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Old 05-29-2013   #141
lhowemt's Avatar
at my house, Montana
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Argh, I ran out of time to edit. I was trying to say more about how significant your accomplishment was, and I do have a great amount of respect for that. What a crew, and 1985 including women. It is an amazing accomplishment.

Is there any way to see the documentary? That should not be lost, and time has a way of doing that especially as technology changes and old media ages.

I am a river, babe - I've got plenty of time, I don't know where I'm going, I'm just following the lines..... - "We are water" by Shaye
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Old 05-29-2013   #142
Golden, Colorado
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Thanks for the interesting read Willie. Any idea if the footage is still around? Now that YouTube is around, that shit needs to be posted.

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Old 05-29-2013   #143
Boise, Idaho
Join Date: Aug 2010
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Some of the footage was shown at a film night here in Boise on May 1, with Rob Lesser as a special guest host. I'm not sure who has copies of the footage - I'm sure Rob does - but it was a treat to watch. Especially with Mr. Lesser providing commentary (which completely echoes what Willie had to say).
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Old 05-29-2013   #144
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BZN, Montana
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Originally Posted by chilewillie View Post
Hi All,

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.

Dan McCain

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.

To Slickhorn:

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
Oh, ok.
The sunshine walked beside her
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Old 05-29-2013   #145
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 35
Thank you, Willie. That was really informative. I appreciate your willingness to add to the discussion.
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Old 05-29-2013   #146
Denver / Coloma / Monterey, CO / CA
Paddling Since: 1971
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 119
Lots of interesting things in this thread. I learned a lot. Huge respect to anyone who's been down the Stikine in any kind of craft. Way more than this guy will ever attempt!

A small note about a comment Willie made about the SOTAR though. While Jim Cassady designed the original SOTAR, it was an evolution of a design that was 10 years old at the time. A very good evolutionary step at that. There were self-bailing "traditional" style rafts with laced in floors working in the Grand Canyon starting in 1974, or maybe '75. Cassidy's contribution, and again it was a really important one, was that he used inflatable floors, versus simple floors that were laced in above the water line.

So, in keeping with the semantics theme of a lot of this thread, I would say he improved an already existing idea as opposed to inventing it. Again, a HUGE improvement, to give him the credit he deserves.
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Old 05-30-2013   #147
San Alfonso, Cajon del Maipo, Chile
Paddling Since: 1972
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 8
Hi All,

I've got a copy of the film on VHS somewhere. I'll try and find it and see about putting it on YouTube. I haven't looked at it in years - but now I'm curious to see how my memories stack up to the video.

lhowemt: I'm curious about the SOTAR revolutionary design. As a SOTAR nut, I have heard about the history but not really the details of what made it so. Would you share more on that with us?
Laura -In 1981, Jim Cassady was the operations manager for Bill McGiness' rafting company in California and he also was partners in a small river equipment company, 'Pacific River Supply' that sold river gear and army surplus. I worked for Bill that year and so got to know Jim pretty well. Almost from the moment I arrived in California, Jim and I, along with a handful of young guides loaded up a van with gear and a couple of rafts, and went river hopping looking for new rivers to put a raft on that cutting edge kayakers, Lars Holbek and Chuck Stanley had recently explored and thought might be possible for us. Among these trips, we did several first raft descents -one being on a section of the Cal Salmon where one of the rafts, a spanking new Avon, was almost totally destroyed in a submerged wrap (we had to cut it apart to unpin it - Bill was pissed), and a super tough run down the upper Kings that pushed us to the very limit of what was possible to run in a bucket boat.

Running these rivers really got Jim's mind turning trying to figure out a way to break the barrier by making a self-bailing raft that could better handle these steep and technical rivers. I remember being at Jim's house one day when he pulled out an inflated drop-stitched mat to show me that he had recently gotten as army surplus. The drop stitch mat was exactly what he had been trying to figure out for a while - how to create a flat inflatable floor for a raft. The technology was very expensive and under military contract, so getting the raw material and remaking it as a raft floor at that time wasn't possible. He settled on using a ribbed floor design for his prototype instead, and went out looking for a manufacturer to build it. He contacted a small company in Grants Pass Oregon - Whitewater Manufacturing - which was pretty much a one man shop at the time that was owned and run by Glenn Neuman. Glen was an IK affectionado who was building a limited production PVC IK that he had designed to compete with the thin-skinned IK's (orange torpedos) that were the only options at the time. Glenn and Jim worked together to build the boat and Jim came up with the name SOTAR. The first boat was built, I think, in 1983 and went into production in '84 with Maravia close on their heels with their own design.

On the Stikine, Maravia had sponsored us with an 18 foot self-bailer that used a drop-stitch mat enclosed in a zippered PVC sleeved floor, but testing proved that the zipper wasn't waterproof and leaked too much water which became trapped in the sleeve and added huge weight. With this problem, we called Glenn and he knocked together an 18ft SOTAR in record time and trucked it up to us. This made the trip possible so he deserves huge thanks. After the Stikine, Glenn continued experimenting and eventually did build a drop-stitch boat that didn't need a sleeve, improved on the PVC, and started micro-welding the seams, etc. when these technologies became available. The rest you know.

Kyle K: A small note about a comment Willie made about the SOTAR though. While Jim Cassady designed the original SOTAR, it was an evolution of a design that was 10 years old at the time. A very good evolutionary step at that. There were self-bailing "traditional" style rafts with laced in floors working in the Grand Canyon starting in 1974, or maybe '75. Cassidy's contribution, and again it was a really important one, was that he used inflatable floors, versus simple floors that were laced in above the water line.

So, in keeping with the semantics theme of a lot of this thread, I would say he improved an already existing idea as opposed to inventing it. Again, a HUGE improvement, to give him the credit he deserves.
Kyle - Good point and thanks for making that clear. As I said, Jim invented/developed the SOTAR, not the concept of SB rafts. The SB raft had, as you mentioned, been around for several years - they just weren't at a point where they were as useful as they are now. What Jim did was perfect the ideas of several other people. He had realized that the key to making a fast and maneuverable SB was to install an inflatable floor rather than a suspended one. Without this, the raft sat too low in the water and the exposed tube edges created too much drag.

The first SB conventional raft that I know of was the result of an accident that occurred on a San Juan river trip in the early '60's. Jack Curry, one of the pioneers of commercial river rafting, had recently replaced the balsa wood rafts he had with army surplus rubber inflatable boats because his balsa wood rafts keep getting water logged. To carry gear in the rubber boats, he suspended wooden plywood decks. On one trip, a guide ripped the floor from end to end in one of the rubber rafts, and with no way to repair the rip, they tore the floor out and continued the trip. This accident turned the raft into a SB and they found that this boat was far easier to deal with than the other rubber rafts with floors. Subsequently, Jack removed the floors from the other rafts and decked them with suspended floors.

As noted, this concept was also used with laced-in fabric floors in the 70's by Vladimir Kolvalik on the GC and other rivers. Jack's son Steve Curry, who took over his dad's company in later years, started using diamond plate aluminum floors suspended from frames and dropped them into floorless Maravias. This was the boat used on the first raft descent/attempt of the Futaleufu in 1984 - which is another story. I had the chance to use these rafts when I worked on the Bio Bio for Steve in the early days before it was dammed. The guides hated them in comparison to the SOTARs because of the weight and drag, but it got the job done.

Kyle, your father Vladimir is in my mind the most influential pioneer of raft design to date, as well as being a leader in developing commercial rafting. VK was hands down the man responsible for most of the features that we think of when we think of conventional river rafts. To those of you who haven't heard of VK, the guy was legendary in his time, a brilliant man who thought out-of-the-box and was constantly looking for ways to improve river gear. Jim Cassidy's ideas were largely influenced by Vladimir... Kyle, you have reason to be proud. It would be great to someday put together a book(do people still read books?) that really goes into the history before this info is lost. By the way, the Czechs and Slovakians are some of the best rafters around... you come from good stock.

Joe Willie
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Old 05-30-2013   #148
GWS, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 133
Please put the video of the First Inflatable Stikine Descent on YouTube. Truly an amazing accomplishment, far ahead of its time.
Note To All:
Everybody calls Rob Lesser and Company's descent of the Stikine, as seen on the ABC show "The American Sportsman," The First Descent, even though they took a heli around the lower narrows. Thus by the same logic, Chille willie and company hold the "First Inflatable Descent" while the Creature Crafters hold the "Second Inflatable Descent," "First Creature Craft Descent," and "Descent With Most MountainBuzz Posts About."
So Sick.
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Old 05-30-2013   #149
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 103
So... back in October I asked if there was going to be video posted of this run. I haven't seen anything more than a bunch of people arguing about said run. So. Where is the video? Was it posted and didn't make it to Mtnbuzz, and I missed it?
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Old 04-21-2015   #150
San Alfonso, Cajon del Maipo, Chile
Paddling Since: 1972
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 8
Mark Cramer & Co - Grand Canyon of the Stikine video

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