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Mesa Falls

March 25th, 2008 by bozemankayaker

For those of you who don’t know Mesa Falls is a waterfall on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River near Island Park ID. Lower Mesa Falls is a magnificent display of power. It is hard to stand next to it and not awe in the beauty of the cascading waters. I personally revere it for its breath-taking riverscape. Lower Mesa Falls, like its name hints, is the product of the Snake River’s decent from a high mesa in central Idaho, in two spectacular displays of nature’s power. The Upper Falls is unrunnable, but worth a look, as it will get you pumped for what lies merely 3/4 of a mile downstream. The lower falls is a a two tiered drop on the left and a one shotter with a big bounce on the right. The falls crash down into an almost perfectly vertical canyon, with lush grass and towering butresses giving it the feel of Middle Earth rather than middle Idaho. In essence, Mesa is a huckers paradise.
Three weeks ago our crew of boaters made the 2 1/2 hour journey to Mesa Falls for Wes’s birthday celebration. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the water levels were perfect. The left side line, which consists of a 15 footer shortly followed by a 30 footer, was prime and just pleading with us to huck. The huck fest was started in fine form by Pat, who hopped in his boat for the first shot at the drop. After his flawless line the rest of the crew followed eagerly into the sweet bubbly bliss.
After many minutes of deliberation Bradford and I decided that the right side was perfect for dropping on this particular day. With safety set and hearts pounding Bradford and I scouted, rescouted, and scouted again. We went step by step through the strokes up to the drop, the boof, the tuck, and the impact. As go time came nearer I could see the determination in Bradford’s eyes…mixed with a healthy dosage of trepidation.
Bradford waited in the eddy above the drop veiled by an outcropping of bushes. I anxiously awaited his pealout on the shore just 30 feet away. I feared for my friend. I thought about the shear rock wall just 10 feet to the right of his drop zone. I pondered what would happen if he was off line by a mere 3-5 feet on his left and dropped into the deep seam that disappeared into a thundering abyss 65 feet below. What if he hit the boulder and went over vertical? What if he pitoned? Would he hit his line? Was he ready for this? Before I could think more on these questions I saw Bradford’s boat patiently waiting at the edge of the eddy 30 feet above the lip. A few more moments of contemplation, and Bradford pealed out of the eddy heading for the largest drop of his kayaking career. The lip approached, and Bradford was on line. He took one last late boof stroke and plummeted to the rock “bounce” 20 feet below.

He sprung from the rock with impressive force and fell the remaining 45 feet to the chunder below. Without even a seconds falter he was up and paddling away from the drop unscathed. Pat and Jake erupted in triumph from the safety rock below the falls. I could see the exhalation in his face from my perch. His smile beamed ear to ear, and I knew he had laced his line. I bellowed my response to his sick line down to him over the deafening roar. But for me it was not time for celebration. I was up next.
As I got into my boat I remembered how this drop had been my dream since I first laid eyes on it some 3 years ago. How it had kept me up at night thinking about the most significant boof I might potentially ever make. Three years ago I was not ready for the right side of Mesa, but sitting in that eddy starring over my shoulder at the largest horizon line I’d ever contemplated, I knew I was finally ready to give ‘er. As I pealed out of the eddy I felt as if the water were slowing down, as if I had a keener sense of things about me. I could hear the roar of the falls, but it somehow felt surreal. Each stroke felt like it was perfect, like the water was controlling the blades, not me. 15 feet from the lip I made contact with my one reference point, a small wave, and mentally smiled; I was on line. 10 feet, I watched the mist approach, and heard only the cacophonous waters. 5 feet, I took my last stroke on my right side and prepared for a left side boof hopefully placing me perfectly on the bounce rock sending me into a pencil in the pool below. As the lip rolled away from my boat I pulled on my left blade, grabbing the rock slightly, boofing the 65 foot waterfall. I had a moment of panic, as I thought I was oververtical, and would piton on the boulder 20 feet below, but instead I felt the watery recoil hit the hull of my boat and the then…darkness. An instant later I felt powerful impact that stunned me momentarily. I rolled up and was at the bottom of the falls. My face was pounding with pain, and my vision was blurry, but I could only feel satisfaction. For lack of a better word I was STOKED. Pat and Jake greeted me with cheering and high fives as I rolled into the eddy. As my adrenaline flowed out of me I began to smile, and then laugh. I had done it, I had dropped the “Right Side”. My dream of sailing off the right side was finally realized. It was an indescribable feeling, like none I have had before.
The reunion between Bradford and I back at the top of the left side was awesome. I could see the excitement in his eyes, and I felt it in my own as well. We had bothed nailed our lines, and celebrated together. As we spoke, Bradford told me “…this drop has changed how I am going to paddle. I feel like I can harness my fear now, channel it down into something I can use.”
Bradford’s words ring truer than ever. I now feel like we’ve made a leap forward in our paddling. No, hucking your meat doesn’t make you a good paddler, and if you are not ready it appears to mean quite the opposite. This drop represented our drive to push ourselves mentally and control our wits. I now look forward to the next challenge that lies ahead.
As we drove off that day I felt more satisfied than I had in a long time. I’m not going to run that drop again. I don’t think I’ll ever run that drop again, and I don’t think I’m ready to, but I anxiously await the next kid stupid enough to think he is.

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