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.
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.
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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