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Old 01-05-2016   #171
San Alfonso, Cajon del Maipo, Chile
Paddling Since: 1972
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 8
Originally Posted by SpeyCatr View Post
Thanks for that, just watched it in it's entirety. Was really cool to see Stikine rapids being run in a conventional raft!

I've heard different things of this descent (the raft one) - in the video they say they only portaged 3 rapids, which you presume are entry falls, and site zed (but then they go back and re-run entry falls so technically I guess you could say they ran it) and one other one. They have the discussion at the wall with apparently half the crew for and half the crew against running it but they don't say or show if they ran it or not and one would presume knowing the river they probably wouldn't run the hole that ate Chicago and V-drive and use the Helicopter to drop them off around it (assuming they Helicopter scouted it previously so they don't get to the point of no return where they would have to run it)? A few questions that are definitely brought up.
To understand the video, you have to first understand and appreciate the context within which this descent was undertaken and the limitations of the film, equipment, and technology of the era. Today, after so many paddlers have successfully run the Stikine, and seeing the dozens of videos posted online, it is easy to forget how different things were 30+ years ago.

A lot of the Stikine rapids were left out of this video simply because it was not possible to film them. Unlike modern Stikine descents, there were no GoPros or compact HD digital video SLR's around. The film crew was using heavy, bulky, motion picture film cameras which could only be set up in the canyon in the few locations where the crew could be dropped off. The helicopter was unusable for filming the raft in most of the rapids because the engine and rotor noise echoing in the canyon made it impossible for the team to communicate with each other, and the downwash from the rotors was creating havoc by pushing the raft around and throwing up a tremendous amount of spray.

In the final cut, the (non-boating) editors left out a great deal of what most paddlers would find interesting, and added a lot of stuff with voice-overs and out-of-sequence filler material to make it more appealing to a general TV audience. Had this video been filmed and edited by boaters, it would have been far more interesting in my opinion, but the equipment didn’t exist at that time to even consider such a thing.

The comment made in the voice-over about ‘only portaging three rapids’ was incorrect. To my recollection, we made three helicopter portages – Entry Falls, Site Zed, and the bottom section of the lower narrows. I assume the commentator, being unfamiliar with what is meant by ‘rapids’ considered the lower section as a single rapid when he added this comment.

All of the helicopter scouts were done by Rob, and he reported that he thought that there was no way that a raft could make it through the lower narrows section (at the level we had that day) without flipping and that swimmers in the section would be at a higher risk than almost any other part of the canyon. This beta led to our very difficult decision (the raft team) to fly around the bottom section of the lower narrows rather than risk a run, especially since the film crew withdrew their support for providing helicopter safety. As the first kayakers to run these rapids, Rob, Lars and Bob ran this section with enormous trepidation, not knowing whether they would make it through. This was also not filmed, since by then, the production had decided to stop all further helicopter filming or safety support due to the cost overruns.

Originally Posted by SpeyCatr View Post
Nice to have the luxury of using the Helicopter to choose sections of river. Most don't have that luxury unfortunately.
In some ways, the helicopter was indeed a luxury, but to be clear, for this descent every person on the trip believed the helicopter was an indispensable tool and a key component for the success of the expedition. A great number of the Stikine Canyon rapids are impossible to scout from shore so helicopter scouting made it possible for us to see what was downstream, and to pick out possible lines - even though scouting by helicopter dozens of meters above a rapid is far from ideal when compared to scouting from shore at river level.

The additional challenge for a 7-person raft team to NOT use a helicopter would be how to pack along even a minimum amount of camp gear on a river like the Stikine – given that we had no idea how long the expedition would take us or what conditions we would face. Fortunately we didn't have to worry about that.

But helicopters can also be a huge pain. Like the first descent of the upper section in 1981, the main purpose of the helicopter was for filming and moving the film and production crew around. The big downside of this arrangement is that it took us much longer to accomplish routine tasks than on a normal trip; and waiting at the top of a major 5+ rapid for the film crew to get positioned and set up and to move their gear around; and the very real danger of having a helicopter flying over your head inside a narrow canyon with its rotors spinning only a few meters away from the walls added hugely to the stress levels of all of us. This was our tradeoff/compromise with these guys. As I said in an earlier post, the production company was footing the bill for the expedition and so had a lot of control over the pace of the trip and complete control over how the helicopter could or would be used.

In the end though, the helicopter allowed us to collect beta during the trip that ultimately opened the river to everyone that has since followed, starting in 1989 when Rob and Bob went back to the Stikine with Doug Ammons to attempt a more streamlined approach with the first unsupported trip. A good analogy is to compare these early heli-supported Stikine descents to how multiphase equipment intensive mountaineering expeditions are run, later to be followed by faster more streamlined assents.

The attention this film brought to the river in Canada also helped to drive a stake through the heart of BC Hydro’s plans to dam the canyon.

Originally Posted by SpeyCatr View Post
Also the levels look not too bad based on Kayaking footage I've seen. I'd say somewhere in the 250-400 CMS (9000-14000 CFS) range for much of the trip?
No one on any of the early runs of the Stikine Canyon had more than an educated guess at the water levels... the online Telegraph Creek gauge that is used now wasn’t available until 2009. Water levels were determined by flow data 100 kilometers downstream from the gauge in Wrangell AK. We were guessing the mean flow level to have been around 10,000 CFS, and it was rising and falling a good deal during the expedition. So I’d say your estimation of the flow during this trip is about right. And I'd totally agree that on most days it was "not too bad" relative to what it could have been. For the most part, we were blessed with optimum flows for what we were doing.

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Old 01-07-2016   #172
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Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Paddling Since: 2013
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 267
Hey Willie, I really appreciate the time you took to reply and the insight you have given is excellent - thanks for that. I have been fascinated by this river for a long time and seeing and hearing this reinvigorates and heightens it all for me.

Anyone know if/when Doug Ammons is going to publish his book on the Stikine?
Doug Ammons | In the Works — Doug Ammons

I hope if Dan & Jeff R2 it next year if they get the water levels they are after that everything work out. Right now snowpack is at about 53% - levels could pan out this way.

Future owner of AIRE Wave Destroyer w/MadCatr Frame
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