Sonntag, 9. Juni 2013

First Descent 25 Meter Salza Stausee Waterfall

The Salza Stausee (=Dam) waterfall is an 80 feet drop that is usually known as the finishing highlight of a canyoning trip. It is very well known and popular around the area in the Enns valley (upper Styria, Austria). Usually the drop and the canyon above is regulated by a dam. Just after really heavy rain the dam releases some water trough the gorge, but you will always have to drive in and check it yourself.

It was last year, when Robert Machacek and Daniel Egger took a quick look after some heavy rain showers, and were surprised to find a runnable looking gorge and drop (however they were not prepared and the water was a bit too low). Since then, the thought of the highest yet to be run waterfall in a kayak in Austria was set in our mind. Every now and then after rainshowers we took a look - always finding a too low looking drop.

After some really heavy rainshowers this year (flood in all the country), I knew there had to be water in there. On Sunday I tried to take a look, and found the biggest stout I have ever seen in Austria. The water was still too high though, so I organzied a group of people to take a look at the next day. Also Mirja, a professional photographer, knew of our attempt and was happy to be on board.

scouting the day before
At the first look our impressions were mixed. It looked runnable, but the sheer power of the water and drop itself made everyone in the round quiet. Also a look from the other side revealled a scary looking wall on river right, and a big pillow that pushed behind the curtain. We left Bernie, who did not intend to run the drop, as safety on the river left, and walked up the little trail to take a look at the waterfall from the top. I know the trails and the put-ins very well, because I was in there as a canyoning guide very often already. Looking at it from 10 meters above was just overwhelming. All of us saw a line and knew where we wanted to be, if we deceided to run the drop. The entry was just 10 meters before the lip and around a blind corner, which made the whole thing pretty tricky ... 

My brother Chris deceided to stay at the bottom to do safety in his kayak and to be able to keep an eye on that right wall. Matt and I returned to our boats at the bottom and started to carry up our boats. Both of us were still unsure, so we took another 20 minutes of scouting and discussing. We both had the same line in mind, and started sitting down to talk about whether this was a good idea or not. We talked about the risk and the worst case scenarios. A lot of stuff went through my head. At the end, I knew that Matt would not go first anyway, since I was the Austrian and he Welsh, and he would not "steal" this First Descent from me. I was not sure if I liked this thought or not. In the end, I felt pretty good, had good conditions and good safety. If there was a time to run, it was now. I put in and waited for the others to get in position. I visualized my moves and my line another time, and then eddied out. People asked me what you think in that moment, knowing 10 meters around the corner is an 80 feet waterfall and you can´t stop anymore. But at that time you have to be commited and concentrated, from here on you just do it - no more thinking.
trying to catch the curler, all shots from Matt Wales
I knew the entry was fast, and I also knew I needed some speed to get further away from the curtain in the landing, where it seemed that a lof water went behind the curtain. My goal was to go from middle to left, to avoid the nasty wall on the right. I wanted to give a little power in the stroke, just to avoid landing on my hand. I paddled out, picked up some speed, lined up and paddled around the corner. And here things started to go wrong already. There was a curler on the lip, which I intended to catch. However I had too much speed and got pushed too far left. I tried to  catch the curler, but went over it instead. At the same time I had my paddle in the water which just sent my nose flying.

holy shit :) - trying to geht the nose down
I tried to throw my weight forward as quickly as possible, but had no chance at all. The nose came up even more and it felt like the wind would push against me. In these few seconds I thought about breaking my back and preparing myself for a fucking hard impact. I let myself fall to the side and could avoid landing on the boat. I let go of my paddle in the last seconds and landed sideways in the water. I got sucked out of my boat immediately and popped out. I felt some pain in my back and ribs, and thought of the worst. I swam to the rocks very carefully and calmed down to see what was wrong. As I could stand up, I knew my back couldnt be broken. However my ribs felt strange, and I knew something was not really OK.

the shot from Mirja shows the full scale of the drop
Chris and Matt deceided to not run the drop, because I could not do safety and they wanted to check my health first. In the end I got away with a bruised rip, and was very very lucky not to have any more serious damage. This night I thought a lot about what I did, whether the risk is worth it and if I would do it agai and how I would think about if I really had broken my back ... In the end, I havent found a lot of answers. I am a pretty safety concerned person, and I don´t run stuff just because it is a first descent or because there is a professional photographer at the bottom. I just enjoy kayaking and especially exploring new stuff. I felt confident that day - but still things went very wrong. If I see the pictures today I think - WTF was I doing? It´s just a small line, and mistakes happen. I am happy to be more or less fine, and hope somebody in the future will successfully run this drop and style it. Thanks for the awesome crew that day for doing safety and taking care of me after my impact. And who knows - maybe i´ll be there as well and get my revenge (sorry to my family and friends, they don´t want to read this) :)

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