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Jesse Coombs Nets First Successful Descent of Abiqua Falls in Oregon
Posted on April 20, 2011

By Jesse Coombs; video by Lucas Gilman

Lucas and I were looking for first descent waterfalls, and Heather Herbeck suggested Abiqua. We showed up on March 11 after looking at a couple other waterfalls that did not have enough water. As soon as I saw the waterfall from the bottom, I knew it was in the realm of possible. After talking with Heather and Christie Glissmeyer and getting their perspectives, I walked to the top and saw that the lip was actually quite friendly.

We set up all the cameras and got in place. Ben Church from Oregon State University set up the rigging to keep everyone safe. I got in position at the top and slipped my JK Villain into the pool at the top. The height of this waterfall is no joke. It looks like you will fall off the earth. I made sure I was calm and happy, and that I was ready to be in the pool below. Lucas called on the radio and said he was ready and in place. I put the radio inside my dry top and paddled for the lip. I pulled off once wanting to make sure my head was in the right mindset. I paddled again for the lip, picked up a little speed and took a left stroke at the lip to set my angle. The thought in my head was that this waterfall is every bit as tall as it looks.

I kept every motion smooth. I began my tuck half way down and got as tight as possible. I wondered in my head how hard the hit would be. And BOOM. My paddle got ripped way faster than I can contemplate. I surfaced to the right of the falls. I went for a hand roll and my skirt was blown. I saw that I was near the back pool and pulled water for it. I rolled up on a rock at the back of the pool and raised my fist in celebration.

This was the tallest waterfall I have ever run and I had a super clean line. I was stoked! I had Lucas Gilman shooting it, which means I KNOW he got the shot. He was shooting two Nikon video cameras and a still camera, so we got tons of great footage. Plus, we put a camera on the back of my boat that has beautiful footage. It was an amazing day!

Abiqua Falls has extra lore in the Pacific Northwest as it was first run in 2002 by my good friend Tim Gross. Unfortunately Tim landed upside down and was thrown from his boat, hurting his knees. My second call after my successful descent was to Tim to share the good news. Ironically, Abiqua dealt me a collapsed lung and some shoulder damage. Sadly, nine days after I ran Abiqua, Tyler Bradt ran it at lower level and broke his back. Here’s to a full and speedy recovery, Tyler.

Many thanks to Lucas Gilman for nailing the shot like always and being a great teammate in our productions.

Author: - Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

  1. Jeff T Patterson

    Jesse, you are a freakin’ Action Hero. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s got nothin’ on you. Where do I get my Jesse Coombs action figure so I can photograph it as I throw it in garden sprinkler? All joking aside, it’s great to see these clips of you going over falls. Applause, Applause. Stay safe my friend.

  2. Sheila

    You Rock!!!

    My brother is amazing, and I am SO PROUD of him!! Keep it up — and stay safe.

  3. Obvious

    collapsed lung and shoulder damage…success??? hmmm

  4. Jason Hummel

    Awesome guys. Loved seeing this. Makes me miss the water!

  5. Doug Bochsler

    Did you get permission from the landowner to do this? I could care less if you want to risk your neck paddling over the falls, unless you try to do it while I am up there fishing. But I certainly hope you did not damage any trees or rocks with your rigging. Many of us love that place and respect it. Leave no trace. I would hate to see a bunch of climbers putting rock anchors in the walls or girdling trees. And it seems to me you should respect the landowner by asking his permission if you are going to do a set-up like that up there.

  6. Jesse Coombs

    Thank you everyone for the comments!

    Regarding the question from Obvious about success, here are my thoughts. I wouldn’t call it a perfect descent, but it is a successful descent. We wouldn’t tell a pitcher or quarterback he didn’t get the win if he got injured but was able to finish the game? I didn’t realize I had a collapsed lung until 15 days later and I was rock climbing 5.10 three days later. I was upright in my boat of my own power at the bottom, and that equals a successful kayaking waterfall descent. I am happy to report my lung and I are back to full activity 5 days after realizing my injury. And I think it would be irresponsible for me to not report my injury giving the impression that these feats of athletic endeavor do not come at a risk.

    Regarding Doug’s question we researched the area and found that it is public access. We used temporary multiple wrap tree anchors which do not scar the trees, and we placed no rock anchors. I completely agree that this is a beautiful place to love and respect. I do think that kayaking is one of the least impact sports available. I hope to see you at the river Doug and share stories and experiences.

    Best, Jesse

  7. Doug Bochsler

    Maybe I will see you there. The falls is on private property, virtually everything from the top of the falls down stream to teh Pudding is private property. The falls piece is owned by the Mt. Angel abbey. The abbey folks don’t restrict access, but it is still private ground. There is ODF state property just upstream of the falls. I really hope people don’t start using this place as a rock climbing spot, good to hear you didn’t use any rock anchors. On my way out up there last spring, I saw a couple guys unloading, looking like they were going climbing. I would hate to see no trespassing signs up there again.

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