Monday, April 17, 2017

Monastery Falls

My dad in the hole at the top of Monastery Falls
My parents took to kayaking when I was a young kid. When I grew older, they would take their kayaks to a local lake to practice rolling and when they were through, they would sometimes let me paddle it around. Eventually, they paid for lessons up in Wisconsin and those lessons took part partly on the Red River, home of Monastery Falls, so named for the monastery built on the shore of the river overlooking the falls.

It has a six to eight foot drop at the beginning in a very narrow channel that prohibits paddling. At the base of the first drop was a massive all consuming recirculating hole in the water which ate lots of boats and took the lives of more than one person. In fact, the week before I went over the falls for the first time, a local boy fishing upstream and fallen into the river and met his death in that hole. As the water fall widens out, it goes over a few smaller ledges before plunging off the final eight to ten foot drop at the very end into the pool near the monastery. It was very intimidating to a fourteen year old boy learning to kayak for the very first time.

I lined my kayak up with the slot that partitioned the top of the falls and paddled for all I was worth. In order to get through the large hydraulic hole at the bottom of the falls, one had to get enough speed ahead of time for there was no room to paddle once you were actually in the falls until you were in the hole. I did my job well and plunged through the hole with speed to spare. In fact, I did my job so well that my speed caused me to inadvertently eddy out and the point of my kayak speared a crack in the rock.

Instantly I was spun backwards and almost tipped over. Not yet knowing how to roll the kayak, I plunged my paddle into the rocks at the bottom and pushed my way back upright as the water now hurtled me towards the large drop at the bottom. I could see all my fellow classmates and instructor looking at me slack jawed as I tipped over backwards and disappeared out of their sight into the churning waters below.

Somehow I managed to stay upright and paddled back to the eddy at the base of the lower falls, exit my boat and clamor up the rocks to watch my next classmate attempt the falls. I acted nonchalantly as possible when they started peppering me with questions trying to act as if it was no big deal that I had almost died in a falls that had already claimed one person that week.

We spent all afternoon there and I would run the falls several more times, all more successful than my first attempt. The hydraulic hole would eat none of our boats that afternoon. In fact, it was such a pleasant day that we all took turns jumping into the middle of the falls, below the hydraulic hole and swimming down the last and largest drop at the bottom where there wasn't a hole to contend with. I've never been back to the Red River or Monastery Falls but I'll never forget that day.

My dad going over the bottom drop of Monastery Falls

8 comments:

Kelly said...

I have several friends who kayak, but seeing photos and reading a post like this, I think the days of taking up that sport are now behind me!!

There must be Red Rivers all over the US. I always think of the one that flows through SW Arkansas and Shreveport, LA.

Ed said...

Kelly - I think my kayaking days are over too!

Vince said...

I watched the kayakers when I was in Galway. The university has a club open to all members of college and I'd watched from afar the antics of the club while they trained on the Corrib.
A bit of info about the Corrib. It's about 4 miles long but draws water for a gigantic basin behind it part of which is a lake. Now back around 1850 they put a dam on the river to make it navigable. But no sooner was it built and the trains then the cars made it moot.
Now the club trains on relatively calm water in Sept and are trained enough by end of Nov to surf the waters as the wear is released.
Me, I could readily have joined, but transporting on the rivers and riding those waves are two very distinct things.

Ed said...

Vince - My parents were whitewater kayakers and passed it onto me. I only took one class which was on the river in this post. I have paddled a lot of whitewater since but mostly just Class I or II stuff which is pretty tame to Class VI which is considered non-survivable. However, I'm not sure any Class VI water exists anymore with modern technology and uber athletes always pushing boundaries.

Bob said...

Great story, Ed, and the photo is beautiful. I have canoed and rafters a number of times but never had the nerve to kayak -- and like you and Kelly, the days of doing so are long gone. I can always live vicariously though!

Bob said...

*rafted, not rafters

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

I commented on this, but somehow it didn't save. Anyhow, that was a great story, but a bit of white knuckler! Kayaking on the rapids looks like an adrenaline rush, but I don't think I could do it. As much as I like kayaking, I've only ever done it on the ocean, which is far calmer than the river. Turning over in or falling out of the kayak was a lot more easy going and funny. I don't think that's the case in the rapids.

Ed said...

Bob - Well not to vicariously since my days of whitewater kayaking are over. I won't rule out a sea kayak just yet!

Pumpkin Delight - Funny, I would probably be more intimidated about kayaking in the ocean so far from shore than a whitewater river.