My reason for posting on this forum was (and I say it again) to inject a little history of Stikine river running into this discussion. I didn't jump in here to claim a first descent, or debate what a first descent is or isn't, or what a raft is or isn't, or to dis the CC crew (which I have not done nor would I ever do). But since Ihowemt (Laura) seems hell bent on a debate, and has decided that my bringing this history to light is ''weak'', hey babe - lets have at it. In the meantime Laura, please have a look at a dictionary since it appears that you are unclear about the meaning of the word descent; and while you're at it, do a little research on how the term 'first descent' has been commonly used throughout the history of river running. To my knowledge, no one has appointed you to be the person in charge of deciding what these words and terms mean, so I'll simply say that I disagree with your definition - as does every other significant river historian - and leave it at that. I'll finish this point of disagreement by also saying that I have not claimed that my team made a first descent of the complete Stikine canyon
. My first posting has made this clear. I'd appreciate it much if you didn't put words in my mouth.
If you are upset by what some have posted about the creature craft crew, don't confuse me with them - some of these posters are most definitely out of line and you have reason to be upset. It sounds like they are friends of yours, and you are justified in defending them. This team, without a single doubt (in my mind at least), has completed the first descent of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine in a creature craft(s). Anyone else who attempts the Stikine in a CC will be following in their wake. This is a note worthy accomplishment and deserves the respect of the river running community.
When I ran the CG of the Stikine in 1985, it was in a raft. An inflatable that you cannot roll, an inflatable that you cannot/should not seat belt yourself into, an inflatable that doesn't allow you to bounce like a beach ball over and around features if you fuck up your line, and an inflatable from which you cannot launch a drogue to drag you out of muncher holes. This is NOT a put down of CC's, these are just factual differences that are at play when it comes time to chose which boat you will launch at put-in. The GC of the Stikine was then, as it is now, a section of river in which a swim is most likely a death sentence. In this context, a kayak or a CC is a much more sensible craft to use than a raft, and I totally understand why this team would chose a CC rather than a raft.
In 1985, an inflatable contraption like a creature craft was not even on the horizon, it might as well have been a spaceship. In all honesty, if a CC had of existed then, it's possible that my team might have used one, though I doubt it. We were all very talented but foolhardy young men and women who found themselves born into the golden age of river exploration. We felt that we were on top of the heap - the best the sport had to offer... such is youth. As it was, in 1985, a SOTAR was exactly that... a State Of The Art Raft - the first of its kind - and prior to the invention of this marvel, what we accomplished on the Stikine would have been suicide to consider. Before self-bailers, I had run many class 5 rivers in bucket boats (a non self-bailer to you youngsters out there), including a number of first raft descents in California and Oregon. I still remember the first time I was in a SOTAR - it was a prototype and I was invited by my friend Jim Cassidy, its inventor, to test it on the first raft descent of the South Fork of the Salmon in Idaho. I was amazed at the difference that the raft made, and remember thinking that as a Class 5 raft guide, I was now suddenly out of a job - in my mind, with this new raft, anyone could run the shit.
This brings me to a very important point. The growth and advancement in river running has been primarily due to technological advances in equipment - not the 'size or weight of one's balls', or even the skill of the rafter/kayaker/creature crafter. Human beings haven't really physically evolved that much in the last million years or so - it's our knowledge (the collection of countless years of trial and error) and our toys that have made the advances. Don't mistake my meaning... it takes real skill to run the Stikine in a kayak or a raft without killing yourself in the attempt - (not having any experience with a CC, I'll not comment on how it compares to the others) but combined with this skill; it is the invention and use of helicopters, plastic kayaks, self-bailing rafts and now 'creature crafts' that have made the descents of the Stikine possible without a loss of life (until this past year). Were these tools not available, and the knowledge gained from those who came before us, any descent of the Stikine would not have been possible.
Each advancement has led to the next, each accomplishment has fueled the next, each paddler today stands firmly on the shoulders of the efforts and skills of those who came before them. No doubt someday a craft will be designed that can do all the CC can do and more - huck off 80 meter falls and run narrow slots while brewing a cup of espresso and blasting out your favorite tunes. It's really just a matter of time, and then the debate will be about some other minutia nonsense. Modern mountaineers marvel that the pioneers climbers did what they did with the gear of their time, so do the current crop of kayakers marvel that the first runs of the Stikine canyon were done in Perception Dancers. If Laura thinks it's weak to bring up the fact that an inflatable SOTAR ran the Stikine 27 years ago (and I'm damn proud to have been a part of that effort), so be it. Everybody's entitled to an opinion.
Whether a CC is a raft or not, I'll leave that up to future history books and the collective opinion of boaters everywhere to decide - which they will do regardless of my scribblings and rants. I will say however, that inter tubes, rubber duckies, inflatable canoes, inflatable kayaks (the list goes on) are all inflatables that can be rowed or paddled on a river - and I'll take a wild and reckless chance and say that it would be a huge stretch of the truth to call these craft 'rafts'. In the same vein, and for the time being, I'll exercise my right to stick to the most common usage of the term 'raft' and put the noble Creature Crafts into some other category of inflatable river craft. A car is not a motorcycle, a motorcycle is not a bicycle, etc. etc. Furthermore, in my humble unsolicited opinion, a 'raft' has yet to make a successful complete descent of the GC of the Stikine, and the CC team piloted the second 'inflatable craft' through the canyon... but who really cares, at a some point it is all semantics.
Of much more significance than the 'who' or the 'what' is the 'where'. The Stikine humbles the very best in the world of river running - no matter what boat you choose to run it in. Unless you have been there yourself, my words probably hold little weight - but if you have, you know exactly what I mean. This canyon is many steps above almost anything else that has currently been run (the Tsangpo Gorge in southeastern Tibet is the only other river section that comes to mind that may beat it) and has surprisingly held this title since it was first attempted in 1981. It is a 1000+ foot deep canyon walled by impossible sheer cliffs, filled with big volume Class 5+ rapids, and is dropped smack in the middle of the B.C. Canadian wilderness - one of the most remote and inhospitable regions of the planet. ''Serious'' and ''awesome'' have real meanings here - they're not just words to be tossed around after doing the latest local gnar run. The Stikine is a place where swimming is NEVER an option, where dying on the river is a very real and constant fear in the forefront of your mind, even for the very best paddlers. Rescue, even with a helicopter at hand, is not an option to be relied upon. The Stikine, my brothers and sisters, is the real deal.
I heard about that raft descent and always wondered. That is pretty sweet though that they got a raft in there. Just for curiosity did the raft run a lot of the big rapids or the in between stuff. Also were there any flips on the trip. I have always wanted to pick someones brain a bit about this. Definitely pretty sweet they were in there in a conventional raft even if they only ran 70% (which is a lot when referring to the stikine).
Dan, since you asked, as I remember it, we ran every rapid that we came up against, with the exception of Site Zed, although after 27 years and thousands of river miles later, I admit that my memory of every event and decision on that trip is not 100% reliable. Unlike today, GoPros weren't around to record every moment to throw up on You Tube. We did not flip, if we had, there is an excellent chance that I wouldn't still be around to write this. We portaged Entry Falls, (as did two members of the kayak team), but returned and ran it later at the end of the trip when the water level had dropped a bit. The average flow was between 10,000 - 12,000 CFS but it jumped up and down significantly. In my estimation, we ran approximately 70-75% of the canyon, although some of the team reckoned it be more like 80%. No GPS's existed in those days to get an accurate fix in an unknown canyon so this also not 100% clear. The lower 2/3's of the 'lower narrows' section of the canyon was the part that we were forced to fly over. It has a handful of difficult features - but the major rapid on this section is V-Drive which is situated near the end of the narrows. By the estimations of most of the kayakers I've spoken too that have run it, is second only to Site Zed. It is very likely that we would have portaged V-Drive if we'd had the chance to run this section of the canyon... since no one had ever run (or attempted to run, or had an opportunity to run) V-Drive in any craft until our trip in 1985, it would be one scary rapid to attempt in a SOTAR. It's hard to say.. I never had the chance to see it first hand except in the flyover, but as I remember, it looked like there was no route that could be threaded without flipping. Flipping ( which equals swimming in a conventional raft) in this section of river is not an option. In retrospect, it is possible that not running this part of the Stikine in our SOTAR saved a life or two... but I'm speculating and we will never know.
Just my opinion, but from watching these debates, this is where I sorta see general boating community consensus:
First Descent: most often the first run between point A and point B. Not everything needs to be run, but you also can't walk all the gnar.
If you put in, but don't reach the takeout, that is not a descent. It is an attempt. Portaging a rapid is not the same as bailing out and exiting the river at an unplanned spot. One could question whether chopper support in and out of the canyon qualifies as a descent in the first place ....
I mostly agree with your definition. Forgive me that I don't have the time or inclination to write up every detail of how this trip came down - suffice it to say that the chopper was moving us up and down the canyon for camping and scouting purposes - not in and out, and not to make portages around the "gnar". This is not unusual in first descents of cliffed out rivers of this caliber. As for "gnar", the easy stuff on this river is the "gnar" you find on most other Class 5 runs. We ran the easy and the gnar gnar. The raft team did not abort the run - 'the trip was aborted' was a poor choice of words on my part that Laura has latched onto - a more accurate description is 'the raft team got screwed in the ass by the film crew', and unfortunately with their dicks firmly implanted in our rectums we couldn't continue paddling. In a sheer walled canyon that no one had ever seen before, much less run, no chopper support for scouting or rescue meant we'd have to rely on pure dumb luck if we continued. We were foolhardy, but not stupid - and nobody had any desire to swim and die. This choice was no choice, and it was accepted with great frustration, anger and resentment. People can take that how they will and yammer on about portaging, etc. - I don't really care. As anyone knows who has done an expedition that is being paid for by a film crew, the paddlers unfortunately have little or no say in these decisions. Once the kayak crew had run the section successfully, knowledge was gained and now future paddlers know what they're up against. Such is the nature of first descent expeditions.
Already I've written far more here than about this trip than I have ever done before in my life or intended to - and I'm done. Laura, I'm sure you'll have more to say, I just realized that you started this thread so it's certainly your right to do so... and after more than 2500 posts, you obviously feel that folks are interested in your words. It''s unfortunate though that so many on this forum, seem to be so laser focused on picking apart the minutia - rather than celebrating the accomplishments that we've all (rafters, kayakers, canoeists, and now ccérs) have collectively made in the sport. As someone who has rowed and paddled all over the world for the last 46 years and truly loves river running and exploration, it saddens me that such silliness has become the norm.
If anyone does attempt to run the Stikine in a raft in the future, I'll be happy to give them the important details that I can remember - if they want. As each successive generation steps up, I'll do what I can to help those that ask. My friend Rob Lesser believes that specifics of the Stikine should not be given except to identify certain lethal spots. Í agree. I'll quote from Doug Ammons who couldn't have said it better - 'The sense of mystery defines an essential part of the river's challenge, so every team should be given the opportunity of feeling the pressure, stress, and exhilaration of a first descent. The Stikine isn’t a notch on your belt, it’s a force of nature and a gift to us all. Keep your team small and let the canyon speak loudly to you. You won’t regret it.''
Enough of pounding the keyboard. This old man will now tuck his faded memories back into his hat and shut up.
Joe Willie Jones