By Kanako Iwata-Eng
Captain Bill Petty led the team to the Southern Olympic Peninsula on his annual Thanksgiving weekend paddle. After running the Humptulips Narrows on Friday and the Middle Matheny Creek on Saturday, we ran the Lower Matheny Creek on Sunday, November 29, 2015.
It was a sunny, but cold, weekend. It went down to 20 degrees in the early morning. When we put in, it was over 32 degrees, but still cold. As the water was high the previous Thanksgiving, nobody ran the lower section. This year, on the contrary, the water was super low. The crew consisted of Chris E, Doug, Lora, and me. Bill, Chris, and Doug had run this many times and Lora once in a week prior. I had never run this stretch and intended to follow Bill’s lines.
As soon as we put in, I got stuck on rocks sideways in the shallows, and we all repeated this all day long. The beautiful river with many rapids kept us busy, so as not to mind the temperature. We were near the end of the first canyon, when we came to a Class IV rapid. We could run either side of the middle boulder under ordinary circumstances, but there was some wood partially blocking the left side that day.
Chris chose the right side. The flow dropped against the rock on the right, which created folding waves pushing you to the left, where a shallow rock was waiting to flip you. Chris is an excellent kayaker but even he was pushed left and right and bounced up and down to get through.
Lora, a relatively new kayaker, entered the same way, was pushed to the left, and flipped there. She was such a trooper, banging her head on multiple rocks, but she hung on and rolled up in the bottom pool.
Bill went in the same way and flipped at the same place as Lora. In process of setting up a roll, his paddle got stuck between rocks under the water. With his upper body pulled to the back deck, he had to let go of the paddle. In the shallow but powerful water, he wiggled out of the boat, not wanting to hit his head but worrying about breaking his leg. Fortunately, he went through the rapid without broken parts, just with a big bruise on his thigh.
Then it was my turn. I went in the same way, was pushed to the left but beautifully braced, and stayed up to the bottom. (This is an enhanced version. The truth was that I was pushed and almost flipped, but when I tried to brace, my paddle happened to hit a rock and I could push myself back up. I stayed up only by chance. But Doug told me, whenever other people screwed up and I didn’t, I should boast my skills even when not true.)
Last, Doug ran it, almost flipping and with a spin action, came down right side up. Bill’s paddle never came out, though.
I usually carry a four-piece paddle in my boat, but that paddle has not been successfully dissembled since the Bridge trip. (See my trip report in the November newsletter.) Bill’s and Doug’s four-piece paddles were securely stored in their cars. The river was too difficult and too cold to paddle with the hand paddles Bill was carrying. The only option was walking out. Chris helped him take his boat to the top of the first cliff. Leaving his boat there, Bill walked out and marking the trail with tape so he could find his way back. The vegetation was so thick that he wasn’t sure which way he was going. He kept checking places in case he had to stay overnight. As this run was pretty short, he thought we would be done and come looking for him. Therefore, when he heard a car, he blew his whistle. The voice asked, “Where are you?” Thinking it was Doug, Bill followed the voice to get to the road. It wasn’t Doug, but a nice man, who gave Bill a ride to the takeout.
Meanwhile, the crew went on without Bill. Chris led safe lines for us. We portaged around a bumpy drop where we didn’t see a good line. We also portaged the bottom of the Bowling Ball rapid. If we could stay up through the rapid, there wouldn’t be a problem avoiding some trees coming in from the left, but if anyone swam, it could be ugly. Both portages were short and easy, and the rest of the run was uneventful. The section had lots of great drops and was fun. Slightly more water would make it easier and more fun.
By the time we got to the takeout, Bill had built a nice fire and was enjoying his beer and snack. We quickly changed, shuttled, and everyone except me (I twisted my ankle the night before) carried out the search and rescue mission. Following Bill’s tape, finding the boat was easy, but pulling up the boat over two cliffs was not that easy. Energetic Chris and Doug carried the boat all the way for Bill, and the team returned in less than an hour.
The moral of the story: A four-piece paddle works better when carried in a boat than stored in a car.