My friend Andy Embick has been gone now for a few years and he left behind many memories. As an avid kayaker and boater, a tangible remembrance is his book Fast & Cold – A Guide to Alaska Whitewater. While the book is out of print, anyone interested in kayaking or rafting Alaska whitewater will make a search for a copy.
Dr. Embick’s comprehensive rivers guide covers some seventy-nine routes, many first traveled by Andy and his partners like Chris Roach. The guide marks thirteen years of hands-on research by the author, Embick’s goal was too only write about routes he had personally experienced. Probably the best part of the book is just reading Andy’s anecdotes and descriptions of each river adventure.
Fast & Cold is prefaced with practical information for erstwhile whitewater adventurers. Informational sections cover defining difficulty levels, river running recommendations, threats of development to Alaska rivers, recommended equipment, transportation tips, accident prevention, how to use the guide, and additional readings.
Access to river routes described in Fast & Cold vary from put ins near highways to nearly inaccessible headwaters visited by few people. Routes are listed alphabetically starting with the Allen River and ending with Wortmann’s Creek. Each route is explained in a similar format. In order difficulty levels, gradients experienced, seasonal flows, available maps, put-in and take-out locations, river character, route description, and available references are provided for each river running route presented. Each river recollection is enhanced with pertinent graphics, tales of personal experiences and related photographs.
The last section of the guide presents stories of Alaskan river trips. Many of these tales amount to the learning experiences of a dedicated Alaska river runner. In a trip to the Kiagna River, what Embick descrbes as the best whitewater in Alaska, he says:
Rapids came in such a quick succession that most never become fixed in the memory, blurred by the next just a few yards and a few moments downstream. Every route was guarded by boulders, from small to truck size. Holes, waves, narrow slots, and drop after drop came so fast that we functioned primarily by reflex.
In many ways I feel fortunate to have known Andrew Embick, a quirky and amazingly talented man. Fast & Cold is an important reference for whitewater enthusiasts in Alaska and worth some effort to locate for purchase.
This article was first seen at Suite101.com Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum