California '08 Trip Report

Caution to the reader - This is a long post.

Greetings! As the summer winds down for me, I am left reminiscing about my travels, working off my debt from those travels, and dreaming about travels to come. Right after my exams, my summer began with an exotic bang as I spent ten days in Brazil. Between the bustling city of Sao Paulo and the luxurious beach getaways, I have countless memories of one of the coolest countries I have ever visited. Big thanks to the Lima family for graciously showing me around and introducing me to my new favorite drink - the Caipirinha!

I think this picture sums up why Brazil is so great. Between the mountains and the girls, there is enough beauty to keep your head spinning.

But alas, let's get to the kayaking, because the rivers of the Sierras are one of the few things that could pull me away from the beaches of Brazil. As soon as I got back to Atlanta, I had a day or two to pack for a month in California. I also had limited time to get a kayak. Big ups to Obie at Liquidlogic, the master of customer service, for working his magic and to Adam Secrest for driving four hours out of the way to pick up my boat before picking me up and driving to Cali! You guys rock!

After driving 44 hours straight, we arrived at Three Rivers just outside of Sequoia National Park. We found a campsite to poach a few hours of sleep before waking up and putting on Hospital Rock of the Middle Kaweah. Wow! What a perfect introduction to the promise land that is California. This run is just straight up good clean fun! Most everything is good to go and, with the exception of 0-60, everything gets better as you add more water.

Here's Adam Secrest and Drew Duval chillin in the 420 Gorge of the Hospital Rock section. If you go there, you'll understand why it's so hard to paddle out of the gorge...it's just too darn beautiful! After three runs on Hospital Rock we headed to Coloma and met up with Nick Urquhart, who took us over to South Silver to get our slippy-slide on.

I found this purtty little guy at the South Silver put-in.

Although a little more water would have been nice, South Silver was still tons of fun. Enough fun to go back the next day for a quick run before picking up Chris Gragglemans at the airport.

Here's me getting some stomp practice on Offramp. The Skyscraper/Offramp combo is a hoot. Walk back up on river left to lap. (Parden the low quality of this picture and some others as they are still frames from video.)

After picking up his majesty at the airport, we headed to Yosemite to meet up with Daniel Windham and Robin Betz to get some South Merced action.

Unsurpassed beauty surrounds you in Yosemite National Park. One of the coolest things about this trip was that not only did I get to visit these parks that I'd wanted to visit my whole life, but I got to see them via paddling some of the most incredible whitewater.

The South Merced ended up being the perfect run at the time as it was a low-key introduction to California overnighters for us newbies (me, Daniel, & Adam). It was also a relatively low-stress environment to let the group mesh and work out some kinks in communication and organization. This run has more class V read and run than you can imagine, which translates into some super fun mad-bombing for those that know the run.

photo: Robin Betz
Here's Adam dropping into one of the first rapids of day 2 just around the corner from camp at Superslide. Although the character of the whitewater out there was different compared that of the southeast, Adam consistently styled it and represented southeastern handpaddlers proudly.

Since we were in the Yosemite neighborhood, we took a day to check out the Tenaya slide. After hiking in and having a mind-blowing scouting session, we decided to go get our boats and spend the afternoon at the slide. You may have seen footage of this slide from its four previous descents (either in Aerated or the Source). The first part of the slide drops an impressive ~100 ft pretty darn near vertical and then mellows out significantly for what is a 60 second ride that makes you feel like you are at a whitewater park!

photo: Robin Betz
Here you can see the scale of this bad boy. Chris and I are standing next to the steep top slide. You can see a middle portion of the bottom part of the slide as it winds its way down the granite around the corner. After Chris fired up the whole thing (yeah buddy!), we all proceeded to lap the bottom part of the slide.

Here's Robin a few seconds into the minute long ride.

Water levels had us drive back to the Kaweahs, where we got two more runs on Hospital Rock at an awesome high flow. We also met Bill Pooly, who knows more about the Kaweah watershed than anyone else - ever. Check out his website, The Kaweah River Page and drop him a line if you are headed to the area. He's da man!

photo: Robin Betz
Here's Chris sticking Little Niagra at a pushy level.

The second day we decided to run an extra 7 miles or so below the normal Hospital Rock takeout that seldom gets run. This section does not compare to the quality of the whitewater of the Hospital Rock section, but definitely has a few notable rapids that are quite enjoyable. The Iron Lung gorge, among others, was a highlight and should be scouted beforehand. If you're chilling in the area and tired of running Hospital Rock section (which I can't imagine because it's that good) this section could mix things up a little for you. Watch out for what I would call a few mandatory portages (at least at the level we had).

Here Robin shows us how to seal launch in below one of the nasty portage rapids on the section of the Middle Kaweah below the normal Hospital Rock takeout.

Here's the crew exiting the Iron Lung gorge, which is also an awesome cliff jumping spot.

Just in time, the Dinkey Creek waterfalls section dropped in to a perfect level so we headed straight there, where we witnessed a big marijuana bust complete with a helicopter hauling off a cargo net full of crops. The next morning we found out that the hike-in lives up to its reputation. Despite the extensive beta we had collected from others, we managed to take a few wrong turns and only found the put-in after bushwhacking down the tributary. We soon discovered why everyone had told us not to miss this run. This river was made for kayakers to enjoy its pleasures!

photo: Robin Betz
Daniel practices his waterfall technique on the 20 footer that signals it's time to portage left around some scary sieves. Directions for executing the jump portage:
Step 1: Throw your paddle and boat. This is tricky. It takes some skills to boof your boat when you're not in it.

Step 2: Jump. Hucking a misty flip earns you extra style points, just as long as you stick the landing.

Photo: Robin Betz
This triple drop was one of my favorite rapids on Dinkey. And camp was just downstream.

Adam Secrest waves to the camera amidst the good morning slide.

I think I watched The Seven Rivers Expedition too many times because when we got to the big slide that we referred to as "Nikki's drop," I ended up recreating Nikki Kelly's line nearly perfectly. This frame is right before I flipped and ran the rest of the drop backwards.

Next we headed to Fantasy Falls. This run was interesting to do after Dinkey because its character was so different. The beta we had was that there were some gorges that were runnable and some gorges that were just plain scary and unrunnable. Over the course of the first day and a half, we faced countless portages.

photo: Robin Betz
This was a cool little slide rapid that had me flying. Even though you spend a lot of time and energy portaging, there are plenty of great rapids that are tons of fun...

photo: Robin Betz
Like this rapid that Sir Graggle showed us how to style.

Daniel and Chris scout a gorge on day two. Scouting entire gorges is something you get used to on this run. Some, like this one, are good to go. Others are not. To make things easier, have a guide that knows the run. Otherwise you'll get great practice with scouting rapid from atop the ridges.

Daniel in the crux of the gorge he just scouted. Below this one is a big friggin rapid that we all portaged!
photo: Robin Betz
At the end of day 2 we were exhausted and ready to be at camp. So when we reached the lip of Fantasy Falls, which meant camp, we all bombed off blind and yipped with pure joy. We all had to get some good laps in either that night or the next morning.

Shortly after waking up on day 3 we found ourselves at the big slide that causes many swims. Here's me in the middle of my first run before I got worked in the hole and swam. I then proceeded to hike up, run it again, and swim again. Chris, Daniel, and Robin made it through with no problems, although Robin might have gotten a little swirled around up top...

Then it was time to head to Cherry Lake to get on West Cherry.

photo: Robin Betz
Trying out different backpack systems for the hike in. This one was not the winner.

West Cherry had some of the cleanest drops we ran all summer.

photo: Robin Betz
Adam boofs the hell out of a sweet 20 footer.

When we got to the bigun, the 30 Foot Pothole drop, Chris got super fired up and decided to run it first thing in the morning. Daniel repelled into the pothole to set superb safety, but it was not needed as Chris nearly flew out of the narrow exit of the pothole like the superhero he is.

photo: Robin Betz
The Charlie Beavers Megarapid was a highlight of my summer. Chris demonstrates the correct way to land on the slide.

photo: Robin Betz
The only group shot we got all summer. I love you guys! Left to Right: Adam Secrest, Chris Gragtmans, Robin Betz, Clayton Gaar, Daniel Windham

Of course, all trips must come to an end. Thank goodness mine ended with an epic Upper Cherry experience! It all started when I lost the trail on the hike in and decided to bushwhack down to the river and have a little unexpected 24 hour solo experience in the Upper Cherry wilderness. It turns out that I reached the river three miles downstream of the put-in, but just upstream of the Class IV Gorge. After waiting almost the whole next day for the boys to come down, they finally came boogying down the river and woke me up from a nap. So I hopped into my boat and 45 minutes later, found myself pulling into the final eddy before the entrance gorges to Cherry Bomb.

For anyone who is curious about what goes through one's head when their alone in Upper Cherry, check out the self-interviews from when I was solo. Nothing too exciting. Basically I just tried to keep telling myself it would work out alright.

I believe we were the first group to do Upper Cherry this year and there was some speculation that the level might be Richter-high. Much to our delight, we found a perfect medium-high level that made Cherry Bomb terrifying, but doable for the whole group.

Joe Barkley in the middle of the Class IV gorge, dropping into a different Gorilla than he is used to running.

When we reached Cherry Bomb, half the group decided to bomb into it while the rest of us left our boats for a morning run and hiked our gear down to flintstone camp. All who opted for the evening run had good lines. That night, I hiked into the gorge to have a little one-on-one time with Cherry Bomb. The next morning we dropped into Cherry Bomb rolling eight deep. Things got crazy quickly when Paul dislocated his shoulder as he landed off Cherry Bomb. It was a good thing Jason Hale was able to put it back in while sitting in the tiny eddy below the weir. Paul styled the first three drops until he flipped in the fourth and his shoulder came out. He then swam into the sieve on drop six, popped up in the crack, and climbed on top of the sieve and was roped out. That's the super abbreviated version of the story. Basically, it could have been a lot worse and I was just so glad that everybody was alright.

The group letting emotions calm after a chaotic morning in Cherry Bomb. So much good whitewater left to paddle that day. Easily the best day of kayaking of my life!

Evan Garcia getting serious air time after seal launching into one of the teacups.

Double Pothole is one of my favorite rapids of all time. Frenchie shows us how it's done.

Dead Bear Falls provides a quality opportunity to practice waterfall technique. Here I am working on my Oregon tuck.

If anyone has made it this far in the post, I commend you and I'll end it quickly. My trip to California was everything I expected and more. Great people, great times, world class whitewater, and so many memories I don't even know what to do with them! I am super grateful for making it home safe and I hope to make it back there next summer.

If I could describe California in one word it would have to be EPIC! (I can't imagine what BC is like.)

Thank you Robin Betz for shooting awesome pictures as I was always fooling with my video camera! The next post will have footage from all these runs, just as soon as I edit it all.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice! Looks like ya'll had a sweet trip after we saw you on the S Merced. Must have just missed ya at Fantasy. C-ya next year.