Once you get me started…another not young and not climbing, but super inexperienced. It’s just too damn hot to climb in the summer down south, and we were always looking for something cooler. This time it was white water kayaking. Despite the fact that I had never done it before (played a little in canoes on Class 2-3 water many moons before, but no kayaks), my badass whitewater climbing buddies decided that for my first effort we should shoot Section IV of the Chattooga, which is a world famous Class 4/5 run. Think Deliverence, part of which was filmed on the Chattooga. (You may detect a theme here. I always thought that Stegg was our version of Mikey from the old Life cereal commercials: ‘We’ll get Shannon to do it, he’ll try anything.’ As my buddy Steve told me later, ‘No dude, that’s you.’)
There is a deep pool at the top of IV, and the three guys I was with (including Steve) undertake teaching me to roll. I didn‘t notice because I was too busy trying to avoid drowning, but during this session a guided raft trip from NOC floats into the pool after finishing Section III. Steve tells me later that the guides, upon observing someone learning to roll (or not) at the top of IV, exchange worried, disbelieving looks, but, screw it, they’re guides which automatically makes them busybody know-it-alls.
I can’t get it at all, though. I have to visualize an action before I can do it, and the geometry of rolling is just too weird. After 15-20 min. we say screw it, this is boring, let’s do it. So off we go.
It is relatively low water, we may be crazy but not entirely stupid, and I get to walk around a couple of runs and I go swimming a couple of times, but it is cool. Then we come to a class 5 rapid called ‘Corkscrew’ (I assume a description is unnecessary). We land river left to scout the run, which seems a little pointless to me, cause I ain’t running it regardless, and after a minute Steve says, ‘OK, we’ll walk around this one.’ Then he tells me we have to cross to river right to portage.
Now we landed right at the entrance to Corkscrew, and it’s a deep swift channel between me and the other side of the river, so I’m, like, how do we do dat? Steve says, ‘We’ll ferry across.’ Ferry? Evidently there are a few other holes in my knowledge besides rolling. As he quickly explains to me, you diagonal upstream to get across. Sounds simple enough, and he zips across, though I’m a little nervous because we are literally 20-30’ above the intake for Corkscrew.
The key to ferrying is to keep the tip of the boat pointed upstream, but one of the problems tyro kayakers have with a whitewater boat is making the MF go straight. And when I’m about halfway across that tip veers downstream and the current catches it, and the boat whips around and starts rolling over and I know I’m going to die. It’s on its side before I’m able to give a huge adrenalin stoked back stroke to keep it up and whip it further around and now I’m facing straight into the maw of the beast, but back into a good ferry position, just backwards. But I’m operating on pure adrenalin now and I’m a back stroking monster and a few swift strokes and I practically run the boat on top of the rocks on the other side.
Steve’s sitting on his kayak and says calmly, ‘Damn Jim, your whole life just flashed before my eyes.’ This affair probably doesn’t even make the top half dozen, but it was such a cool line.