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.