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Running big waterfalls in a part of kayaking that has only recently become popular. For me, they are one of my favorite parts of kayaking. However, they also leave me with difficult decisions.
I ran my first big waterfall in December of last year. Almost 8 months later, and having run several more big drops, I found my self in the Pacific North West, a waterfall paradise. After running a warm-up drop (Metlako falls) and a week or so of sick kayaking in Hood River, we decided it was about time to head back East. We had one more stop though, which we were hoping would be our grand finale.

The Mckenzie river, just outside of Eugene, Oregon had two of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen. Koosah and Sahalie falls, two 80ish footers less than a mile a part. After scouting both, my friend Jake and I decided that we wanted to fire up Koosah. Koosah falls has a very complicated entrance, a weird boily lip, and at least 80 feet of freefall. And about 100 yards downstream is a huge river wide logjam.
This wasn’t just another drop for me. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew the consequences, and I knew the line. I am not the type of boater who just runs whatever is in front of me. I think about drops and rapids before I run them, weigh the risks out in my head. Based on the skills that I know I have, I decide if the risk is worth the reward. I had already walked away from this drop a few weeks before, but with this being the end of our trip, I was fired up to run it. I studied the drop for a long time before gearing up. I scouted from upstream of the entrance, the lip, the base of the falls, and everything up to and past the logjam. We had a super solid safety plan, and we all knew what to do if something went wrong.

Jake decided to go first. I was at the bottom near the logjam. Jake busted through the entrance, melted into the curtain, and rolled up at the bottom super stoked. Having seen Jake’s line, and talking to him about it, I was even more fired up for my turn to run the drop. I scouted even more before I put in, and finally got in my boat and was ready to go. That is pretty much all I remember, but I will tell the rest of the story based on video and what my friends told me.
I busted through the entrance, and went off the lip a bit further to the right of where I wanted to be. I was still set up to have a perfect line until about a third of the way down, I took a correction stroke, and my bow came up a little too much. Realizing this, I tried to get my bow back down, leaning forward, with my face on my cockpit trying to arc my angle back to verticle. I ended up not landing too flat, as my back is completely fine. However on impact, I hit my head on the cockpit rim. I came out of the mist at the bottom upright and fist pumping, but by the time I got out of my boat, I had forgotten what I had done. I don’t remember much after this, until I woke up in the hospital, with stitches in both of my eyes, and a total lack of memory of the past two days. I was flown straight home the next day, medically assisted through the airports, and told by a Neurologist a few days later that I had to take at least a month off from kayaking, and needed to be extremely careful with my head.

In the weeks after, through the recovery process, I have thought a lot about if it’s worth running such big drops. I do not regret running Koosah falls. It was a calculated decision, and a line that I knew I had the skills to make. Sometimes, things don’t go the way you plan, and you have to deal with the consequences.
I have had plenty of time to think about this over the past few weeks, and can’t wait to get back on the water everyday! I have a plan of how to ease my way back into running big stuff, and I am using this experience to learn and think even harder about what I run. But I still love running big waterfalls and can’t wait to get back at it!

-Hunt Jennings