I grew up two hours from the 65-foot Tokatee Falls on Oregon's North Umpqua River. It's one of those waterfalls that I've always wanted to kayak, but the flow has never been right—always too high or too low. But when I woke up on April 17th, the flow was at 250 cfs and rising. Toketee was in.
My mouth went dry when I first saw it. The North Umpqua dropped off a 20-foot waterfall into a basalt amphitheater, then fell another 45 feet into the pool below. When thinking about running big waterfalls, it’s hard to distinguish between rationality and instinct. But the risks looked manageable that day--the rewards immeasurable. I gave my camera to a tourist who had come to watch, and hiked back to the put-in.
Two Class V rapids later, I was in my kayak in an eddy above the main falls. I sat there for a long time, looking out at the horizon line and thinking of my friend Hendrik Coetzee, who passed away in December while we were on an expedition together. My memories of paddling with him inspired me to run Toketee in the first place. He would have loved it. Calmed by these thoughts, I took the last set of strokes and rolled over the edge into freefall.
At the bottom, I paddled over to my friend Jared Sandeed, who was setting safety, gave him a hug and said, "The falls was awesome."