Vertical mile basically meant to race down the whole 15mile lot more than three times in a row and descend by over a mile in a single day! As soon as I learnt that it became pretty clear what my goal for this summer was going to be.

We set the date earlier than expected. My friend Xavier from Alaska was going to celebrate his birthday on 27th July and we decided to build a team and try to beat the challange on this very occasion with seven members on board. Meeting on our campsite at 6.30 a.m. Yeap, you can guess it was going to be full on. We were to put some time aside for thorough planning and preparation, heaps of clothing for a chilly morning and, of course, food for the whole day was the main thing.

North Fork of Payette - Stubbs at Juicer

North Fork of Payette - Stubbs at Juicer

I am afraid I didn’t quite stick to the plan. Instead of some prep work in the evening Marcel and I went to buy a car and ended up joining the others for a movie theater. Getting back to the campsite after 1 a.m. wasn’t exactly what we planned. Apparently, I slept in and I realised in a flicker of a seckond that the vertical mile is over for me… The others have to be well over half-way the first 15 mile run. Finally, Marcel encouraged me enough to believe that we might catch up with them on water.

We took off in our sparkling new car. It’s price went up by 20% after filling up the fuel tank… and off we go! We didn’t catch a glimpse of anyone on our way up, unfortunatelly. Finally we found an empty car at the starting point. We turned our truck sharp and raced back lucky enough to meet our mates at the most difficult part. We had to go down that bit four times, three times was not enough to complete the vertical mile. I jumped into my wetsuit (I had only thin thermal-wear and shorts.. damn!) and started paddling down the remaining seven miles of lower North Fork.

It was a harsh wake-up, 8 a.m. and the very first rapid was a “Screaming Left“ (solid WW5). Definitely not my favourite. It was hell rocky and the left turn was pretty messy. I ended up in the bottom pillow of course and eskimo-rolled for the first time.

There was another juicy bit waiting right behind the next bend of North Fork called “Jaws” 1, 2 and 3. Unlike Screaming Left I enjoyed this rapit pretty much. It was over a mile long and absent of big rocks. Steep as hell though. The crucial part was “Jaw 1“. You got to make the right jump into the first pillow and then keep to the right. I landed flat but the tip of my kayak went straight into the air. Another eskimo-roll in the first two rapids, cool. I had no more hassle going through the rest of Jaws. The lower five miles of North Fork were rather a piece of cake because I had been down this road more than twenty times. It was about 9.30 a.m. and we were in Banks village making decision what to do next. Shall we go for another run? Or shall we have a breakfast first?

In the end we decided for another 15 miles because Austin wanted to finish the Vertical Mile and make it for the afternoon’s rafting with clients too. We headed up slightly re-grouped, Tyler gave up because his first ride was not very successful. Fifteen-year-old Ethan joined us instead. He wasn’t able to meet us on spot in the morning. On our way up I tried to convince everyone that we should make a pause before two difficult parts on the upper five miles because I hadn’t gone down those waters yet. On one spot there was a tree stretching all the way across the river. With a higher water level nobody could ride under it and the next good put in was below the following rapid.

My mates were really generous so I had about ten seconds to have a look and after that we jumped back in cars again. The second start was accompanied with rays of sunlight this time and we were getting ready for the second ride, my first ride from the very top to the bottom. The first five hundred meters was a comfy morning rocking. After that the river sloped down even more and a rapid correspondingly called “Steepness” was ahead of us. There was a tree which we had to ride under on the right side.

North Fork of Payette - Micah at steepness (with Dan Simenc and Rush Sturges)

North Fork of Payette - Micah at steepness (with Dan Simenc and Rush Sturges)

We made it with not much of a hassle. Unfortunately, Will rejoined us under the rapid with his helmet cracked. He got hit on his head and it seemed like he messed up his shoulder too so that was a clear end of his ride. The rest of us soldiered on towards the next rapid called “Nut Cracker“. The whole rapid was rather messy again but the main thing was to avoid the massive rock below in the middle named Nut Cracker. I eskimo-rolled again trying to avoid the rock through a series of tricky undercut rocks and pillows, gladly, we finished this part all in one piece.

After this tricky bit everything speeded up. We started the middle five mile run and there was a new dimension to the vertical mile emerging… Virtually no pauses in between the rapids. You can only guess their true nature from titles such as Slide, Disney Land, Bouncer, Chaos or Pectoralis. Getting through was pretty complicated, however, the worst was yet ahead of us. Another kayaker left our team, Austin broke his paddle in the middle of a rapid and was out. We made a pause at last and drained our vessels. Although everyone’s jacket was pretty dry and rubber hatches were of good quality, the immense water pressure we witnessed on North Fork always squeezed some water in. We jumped in above the most difficult part called Jacob’s Ladder and Golf Course.

The water was running down even a steeper slope which took up about a full mile. Luckily, we got through with not much of a hassle and excited by the great run we enjoyed a lit tle rest in the eddies below. We didn’t pause for long. The time was ticking so we worked our way quickly through to Screaming Left and Jaws again. That was the end of the most difficult five mile run. I made it through Screaming Left with no problem this time and surprisingly Jaws were rather a piece of cake. Some of us felt confident enough to show amazing runs over huge rocks where the water was hitting as-if a massive tablespoon. On the last five miles we were trying to keep ourselves under control to avoid exhaustion. We finished the second run just befor 1 p.m. and I could barely lift a paddle. That was only one and a half run.

North Fork of Payette - Matej Holub at Houndstooth

North Fork of Payette - Matej Holub at Houndstooth

We had a quick lunch at Banks Cafe. French fries, cheese and chilli sounds a good choice. After a half an hour we headed off to the start again. We finished about 30th mile on water and it seemed like I didn’t enjoy paddling any more. I started feeling tired and my tendons called for a rest. I got over most rapids with maximum concentration and put all the effort into getting through Jacob’s Ladder and Golf Course successfully. The individual rides were getting worse and worse so I couldn’t quite manage to keep the tip on the surface and struggled badly with the current.

We got to Banks about half past five and some lucky bastards could celebrate conquering the vertical mile. Due to my morning f…-up I still had to add up another half of a run. Ethan needed to do the whole 15 mile lot of North Fork. No one else was motivated to join us so the two of us were heading up on our own. We jumped in at 7 p.m. and I was well aware of the fact that nothing could go wrong if we wishe d to paddle into the finishing line slightly after 9 p.m.

We enjoyed the last run very much. The sun was setting behind the horizon and outside temperature got milder. We managed to get through all rapids without any major problems, getting close to the most difficult part again. At this point Ethan said that he should stop at the end of the rapid and repeat that part once again in order to finish his vertical mile. At the end of Golf Course we both got out and I finally helped Ethan carry his kayak up the stream to stay nearby just in case anything goes wrong. Ethan made an eskimo-roll in the worst part but finished ok. After this rapid we took it easy and enjoyed the last 7 miles.

We both knew that the finishing line was around the corner and all of a sudden we ran through the eddies quite smooth. The very last few miles were really a gift for us. We could hardly see the sun as we ran across the last undercut with a smile on our face. Ethan and I could barely get out of our kayaks. Still, our faces were beaming with a broad smile. We congratulated each other and after more than 50 miles of a WW5 water we sat still in the carpark for a while, resting. Then we tied up the kayaks and headed off to the campsite. Later on snugged up in my sleepingbag I kept recollecting memories of the day thinking that I was never going to forget it. I was a bit worried what my tendons and shoulders were going to say the next day. Out of order for sure. Still, I wouldn’t regret a single minute of that day.

Foto: John Webster

Mekka of kayaking North Fork Of Payette from headcam

This edit shows kayaker Matej Holub paddling the “easiest” part called Lower 5 (5 lower miles) at the high peak this summer (~5000 cfs = 142 m3).

Edited by: Marcel Hlopko


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