Monday, June 21, 2010

Bull Run Slalom Camp

Saturday May 1 found 10 of us at the Bull Run Slalom Camp. After a briefing on the course, obstacles, and instructional format for the day, we walked the trail along the defunct Portland General Electric powerhouse down to the end of the course to have a look. As we approached the river, the entire course became visible upstream. A sizeable eddy is available to take out and hike back upstream. I later learned that the slalom boats were pretty effective for paddling these upstream attainments. Not so the plastic creek boats some of us were paddling. In fact, the slalom boats could attain most of the course, except one area that is simply too steep.
Walking back up the trail, we joined Rufus, Stephen, and David at the start of the course. We began to work back and forth between eddies and through the gates. David showed me some practice lines. One move involved crossing a small drop, then cutting to the left into an upstream gate in a barely-visible eddy. From above, it looked like a stretch of moving water that would flush out the bottom. It is surprising how many of these “hidden” eddies can be caught on any given stretch of a river. Maybe it is just my untrained eye, having only been in the sport for two years. Nevertheless, the move was fairly straightforward. Both Eric and I followed David through into the eddy.
Next up was a ferry across a stretch of moving water, behind two sets of rocks, and through a slot in the middle of the river. The boulders sheltered the boat from the downstream currents, so it was easy to keep upstream enough before turning down through the boulders. After working on the eddy turn from this move, I learned that a wide sweep stroke on the side of the boat away from the eddy followed by a planted paddle in the eddy line worked great for getting into an eddy. I had already been working on my speed to cross all the way through so the sweep stroke was a new addition.
We went back upstream and made the move back into the “hidden” eddy again. Our next challenge was to ferry even further across and drop through a different slot. A small hydraulic in that slot looked innocuous, not like it would throw someone off line. Most of the current was going to the right, but the line was to cross to the left of a marker rock. But the hydraulic did make it difficult, and I wasn’t able to make it in my creek boat. David went through and, even with a back-paddle to turn his boat, made it to the left of the rock.
After finishing the course and walking back up to the parking lot, we reviewed some video footage of our practice. Tired from carrying back upstream so many times, I decided to call it a day.
On Sunday, I had a chance to try a slalom boat, courtesy of Sam Drevo. Carrying it down to the river, I enjoyed how light the fiberglass boats can be. But I always had a wary eye out for any rocks lurking under the surface. Making my way down the course, I was very surprised how easy it was to make attainments back up to the eddies where I wanted to be. The boat is very fast, but a little edgy. It will definitely take some getting used to, but I will be in a slalom boat again soon.