skills and the confidence to run the Upper Hudson Gorge (the section below the confluence of the Indian and Hudson Rivers) down to North River, which should be a blast in a small raft. In fact, I'm hoping to do it as an overnight rafting trip. 

One of the nice things about the raft is we can live scout runs for the OC. The Indian would be a tough run in an open canoe and we'd have to run tighter lines -we hit at least two rocks that would have likely flipped an OC2- but I definitely would like to be able to run it by the end of 2017.  As fun as it was in a tiny raft, I think it would be awesome in a hardshell OC2.

Indian River R2 Labor Day 2016 from Mountain Visions on Vimeo.
More practice in the Aire Tributary Nine.Five HD. After running familar rivers like the Deerfield (II(III)) and Sacandaga (II-III) several times since purchasing the raft, we stepped it up to the fairly continuous Class III rapids and big waves of the Indian River, which is the access point/warmup for the Hudson River Gorge -one of the premier rafting trips in the east or perhaps anywhere in the US. The Nine.Five has actually been a lot more fun than I expected, and I'm really happy with it. I don't think I'd have enjoyed a bigger raft or one with less kick.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Rafting as a Whitewater Learning Tool for Hard Shell Boaters

This is our first full year running dedicated whitewater. We started the year by taking a clinic at Zoar in Charlemont, Massachusetts, on the Deerfield River. All I can say about Zoar is it isn’t particularly cheap -cheaper for kayaking, where they have much more competition-, but the canoe clinic was excellent with a student teacher ratio of 1:2 (boats). Everything from instruction to equipment to food was top notch. And the river, the Deerfield, is absolutely perfect for learning. The Fife Brook section has safe swims, no nasty hydraulics, pools at the end of most rapids and a mix of everything you could want in terms of river features as a beginner or even intermediate paddler. You can step it up by running the class III(IV) Dryway as well. Basically, Zoar has a great location. Being exactly 60 miles away from home and it flowing every weekend and many weekdays, it’s sort of become our training ground. You can say we've adopted it as our home river. In fact, about 8 years ago, it was our first whitewater run, so it's only fitting it's the place we actually learned what we are doing. 

The goal for us is to get to be competent class III paddlers in an open tandem canoe. With the ultimate goal of being able to do big unsupported wilderness trips where we paddle everything from big lakes to class II rivers fully loaded down, portaging our gear around class III sections that we run in an empty boat. The way to do that is run as much river as you possibly can, practicing all your skills until they are second nature. The cool thing about whitewater is you don’t need to run class IV rapids to work on class IV skills. You can do class IV moves in class II whitewater. In fact, I’ll often watch people “playing around” in Zoar Gap doing class IV moves, making the Class III Zoar Gap look like class I. It’s pretty amazing, and much more entertaining than seeing the carnage of people with lesser skills choose a straight line, cross their fingers and bomb down it. On the bright side, swimming Zoar Gap is another safe swim in the Deerfield, which is why there is such a variation of paddling skills seen going down it.

It’s that ability to slow a river down, to break a rapid down into sections, to turn a raging river into a chess game of preplanned moves  that differentiates those with some skill from those who just bomb down river like a gazelle running from a lion. Just because you can push really hard on the gas pedal doesn’t mean you are a good driver.

A lot of getting better is also running new rapids which force you to learn to read the river versus memorize the rapids. I can pretty much tell you the lines to run on the Deerfield Fife Brook section from memory. I also know the Sacandaga pretty well, well enough to know that one rock, the same damn rock that hides just below the surface at the left edge of a hole, has taken us for a swim on two occasions in an 16 foot river tripping OC2. On the flip side (no pun intended), familiarity equals comfort, and comfort equals a chance to practice new moves. Knowing where it’s ok to go for a swim makes practicing easier.

So where do inflatables come in. Well, I joked with my climbing partner that rafting (or inflatables in general) requires no skill, it’s basically a giant inner tube with paddles. And in some ways that might be true on the most basic of levels, however, especially paddling R2 (tandem raft) it does require a bit of skill. Not to mention, a 9.8ft raft that is only 6ft between the kick (rocker) handles more like a canoe than a commercial raft. The other issue is when you think of rafting you think of a guide piloting a 16-20ft boat that tees up big waves and rolls over anything less than a foot above the water. The reality is the raft guide is, in many cases, the only one on the boat that knows what they are doing, knows the lines, and steers the boat. When you run a paddle raft R2, you and your partner make the decisions and work equally as a team. Much like an OC2 (tandem open canoe). 

The pros of a raft (or most any inflatable)  are as follows:

  • It allows you to run harder rapids that might be pushing your OC2 skill level. A good option is to raft a new run before taking the OC2 out and see what it’s like, scouting out rapids, surf holes, and eddies. This is especially good on rivers that are read and run. Read and run class III might be pushing the limits of OC2 for most people, but it’s generally fairly tame in a raft.
  • It allows you to learn river dynamics and choose lines without the consequences of a swim always being there (although, it’s definitely possible to flip a raft in any class river, just a lot less likely. In fact, I’ve had a few people who were accomplished paddlers in hard shell canoes, kayaks and rafts tell me that they rolled a raft in the secondary rapids at the bottom of Zoar Gap, basically the class II+ section).
    A video posted by @mountainvisions on

  • Catching an eddy with a raft and a canoe are different in terms of angles, it still allows you to practice finding eddies for future runs in an OC. On wave train rivers these eddies might be your only chance to bail an OC (unless you have an electric bilge pump). Catching an eddy in a raft requires a steeper angle of entry and more effort, IMO (but that could also just be a lack of skills on our part) but the concept isn’t really any different. Basically if you can catch it in a raft, you can more easily catch it in a hard shell boat.

    • It allows you to practice ferries and surfing (which is basically just ferrying in place). Again, not quite the same as in an OC as you don’t edge the raft like a canoe. Angle and speed are similar. Angle, speed, edge are your 3 factors in a hard shell.
    • Sight lines on a raft are higher than even an OC (much, much, higher than a kayak or inflatable kayak). This gives you a different perspective on the water allowing you to look much farther ahead and make decisions at a slower pace. It’s like being able to see the future.
    • Both paddlers have unobstructed sight lines in a raft when paddling R2 vs an OC2/IK2/ K2 where the stern paddler has to look around the bow paddler.This also means both paddlers can learn from each other.
    • Small R2 size rafts (or other inflatables) take up less storage space and some will fit in the hatch/trunk of a compact car. Portaging a deflated R2 on a beach cart isn't all that hard.
    • Rafts are a great way to take out non paddler family and friends. I was able to run Zoar Gap @ a high 1000cfs (III+) perfectly in an R3 configuration with my two 13 year old siblings, with me paddling off the back doing most of the steering, although, in a 3 man raft, everyone still plays a big role and my siblings did an amazing job.
    • Rafts are a great way to take the dog down river. This was actually the main reason we got the raft. I saw people in IKs taking their dogs down river and I was already feeling guilty for leaving ours at home every weekend. I feel like next year we'll be comfortable enough to run class II with Colvin in a OC2, but my worry was if we rolled it in some rapids this year that he'd become fearful of the whitewater and we wouldn't ever be able to take him. He actually really loves the raft and is protective of it. Barking at neighbors if they approach it. He gets excited when he sees it. 
    • A raft offers much more bang for buck than an IK.  It’s compact but holds 850lbs worth of people or gear. Two plus K9 and compact overnight gear is no problem. Or you can get 3-4 adults and dog in it. Or 4 adults (usually two couples come in under 850lbs). Definitely a lot of value for the money. You’d need at least 2 tandem inflatable kayaks for 3 adults and a dog. And probably 2 kayaks for a dog and two adults since IKs rarely hold over 400lbs and a lot of space is used by the legs being extended.

  • As far as cons:

    • You might get lazy. Although the basic techniques are the same in a canoe, kayak, IK/IC, or raft, taking balance, edging and bracing out of the equation for too long is a great way to end up swimming a lot. Most OC flips happen when the wrong edge is engaged. Canoes feel tippy but the reality is they have a lot of ability to edge, we’ve had our OC2 gunnel to the water and still recovered with a good brace.
    • A large raft generally requires a trailer.
    • Rafts aren’t cheap.
    • Rafts can be heavy
    • Rafts require a little TLC, especially get them dry for storage
    • Rafts don’t paddle long stretches of flat water particularly efficiently. They downright suck as paddle craft in the wind.

    From my perspective, the speed that everything is happening and putting it all together while in motion is the learning curve of an OC. You don’t get all that long to decide and react and in an OC2, that decision making and reacting has to be in unison. As you get better and more comfortable things slow down, but they pick back up again when you step up the difficulty.  Field of vision is somewhat limited  in a tandem canoe, and taking on big wave trains can lead to a lot of water entering the boat and an eventual swim on rivers without distinct eddies. Swimming isn’t bad per se, it usually means you were doing something hard enough to make you think, make you maneuver, or get in over your comfort zone. It also means you probably learned something, like crossing currents while ferrying between eddies,  but it’s also a chance for something to go wrong or to lose gear.

    Considering I’m not  much of an aesthetics guy, watching a skilled OC1 dance around rapids is one of the most beautiful things to watch. OC2’s rarely look that good -although, olympic slalom shows how good you can look-, but too me, a canoe is the ultimate mode of water travel. It was once the choice mode of commerce and the utility of a canoe is still far superior to anything on the water. Inflatables and closed shell kayaks have their advantages, but the open canoe is still king of the waterways when you factor in versatility.

    So if you see me out there on a raft, no worries...OC for life! In the end it’s all about getting on the water; raft, IC/IK, canoe or kayak!

    Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    There's more than one way to re-sling a cam!

    That moment when you realize no one will be accidentally walking off with your custom climbing gear.

    The thought process behind this setup:

    Since I've gotten kind of promiscuous (in a non standard use of the term) with my selection of climbing partners. I am relying on my rack as the primary vs the box of chocolates that might show up. Therefore, I didn't want to be without my cams for 2 weeks while I send them off to Yates Gear for re-sling.

    I considered the more popular, Blue Water Titan Cord, which is 5.5mm and rated to 3100lbs single strand. It's used to sling hexes and light weight cordelette, but it's slippery stuff, requiring a triple fisherman's with some tails to form a safe loop. 

    The other option is Sterling Power Cord, which is also rated to 4800lbs, but with a standard nylon sheath it knots like standard perlon cord. The advantage of the nylon is once the double fisherman's sees a few anchor setups, it should be pretty permanently fixed and not require paranoia of constant knot rechecks. The downside, in double fisherman's configuration, the cord fails via sheath-core slippage. You can tie a triple fisherman's but it won't increase the failure strength by much, just change the mode of failure.

    Looking at the single stem Black Diamond Camalot cams I own, it seemed like 6mm doubled over would fit in the stem, making Power Cord front runner.

    Next I measured out the length I needed by doing a test run with some 5mm perlon I had lying around. It was more than 24 inches to make similar length loops as the original slings, so to make life simple for the guys at Rock and Snow (rockandsnow.com), I went with 36in. I didn't mind longer loops and this would give me more leeway to tie the double fisherman's, or even a triple fisherman's knot.

    Strength wise, I'm not 100% sure on what I'll be getting. Single loop 6mm perlon on Rigid Stem Friends used in the common Gunks tie off is rated to about 8kn (per Wild Country). However, 6mm perlon is significantly less strong than Power Cord and my cord isn't single loop but double loop. Looking at various test of breaking points for the single loop double fisherman's, it seems like 50% is a fair conservative average. Using two loops should decrease force on the knot. As a very conservative guess, unless I'm completely disregarding a key variable, I expect this setup to exceed 12kN. It's very rare (though not impossible) for a top piece to see in excess of 10kN in real world use, but in excess of 12kN is pretty unlikely, and my cord failing might be the least of my concerns by 13kN.

    Finally, as a finishing touch, I repurposed the old sling to maintain the color coding and also ensure I clip both strands. Finding my purple, green or yellow Camalot is as easy as the day I brought them home. 

    Total cost to resling 4 cams was $15 (vs about $30), and I didn't need to part ways with them for two weeks. 

    Please note, this will only work on this style Black Diamond Camalot. Do not try this on wired U stem cams. The reason is the cable can cut the cord or webbing. For those cams, such as my TCUs and Aliens, I will be having them re-slung professionally. 

    Also, I do have some concerns with the long term use of Power Cord fatiguing over the edges of the stem hole, this wouldn't be an issue with Perlon. Eventually I'll mail them off, but probably not until the winter. For now I have a really unique and safe setup, that should get me through this rock season.

    If you are a physics or materials science expert, feel free to send me a comment as to anything I might have missed about the safety of this setup.