Monday, November 17, 2008

Daylight Savings -or- flow study v. 3

(photo sequence: Sean Manchester, pictured below)

Leaves change, days get shorter. Flows drop, work picks up. Fall has made us parched beggars dependent on the faucets randomly opened up here and there.

There were the South Feather days of boofing down that classic dark gutter lined with Indian Rhubarb. The way the seasons worked out this year made for brilliant fall colors and not so bone-chilling weather. Taylor Robertson decided that the waterfall right in the middle of its first gorge would be a whole lot cooler as a rapid than a portage and started a charge of exercising the demons one huck at a time. Following hot on the heels of Taylor and his homeboys, my last run saw me at the bottom of the first gorge about 3 minutes after launching into the uninterrupted flow.

The North Yuba (pictured above) has been a welcome surprise witness in the kayaking court while the Yuba County Water Agency tinkers with the tubes and has no choice but to gush the water down the river to keep their contracts with the dams downstream. It is a beautiful place once one floats away from the seventy-story dam looming over the put in like the Gotham skyline, bristling with cameras, antennas, and the equipage of Homeland Security.

This was also the scene of the most hilarious turnaround in public relations ever after several weeks of hassling and stink-eyes from the dam personnel. After a friendly chat with Steve the dam operator, he radioed his people up top to leave a gate open so we could drive down to the river instead of hiking in. Our group was paddling mid-week on Veteran's Day and apparently the flow had been dropped down a little after the weekend. Steve was apologetic, "If we'd known you were coming we'd have left it up!" Steve, I just need your address, and I'll make sure you get that basket of mini-muffins!

I'd rather pray for whitewater than beg for it, so that is why my favorite day of boating out of the fall was when nature delivered and Thomas Moore and I got fresh tracks on the South Yuba, catching a spike of the first natural flow we'd boated on since the Kings. No pictures were taken, and few eddies were caught as we bombed down, Thomas leading like a hound dog sniffing out boofs he'd buried in his memory. Driving home through the lingering patches of the storm that had brought the water, I saw a double-wide rainbow. Not two concentric rainbows, but one that had a more full spectrum than any I'd ever seen. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green was only the half-way point of this mackin' 'bow. That's where Blue, Indigo, Violet took over and the spent wavelengths gasped their last with a glow of White like the northern lights on the inside of the arch. I'll take it as an indicator of lots of rain and snow and good things to come.

It's not trespassing if you're a guest.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Flow Study v. 2: Canyon Creek

One day a week, I've been hard at it with these flow-studies, doing my part as an amateur hydrologist. So far, the time I've put in has been pro bono, but I've got a feeling that a fellowship or grant-money of some kind is not far off. In the meanwhile, I will continue with my independent research as best I can despite the lack of institutional support.

"I can't run the sh$t every day, but I can always dream." Alex Wolfgram on the rapid.

(file photo courtesy Sparkle Motion)

I agree with Chris Tulley (pictured above) and his assessment of Canyon Creek that he posted on the on-line forum, ("boof" can refer to a vertical drop along a river, the forceful stroke one takes at the lip of such a drop, the brief free-fall one experiences after paddling over it, or the sound the boat makes upon landing). I have paraphrased Chris' comments.

1) Thanks AW and Bob Center for making this possible. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to get on new adventures like Canyon Creek. It is very scenic, great camping and warm lakes to swim in.
2) The run is not quality. Lots of sharp, shallow rocks = lots of gouges in your boat. Yes, folks this is mank... Majority of rapids have lines but they are marginal.
3) More flow would help this run but not make it great. Putting enough flow to cover up some/most of the rocks (~150-200 cfs) would remove some of the boat abuse but would likely make the run very continuous and intimidating, requiring long scouts and big hairy ballz.
4) If you go, bring a beater boat and a fire it up attitude. I'd suggest that you be V+ type and not afraid to take hits, definitely don't forget your elbow pads. Generally you should be the type of person who would rather take an experimental line thru a V-V+ rapid than portage.

To this I can add that Dave Steindorf of American Whitewater reports that not much more than the 120 cfs we had this past week can even be let out of the small penstock of the dam that forms French "lake." Every bit would help, so I say crank that thing counter-clockwise until it won't go anymore (and will say as much when I officially submit the findings of my exhaustive research to the flow study).

That's what I love about twenty-footers... I get older, and they stay the same height. Photo: Alex Wolfgram.

"Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white..." Were the Counting Crows inspired by Peter Malkin and his Pearl Jefe? Fresh from a week at Burning Man, the Russian somehow manages to run the creek without paranoia or hallucinations getting the better of him.

Corey Tucker gets in the spirit of the party.
Canyon Creek is what professional kayaker Zak Shaw would call a "young catchment." That is a polite way of saying that the stream-bed is as sharp as a chess phenom on ginseng supplements. It is so high up in the watershed that it hasn't seen the flows over time that would smooth out the rough edges. A couple more ice-ages and it should be a classic!

Paddler: Taylor Cavin, Photo: Peter Malkin.
Human history hasn't done the creek much better than the geologic timescale. The Nevada County Irrigation District has the thing locked down like cell block "D" after a food riot. You will have not one but four reservoir paddles to reflect on this if you paddle the whole stretch from French "lake" to Bowman "lake." My favorite rapids were right above and below Faucherie "lake," so there must be some sick scuba-diving to be done in that one.

A gutter of the earth.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

upLATE: 1st Annual S Merced Boat Clean-Up Jamboree!

1st Annual South Merced Boat Clean-Up Jamboree! from Taylor Cavin on Vimeo.Ok, Ok, so this is redundant and late coverage of this event. Be that as it may, this is video, wheras a few months ago on there were photos. It somehow got lost in the shuffle of peak-runoff sh$t-running...anyways, umm... here it is, as pitiful and sycophantic as a belated thank-you card. Green boat, K. Smith, Orange boat D. Maurier. The camera glitched for my run of the boo-boo, so that is shown as a'll see...

Monday, September 1, 2008

The For-De-Shay Creek

I believe that the stream was named by Quebecois fur traders exploring the region by canoe and therefore would take a French pronunciation of the spelling "Fordyce." After a parching August (with even the Oasis of Cherry Creek down to 50% flow for part of the month), it was great to have those f-ing dams do us at least a lick of good right at the end. With 400 12-inch, by 12 inch, by 12 inch cubes of water going from Fordyce Reservoir down Fordyce creek, every second, this flow study provided ample opportunity to study the flow as one floated over, through, and with it. With the crap-ton of dam release classics such as the Gauley, Green, and Youghigheny on the East Coast, there is no reason that California, which by comparison is dammed to tarnation, can't have an awesome Fall draw-down season as well. It seems the key for getting releases such as this one is the effort of motivated individuals in the paddling community who stay involved throughout the lengthy dam relicensing process.
Perhaps fired-up by the jeepers doing their rowdy stream-crossings, exhaust pipes a-bubblin, our group of five went ahead and fired up this rapid. Lizzy puts a little English on it.

Consistent Chris Korbulic hits the 7-10 split. This rapid looked a lot less picturesque from river level, with the big rectangle slab on river right kicking up a fan that could cool a Pharaoh.

Jared Johnson punches his boof-stroke like karate chop through brick. This rapid was the only one I walked back up for, a super smooth granite waterfall with many lines to be had.

Afternoon huckfest as two groups glob together and a whole bunch of people drop the Split Falls, bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. This is me melting it like the Wicked Witch of the West (photo: David Maurier).
Death-style shot: This was one of many standing trunks of trees drowned by Spaulding Reservoir and exposed by the low water level. Fishing line snagged up this Crawdad leaving his exoskeleton to bleach in the sun.

Floating there, with the stratified sand rings around the reservoir, the sight of the Yuba dumping in through a sculpted gorge, and my friends paddling off to the boat-ramp, I reflected on something. The Fordyce was the first California River I paddled over two years ago; I had not paddled it since. I remembered how I'd been impressed, by the exposed granite peppered with pines, by the attention getting rapids (portages for me), the meandering flats through tall forest. Most of all I remember putting on kind-of late, taking out in the dark, and feeling very spent from the scale of kayaking in the Sierra. That first glimpse was a fair indicator of the potential to be found in these mountains. I find myself amazed again and again at what we have here.

Special note: also on the creek this same day were Mike Fentress and Walt Garms who first descended Fordyce 25 years ago. To have that kind of a tenure on class V whitewater is bad-ass as far as I'm concerned.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A ride through the ringer (MF Kings)

Avast! The following blog entry shall take on a length befitting of Homeric poetry. This story's scope is on par with that of it's subject, the Middle Fork of the Kings, a river that transects the Sierra Nevada. Starting in the snowfields of the range that contains the tallest peak in the lower 48, the Kings drops over 7,000 feet in the classic stretch run by kayakers. So if you're still scrolling five minutes from now... take heed! This is gutters on its annual gabfest!
Though his real title is "Dudebro von Brohelm," he now goes by Willy Pell to shake anti-immigrant sentiment. In this picture, Willy runs Herculean logistics with his butter knife. The thing about the Kings is that it takes Herculean logistics to get at it, but delivers a whitewater pay-off equal to the effort buy-in. Because the river is so remote, the nearest access to put in is actually over the backside of the drainage, through Bishop, California, in the desert rain-shadow of the Inyo Valley. Because the Kings sits square in the middle of the High Sierra, it's take-out is conveniently as far as possible from either the northerly route through Yosemite, crossing over the Sierra at Tioga Pass, or the southerly route, which goes all the way around the Sierra. Take your pick, shuttle is about 300 miles one way.
We all have our cross to bear. For some of us, it's a kayak loaded with overnight gear which we literally have to bear. Because our group convened at take out the night before a full day of shuttling, we were already a day and a half in transit when we arrived at trail head to start the hike in to the headwaters. A Hike!? A hike, you say!? 300+ miles by car, and 12 on foot. These terms are non-negotiable.

Now the funny part. The area around the Kings is designated as wilderness, and overnight stays within it are limited and run on a permit system. The permits are cheap, and we had heard were not running out mid week, but were a formality worth following through, we reckoned. After running the shuttle, a delegate from our party arrived at the US Forest Service office in Bishop just at the close of business hours in time for some employee to shake his head at her through a glass door as it swung shut. Boo! Anxious to put on the river and more fearful of the mighty laws of Nature than than the feeble codes of man, we commenced hiking our boats in over Bishop Pass the following day undeterred, not feeling the backtrack into town from our campsite. It was just as we neared the top of the pass, and would have been within sight of La Conte Canyon, that Homeland Security, in the form of US forest circus rangers, overtook us and pissed on our picnic. After groveling to an ironically named Ranger Keith Waterfall, (no joke!) we negotiated being able to at least leave our boats and gear as far as we had carried them while we hiked ourselves and our food out that day, thereby remaining "day users," and not needing a permit. "Cut off at the pass," like Geronimo's band, we beat a retreat to Bishop, secured the permit for overnight travel, and proceeded to wreck a happy hour.
Some kayaking crews use helicopters to access badass new drainages, others to shoot sick footy. We pretty much just get buzzed by them like the ghetto bird flashing its search light around on COPS! These dudebros had their body heat scanners out for a lost hiker who has yet to be found.

After reflecting on the situation, a team member mis-quoted a popular kayaking film: "The culmination of our total lack of preparedness has led us to now."

Having regrouped, we went in the following day, day 3 and a half, to get in there "for realsies," put on, and start generating blog content worth viewing. We join our heroes at the top of Bishop Pass...

Along the hike, nature likes to taunt you in your suffering with incarnations of pure beauty.
Thomas Moore (no relation to James Bond star Roger Moore) gets it on during a chilly day one on the river.
If this rapid is known as "the money rapid," and I believe it is, then this photo captures Dudebro von Brohelm becoming a cash money millionaire.
I've never seen so many blue nomads in all my life! Or Robin's Egg. Or Perriwinkle. Or whatever the hell color that is. Lizzy English gets on the rail like a Japanese commuter as she exits Sik Camp early day 2. Deliberating dudebros looking on say "Oh, there's the line."
Let's meet team Raw Dawg, shall we? Left to Right: Taylor Cavin, Lizzy English, Jared Johnson, Thomas Moore, Willy Pell, and David Maurier. We are Raw Dawgs because we drink the waters of the Middle Kings without filtration or purification and call this "Raw Dawgin' it!"
David hits "execute," and registers the domain name "" with a single rightie stern draw.
First Descent: Jared Johnson, June 2007. This run was followed a few short minutes later by myself, and followed this year by several Raw Dawgs. Whether known as "Raw Dawg Falls," the "Tatlow Rapid," or, most likely, "the thirty footer," it is now open for business.
The team collects itself in between committing through the entry gorge and dropping over Raw Dawg Falls.
Taylor Cavin refers to himself in the third person and boofs the holy heck out of Raw Dawg Falls.
A public service announcement from Jared Johnson, reminding you that the Middle Kings is not all about clean sliding falls. Hope you like stacked ledges, son!
Oh, she's a real beauty, this one!
By Sierra standards, this river's got more wood than an Amish barn-raising.

On a personal note, thank you, Middle Kings. You push us to our peak and reveal our true selves. You reward our knuckle-bangers and suffering with satisfaction far sweeter than the complacent comforts of our workaday lives. You are so awesome.

Glad we go the hell out of there when we did... As it was we paddled garlic Falls at a sporting 1400 (est.), twice last year's flow since the river actually rose rather than fell during our trip down it (due to daily afternoon thundershowers). Putting on two days later would have spelled misadventure for our heroes as they would have embarked on a celebration of portaging known as a "portage fest" of the first order through the Bottom Nine miles of Bottomitude.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

the Cherry drainage pilgrimage

This year's visit to the holy land of granite creek boating did not disappoint. There were dispirited moments of boat schlepping, carnage deja vu, and linked-up boof-boof-boof sequences that were the stuff of dreams. It seems like planet Tattooine always serves it up a little different. This year there was hazy smoke from a fire south of Cherry Lake drifting through the canyons, last year there was a freak June snow-sleet-hail storm, and the year before I couldn't tell you because I was having my mind blown. There is a little video window for you, but if you haven't been there, I recommend it. Taking a backpack instead of a boat means less punishment on your back, no sweating the narrow flow window, and an easy drop in from Kibbie Ridge to the epicenter that is Flintstone camp. Media simply cannot do justice to the straight out of sci-fi domes or the overall feel of trekking through a moon-scape without so much as a blade of grass in your path.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The waterfalls Dinkey

Last weekend I got to engage in the ultimate skirmish for a California weekend warrior: Dinkey Waterfalls, a bad-ass run typically done in two days. Royal Gorge, a 3-day run, said, "F you, quit your job." Fantasy Falls, also a 3-day, said, "Go F yourself. And quit your job." Dinkey Waterfalls said,"Enter my inner gorges and plummet over my clean granite rapids. Then go to work on Monday with the grin of a poop-eater." The fine compatriots who had my back on this one were Culley Thomas and Chris Tulley (dopplegangers in name only) and Macy Burnham (who had been there before and led us off Willey's drop, a 40 footer, blind as bats). Side note: this run is no cake walk and got my attention more than once as you will see in the closing shot of this vid.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Golden Gate: billions of customers served!

Much respect to the old school. People have been running the Golden Gate section of the South Fork American since the Raegan years. Since the days when your kayak would fold around you like pita bread if you so much as touched a rock. Since the days when "technical apparel" meant cut-offs and Chuck Taylors.
To the original bad-asses, Golden Gate was the shit. In my mind, this fact lends the Gate long-lasting legitimacy on top of the fact that it's still the shit. It's as real as a home-made casserole, MTV's "the Real World," and a pouch of gypsy power crystals all put together. On the real.
"Please sir, may I have another?" Sean Graham goes through "initiation."
Once you get over the wierd, blind boof over the knuckle, and dodge around the hole...'s a "straight shot," the name of this rapid, as run by Thomas Moore.
"Mr. Smith" to his students, Rick T-s up for "Taco Bell" and orders a Big, Beef Cheesy Meltdown, speeding past the intercom and proceeding directly to the window, demanding satisfaction.
"Cannon-Ball!!!!" Sean Manchester goes over the "diving board," in "All F-ed Up."
Sean contends with lateral waves like a gladiator staving off starved lions.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Praise Allah it's Friday (video included)!

Over the past weekends I made three trips down the upper middle consumnes, thanks to whoever figured out that you can run it that low (sort of). The run is a geologic split personality, equal parts hot-ass rapids and broke-ass rapids, but all in all a great venue for fight-club-esque weekend shenanigans and a backyard run by Cali standards. This short vid from one day last wknd shows John Warner, Jason Hale, James McLeod and Dave Garringer killing it, and me eating a slice of poop cake (cause no one does that anymore). With the coming weekend's flows looking like dam release playboating will be the hot play, at least I can vicariously re-experience the Consumnes through myself. The artist is Bloc Party, the track is Positive Tension.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The North Shore Project

Fluid Groove Productions has put up this video called "The North Shore Project," documenting the whitewater of the rugged streams flowing into Lake Superior. This is not Fluid Groove's first rodeo; they won "Best Accomplished Film" at the 2004 National Paddling Film Festival for their effort, "Dakib," meaning cold water in Ojibwe. This video features new footage of classic runs such as the cascades of the Cascade, the Black, and the Baptism, which I was fortunate enough to paddle Spring of 07. I can attest that they are some quality jams, but that bedrock will destroy your kayak.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

getting closer to Nirvana

Cully Thomas in a moment of weightlessness, Middle Kaweah.
Kevin Smith bombing into the box rapid on the Main Tule.
Eric Giddens catches a bounce and enjoys doing it.

Peter Malkin finishes "four deaths" in Bald Rock Canyon without suffering a single death. Peter is also suspiciously affiliated with, a resource for kayaking in the Altai Mountains.
Myself floating over a piece of granite as classic as Audrey Hepburn (photo: Peter Malkin).

Have been back in Cali for a while now, kayaking almost every weekend, all thanks to whoever invented the drysuit. Enjoying the days getting warmer and longer, waiting for that melt to start and those diurnals to start pulsing like Karl Rove hooked up to a polygraph. Have to say, life is pretty good when this is the kind of kayaking you can get in on the shoulder season.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dipping Blades into Mirages

The Sespe Creek mission was an act of faith from the very first. When David and I leave Sacramento, a strategic location for getting at classic whitewater, and point the car towards Los Angeles, the sprawling Babylon of civilization gone awry, I feel fibers in my body twitching, resisting the idea out of instinct and principle. With the hydrograph that had held steady all week at a reportedly good level starting to drop that day, reason also joins the protest (see above: we put on the 16th). When the bubble of light pollution from the misnomered City of Angels comes into view as we turn off the 5 and switch drivers near Magic Mountain, I accept the unlikely adventure as it plays out in the style of a David Lynch film. Macy and Luke meet us at a semi-legal camp spot, and we boost towards the river after sunrise. The sight of patchy snow hiding in the shade as we shuttle up and a battleship-sized sandstone formation greeting us at put-in hint at adventure and overshadow the risk of stranding ourselves in a dry desert gulch. As we paddle in, I remind myself of other beguiling put-ins that tell nothing of what lies downstream: the innocuous miles of class II on the way in to the Green Narrows, the float through a swamp leading to the steep slides of Minnesota's Split Rock River. As I bang my loaded boat over shoals and through willows, pinning like a butterfly specimen and falling behind, I keep faith that the snow will melt, the tribs will come in, the river will channelize.
Macy runs this 10 footer on beta. Trick of perspective makes it look like 2 footer.
David reckons, "the heck with boofing, I'm going for the slot with the most water!"
Macy goes with the, "I'm hitting so many rocks as it is, I might as well drive up on them completely!" school of thought.
At this point the river sieved out like a sewer-grate and we portaged through a jumble. I feel justified in stealing this picture from David's blog, because it features my likeness and at no point did I agree to full disclosure of intellectual property.

Luke gets all up in the pour-over's bizniss. I feel justified in stealing this picture from David since I took it.

Once we entered the gorge the next day, our faith was rewarded with stunning topography, rare bird-life, and sandstone rapids, smooth like a single-malt scotch, yet rough as shark-skin. We got a good lead-sweep rhythm going and routed many rapids on boat-scouts and no-scouts, the thought of another chilly night motivating us towards take out. We left one rapid for next time with more water, and saw the river completely sieve-out twice. The general character in the steepest few miles could be described as pour-overs pinched between huge boulders, with a few slides mixed in. The flow was surprisingly adequate for most of the good rapids, but we did well to do the paddle out as the sun set on day two, the flow continuing to drop. All in all a great trip, a good chunk of gradient, and a chance to experience the desert environs that had gotten into my imagination on the drive back from Mexico.

Oh, and check out for an alternate report of this trip, as well as David's endeavors in New Zealand and elsewhere in California. Whose trip would YOU rather go on? Polling begins next week.