Thursday, November 19, 2009

Middle Kaweah lap two + gawking at big trees.

After my first run down the Middle Fork of the Kaweah, i was pretty tired.
My back was also killing me, so after dinner I decided I wanted to sleep in a real bed, and ended up getting a room for us in Three Rivers for the night. I realize this makes me a sissy, and it hurt my budget for the trip, but that bed and shower were nice. The room also included breakfast in the morning, and an internet computer. The computer was handy to determine exactly where the best Middle Fork take-out was, and we could check what else was going on with water levels. West Cherry looked to be on the high side, and most everything else was low, so we stayed in town for another lap.
Jay Moffat arrived in the middle of the night, having driven straight through from Asheville, NC with just a few naps. He slept in his car and was up early rigging his new boat and (correctly) harassing us for being slowpokes. That motivation probably explains why Jay managed to run Upper Cherry, the Middle Kings, NF San Joaquin, the Stikine, and more this season.
Oliver headed home to do some work, and Adam, Jay and I went back into Sequoia for some boating. We put on at Buckeye Flats, below Chuck's Drop this time. What took hours to sort out the day before, we got done in minutes. We were soon through the mini canyon, and out scouting the heinous boulder pile above V-slide, which Adam ran, and then the V-slide itself.

Jay Moffat runs V-Slide, photo by Adam Johnson.

A spectacular place, complete with live studio audience. Jay Moffat and JB Seay below V-Slide. Moro rock above. Photo by Adam Johnson.

We did not get out of our boats again until the bottom of the 420 gorge area, where a shallow drop with a 90 degree pillow/flume at the bottom prompted a quick portage. Adam and I had both run it the day before, and neither of us liked the chunky stuff we felt in the pillow and flume. It was a good time for some beef jerky and a panoramic picture anyway.

Sitting still for the picture felt like one of those old timey, manual, sepia photos.
Panoramic photo by Adam Johnson.
From there it was more bombing and quick explanations over the shoulder to Jay all the way down to Zero to Sixty. Adam and I probed (scouting again seemed risky to me) and then Jay styled it right up.
Jay Moffat runs Zero to Sixty, photo by Adam Johnson.
We were soon drying gear in the sunshine at the Potwisha campground, the confluence of the Marble and Middle Forks of the Kaweah, unaware that Ben Stookesberry and Darin McQuoid were on a mission just a few miles up the Marble Fork.
We completed our run from Buckeye Flats to Potwisha in a little over two hours, quite an improvement from the 7 or so it had taken the day before while we figured it all out. The Middle Fork of the Kaweah is a great river, and one I look forward to running again someday. I understand it has an early season, before the melt, and that fall rains will also bring it in. What a fantastic resource! Once you know the lay of the land, you can adjust your put-in for how much you want to bite off, and it has a fun combination of drops. When you add in the other forks of the river, its no wonder the Kaweah River has an informative webpage dedicated to it.

After our run, Jay hit the road to Oliver's house, and Adam and I took the scenic route on the Generals Highway through Sequoia National Park. We climbed Moro Rock, a kind of must do since it was always photo-bombing our kayak shots. We saw several juvenile bear cause a "Bear Jam" on the Moro Rock access road, and obviously, a lot of fantastic large trees and mountains. We arrived late that night at Oliver's house to find Shannon Carroll in town to join our merry band with several days off from work and ready to boat.
Adam has more pics on his picasa site, and his take on the Kaweah on his blog.
Keep watching for day three; "A weekend warrior finds his limits" or something. Middle Cherry is up next.

Middle Kaweah day one.

This spring, I made plans to try for some Sierra creeking. The trip was to be part vacation, part adventure, part reward for pulling up stakes and moving to a new town. I had a narrow window in the month of June to go, but was able to free up 6 days in between moving and my wife starting her rotations in a new hospital. I started scouring blogs and message boards for dates and flows on runs in California. You guys need to put more dates on when you do those snowmelt runs. For the record, we ran the Middle Kaweah at low water on June 17th and 18th, and then the dam controlled Middle Cherry on the June 20th.
The plan was to meet Ed Gaker and Adam Johnson in California, and hopefully hook up with our friend Oliver Grossman for logistical help and some boating around his work schedule.
We wanted to try for Upper Cherry, and if it was too high, do day trips or maybe West Cherry.
I had my Westbound ticket bought, and was looking for the return flight when I got terrible news: Ed had drowned boating in Colorado. (I wrote some about this in a previous post) I struggled mightily with what to do about my trip, and looked into giving my ticket away and just letting this one go. In the end I decided to proceed, confident Ed would have wanted it that way (cliche or not it's true), but with a heavy heart.
On Thursday the 11th I shipped my kayak west to safeguard against any airline snafu's.
Friday a bunch of us drove to central Ohio to attend Ed's viewing, and his memorial on Saturday.
Sunday and Monday my wife and I packed up our house and moved 3 hours East, to the Panhandle of WV.
Tuesday I flew to Sacramento.

I got there late Tuesday night, and Adam picked me up, with my kayak already on top of the car. We headed south, checked in with Oliver, and confirmed that we would meet somewhere near the Kaweah the next morning.
We got to Three Rivers, just outside Sequoia National Park, around 4:30 in the morning. I slept in the back of the car for about 2 hours, then got up to get a snack and call the wife to let her know I was there and safe. I dozed some more until about 7:30, when Oliver met us and we went to breakfast.
We saw a car with boats and Oregon tags, so I went over to say hello. I asked the guy standing there if he was Chris (Korbulic) as we have a number of friends in common. Oops. It was actually Ben Stookesberry, with Darin McQuoid riding shotgun. We chatted a bit and quizzed them on levels, before hitting the road. Nice guys. They had just completed the 3rd or 4th decent of the Upper Middle Fork, hiking several hours upstream from the end of the road.
We were unsure of put-ins and take-outs, but Adam remembered paddling all the sections of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah, so we figured we could run the whole river, and loath to pay for two cars to get in the park, we left a car in town. We drove into Sequoia National Park, and ended up meeting with a group of 6 guys from the U.K. (who had no more info than us), and we put on at the Paradise Creek Trail bridge, just above the Buckeye Flats campground.
Just a few short drops around a corner, and we were at Chuck's (Kern) Drop. Its big, shallow and gets run occasionally.

Not by us though. Bill Anderson portaging Chuck's Drop. We dropped one team member who wasn't feeling well here, bringing us down to 8 first timers* on the run.
*Adam had run the Kaweah in high school, but when mixed in with the memories of their 200+ days a year paddling pace, he was fuzzy on where things were. Sometimes, at the bottom of a drop he would say "Oh yeah, I remember that one" but that was the extent of his beta.

The first drop of any size below Chucks. JB Seay, photo by Oliver Grossman.

Oliver Grossman runs the same.

More fun read and run brought us to a series of slides in a mini-canyon. We scouted from the river left, climbing on top of a house sized boulder perched on the bedrock. 2/3 of the flow went under the rock, but the left channel around was easy to make at low water.
Oliver and I headed up and ran the first few slides.
While eddied out under an overhang, I found this rock in the embrace of the roots of a sycamore tree.

Bill Anderson on Drop #2 in the series.

Drop #3 and 4, showing the rather large sieve. Photo by Oliver Grossman.

Once we got everyone worked through here, we portaged around a messy rock pile just below. Just a few eddies downstream and we arrived at the V-slide.

Oliver enters the V-Slide. We were under the impression it went best by driving hard right and falling into the trough late.

JB Seay at V-slide. Photo by Oliver Grossman.
Here I am falling into the V as late as I could, paddle carefully tucked upstream. Upon further consideration, it was smoother to get on the pillow a bit upstream and then rocket down it.

Adam throws a brown claw of joy in the pool below V-slide. Moro Rock looks on in bemused silence from 4,000 above.
Right downstream the river snakes around a blind, fast corner, so I eddied out and was bashing through brush to scout. Ben, Darin, and a group of German? (the Brits guess based on accent) guys rolled around the corner and bombed off. One of the group was portaging, and I relayed his description of Little Niagara to our group and they ran down as well.

JB Seay boofing Little Niagara, photo by Oliver Grossman.
The drop was steeper than I had understood from the German dude, so the guys and I all had a bit of a surprise when we got to the lip. Sorry fellas, my mistake. In the big pool below the drop, we had a dozen boaters, from all over the US and Europe, hanging out. Good stuff.
More fun read and run, and one full scout got us down to (what I later found to be) the standard Hospital Rock put-in.

Martyn Sollars at the bottom of a multi-tiered slide above the traditional put-in.

Oliver Grossman in the midst of the 420 gorge. He who scouts and directs runs last. Oliver is an incredible paddler, and a great asset to any paddling mission. I cannot think of instance, in many class V days of paddling, where I have worried about that dude. Anyway, the biggest drop, and kind of the entrance exam into this gorge was a sweet boulder pile with blind moves and lots of eddy hopping. We had quite a show of traffic direction to get our group of 8 through that one.

Panoramic of part of the 420. One of our group hiked up to the road from this point, bringing us down to 7. Adam and Oliver hiding in the lower right.

Sweet Kicker Falls. We ran out of an eddy on river right, charging across the grain of the current, and then down onto the kicker.

Chris Flavin on a perfect 12' falls.

Zero to sixty.
While scouting this falls, I began to slide down the super slick, polished granite. I looked for something to grab, or a dry place to jump, but finding neither, I decided to commit to the boating line, and ran/skidded/fell down the slide, and jumped over the lip into the pool. I surfaced just in front of the river right wall, and got out on a convenient rock to examine my options.That was dumb. JB Seay feeling foolish at Zero to Sixty. Photo by Phil Higgins.
Adam tried to tow me across the current and out of the LZ, but that did not go well, and I ended up floating back into a cave (to the right of the above photo) out of breath with my elbow pads down around my fingertips, and my pants pulled completely off. I was able to chimney up the back of the cave, and a quick hand from Oliver got me back up on top so I could try the drop in my kayak.
Shortly below there, the 4 Brits wisely decided to take out at a gauging station, and sort out their shuttle up on the road. We continued downstream, passing the Marble Fork and picking our way through boulder gardens in a shallow, widened streambed. With more water, I imagine this section is great fun, but the combination of low flows, being tired, and boat breaking paranoia wore on me. I eventually hiked up to the road, getting nearly covered in burrs and the fine, talcum powdery soil of the canyon walls. I lucked into a ride back to the put-in from our new boating friends. They were on their way back from a supplies run, and took me and all my filthy gear right to Adam's car. Adam and Oliver finally made it down to the confluence just before dark fell, with mixed reviews of the last few miles of river.

I have a few more photos on my picasa account, if you are really bored.
If you know the names of any of the pictured rapids, post a comment or drop me an e-mail.
Stay tuned for day two on the Middle Kaweah.