Falling into Autumn: Waterfalling That Is!Cliff Langley
One of the nice things about September for Swiftwater guides is after Labor Day weekend, when the rafting season on the St. Louis River begins winding down, although we run trips into October, we have more time for personal adventure. The fall of 2017 didn’t disappoint as far as whitewater adventure was concerned.
Recent rains had brought one of my favorite north shore (Minnesota’s shoreline of Lake Superior) streams to runnable levels. The Beaver River has branches that join just upstream of Highway 61. Shortly after their confluence there is over a mile of what many kayakers consider ‘hyper gnar,’ which is usually class V+ rapids where the margin of error is death. So it doesn’t get run a whole lot.
The East Beaver, a few miles upstream, has a slightly friendlier vibe of the class III to V- variety. The best part of the East Beaver is a sequence of three waterfalls in a continuous sequence. Between each drop is a moving pool of water about 20’ in length. The first falls, a steeply sloped drop of about 15’ with a complex lead in. The second falls: a 16’ vertical drop into a highly aerated pool. Finally, the third falls drops about 12’ vertical feet. For a skilled boater this is the stuff of paddling dreams.
With a weekday free from responsibilities and water in our favorite north shore creek fellow guide Cory ‘The Moonman’ Mooney and I packed up our gear and headed north. There is something about heading north on 61 along Lake Superior that creates a sense of wonder. Sure it’s the beautiful scenery, cascading streams, and rugged topography but also excitement.
We set shuttle via bike and put on the East Beaver. The river starts out as a swift flowing and narrow creek with alder brush and willows growing along the banks. Right before we entered the continuous class III and IV section of rapids leading to the falls we spotted a dark colored, rotund creature slide into the water. With an angry slap of its tail we instantly knew it was a beaver. How suiting to meet the critter in which the stream was named after.
The angry beaver swam off as we dropped into continuous rapids, eddy hopping as we navigated through slides and boulder garden rapids. After about a mile or so we came to a distinct horizon line and one of my favorite places anywhere.
We got out of our kayaks and scouted on river right above the first falls to make sure there wasn’t wood or other obstructions. On river left a tall white pine towered above and the late afternoon sun hit the mist of the falls just right to create a rainbow: north shore perfection!
“That’s a good sign,” I said. Moonman nodded in agreement then said “Ladies, first,” insinuating that I take the honors of taking the plunge first.
In my best southern bell voice I said “Why thank you, sir,” and headed back to my boat.
I took a few slow and controlled breaths as I snapped my spray skirt into place envisioning my line, then slid into the river. I charged far right to make my line, towards a small flake of rock. I took a left paddle stoke sending me out far from the base of the falls and sailing into the landing pool below. I waited in that frothy pool watching Moonman nail his line too.
We hung out in that foamy eddy for a few moments to take in the sights then I peeled out into the current. As the bow of my kayak floated over the lip of the drop I took a left stroke simultaneously bringing my knees up towards my chest (called a boof stroke to keep one’s bow from penciling into the water) sending me off the falls landing almost flat into the pool below. I put my paddle up in the air vertically signaling all was good to go. Moonman sent it off the drop in perfect form.
Now that both of us were below the second drop the true session was about to take place. On river left the river forms a small cave with a shelf allowing a kayaker to paddle up and into the cave, step out, carefully and skillfully, onto the small shelf then scramble up a small natural staircase like a Sherpa to the pool above the second drop. Long story short: you can carry up and run the second drop over and over!
We sessioned that drop until our legs got sore from hiking up. The sheer fun of that drop and the beauty of that spot make it hard to leave but we had other waterfalls calling our names so it was time to move on. We peeled out (when a kayaker leaves an eddy and enters the current) and slid off the last drop excited to finish the run. We had one last bid waterfall to run as an evening nightcap: Ilgen Falls. That 30’ beast on the Baptism River only 15 minutes to the north, but alas fellow whitewater enthusiasts that is a story for another day.
We drove home that night tired and stoked from a day of whitewater adventures on Lake Superior’s north shore. When those north shore rivers run you must answer the call and head north: get it when it’s good!
Luckily we have the St. Louis River for our steady dose of whitewater rafting and kayaking and to keep our skills up for when the rains come we are ready!