A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of introducing Max Nielsen to Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee River. I had heard Max was in town from West Virginia from my co-worker Dan Int-Hout who gave me his number and said he was looking to paddle. I hit Max up and after a short verbal screening, it turned out the dude could shred! So I set him up with a boat, paddle, and all the gear and gave him the Tumwater Tour twice while he was in Leavenworth. He killed it! As Max and his girlfriend Sierra Sans departed Bavaria Land to continue on their journey through the PNW, I asked him if he could write up a little story about his experience in Leavenworth. The following is what he provided me:
The Pacific Northwest has always appealed to me, as it does to any paddler or adventurer seeker. By chance of circumstances, the opportunity had risen for me to venture from the East coast to this wild gem. I had only two weeks to get the “PNW tour”, so I packed lightly, leaving behind all my river gear with the exception of my union suit, hoping that I may be fated by the chance to get on some great whitewater.”
Flying into Spokane where my girlfriend had recently attended college, we drove west to Leavenworth to stay with a friend and explore the Cascades. Immediately into our arrival to this small German town I felt a sense of home, as if I were back in Denmark where I was born. In Danish, we refer to home as “hyggelit” (you can try to pronounce that if you wish), also meaning cozy, and it’s just how I felt. From the shops to the structure of the unique buildings to the friendly woman at the bakery who danced while making my sandwich; I felt home.
It wasn’t two hours into our visit that we got introduced to one of the local paddlers, Dan, who worked at the Italian restaurant Sulla Vita. The connection between two paddlers clicked instantly. Next things I knew he was taking my contact info to give to his friend Tom, another local paddler infamous for having more gear than he knew what to do with. We bid Dan farewell and were on our way. All I could think of was how cool it would be to get on the Tumwater, but I cautioned myself not to get my hopes too high.
Time clicked slower as I anxiously waited for some sort of contact. But, again no more than two hours later, I received the text: “Yo! This is T-Pot. Heard you’re trying to paddle?” My immediate reaction was “Hell yeah!” followed by What kind of a name is T-Pot?
Never before seeing this T-Pot character or knowing what to expect of him, we agreed to meet at Leavenworth Mountain Sports, the iconic paddlers meeting grounds, the next day at noon. I was ecstatic. But as with any kayaking endeavor, the anxious excitement rose as I waited for noon to come around, however this time followed by a surge of nerves of what I was getting myself into. However, those nerves quickly subsided when I finally met the long haired fired up kayaker known as T-Pot. He had the swag of a kayaker—the trucker hat, sweet shades, bomber gear, stickers on the back of his Subaru Outback—and embodied all that a kayaker is—motivated , head strong, and passionate about the rivers. I knew I was in good hands.
And so it began, two kayakers driven by thrill and passion, into the depths of the class V section, Tumwater Canyon. Gearing up, I felt ever so grateful for the Level Six drysuit as I starred at the snow covered ridgelines, clouds seeping into the mountain, brisk air flowing through the dense pine forests. Having paddled in the South East, I never had to worry about not being able to move my hands due to Glacier runoffs, but that element only added to the intensity of the run.
The run was unlike anything I had ever paddled; big waves with creeky, technical moves. I was driven to the style, admiring the long rapids that kept me sharp as quick decisions had to be made. We took out before the last two class V’s, POW and Exit Drop, the biggest on the river. Feeling bummed I hadn’t ran them, I knew it meant I would have no choice but to come back. Still, I felt the stoke rise inside me, steam rising around me at the take out. I couldn’t believe I got the chance to kayak this gem of a river, one that was all roadside. One of my best paddle sessions, all done in under an hour. I thanked T-Pot and we went our separate ways.
With the original plan being to leave the next day and explore other realms of the state, we decided to extend our stay. First order of business was to hit the man up and get back on the river. We met same time, same place, different day. The stoke was high, and this time we ran the whole thing. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run Exit Drop, but I felt confident enough from my POW line and greased the drop. High off adrenaline, I was reminded why I love kayaking so much; for the thrill, the beautiful places it takes you, the friends you meet and the adventures you have along the way.
We were invited down to Ellensburg to keep the party rolling with kayak polo and drinks after. We met up with more paddlers and enjoyed an evening pool session and a night out on the town, no matter that it was Sunday. As paddlers, you don’t have a sense of what day it is sometimes; it’s always a good day to paddle, and an even better day to celebrate with a few beers afterwards.
If you’re ever trying to kayak in this area, I can tell you it’s well worth it and that T-Pot is the guy to contact. Cheers!
By Max Nielsen and Sierra Sans
Bio: Max has been kayaking for little over a year, starting out in Maine and as a raft guide. Making his way around the country, he is pursuing his kayaking career and other endeavors. He hopes to return to Leavenworth soon to work and play. Special thanks to Sierra for helping me put this experience into words!
Max and I had a blast paddling Tumwater. Its all about creating the experience to make the story. Always help a fellow paddler in need!