Saturday, July 25, 2009

Kings River Triple Crown

On Saturday, July 18, Luke Liebsch, Macy Burnham, Chris Tulley and I completed what may be the longest contiguous descent of river in Kings watershed history, linking runs on the Middle Kings, Garlic Falls, and the Banzai Run in a hitherto unprecedented act of river-running. Though the additional 10 miles of the class 2-3 Banzai Run only added 300 vertical feet to the trip, they rounded out 50 miles of whitewater good times and crossed off a page on the guide-book check-off. Whitewater!

The Habitat 80 tracks nice and speedy through flat water, like this cheat-line one can take by crossing Saddlerock Lake on the hike in.

I call this rapid "the data archive," because it's so backed up. Macy launching into the bottom half.

If Tulley were a marine mammal, he'd be a gnar-whale.

Getting ready to launch off some smooth Ponderosa bark.

Luke smears that rock like he's waging an underhanded political campaign.

Afternoon T-storm advisory for the greater bottom 9 area. Tulley in the shadow of gloom.

Friday, July 24, 2009

But don't take my word for it!

A.J. and I wait our turn to portage down the middle.

Reading Rainbow host Lavarre Burton would close his book reviews with the catch-phrase, "but don't take my word for it!" One must go and see for one's self the relative beauty and worthwhileness of rivers. It is one thing to browse the gorgeous photos, saturated with color, taken from god's eye vantage points on, and another to experience them firsthand from the boater's perspective. And so it was that I went to the raved-about Upper N F San Joaquin. I think I was talking about trying to get in there weeks before the river was actually running at the right levels, just to make sure I didn't miss it. Eventually I got on board with a great group and had a sweet trip down this section. I almost could have taken Korbulic's word for it since he hiked the 10 miles, ran the river, hiked out the 4 miles, rode all the way up to Sac-town, and then turned around that same day to do it all over again with our group.

For all the rapids called "triple drop," there had ought to be at least one called, "quadruple drop." Brian Fletcher in the mix.

For all the rapids named "pin-ball," there should be at least one called "ping-pong." Stookesberry stares it down.

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, but that sh*t was still 70 ft. tall.

The other first-timers scout the "mini-crucible," one of the cool mini-gorges on the run.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fantastic Voyage

Self-portrait, 2007 hike out.

My friend David Maurier said of the North Mokelumne, "I went to Fantasy Falls in search of unicorns, and I found them." For myself, I would say that Fantasy Falls was my unicorn, my minotaur, my elusive fugitive that twizzled his moustache in mockery just as he made his get away.

In 2007 I put on with a patched boat, which opened up like a trout with its belly slit when I poorly piloted it down a manky sneak on day one. In the next rapid, my sinking boat free-wheeled over the crux and I initiated a sequence called "beat down to wet-exit." My kayak f-ed, and myself committed a good ways down the canyon, I faced the snow-covered peaks that stood between me and egress. That was it. My reality check that showed me that the granite domes and sculpted walls we float past are more than scenic wallpaper that scrolls by, they are the imposing and real parameters of wilderness. As a friend recently reminded me, these places- rivers, mountains, canyons- are always mightier than us; it is just that sometimes it is made plainly apparent.

The trail was covered under snow, so I straight-lined it to the road, post-holing through balls-deep snow and crossing over an exposed ridge. It was cold, kinda scary, and not fun. Even without my kayak, which I later returned for and removed, it took a day. It was an experience that has changed my approach to river running.

Last month Charlie led Thomas and I down a two day bombing mission, and I got my redemption. The river charged me for my passage however, sending me swimming not in any of the notorious mackin' holes, but out of an innocuous-looking but perfect undercut one rapid shy of the reservoir. Mmmm, boootie beeer...

Charlie bombs rapids, not countries.

Thomas gets barreled in the tube.

Oh, my.

I would also like to give a shout out to our trip expeditor and former world-record waterfall holder Paul Gamache. As Chuck put it, "It is always amazing given how many variables are in play on a trip like this when we make it out as planned." To you prospective European visitors, let Paul handle the variables by hiring him as your expeditor to take care of all logistics, shuttles, and permitting. . Contact him for 2010 High Sierra packages, made very reasonable by the favourable exchange rate.