A stunning viral video showing a pro kayaker dropping off the Northwest Territories' Alexandra Falls came at the cost of a broken leg, a concussion, and a medevac to Yellowknife.
On Thursday, 21-year-old Alec Voorhees spectacularly steered his kayak down the Hay River and straight off the Alexandra Falls’ thundering drop – 110 feet at current water levels – inside Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Voorhees, 23-year-old friend Evan Moore, and others joined a small group of professional whitewater kayakers to have attempted the run. However, some were unsuccessful.
While Voorhees and Moore were fine, the kayaker that followed them broke his leg, members of the group told Cabin Radio.
The following day, there was one successful run and one concussion. In that incident, a kayaker hit his head on his kayak and had to be medevaced to Yellowknife.
'The most perfect waterfall'
The kayakers, who are now spending a few days in Fort Smith surfing the Slave River, believe only five other attempts to kayak down the waterfall have ever been made – all within the last fifteen years.
“Two guys ran it last year at lower water down the middle, instead of the far left shore, where it had been in the past," Voorhees told Cabin Radio.
"They sold it pretty well. It just looked perfect, like the most perfect waterfall you can have for that height.
“A lot of top kayakers in the world were like, ‘If you want to run a 100-footer, Alexandra is the perfect one.’”
Voorhees said he and Moore have both run plenty of waterfalls considered tall, usually in the 30-40 ft range.
“A lot of times, people think kayaking is just this stupid thing people are doing, daredevils with no skill that go and fall off of stuff,” he said.
“To run any waterfall it takes years of practice to figure the technique out. Same thing with skiing or big wave surfing.”
Moore said the group scouted Alexandra Falls on Tuesday but water levels were too high, so they patiently waited for an appropriate flow.
“This is the tallest that Alec and I have both done by a substantial amount, probably by 30 ft,” noted Moore.
“There is big difference between an 80-footer and a 110-footer. That extra second or half-second it takes to fall, you pick up a lot more speed and the impacts can be a lot bigger.
“I think we both learned those are waterfalls that take a lot of skill and a lot of precision, and you have to make sure you are really dialled and really on it when you go to run it. Luckily we were feeling that way that day.”
'Stoked to be OK'
Both men, who have been kayaking since they were six years old, said this was their most nerve-wracking run yet.
“In my head I was trying to visualize it as a smaller waterfall that I’d done many, many times; and just knowing that if I did the same thing [at Alexandra] that I’d be fine,” Voorhees said.
“As soon as we peeled out into the current all of that nervousness goes away and you start to be really calm and focused. Your heart rate goes down and it all slows down for you. As you approach the edge of the waterfall you’re trying not to do anything that will mess up your angle... I was stoked to be OK at the bottom.”
As professional kayakers, Voorhees, from Idaho, and Moore, from California, travel the world in search of rivers and waterfalls to run.
In the past few months, the Americans have visited Canada, Norway, and Iceland. After heading home to some local festivals and races, they’ll be off to Chile this fall.
But Alexandra Falls was a “must-stop,” said Moore. “We’d been hearing about it for a while. Alexandra is one of the legendary waterfalls in the sport of kayaking, at least to our generation.”
The Falls held the world record for tallest kayaking drop for many years, until Tyler Bradt set a new record in 2009 with a 189.5-ft drop down Palouse Falls in Washington State.
“We thought we were about to turn this 110-footer into this great waterfall that a lot of people could run, but that’s definitely not the case,” said Moore.
"It’s for the elite of the elite still, and I think it will always be that way."