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Uncle Ernie makes you Earn it!!

Snoqualmie, N. Fork
Class: V+      GMap
3. Spur 10 Bridge to 428th St. Bridge (Ernies Canyon)
Trip Date: 11/16/2009
Written on: 11/16/2009
Written by:

...Well I got back into Ernie's canyon with Rob yesterday. That run is a trip. It's an ass kicker. And it's kinda spooky!

What follows isn't really a Trip report or guidebook description (Bennett's is really spot on, IMO). I'm turning it around in my head and considering the run. Writing is a great way of externalizing my thoughts, to  solidify them. Almost like an object I can hold in my hands to examine. Now if you think this is more of jP's long winded blabber, fine. But if you really want to go in here, either:

a) You are SUCH an incredibly solid class V boater that you don't need much in the way of descriptions. You have a valid passport to any whitewater on the planet and thus don't need my cautionary words.
Or, most likely,
b) You are like the rest of the 90+% of the paddling population. You are a "mere mortal", or a fairly solid boater who is still fresh on class V. Maybe you should read this carefully...

A quick quote from AW's database:
"Ernie's runs more often than not throughout the rainy fall, winter, and spring. Courage and skill are the factors limiting runs on Ernie's, not the water level. The run is known as one of the more challenging in the region and when the flows are right expert paddlers come from 100's of miles away come to challenge some of the most technical and powerful class V creeking in the Cascades."

It's an excellent class V+ run. I won't hesitate to add another "+" sign. Class V++ (lol!). Last time I ran it I had a great run. I walked away "thinking this river's just another challenging class V trip", as Bennett warns against. This trip went fine, too, but it did seem as though I had more less-than-perfect runs through more of the drops: more hole rides in holes large and small, more squirrely tail-stand maneuvers out of turbulent drops, and more determined braces to remain upright. More flips and half-rolls (I generally don't flip in class V as a matter of policy, and often manage to maintain that policy- one flip per trip is about normal if at all). I fell short of a few lines, and while they happened to be in some marginally forgivable spots, I didn't like it. But still, the trip went great overall, with no major problems. I had a great time, and boated well.

The thing about this run is it is so close to Seattle, where I live. Much closer than Robe. I've allowed that to influence my reasons for wanting to run it. Some of my friends have said similar things: "it's so close to Seattle, we need to get that run dialed in so we can run it all the time!" like we're some gluttonous kids who just moved next door to a candy store. Hmm. My advice to some of these friends is: Maybe you should just go in there once before saying that. Now I'm wondering what kind of tales the Brothers Grimm would tell if they were contemporary class V paddlers. But why do I really want to paddle it? Because I can? I mean, I certainly can. Nothing bad happened to me in there (yet). But damn is it DANGEROUS! I have to pull out all the stops to ensure I'm going to stay on line. I want to paddle it because it's challenging. But is it fun? It's closer to home than Robe or the Little White, but it is measurably more difficult. And exponentially more hazardous. The challenge and adventure, even the stress of a run like that can be fun. Maybe not as fun as frolicking (comparatively) down those other two runs.

Why is this, specifically? For one thing the drops are quite powerful. It's not as steep as a lot of class V runs, but something about the narrow canyon and all of those incredibly large boulders squeezes that water through there. You can end up coming out of quite a few drops out of control, and yet you need to stay on line through an endlessly intricate sequence of technical paddling up ahead. This is where the seives come into play. Yes there are plenty of good quality, deep, greenwater eddies, but getting into them can take some intent paddling! It seems like throughout the majority of the run the current is constantly pushing where you don't want to go. Or it is pushing you where you'll eventually want to go but sooner than you want to go there because you want to have a peak first, either from your boat or from the bank. Because being one or two feet off line can have consequences. The seived out nature in there is ominous.
     Lots of class V runs ask no more of you than to basically follow the water and stay in the main flow, with a few punctuated moves to dodge this or that. Stay relaxed, float into your approaches and conserve your energy for the moves you need to bust. In Ernie's you can't float or be passive for more than a few seconds at a time. You can't afford to drop your guard ever or be lackadaisical. You end up using lots of cross-current strategies to avoid sh*t. There are probably way more hazards than the ones I have noticed, and I scout frequently in there, and in an intensive manner. You have to, IMO. And scouting is more difficult than I gave the run credit for before. I mean, it's not that bad, but if you want to take a thorough look like I usually do, you need to boulder and climb. And that consumes energy, as necessary as it is to scout.

Rob and I were overlooking Jacuzzi, the 20-25 foot falls that rarely gets run. We agreed that it is no place to sharpen one's skills. They need to be sharp already before you enter. It is a very physically and mentally demanding run (for me, at least.). I don't think I'll ever have a casual mindset with regards to Ernie's Canyon. Having said all of this, I felt comfortable in there the times I've run it, and I had a lot of "fun". I do enjoy the way it challenges me and I would like to continue running it. I do think that more familiarity will soften it's intensity some. For now I consider it a project. That's why I will continue to cautiously scout in there. No rushing down it for me, thank you.

To those of you who have run it, or to those (very few) who routinely run it, I'd love to hear your feedback to balance out my own perspective. I am a very conservative and cautious paddler, after all.

And feel free to call me up if you are seriously considering the run. I'm not as familiar with it as some of my companions, but I keep a detailed river log.


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