Monday, August 11, 2014

South Fork of the Little Wind River Expedition


Adventure.We all seek it,one way or another.Some people need it.It becomes a lifestyle and,when one adventure is over,our minds eye instantly begins to visualize the next.The Wind River mountain range in Wyoming has been my venue for adventure for the past few years,and a whitewater kayak my vessel.This is the story of my 2014 South Fork Little Wind river expedition.
The Winds are some of the most magical and majestic mountains I have seen.After a 28 hour drive,it was an amazing feeling to wake up in Lander,Wyoming knowing that we where about to get in deep.We met up with the Pyrahna team van in Lander,acquired our reservation permits,and camped in the town park that night.After a stout breakfast,we set shuttle at washakie reservoir and loaded up in the Pyrahna van(a.k.a. Orange bitch)and drove up to moccasin lake.Here,we would begin our 8-10 mile hike the river.The team consisted of:
                                      Matthew Beauchamp
                                              Bren Orton and Matt Anger
                                                          Mike Patterson
                                            Ben Bernhard 
                                        And myself,Chris McCoy

We arrived at Moccasin lake around noon and got our backpack systems fired up for the hike.We set off single file and within 10 minutes we were sweating and grunting up the first pass on the trail to Mary's lake.

Ben and I reached the top of the pass first,along with Mike.He waited for the rest of the boys while Ben and I went on ahead.Unfortunately,we went the wrong way.We descended a few hundred feet on what we thought was the trail until it disappeared.We sat the boats down to wait for the rest of the crew to descend.We waited,and waited,and waited for 45 minutes with no sign of them.I hiked back up the "trail" to the last place we were all together and no one was there.Hmmmm.......I walked a bit further and saw an obvious trail going down the other side of the ridge and instantly new what was up.While Ben and I were waiting,thinking we were ahead,the rest of the group was on the real trail thinking we were ahead of them and charging to catch up.I ran back down to Ben and informed him of my realization.We cross country'd it and ran into the real trail and started hauling ass to catch up.Fortunately,the boys lost the trail when it crossed a meadow,and stopped not knowing where to go since I had the map.We reunited and took a break to soak it in and check the map.
The trail was hard to find,but we managed to stay on line.Demshitz attitude was stellar as I led them blindly into the Wind river wilderness.We struggled on to Gaylord lake,and eventually to moss lake.I found the Onion meadows trail junction at two rock cairns and went ahead to scout the trail to make sure we were still on line.I went down a good ways and new we were in the right place,so,I jogged back up to the group.When I reached the group my exhaustion caught up with me and I proceeded to puke my guts out.At that point we realized we were not going to make the river that day and started looking for a camp.We camped at 10,000 feet near moss lake and fought the hordes of Mosquitos till the sunset,and passed out after a nice freeze dried dinner.
                                                                  Camp one

We woke to a beautiful alpine sunrise and began to hike some more.We had made approx 6 miles the first day and had maybe 3 to go.Doesn't sound that bad,but the trail was extremely difficult to follow and had many downed trees which were a pain to cross with loaded boats on our back.A lot of pain and suffering later,we reached the river around noon on our second day.
At the river,the setting was so sick.To my relief,it looked like we had good flows and,there was a nice horizon line at the end of the crystal clear,moving pool we where about to slide our kayaks into.A few folks did a quick scout and reported a decent boogie rapid over the first horizon.
        It's amazing how the river gives you life and strength.The hike in beat us up pretty badly.It was about a nine mile hike with only a few big climbs,but the trails on the reservation are unmaintained and often times very hard to follow.I still felt sick from the altitude,dehydration,and exhaustion combo of day one.Bren had a long,cold night of shivering in his summer bag when the overnight lows got down to 30 degrees or so.The team was just taking a beating all around,but by the time we ran a few rapids and a small slide we were all smiles as we floated through Onion meadows.12000 foot peaks dominated the view over the continental divide in our background.Trout jumped in the stream all around us.We all agreed that the suffering was already worth it to be in this beautiful,wild place.

We spent the rest of the day running amazing drops and slides with only a few short portages.The bigger stuff was manageable class five with a few stouts thrown in,but really fun for the most part.
This was one of the best rapids of the trip.A good lead-in set up this drop,which required a good boof and a strong finish to avoid some sieves on the right.Classic.
                Bren airing out the boof

After kayaking for about 5 hours we came to a spot I recognized from my google earth research.It was a pretty big slide with a huge cliff coming out of the river at the end of it.I made sure to remember this spot because soon after the river gorges up significantly and the gradient excels for about 2-3 miles.We made the call to save that for the next day and to set up camp.A few of the boys went to scout the first gorge while the rest of us set up camp on some nice granite.The boys came back with reports of a tight walled in gorge with 5-6 rapids before the next place you could exit the gorge.We ate,drank,and enjoyed relaxing with one another for the evening, knowing tommorrow will be a big day.
       Camp slide.Not really any good lines on this one but a few folks did a short portage and ran the bottom of it.The rest of us just got out on river left before it and found camp.
  The top part of what we called the breakfast gorge.Better than coffee for sure.
This is the bottom of the breakfast gorge.Such a sick way to wake up.Bren,Manger,and Ben had done the scout the evening before ,so to save time, the rest of us went in blind on the beta they had given us.I normally prefer to scout anything class 5,but,the boys assured us we could just follow them blind.We dropped in,and everybody had sick lines and re-united at the bottom to go for the next scout.

I spent countless hours pouring over maps and doing internet research before we came to the south fork.I kinda new what to expect from the river for the most part, but the section we had just entered was pretty unknown territory for the next 3 miles.Canyon walls were huge and the gradient was steep to say the least.I won't give away too many details,just be prepared to run stout class 5 and do stout portages if you come here.
This was a huge double drop that Bren ran.Super nasty wall/cave siphon on the right wall was alI I needed to see to walk this one.
This is the bottom drop.You can sorta see the cave,it was nasty but Bren killed it.
Bren also ran this thing.Pretty sure it was a first descent,and he called it "gingervitus".Absolutely killed the line on a drop I initially didn't even think was runnable.It was pure sickness.
After several hours of kayaking and difficult portaging, we finally floated in the meadow at the end of the canyon.The 3 miles since camp took us 4-5 hours to navigate and was one sick section of river.
The meadows were just as epic as the canyons.The river snaked around for a mile or so with granite walls all around us.Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of some of the far off ridges and peaks we had walked over or around to reach the river.The scale of the place was almost too much to comprehend.The south fork was giving us all we could handle,and downstream progress had been slow due to all the scouting and portaging.We had hoped to finish that day,but we began to accept that we would néed another day since we still had 11 miles to go,with 2500 feet of gradient,and at least on major portage at the final falls.
We paddled out of the meadow and the river picked up right where it left off.Every rapid seemed to have at least one feature that made an otherwise beautiful drop kinda sketchy.This characteristic kept me portaging pretty often, but at least one team member ran pretty much everything that was runnable.Mostly Bren and Manger,who had been on tour for Pyrahna kayaks, and had been running the shit for 3 months straight.I had paddled 3 times in the last 3 months on good whitewater and was there more for the adventure than to test my kayaking skills.The first team to come kayak the south fork named many of the rapids in this section.I think this one may he called astro orbitor,and I think that is valentine peak in the background of the photo above.
  Excluding the brief float through the meadow,we had been charging hard since breakfast gorge and decide to take a little lunch break at the next scout just downstream.Ramen noodles taste so much better when you are eating them in a remote wilderness like the Winds.Although the constant decision making was stressful,The group was still in good spirits.Now re-fueled a little bit,we headed on down stream.
  On any true class 5 expedition,almost everyone has at least one "oh shit" moment along the way.Not too far after lunch slide,we came to a horizon line where guys up front all got out on the right to scout.I eddied out on the left, so as not to crowd the small eddy at the lip.The horizon line was fairly ominous so I wanted to get to right to have a look for myself.As the last person pulled their boat out of the water, I began to ferry across to the other side.As I went for the move, I totally blew my ferry and had no choice but to either run the drop,or,find another eddy even closer to the lip.We had encountered so many drops that would be certain disaster if you entered  in the wrong spot that I was terrified to just run the drop blind.The entrance dropped over a 4ft ledge with a good hole. There was a small eddy on the right beside the hole at the lip of the drop.Survival instinct took over and I dropped into a side surf in the hole and deflected straight into the eddy.My heart was pounding.I immediately apologized to the boys for my near miss.The drop turned out to be a clean 15 foot falls that probably could have been run anywhere,but I didn't know that.Almost used one of my nine lives,and I've only got a couple left!
I honestly can't give an accurate description of the river after this.We had kayaked and walked so much shit,it was all starting to run together.Eventually,as the evening approached,we knew we were close to the last gorges and the 3-400 ft falls near the end that required a long portage to reach the river below.Ben and I went for a long scout,with high hopes,only to find several ridiculous drops back to back that would have to be portaged.Group morale was low.We decided to camp above this last section and deal with it the next day.At our camp was a beautifully clean rapid that consisted of a long boogie rapid into a stout hole,then over a gorgeous 6 ft ledge.After the ledge it charged into a sick double drop of maybe 25 ft.Everybody saved it for the morning except Ben and I,who only ran down to the ledge,taking out at camp above the double drop.
     We found the remnants of a fire ring at our chosen camp spot and rebuilt it.Dark clouds rolled over the horizon as the sun went down,and it began to thunder a little.As I lay in my bivy,lightning lit up the sky,the wind blew hard and it began to rain.I tucked in tight to wait it out.
  After a restless night in the rain,I awoke feeling fatigued.I weighed my options.My anxiety got the best of me and I decided to portage the entire last gorge and the big falls in one long portage.I announced my decision to the team,and told them I was fine to walk alon, but Ben came along while the other 4 dropped in.
We portaged high,while they ran some sick drops and portaged a lot at river level.The above photo shows one of the nicer drops,but it still had a nasty log just above the lip that Bren and Manger both got uncomfortably close to.
  To my surprise,the portage route I had chosen wasn't bad at all, and Ben and I were on the ridge partway through the mandatory  portage in 30 minutes,waiting and watching from afar to see the crew emerge from the gorge.
After a good while,we finally saw them get out and begin to walk around the falls pictured above.Half an hour later the crew was together again,and we made our way around the big falls to the valley.
  This was the view downstream halfway through the big portage.So epic!
   After some route finding issues and a little rope work,we made it back down to the river.A short bit of continuous boogie water flattened out into the incredible South fork little wind valley.It was 6 miles to the reservoir and our takeout,and we knew we still had one major obstacle left:a short limestone gorge a few miles above the reservoir.We entered the gorge and ran the first bit and got out to scout.The first descent crew reported running this blind in the dark,so we had hopes of being able to route it.Unfortunately,some rocks must have moved from high flows or something,because the whole thing was horrible looking and we all decided to portage.The portage was very difficult.After a long scout,we decided to portage at river level and do a delicate ferry to finish the portage on the other side.During the scout, I got involved in some of the sketchiest vertical dirt climbing on earth looking for a high route around the gorge.I clung to roots and bushes for dear life in search of a feasible portage route,but saw nothing good.Ben had found a route we could take at river level and led the way.Bens portage was a thing of beauty in some sort of sick and twisted way.He made the delicate ferry move and got out to grab any bitches that needed grabbing,and one by one we got to the other side of the river and finished the portage.
We paddled the final bit of river into Washakie reservoir and battled the white caps for a mile or two across the lake.The South Fork of the Little Wind river is a magical and brutally rugged place.As I have said before,"For the best whitewater,go to California.But nothing in the U.S. beats Wyoming for adventure".The Wind River range holds a special place in my heart.I have now completed 3 expedition runs in the Winds: North fork Little Wind from Twin lakes,first descent of the upper gorges of the north fork of Bull Lake creek into bull lake proper,and now South Fork Little Wind from Onion Meadows to Washakie reservoir.
    I have had the pleasure to paddle and travel with some very good paddlers and could not have been successful if not for all of them.Matthew Wallace,Dalton Creech,Mason Robinson,Jordy Searle,Nick Murphy,Jim Janney,Bren Orton,Matthew Beauchamp,Mike Patterson,Matt Anger,and Ben Bernhard,all though none of you may ever want to paddle with me again after the hell missions I have gotten you involved in,I'm down any time I can make it happen. Thanks. CM

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