Monday, August 10, 2009

Deep in the Trenches

Alex Wolfgram captains his ship in a bottle-neck.

The mountains that form the Middle San Joaquin loomed above me as I first sized them up. We were driving out of the South San Joaquin canyon, and I could see where the South met the Middle. Scanning back and forth from the depth of the canyon to the height of the Middle fork headwaters in the Postpile Minarets, I could plainly see the precipitous drop the river had to make. It did this in a stupefyingly short distance. The awe that struck me then was of a scale one feels when first taking in the Yosemite Valley, its sky-scraping granite, its dizzying falls.

At one point, my intention to run the river was in seeking the geographic sense of completion of "getting them done." The river is sometimes rumored more of a trial than a good run. The fact that the Devil himself is implicated in the river's origin may be disconcerting to some.

As I processed the power of landscape that gave rise to the San Joaquin, all of this propaganda was pushed aside. My desire to run the river became an aesthetic imperative.

The San Joaquin takes all the rivers of the Southern Sierra under its name, capturing them one by one as it flows north to the Sacramento, forming the Central Valley. Rightly so- it is the mightiest river and has characters of them all. Ominous and distinct gorges like Fantasy. Domes lining the banks of absurd slides like Upper Cherry. The magnitude and beat-down factor of the Kings. Portages like the Merced. The scrubby desert beauty of the Kaweah.

Charlie Center heads up the dawn patrol to ditch the tree fuzz.


Ha, ha, ha, ha!

Yes, those waterfalls are dumping into the middle of the rapid.

"It's... so... beautiful!" When I asked Alex what this rapid looked like from the scout, that's all he said. I debated whether to get out and take a moment to behold it, or run it blind so the scare-factor would etch it more indelibly into my mind's eye. I opted for the latter.

Portage while you still can. Mwahaha!

The MF San Joaquin provides lots of practice at seal-launching.

As ready as we'll ever be.

Caveman racquetball.

The Postpile gave me clarity and focus, tested what I'd learned, and made me feel supremely alive. Big thanks to Alex Wolfgram for having the drive, Shane for driving shuttle, and Charlie for declaring entire gorges "good."

Special note: Now that California Flood Safety founder Alex Wolfgram has run the Middle San Joaquin, he has completed every High Sierra river including Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne and Headwaters of the Kern. Hella Sick!

Find more videos like this on Caliproduct

Shot by Alex Wolfgram and Charlie Center, edited by Charlie Center, courtesy