About John

John Mattson is an architectural engineer, adventure writer, and photographer who has spent most of his life enjoying the great outdoor adventures that our incredible planet provides. He is an expert kayaker, skier, climber, and a defender of Mother Earth. He has recently self-published a thrilling and colorfully photographed book of 26 diverse and extreme adventure stories. It is entitled "Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet." danceonedge.com. This book took first place in the 2010 CIPA book awards for the legacy category.

Climbing in the Aspen Fast Lane

Aspen has been a popular party town for the rich and famous for quite some time, and the early 80’s were not an exception. The intense hedonists that were becoming a strong influence in this valley were looking for anything that gave them pleasure and price was not much of an object. Cocaine was a rich man’s drug, and it became very popular. This is the same time period when Cocaine use was featured on the front cover of Time magazine.  It was very fashionable among the rich and successful business folks, and the city of Aspen reduced criminality to a misdemeanor that was rarely enforced for possessing less than 3 grams. It quickly became some what of a status symbol, and the flagrant users would carry fancy silver 3 gram automatic dispensers that could be used on chairlifts and in restaurant bathrooms. The old hippy days of passing joints was considered low life to these decadent connoisseurs! 

I have lots of found memories of living in this awe inspiring valley, and I must admit that this is one place where trickle down economics actually seems to work.

The cocaine also trickled down and I was introduced to this evil drug while working as a trim carpenter on a local restaurant remodel. The owners were extremely anxious to finish by the lucrative Christmas season and bribed us with lines of coke in the walk in cooler. It was my first experience with this so called magic powder, and the initial response was like an extreme caffeine high with happiness and lots of energy. The artificially induced energy allowed us to work 10-14 hour days and the project was finished on time. 

The drug didn’t seem to be extremely addictive, but I did enjoy the high, and started purchasing small amounts for special occasions. But, like most mind altering substances, the highs seemed always harder to achieve, and the use gradually  increased. Coke is also a perfect party drug because it keeps you alert into the late night hours and allows for ridiculous amounts of alcohol consumption. The combined ingredients offer a great high, but the morning penalties can be severe.

My construction company was just getting started and I was building a small addition for a friend in Snowmass Village with my old climbing partner, who had come to visit. Gringo Negro is the source of many legends, and he did like to party, so he quickly adapted. 

It was a good party for a couple of weeks, but the thrill gradually waned, and we started to question our new life style.  

“This is really stupid!” I exclaimed to Dave, in the middle of a late night party. It was about 2 AM and we were both enjoying a good buzz, but I was very discontent. “We really need to change this habit and get back on track. Let’s go climb something good tomorrow. It’s what we really need.”

The “Bell Cord” between North and South Maroon peaks is a classic, somewhat steep snow climb that Dave had never done and I was itching to repeat. I had done it the fall before with blue ice conditions, and it had been one of my all time favorite ascents. But, the current conditions offered perfect snow climbing on an awesome peak. A quick survey of our available food supply revealed 4 ounces of dried beef and 1 avocado, but we still had a gram of the magic powder, so we quickly grabbed some gear and drove to the Maroon Bells parking lot and passed out on the tar next to the car. The sun was warm and bright and the tourists were starting to arrive and were almost stepping on us, when we groggily awoke and started to rally. 

Dave was a desert boy who had learned to climb on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix with a clothesline for a rope. He had never climbed ice or snow, but he was a solid 5.11 rock climber, so I trusted his ability, and the conditions were perfect. His Scott ski boots seemed like the best available option, and I had a spare set of crampons and some extra ice axes, so we quickly packed and scurried away.  Our stamina hadn’t suffered too badly during the recent break in activities, so we snorted a couple of lines and ran down the trail past Crater Lake. It’s been a few decades, but I think I recollect that Dave was running in his flip flop sandals, which were his shoe of choice at that time. 

We quickly arrived at the base of the snow and found a group of out of towners who were carefully setting a belay and climbing with a large array of technical gear including glacier stakes and ropes. They didn’t seem quite ready to start and they were obviously much slower than us, so they politely let us pass.

The Bell chord is steep, but not extreme, and is a fun solo for a competent climber. It does involve about 1800 feet of up to 50 degree snow or ice, so it is still a serious adventure and falling would be extremely dangerous. But, the biggest hazard in this gulley is rock fall, so a swift confident solo climber takes much less risk than a slow party using ropes and exposed belays. 

We thanked the group for letting us pass, snorted some long lines, and jammed for the summit, as I coached my rookie friend.

“OK Dave!

This is it. It’s kinda like rock climbing, but you can get a hold whenever you want with your ice aces and crampons. So, just stay focused, stay balanced, and only move one appendage at a time. The conditions are perfect, but still be aware of ice, thin spots, and rock fall, and DON’T FALL!  Rock fall is a definite hazard, and just stay low and don’t panic. The worst case scenario is to fall because of panicking. I barely dodged a rock here on a late fall ascent a few years ago, but I had enough time to secure my axes and duck when it arrived. It was a baseball size rock that bounced off the walls of the coular and flew by about 10 feet from my head. So, the faster we go, the safer we will be.  

“Oh wow! This is pretty easy and kinda fun too. Maybe I’ll try ice climbing next year.”

The climb definitely kept our attention, and the high mountain air was thin, but we sustained a steady pace and jammed up to about the middle of the route.

“Wow! This is really fun, but I’m getting kind of tired. Is there any more of that magic powder left?” 

“Yup! but it’s too dangerous to stop right here. It looks like a small nook and ledge that will be somewhat safe from rock fall about 50 feet ahead, so let’s stop there.”

We didn’t have one of those fancy silver devices, but the flat surface of the largest ice axe provided an adequate surface and we spread out 2 very generous lines. 

“Yaaa! I feel much better now!” exclaimed Dave as we gained a new sense of energy, and jammed up to the comfortable saddle between the two bells. An exposed, but very enjoyable scramble brought us to the friendly summit of North Maroon Peak. 

The day was still quite young, the weather was fine, and the mountain was empty, so we enjoyed a brief break and savored the spectacular view and the nirvana of finishing a great route. The summit was hard to leave, but we were starting to get a bit hungry and the descent route was easy, so we rushed back to the luxurious mountain town and enjoyed a gourmet dinner with fine wine at the Chart House. 

We awoke refreshed with a great new attitude, and I never did Coke again.   

Navajo Peak

Navajo Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado.
Stream from the Isabelle glacier,
Snow field pitch.
Summit view to the East.
Remnants of a tragic plane wreck.
Isabelle Lake

I awake way before dawn after a somewhat restless night, and start to prepare for the new days event.  The plan is very exciting, but I am also a bit apprehensive about this somewhat serious adventure.

I don’t always climb alone, but the challenge of finding a compatible partner who is willing to awake before dawn can be somewhat challenging, and a bad partner is much worse than being alone.  I thoroughly enjoy just being in the mountains and the solitude invigorates a meditative state that can approach nirvana. I am obviously much more cautious when I am alone, but this forethought elevates my mental attitude, and I become very in touch with the mountain environment that I truly love.

The route that I am hoping to climb is my favorite in the local area. The West Chimney of Navajo Peak involves a fairly long approach, some moderate snow climbing, and a somewhat challenging class 3+ chimney on a fairly remote mountain face. 

I’ve climbed this route twice before, so I know what I’m getting into, but I’ve aged a bit since the last attempt, and know that it deserves respect.

I had made a feeble attempt about a week ago, but a sixth sense and less than perfect weather caused me to turn back early. The alternative was finding shelter from the harsh wind, and spending a lazy morning in an awesome and very secluded high alpine meadow. The meadow was above the extremely popular Isabelle Lake and offered complete solitude and a comfortable bed of soft grass. The wild flowers were in full bloom, and their sweet scent along with the gentle sound of a small raging stream lulled me to sleep in the warm sun. 

I awoke refreshed and enjoyed a casual lunch while enjoying the vista of a now windy and cloudy summit. “I’m really glad that I’m not up there right now.” I thought to my self, as I finished basking in the warm sun.

But, today feels very different, and I’m anxious to finish the challenge. The weather looks perfect, and so are my energy and spirits, as I park my van at the trailhead. A note stating,  “Climbing west Chimney of Navajo. Back by mid afternoon.” is left in a conspicuous location on my dash, and I’m on my way.

The dawn of the new day is starting to brighten the sky as I saunter briskly along the well worn trail to Isabelle lake. The path is lined with some gigantic Fir and Spruce trees that are much older than me and I stop to hug one of the more ancient ones. A pair of does and a young buck are grazing in an adjacent meadow, and a few birds are greeting the dawn, but they are not alarmed to see me.

The first rays of the early morning sun light up the high peaks as Navajo and Apache come into view, and my soul is suddenly invigorated.

A couple of early morning photographers and a young moose great me as I reach the stunning vista of Isabelle lake. But here the main trail ends, as I leave the soon to be busy valley and wander alone into the high alpine zone. The trail has suddenly disappeared, but a maze of grassy ledges and tiny valleys provide for a fairly easy scramble. 

My awareness suddenly kicks in to my extreme mode, because I am aware that even a short stumble could result in a minor injury that could be fatal in this remote place.

I am carrying reasonable survival gear and a loud whistle, but the chance of being found rapidly on this remote mountain face are still slim, so I must be extra cautious. This caution forces a mental attitude that is totally focused and very enjoyable.  All the cares of the world suddenly disappear as I wander upwards concentrating on the task at hand. 

The air is a bit brisk, but the sun is warm, and the views are brilliant. The soft tundra is bursting with tiny plants that only have a few months to live, and they are fully utilizing every moment with great pleasure. The high peaks are still adorned with the remnants of the winter snow and it glistens brightly in the morning sun. But the snow is rapidly melting in the summer sun and has created dozens of clear sparkling streams. The tiny rivers cascade off of the cliffs of the steep walled valley, and the lush banks are adorned with dozens of colorful wild plants and flowers. The combination of the aroma, sound, and view of this pristine paradise awakens my inner senses and my old mind approaches nirvana.

The quickly receding old glacier has left about a hundred new yards of manky scree that involves a frustrating mixture of scrambling and sliding backwards, but I manage to find a reasonable route to the snow, and arrive a bit out of breath. But, my energy quickly recovers, as I stop for a quick snack and attach my crampons.

The next 500 feet or so of the climb involves kicking steps in some fairly firm and somewhat steep (40-45 degree) snow. This is actually about the easiest way to climb a mountain if you have the right skills and equipment, and I do. I have come prepared with one medium length ice axe, a “Whipit” (ski pole with a small ice axe), and crampons. 

The steep snow allows for a rapid ascent, that is much more pleasant than the loose scree.  But, kicking steps in the hard snow is quite strenuous, so I stop a few times to catch my breathe and ponder this awesome paradise. The rhythm of setting a fast pace seems to be more efficient, so I divide the slope into about 5 segments of sprint and rest, and each phase brings me ever closer to the summit.

The cool air feels fresh in my lungs and the blood rushing through my brain clears my mind as the last sprint brings me to the top of the snow. Here, the means of travel will change again and I stop on a comfortable rock to remove my crampons and pack away the ice axes. 

The rest spot is warm and sunny, but the climate suddenly changes as I wander upward onto the shady west face. A brisk breeze is howling through the steep saddle between Navajo and Dicker’s Peck and the usually easy route has been coated with a bit of graupel  from the last thunderstorm. These conditions are not quite what I had expected, but I know the route, the weather is good and don’t wish to turn back now. 

 

I am now extremely aware of my remoteness and the harsh penalties of any mistakes. The normally 3rd class route is partially covered with a thin layer of frozen rain so I proceed with the utmost caution, and my focus becomes even more intense.  A tiny mistake here, could result in a miserable night or the end of my life.

The foot holds are a bit slippery, but the hand holds are solid and I revert to the old climbing rule of always having 3 appendages attached while you carefully move the 4th. The approach to the chimney is extremely exposed and I shudder at the thought of being injured and dying slowly on this remote face. But I know that I am capable of not falling, and mind control is one of the reasons that I’m so fascinated with this intense sport. A few deep breathes help to calm my nerves and the moves are quickly conquered. The next obstacle is about 200 feet of a wide and low angle chimney that resembles a short stairway to heaven. This section gets very little sun, and the holds are cold and icy, but I’m starting to catch a rhythm and enjoy a temporary state of pure bliss as I climb the awesome steps. 

The stairway ends way too soon, and once again I am faced with a slippery traverse. But the moves are easy, the summit is near, and a sunny ledge is beckoning.

This pleasant alcove marks the intersection with the easier “Airplane Gulley” route, and I feel that the climb is almost in the bag, so I drop my pack and take a short break. The nook is warm and comfy, but the summit is beckoning, so I leave my pack, and scramble upward. The route finding here is a bit challenging, and I probably didn’t pick the easiest way, but I manage to arrive on an empty and somewhat breezy summit. This is my favorite Indian Peak, and the views are incredible, but the wind is brisk, and I won’t be able to truly relax till I get back to my pack, so I savor the views for only a few brief moments. I manage to find an easier route on the return voyage and make it safely back to the comfortable ledge.

This tiny and comfortable alcove is out of the wind, the sun is warm, and the quest is all but finished, so I take a long break and thoroughly enjoy the serenity and pristine views.

I have chosen the “Airplane Gulley” for my descent, because it is much easier, and going down is usually more difficult and dangerous than climbing. The summit of most mountains is really only about one half of the journey, and not quite time to relax. The lower part of this route involves unexposed scrambling and sliding on the loose talus and scree, which is much friendlier for descent than climbing. The added vista of the remains of a tragic plane crash add historical value to the otherwise boring route.  The steep scree is quickly descended, and I stop to take one more break in a flowery meadow before descending into the tourist mayhem of Isabelle Lake. My body is tired, but my spirits are high, as I relax in the warm sun and ponder the lofty peak.

 

Letter to an Old Trump supporting Friend

I was very happy to receive your letter, because I consider you to be a good friend, but I must admit that I was extremely disappointed in you for supporting that fucking orange con artist in the last election. He and the whole Republican party that supports him are one of the most evil organizations in the history of this modern world and I cannot condone the friendship of anyone who still supports them. He is nothing but a  worthless con man, and only claims to be a Christian because the so called Christians vote for him. I don’t believe most of the Bible, but if there really is an anti-Christ, it is definitely DT.  Separation of Church and State is written into our constitution, and the Republican party is not much different than the radical Taliban. There are some very good Christians and they have a right to their beliefs, but I despise the way the Republican Christians are trying to force their values on everyone. Freedom of religion means exactly what it sez, and it does not mean being forced to only pursue the fascist Christian dictatorship.  If you are paying any attention at all, you will see that they don’t give a flying fuck about anyone except their rich friends, and they are destroying this once great country. Who in the hell needs a billion dollars? And why should they not pay taxes? Greed is a disease that is destroying this planet and causing so much suffering to so many people. 


 I think there might be many Gods, but if they have any control over what is happening right now, they are extremely cruel, and don’t have my support. I also do not believe that any just God would send innocent children to hell just because some bozo white christian didn’t manage to make it to their remote village. I believe that this so called Bible is mostly the manufacture of the religious governments and has been used to scare its hapless readers into submission.  The tithe is one of the most obvious examples. Do you really think that Jesus would charge his believers a tax? And what about Noah’s Ark?  Anyone with any sense at all would immediately dismiss this ridiculous fairy tale! Do you have any imagination as to how long it would take for that amount of water to evaporate? (But I guess that the world must have been flat then and it ran off the edges). I have been to 43 countries and many of them numerous times and I’ve read hundreds of books. Every culture that I know of on this planet believes in a God, so why are the Christians so sure that theirs is the only true one?  This continent was Heaven to the Native Americans, and it is being turned into hell in the name of the Christian God.  I find it impossible to believe that any just God would reward a bunch of bozo humans with a new Heaven after they had so greedily destroyed the one that they were given.

Our generation has been extremely fortunate to live in a window of opportunity that may never be repeated. Our grand parents got free land that had been stolen from a native culture who also had Gods. And we had the opportunity to live in a beautiful and peaceful land.

But just imagine being born in a slum in NY, or many of the other equally despicable places in this country, and the world.  There are so many desperate people in this country! No more free land, poison water, horrible minimum wage jobs, expensive rent, and a bunch of greedy billionaires who only care about themselves, and stealing even more money.

The current situation is extremely dire, and I don’t really think that our world will ever be the same. But what we were doing was destroying the planet, so it could have a silver lining. The transition is going to be extremely difficult for lots of people. I feel utterly fortunate to live in a remote paradise, but it’s really hard to be content when so many innocent people are suffering so much. I actually thought that something like this was going to happen a long time ago, and that was my excuse for dropping out of college and going skiing. The current news is all bad, and it’s really easy to become depressed, but my strategy is to embrace nature and try to be a positive force. That is about all we can do, and millions of positive forces can really change the world, and the skiing up here is really good right now. I believe that you have a good heart and your humor is a positive force, but you ain’t going to heaven if you keep supporting Trump and his evil party.

The Gore Race

Charlie Macarthur from the Aspen Kayak School showing good style in the Tunnel Rapid.

                       Racer dropping in to the “Sneak Route” on the Gore rapid.

 

The mighty Colorado River is suddenly dropping into a great abyss as I approach the infamous Gore Rapid. This big drop looks extremely ominous, so I paddle as fast as I can and focus all of my mental and physical energy on the line that I have been paddling in my sleep. I am obviously quite apprehensive, because the entrance drop of this long class V rapid will demand perfection, and the consequences of failure are not very pleasant. 

This thrilling day started in the campground/parking lot of the famous Gore canyon run where I had awoken early with a mild hangover. The hangover has become an almost mandatory feature of this infamous race, and I feel quite relieved to have escaped with only a minor one. Partying is an integral part of the whitewater lifestyle, and the reunion of extreme paddlers from near and far leads to a great social event.

It’s a beautiful morning, and I happily greet the brilliance of a new dawn in this awesome  canyon. My head is a bit sore and I rub my bleary eyes as I try to sharpen my senses, and assess the reality of my planned endeavor.  Do I really wish to to run this crazy river at a very high rate of speed and without scouting? 

A few of my (more hung over than I) friends seem to share the same sympathies, but a large dose of black coffee revives the testosterone, and we start to chat and tell some old stories of previous misadventures.

The race won’t be starting for a couple of hours, so we enjoy a casual but not very relaxed morning of reorganizing gear and trying to remember our strategy.

I arrive at the start about an hour early and spend a few moments chatting with my nervous friends. But I really just want to be alone, so I wander up a nearby hillside to meditate and try to rationalize why in the hell I am here. What forces are driving me to pursue this intense adventure? After about a decade of practice and dozens of runs on this “challenging” river, I’ve finally mustered the courage to enter this unique (for its time) race. In less than an hour I will be paddling as fast as a can down a very challenging Class V river relying only on my skills and memory of the big drops.

“The Gore Race” is one of the first extreme kayak races and takes place in the steepest canyon of this mighty river. It was started by the famous Chan Zwanzig in the mid 80’s, when he invited his friends to show up for a free keg of beer and some friendly competition on his favorite local run. The race, involved paddling at high speed and without stopping to scout a section of whitewater that was considered extreme at that time.

As I wander up the nearby hill, my somewhat stressed out brain suddenly flashes back to my first run in this remote canyon with a legendary kayaker and boat builder named John Jaycox in the early 80’s.  Birds of a feather flock together, and I had just recently met him through the friendship of a fellow paddler. Plastic boats had just recently been invented, and the standards were rapidly changing, but “Gore Canyon” was still considered to be quite extreme and was rarely run.

The Gore range is a somewhat remote and very spectacular section of the rocky mountains just north of Frisco, Colorado. It offers some great hiking and climbing, but it is most famous for the upper canyon of the Colorado River, that carves its way through the pristine range.

Lord Gore, along with the famous Jim Bridger had explored this range in the mid 1800’s, and Jim decided to name it after his friend.

The high volume waters of this mighty river are powered by the melting snow on the continental divide and meander slowly across the high plateau of the Middle Park Basin. But all the gentleness suddenly disappears as it meets a steep granite gorge with 500 foot walls, a gradient of about 100 feet per mile, and enough volume to create some thrilling rapids. 

The flat water of the plateau was quite scenic, and gave us a good chance to warm up, but the tension gradually started to build as we approached a large cliff and a giant gash in the mountain that warned us of the upcoming adventure. 

The first couple of rapids were fun class III’s and the cold water splashing on our faces was quite invigorating, but a sudden large horizon line drop found us scurrying to a safe eddie and scouting downstream. There was a clean line in the big drop, but the high volume water was really pushy, and the old long boats were much harder to steer than the modern short ones. So, we carefully plotted a line and chose a couple of land mark rocks in the raging river. 

The careful scout had provided a very good view of the rapid, but the aspect from our boats was quite different, and all the rocks suddenly looked the same. My heart rate rapidly increased as I tried to remember the line and keep my course in the strong current. The water was moving faster than I had thought, and I was suddenly being pushed over the edge of a small abyss and right into a large rock. But a sudden reflexive stroke saved the day and I managed to skirt the rock and follow a clean but very steep line into a friendly Eddie. John nailed the line, and reacted with a big smile as we exchanged a set of jubilant high fives.

                                             

The recollections make the time move very rapidly, and suddenly it is almost my turn to go, so I very carefully crawl into my boat, and meticulously attach the neoprene skirt that will keep the boat from filling with water in the big rapids. I cautiously inspect the spray skirt again, and add a bit of wax to my old wooden paddle. It is a bit heavier than the modern fiberglass ones, but my appreciation for fine carpentry, and the trust in its strength make it worth the weight. It has also been my solid companion on many great  rivers that span the globe, and has thereby gained my trust. I also nervously check my helmet strap and life jacket and complete a couple of eskimo rolls to cool off and improve my confidence. 

I’m now third in line, so I carefully maneuver my boat toward the start and do my last mental preparations as I review the big rapids in my mind. The next racer leaves in a flurry of splashing strokes, and I’m now on deck, and wait anxiously as the next racer takes his turn and disappears down stream.

OK, next racer! Ten seconds, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, Go! And I’m off! 

The first drop is only class III, but the cold splashing water helps to calm my nerves and invigorate my spirit, as I stroke bravely toward the first big drop.

“Apple Sauce” is a big horizon line drop with one clean line that I’m confident about remembering, so I paddle fearlessly onward. 

“OK; Just right of the giant boulder with some left to right angle. That’s it!” The surging water tries to push me into the big rock, but a strong stroke saves the day, and I follow a clean but very steep line into a gentle pool. 

Acing this rapid is great for my confidence and attitude, and on a normal run, we would relax here and exchange some hi fives. But this is a race, so I quickly regain my composure and paddle on downstream somewhat apprehensively toward the infamous “Gore Rapid” which is the crux of the run.

The serenity of the stream suddenly disappears, and I can’t help but notice the throng of spectators that have gathered on the right side of the river, as I approach the ominous drop.

We had spent almost half an hour here on our first descent, as we carefully scouted and tried to memorize all the lines of this very long, steep and technical rapid. The entrance drop was the crux and demanded perfection, but the rapid continued for another three hundred yards and presented at least two more crucial moves. This is definitely the steepest part of the run and the first very challenging drop is followed very quickly by a pair of keeper holes with only a very thin line between them. We were extremely apprehensive of this section on our first run and thought very seriously about portaging, but we managed to psych each other up and decided to go for it, with pretty good success. I’ve now run this rapid at least a dozen times, but I still have a lot of respect for it, and know that it is very demanding.

But now I am alone, and on a race for time, so I can only rely on my memory and confidence from my past descents. 

The “sneak route” that I am planning to take involves a boof, or kind of ski jump style of motion through a narrow slot with a ten foot drop. This one move demands perfection, because the landing is in a dangerous, turbulent eddie that is somewhat life threatening  and can waste lots of time.

The approach to this narrow slot is guarded by a small hydraulic feature that must be negotiated smoothly to prepare for the narrow boof, because a sideways boat in the narrow slot would be a disaster.

My previous knowledge prevails and I arrive at the top of the sneak with a perfect line . My boat lands just where I want and I paddle very aggressively toward the left side of “Decision Rock.” This has obviously been named for a lot of very bad runs, but my immediate decision leaves me just where I want to be and I smile at a few friendly spectators, as I head on down stream. 

The biggest crux is now over, but a gnarly pair of holes called scissors is anxiously waiting down stream. I know the line from many past voyages, but the clean line between this set of double keeper holes is thin and requires precise navigation. I was beginning to feel a bit tired, but the adrenaline from the last drop kicks in, so I manage to keep focused and nail the line. The river now eases a bit but it is not yet time to relax.

The next big drop is Pyrite, and it brings back lots of old memories. This is another one of the rapids that we used to scout in the early 80’s, and it feels a bit intimidating to blast down it at the fevered pace of the race. But, I remember the line, and pass yet another milestone.

“Four down, and only three big ones to go.”  I tell myself as I approach the second most challenging drop of the race. Tunnel Falls has been named for its proximity to a big railroad tunnel, and is one of the most exciting places to watch. This is also the narrowest point in the canyon, and the huge granite walls tower above the narrow raging river.

Once again, I’m greeted by a throng of cheering spectators, as I try to work my way down the turbulent left channel that leads to the only clean line.

My nerves and strength are beginning to wain a bit, but the cheering crowd gives me a huge new source of adrenaline, and I paddle boldly down the last big drop. The end is now nearly in sight but two more challenging obstacles remain.

“Toilet Bowl” is a very dangerous hydraulic feature that was the source of my only swim  in the early 80’s. It is a very innocent looking drop from upstream, and it is quite easy to miss if you know the line, but a mistake here would result in a race ending catastrophe, so I careful skirt its permitter and head down stream to the last big drop. 

Kirschbaum’s is a long class IV+ that was named for one of the early explorers of the river. I’ve had a lot of exciting runs on this rapid, and never seem to pick the same line twice, so my heart and adrenaline level soar once again, 

“OK left at that big rock. Whoops! wrong rock.”  But I quickly see another line. My arms are tired and the current is strong and pushes me left against another big boulder. But I bravely grab it and push my kayak forward into a clean channel. The finish is now in sight, and a few hard strokes bring me to a cheering crowd of friends and a very welcome beer.

One of the favorite excuses I’ve heard for pursuing extreme sports is “ Cuz it feels so good when you stop,” but I think there are much better reasons. I really feel that adrenaline is a life enhancing drug and completing an event like this leaves the participant with an awesome feeling of satisfaction that is impossible to describe. Pursuing extreme sports also offers the rare opportunity to hang out with so many really alive people and that’s how I’ve met most of my good friends. The combination of adrenaline and a bit of alcohol and this camaraderie provides a high that approaches euphoria, and I quickly chug another beer. The after party and awards ceremony is another big event, and I remember why I’m here.