A Yule Creek Epic

After a quick pit-stop for breakfast burritos, Nick, Xavier, Ben and I drove to the town of Marble where the infamous Yule Creek was told to be. We made it to Beaver Lake, and looking across, were greeted with an impressive view of a chasm that split the mountain range; an inferno of falling water—this was what we were looking for. We loaded up on one car and drove to the top of the creek. After a conversation with a gun-slinging cowboy about a 60 footer that killed one person and maimed two others, we started to hike down past an unrunnable section looking for a reasonable put-in.

The river was fairly gorged out, and after angeling through several rapids, we all skidded into eddies above an intimidating horizon line. Xavier was in the lead and routed straight off the lip, deciding to boof at the last minute, which turned out to be the line. The drop started with a 3 foot folding ledge with a killer seam, followed by a 30ish foot drop. Halfway down the flow is broken up by a ledge with a landing pad in the middle and a pile of rocks on either side—a must-make boof. I shimmied out of my boat and peeked over the lip where I could see Xavier in the pool below. He was fine and signaled boof and transition onto rocks, so I turned to Nick who was barely hanging in an eddy at the lip. “Boof this ledge, then boof a 20 footer.” I relayed, not wanting to freak him out. “Boof hard.” I added as he peeled out and disappeared over the horizon line.

What ensued was one of the most stressful moments of any of our lives. Nick missed the boof, and rather than transitioning smoothly, pitoned the ledge, bouncing onto the rock pile upside-down before landing in the pool. We all froze, petrified with the possibility of what may have just happened. It couldn’t have been more than a second, but it felt like time was standing still until Nick busted a quick roll and made his way to shore, yelling in pain. As the adrenaline wore off he realized he could not move his left arm. After trying to reduce what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder, Nick and Xavier began hiking back up the trail on river right to a bridge that led to the car. I took his fully loaded boat and bushwhacked a nearly half mile straight vertical to the road and stashed his boat while Ben took a look at what lay downstream.

Nick’s Drop from below.
DISCLAIMER: we had some camera issues so the pictures of this run really don’t do it justice.

Nick was fine to drive, so he decided to take himself to the hospital. Reassured that he would be alright, the remaining three of us hiked back into the canyon to continue the run. Our day had barely started and already we were one man down. We portaged a few not-so-clean ledges, then put on with shadow of what had just happened on all of our minds. From here we ran through some “warm up slides” that we looked at on the drive up. On any other run these drops alone could be the main attraction, but on Yule they hardly deserved a second look.

Its easy to tell when you’ve come to the big four. After a half mile of read and run class four, the canyon will open into an exposed V shape and the river will fall off the edge of the world. Although the sides of the canyon are at about a 60 degree angle, on the right they are entirely covered in bits of shale that you can scramble over for relatively easy yet heart-pounding scouting. We had a good crew for this run. Although there was a moment of “What have we gotten ourselves into?” as we caught our first glimpse of the big boys, after a minute of going over possible lines we were all ready and fired up to go.

Professor X getting Nervous

The first pair of drops is a 30-footer stacked on top of a huge slide which careens 90 degrees to the right, smashing into the left wall at the bottom. I lost rock paper scissors, so I worked to get a good photo angle of the drop while Xavier ane Ben ran it with good lines. At Lower flows there is a pool to eddy out in between the two drops, yet at this level nearly all the outflow from aptly-named Nervous Falls pushed straight off the lip of Wall Check.

Ben Dropping In…

…And Wall-Checking like a boss

It was now my turn. I hopped in my boat and paddle through the lead-in. The lip of this drop is truly surreal. All you can see when approaching the 30 footer is the lake in the distance at the take-out, about a mile away and what seems like a mile down. I busted right which looked like the cleanest line at this level, and as I went overt the lip the entire sequence appeared before me, almost out of thin air—a view that will literally take your breath away. I tucked up at the last second and hit the pool hard with an explosion of pain in my left ear. I suddenly remembered hurting my ear earlier in the week, but managed to push the stars out of my mind with the mental image of what I was floating towards upside-down. Just in time, I rolled practically as I was going over the lip. Fortunately I was lined up perfectly where I wanted to be and blasted down the slick rock, riding high up the left wall until it fell away and I flew over the hole into the pool below. This is probably the coolest drop I’ve ever run, the shape of the rock along with the direction of the water creates an incredibly dynamic line. Ben and Xavier were waiting on the rocks below so I hopped out to join them and scout Oriental Massage, the biggest of the run.

This drop is basically just a huge straight slide with several rooster tails and flakes to deal with. Wary of the right side where a piton had broken a paddle and helmet the day before, we took a few minutes talking about where we wanted to be setting up for this cascade. I went first, entered center with slight left angle and hit the first rooster tail perfectly. After a moment of weightlessness, I skidded down the second half of the slide and sailed off a kicker into the pool at the bottom. Ben and Xavier followed with similar lines and we all dropped the last waterfall, a 5-foot vertical tongue onto a 20 foot auto-boof flake, stoked but relieved to be at the bottom unscathed. Elated, we paddled out to the lake where a car was waiting, picked up Nick’s boat and went to meet him in Glenwood.

Me preparing for an Oriental Massage. The final drop is visible far right.

This run reminded me of a New England creek done Colorado style. There was a manky lead-in, complete with rock-filled landings, pitons and the occasional railroad tie pinned in a rapid. The paddle out had some wood in it, but in between are some of the biggest, sickest slides you could imagine. For me, this run truly lived up to all the hype.

According to the doctor, Nick escaped with just a broken collarbone, not bad considering what could have happened. We’re now driving back to the northeast where I’ll be flying home from. Although this incident put an end to our plans for another month in California, it opened other opportunities. Nick will take classes this summer and have next winter available for a trip to Ecuador, while I should be able to get on some Washington classics before they drop out. It was cut off early, but at least the road trip went out with a bang.

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