Got a text last night saying Big Winds was going to do a repeat of the infamous Hellfire run of a few years ago. The wind prediction for today was off the charts in the east end of the gorge. This presents a conundrum. Unlike other years I kind of quit downwinding early. I haven’t done a SUP downwinder in over a month, and it’s been almost a month since I even just paddled OC6 with the HROCC. I’m headed to Maui in about a week. The river temperature is down, the air temp is way down, and I had an appointment to have my teeth cleaned.
My head wasn’t up to the brutality of a 45+ mph downwinder, and I had all my excuses in order when I got a text from Joel Yang saying he was going to do either a Viento or a Celilo to Maryhill run. Either should be a touch less grueling than Arlington, so I blew off the teeth cleaning and went.
When we got to Celilo it looked like an easy money deal. I volunteered to stick with the boards while Joel, Russell and two nice folks from Seattle whose names have been frozen out of my feeble brain took shuttle vehicles to Maryhill State Park. By the time they got back the wind had built from 25mph to well over 40. The tops were blowing briskly off the tops of the swells. All the trees in the park lost their leaves in fifteen minutes. At that point, I should have shed my compression tights and paddle jacket and put on a 3/4 full suit. But I didn’t. Why not? Because I’m as dumb as a bag of hammers.
The folks showed up, there were many excited whoops, and then we launched. It was immediately a lot more serious. I rode a few hundred yards glued to the tail of my Bullet 17 V2 and thought “I have way too much board. I should be on a surfboard. Or I should be home sitting on a soft chair reading murder mysteries. I could have had my teeth cleaned!”
I hung out a while in an eddy and got blown off my board sideways. Russel Peart showed up and got blown off his board just standing there. Literally blew off. Russel is light. We all headed up the river at Mach 2.
If you’re going to do a Celilo run there are two ways you can go around Miller Island. You can take the less scenic but more open, less current, low drama route to the Oregon side, or you can go through the narrower, nuttier Washington funnel which includes a little narrow section at the end called Hell’s Gate. No particular reason for calling it that. Naturally, we went through the current and wind funnel.
Very challenging. Even more challenging with surprising current (they must be doing something funny with the dams) and the ridiculous wind, which was mounting steadily, rising from 40 or so to something much nuttier.
I cleared the ridiculous part without a lot of drama, just a few falls that chilled me to my dumbass core, and then we hit the main river, just as the wind went from nuclear to What The Fuck Is This?
We were all sticking together, but I was getting cold so I didn’t want to sit in the open. I was pretty far in the lead, and I wanted to make sure Joel and Russel didn’t need help shepherding their slightly less experienced but quite capable friends. So I sat down on my board at the entrance to the little hook you see on the map, and promptly got blown into that little cove. No big deal thinks I, so I got on my knees and tried to paddle clear. No way.
Everyone else was much too smart to get blown onto a lee shore in the ridiculous wind, so they sat out a way, undoubtedly wondering “what is this fool doing” while I flopped around trying to get back out.
The cove is shallow, so I stood up about thigh deep and started wading. Even though I had my board wind vaned away and was holding it by the tail, the wind got under it and tossed it through two somersaults to the end of the leash and beyond. I collected it, and this time it only made two and a half flips with a twist and shot back at me. I decided to hike across the point and relaunch. Little did I realize that the hike was about half a mile and the other side was cliffs. I scouted to the left and found a feasible launch spot that required me to carry the board over rocks in blistering, shifty wind, but didn’t include a blind fifteen-foot throw and jump. I spotted Joel and Russel and waved that I was OK. Made my way to the spot just as Russel arrived to help me stabilize the board. It would have been a lot more ugly without his help.
By now I was shaking badly. I figured I was wandering into hypothermia territory even with my built-in Orca suit. I got back on the board and charged like a madman, hoping the added exertion would warm me a bit. Instead, I took a couple of nice cooling headers off the board when I buried it in head high water ditches. I can’t call them waves. The waves were blown flat. These were ditches.
Naturally when we hit the Maryhill Bridge the water under it looked like a whitewater thrill park. Somehow I got through it cleanly, though it took a hell of a lot of effort. I paddled up a way to some calm-ish water on a cobble beach, sat sideways on my board and waited for the crew so I could find out where the blessed takeout was. While I was waiting I watched a particularly big wave head straight towards me. I thought “oh n…” and it rolled me off the board backward in a foot of water. Thanks, I needed that.
We got to the takeout with no further drama. Russel took one look at me and ran to his car. Started it, turned the heater to 11 and ran back with a towel for me. I might have looked a little cold. I recovered enough in Russel’s truck on my way back to mine to be reasonably sociable–as much as I ever am.
It really was a great run, always beautiful, and I would have been happy as a clam if I’d slipped on the 3/4 technobutter full suit I had stretched out and toasty warm in the back seat.
Edit: Our fellow adventurers were Tony Phelps, and Jill Robinson Russel Peart shot some great photos of both of them. I’ve scalped a few but the rest are on the Stoke On The Water page