Big Kemshew Photos
All photos: Max Kniewasser
These photos were taken on a perfectly sunny, hot, california day. The crew was a bunch of Asheville boys, and one half german/Canadian. The water was low. The waterfalls were perfect. Enjoy.

Chris Schell, all smiles 40 feet up

Austin Rathmann, same

Nice View eh?

Austin and Keller droppin in

Chris Gragtmans, same

Billy Murphy, Frenchies Falls, watch the wall!

Scott Harcke, doin his thing, starin down the barrel of a 45

Pat Keller...enough said

Two friends, in good place
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My Stikine Journal
And Photos


Saying the word brings mixed emotions to mind. I’m both terrified and overly excited of what lays downstream. The drive north from Whistler went incredibly smooth. Max and I left at 2:00 Tuesday afternoon and drove all the way to Smithers that night. We arrived at the Stikine at 4:00 pm Wednesday August, 29th 2007 and were greeted by a friendly sight. The most beautiful river in the world, and it was running. Upon paddling out to the cement pillar my assumption was affirmed, we had 4 1/2 notches showing on the bridge. A perfect level.

I sit here at the campfire pondering the events that will take place in the days to come. I’m trying not to dwell on the fears I have of Wasson's hole, and instead focus on the positive. I’m here with a great paddling partner and friend in Max Kneiwasser, I am in the best paddling condition of my life, and the flow couldn't be better. The weather is good and our hopes are high for a successful decent of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River. I go to sleep now. Anxious. Nervous. Excited.

Entry Falls on our scout the day before putting on

Thursday, August, 30 2007

We awoke today prepared to put-on. We were disappointed to find that the river had risen over night. We are determined to put safety first on this trip and decided to wait a day and watch the levels. We hiked to Entry Falls to check out the flow in the canyon and were thrilled to see a perfect medium flow. The rock was about six feet out of the water and the river looked to be handling the flow well. There was far less water here today than on my first trip to the canyon. That’s a relief. I hope I have learned from my mistakes on that first trip and will enter the canyon a smarter, more humbled person than I was three years ago when I attempted to run the Stikine at an incredibly high flow after not having kayaked at all for three months.

Friday August 31

This morning we are put on the Stikine. The river has risen slightly but is holding steady.

We made it to Site Zed successfully. Both Max and I are buzzing right now from all the good white-water we just ran. My line at Entry Falls could have been better. I started left, but moved right too early and got swirled around in the nasty eddy in the center of the river. Max had a perfect line and was stoked. We eddied out below and took it all in.

The great canyon towering above and the raging river powering downstream. It felt good to be back. We continued downstream, bombing through all of the amazing read and run day one offers, stopping on occasion to take photos and just enjoy the surroundings. We paddled past a pair of goats relaxing next to the river. The closest one must have been no more than 15 feet away and didn't even move when we paddled by. These animals are so beautiful and powerful. They are the true guardians of the Stikine.

As we approached Wicked Wanda, I got very excited. I remembered this being one of the best rapids I had ever run and couldn't wait to run it again. After a quick scout I got in my boat while Max took photos and I paddled down the tongue with a little left angle straight into the left curler. BOOM. Upside down. A quick roll and I was laughing as I paddled up and over the gigantic waves in the run out. I eddied out to watch Max come through in style. Both grinning we kept moving downstream.

Stoked below Wicked Wanda

Towards Three Goats Rapid

As we pulled in to Three Goats I began to realize we had more water in the river than we thought when we put on. Things seemed to be plenty manageable however, so I didn't give it a second thought. We scouted and ran Three Goats, by far the biggest rapid yet. We both opted for the left line into a V-shaped hole and then into the MASSIVE wave train below. I hit the V and subbed down deep, resurfacing upright and moving right on the shoulder of the wave train. I was stoked. Max made it through the V upright as well but not as far right and ended up getting swallowed by one of the massive 15-foot waves.

After a quick roll he was up and paddling through. I knew we were quickly approaching Pass or Fail. From my previous trip, I remembered the entrance to this rapid being one of the hardest parts of Day 1. But I couldn't remember what the line was. As we approached the whole river seemed to disappear over a ledge with a tongue down the right side. We got out and quickly scouted the ledge and the rest of the entrance downstream. As I peered around the corner at Pass or Fail my heart sunk.

The river was really high and I didn't realize how high until now. The rock at Pass or Fail was at times completely under water as the river surged. At other times it was maybe a foot out of the water. I had seen this sight before – two years ago when I put on too high.


At this point my mental strength broke-down and I got really scared. I ran the entry ledge and wave train and eddied out above P/F. I began to portage, exercising the unacceptable "tweaker" mentallity, meaning I was unable to overcome my fears and control my mind. I told myself to stop. Put the boat down and run the rapid. If I couldn't run this I had no business running what lay downstream.

So I went. My line couldn't have been smoother. I went right the whole way. At the bottom I got really scared. Around the corner was Wasson's Hole. The sight of my near drowning two years ago. And the level was the exact same. After scouting my fears were confirmed, the rapid looked terrifying. A 2/3 of the river wide ledge hole at the top all feeding left into the massive hole on the left. The only route through was to go left of the top hole and paddle hard right through a curler missing the hole by inches. I was terrified to try this again, as last time it didn't work well. Not to mention this one rapid has been the most accident-prone sight on the Stikine (it nearly killed its namesake).

I knew what I had to do and I did it. I looked to Max and told him I had to go now. If I didn't go I'd get inside my head and that would not be good. I got in my boat and charged. I got left on top of the curler, pulled a hard left sweep, and charged right. I was clear, safe and was never more stoked. All the drugs in the world couldn't have gotten me as high as the feeling I had at the bottom. I was in my boat this time looking upstream as Max styled it as well.

Grinning from ear to ear we both took off downstream. For the first time on the trip I was running rapids I had never run before, only swam. I looked around stoked to be in my boat as we charged through the read and run to Site Zed.

We set up camp at Site Zed and portaged our boats sans-gear to the bottom. We placed several gauge markers to watch the flow, fearful if it were to rise we wouldn't be able to make it through downstream.

At dinner, we carved our names into the bench around the campfire at Site Zed, seeing as there is no more chalkboard to right our names on.

As we fell asleep that night it was raining and I slept restlessly wondering what we would find when we woke up in the morning.

Camp 1

Saturday, September 1

When we awoke this morning the rain was still falling. Both Max and I lay in our tent dreading what we might find when we emerged to check the level. As we exited the tent and checked our gauges, our hearts leapt to see that the water had held steady all night despite the rain. The question now, was for how long? We decided rather than risk camping at beach camp and having the water spike to un-runnable levels on us, we would paddle all the way out today.

After a quick breakfast we packed up headed towards the Site-Zed ferry. Of all the ferries I've ever done this one scared me the most. Both Max and I seal launched in and paddled hard left clearing the wall and charging into the maw below. When we regrouped below our eyes were wide. That was the most challenging ferry we had ever done.

We continued on looking for the rapids known as AFP (Always a Fucking Problem) and the Wall. For several miles all we encountered was endless read and run class V through the narrowest section of the canyon. Walls towering 1000 feet overhead and, at times, no more than 30 feet wide.

It was incredible to be in that canyon running that much good whitewater. Finally we reached AFP and scouted quickly. Luckily our high flow had washed most of the rapid out into nothing more than a big wave-train. However, the entry move was gigantic. A huge curler crashed from right to left into a massive pourover on the left. We charged ahead into the pourover, boofing hard and clearing the hole.

Shortly downstream came the Wall. The Wall consists of three drops, the crux being in the middle. At these flows the first drop was a large wave-train feeding directly into the middle drop which was an exploding mess of holes, boils and crashing waves. Both Max and I went center-left and plowed through the mess. Both clear, we smiled and continued downstream towards Garden of the Gods 1 and Beach Camp, where we planned on eating a light snack and resting before the large committing rapids of the Day 3 narrows.

Garden of the Gods is a long, complex boulder garden that, at these flows, was terrifying. Finding our way through the maze, Max and I both fell blindly into several large crashing waves and holes.

Luckily, it all worked out ok and we made it to Beach Camp safely.

A snack at Beach Camp

Beach Camp on the Stikine River is the most beautiful campsite one could imagine. A large sandy beach extends several hundred feet across, at a calm bend in the river. The mountains on both sides are stunning. This might be one of the most peaceful places on earth. We sat down to eat a good snack and re-energize ourselves for what we knew would be the greatest test of both our lives. Day 3 narrows. Garden of the Gods 2, The Wall 2, Scissors, The Hole that ate Chicago, V-Drive, Guard Dog and Tanzilla Slot all lay downstream in the incredibly narrow final gorges of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.

Garden of the Gods 2 proved to be as challenging as its predecessor. We were treated to a not-so-pleasant surprise directly above the Wall 2.

The river narrows to a width of maybe 15 feet and pours over a large pourover with a 2/3 river wide pocket on the left backed up by a cliff protruding 10 feet into the river from left to right. Unable to scout both Max and I charged in blindly. I went first and got stuffed hard into the wall. I rolled up only to find myself in the pocket as I watched Max getting beaten on the wall but finally rolling up and escaping. I however, was stuck. After several failed attempts to exit and spending a lot of time underwater, I finally managed to paddle clear of the pocket and into the relative safety below.

The Wall 2 was next and went smoothly. Our lines were left of center away from both the wall and the massive hole on the right. Overjoyed to be past this rapid, we paddled downstream towards Scissors.

As we approached the Scissors eddy, I kept getting pushed back into the middle of the river despite my greatest efforts to move left. Finally, I realized I was not going to catch the eddy and lined up to charge into Scissors blind. I turned to Max and yelled,"SCISSORS! , I'm going!" God Bless him because Max, who had caught the eddy, pulled out right behind me not wanting to let me go through that alone. I charged into the left curler and blew right through it. This was terrifying because at normal flows the rocks on the river left are undercut and should be avoided at all costs. Luckily for me the rocks were under-water at this level and I went over the top of them and turned around to watch Max do the same.

We gave each other a look of, " We just got away with one there."

We continued downstream to The Hole that Ate Chicago and directly after that, V-Drive.

The Hole that Ate Chicago (above) is a raw freak of power. The entire river pours directly into this massive 15-foot tall hole. It would not be a fun place to surf. Luckily both Max and I ran hard right avoiding the hole and eddying out above V-Drive.

When I say this rapid is a 30-foot, Mavericks sized wave (right) I’m not exaggerating. Max and I scouted to see that all was clean and psyched ourselves up for what was the largest rapid we'd ever run. Not the most difficult, just charge down the middle, hit the wave, take the beating, roll up and paddle away from the wall. Ha. Right. Fired up, I gained a full head of steam stroking hard to the drop. I hit the left curler first and immediately went deep. Never have I been in a creekboat that far underwater before. As soon as I resurfaced “BAM,” the next curler nailed me, knocking me upside down. I snapped off a quick roll and paddled right, away from the wall and looked upstream to see Max clearing the wall as well. We'd done it. We'd run the crux rapids of the Stikine and we were stoked.

I may have over celebrated, as Guard Dog lurked downstream and was more than happy to dish out a fine serving of whoop ass on me. Sucking me deep and flipping me against the right wall.

I struggled to roll up and finally reached the surface again, with plenty of time to straighten up for Tanzilla Slot. The entire Stikine River pours through a 5-foot wide slot, creating a boily freak of nature that luckily, if upright is no big hassle, especially after what we’d already run upstream.

Below Tanzilla slot my hear leapt for joy. I had finally accomplished a goal I had set for myself during my first season of kayaking seven years ago. I had run the Stikine, without incident, unlike last time when I had to hike out.

Impact on the paddle out below Tanzilla Slot

In the flow on the paddle out

I would love to be able to say something profound about how you feel when you finish the Stikine, but I believe Willie Kern said it best, " Nothing has changed, but everything is different."

These words had never made sense to me until I paddled the 20 miles of "flatwater" out of the Stikine. Willie was on to something very deep with this quote and nothing was closer to the truth. The Stikine will change how you view yourself, the world, and everyone in it.

All for the better.

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Here is a short video of a day on Tatlow Creek in BC. This is the best creek ever

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Evan Ross and myself had awoken early to drive the three hours from Jackson to Lander, Wyoming. We were going to the PoPo Agie river. A three mile long, Class V gem, in the heart of the Wind River Mountains. I'd never run the PoPo before. Evan had run it the previous week, with a group of older boaters. But today, it was just us. Two Jackson Hole Kids Kayak Club alumni going off into the mighty Wind River Mountains, alone for the first time.
We'd left jackson sometime around nine in the morning. With our stomachs full of Bubba's biscuits and gravy, we chatted excitedly of what lay ahead. Being my first time to the river, all I had were stories i'd heard from the, " Old timers." Stories of waterfalls and steep cascading rapids tumbling out of the mighty Wind's and into the prairie below. Their stories invigorated me. I wanted to see this place for myself. I'd only been boating two years, but after spending a semester at the school at Adventure Quest my skills had improved vastly. I was ready. It was time for the boys to become men, as cliche as that may sound, it was true. For Evan and I, this would be to us what a spirit walk was to the Native American's who first explored this area.
When we finally reached the road next to the lower section, I began eyeing the river, looking at what the character was and trying to decide if I thought it had enough water. I was like a child waiting in line at an amusement park. We couldn't get their fast enough. Finally, I could see the end of the road, and the beginning of our hike. I'd never hiked with a creek-boat before. Heck, I had hardly ever paddled a creek boat.
Evan, who had done the hike a week before, had come prepared with a home-made version of a yak-pak. Basically, nothing more than the back of an old Jansport backpack with several NRS cam straps sewn onto it. I too had an NRS cam strap. Very carefully I looped the cam strap through my bow grab loop, fastened the strap in the buckle, pulled the loop over my head and began walking. Dragging my boat three miles up a steep creek in 90 degree heat, wasn't fun or easy. My mistake not bringing a better system. Or worse, not being "man" enough to just shoulder that puppy. Needless to say, it was tiring. The whole way up the trail I could hear the roar of rapids beneath us, catching an occasional glimpse. Wow. It was steep. It was scary. It was perfect.

Hiking into the PoPo Agie
Photo Courtesy of: http:// a different trip)

We reached the top, right as a thunderstorm was blowing through. Luckily, the storm had its sights set elsewhere and only gave us a brief, yet refreshing shower.
The put-in at the PoPo Agie sits below a beautiful, yet un-runnable falls. The first rapid of the run, along with the next three, are often portaged, and represent the most difficult rapids of the run. However, I didn't come all the way here to start portaging right away. So I began scouting the first falls. The rapid is a jumble of rocks with a somewhat clean line through a river right slot and down a ten foot sliding waterfall. I'd heard horror stories of crashes, pitons and people running the thing upside down and nearly being decapitated. However, I was young, arrogant and I saw a line. I was gonna go.
I remember the feeling I had when I settled myself down into my boat and popped my spray-skirt down around the cockpit. Silence. Like a quarterback in football has to shut out the noise of the crowd, I'd shut out everything. The roar of the river. The sight of Evan standing downstream, camera in one hand, rope in the other. It was just me and the river.
I ferried back and forth across the river for a few minutes trying to warm up my muscles and take a few paddle strokes before I charged into the maelstrom downstream. After several minutes I was ready. I splashed my face with some water, peeled out of the eddy and lined up the right slot.
My boat starts to accelerate faster than I anticipated, I reach for my right draw-stroke too late. I come out of the slot too far sideways. If I don't recover quickly, I'm going to crash really hard. I lean and pull with my paddle hard right as I feel my boat lift off as it hits a bump. It works. My boat fly's into the air and in almost a free-wheel type motion I pull it back, straighten it out and sail smoothly down the rest of the falls. I land and start paddling hard to river left to catch the last-chance eddy above the next big manky boulder infested rapid, which had never been run. I glided easily across the eddy line, to safety. I pumped my fist and let out a loud barbaric roar to signify my accomplishment.

Austin on the put-in drop of the PoPo Agie

I got out, grabbed the camera and my rope and watched on as this time Evan ran the drop. Evan's line was perfect. he sailed out of the right slot, turned at just the right time and greased the drop making it look too easy. This didn't quite surprise me however, Evan was always making stuff look easy. Sometimes it was frustrating watching him make things look so effortlessly, when I struggled through each stroke. No matter, his perfection only showed me what I was doing wrong and made me strive to be better.

Evan on the put-in drop

Evan and I had a long look at the next rapid. Followed by a long conversation. Our consensus was there was a marginal line down the river left side. The moves consisted of three or four small ledges, backed up by pin rocks and surrounded by undercuts and sieves. The consequences in this rapid had a potential of being severe. I however was young, naive and fired up to run some big drops. I was going to giver a go.
This drop scared me far more than the previous rapid. It was not as vertically intimidating, but the line and consequences here were much more of a challenge. I would have to hit 4 consecutive boof strokes, while at the same time dodging several undercuts and bad pin rocks. Looking back, in retrospect I exercised poor judgement by running this drop without the proper amount of people to set up safety. However, when on the river we all must make decisions based on what we think we can do. I knew I could hit this line.
I got into my kayak and looked downstream. I couldn't see Evan. This added an extra element of fear I hadn't expected. Something about being able to see your safety set, calms your nerves. Deep breath. I reassured myself I could do it. Splashed my face three times, and off I went. I set my speed and angle for the first ledge and boofed. Immediately I was going off the second ledge, and pointed right. I wanted to be pointed left, as there was a very bad piton in the middle of the river. I was heading straight for it, as I went off the third ledge, which was off vertical and had a bad keeper hole. I got stuck in the hole. Luckily, though I was pointed left and moving fairly easily back to the left of the hole where I could escape. Ironic, how my second mistake corrected my first. Once out of the third hole it was smooth sailing through the human pinball machine that is the run- out. I eddied out and looked at evan, shaking his head and chuckling. He informed me how lucky I got on that one. Boy did I know it.
I got out of my kayak to scout the third rapid. This one looked really fun. A manky, boulder strewn entrance leading into a fifteen-foot off vertical corkscrew slide. One year after this trip, I found out that the far left side of the slide at the bottom is extremely shallow. But we'll save that for another time. On this day, evan and I both gave this one a go with big old grins from ear to ear. No worries, smooth transition, skipped out at the bottom, it was pure joy.
We continued downstream, going eddy to eddy through the boulder infested boogie water. This was one of my favorite parts of the run. Endless boofs through a winding maze of rocks. Before long, we came up on the creme de la creme. Corner rapid. Now I have to say this rapid and the 1/4 mile downstream is as good as whitewater as i've found anywhere i've ever kayaked. Corner rapid, is a steep boulder maze leading into a crux six foot boof at a sixty degree left hand bend in the river. This rapid is full on. It's long, commiting, but best of all it's fun.

Conor Finney on some good old PoPo Agie boogie water
Photo Courtesy of Http:// (from a different trip)

Evan went first on this one. He styled the line. Coming in from the center of the river, working right then back left to stick the boof. I was inspired. Something about watching a friend style a drop is just good motivation to do the same yourself. And in an ideal world, you would. Well, my line wasn't awful, but it was nothing like Evan's. My lead in went well, making my boofs and lining up correctly, but as I approached the crux boof, I got pushed hard right and bounced through a bumpy slot. My boat spun around backwards at the bottom and I ran the next little drop backwards. I got pinned. After about 30 seconds I worked my way free and eddied out with evan to scout out the next waterfall.
The waterfall is about 10 feet tall with a super complex entrance requiring you to eddy out while your stern is dangling over the lip, peel out and boof all in the same motion. This rapid would be a slalom paddler's dream. For me it was intimidating. Not the size of the waterfall, but knowing that if I was just a hair off-line as I catch the eddy I could easily run this thing backwards and onto my head. This would not be good, as just downstream are a series of must-make moves.

Todd Gillman running the "waterfall" on the high side of good
Photo Courtesy of Http:// (from a different trip)

This one was really fun. I was nervous about falling out the back of the eddy, but had no problems. My boof was good, as was Evan's and off we went down through the hardest of the boogie water. I remember feeling amazed at how accurately Evan remembered each move after only having run the river once before. His directions were precise and before long we were at the one and only still un-run rapid on the PoPo Agie. Neither or Evan and I wanted anything to do with this one. We walked around and enjoyed the mellow class IV paddle down to the bridge and our car.

The PoPo Agie River somewhere near it's source, high in the Wind River Mountains

Driving home I felt as if I had just conquered the world. No doubt I had allowed my ego to grow way too much as a result of a few good lines. Ironically, a week later I wrecked three times on the PoPo, resulting in a broken boat and a sore shoulder. Ego. Our sport just has no room for it. Just fun.
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