Even with competitions canceled and travel restrictions in place, boaters found new and innovative ways to redefine and challenge the limits of whitewater during the pandemic. Here are some of our favorite bright stars in an otherwise kinda crummy year.
Filer Creek First Descent
Paddlers: Sandy MacEwan, Ed Muggridge, Benny Marr
Location: Coastal Mountains, British Columbia
Sandy McEwan dreamed up this mission close to home thanks to a bit of scouting help from satellite images. With Benny Marr and Ed Muggridge on board, the trio was choppered into the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia, about 150 miles north of Vancouver. The mountain backdrop offered 360 degrees of postcard scenery for much of the 40-mile route through unrun gorges and slot canyons, and some grueling portages through thick brush too.
“Just being in that gorge was such a wild feeling; it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” Muggridge says in the Red Bull documentary about the expedition.
Double Achievement Unlocked
Paddler: Nouria Newman
Earlier this year, Nouria Newman notched the first descent of Ecuador’s Pucuno Falls—which also ushered her into the history books as the first woman to run a 100-foot drop. But the achievement from the past year Newman is most keen to talk about is her backyard first descent of Pakidaille in the French Alps during last summer’s lockdown. She calls it the scariest rapid she’s ever run.
“I have watched this rapid so many times and always thought it was unrunnable,” Newman says. Most of the river feeds into a big siphon under the triangular rock at low flow, while the whole sequence turns into a gnarly piece of big water creeking at high flows.
“Being on lockdown and only allowed to go out one hour per day less than a kilometer from the house, I ended up looking at this rapid a lot. I started seeing a line and had to wait for conditions to align. I knew it was runnable, but I also knew the consequences were as high as it can get,” she says.
“The hours you spend scouting and working towards it, how it messes up with your head and fears, it just makes it rewarding in the end,” she adds.
Chasing Arctic Waterfalls
Paddlers: Erik Boomer + Sarah McNair-Landry
Location: Baffin Island
Last summer, Erik Boomer and Sarah McNair-Landry stayed in her home territory of Nunavut and set out into the wilds of southern Baffin Island with 20 days of food, fuel and a bear fence. The plan? To run four rivers connected by 25 miles of hiking. Dubbed the Meta Incognito Mission, the duo nabbed four first D’s—and Boomer even ran a couple of falls with a shotgun strapped to his bow—for polar bear defense, of course.
Dual First Descents
Paddler: Galen Volkhausen
Location: Rattlesnake Falls, Columbia River Gorge
Plunging more than 90 feet in a remote area of the Columbia River Gorge, Rattlesnake Falls rarely sees high enough water levels to deem it runnable—until one day this past January when Galen Volckhausen and Hayden Voorhees snagged the first descent. Volckhausen liked it so much he continued downstream and dropped Lower Rattlesnake Falls to claim a same-day first descent of two 90-footers.
Paddler: Aniol Serrasolses
Location: Araucanía region, Chile
Spanish pro kayaker Aniol Serrasolses constantly pushes the boundaries of what is achievable in a whitewater kayak, and his latest feat is no different. In his biggest Red Bull stunt ever, he descended more than 15 miles through snow-capped mountains in Chile’s Araucanía region, dropping through a lush forest and—finally—into rapids below. He finished by landing the world’s first double kickflip off a waterfall.
Ultra Kayak Mission
Paddler: Benny Marr
Location: Cariboo region, British Columbia
Benny Marr dipped his paddle into endurance paddling last year, kayaking 300 miles of whitewater and flatwater over 29 hours, through Tsilhqot’in Nen title land, Esketemculeucw land and Secwepemcúl’ecw land on the Chilko, Chilcotin and Fraser rivers in British Columbia. Powered by four homemade burritos, a heck of a lot of Clif Bloks with caffeine and Honey Stingers, he paddled in 7,200 cms of water on the Chilko, the second-highest volume he’s been in, next to the Congo River.
“The exhaustion was a unique sensation. I could fall asleep in my boat in less than 10 seconds. I would lose balance, wake up and cycle like that to rest sometimes. I prepared for it and I really just wanted to know what it would feel like physically and mentally and if I would like it.”
This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Ed Muggridge on the Filer Creek descent, a 40-mile run through gorges and slot canyons with some spicy portages. | Photo: Benny Marr