World-class paddler Chris Korbulic walking through the remote backwoods of Washington with kayak strapped to back.
A world-class paddler discovers a hidden rush in the remote backwoods of Washington.Chris Korbulic

Meet Chris Korbulic, Renowned Whitewater Kayaker and King of First Descents

Chris Korbulic is a world-renowned expedition whitewater kayaker

When the pandemic gutted last year’s global expedition plans, I looked to my Pacific Northwest backyard for inspiration. In Washington’s wild North Cascade Range I wanted to find a section of river that had never been paddled. Examining maps and satellite imagery I noticed myriad trails crisscrossing the range, opening access to countless rarely accessed stretches of river.

 

 

Twice I hiked with my kayak to scout a series of promising falls at a place called Agnes Creek just off the Pacific Crest Trail. But water levels were never right. On the third try everything finally came together. From the banks of an unnamed 45-foot waterfall, I spent three hours studying the drop, reviewing everything I’d learned from more than 100 first descents of falls around the world. By the time I commit to a fall like this I want to feel as though I’ve already done it, because I’ve visualized every detail. My girlfriend, who was there watching that day, says I obsess over preparation. She’s right.

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Portrait of Chris Korbulic, one of the world’s most renowned expedition whitewater kayakers.
Korbulic is one of the world’s most renowned expedition whitewater kayakers and takes an obsessive approach to planning. Chris Korbulic

 

Making my approach I became enveloped in sunlit mist rising before a moss-covered headwall. At the lip I felt the acceleration of gravity pulling me into a brief arc, then beautiful free fall. Because the water below was so aerated, the landing was actually pretty soft. My kayak submerged maybe 10 feet. In seconds I was upright at the base of the falls. My thoughts throughout were just about following the steps of my visualization process.

Left: Chris Korbulic kayaking. Right: Overhead shot of Unnamed 45-foot waterfall at Agnes Creek just off the Pacific Crest Trail
(Left) Chris Korbulic paddling along a gorge after whitewater rafting down an unnamed 45-foot waterfall at Agnes Creek just off the Pacific Crest Trail (right). Chris Korbulic

 

I finished paddling the mile-long gorge with Ben McKenzie, who followed me down the falls. Reveling in whitewater, bedrock drops and emerald-blue pools, we resolved to keep fighting for conservation of access to pristine rivers and healthy watersheds. Having notched another world-class first descent—this one only a couple hours from home—I felt my world had both shrunk and expanded.

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