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From an all American Am/Can 4th of July at Niagara Falls to Global Warming in the Arctic, here is a top 10 list from the Summer of 2012.

10 Jam from the Dam: Tahoe Paddle Board Race

Stand Up Paddle boarding is on fire- just ask South West Werner Paddles sales rep Taylor Robertson.  After spending the vast majority of their nearly 5 decades making kayak paddles, Werner is now making more stand up paddles than the whitewater version.  That is saying something coming from the number one whitewater paddle manufacturer in the world that produces for more than 75% of the US market.


To prove his point Taylor invited me to the now annual Jam from the Dam SUP race on Lake Tahoe.  Literally hundreds of men, women, children, boys, girls, grandmas, grandpas, and yes, even dogs turned up to race across the azure waters of the second deepest lake in the US.  It seems everyone from weekend warriors to pro skiers to yoga gurus consider this to be the hottest cross training method of all, and now even hardened whitewater paddlers are taking notice.  I have my new year’s resolution and it’s not to get beat by anyone over 60 in this race!

Chris Korbulic's First and to date only descent of 199 problems

9 First Descent of 199 problems

Chris Korbulic is a gentle giant in whitewater kayaking, but when it comes to slaying monster waterfalls he is as mean as anyone in the sport.  199 problems on the South Branch of the Feather was a fine example and remarkably the only time this expedition kayaking veteran of over a decade has been injured in the river.


This is where I think Chris is a real role model on the river… not in his courage to take on big drops but in his calculation to only descend the ones he has examined to the point of total confidence.  During my years on the river I have seen many mentalities when it comes to running class V, but Chris’s dogma seems to be the most enduring:  devote yourself to the experience of the river, the aesthetic of the place, and don’t worry if you need to make some portages along the way to stay safe.

Chris after taking a hit on 199 problems


However in this case Chris took a risk to push the sport to the next level and came away smiling.


8 My first trip to Norway

As a dedicated River Rat of nearly 15 years I have salivated over the images of Norway since day 1.  But trying to dedicate your life to the river and kayaking in one of the most expensive countries on Earth seemed to be mutually exclusive goals and I was content with what I considered to be far more exciting (and affordable) kayaking affairs in the still developing regions of our globe.


But thanks to Pedro Oliva and the one-of-a-kind syndicated success of televised expedition kayaking in Brazil, I finally got my chance to experience a bit of Norway from mid-June to mid-July.  I now feel safe in saying (as so many before me) that Norway is a premiere, if not, the premiere kayaking destination on the Planet.  It’s over a thousand miles from north to south of granitic ice-rimmed wonderland where many regions are still in the exploratory phases.  The bad news is many of the rivers that are already known to be some of the best in the world have fallen under the greasy gaze of the dam builders and dewaterers who hold the Kyoto treaty high in the air chanting clean energy.


There are ways to make a Norway dream a reality even on the tightest budget. And it seems that doing so sooner than later can only help in advocating against mega Hydro-electric development and for free flowing rivers.


Photo: Chris Korbulic

7 First waterfall descent of Braswell Glacier

When I told a Svalbard local about our mission to run a waterfall off the Braswell Glacier all I heard was laughter for the next 10 minutes.  To be sure, the mission was the kind of pie-in-the-sky foolhardy idea only a hard core class V nut could dream up… but let’s get one thing straight.  This wasn’t my idea.  In fact Colorado climbing and kayaking guru Forrest Noble was the brain child behind this one and if Pedro Oliva, Chris Korbulic, and I would have taken his advice we might have had more success.


Due to the cost of the expedition (think laughter of the Svalbard guy), bringing more than the bare minimum was simply out of the question.  But still I thought a lot about Forrest’s plan as we were trekking across the top of the Glacier exposed to gale force winds and polar bear attack. There was only one waterfall that we could reasonably access without the real ice climbing expertise Forrest had recommended.  The Braswell front is a sheer 20 to 80 meter wall of often unstable ice and is over a hundred miles long that during the right time of year is the world’s most unlikely waterfall paradise.


But with a calving glacier front, the highest risk of polar Bear attacks found anywhere on Earth, and weather that ranges from bad to worse even in the height of the summer, the Braswell may never be a big waterfall kayakers paradise.  But then again, only 10 years ago pack ice made this mission nearly impossible… especially in a sailboat.  Maybe global warming isn’t all bad…. no…. just forget I said that.


6 Feather Fest and Gnarl Fest

Back at home in Chico, California after 60 days in the north mostly freezing my bits off, I am reminded why I love the Feather River and am so proud to call this place home.

Macy at the Feather Fest Awards

Feather Fest

Since  Dave Steinforf and American Whitewater championed whitewater releases on the North Feather River 8 years ago, the Feather Fest has not so quietly taken it’s place among the great whitewater gatherings in the US.  This year nearly 800 enthusiasts gathered at Indian Jim along the normally dewatered upper reaches of the North Feather River to raise funds for our beloved American Whitewater, race, enjoy the river, and otherwise party down.  These are some of my favorite people on Earth and the best part is they all show up at the same time.  And if you have never had the pleasure of witnessing the awards ceremony put on by Macy and Amanda Burnham please do put it on your bucket list.

Rusty's Rampage half way through the Gnarl Fest Race Course. photo: Jade Sevelow-Lee

Gnarl Fest

Thanks to the hard work of Eric Petlock in coordination with American Whitewater and the cooperation of Kathy Peterson of South Feather Water and Power, class IV and V kayakers have  a month of world class kayaking during the normally dry California fall. The week after Feather Fest we celebrate these releases on the South Feather River with an event coined and founded by Justin Patt.  This is Gnar Fest.

Unlike the big, well-established, well-organized Feather Fest, Gnarl Fest is an upstart grassroots event that embodies the “strange” soul of class V kayaking.  If you don’t know everyone at Gnarl Fest; that’s ok, because you may not remember your own name by the end of the weekend.  For kayakers and spectators alike, the race and ensuing celebration are mind blowing where victory is a second hand purple jacket and a requisite chug of a 32 oz Purple Four Loco saved from before this fine malt beverage was banned from the US market.  YEAH Gnarl Fest!

Photo: Chris Korbulic

5 Seven years with Jackson Kayak: 87 First Descents and Counting

7 and 87 are just numbers but they are numbers that represent something important to me.  Since the Spring of 2006 I have been using Jackson Kayaks exclusively on my expeditions and in so many ways JK boats and the Jackson Kayak company have been a key component in following my dream of river exploration.  To be sure members of the JK team and even the Jackson family themselves have been principle members of my kayaking missions through 5 continents,  19 countries, and 87 first descents in a Jackson Kayak.


Of course I am a firm believer in JK function, durability, and simplicity make for the finest expedition kayak available.  From EJ, David Knight, and the Factory team in the RD phase, to the folks on the factory floor during construction, to quality control, to the customer service that follows every JK boat through it’s life I am proud of the the little kayak company-that-could from Tennessee.  Now venturing into the 5th generation of best selling kayaks on the market, these days JK is far more than a little boat company.    To be sure, there is much more coming from Jackson Kayak in the future and my only question is- where can my Jackson Kayak take me next?


photo: Amanda Lambert

4 Niagara Falls

When my girlfriend Amanda took a Job in Upstate New York for the summer, she baited me out for a visit with a trip to Niagara Falls.  No matter how cliche, over-crowded, or overbuilt, Niagara remains one of the 7 Wonders of the World and it stands as a monument to the masses of why waterfalls and free-flowing rivers are important.  There is a palpable natural energy to this place that could make even the most hard core mine, dam, and destroy capitalist bow down to the natural power of our world.  Even the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers stopped well short of dewatering this masterpiece.


Even if the American Mega-Casino and the Canadian Disneyland that fringe this one of a kind land scape make you nauseous, Niagara is still a place for dreamers.  Of all the places to run into Red Bull big waterfall kayaker Rafael Ortiz after many years it was more than interesting that it happened here.  What were you dreaming about Rafa?

Photo: Ale Socci

3 Greenland

According to everyone that lives in Greenland, whether they are a hardcore environmentalist or a hardcore hunting, fishing, snowmobiling conservative type, the ice in Greenland is melting fast.  Early this September Chris Korbulic, Pedro Oliva, and I saw this first hand the affects of the rapidly melting ice cap in the truly awe-inspiring high water scour line on our first descent of the Sarfartoq River and in the result of a massive flood that ripped through Kangerlussuaq taking with it the town’s only bridge.  The world’s largest island and second largest ice-cap is in a state of flux but one thing remains constant: It’s good to be a kayaker in Greenland.  For thousands of years the kayak was a crucial mode of transport and survival and today it is the only way to navigate the rivers that are only now emerging from the last ice age.  I have never experienced anything close to the remoteness that I felt in Greenland and to be sure there are rivers that are many times as remote as the ones we experienced.


There are wonderful people that live in Greenland and everyone we met seemed game to help with our big adventure.  A return trip is near the top of my to do list with a side note to bring a pair of expedition Poggies nest time!


Photo: Jared Johnson

2 Marble Fork

Descending the Marble Fork of the Kaweah was a dream come true that was many years in the making.  Chris Korbulic and I spent 8 days in the gorge itself with fellow JK team member Eric Seymour and kayaking climbers Forrest Nobble and Jared Johnson in pursuit of what more often than not seemed impossible.  But again, neither I nor my would be kayaking partner Chris Korbulic can take much of the the credit for the descent.  In the realm of cutting edge expedition kayaking Forrest Noble is the kind of rare life-long expeditionist that has the skill and the attitude to make the impossible possible.  For weeks Forrest schemed and plotted to make our dream a reality with a plan to hybridize our extreme kayaking technique with the kind of big wall climbing knowhow that he has honed over decades of climbing in Yosemite.

Forrest tapping anchors into a blank wall

As a result of Forrest’s love for big walls and big rivers, the first descent of the truly epic Marble Gorge was possible.


1 Well Completed in Kabaya Maji, DR Congo

There is nothing Chris Korbulic and I can do to compensate for the loss of Hendri Coetzee.  He was one of a kind for many reasons and none more than his love of Africa and its people.  It was an honor to be able to journey back to the place where he lost his life almost two years ago and make good on a promise to do something good in Hendri’s name.  To be able to share that experience with Hendri’s best friend and mentor, Pete Meredith, made the experience something I will never forget.


Thanks to National Geographic and the admirable social responsibility of a local mining concern called MMR, Chris and I were able to return to Kabeya Maji once again in late June to see through the village’s first fresh water well.  Of course this is no panacea for a place that has suffered for decades from war and subsequent political, social, and environmental strife. But clean drinking water can put once chronically ill kids in school and otherwise improve the quality of life in the whole community.  And to be sure, that is something Hendri would be proud of.