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August 14, 2009

By Heather Herbeck

PNW Birthday Huck
Courtesy of and Lana Young Photography:

It’s June 5th now, we’re back in our little house in BZ Corners, with our two cats and back to our everyday lives.

For the past month, our travels have taken us up and down Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada. This 4 week adventure consisted of big drops, good lines, not-so-good lines, friends and scouting missions. We will share a detailed Trip Report about the Midwest, very soon.

We spent the last ‘Midwest paddling day’ with some great friends for my Birthday Huck over Illgen Falls. We’ve ran this 30 foot waterfall multiple times, however that never assures perfect lines. The first few lines over this falls consisted of a broken paddle, a struggling hip snap off the rock wall (due to a lost paddle and getting pushed against the wall) and a ‘boof of all boofs’. John McConville and I decided to run it again in hopes of better lines . . . they were a lot better!

The next morning, we woke early, packed our car and headed back to the Columbia River Gorge – about a 26 hour drive. We had left a few days earlier from the Midwest, because I had one thought on my mind – THE BIGGEST BIRTHDAY HUCK, YET – 82 foot Metlako Falls on Eagle Creek! This drop had been in the “kayaking news” for a few weeks and all I could think about was how much I had wanted to run it ever since I witnessed LJ and Evan run it the summer before . . .

May 17th was the day . . .

The events leading up to the BIG day were perfect:
*For the last week, I was visualizing the drop – sitting at the top, dropping over, tucking and holding/bracing for the hit.
*I watched video of LJ and Evan running the falls and committed their action to memory.
*I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday and literally had the emotions of having already ran the drop. I had to convince myself I hadn’t ran it yet!
*Sunday was 80 degrees and sunny – such a perfect day!
*The level was PERFECT! I had never seen the entrance before, so when we hiked down to look at it, we were pleasantly surprised it was a nice big tongue rolling off the lip.
* We got a parking spot close to the trailhead at Eagle Creek (even though it was one of the busiest days I’d seen there)
*Everyone we met on the trailhead said “have fun” instead of “you are going to die”.
*I wanted this for me . . . There was no nervous, scared energy, but the energy I had felt only a few times before – when I ran Tomata Falls on the Alseseca and when I competed in the Gorge Games 2008 – both of which ended up with successful performance.

Nate and I arrived at Eagle Creek around 11:00 a.m. – organizing gear, cameras, etc. We were meeting Ryan Scott and Lana Young, to take photos and video, around 12:00 p.m. Once we got our gear together we headed up . . . We pulled over at the “Metlako look-out point” and got a quick check on the level. “It looks perfect”, Nate said. I didn’t respond, but inside I was thinking, “Sweet!”

Our next plan was to hike down to the lip and check it out, as neither of us had seen it. We stood there looking at the lip for a little bit. Then seeing Nate head up the trail, I took one last look and headed up. “Couldn’t look at the drop anymore, was getting a little nervous” Nate said (as he is not very comfortable with heights). “You feeling good about it? I’ll run it first if you want”, I said. “No, I’ll run it first because I need to take care of you”, he quickly responded. As we were psyching ourselves up, we also went over our game plan – Nate was going first with no safety. If something went bad, I would have to run it right away or jump it.

Once Ryan and Lana were ready, we headed to the put-in (Lower Punch Bowl Falls). It was awesome to be in that canyon again . . . In a part of the river I had never even imagined I’d ever be running! There we were, now eddied out directly above the 82 foot Metlako Falls. Nate was running it first. He took a few breathes . . . “I love you”, he said and peeled out over the falls. After a few minutes I heard a whistle that he was okay!

It was my turn . . . “Give me 30 seconds” I told Ryan over our walkie-talkies. From were I was, I could see Ryan and gave him a thumbs up. I splashed my face, took a few deep breathes and peeled out of the eddy. Once at the lip, I held my position and tucked, holding my paddle close to my boat. I felt myself fall, continue to fall and fall some more . . . finally I hit! It was a surprisingly soft hit for such a large drop. The paddle did get torn out of my right hand, but managed to grab it again and roll up!

Nate and I stayed down below the falls for quite some time, celebrating . . . Just the two of us! The man who taught me how to paddle, my best friend, my husband . . . I had just followed off of an 82 foot falls – sharing the female world record and holding the world record for “husband and wife” huck. We shared hugs, kisses and high-fives! It was the most amazing feeling ever to share that with Nate!

Photos coming soon! Check out the video in Sheer Madness Productions next release “31 Days of Living” coming soon!

Heather Herbeck
Team Liquidkayak

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