“This is the moment when I hold my position and close my eyes as I anticipate the impact,” says extreme kayaker Erik Boomer of dropping over 80-foot Sahalie Falls on the frigid McKenzie River near Portland, Oregon. “All the work is done at this point; it is just time to enjoy the feeling of free fall.”
Boomer, who paddles over 20 to 40 waterfalls a year, is a true expert. But that doesn’t mean he can just go with the flow. “Waterfalls like this always have x factors that you have to deal with,” notes Boomer. “It is impossible to anticipate exactly what the water will do as you approach the lip. Waves, boils, and eddy lines are constantly surging, so you have to be prepared to react to the water the whole time.”
In 2011, Boomer and his expedition partner Jon Turk pulled off the first circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, a feat which made them two of our 2012 Adventurers of the Year.
Getting the Shot
“They say that Sahalie Falls is 100 feet tall. The pure drop after the first dip is about 80 feet. It’s an impressive sight by itself, never mind seeing somebody kayak off it,” says photographer Tim Kemple. A recent snowstorm left the landscape highlighting vibrant blue and green hues. “The water was bright blue, the moss was electric green, and the snow juxtaposes everything perfectly,” says Kemple. The group waited for clouds to arrive, ensuring Kemple was photographing in even light.
To locate the best spot to photograph Boomer, Kemple knew he needed to head upstream and away from a classic tourist lookout for the falls. Kemple spent over an hour breaking trail through three feet of fresh snow. “By the time I was there, Boomer, who had simply paddled across the rapids, was ready to drop,” recalls Kemple. “What really blew me away was how easily and confidently Boomer paddled. He hit the bottom of the falls, popped out, and paddled to the take out. Like it was no big deal,” says Kemple.
To get this shot Kemple set up three separate Canon cameras with remote triggers. He fired a fourth camera, which got this shot, while teetering on the edge of the cliff.
Adventurers of the Year 2012: Kayakers Jon Turk and Erik Boomer
“What do you do when a polar bear charges you? We found yelling colorful language was more effective than gentle talking,” says 65-year-old writer and Arctic explorer Jon Turk. “The right tone could communicate, ‘You’re bad. We’re just as bad.’”
Turk and pro kayaker Erik Boomer discovered this when, during the final week of their 1,485-mile circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, a polar bear ripped a hole in their tent—while five other bears looked on.
The journey around the world’s tenth largest island, which took Turk and Boomer 104 days on skis, in kayaks, and on foot, was considered by polar experts to be the last great unattempted polar expedition, so daunting due to its remoteness and dangerous ice conditions. No one had attempted it before this summer.
For Turk, who pioneered big-wall climbs on Baffin Island and engaged in five Siberian expeditions to study shamanic culture, this was his “retirement party,” his last expedition. For the 26-year-old Boomer, who made a name for himself kayaking into the world’s wildest white water, this was the first of what he hopes will be many journeys to the Great North.
“I’m used to taking risks in short bursts, like in a single rapid or waterfall,” says Boomer. “This trip was so long, the risk so sustained and impossible to plan for. Jon is rare. He’s willing to do something where the outcome is unknown.”
In May, the duo began by dragging their 220-pound, 13.5-foot kayaks 800 miles across flat ice. As the ice broke up with the spring thaw, they were forced to jump over cracks and between unstable ice floes. By midsummer, they were able to paddle through slivers of open water.
Though the bears proved to be an ongoing danger—on one day they saw eleven, nine of which were aggressive—unfavorable winds were the greatest threat. Offshore winds pushed sea ice up against the sheer cliffs of Ellesmere’s rugged coast. Getting trapped between the two would mean certain death.
A text message Turk sent during the final leg of the trip summed it up best: “Bears scare us. We scare bears. The wind scares us. We don’t scare the wind.”