At the record breaking flow of 3,900 cfs for the race, which was sponsored by Visit Idaho, Yeti, Toyota, NRS and GoPro, the Jacob's Ladder Race is the premier event of the NFC weekend, highlighting the hardest rapid on the North Fork of the Payette. The top 10 athletes from last year received automatic bids; those 10 then voted in 10 more athletes, who through an application process, attempted to convince the panel that they deserved a shot at racing Jakes. The top 10 finalists from the Kokatat Expert Division Qualifier also earned the right to race, rounding out a highly competitive field.
The crowds lined the banks of the river alongside Jakes in anticipation. Wireless headsets from Kaleidisco were passed out for viewers to listen in on the announcer's commentary and music from DJ Revolve. The athletes arrived by bus to begin their practice laps on a rapid that by anybody’s standards was big simply to run, yet alone race.
“That is a massive rapid,” confirmed crowd favorite Tyler Bradt, who has been running the North Fork since he was in middle school.
With the highest flows the race had ever seen, the mood among athletes was serious and focused. The first major feature of the rapid, Rodeo Hole, provided the initial challenge for competitors. Many ended up shoved far left or right, risking missing the first gate. Below lay Rock Drop, the steepest single drop on the river, which leads directly into what at these flows, is a viscous unpredictable feature called Taffy Puller.
“All of the features are just pushing into one another at these flows,” said podium finisher Kyle “King Hesh” Hull after taking a practice lap.
The crowd swelled to well over 500 as the first racer hit the water. Each competitor had two runs through Jakes, with the top time counting. Racers started by sliding down the Red Bull Ramp and into a sheet of fast moving water directly above the rapid.
As spectators watched the best whitewater kayakers in the world battle to stay on line, one could clearly see the raw power of the North Fork at these flows. Several of the athletes didn’t even make it to the bottom of the course, being pushed into the side of the river where they chose to simply exit the rapid versus continuing downstream into the chaos of white.
The course highlighted the athleticism of kayaking's best, and most athlete's second laps showed smoother, faster, and more confident lines. The paddlers had begun to settle into the rhythm of the river.
Athlete after athlete passed through, and then we were done. No swims, very little carnage; a testament to the quality of kayaker assembled.
In front of a lively crowd in Crouch, Idaho, results were announced. Ryan Bailey, event host and MC began reading out the winners. The single fastest time would take the title.
Pangal Andrade Astorga from Chile…. Third place. No huge surprise, perhaps, as the Astorga's hail from the Maipo River, Chile’s equivalent to the North Fork.
Second place……. Upcoming, head turning, Evan Moore from the glorious granite state of California, lap after lap on high water Cataracts of the Kern paying off..
And when it came to first, well….. the crowd already knew. Those were there at Jakes saw it play out first-hand. They saw who was clearly the fastest. The first ever NFC repeat champion… Mr. Dane Jackson taking home the crown for 2017.
This year, for the first time ever, there also was the Toyota Dash for Cash, a $5,000 total purse to be awarded to the top three athletes with the fastest combined times, rewarding consistent lines. Gerd Serrasolses was third, Evan Moore Second, and once again, the NFC VI overall champion, the man in pink, Dane Jackson, took first. (For the record, Jackson also won the BoaterCross event).
TOP TEN FINISHERS
1st: Dane Jackson 1:07:58
2nd: Evan Moore 1:09:60
3rd: Pangal Andrade 1:10:98
4th: Kyle Hull 1:10:99
5th: Gerd Serrasolses 1:11:29
6th Evan Garcia 1:11.77
7th Alec Voorhees 1:12:40
8th Nick Troutman 1:13:12
9th Isaac Levinson 1:13:21
10th Aniol Serrasolses 1:13:50
(Story and photos courtesy www.northforkchampionships.com