Deciding to step up my kayaking game a notch came through persistence, bravery, and the right mentorship.
Having run plenty of Class Four whitewater in my kayak and the occasional Class Five drop or section prepared me well for Kootenai Falls. A couple of trips down the Grand Canyon prepared me for its high flows, and cliff jumping, lead climbing and a few previous waterfall drops had me well on my way to committing to the falls drop before arriving on location. That is when the real energy comes forth and being in tune with your self that day is critical to success.
We drove the three and a half hours from Missoula and arrived at the Kootenai Falls in the heat of the day with a beautiful blue sky pervading all color and the white of the falls and the green of the forest made for beautiful scenery into which we brought the big kid toys. Warming up on the Super Wave was no joke either with the power of the full river behind it and at a pinch in the main channel, the wave is big and frothy and fairly forgiving. Watching the other Missoula boaters there shred it up was inspiring and we joined them shortly. After a few fun rides, I would take a long breather and watch the other pro do his thing water child of the mountain rivers that he is. Spins and cartwheels and saves and great rolls happened to a small audience while I worked up my courage every time to drop in and spin.
Eventually I was flipped and missing a quick recovery, I rolled up heading downstream in the main channel paddling hard for river right and the eddies there. I missed the main eddy and had to face a brief section of the gorge before making my way into an eddy. Looking back, here comes one of my partners who misses my eddy on account of burly water and eddies out further downstream.
I carry back up the island river right until I can put back in above the Superwave and try catching it and eddying out on the far shore. Paddling hard into the bubbling froth below Kootenai Falls, one must take a decisive approach and then catching the wave from river right is a breeze. Into the meat of the wave I tracked, leaning, paddling and spinning before managing a graceful exit river left into the eddy service. I looked for my downstream partner for a bit and once found we took a lunch break and watched the falls.
Our Pro was suiting up the new Mamba for the falls, and we headed up to photo and run safety. While I pulled the trigger, off the falls he launched in a two step drop far river left. Back up for another go at the center channel, full drop as the two step had a bit of a ledge in it. Perfect drop about 22 feet right into the pool with no issue. One more time and I was sold, it was my turn to go or tuck tail. I made myself speak the words and they sounded good and positive and convinced, "I better run it now, I am ready."
Carrying up to the put in, I let the focus of all my energy develop as I went through the motions of preparing myself for the paddle towards the lip and the dropoff. There was a good lane and easy paddling, I reviewed the possible stroke combinations but when I reached the marker rock, I lost my deliberateness in favor of keeping my angle perfect and paddling aggressively off the falls. And into the deep and comforting womb of the pool below. I landed backseat and experienced a phenomenal back flip in the kayak upside down. Then I rolled up, fist pumped and eddied out. WOW!
We ran the lower gorge below the Super Wave after that and what a treat to juxtapose the play boat and a Mamba in the same day on 12,000 cfs! After squirming through that personal wormhole, I felt that I had reached a bit of paddling nirvana and really look forward to returning to the Kootenai Falls before it becomes too cold. What an amazing piece of local Whitewater.