The river was incredibly loud. Louder still when I tried to push it from my mind at night. The rushing sound could have been confused for a jet aircraft taking off and the drone of a busy motorway. It was our constant backing track. Crystal clear water, keen to answer gravity's call, and tumble down through the hills, over pebble beds, as quickly as it could. Today we planned to join the water. It would be our first proper paddling day of the trip. The upper Wind River is graded 2+ water. How challenging a river will be is represented as a grade between 1 & 6. One is great for picnics, 6 is death on a stick. Learn more about the grades (or class as it is known in North America) here. We were very deliberate in picking the difficulty of river. Our training in the UK had been on grade 3 water, and in the case of the River Dart, snow melt water in spate. I had been keen to ensure that we would know at the point that faced us now, looking at the Wind, that we would be able to deal with anything it threw at us. Looking back now I wonder whether this was over zealous. The brutality of the training, and particularly the visit to the hospital following the River Barle, perhaps only eroded Niall's confidence and caused sleepless nights for our wives! The truth is I felt really comfortable at grade 2 and my main worry was whether it would look too tame in the filming. This wasn't a Sunday afternoon jolly though. This was the cornerstone of our decision on grade. We wanted a challenge, we wanted it to be wild, but we also wanted a better than fair chance of making it through without capsize and certainly minimize the risk of injury. We also had high value camera gear on board so the priority was - no heroes - just get down the river in one piece!
|The Upper Wind River|
What was to follow was some of the finest open boating I have ever experienced. If this one section of river was in Europe I have no doubt it would be one of the most sought after and enjoyed. In some ways the river running was straight forward, but with frequent shingle banks threatening to ground the boat, and deadly strainers on both banks there wasn't a dull moment. A couple of times we nearly became unstuck. Caught up in the rush of a fast bit of current, we would realize too late that we where on a path to collide with the horrifically jagged branches of a downed dead tree. Despite frantic paddling, our glorified bath tub, merely lumbered a little. I spent a lot of my time standing in the front of the boat trying to absorb as much information as I could from the rivers horizon. I would then sit back down and we would take on that section and then go back to scouting. This 'read and run' method meant that we didn't lose the momentum by stopping all the time to check the path ahead. The only time we did have to stop properly was a left hand bend in the river were the main flow disappeared under a collection of dead trees. This would have been a one way ticket section. The consequences of being sucked under that web of destroyed trees would undoubtedly be fatal and I'm not even sure our bodies or gear would make it to the surface for quite some time. I had noticed a drop in the flow ahead and some deep subconscious switch had turned on the alarm bells. We pulled up on the bank river right. Had we drifted left our best paddling would have been useless. The current traveling at over 15km per hour and the weight of the boat - our destiny would have been sealed. As it turned out, we could gingerly maneuver the boat past the danger, and into a much shallower but less life threatening course.
Still moving at pace we rounded a left hand corner. Having spent most of the morning chatting I fell silent before uttering the assertive whisper - "Moose". The noise of the river and wind direction had masked our arrival and an oblivious bull moose was crossing the fast flow just ahead of us. Unable to stop I made a scramble for the GoPro and did my best to not crash the boat whilst keeping my head cam trained on our new found friend. He seemed a little surprised once he had clocked us but not scared. He watched us float past and gave us an indignant shake of his tail before wandering off. This was our first principle wildlife sighting and we couldn't believe our luck in having been on the that corner at that particular moment. As soon as we were ashore though it was clear that there was a lot going on that we just didn't know about. The soft sand of the river bank could be read like a newspaper; providing us with the stories of beasties coming and going. There were tracks from birds, more moose, caribou and even wolves.
To us this place was wilderness. It was just starting to become clear that whilst it might appear vast and barren to our eyes, beyond that naive view, there was life happening everywhere around us. Simple analysis of the chances of us being on that stretch of river, and being down wind, at that specific moment that Mr Moose decided to cross showed a low probability. When we saw how much was going on, leaving tracks, it begged another question though. How many encounters just like that were we missing?!
|Strange Geology - McKenzie Mountains|