Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dirt Bagging It on Upper Cherry

Upper Cherry Creek lives up to its enjoyable reputation. I was a little misconstrued on the level of whitewater within its bounds and believed i was about to enter a multiday class IV waterpark ride...the waterpark part held up, the class IV did not.

The forest fires were thick and the smoke caused some crazy images of the sun.

The Emigrant wilderness at its best

Upper cherry put-in is a funny place, it is one of the only high-sierra runs (other than middle kings) where people come from far and wide and are intermingled with the local crowd and the full-time summer dirt bag boater crowds. There's so many stories and lure that you really just gotta see this place for yourself to know if any of it is true.

Salvation...styx pass marking the final decent to the river

The stories almost always start with the notorious hike-in. I was reading another blog about Cherry Creek and they felt it would be appropriate to put a sign at the trail head that states:
"4.5 hours to the river, results may vary...widely" And widely they do. A good portion of people are trying out their legs, lungs and carrying system for the first time ever or at least the first time this season as they meander up the UCC trail and i swear not more than 100 feet from the cars the little demon in your head starts speaking to you and cursing at how painful the next 4.5 to 9 hours of your life are going to be.
Some people get lost within the first mile and never find the river, some people give up on day one and sleep on the trial and are devoured by turkey sized mosquitoes that seem to survive only off the blood of kayakers, some grunt it out and slowly and miserably make it to Styx pass after 7 8 or 9 hours with bloody feet and numb minds...whether you do it in 2 days, 9 hours or 4.5 you're gonna hurt - but if you're running wilderness class V then some tiny little morsel inside of you kinda likes the pain and it makes the reward on the river that much tastier.

Sleeping on the moon

We were in a bit of a jam when Chris K and I got to the trail head: Jeff Hazboun and Phil Lemarche we're arriving on Friday morning and hiking in as soon as they showed up. We would most likely be finishing our trip friday afternoon and missing them - boating with them was a priotity however and instead of finishing our trip and starting over again trying to play catch up we decided we'd take the dirt bag approach and shack up at Flinstones campground until the two showed up sometime on Saturday. Being that it was only Wednesday we were projecting somewhere between 5 and 7 days to do what most take 2 or 3.
Digging into the summers collection of dried meals and random food we parceled out enough grub to last almost a week, i packed in a hardcover book for some lounging and we rallied towards the river. It took us about 5 hours to do the 10 miles or so and with the sun starting too drop we decided we'd make some quick downstream progress to get out of the swarms of mosquitoes that populate the marshy lake area at the put-in. Two manky drops and 300 feet of river later and we were scouting "good morning slide" and decided to call it a day, no need to rush perfection. The granite was open, the bugs were at bay and we were like pigs in shit.

Wait...more open granite you say? this place would be epic in the winter if you had a sled

The vagina slot that stole my paddle

We met up with the rest of our group the next morning, there were 10 of us in all i think, some idaho boys, some colorado boys, some local cali guys, lizzy E and us. Open bedrock slides were on the menu for the day and we rallied all the way through the first few gorges and to the top of cherry bomb gorge. I managed a cheeky little swim falling into a vagina crack where my paddle was rudely removed from my grasp and i promptly swam like a guppy. Bitches - thats all i have to say about that.

And Kicking it on the way to Cherry bomb

The plan: leave boats at the top, hike gear around cherry bomb. Eat and be happy for the day, run cherry bomb with a light boat tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and probably the next (just for good measure).
And so thats exactly what we did - 3 or 4 nights we spent at flinstones, actually we stayed across the pond from flinstones at a different spot.

The lead int stuff to cherry bomb. Once you're in you're pretty much committed

Cherry Bomb Proper going off with Scott Baker making the move

CB Gorge - there's not a lot of room for error in here and there's an awful lot of dots to connect.

Day 1 in the gorge in the midst of a safety meeting - er, setting safety

I attempted a pano of the gorge..doesn't really do it justice

Think Heaven - we were surrounded by open polished granite, we had a pond to swim in and our view upstream was the perfect set of teacups which come right after Cherry bomb. It only takes 5 minutes to run up to the top of the cups and take a lap and then it only takes 30 seconds to kayak back down them, those are some damn good 30 seconds.

The slide and teacups below cherry bomb and the site of camp for 3 or 4 nights

So the plan went as planned and we on our 3rd or 4th layover day a new group came down and mentioned that they had passed 2 guys in green pyrhana boats just up in cherry bomb.
I spared no time and went running off in my flip-flops and board shorts looking like a beach bum to go find our compadres. I maneuvered myself up into the gorge and was happy to find phil and jeff in the thick of things...the two contrasting lives collided at that moment. Picture Jeff and Phil with no beta on Cherry bomb, running everything more or less blind with full boats and not too much time in their kayaks over the last few months, they were stressed, dealing with some heavy whitewater and the adrenaline was pumping full out - picture me, shirtless, flip-flops, board shorts, i had just spent the last 3 days lounging under the sun living the easy life. Needless to say we all got a kick out of it and i had brought my boat up with me and rallied the final slide and teacups together and enjoyed watching these guys absorb the scene.

"So no shit...there i was" Chris K telling stories at camp with heaven behind him

A little closer look at the goods

Odd breads of tree climbing dwarf albino bear are found around cherry creek. They bark a lot too

Lunch out of the relentless sun

The next day we hiked back up to cherry bomb and planned to paddle out back to civilization...plans change though and our 15 minute lap of CB gorge turned into 3 hours after jeff slide off cherry bomb falls a few feet to far right, got caught in the pothole and had the swim of his life out of the pothole, through the weir and then more or less self rescued before the next 8 drops. Jeff caught up with his lungs and screwed his head back on and proceded into some sketchy climbing and swimming through the gorge - 1000 foot shear walls do not provide exit routes and so downstream (boatless) was his only option. The sieve had stopped his boat nicely and we spent some time finding and anchor and dragging it out from under it. All in all things went well and we were back to the lake by noon. Jeff decided he would spend and extra night there and paddle out in the morning.

The More Advised Route off of Cherry Bomb Falls

The Less advised route off of cherry bomb falls

And the results of an ill line off of cherry bomb falls...testing your gills in a oxygen deprived environment.

When you spend 4 days in the same spot you take a lot of picture of the same spot

The river continues its crazy gradient immediately downstream of camp. Lizzy E on double pothole.

Cory Beux on the give-me 20fter

Chris K and i gave him the last bits of food we had and rallied the last 10 or so mile of cherry bomb out to the lake. We ran everything but some of the bigger drops and even managed to snag a ride with a fisherman across the lake. The whitewater in the 2nd half was just as good as the first and were sitting pretty by the end of the day with ice creams in our hands from some store in Groveland.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

First D: NF San Juaquin

Five days had just been spent on the GC of the T, Poopernaut Canyon and resting and we were starting to get the itch for some more boating - at least i was, since i hadn't been on the water for either of the last 2 missions. Ben, Darin and Chris had been doing more shouldering than paddling and we threw around ideas of what the hell to do next....Upper cherry was still too high, west cherry was going, the Middle Fork Kings and Devils postpile were still at least a week or two off - maybe it was time to look at something new. Ben or Darin tossed in the idea of checking out the NF San Juaquin, there was marginal beta on it, it had been looked at but not run before and we just got word that Evan Garcia had gotten more or less skunked trying to do North Fork Kings so we figured, egh...sure, why not.

Preparing in Groveland

This was going to be the stage of our next little adventure for the following 3 or 4 days. Who needs to bring a map on the river when you can just take a picture and bring the digital version?

The NF SJ flows into the Devils Postpile section of the main fork SJ somewhere just above Class IV canyon. The general plan was hike the hour and a half down into the north fork, spend 2 days on the river and hike out from the main fork at Cassidy Bridge, which just just above the point of no return for Crucible Gorge. Sweet, so off we went.

The 3 hour drive from Groveland sent us past some of the most amazing areas of the High Sierra's and soon enough we were at the trail head. We were the only ones there except for a younger guy sitting in his government national forest rig. We chit-chatted for a bit and before we knew it we had been invited to dinner at base camp just 5 minutes down the road - we spent the night eating tri-tip steak, potatoes, salad, fresh trout roasted over the fire, ice cream, drinking lemonade and listening to stories about busting Mexican pot growers in the surrounding forests. Good times for sure.

We found a nice open slab of granite for the night to get our gear sorted and to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The sky was amazing.

The morning came quick and before we knew it the hike was over and we were standing on a bridge looking downstream towards our fate. A nice mellow boulder garden warm up seemed to await us and we all dressed with excitement of a new unknown piece of whitewater.

Put in Bridge

From the Put in bridge

It picked up pretty quick and soon enough we were dropping through bigger boulder gardens. The run was mostly gorged in, but rather than having bedrock drops enough debris had slipped in from the walls above that most drops we a combination of bedrock, boulders, and sieves.

Lunch time rapid - Chris K fired this up in big fashion, what you cant see if the ugly entry slide/move into a cave. And yes, that is a boulder, not bedrock that chris is scouting from.

Some good fun boulder drops with tight little intricate lines

Me, boofing away.

Ben exiting the room. (Photo by Darinn Mquoid)

Ben with what became known as a poop smear move. Lots of little ones like this on the run just trying to stay high up on the granite and smear your way down.

Downstream progress was slooooooow, we only had 3 or 4 miles if that to the confluence but we made it only half way the first day after hours and hours of boating.

The day was closing down but the whitewater was still coming in full force, we came to a horizon line and the river just seemed to drop away as the granite walls lifted up and went vertical. Some serious forward scouting was in need for this one. The main fork of the san juaquin is known for its character as one of the most gorged in rivers around, and its north forks seemed to uphold the reputation. We hiked more than 500 feet above the river and almost a half mile downstream to get a look at things. some stuff went, some didn't, and there was one corner we had no view of from any angle. The unrunnable stuff was sieved out which surprisingly offered decent portage routes and the rest ended up being decently fun whitewater. We had made it through most everything and then our senses were rudely awakened by the realization that the one corner we couldn't see contained 3 distinct horizon lines with no portage options and out of boat scouting available for only the first, marginal boat scouting for the 2nd and nothing but guessing for the 3rd. This is where i stepped back and let the boys with more expedition hair boating experience step up, and step up they did. We were past the section in less than 30 minutes and as it turned out the bottom 3 drops, although the most difficult to scout and completely mandatory, were also the cleanest of the entire gorge. We quickly found a camp spot above a nasty multi-tiered sieved out drop and spent the night fighting off ants anxious for what lay downstream.

Camp turned out to be a giant pile of sand and dirt that had built up behind a huge debris pile from previous floods. Fire wood was no trouble in finding, in fact we didn't have to leave the warmth of the fire to get more, we just leaned back and picked something out of the debris.

The next day saw less gorges and a more gentle gradient. We had plenty of good boulders gardens still to run though and the river was much less gorged out and more tree lined than before. The confluence with the main fork came just after lunch and to no surprise the river was high, and by high i mean 2 or 3 feet higher than the flow you would run the crucible section at. To our luck we had no serious gorges to run, but that didn't mean that the less serious ones would be simple. Darin was the only one in our group who had seen this section of river before and from his memory they bombed most of the drops and never got out of their boats to scout anything. It was a different story for us, in fact with that much water it was a completely different river for us. We scouted everything, and for good reason, the class IV was 2 or 3 feet under Class V water and boating just changed from lower volume technical creeking to big volume and pushy. The afternoon went well for all of us and my favorite moment came after darin had jumped out of his boat to scout a drop and returned with the beta "Drive left, boof over a 6 foot ledge and then its going to get busy, just deal with it". Boating with a group thats functioning well is always a damn good time and when you're confident enough in each others abilities to not need to give every detail of a drop when scouting it always makes things that much more enjoyable.
We made it to Cassidy Crossing at 4pm with smiles on our face and some curiosity of what lay downstream. Too much water for us to continue though, so we lit a fire cooked up some bratworst and shouldered our boat for the 8 mile 3000 foot climb out of the canyon...I generally like to think of myself as a strong hiker but this day i suffered, i dont know if it was the climb itself or me but i havnt felt that miserable in years and when i did finally make it to the top you coulda stuck a fork in me cause i was D.U.N done

The entrance to the Crucible..apparently this drop is manky at normal flows, to us it looked clean and good to go, infact most of the rocks were underwater.

Take out Bridge

I started to hike feeling good, this is 30 minutes into it with Balloon Dome in the background.

Here i am 2 hours into it with the sunsetting and feeling a bit beaten down but still with some energy.

This is 4 hours into it with the sun gone and starting to get a little dazed. I thought i had 2 miles still to go, as it turned out i was less than 5 minutes from the end.

Balloon dome in the fading sunlight

Chris K taking a picture of a nice little meadow on our way back to Yosemite

Panorama of the same meadow

Pano of the sky from nights before

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finally...a new post. I finally have some time (lots of it) and a secure and free internet source so if anyone is still checking in here you'll have some new stuff to feast your eyes on.
The chain of events over the last month and a half has been pretty crazy, i am currently at home in NH milking the parents for another week and have already been here for two but before i get into that we'll go back in time:

The Pass at the top of Fantasy Falls put-in. Drove this one, but didn't boat

Sleeping spot at the Coloma Club - brings back some good memories

After the South Merced we did some serious driving around and got skunked left and right. I went back to Corvallis for a week and did some hanging out and drove my ass back down to Cali using a friends car. I dumped the car in Coloma and did my best to avoid the vortex , got back in my truck and rallied another 4 hours south to Groveland where i met up with Chris K, Darin McQuoid and Ben Stooksberry at 10:30 at night frantically packing their boats. The offer was on the table - get my shit sorted and join them for a 1:00 AM put-in on the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne inside of Yosemite Park or drive their shuttle and sit around for up to 5 days while they boat 30 miles of expedition style class V. Neither sounded appealing to me so i went for plan C - run shuttle and hike my ass down the GC of the T for up to 5 days while they boated. As it turned out it was a damn fine decision i made. So after 15 hours of driving that day we loaded up in Darins 20 yr old Nissan pick-up and drove 2 hours to Tuolumne Meadows, a stealthy drop-off was made and i drove out of the park finally getting to bed at 3am. I had left Corvallis at 7:30am the morning before and i was beat but the sleep didn't last long. I was up at 6:30 packing my bags and heading into the park to start chasing these guys down the river on foot. As it turns out kayaking in Yosemite is highly illegal - why? i have no idea, something about our impact on the wilderness - yet rock climbers have legal rights to place permanent gear (metal bolts) into any piece of rock in the park they feel fit. What do kayakers leave behind? nothing - we just float on water. Backwards? yes! But as this year proved - its not all that hard to boat in Yosemite since neither our team nor another that came in a week later were caught by rangers.

The drive up to the trail head - i had to set shuttle myself and thumb a ride to the top, i got picked up by a young couple from NJ. First thing the girl (who was driving) said to me was, "I'm an anxious driver, you should put your seatbelt on" I gulped and gladly accepted the ride. Anxious she was, anytime a car driving the other way passed us she slammed her brakes on, if there was a curb she hit it (3 times actually), if there were people on the side of the road she would freak out as well...i made it to the top with my life though and plotted on down the trail.

Yosemite from the road is pretty amazing itself - the wilderness side of it is even more amazing though.

Tenacity or 350 board feet of lumber

The far end of the Tuolumne meadows where the river is just about to fall off the face of the earth. Yay.

The plan from the boys was marginal at best. "We're going to take it slow and try to boat most of the stuff that hasn't been done before" For me this meant "You're gonna be slow and catching up to you on foot should be simple". The GC of the T has a hiking trail which parallels almost the entire length of the river and at some points the trail is actually in the river. I figured finding these guys wouldn't be too hard...spotting 3 giant blobs of bright colored plastic in the wilderness is easy right? right - sometimes.

The river starting its gravity fed journey to Hetch Hetchy

You can just make out the river dropping off a few other huge cascades/waterfalls up in the trees above the main falls.

Since i had to procure myself a wilderness permit, i also had to accept a bear cannister from the rangers and since i had a bear cannister and i was going to meet up with 3 very tired and hungry kayakers i figured, egh why not pack in a pound of bacon and we'll make ourselves a seriously good dinner. So i spent day one hiking fast by the meadows trying to get to the goods where i figured i'd meet up with the guys. once i got to the goods they looked a little dicey, the flow was beyond healthy (more in the good side of high kind of range) and i wasn't convinced that these guys would be doing too much paddling...the character of the river is something like this...

Beautiful scenic flat water meadows. Hows the Serenity? Which leads into this...

Bbeautiful fast moving scenic class 2. Which leads into this...

400 feet of cringing...some of these falls/slides went on for a quarter or half mile. It was kinda like - well that would go if the first 200 foot waterfall wasn't there or the last 150 feet onto rock didn't happen. Add in the high water and all the marginally runnable stuff became completely out of the question, the good stuff became marginal and the meadows carried you quickly towards more portaging.

As it turns out the guys did so much portaging in the beginning that they covered nearly half the river in the first day and most of that was done by foot. I never found them the first night so i set up camp alone on a nice island and settled down for the night. Now i was in a serious dilemma - i was deep in bear country, i was alone and i had a pound of bacon with me. I decided i was safer with the bacon in me than anywhere near me so i put on my game face (see below)

Game Face

And I Sallied up and devoured the entire pound of bacon myself - mixed in with some pasta for nutrition purposes. I didn't even have to boil the pasta - instead i deep fried it in the bacon fat.


I then made the mistake of a rookie. In my delarious bacon induced nausea i attempted to wash out the pot with river water and sand. As it turned out the cold water solidified the bacon grease and instead of melting away it got all over my hands. So not only was i sick from eating 3000 calories of bacon but i now smelled like a human stick of suet for any bear to come along and nibble on...dammit.

The view downstream from camp the first night...

The sunset smelled oddly like bacon grease

Camp the next morning...i survived with no bear encounters

I set out for day two and found lots more unrunnable waterfalls, great views and some good hiking.

Right around lunch time i was rounding a bend and heard the familiar voice of Chris K. Sitting in front of me, more or less on the path, were Chris, Darin and Ben. It was noon and they hadn't left camp from the night before. We caught up, told some quick stories and chatted about what was downriver. Muir gorge was just downstream and a morning of scouting had determined it to be more or less unrunnable - a half mile continuous richter scale steep boulder garden led into a completely walled in gorge with marginal drops and an unscoutable (large) exit drop. the options? pretty much only 1 - shoulder the boat and continue the portage fest. It took nearly 2 hours to get around Muir gorge, but with the flows that we had it was a better option than paddling it.

The exit drop below the true exit drop of Muir Gorge

We separated again with the guys taking to the water and me plotting by foot. By now i had determined my new shoes to be too small and the blood blisters under both big toe nails were a good indication they'd be falling off in a few weeks so i switched to my 2 dollar K-mart flip-flops and mosied on down. We spent the day leap frogging each other, enjoying a for more portages together and taking a few pics of a few drops that were run.

Ben was the only to pick this one off. The diagonal 15footer lead in was avoided with a cheeky seal launch from river left, and for good reason, the boil from the curtain was surfacing 40 feet downstream and it was doing so after the water had already passed the lip of the slide. yuck.

Ben about to be eaten by the maw

We camped that night together on river left and found out right as we were going to bed that we sharing our evening spot with some local critters.

Dont sit on one of these guys

The next morning started off quick with this good morning slide

The zoomed in version of the good morning maw...this was probably the biggest drop the entire group ran and it was styled by all.

The plan for day 3 was get the hell out of dodge. The river ended in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir where the boys had an 8 mile paddle out. The trail i was on turned 4000 ft up out of the canyon just before the reservoir and so i was off to get the truck and get to the take-out for a covert mission to get boats and bodies out without being caught by the rangers. Everything went flawlessly and the mission was done...minus a few toenails and with the addition of some serious calories.

On the way to "getting the hell out of dodge" i nearly stepped on this guy, with flip-flops on. Good thing they're loud and get pissed off easily.

Halfway up the big climb out and feeling it.

The view of hetch hetchy from mthe top with the last few rapids in view

The same just pano rama

Hetch Hetchy from the dam