It was a beautiful day. Eighty-five degrees, clear blue skies, and not a worry in the world at the put-in for the Little White Salmon. Amazingly, it was mid-July and the creek still had water in it, running at 2.8 feet. It was medium-low by most accounts, but not low water by any means; we are very lucky to have such a long-running stream nearby, that's for sure.
I have run the creek a fair number of times at a variety of flows. I guess I know it pretty well, enough to know better, I suppose you could say. While I have a lot of respect for the power of the Little White, 'familiarity breeds contempt' the saying goes.
Of course, the Little White Salmon is famous for punishing those who venture into it's realm without the proper skills or mindset; many paddlers have paid dearly for missed lines on this creek. And now, without a care in the world, this hapless boater was about to add his name to the list of those who have had, shall we say, a less than perfect run down a nearly perfect creek...
It was just Ron and I on that day, and since it was only Ron's second trip down, I would be showing him a few lines here and there, because things can get hectic in a few places.
We worked our way down Gettin' Busy, finally arriving above a drop on the left side of the river involving an Airplane-turn-to-the-left + Boof-to-the-right combo that lands you in a small eddy in the middle of the creek. From there, you work right to avoid a nearly river-wide log extending out from the right bank fifty feet downstream, blocking most of the flow. If you don't make the move, you go under the log.
Anyway, at these lower flows the boof starts to faaaaaade away if you know what I mean, like somewhere around this flow or lower it stops becoming an 'Airplane-turn-to-the-left + Boof-to-the-right' combo and becomes an 'Airplane-turn-to-the-left + Hustle-like-crazy-to-the-right-or-go-under-the-log' move. This is because as the flows drop the boof flake becomes an ankle-punishing piton rock, you get the picture.
So we arrive above the move. I say "Ok, this one you wanna boof to the right off that flake, landing in an eddy below. Then, see that big log downstream on the left?" Ron nods. "Go right, watch out for that, all the current goes under the log.." I add unnecessarily. No problem. "The only problem is, at some flows the boof goes away and you can piton in there." I said, grinning like a fool. "See you at the bottom."
So I launch into the move, and realize that there isn't enough water to do the move just as my bow slams into the shelf (crumpling nicely), I come to a complete stop, but my face whips forward and smacks my deck, and I somehow manage to wobble downstream past the log, ears ringing.
Ron, having observed my thorough and determined demonstration of the severity of the piton, goes with the flow and then hustles right, arriving at an eddy downstream and says: "Wow, you hit hard.. are you ok ?!?"
"Dojioj jmmmiowe." I reply woozily. I feel drunk.
Boulder Sluice comes and goes with only a flip, and we are now approaching Island Drop.. I'm still a little loopy from the piton upstream, and on the lead-in into Island I fumble and flip, almost losing my paddle as my shoulder is nearly wrenched from it's socket. Not going to get upright before Island, so I pull and swim for my life. I barely make it to the island that the drop is named for, just in time to see my paddle and boat disappear over the horizon line.
Amazingly, when I crest the rapid from the right shore I see my trusty boat in an eddy against the left side wall, halfway down Island drop. I yell upstream to Ron to ferry across and see if he can get the boat out. Of course, my paddle is gone, never to be seen again.
As I watch, Ron manages to climb down to my boat, which is somehow still surging against the left wall. Amazingly, he is able to get the boat, and we rope it across to the right side of the creek below Island. Ron ferries across, and now it's decision time, because we have no break-down paddle.
We eyeball Island drop for awhile and think about it. "Man, you got lucky." Ron says, looking at the churning, grinding pile of boulders. "I wouldn't want to see a body go through that.." I nod silently. It was a close one for sure.
"I have an that extra AT paddle in my truck at the put-in." Ron says. "You could use that if you want to."
I don't even have to think about it, this is an easy decision. I have about three-quarters of a mile of hiking upstream along the canyon wall, or we can climb up out of the canyon. "I'm going to get your paddle." I say, stripping to the waist. "I'll be back in about an hour."
Easier said than done. It's hot, 85 degrees with no wind. The canyon walls radiate the heat as I head back upstream on the creek-right side, scrambling and clawing my way through the underbrush. At first I try to stay close to the creek, but after slipping and falling and smashing my knee brutally on a rock I climb up a little higher. The brush claws and tears at me as I rush upstream, crashing recklessly through the forest, running as fast as I can. The sun is going down, and we don't have much time..
A half-hour later I burst from the treeline, startling two little kids on bikes, who tear off down the road like they'd seen the devil himself. Panting furiously, I look down and I'm not surprised at their reaction, I'm soaked with sweat and covered from head-to-toe with sticks, leaves and pissed-off insects, while my chest is scratched and bleeding from running headlong through the brush.
A half-hour later I emerge from the forest below Island drop with the spare paddle and jump in the creek, soaking in the icy embrace of the Little White..
Headed downstream again, everything is going well. I'm very dehydrated, but there are springs pouring out of the rocky walls and I am able to gulp down huge amounts of the best-tasting water in the world..
We take a break below Wishbone Falls, and Ron gets out to take a photo of me entering the gorge above Stovepipe. I peel out into the current, then I notice that Ron is checking his camera so I start back-paddling, but the current keeps inching me downstream..
Finally Ron gets set and I try to make the move to the left, but I don't have enough speed and I piton forcefully into the large rooster tail in the middle at the entrance to the rapid. I stop. Completely. And.. the current grabs my stern and.. I spin around and go over the drop backwards, flipping in the process..
My head rattles over the sloping ledge as I strain to roll, my injured shoulder sending fiery lances of pain to my brain, but I can't swim, Horseshoe and Stovepipe are down there.. So I slowly roll up, and paddle downstream to a welcome eddy.. Ron soon joins me and we have a good laugh when I tell him why I flipped..
Anything for the shot.
Downstream we both portage Spirit and everything is going fine until we get to Master Blaster. I go first and make the move, but I flip when I land and hit another rock while rolling up, my roll is slow and painful now.. barely making it upright. I pull into the eddy and I my body is aching all over, from my ankles to my face. I don't notice it that much though, because finishing up the Little White is such an exhilarating experience.
The next morning tells the tale. My shoulder feels like it is filled with sand. It grates and pops and burns when I move my arm. Groaning with frustration, I stumble into the bathroom and I am startled to see hundreds of red welts criss-crossing my chest from the brush. I'd been whipped raw by the Grand Inquisitor and had the scars to prove it..