On Mothers Day, May 10th 2009, Team Dagger’s Christie Glissmeyer set a new women’s world waterfall record by running 82-foot Metlako Falls on Oregon’s Eagle Creek. This descent came less than a month after Tyler Bradt set the new men’s record at 186 feet, marking this an historic spring for the sport of whitewater. Paddling Life caught up with Christie the day after her huge descent to find out how it went, and what advice she has for other female athletes interested in stepping it up. –Andy Maser
PL: First of all, what was it like sitting in your kayak above a waterfall that big? How was the view?
CG: Honestly, the size of that gigantic horizon line was my biggest challenge. I felt confident that I had the experience to run Metlako well, but I knew that any anxiety I had in the pool above the drop was going to mess with me mentally.
After I had made up my mind to run Metlako, I pictured myself sitting in that top pool over and over in my mind. Still, it took some serious concentration not to freak out when I was actually there. As soon as I paddled up to the lip and starting to accelerate over the edge of the drop, the bottom pool looked ridiculously far away.
PL: What made you decide that you wanted to run a waterfall this big?
CG: I’ve had my eye on Metlako for a while now. It isn’t necessarily the size of this drop but the nature of it that is so enticing. The size is definitely intimidating but I don’t think there could be a waterfall shaped more perfectly. Why would there be such a perfect waterfall 30-minute drive from my house if I wasn’t meant to run it?
I hiked in about 4 times in the past year to watch different groups of paddlers fire it off. Each time it began to seem less intimidating and more fun.
PL: Why was Metlako the one?
CG: I made the decision to run Metlako after discussing it over with Erik Boomer and Evan Garcia, both Metlako veterans. Before Sunday, the highest drop I had run was 45-foot Celestial Falls. I originally thought I might want to warm up on some 60-70 footers before committing to Metlako, but I couldn’t think of any that would be nearly as clean and fun. Once I made up my mind to run it, it was hard to think about anything else.
PL: Break it down for us. How did it go?
CG: My main concern was to remain calm on the top pool so that I wouldn’t freak out and screw up. When I did float over the horizon I just threw in a rudder to keep my boat lined up with the green tongue. I started to roll my body forward and accelerated into the veil. I felt that my angle was primo so I tucked forward, closed my eyes and let go of my paddle. I melted into the landing just as I brought my elbows in. The hit was seriously so soft it took me by surprise. I resurfaced upside down but hit my first hand roll so I was psyched.
PL: The previous woman’s world waterfall record was set at 78 feet by Shannon Carroll 11years ago, while the men’s record has been challenged a dozen times during that same period. What do you think is the difference between how men and women view this type of risk?
CG: It is hard to generalize because everyone is so different. Personally, I operate at a lower intensity most of the time. I don’t need to run Class V every day to get my paddling fix, but it sure is fun to put on some big runs every so often to keep the skills sharp and keep things spicy.
PL: Do you have any advice for other female athletes that want to step it up? How did you build up the courage to decide that you wanted to do this, and then actually paddle down into the canyon and carry through with it?
CG: My biggest piece of advice is to go in with a good team. Boomer and Evan gave me a ton of good information about how to approach the drop, what to expect at different water levels and also safety considerations. It was really encouraging to have them both there when it all went down. Todd Wells was also my partner in crime. He was running at a super high energy level all afternoon while we were coordinating everything and it was a huge motivator.
PL: So, was it a good idea? Are you interested in running other big waterfalls?
CG: It was definitely a good idea! The whole experience was pretty wild. I don’t have a goal to run any specific big ones, but if I come across any more that are as appealing as Metlako I would definitely consider them.
PL: Big waterfall running has become very popular recently, with new world records for both men and women in the last month and lots of others running drops in the 60-90 foot range. What has changed?
CG: The mental aspect is expanding for sure. There are some amazing athletes out there right now with very open minds about what can be accomplished in a kayak. Also, gear is improving all the time. Boat design, implosion systems, helmet protection, etc. have certainly come a long way since I started kayaking 11 years ago. Having good equipment makes a huge difference.
PL: Thanks a lot Christie! We wish you lots of luck in your upcoming adventures and hope you have an amazing summer in the ‘Hood!
To keep up with happenings in the Columbia Gorge this summer, keep tabs on Evan Garcia’s blog and Ryan Scott’s blog. This is certainly the part of the country where limits are bring pushed more than any other right now, so don’t be surprised if the big news continues to flow through the spring and early summer runoff period.