Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hurry Down the Chimney!

There's still time to order Darin McQuoid's 2011 Whitewater Calendar and get maximum use out of it. Some people on your gift list might prefer a calendar of lighthouses or horsies, but get them Darin's excellent whitewater calender instead. Starting January 1st 2011, calendar recipients will continually be reminded to plan their lives around kayaking, instead of the other way around.

These beauties really turned out nicely from the printer.

View Slideshow of Calendar Images

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Postpile, lifestyle.

As the 2010 snow melt played out and I eyed the Roger's Crossing gauge on the Kings, a new gauge caught my eye, a realtime reading on the San Joaquin at the Devil's Postpile. I daydreamed about the rapids, I re-counted the portages. I remembered the stillness of clear pools impounded between boulder piles in deep gorges. I thought about the remoteness of the river, crossed by footbridges but never paralleled by a trail, the canyon walls rising straight out of the water much of the way. My consciousness was caught up with the river. When the plan came together, I was in. We would sleep on real couches in Mammoth before and after the trip at Kevin's house. We would be dropped off and picked up by adventure chasers. Upon completing the run we would eat pizza at the take-out and then get Mexican food once back to civilization. The details dialed in, we set off.

I don't know what those plants are called, but they are worse than manzanita. Kevin Smith visualizes himself on the other side of the thicket.

David Maurier conducting first hand research as part of his San Joaquin conservation efforts.

Kevin Smith appears on the paid advertisement informing viewers about an amazing product: boof-a-matic!

Thomas Moore, selected at random from the audience, can not believe how great and easy to use boof-a-matic really is!

If Balloon Dome (granite batholith in background) were a thought bubble, it would say, "What is going to happen to us in the Crucible?"

Caveman Ikea at "Snake Camp."

Photos Taylor Cavin and David Maurier

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Goddard Canyon 1D

In the Spring my Minnesota friends Jason and Tommy asked my advice about when to pick a week of vacation to come out to Cali. I recommended that they pick a week dead in the middle of the projected summer run-off, guaranteeing that they would run something good, though there was no way of knowing what it might be. As it turned out, their vacation fell in the weird in-between time after Dinkey and Fantasy, but before Upper Cherry. There was much deliberation in the situation room at the We Three Bakery as to where to go.

I had been entertaining the idea of running Goddard Canyon and Evolution Creek, the headwaters of the South San Joaquin, since the surprise success on Paiute Creek of the South San Joaquin in 2009. I am not the type to keep a river journal and record water levels and such like that, so I racked my brain trying to figure a correlation for Goddard Canyon and Evolution Creek based on last year's dumb luck on Paiute. I remembered that I went there right after my birthday, so I looked up the hydrograph for the Kings on that date. The backside of Goddard Canyon is called Goddard Creek, which is a high tributary of the Middle Kings.

I checked the Kings gauge and proclaimed that the level would be good. I enticed my friends with hidebound speculation of bedrock waterfalls and promises of glory. I rhapsodized about the spirit of adventure and the thrill of the unknown. The hook was baited.

We could not afford these horses, and they looked happy to be free anyway.

They took the bait. We drove to Florence Lake, rigged up pack systems and set out to paddle across 4 miles of reservoir and hike up 12 miles of trail to basecamp at the confluence of Evolution Creek and Goddard Canyon.

Photo: Tommy Norton

Most of the backpackers we met on the way up had come down Evolution Creek and confirmed that there were "hella waterfalls." Hiking up the valley, we were eventually treated to a view of a spectacularly steep creek with a granite high-rise like Tenaya Creek. "Good thing we're not trying to paddle that!" I laughed. And then I realized that we were in fact looking at Evolution Creek. We set up camp and went up for a scout. We found a band of granite with teacups that looked like they were full of piping hot Chinese Gunpowder.

There was probably 2x too much water for what would be a fringe descent with ideal levels. In my mind I saw the life-size foam boaters withstanding the beatings and bouncing off the rocks, but the human kayakers were sorely punished in my hypothetical runs of Evolution Creek at high water.

Devil at the crossroads.

No matter, the other branch of the wish-bone, Goddard Canyon looked more feasible on the map anyway and we re-directed our attention. We tended the fire into the night happy to be under starry skies, our backs starting to return to their original shape from before the hike.

The next morning, a localized cell of buzzkill shrouded the sun and threatened rain. We carried our empty boats up the trail, scouting as we went. Surveying the rapids slowed us down, but a few beauties mixed in motivated us to keep going. About 3 miles up from the confluence we got to a large and marginal looking falls and set our boats down. We walked up to the next large marginal looking falls to satisfy ourselves that we weren't missing anything upstream. Somewhere in there was a sweet thirty footer which had a tricky entrance with badly placed wood in it. We stared at it for a while, but decided to let it go and backtracked to our boats where we tried to move the cold wet clouds with mind powers before gearing up.

Photo: Jason Stingl
Pretty soon it got good.

Photo:Jason Stingl
More good.

Photo: Jason Stingl
This run sure has its moments. Tommy Norton in the moment.

The rock was crumbly on the banks and harsh on the kayak, but it did make some waterfalls. The river would go straight as an arrow and then take a 90 bend, then another one to straighten back out. Probably the straightest river I've seen. The gorges reminded me of the trenches on the death star that Luke Skywalker had to fly through to blast the core reactor.

As it got late in the day, I recognized that we were at a drop I had already scouted. Tommy scouted and decided to portage. Once he was around the drop, I went ahead and ran it. I thought I knew where I was going, but I got tea-bagged like some English Breakfast! Luckily, I was upside down when Jason landed off the drop, clearing the hole. I swam. I ran down the bank for a frantic minute until I remembered that there was a log jam at our camp that would conveniently catch my boat. Jason and Tommy paddled down, completing the run.

The next day we paddled out on the South San Joaquin above Florence Lake with great flow. The last 5 miles of river into the lake has some great sections with a very continuous nature. Above: Jason finishes this section, good to the last drop.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting Beat Down

The last photo ever taken of this particular Habitat.
Photo: Chad Daugherty.

We are all in between swims. This adage holds true of all paddlers save an elite few: The ones who are, at that moment, swimming.

"I've never seen that happen before."

"Have you ever seen that happen before?"

"No, me niether, I have never seen that happen."

From the scout I had decided that the last part of a 4-part rapid on Chawanakee Gorge of the San Joaquin looked exactly like "locals go deep" on the South Yuba. I meant to run it the same way: plugging into the seem. I found out the plug had been overzealous when I momentarily pinned on the bottom and then had my deck implode from the surrounding water. The swim was low-stress into a calm pool where I made it to the bank with my paddle.

My cart-wheeling boat had racked up a huge rodeo score, but the 45 second siren had sounded and it refused to give up the hole. Then it made its dramatic exit: a terminal mystery move.

Standing in the water downstream, where I was waiting to wrangle the boat when it flushed, my dumbfoundment grew as the disappearing act went on. I surmised that it went extra deep on one of its retendo moves and pinned on the bottom. It was not going to show itself until the water level changed and upset the balance holding it there. With the gauge spiking like Bart Simpson's haircut in response to fluctuating electrical demand, it seemed like this could happen within an hour or two, but that was time we could not spare. My trusty dry bag ripped free from its carabiner and resurfaced like a soggy hat bubbling up from a sunken ship. This came as official notice: my boat was gone. Gone to Davey Jones' Locker.

The Monkey Court convened an emergency session on the cliff above, where the preceding lines of dialogue were spoken. Its members shook their heads as they deliberated and conveyed their best guesses to me through hand and body signals.

Deep in Chawanakee Gorge, with its steep, slick walls rising on both sides it looked pretty bleak. Climbing out of the gorge was a non-option. The clean faced sides had no gullies and few cracks systems. It would have been death-defying for a seasoned climber, which I am not. Swimming the pools and walking the rapids was out because we had already encountered an unportage-able section and could only assume more of the same lay downstream. Good thing there was a metal stair-case bolted into the granite at that one particular spot, going up several pitches to a road blasted into the bedrock. If it weren't for that thing, I'd have been in it for sure.

I'd been pardoned on a technicality. I got a steep littering fine since it will take a while to collect 50 lbs. of garbage from other rivers to outweigh my boat. I was also issued a sobering reminder that the unportage-able (no, really) is out there where even tip-toeing, creativity and rope-work can not bail you out. Sometimes commitment is more than a vague concept: it means absolute exposure.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Off the Couch

The Couch. "I don't know man, he's off the couch... Maybe we should go to a more couch-friendly river." It may be spoken of with a stigma, but the reality is that we are all in-between couches. Like alcoholics off the proverbial wagon, at some point in the season we reach apogee and commence the slow downward descent into atrophy, landing squarely on the couch.

Sinking deep into the cushions, I begin my off-season cross-training regimen. I update the Netflix queue. I toss fake mice for the cat until he looks at me with disdain. I darkly refer to ski-resort passes as "country-club memberships," as my friends head off to the mountains, embracing the changing seasons like well-adjusted people.

I check online gauges as though they will tell a different story than the clear sky streaming through the windows. As though a localized micro-cell has parked over Nevada County, unleashing hell from the heavens. In case seismic activity has re-routed a great aquifer into a riverbed somewhere. In the off-chance that Lake Spaulding is getting drawn-down for maintenance, filling the South Yuba with the rumbling roar that sends the Ninja Turtles scampering out of the sewers. And then, I find myself poring over other kayak blogs, as though it would bring me comfort to know that somewhere, somewhere far away, stouts are being slayed (or whatever the young people are calling it these days). Soon my best friend catches me in this compulsive behavior and redirects me to some useful task.

Thank heavens, the South Yuba actually ran quite a bit this winter. Even so, when I got to the steeper and wilder Upper Middle Cosumnes, I felt as though I was off-the-futon at best.

The hike-in sweats out some couch toxins, the welcome sight of the put-in slide sends a flush of nerves to my extremities. I do a roll in a pot-hole and peel-out, so far so good. Then, starting the Phony Hawk portage, I slip and fall off a boulder, racking up one shore-injury for the team inside the first quarter-mile. The tip of my left index finger is flapping like the head of a PEZ dispenser. This may be a slight exaggeration, but it bleeds so much that I don't see how tape will stick to skin. Thankfully, Kevin is there and has seen far grizzlier things in his time as a paramedic, and sits through my histrionics to coach me through some decent first aid.

Rivers help me forget my earthly troubles, and soon I am re-focused by splashes from such greats as "battered beaver," "brace for your face," and "Lars' Falls. Relieved yet stoked to be through them, I boat-scout the line at the last rapid in the first section, "A Little Maurier Left." As I make the screaming left-hand turn, my paddle-blade snags on a rock. To stay upright, I let go of my paddle with one hand; it releases and I recover. Hanging onto my paddle with one hand and doggy-paddling with the other, I shoot through the nozzle and onto the slide. I manage to get the band back together before the hole at the bottom.

We floated on a great flow through the in-between section to one of the best stack-ups in El Dorado County, "blue angels," "mini-blue angels, and "cheese-grater." When Thomas pulled over to dump out his boat in the pool below, he happened upon the skeleton of a 6-point buck. This proud beast either fell off the cliff or drowned in the rapids, ending up on the bank with grass poking up between his ribs. Thomas traversed the cliff to place the skull on a fitting spot over-looking the set. Cold water enlivening the mind, communicating without words amidst the roar of rapids, random stuff happening- this is the world beyond the couch.

I'm gonna scrape myself off the couch like the spare change and snack scraps collected in the cushions. I'm gonna get back in that boat and be thankful that this kayaking thing even exists. This time, things are gonna be different. I have goals, I have a plan, and most importantly, I have a support network. This time, I'm gonna stay off the couch.

(Sorry for no pictures, but I'm in between cameras as well.)