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First Ascent Kayaker Jesse Coombs Goes for 101-Foot Drop at Metlako Falls
Posted on July 8, 2010

By Jesse Coombs

I had just finished a month long Hotel Charley V: First Descent film tour and was ready for some much-needed rest and relaxation, but as I was driving home, I got a call from photographer Lucas Gilman. He said he was in Hood River, Oregon, shooting waterfalls and wanted me to come join him. I made a quick change of plans and headed that morning to Metlako Falls at Eagle Creek Trail, near Hood River. I had only seen photos of these falls before.

Lucas and I hiked up, and I could feel the anticipation and tension building in my body. The decision to run tall waterfalls has to be the right one, because the consequences of a bad line can be serious. Metlako is claimed by the USGS to be 101 feet tall, so running this fall requires serious consideration.

As soon as I saw the falls from the first lookout, I knew it was at an acceptable water level. Too much water and you can get stuffed up against a wall or flushed into the next rapid as a swimmer. Too little and you can fall 100 feet into green water, which is water that is not aerated by the falling water. Green water has high-surface tension and cohesion compared to aerated water and can seriously hurt you and literally rip away any flailing limb when you are falling at high speeds from a height like Metlako.

I hiked to the top with the others. We put on our gear and paddled the 5 or so minutes to the lip of the falls. I positioned myself at the lip to manage the radio communication between the paddlers and the photographers. I watched three paddlers go over the falls with one paddler swimming at the bottom and two staying in their boat. I could tell that two of the paddlers were not completely happy at the bottom, which indicated that the landing was a bit green and painful. The anxiety was building.

Now I was at the precipice of a 100-foot descent, alone at the top. When you are at the top of a tall waterfall like this you truly have to reconcile with yourself if you are mentally and physically up to the challenge. There is no posturing and no bravado. Either you are able physically and mentally in every manner and will run it. Or you are throwing yourself off something like a stunt and will pay the consequences.

I took one last look, mentally practiced my intended body motions and got in my boat.  I kept the radio handy, and when I was ready, I told them I would be at the lip in 5 seconds. I dropped the radio in the neck gasket of my drytop and headed for the lip. I paddled to a perfect line, tucked nice and tight, and waited for the hit at the bottom.

And waited ….

And waited ….

It is amazing how long it takes when you are in one of these drops to fall 100 feet. When you are watching someone else, it appears to occur quickly. When it is you is takes FOREVER. You are so keen and aware of your surroundings that time seems to slow significantly.

And then it happens ….

WHAM!

You hit the bottom. If you are lucky, it is a soft transition. If not, it is like a small-car crash hitting the water and decelerating quickly. This one was somewhere in between for me. I got pulled by the green water and my back popped for a lot less than a chiropractor would have charged. My paddle got ripped out of my right hand, but not from my left.  I immediately pulled the paddle back around to my right hand. I felt my boat surface right away, and I rolled up on the edge of the boil, where the water resurfaces from the falls.

The emotion was beyond description.  Maybe it cannot be described.  Maybe it has to be experienced …. Happy waterfalling, everyone.

Author: - Thursday, July 8th, 2010
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  1. christine

    Great post! That has to be one totally intense experience. Holy Molly!

  2. Erica

    After taking up sea kayaking (well more so on a lake) two years ago I have been mesmerized by the kayak guide footage! It truly makes my heart stop and it’s hard to tear my eyes away from the screen. So glad to have you as part of the first ascent team and please don’t stop sharing all the great stories and footage!!

  3. eEd

    Strong work, brother…


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