Wednesday, April 6

Trip Report: American (South Fork "Chili Bar" - High Flow) - April 3, 2005

Run: Chili Bar to Troublemaker
Difficulty: III+ to IV
Flow: 3600 cfs

Map of the River

As an excellent follow up to last week's high flow trip down the Gorge I ran Chili Bar to Troublemaker rapid with my buddy Brian. Although the flows looked like they weren't going to top 2K, they ended up reaching 3600 cfs. This is pretty typical for the winter season, but it is still 3 to 4 times the flow that is often seen during the summer. I'm told people run the South Fork at 8000 to 10000 cfs, but I haven't seen the river that high yet.

I don't know what it is about Meatgrinder - whether it really is that tricky or whether it's just the name (or maybe it's both?), but it gets me going every time. It isn't that far after the start of the run so I never really feel warmed up. It is probably the most technical rapid on the South Fork. At low flows it's a pushy rock garden with consequences, at high flow it's a navigation through many holes & obstacles where rolling is not recommended since you better recover fast or get hit by a rock before you have the chance to think about anything else. Swimming would be ugly. Anyhoo, we got through in one piece even though my heart was pumping by the time we were done.

Racehorse Bend is the next big event, that one has probably caused me more trouble than Meatgrinder. It's exactly what it sounds like, a gallup around a pretty tight bend in the river with a couple of serious looking holes. The first one is far enough up to catch you off guard and then seriously mess you up for the rest of the run - that's my standard experience since it seems to get me more times than not. I got sucked into that first hole and after having a close encounter with a rock underwater I pulled a roll and cruised through the rest of the rapid. Racehorse Bend is my current nemesis on South Fork.

First Threat is another big hole a bit further down the river. It's probably one of the most popular surf spots since it more often that not has a big retentive wave that just asking for some play. After popping over a surprising ledge drop right upstream, we approached the hole there was someone in the hole playing, and as we got closer and closer he didn't move! Given the flow at 3600 cfs there aren't many places to go once you've lined up for the hole. Brian grazed by him on river right and I mistakenly assumed that he would get a clue and pull off the wave since it was obvious I was right behind him - the bozo stayed on the wave and we collided right in the hole. Luckily no one was hurt, but given that I broke two ribs colliding in a surf hole last year I am in no hurry to repeat it. Moral of the story is not to be an idiot when playing the middle of a narrow channel - keep alert and give people the right of way that are on their way through.

The rest of the run was fun, some nice wave trains through Second & Third Threat then we got to Troublemaker where we planned to take out for the day. Damn that thing was looking scary at 3,600. It gives me pause at lower flows, but there were a few man eating spots that I didn't want to get to know more intimately. We scouted it and watched a few boaters and rafters go through, and to be honest I was in two minds whether to give it a shot. Basically I decided that if I'm going to get comfortable in class IV water then you just gotta do it.

We decided to head down the class line river left. We skirted a little hole at the entry to the rapid that had the potential to mess you up and popped into the eddy. Although it is a decent size, the eddy was harder to catch than I expected. It's pretty rocky at that flow and hard to navigate once you're in there as you set up for the line through the rest of the rapid. Once in the eddy we lined up left of center over a nice tongue heading straight for gun sight and pushed off giving it a good hard stroke to get into place. If I say so myself, my line was near perfect. Clean and controlled, no rolling required. I was very content. There is a killer surf wave that is right after Troublemaker and so we played on that for a little while then called it a day.

A very nice run and a happy ending with a trouble free Troublemaker experience, for a change.

Looking forward to this coming weekend!!


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