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With spring in full effect and rivers beginning to rise, paddling in Idaho is soon to be some of the best in the country. For the last month I have been checking a certain river gauge, not the North Fork Payette, not the Main Salmon, not the Lochsa, but the Malad River. The Malad River, the shortest river in Idaho, has had my attention because of one waterfall. Normally kayakers paddle the Malad, for easy class II, III, and IV rapids in gorgeous crystal clear blue water in the middle of the southern Idaho desert. The Devil’s Washbowl, upstream of that clear water, is a 50-55 foot waterfall that has been descended around 15 times. After waiting all of April for the perfect level to arrive, I could hardly wait to get out and scout the falls.

On Easter Sunday Seth Stoenner and I were fired up to go run the falls. Seth has run the Washbowl two times before, so he is familiar with everything to know about the drop. I had looked at it one time before after paddling with no intention of running of running it, so I had an idea of what to expect after seeing it in person. I have watched numerous videos and looked at pictures a thousand times. Once we arrived to the falls at the Malad Gorge State Park, the level was about 430 cfs, pretty much exactly the level you would want in order to run this drop. When Seth had paddled it the times before, it was around 320 cfs.

This waterfall is probably one of the most intimidating, challenging, terrifying, and gnarliest waterfalls in the Northwest, and maybe even in the whole country. Describing this waterfall gets my heart rate up just thinking about it. In order to run the falls, you put in about 100 yards up and lower boats into the Malad Gorge, a steep box canyon that is about 70ft tall with no way out once you put in. The water comes from a sieve underground that starts the gorge. The 100 yards before the lip of the falls probably has about 100 feet of gradient leading up to it filled with continuous class Vrapids. The canyon has absolutely amazing whitewater, a super narrow channel, awesome boofs, and some very tricky moves. This section alone would be so fun to do laps on to get great air time on the big boofs. There is one part of the run that is very sketchy with a cave/undercut on the left after a long ramping double drop. As long as you drive left and on the last part of the drop, turn and boof right it isn’t a problem. After the amazing canyon, there is one eddy that is fairly large for the size of the gorge. It is about 50 feet above the lip of the falls. The biggest problem with this drop is within ten feet of the lip, there is a large ledge hole that you have to boof and keep your speed up before going off the falls. Once you enter the actual falls and begin to fall, two curtains from each side engulf you and your boat with no way of clearing them or boofing the falls. About thirty feet down the falls there is a ledge that people generally hit on the way down, denting the bottom of boats. Many people call this reconnect on the waterfall “Charlie Beavers Drop” because on the first descent with about 200 cfs, Charlie pitoned on that shelf, and broke both of his ankles.

The combination of a big hole right at a lip, and a ledge halfway down the falls, means there is absolutely no room for error. If someone were to get stuck in the hole and swim, go backwards, sideways, or upside down the consequences could be substantial or even life threatening. The waterfall lands in a fairly large sized pool, and continues down with a class IV and V boulder garden. Everyone that has run the Washbowl says the hit at the bottom of falls is one of the softest landings they have had . Setting adequate safety at the bottom of the falls is also a challenge. The only way to get down to the bottom of the falls is to repel down about 50 feet on to a ledge, and then walk down. Because of the possibility of skirt implosion and the rapids below, safety is very important. Seth and I did not have a safety crew due to the timing of the falls reached a runnable level on Easter Sunday.

This waterfall has been on my list for about a year and a half. It was a perfect level and I would be running it with a good buddy, who was familiar with the falls. Both if these factors made it very reassuring to me that things will go well. After about an hour of scouting, Seth seemed to be leaning towards not running it, but I was fired up to go, I was confident I would hit my line and come out the bottom unharmed. Seth believed he would nail the line as well like he had the previous two times. Seth said, “I don’t think I’m going to go for it today. Usually when I am about to run a big drop I have that feeling that fires me up. I’m not feeling that right now.” I was definitely nervous but excited to run the drop. After Seth said that “he just wasn’t feeling it”, it made me feel differently about running it as well. I was already about 50/50 on running it, but his mood effected how I felt about running it too. We just didn’t have the fire inside to run it at that moment.

I sat on the cliff and thought about all of the factors. The undercut in the gorge, the hole at the lip, the ledge halfway down, no safety, I agreed that today was probably not best day. It will always be there. When running a big waterfall or rapid, you are putting your life on the line no matter what your skill level is or how many times you have done it. The decision to tackle a monster like that needs to be thought out and the situation and mindset have to be perfect. We had both felt really well, but just as we were about to get dressed the feeling to run it did not come. When that feeling is invisible within yourself, and no matter how hard you look to find it and you can’t, it is not the time. For our lifetime, a waterfall or rapid will generally always still be there. I am only 16 years old. I don’t have to run it this year, next year, or even 5 years. I am still young and have a lot of time to run it. I would like to run it soon, but I don’t have to. Making the decision should be because everything has lined up perfectly and you want to. No other reason should influence you decision, not for the footage, the picture, nor just to say that you did it. None of those things had crossed my mind while I was scouting it or as a reason that I wanted to run it. Yes, I had the thought about the footage and had planned the scenes that I wanted to capture if I ran it, but today was not the day. Those things are all secondary. No one will ever criticize you for not paddling something you aren’t 100% comfortable with, so don’t do it if you don’t feel it.

I look forward to going back hopefully very soon when the water comes back up. Until then I am just thinking about the keys to a successful line. First, just have fun in the gorge; it is epic whitewater and focus on how fun it will be. Second, don’t think about the 50 foot waterfall until I get there. Finally, once I am in that eddy I can worry about the falls and my line when I eventually run it. Enter left, make a sharp turn to right getting away from the left wall, and then a big left boof driving right to get over the hole. Then I need to keep my speed up going over the lip, plant a big lefty boof stoke over the falls and tuck to the right into the curtain. I can feel myself get engulfed in water as I miss the ledge. As I hit the bottom I will be one that says that was I soft landing as I roll up. I will be stoked at the bottom. Does that seem like a pretty good line? I think so too.

Be safe out there and make good paddling decisions,
Alec Voorhees