Sunday, March 1, 2009

Salween River- Magi Section by Quinn Connell

George Milheim leads Jason Cohen in between holes on the Salween. Photo by Ben Stanistreet

The bus jolts along a windy road riddled with rocks. IPods drown out the rattling of windows with broken latches, and crochet hooks jerk through partly finished hats. The dust clears from the air and flies leave their places on the ceiling in order to inspect molding uni suits as the bus halts near a bridge. A couple of hundred yards down to our right flows the jade water of the Salween River. We have reached the put-in.

The Magi section of the Salween has been a favorite in our voyage throughout China. The run begins with one of the burliest rapids we have run. Nate Garcia pauses at the entrance of the rapid to surf a small but powerful hole. After flushing, he charges down to the right, breaking through several seams that grab at his edges, trying desperately to flip him. He breaks through a curler and drops into the meat of a gigantic crashing wave hole. Deceptively retentive, the monster devours, and after some chewing, spits him out to surface downstream. He rolls up and gasps a breath of air. The oxygen hits his blood stream and allows his exhausted muscles the energy to push right once more, avoiding a powerful pourover even bigger than the beast he just escaped. A few were not so lucky, and got to practice their swimming skills, courtesy of the diagonal hydraulic.

Ben Dann whips into an eddy near the top of the next significant rapid, and like ducklings, the rest of the World Class student body chases him. Ferrying out, he looks over his shoulder and powers upstream. Just when it seems all is lost, the wave he is trying to catch has an unexpected surge and crashes, sending him skipping down its face. He slides out in a grind, spinning around as the feature greens out, sending him downstream. Danny Doran follows him, snapping a kickflip over an exploding wave in the wave train below. It shoots upward just as his hips cross the peak, launching him into the air. His boat swings around his spray-soaked face, landing flat with an audible thump as he sticks the move.

Eric Parker, shredding. Photo by Ben Stanistreet

Our group flies down through several small rapids. Erik Johnson stern squirts on an eddyline and Ben Hurd throws a macho move over a diagonal wave feeding from shore. The rest of us work on our flatwater skills and make small talk as we soak in the mountains on either side of us. The pool above the next major rapid suddenly becomes a stage. Jesse Shimrock directs our attention to a footbridge swinging 30 feet above the next set of waves, on which it seems an entire village turned out to get a look at the strange westerners down on the river. They whistle and yell at us, and are only encouraged by our whoops in return.

We enter the rapid with excitement; there is a roar coming from downstream that promises more excitement. The rapid begins with a gentle entrance to a smooth glassy wave, about head high. Just what I have been looking for. As I drop into the rapid and feel the water pulling me towards the wave, I reach my paddle blade across my boat and pull myself vertical with a crossbow sweep. This sends me spinning on my bow, and just as my pirouette is about to flatten out, I glimpse the wave coming at me. I jump over its crest and huck myself forward to my deck. Finally I hit the move I have been trying the entire trip- a downriver Phonix Monkey! Elated, I paddle through the rest of the wave train and see Ivan Stiefel throwing clean cartwheels in a steep hole.

Nate Garcia is ready for some Salween "treats." Photo by Eric Parker

The rest of the group has eddied out, in the second part of this rapid lies a huge wave with a beastly pile, offering an exhilarating and incredibly bouncy survival surf. After catching it on the fly we scrape our way up the eddy near the bank, fighting rocks for position as we prepare to make the difficult ferry back out to the wave. Ben Dann hits the pile and is rocketed forward, out of the water. He surfs the wave, getting tossed around. On one pass he drops from the top of the wave, digs in an edge upon landing, and is launched into a massive air blunt above the wave. We all give the ferry a couple tries and head downriver, exhausted but content. On our last rides, Erik Johnson flew in a huge pan am to airscrew combo on the sporadic giant, and I was hurled into the biggest flashback I have ever thrown.

We ride out the rest of the run, several more fun wave trains fly by. LJ Groth lays some treats on a wave as smooth as butter that he discovered on WCKA's last trip here. The eddy above is crowded with people waiting their turn to carve and grind the friendly spot. Before we know it we recognize our bus and truck parked above the river, and scramble to catch the eddy. We hike up to meet our drivers, “Wang Sher Fu” and Clark, as well as our translator Zachary, who have made our trip possible. LJ climbs into the back of the cargo truck, and we pass him our boats before piling into the bus with our wet, stinky gear to ferment for an hour on our drive back to Gong Shan.

Photo by Jason Cohen.

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