Linville, Take Two
by Cassie Hayden
After being royally skunked out of the Linville on Thursday it was time for some redemption. The level was an estimated 3.3 when we first hiked in: “get you some” high, and it was down to a medium 2.54 when we made it in on Friday. Given that we had hiked the boats in the day before our energy level was significantly higher so we were off to a good start for what was going to be a long day on the river.
Babel Tower is the first drop on the run and is the testpiece as well. Since there is not much opportunity to hike out after the put-in it is said that if Babel freaks you out, hike straight back up the trail and run shuttle. Babel was good to go, now that the level was down to mere mortal standards. Babel is a straight 12-15 footer melt down line, pretty simple but seal launching right into it gives it a good kick. Everyone in our group smoothed it, and despite Mike’s deck imploding he took on very little water. Even though it was fine then it did leave a little concern about the spraydeck’s integrity for the rest of the run.
Babel is a stand-alone drop in an otherwise very continuous river with multi-move rapids between sieves and undercuts. Several times while you are paddling downstream you look down one channel to see it flow into a huge cave or just disappear completely. Not a run to just bomb blindly into rapids, the Linville requires a lot of attention and even more respect. To run a lot of the rapids it also demands that you come perilously close to several undercuts and caves; many that you could reach out and touch, some that you actually have to paddle under. Here is Mike running the left side of Hommie’s Slot, eddy out under the undercut and then ferry out in front of it trying not to get your paddle caught on the roof and therefore pulled back into it.
The exit from this drop is a slide onto rock dropping about 5 feet before you hit the rocks and the pool below. I tripped on my blade right at the lip, forcing a small Jedi move to stop what seemed to be an inevitable face plant on the rocks below. As sketchy as it was, the left undercut route was far better that the alternative right line, otherwise known as Fight Club - a ten foot boof into a small undercut cauldron with a boil guarding the only exit route. Yeah right!
With several rapids that required scouting the day took a slower pace but a safe and steady one. Ben Blake, a fellow Ex Chile guide, was our guide for the day and with three Linville newbies he had his hands full for the day. In 5 miles of very closely packed complicated rapids he did a great job of making sure we scouted the mandatory scouts, walked the mandatory portages and had enough information to get down everything else.
After portaging Drunk Tank which was our only optional portage of the day we were ready to get into the goods. Jail House went really well and with a traversing entrance around an undercut one foot to the right you had to line up to drop the rapid, rally for a boof and then swing around past a cave. This left you in a small room with nowhere to go except push up and over a rock as the whole river went underground. The entire flow just disappeared. It’s strange paddling a river where some of the time you are kayaking on 700 cfs, some of the time at 300 cfs and occasionally on nothing as you scrape over a small rock.
The day continued with more undercut drops and sieves everywhere, sometimes coming a little closer than comfortable.
Double Undercut was the most stressful of the day for me as the line, even when scouted, was not that obvious and we had to take Ben’s word that there was space in the landing to not get swept into the cave on the left. With a sweet boof and a tunnel entrance the boof next to the undercut went well leading to a sweet line past the black hole on our left. This one got me going. Dan gave us a little scare when he flipped right above it leading his bow to flow under the undercut while upside down. Fortunately he was far enough out to flush through and only really freaked Ben and I out a little bit.
The day continued much like that until the climax of the run after a couple larger drops with Cathedral Gorge - the jewel of the run in the most beautiful setting of the day. Cathedral is a mile-long gorge with many drops climaxing in the 15-foot Cathedral Falls. Combined with a complicated lead-in and several undercuts along the way it was worth the stress to boof the hell out of it and enjoy the view back up the gorge. The Linville was one of my favorite rivers I have ever paddled with some great people.
After clearing the gorge we had to negotiate one more difficult rapid, which one of the locals referred to as “One last way to die”. Bastard, call it fluffy bunny next time. Then it was the hike out: 1.2 miles straight uphill gaining something like 1100 feet.
See you on the Green tomorrow.