Monday, May 8, 2017

Eel River Mountains to the Sea - Day One

April 2011 - Eel River Source to Sea Adventure

Our first day had some of the toughest whitewater of our trip and was one of the longest paddling days.  Jerry joined us for day one as we paddled 25 miles from Pillsbury to Hearst.  
Jerry Albright joined us for day one of our Source to Sea Adventure. Photo by June Ruckman
A little bit of rain triggered snow melt.  The flow of the river increased from a slow and shallow 350 cfs (cubic feet per second) to a fast and technical 1500 cfs.  At this flow some of the rapids were in the Class IV range.  As a progressing whitewater kayaker, this run was the most technical whitewater that I had yet to paddle and a good test of my developing skills. 
Kayaking down the Pillsbury stretch of the Eel River. Photo by Jeff Laxier
The rapids were fast and furious with powerful hydraulics to avoid while maneuvering through tight boulder strewn channels.  A rapid called Double Drop was one of the most significant rapids of the day.  It was a bend in the river with an elevation drop where the water was funneled between gigantic boulders.  At lower flows the rapid presents 2 distinct consecutive drops.  As we scouted it from shore, the 2 drops were not distinct.  They appeared to have merged into a huge frothing channel of chaotic whitewater with diagonal, lateral and reversal currents.   Jeff ran the rapid first and hit a clean line.
Jeff cruising down Double Drop on the Eel River. Photo by Cate Hawthorne
Back in my boat at the top of the rapid, I felt surprisingly calm.  However, as I committed to dropping into the frothing madness of the rapid, my heart was in my throat.  Time was suspended for a moment and the mantra “Lean forward and paddle” came to mind.  I dug my paddle blade into the water and launched into the mayhem of whitewater.  Plunging into the rapid, my boat buried but resurfaced.  I powered forward timing my paddle strokes with the waves to stay upright.  I dropped cleanly down the line and eddied-out in the calm water below the rapid. 
Cate finding her way down Double Drop. Photo by Jerry Albright
Feelings of elation and relief were overwhelming as I looked up at the walls of foaming whitewater that I had just descended.
Double Drop Rapid on the Eel River. Photo by Jerry Albright
Double Drop was the biggest rapid of the long 25 miles that we ran.  The portage around Van Arsdale Dam was not particularly fun but was a piece of cake compared to negotiating the maze of willows and strainers below the dam.
Van Arsdale Dam on the Eel River. Photo by Cate Hawthorne
I think that negotiating the willows was more stressful and potentially dangerous than the rapids that we ran on the Pillsbury stretch.
Mazes of willows with swift current challenge kayakers to find a safe route. Photo by Jeff Laxier
It rained on us most of the day and the river continued to rise.  This was a blessing on many of the flat stretches below Van Arsdale and also promised that we would have a swift water journey as we paddled to the sea.  At the end of the day, we were happy to reach Jerry's chalet on the Eel River for a warm meal, shower and dry bed.
Paddling into the Albright Chalet on the river. Photo by Jeff Laxier.
The next day, we would be loading our boats and heading down river for the rest of the adventure.



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