Organized by Next Adventure and Alder Creek, the NWCC is held at the Sunset Falls Campground in Washington an hour north of Portland. It consists of two races: a race down the East Fork Lewis, starting with a short sprint to a 10-foot waterfall and Class III cruising. “The section of river is really pretty and makes for a fun trip when you aren’t trying to see how fast you can get through it,” says Pyranha’s Dave Fusilli, whose Demshitz crew claims they indisputably won the party Saturday night. “It might have been freezing cold and raining but that didn’t stop us from building a fire, turning up the music and raging into the night. There was a definite excitement in the air about the upcoming runoff both for Washington and California.”
The next day saw the “hangover” race on Canyon Creek, admittedly on a touch harder course. “I was pretty happy to only get lost once and take just one hole ride,” says Fusilli, adding the highlight was landing a smooth line off the 20-foot waterfall in the middle.
Results: Day 1:
1. Dane Jackson
2. Brenden Wells
3. Colin Hunt
4. Dave Fusilli
5. Kyle Anderson
1. Nicole Mansfield
2. Beth Morgan
3. Tracy Tate
4. Anna Wagner
5. Jordan Slaughter
Results: Day 2:
1. Isaac Levinson
2. Rush Sturges
3. Dane Jackson
4. Greg Lee
5. Sam Swanson
1. Nicole Mansfield
2. Anna Wagner
3. Tracy Tate
4. Beth Morgan
5. Jordan Slaughter
Full results HERE
Nick Hinds: A Road Warrior’s Tale of Racing, Swimming and Beer Bootie Drinking at the NWCC
After a two year hiatus from visiting the Northwest Creeking Competition, 2017 was a revival in the creek racing scene for my 26th year of paddling and 37th year on this earth. I decided to roll down Thursday night from Seattle to the Sunset Falls campground, just downstream of the put in for the classic East Fork of the Lewis waterfall section. With rain in the forecast I had high hopes of a medium water level for the Saturday competition on the EFL and Sunday race on Canyon Creek of the Lewis.
I rolled in after dark to about 15 vehicles spread out throughout a quiet and unpopulated campground. Getting up early on Friday and heading to the CC for some laps ended up to be quite entertaining. A friend had swam the previous day and their boat was stashed just downstream of the beginning of the racecourse/above the boulder garden rapid. We boated down to the kayak on our first lap with an extra sprayskirt and a cam strap, fashioning a closed deck buoyant ghost riding machine! The large Mamba had pretty great lines through it all, getting some air time out of some holes, classic pirouettes and maybe an air screw or two. The second lap was quick and our crew was feeling primed for a great weekend.
Back at the Campground things started getting crowded on our return. Isaac pulled up and Dane Jackson’s outfitted sick road warrior sprinter with boat trailer. Soon after Dave Fusilli and the Pyranha Van pulled up. World Class Academy rolled in and took over an entire field with two huge fully loaded vans. It was starting to look like race weekend! I was invited to have some food Friday night with the organizers. Having never been to the welcome Dinner at Oly’s downstream, I didn’t know what to expect.
Let me start here. I walked with Paul Kuthe and our friend Dave across the river and meandered down to a private residence overlooking a gorgeous property and Sky Pilot with flowing side waterfalls. Oly is a legendary artist who holds down a spread like no one has ever seen with his amazingly kind wife, putting up with years of tomfoolery by the kayaking community. In every corner of their property was another amazing structure, a garden gnome made by chainsaw, a dragon, welded sculptured, half-buried broken kayaks, fantastic outbuildings, and a barn/shop/bar with the original Wave Sport X prototype, slalom boats, squirt boats and a massive variety of unique designs. I thought to myself after the dinner, these guys have it made, live the life and are amazingly awesome people. They fed 35 people who put this race together and set up the festival the most delicious beef and chicken taco and burrito spread seen north of the Mexican border. It dawned on me that Oly was a huge part of the kayaking community and that his family loved hosting this community. I had met him and his son on the run eight years prior with my first trip down, he was paddling an older slicey Perception playboat and having a ball. It was starting to feel like my crowd as I talked about boat designs and runs with Jacob Cruiser and Darren Dangerdeeds, so of the well represented authors in the new Paddling Pacific Northwest Whitewater guidebook for the region.
Before it got dark I left the fire circle to see if more paddling buddies had arrived. I chatted with some of the circle of pros hanging behind the Pyranha Van as Fusilli tried to light wet wood repeatedly with Liquid Boyscout. Sipping some whiskey from a flask and getting the fire lit took some time and more white gas, but we finally had an inferno and the tall tales were told all around the fire. A certain moonshine-swilling pro passed a jar or two around and everyone tried to keep warm.
With the rain never developing into the promised storm, Saturday morning was gorgeous, with the water level hanging at a friendly low. It was shallow for all competitors but enough water to be not quite pinny. Getting one early morning race practice lap on EFL got me primed for the event and familiar with a course I hadn’t been on in three years.
The competitor meeting hosted by Paul Kuthe of Alder Creek and Deek of Next Adventure showed the cooperation of most all of the Oregon shops in hosting this event. Andy and Bax and Kayak Shed also were there lending support. The crowd whooped and hollered as race rules and schedules were described, each competitor got their bib and time trials were set for just after a mass start cleared the course. All the mass start crowd shuttled up a mile upstream of the Sunset Falls racecourse time trials start to keep boaters from landing on each other on the largest falls on the course.
As I sat in the eddy at the starting line, we all impatiently waited for the mass start to come through. Bumping and talking crap in the eddy with the 30 or so most eager time trail racers that were not participating in the mass start is always a hilarious beginning.
We watched as Dane came firing through the top drop above Sunset with a huge lead after the first mile. Astounded we waited for a lot of seconds before the second wave following the leader showed up. The matured prodigy came in scorching with form and a really serious look of determination on his face. The other competitors who were crashing into each other through the pinched drop above Sunset battled towards the lip as they fanned out running the three different available lines on Sunset falls. It was utter chaos. A few minutes later the ladies battled through in a tighter and close race coming through the top of the course.
My turn came up and I made sure to try to come out as hot as possible out of the gate opting for the scrappy center line off Sunset and hustling through the flat water as much as possible. After staying in the flow in each spot I wanted to, paddling as hard as my poor neglected cardiovascular system would allow, I reached the finish gasping. It appeared that I made it to the bottom of the classic Class IV section spent but feeling descent about my out of shape performance.
I cheered on my Seattle homies as they one by one hit the takeout. Spirits were high on the shuttle back up. Most folks wandered about and watched the rafters and variety of kayakers, a C-1 LL Stinger Race Boat, Long Boats, IKs, and even an inflatable mustache ride down the falls from a great vantage point on river right. In a crescendo of hucking a bold rider took a lifesized inflatable rubber duck down the falls holding on, floating in backwards. Cheers and applause were heard around as the river community and onlookers enjoyed the show, at one point an unfortunate incident did occur where a boater was recirculated at the base for an unfortunate amount of time. All and all the volunteers and racers had a fantastic day, with a few incidents and high spirits for the post race BBQ and awards.
We waited in the rain as EFL results were shouted with a bullhorn, some huddled under tents shouting applause while others stood with their Gore-tex coats protecting them from the downpours and hail.
Exhausted from a day of swilling beers and chatting post race, I found myself curled up in the van under two sleeping bags at 9 pm. Being old, and realizing a big morning was ahead, I told myself to get to sleep. When I got up for the 1:30 a.m. beer-processing break I could still see fires going. Throughout the night I heard fireworks — the big tube mortar variety booming and cheers; people were getting rowdy. I felt cozy and old hunkering down in the Van.
At around seven I started cooking a full package of bacon in my cast iron pan. Leif Anderson’s function but tattered early ‘90s 4 Runner swayed as he got up and poked his head out. I asked if he had food, we dined in style: bacon, egg and cheese wraps with Chalula and a side of mango fueled the stoke and we headed out promptly to meet near the Canyon Creek of the Lewis.
Another race meeting and some rough-looking boaters geared up and loaded up in shuttle rigs headed of the put-in. Many haggard boaters with bleary eyes unloaded their boats and bombed down in a group through Terminator and Prelude. While the safety crew downstream were setting up shop, boaters accumulated in the eddy and on the left bank to a very concentrated point. Finally after a lot of swirling and bumping Paul Kuthe started calling out bibs to the timing crew downstream and starting racers. It was party time.
Once again I started off well and had a fast line where I wanted to on Thrasher and the boulder garden. As I approached Kahuna (the 20-foot waterfall that makes or breaks your race speed), I was feeling good and primed. Approaching this drop from left to right is tricky with an eddy at the lip bleeding into the drop. I came in a little too far right and stroked as I attempted a boof. Landing a little too right and on the boil, I flipped right and was immediately shoved into the cave which the boils push to.
As I considered pushing off, I could hear my boat grinding on the rock. I set up for a left roll and gave it a shot, came up momentarily and smashed the back of my helmet on the undercut, getting shoved over again. I held it and tried to find the purchase on my left blade I needed, repeatedly setting up and trying rolls with no success. Finally I just gave up and pulled, kicking out of my boat gasping for air.
A safety team member pulled me — spitting up water and finally breathing — to the side with a rope, helped me on shore and started corralling my full boat in the small eddy there. In the turmoil I had ripped my bib and my one functioning float bag had popped and it took a really long time for that poor guy to empty my boat. Feeling a bit dejected I got back in my boat and meandered slowly down the rest of the race course solo reflecting on my swim.
Oh well, the river is boss. It keeps you honest, keeps you humble and gives you feedback. I thought to myself as I floated, next year. The irony as I reached the race course end below Hammering Spot hit me and I saw my homies up on the bank cheering and I mimicked swimming as I passed the finish line.
I made some new friends, had a ball, ate good food and felt the lively Pacific NW boating community’s celebratory spring kick-off finally again. I hope to make it next year and big props to all the organizers, volunteers, vendors, sponsors and shops that make this event a must attend for each year! I got a slice of humble pie both days, down to the bootie beer fro my swim, and loved every second of it.
Photo Credit, Nick Baughman, the Author of the article appeasing the river gods.