Saturday, June 03, 2006

First Descent!! Part 1.

God protects fools, little children and ships named Enterprise Seeker's Fate.

I read once that to become legendary, great success is not enough. In the end you must fail spectacularly. This was not a particularly comforting thought as I clung to a partialy submerged pipeline crossing the raging floodwaters of Spring Creek. Downstream I saw Clark bob to the surface next to the swamped Seeker's Fate but I couldn't tell if he was okay. I couldn't hold against the force of the water any longer and with a final gulp of air I was swept underwater. My face struck the bottom of the pipe, knocking off my glasses, yet somehow in the maelstrom I felt them hit my hand and I caught them. Tossed and turning under the water, feet hitting the branchs of downed trees, cord on my hat choking me, then bursting to the surface in a gasping spray of water!

Cool, I'm alive!

Clark was ahead of me clinging to the flooded, upside down canoe. I caught up to them and we swam Seeker's Fate to the muddy bank. We struggled ashore and tied the sunken canoe to a tree. Then we burst out laughing. For the third time that day (if you include the alligator "incident") we had danced on the razor's edge and sustained only shallow cuts.

Let's go back six hours. Our plan was to paddle from the Kuykendahl bridge to Jesse H. Jones Park. To our knowledge nobody has ever paddled this section of the stream from Kuykendahl to Panther Branch Creek. So at 6am and brimming with explorative excitement, Clark and I tore our skin off dragging the canoe a quarter-mile through thorny bramble to where Spring Creek passes underneath Kuykendahl Road. It took us an hour to get Seeker's Fate through the undergrowth, but at 7am we launched the first descent of this stretch of Spring Creek. Cypress Creek is considered passable from this road, but I've found no record of anyone launching into Spring Creek this far upstream. Recent rains had Spring Creek flowing at just under 600 cubic-feet-per-second. According to the lady at Southwest Paddlesports Spring Creek is best paddled between 150 and 400 cfs. 600 cfs was only 50% higher than recommended. We figured the extra water would make it easier...

Trees formed a beautiful canopy over us as paddled away from the bridge. Birds were singing, fish were jumping, and the water was flowing fast and burbling vigorously. It was unbelievable awesome and I'll have pictures up in a few days. My waterproof camera survived, but we aren't sure yet if Clark's digital camera has. It fell into the water as we were pulling the canoe over our fifth deadfall. Clark dived in after it and somehow caught it before it had sunk out of sight. But when he climbed back onto the log water poured from the camera's delicate electronic innards. The SD card is probably okay, but there's little hope for the camera.

This section of Spring Creek is stunningly beautiful, but to get through it you need to be able to balance on slippery, muck-covered dead trees while pulling your canoe over them. The banks weren't conductive to portaging around the fallen trees and thanks to Hurricane Rita, there were LOTS of fallen trees blocking our path. It quickly became apparent that this was a fool's errand. Luckily we were the right fools for the job! It was wonderfully challenging and we were having a blast. No one had done this before and quite frankly, no one probably ever will again (least of all us!).

Not every tree was touching the water. Some were suspended inches to a couple feet about the water. If there were a few inches of space between the bow of the canoe and the tree we could usually sneak under it if we I laid down backwards. Clark had an easier time as he could lay back into the canoe. I could only lay backwards across the rear bow which meant I needed more clearence to get through the "strainers". Each time we did this dozens of spiders, leaves and twigs would shower down into the canoe as we scraped through the branches. Due to the flow rate we shoot through these barriers very fast. That's how we ended hung up on a branch by my throat.

We had come around a corner and hit a strainer with just a second to react. We threw ourselves backwards and shot into a flurry of branches. Then something had me by the throat and was crushing it as the water continued to try and pull Seeker's Fate downstream! I was trapped against the back of the canoe for long seconds then suddenly the 2" wide branch snapped, releasing me. It hurt like hell but that's a small price to pay when cheating death.

Things calmed down a little after that. We reached the Gosling Road bridge a little before 10am (launched at 7am) and the number of deadfalls dropped somewhat. Instead of every 200 yards they appeared every 500 yards or so. The river started twisting back and forth in many S-curves and hairpin turns. Easterly progress dropped dramaticaly. The area was still stunningly beautiful though so we didn't mind. Every bend revealed a new paradise untouched by man. We were intoxicated by the ravishing scenery, so when the huge alligator exploded out of its burrow under a tangle of tree roots we were rather suprised.

Okay, maybe "suprised" was an understatment. Unfortunately "screamed like large, manly schoolgirls" might be a bit more accurate. In light of the recent alligator attacks, this screaming should be allowable when a 10-foot long alligator is charging towards you! Then for whatever reason it dived beneath our canoe and disappeared.

This was such an incredibly cool adventure!!!

We paddled. We floated. We climbed over deadfalls and squeeked under deadfalls. By 10am we were only 5 miles away from I-45 as the crow flies, but it ended up taking almost three hours to get there. We paddled, we floated, we climbed over trees and squished under trees. After a long, hard journey of exploration we reached known territory. We frikken did it!! We made the first descent of Spring Creek to Panther Branch Creek!! WOO_HOO!!! WE ROCK!!!

From there it was only another ten minutes to I-45 and another five hours to Jesse H. Jones. It was after noon by the time we reached Panther Branch but the weather was suprisingly beautiful and the flow rate was FAST. We figured we could make it to Jesse H. Jones Park before it closed for the evening. No suprises lay ahead.

Four minutes later we were struggling to survive.

To be continued...

Adventure! Excitement! EXPLORATION!!!

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