Making Skis in China and Mentoring on the Whitewater Rivers of Tibet

Ganden Monastery outside Lhasa

Time to refuel

In July of 2011, having spent exactly a year traveling the world to fly, paddle, and climb, my meager reserve was completely spent.  No choice but to get to work and fuel back up.  It took a long time to re-organize my thoughts after complete travel immersion, but eventually I re-assimilated and was ready to get to work.  I jumped at the offer by previous employer Black Diamond Equipment to spend a month in Asia working on ski production.  So just as my feet were planted again, I was back in orbit traveling to the facility of a vendor-partner who was executing BD ski production at the time.

Mixing up some kool-aide at BD’s ski factory

Working in Asian factories is challenging on many levels: long days, cultural and communication difficulties, deadline and costing pressures, and of course the vast distance from home.  However the most significant personal challenge is the existential complication of working offshore in the contemporary global and economic landscape.  I am just a ski bum from the Atomic City – talented enough as a thinker and engineer – who through a series of events driven by my passion as a skier found myself on the floors of an Asian factory.  Again.  This was my 10th trip to Asia, 8th trip as engineering representative for BD.  Same as always I was careful to use the opportunity to expand my awareness and understanding of the world, while working hard to create something with purpose.  In this case skis.

The Urban Wilderness of Hong Kong

The Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbor

On the weekends, I took a train back to Hong Kong to re-set in the transitional HK culture that is the result of so many years of British Colonialism.  Hong Kong is easily navigated by a Westerner, has a spectacular subway and bus system, and is literally surrounded by spectacular expanses of urban wilderness.  BD has a small apartment on Hong Kong Island, from which one can quickly access hundreds of miles of beautiful jungle trails with springs, streams, pools, and side-country wilderness.  Yet from deep in the urban wilderness you can often look out and see the tops of some of the richest buildings in the world poking above the trees in the distance.

Thermal flying on Lantou Island

HK is also known for having interesting paragliding in the steep, jungled, coastal terrain, so of course I brought my travel kit.  I had a couple good flights throughout the month, including a thermal session and several drop-out laps at Lantou Island.  Being a ‘point-rat’ from SLC my flying techniques were unfamiliar to the local crew – I spend as much time as possible with my feet above my wing – and it took a while for them to warm up to me.  But eventually we found our common ground, and I was even invited on the HK club’s annual winter trip to Taiwan.

Feet over Wing, Pat Sin Leng, Hong Kong

Inland and Up

At the end of the month, with traction gained at the ski factory, I boarded a plane heading inland and up.  Unbeknownst to my supervisor I had flown to Hong Kong on a two-month ticket, and arranged to spend the month of August volunteering as a whitewater mentor in Lhasa with the guiding company Tibet Wind Horse Adventure.  Tibet’s only whitewater guiding operation, Wind Horse Adventure is a highly esteemed guiding operation for all variety of Tibetan adventure and culture trips.  Additionally, they have ties to profound figures in the western world such as my personal inspiration Robert Thurman, the renowned western scholar of Tibetan Buddhism.  I had established the contact with Wind Horse the previous year while traveling through Tibet with my girlfriend on a budget tour.  Access to Lhasa is challenging – even as a paying tourist – so the prospect of spending a month exploring the Tibetan vibration with a decent level of autonomy was too good to be true.

Sky burial sight at Ganden Monastery outside of Lhasa

To start I would be safety boating for a guided raft trip on the Reting Tsangpo with a group of international expat executives.  Jed Weingarten was to guide the trip, and I was eager to make the acquaintance of such a profound figure from the kayaking world.  We all met up at the Lhasa airport, and together spent a couple days adjusting to the altitude in Lhasa while checking out the classic sights.  Then we loaded a heap of gear into the trucks and rambled off in to the hills.

Reting Tsangpo

Navigating the road along the flooded banks of the Reting Tsangpo

The forces of nature were resisting our efforts, and as we left the streets of Lhasa behind we entered a storm that did not abate for the entire trip.  The remote roads along the approach became hopelessly muddy and wet, so that our trucks were repeatedly stuck.  Brutal winds tore at our tents and shelters.  All the while the flow of the river slowly increased from the rain, to reach an eventual torrent that was breaking out of the banks of the Reting Tsangpo.

The whitewater on the river packed a surprising punch at such volumes, and was fast enough to flush all the way through to the Reting Monastery in a single day.  Despite (and because of) some tribulations, it was not an experience that will soon be forgotten by anyone involved.

Rolling toward the madness, with yak herders watching from the shore

Practicing rescue scenarios

Back in Lhasa, I spent the next three weeks working on river safety and kayak skills with the local river guides of Tibet Wind Horse Adventures.  We practiced a quiver of knots, simulated pin and rescue scenarios, swam in a pool, swam rapids on the local river, and worked on kayak techniques and paddle strokes.  Together with the guides, we also explored some of the surrounding valleys and soaked in the local hot springs.  In the evenings, I pounded out ski training laps with the young athletic standout Norbu, hiking from town to surrounding temples and local summits – often over 15,000ft!

Ski training in the Lhasa alpine

Walking Kora laps around the pillars that once staked down the Ogress

However, what remains most clearly fixed in my mind are the Kora laps around the Jokung Temple, often late into the dark rainy nights.  Kora is the meditative walk practiced by the Tibetans – always clockwise and often accompanied with prayer beads and wheels – around any spiritual monument or temple.  The Jokung Temple is a non-descript yet pivotally important monument in Tibetan Buddhism.  The ancient temple is built on the sight of the slaying of a giant Ogress, who had restricted the spread of Dharma throughout Tibet.  While I generally avoid attachment to the specifics of lore and scripture, my mind is sufficiently tuned to subtle energies to pick up the reverberating wavelengths broadcast by countless generations of meditation that have encircled this barycenter.

Hole punching and river theory

At the end of the month, we loaded up the Green Machine and took a trip out to the Drigung Chu for a final weekend of whitewater and hot springs on a little gem located up a remote Tibetan valley.  The Drigung River offered us a perfect opportunity to practice our new skills in a wild and beautiful setting.

We spent the night at the Drigung Hot springs, which are set in a magnificent alpine valley surrounded by a Tibetan Nunnery.

Drigung Nunnery and Hotsprings

While the waters are reputed to have healing properties, the squalor of our discount room surely diminished the effects..

Dirty accommodation at the Drigung Hotsprings

The next day we finished with a final lap on the river, then loaded up the green machine to head back to Lhasa.

Tibet’s Kayakers at the takeout of the Drigung Chu

I spun a few final laps of Kora around the Jokung, trying to solidify my feeble mind against the candy-coated mayhem that awaited me on the other end of a trans-pacific flight.  With the duality of excitement and remorse that is the traveler’s plight, I boarded a plane and set off on the radical trans-Himalayan flight to begin the journey towards my home, my girl, and my dog once again.

Little White Salmon

Following jedi master Jed Weingarten down the Little White

While flying is a relatively new focus, kayaking has been a lifelong pursuit and a defining aspect of my existence.  When life led me away from river country to the paraglide mecca of SLC, it was quite natural that I learned to fly.  The two activities share striking similarities – both crafts are controlled by the hips in opposition with a blade (the tips of the wing on the glider), and both involve harnessing the chaos of a dynamic fluid/gaseous medium.  However the differences are also quite stark: the obvious difference of being a boat versus a wing in water versus air; the energetic difference that the dynamics of water are driven by gravity whereas the dynamics of air are driven primarily by the heat of the sun; and subtly but very significantly the difference in the state of the mind and the energy of mental focus.

During my recent two point five weeks in Oregon, I had the opportunity to do some of both.

Jogging the shuttle with Odie

In addition to the warm up on the North Umpqua with my girlfriend, I also did a handful of laps on the local town stretch of the Deschutes river ‘Meadow Camp’ in Bend.  Together with my dog Odie, we would drop my boat and drive the shuttle, then jog along the river back up to my boat at the put-in.  Odie has quite a bit of experience running the banks of rivers, so that once we establish him up on the trail I can bomb down the main current in my boat while he runs the trail.  I tweet my whistle often enough that he can keep tabs on my position as the trail winds along the river.  It’s definitely one of his favorite activities and he maintains a huge dog-face plastered on his handsome mug.  But after a few laps on the quality class IV, I was ready for more.

Therein lies my kayaking dilemma: I paddle just barely enough to maintain my skills so that I desire more challenge, but not enough that I am super sharp and dialed stepping up to stout class V.  A recurring event over the last 5 years is that I find myself nervously climbing in my boat at the top of a challenging class V run, with the primary mental assurance being that ‘a year ago I was able to do this..’  It’s not much to stand on.

But so it was that I found myself in central Oregon desiring more challenging whitewater.  So I loaded up my creek boat and headed North, pulled in particular by the gravitation of the Little White Salmon, which is notorious for being one of the highest quality steep creek runs anywhere.  As I drove, the battle between attraction towards the river and repulsion from my unpreparedness played itself out time and again in my thoughts.  But still I drove on.

Camped out in the rain in river country, Oregon

As it turned out my friend Jed Weingarten, whom I met in Tibet last summer, happened to be in the area to shoot photos of a downriver race that was going on at the Little White at exactly that time.  More than 50 radical young kayakers from around the globe were gathered outside of Hood River to race down this steep creek, and I missed them by just a day.  But I caught up with Jed and company in Portland, and the following day Jed was granted a hall pass and agreed to route me through a lap.  Jed is a Little White veteran and part of the core LW crew – having run the river for nearly 20 years – there is no one better to follow down the steep rapids.

We drove up the Columbia gorge from Portland in Kingston style, so that by the time we reached the takeout and had a quick look at the migrating salmon at the Little White Salmon fish hatchery observatory, I was deeply engrossed in the pulse of the water..

Jed shooting photos of the MASSIVE migrating salmon

Up at the put-in preparing to start, the mental pressure continued to bear down upon me, but I did my best to keep it cool.  After a little bit of quick boogey-water, the first rapid is a ½ mile long continuous class V boulder garden.  Too complex to describe, I was instructed to “follow me” through the line, so I just stuck to Jed’s tail and kept it pointed down river.  At the next rapid, ‘Boulder Sluice’, we jumped out to have a look at the intro down a narrow alley and off a kicker, which then disappeared over a horizon line underneath a large log.  “There will be a big boulder when you land”, he said, “you’ll see.”

Climbing back in to my boat I was verging on complete over-load and break down.  Too much pressure.  Just at that moment, I remembered that in only a few short days I would be boarding a plane and heading back in to the land of business and industry.  How deeply I would yearn for that freedom and fear – absolutely nothing in the universe but complete immersion in the experience in such a wild, beautiful place.  And just like that, the fear that I had been holding at bay for 3 days was transformed in to fuel.  I belong here.  I snapped my skirt on, splashed some water in my face, and peeled out down the spout, around the corner, down the alley, and off the kicker “just to the left of where it’s breaking,” like Jed had said.  Launching off the kicker and under the log, the landing next to the boulder came in to view.  Rowdy as could be, and she was clean!

More fuzzy pics, looking down into the canyon

From that point onwards I was on.  Floating in the eddy above each new rapid, Jed would describe the line below and finish with “but it’s really best if you just follow me.”  We bombed through rowdy boulder gardens, boofed over massive holes, and dropped beautiful waterfalls in to soft, clear-blue bubbly pools.  My run wasn’t perfect, but I did my best to stick to Jed’s lines and was clean enough.

Fuzzy photo (sorry!) of Jed and our boats in the pool below Wishbone Falls

We walked the legendary ‘Spirit Falls’, a beautiful but tricky 33 foot waterfall that has been known to hand out some beatings.  Freshening up below the falls, with only one rapid left to go, I finally pulled out out my camera so that I could film the last rapid – Master Blaster.

Freshening up with Jed below Spirit Falls and Chaos

The Little White Salmon river is one of the best class V kayak runs on the planet.  Fueled up from the awesome experience, I had just a few short days to re-package my life and put in some heavy bonding time with my dog before boarding a plane for 12 weeks out in orbit.

Packed up for the next adventure

Kayaking and Paragliding in Idaho

River tripping on the Main Salmon

longhair and his monkey in Idaho

Departure

July of 2010 I left a dream job as a quality engineer with Black Diamond in order to fulfill my longest seated aspiration of global travel and mountain adventure.  It was extremely difficult to leave.  Working for BD had enabled me to earn a good living while also evolving my mountain athletic skills.  The work was stimulating and the opportunities were expansive, I was working in foreign lands across multiple cultures, and I was growing strong bonds of friendship with a huge team of profound colleagues.  But still I had to go.  I had made a promise to myself before starting the job that I would not cut my hair until I had initiated this journey.  3.5 years of ragged hair was working it’s way down to the middle of my back, I had finally tanked up the travel fund, and it was time to go.

Paragliding and speedflying in Idaho

Together with my girlfriend Caroline, we moved to river country in Idaho to train for a month before we departed.  Between kayaking, speed flying and paragliding, I was able to stay engaged almost every day.

Paragliding Baldy, Sun Valley, Idaho

As a point-rat from Salt Lake City, with only 1.5 years of experience at the time, paragliding in the big-air of Ketchum was extremely humbling.  Rather than logging XC flights in the mountains, my sole focus was on absorbing knowledge and staying safe.  I got knocked around, took a few big collapses, and had several dirty landings.  But my luck held and I learned a bunch of lessons and added some crucial notches to my paragliding belt.

Ketchum has a small speed flying crew, which is imperative for building motivation with this very intense form of canopy flight.  Foot launching and landing a small speed-wing requires total commitment and no hesitation.  Together with Will Burks, Dan Hoffman, Adam Majors and Carel Karoulka we flew the grassy mountains surrounding Ketchum. I was grateful to fly with the crew, and together we had some awesome sessions.

Whitewater

I heart Idaho river country

Overall the main reason for hanging in Idaho was to get some time on the river.  Before moving to SLC in 2007, kayaking was my primary focus and the driving force in my life.  When I left Montana, I had finally climbed out from a 2-year shoulder injury and was progressing into the most difficult whitewater of my life.  Moving to the desert of Utah felt like suicide to me at that time.  While I was able to road-trip to enough paddling from SLC to maintain my skills through the years, slowly I was losing my edge.

eddy out

 

 

 

Also during this period I spent much of my limited river time teaching my girlfriend Caroline how to paddle, which is every bit as rewarding but in a very different way.

Sweet Caroline

Loaded up to motor across Redfish Lake for some creeking in the Sawtooths

Now we were living in Idaho with whitewater all around, and still I was spending much of the time with my girlfriend on easier rivers.  I finally confessed to myself that this was a convenient excuse to avoid the North Fork of the Payette just down the road.

 

 

North Fork of the Payette

The North Fork is a testing and training ground for the best kayakers of North America and the world.  With something like 17 miles of steep powerful class V+ whitewater, and a dam-release that extends the season well into the fall, it is the hangout for many of the strongest paddlers in the west.  As such it also a rite of passage, and still one that evades me.  7 years ago I swam on the North Fork and have since only run sections, but never cleaned it up.

bachelor party running Jacob’s Ladder

After a short summer avoiding it, our last event in the United States before departing for Asia was one that would bring me face to face with my looming adversary: a wedding party for some good friends that would draw nearly 20 North-Fork boaters together on the banks of the Payettes.  The groom, Henry Munter, was at one point the youngest to run the NF at age 14, and has paddled enough laps since (well over 100) to be quite at home amongst the maelstrom of it’s rapids.  The bachelor party for Henry was kicked off with an evening North Fork lap, en masse.

the groom Henry Munter, kayaker extraordinaire

For such things as making the call to ‘put on’, no one can tell you what you should or should not do.  The proper decision is yours alone to make.  I generally belong to the can/will/do school of thought, which has enabled me to thrive in my multi-faceted non-conventional existence, but has also brought me to the brink of destruction often enough.

punching waves on the North Fork

So I could/would/did put on with the crew, battling my nerves and struggling to maintain my composure.  My run was anything but pretty – I rolled in a handful of rapids and exerted far too much energy in my nervousness – but was overall ok.  I walked ‘Jacobs Ladder’ the crux rapid in the middle of the run, but bounced clean through the middle of ‘Bouncer’, the rapid that had taken me down all those years before.

 

Still swimming

A quarter mile above our take-out, in the last big rapid for the day, I was off line and dropped right in to the violent bus-eater hole at ‘Jaws’.  Thrashing around like a rag doll, I had little energy left in me to fight.  I surfed out of the way so that the rest of our crew could run through without knocking someone in with me, tried a quick ‘starfish’ release move, then popped my skirt and swam out of the hole with what energy I had left.  My Badass Friends plucked me out and had me back on shore so quickly that the only thing damaged was my ego and my warrior energy.  You’re not supposed to swim on the North Fork – ever.  I have now done it twice.  It looms over me and mocks me.

That night around the fire I drank my ‘swim bootie’, a whitewater tradition wherein the ‘swimmer’ consumes a beverage, typically beer, from the soggy bootie or river shoe of the ‘rescuer’.  I took great care to lick up every last drop of booty slime.  We surfed the cool evening vibrations in the way of the river people, and celebrated our man Henry’s transition to a new life.

Wedding party in the Canyon

The next morning, my girl Caroline got some redemption for me by styling the Staircase section of the South Fork Payette, which was at the time the most technical set of rapids that she had paddled.  We partied for the wedding that night with old friends.

 

 

Departure

With deep sadness we handed our dear little mongrel Odie over to live in Montana while we were gone..

Odie fetches the biggest sticks!

Caught a ride to the airport. (thanks Bob, I think you’re parked somewhere in lot C, I left the lights on so your truck will be easy to find..)

And boarded a plane with one-way tickets to Hong Kong.

Kayaking Upper Cherry Creek

Whitewater horizon lines and granite in the High Sierra

High Sierras Kayaking

The pristine granite of the Sierra Nevada Mountains formed deep underground more than 100 million years ago.  As the massif slowly lifted, glacial erosion scrubbed away the softer layers above to expose the radical granite domes and peaks within.  Each winter, coastal storms blanket the Sierras with dense and often incredibly deep snow.  In the spring, kayakers and river enthusiasts rejoice as the liquid potential melts out of this snowpack and rushes down the smooth, featured granite to create a whitewater paradise.  As the summer heats up and the snow melts further back, kayakers move from the lowland rivers progressively inland and up to the rivers and creeks in the alpine environment.  Some of the last snowmelt runs of the season in the High Sierras are the steepest, most committing, and wildest, and each has a relatively small runnable window during the ebb from raging spring flood to summer trickle.

We snuck away from busy lives to do some kayaking in the High Sierra of California a few weeks ago.  My old friend Jason Schutz swung through Salt Lake to pick me up, and after a bit of time modifying boat carry-packs in the Black Diamond sew lab and rounding up provisions in town, we jumped in the car and headed West.

Our hope was to run the Middle Fork of the Kings River, but the melt-water torrent had not yet subsided to manageable flows for this run.  Instead, we got word that Upper Cherry Creek flows were just dropping down in to range.  We ran in to the Sacramento crew at Cherry Lake, who confirmed this and planned to head in the next day.  By the time we packed up and hiked to the put-in the level would be perfect.

From the trailhead we had a half bar of cell phone service, and were able to get in touch with Brian Fletcher and Aaron Johnson, who were just getting off the North Fork San Joaquin and planning to stock up on food and then catch us on the trail.  Schutzy is a family man and I live in the desert of Utah now, so we were both coming ‘off-the-couch’ and we were glad to be teaming up with partners as solid as these two.

Shouldered up at the trailhead

After a restless night of sleep and some last-minute rigging in the morning, we shouldered our boats and started up the trail.  5 days worth of food, paddling gear and camping equipment put our loaded boats at close to 90 pounds, but at least they were awkward and un-wieldy to carry!

Hiking in to Upper Cherry Creek

We staggered off in the growing heat, focusing on efficiency as we slowly ticked off the eleven-mile approach.  A particular highlight came during the last few miles, just as we had crested the ridge and were beginning our final descent to the river, when we entered the wind-sheltered ‘mosquito alley’ and had no choice but to kick it into high gear or get sucked dry by relentless swarms of the little vampires.  Finally we made it to the river, with just enough energy remaining to wash off the day and collapse into a bug-bivy for the night.

The next morning we stretched out our crooked and compressed spines over coffee, listening to the distant rumble and pondering what lay downstream.  We kitted up and climbed in to our kayaks, and within two minutes of paddling found ourselves in an eddy above the first rumbling, frothing horizon line.  Rapids!  The scout revealed that the intro drop was a long, steep, 4-tiered slide with kickers and consequential holes.. it was going to be a long trip.  Fortunately after the ‘warm up’ rapid followed a mile or two of easy class IV moves, so we had a chance to work out the nerves and the kinks and soon we were feeling the flow.

Schutzy sub’d out in the bedrock

By the end of the day we were stomping our lines and getting used to the nature of the steep, clean, bed-rock rapids.

That night in our polished granite camp by the river we had beans, rice, and meat from a can cooked over the fire.  Then we disappeared into dreamless sleep under clear star-lit skies to the sound of the rapids below.

Image

Granite camping on Upper Cherry Creek

The following day the action picked up and we were quickly gorged-in completely, with the smooth granite walls rising directly from the river on both sides.  Scouting rapids from the shore was reminiscent of LCC slab climbing, and was often more sketchy than boat-scouting while bobbing around on the lip of the drop below.  But the whitewater was clean and we were working together to run through with minimal scouting.

Soon we came around a bend and realized that we were in the pool above the iconic and heavily anticipated ‘Cherry Bomb Falls’ – a sloping 40 foot slide-to-kicker with little margin for error and extreme consequences.  This drop is perched at the top of a long and completely committed gorge with a string of waterfalls, slides, and holes.  The lead-in to the Bomb contains the best flow level reference for Upper Cherry Creek, and the fully submerged ‘gauge’ rock meant that the water was, indeed, high.  We stood in awe, throwing logs into the massive churning ledge-hole named ‘the Weir’ that backs up the falls and watching to see how they fared.  One log after another was swallowed, thrown through a bunch of cartwheels, and eventually pushed to the left side of the hole where it flushed out against the wall.

Since we did not know the line sequence for the string of drops in the gorge below the falls, we decided to hike around and have a look.  It was a mile or more before we had a view of the entire gorge, and we took our time to memorize the line sequence through the series of rapids.

Scouting from below

As we walked back up to the boats above the falls only Brian and AJ were ‘feeling it’, so together the two of them fired up the Cherry Bomb and disappeared over horizon lines into the distance of the gorge below.

AJ dropping

Aaron Johnson dropping the falls, with Brian Fletcher waiting in the gorge below

Meanwhile Jason and I had the pleasure of hiking our loaded boats up and around the gorge and down to camp.

Dropping through the Groove Tube

We spent the night at the massive crystalline pool immediately below the gorge.  Schutzy and I ran some evening laps on the camp-side teacups, the Groove Tube, and the Perfect Twenty-footer, quietly wishing that we had been feeling strong enough to run the falls earlier in the day.

Perfect Twenty

Fortunately the next morning everyone was still thinking about the rapids above, and we all decided to head back up for another round.  We emptied all the food and gear from our boats, and hiked them several miles up for an additional warm-up before arriving once again at Cherry Bomb Falls.  This time all four of us sent the Cherry Bomb, with just a bit of surfing in ‘the Weir’ in our unloaded boats, but after working to the left she released..

Dropping the Cherry Bomb with the Weir hole below

Looking up at the Cherry Bomb from inside the gorge

Just downstream in the meat of the gorge, AJ drifted into a sleeper hole that would not let go.  He surfed long enough to try every possible escape seam and freestyle maneuver, then popped his skirt and swam while he still had breath and strength remaining.  With little available safety in the turbulent water of the sheer-walled gorge, AJ was clinging to the rock with one hand and his boat with the other and it seemed that we were in a bad spot.  Just then Fletcher came around the corner and pulled out some Jedi moves: he found a quick stopper placement to anchor himself to the rock, roped AJ and his boat over to his side, drained the boat and helped AJ back in, and snapped together a break-down paddle to send AJ on his way.  We ran the rest of slides and waterfalls of the gorge in ‘Blue Angel’ style – tight formation, full speed, and no stopping – and in a splash we were back down at the pool packing up camp with smiles all around.

Schutzy packing up camp beside the teacups

AJ soon found his redemption as he and Fletcher stomped the waterfall sequence of the Lower Pots, and shortly thereafter cleaned the left line on Dead Bear Falls.

AJ cleaning the left line on Dead Bear Falls

That night in camp, our provisions were running low and we made the decision to flush out to the car the next day.  The next morning back on the water, Upper Cherry Creek joined the confluence with West Cherry Creek, and together the flow nearly doubled and made for a nice change in the style of the water.

Schutzy below the confluence

The run ended with four final, beautiful drops draining right in to Cherry Lake.  At that point, all that stood between us and the warm PBR’s waiting in the car was a paddle across the lake and a 2-mile jog back up to the trailhead.

Upper Cherry Creek stands out as one of the highlights of my paddling career.  With stunning scenery, perfect camping, difficult and technical (yet very clean) whitewater, and a high degree of isolation and exposure, this run is truly a gem.