Paddlemania is the perfect name for this annual event on the St. louis River in Carlton, MN and there is no better person than Joerg to organize this weekend of fun. Having only began paddling a few years ago, i have heard stories of the Famous Joerg from kayakers across the midwest. Basically, from the stories I understood that he LOVES carnage more than anyone! On the North Shore of Lake Superior it is common to see Joerg leading groups down challenging stretches of some of the best creeking in the country. But his signature event for the past 14 years has been Paddlemania.
The weekend starts as most all do, each of us arriving at a common camping location, sharing stories, having a few drinks, and making plans for the next days runs down the river. This one was no different, and thanks to the KCI Outpost we were allowed to camp for free at their location at the takeout of the upper St. louis run and the put in for the Lower section. A few dozen of us gathered here only to be joined by more paddlers from across minnesota, wisconsin, and even Canada in the morning.
Typically in June, the St. Louis River requires the dam to release 600cfs in order to make an optimum runnable level for the slotmachine showcase event. However, this year, due to some recent storms that hovered over the North Shore, the upper section was running at 5,400cfs and the lower at about 1900. This meant that the “slotmachine” would likely be unrunnable. At the regular release flow, this event is exactly why the rapid has its name. This slide culminates in a massive hole that even when you think you are through, will manage to snag you back in and work you until it either finally releases you, or you swim. What’s the trick? Well, i have been told, go left, then….go farther left. But after watching Last year’s video, even that plan seems to need a little luck attached to it.
This year would be different though, so while we waited to hear what would replace the slotmachine showcase, us girls kicked off the day with a warm up on the upper st. Louis. Heather Kehn, Melissa Grover, Amy Vickers and I jumped in our playboats looking for waves along the way. This section was a lot of fun! The first few rapids while not too challenging had a few good spots to stop and play or catch on the fly. What followed were some great waive trains, The electric ledge, and the big kahuna! Pick your way through the 5ft waves to catch the Pyramid wave on river right. Pyramid is a massive glassy wave that is super fast and perfect for playing. It is the best wave I have seen yet in my short paddling career, But many others speak about it as being one of the greatest they have ever encountered as well.
So, what was next? A 3pm race on the lower, from tabletop to pebble beach. Now the lower section was still flowing at a significantly higher level than normal and would be the first true test of my ability to manuever my Villain S. We had plenty of time before the race, so chad Kehn, Jade, and I began the run and quickly caught a handful of others. I soon encountered some of the most challenging rapids I have ever attempted, but with Chad’s quick tips, i found myself simply following the ducks in a row through massive holes and my villain really made it easy!
The next challenge was adjusting to the great speed of the boat. Wow is it fast! I found myself taking more stearing strokes rather than power strokes in order to keep my place in line. Besides taking a sneak route around octopus, we ran every stretch down to the swinging bridge, and because of the high level, we were able to take the right channel to the bridge off the 15ft fall!
I watched everyone hit the line, some closer than others to the piton rock on the right and was the last one to go. After seeing a few get awefully close to the rock, i overcorrected and ended up on a line a little too far to the left. What was bad about that? Nothing until I tried to paddle over to the rest of the group. I planted my boof stroke, landed soft, but was getting sucked backward! Uh oh! I flipped, rolled, and realized what had happened. There was another smaller fall on the other side resulting in a circle of swirling water too strong to break through the eddy line and reach the rest of the group. I surfed around it once, twice, three times…each time i came around to the opening paddling as hard as I can to cross over, but unsuccessfully began looking for a rope to fly in that hopefully i could grab a hold of to help pull me across. Nothing came…so around again I went, but this time, as I came around to the eddy line, a guy I never met before climbed down the rock to me. I paddled as hard as I could to get my boat as close to him as possible. He grabed the front handle and pulled me across the line as I kept paddling hard to make it. Phew! I was through! That is how I met anthony, he saved me from an unforseen end to paddling in circles at the bottom of the falls.
When I was out, i found out why no rope made it my way. Jade was standing safety with his throwbag attached to a LOCKED caribener! Haha he freaked out upon realizing it was locked and fumbled the twisting lock. Thanks Jade I will now always remember to be ready with an unlocked throwbag when setting safety. We could all easily overlook a simple step that in the wrong situation could turn into something not so simple. While we remind ourselves from time to time of simple boating techniques, it is also important to remind ourselves and eachother of even the simplest safety preparations.
After the shuttle back, everyone prepared for the boatercross that would start above tabletop! I was quite worn out and decided to watch the race from below the bridge where I talked to a few locals and convinced them to take some whitewater lessons. Some carnage ensued when the group reached table saw, but who won? Joerg of course! He was the first to pebble beach and since they were already on the water, why not finish the run to the bridge?
The night finished up with the raffle of great prizes from Jackson Kayak, NRS, WRSI, and snap dragon. And then a dinner contributed by Midwest Mountainering! Midwest Mountaineering does a great job of supporting all of the area events and I cannot thank them enough for their support!
Now, the event would not be called paddlemania without reason….this was not the end of the fun! The evening was filled with games of foursquare, a campfire, and more time to share stories, all so we could wake up sunday and paddle everything all over again! (I even finally won my first ever foursquare game!)
Lastly, i have to give a huge shout out to Joerg, Chad Kehn, Melissa Grover, and everyone else who I may have missed that contributed to this very great event! I know from experience what hard work it is to organize our kayaking events and without these guys we would not have congregated together on this river for such a fun filled weekend!
So, if you missed out on paddlemania, or if you are ready to continue the fun. Wausau Whitewater will host the next midwest paddling event this weekend june 16th and 17th with Wausau RiverFest. All of the details can be found here! There’s some new fun events for the whole family including the city’s summer kickoff on Friday night. And….if you didnt hear already, some great prizes! Oh yeah, dont forget to bring your own paddling film for saturdays film festival!