Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No agenda but the bender

"No agenda but the bender." I picked up this phrase from Kiwi kayaker Barny Young in reference to a debaucherous night out that his crew had in Sacramento. I feel that this phrase is also apt to describe the devotion required to catch the California classics as the snow-melt races down the mountains.

After play-boating on the Main-stem American at the Auburn Fest, the choice was clear: We would head up the North Fork American to the Royal Gorge. This was the site of an epic within an epic told in the second part of the tragi-comedy "Flirting with Miss Adventure." This premiered at the OPP filmfest and is embedded at the bottom of this post.

I completed the Royal Gorge with a group comprised of Chris Zawacki, Scott Ligare, and the indefatigable Dan Menten, who went through Fantasy Falls and said there was plenty of water for a second trip. Having someone with the many rapids, portages, and gorges of the North Mokelumne so fresh in their mind presented an undeniable opportunity. A crack-team was assembled and we went in. High-lights included: lots of beta and blind-bombing, a terrifying but character-building surf in the middle of "Island Drop," and Katie Scott getting her mojo back by leading the charge off Fantasy Falls proper shortly after a freakish pin-to-swim in some boogie water.

After the Fantasy Falls, I caught the tail-end of Ben Wartburg's bachelor party on the South Silver. From what I gathered, the Coloma portion of the bachelor party had absolutely no agenda but the bender, in the conventional sense of the word. It was hella fun bombing down the creek at mountain bike speeds and walking back up to stage a photo with a kayaker in each of the teacups (partially successful).

Then I got a text from Chris Korbulic that the South Stanislaus above Pinecrest Lake was running. I knew that the run had been done once years ago and that one of the final falls was called "Cleopatra's Bath." I pictured a waterfall into a pool where there would be concubines bathing and singing as they combed each other's hair. A business-casual start on the run the following day saw our group of four scuttling the shuttle on river left and driving through road construction on river right. Soon enough we were hiking through meadows and forest until the view opened up to reveal a slide that looked like mini-Graceland (which was still pretty big). I believe it was around five in the afternoon when we left the put-in slide after repairing a piton-punctured boat. Cool and unique rapids, some marginally runnable, others runnably charge-able followed. As darkness caught us, we were at the top of Cleopatra's Bath. This 30-40 foot waterfall looked runnable except that once you run it, you would have to ascend out on a rope fixed to the two bolts placed in the granite by canyoneers. Portaging the un-runnable gorge in the dark was rather hilarious, portaging class 3 in the dark even more so. Paddling across the lake around 11pm was cool with the stars reflecting on the mirror calm surface like we were sky-aking.

The next obvious move was to Upper Cherry Creek, but I had a strange premonition that a tragedy would occur there, and I didn't want to be there when it did. Thomas Moore dispelled my pessimism and convinced me to go in to run the creek for the sixth year in a row for both of us. Highlights included: Gareth Tate getting me re-stoked on fishing, watching about 20 people fly off of Cherry Bomb Falls in as many minutes, and Thomas' paddle flushing out from underneath the only rock in Cherry Bomb gorge after a 30-minute vigil on a rock ledge. Thanks to Brent from Idaho (who I had not seen in too long) and his friend for hoisting my boat up to the ledge.

Note: A tragedy did indeed occur several days later, when Allen Satcher lost his life in the Waterfall Alley, the first death on Upper Cherry Creek. I did not know Allen, and I don't feel that the platitude, "he died doing what he loved," offers any solace to those who did know him. It is brutal loss: I wish the risk of the river were not so real, I hope his soul finds rest, and I hope his loved ones find peace.

While un-doing our Upper Cherry shuttle, we heard word that the new Devil's Postpile gauge was dropping close to 200cfs, a level I thought meant "go-time," based on last year's success with 170cfs. It did not look like I was going to be able to convince anyone besides Dan Menten to round out a group until Kiwis Daan and Shannon popped out of Upper Cherry "keen as," with Jess graciously offering to streamline the shuttle. We pre-emptively celebrated with a barbecue and good night's sleep at Kevin's house in Mammoth, and pulled out all the charm and Jedi mind-tricks to get our car through the gate at the National Monument where they try to get you to ride a shuttle bus. A cold feeling sank into my heart as the nice lady called her supervisor, but they put the "bro" in "bureaucracy" and let us pass.

A fantastic first day on my favorite section on Earth brought us to our camp at the divide between the San Joaquin River and Fish Creek, where we preyed upon trout and tip-toed around the biggest rattlesnake I have ever seen (13 segments in its rattle, at least five feet long is my recollection). The next day, I was loathe to leave the beautiful place, but was eventually convinced by the rest of the group in their gear that it was time to head downstream.

Fish Creek added a reasonable amount of water, and we went on our merry way. At one scout I was describing the line to the others when I saw two more kayakers coming downstream. This was perplexing since we knew that a group of 3 had been planning to put on. Turns out that the trio had turned into a gruesome twosome when a boat was harmlessly but inextricably pinned in "the maze." Our number increased to six, but our American to Kiwi ratio remained 1:1.

Great kayaking continued, especially after the North San Joaquin added much more water than I had previously seen in it. The so-called "class four" that followed was extra-awesome, but I started to wonder whether we were floating on the high-side of screwed when a previous portage ledge was a half-foot under water. In some boily flat-water on the way out of that gorge, the river belched and mystery-moved me to my arm-pits. I looked over my shoulder at Dan and asked, "did you see that?" My countenance must have been one of terror.

After making a few mistakes with our portaging and the day getting long, we chose to camp at a huge beach with a spectacular view of Balloon Dome. We feasted on trout, polished off the tequila and had a pseudo-serious team meeting, speaking in corporate parlance as Daan and Shannon had brought collared shirts and neck-ties to wear in camp.

At some point Nick Murphy brought up something that had been weighing on him, something he needed to talk about. He had been present at Allen's drowning, had in fact thrown a rope into the pot-hole where Allen struggled. We spoke of mortality and risk, how our facing up to forces more powerful than ourselves makes us live more fully and intentionally while we are here, living and breathing.

The full moon did not help me sleep either as I thought about The Crucible that awaited a short ways downstream. The smell of algae drew me down to the water's edge to check the level throughout the night as the river ebbed and flowed. I tip-toed around the sleeping first-timers as my fear of the known haunted me more strongly than their fear of the unknown. As I watched the full moon trace its path across the sky between fits of sleep, I saw that it would pass behind Balloon Dome, being eclipsed by it and emanating a corona of moonbeams. If I have the luxury of dying comfortably, I am sure that it will be one of the memories I will look back on.

The next morning, I deviated from character and was the first to gear up. We got our last looks at Balloon Dome before we entered the gorge formed at its feet. We portaged "weapons of mass destruction," and walked high up a moraine to scout "sieve-il war," "broken arrow" and see the un-scoutable horizon line that is The Crucible proper.

Soon enough we were in the still pool above, and I ferried back and forth trying to peek over my shoulder to see if the middle line that Kevin and I had scouted from below the year before was still an option. Nick Murphy uttered an axiom as wise as his crew's other catch-phrases such as "where there's a hole there's a goal," and "when charging in the wrong direction, continue to charge." "Go with what you know," he said, and paddled off down the traditional right line, whooping at the top of his lungs once he had made it. A minute later we were all in the next pool, having avoided the sieve that makes the Crucible a must-make move. The lip of the final pothole of the gorge was covered with water almost all the way across to the sieve, leading me to believe that our trip had been the highest flow descent.

Many more rapids and portages continue down to the confluence with the South San Joaquin, usually just trickling due to its impoundment by Florence Reservoir, but doubling the flow on our trip thanks to the bumper snow year. From there, many more rapids and portages continue down to Mammoth Pool Reservoir. But there is something both tangible and symbolic about clearing the Crucible that brings a sense of elation without premature celebration.

Soon enough, we were eating trout at the boat-ramp, pizza in North Fork, and ingloriously driving into the wee hours back to Coloma so I could make a rock-star turnaround to go see rock and roll music with my wonderful girlfriend at Outside Lands the next day. After three days of rocking out to the likes of Black Keys, the Shins, and Arcade Fire, it was another late-night drive to Coloma and immediate 3am departure to run the Middle Kings with the same stellar team with whom I had finished the Royal Gorge. Thanks for waiting for me.

Another summer of bendering around river bends complete. Other agenda now command my attention. But I only straighten out so that I can bend again, recouping energy like the High Sierra accumulates its snow-pack, waiting to be set free and sent on its way.

Untitled from Taylor Cavin on Vimeo.

"Flirting with Miss Adventure"

Untitled from Taylor Cavin on Vimeo.

"Evaporating (Devil's Postpile)"

Monday, June 27, 2011

On a tear

Over the past month, I have been on enough of a tear that I want to jot down my new runs before they are too many to recount. To say that I have been kayaking my ass off is not inaccurate given how my backband has been rubbing me raw. I want to use guttersoftheearth now as a journal of my own river-running, whether documented with photos or not. When I get photos from these trips, I will add them in.

Secret Canyon into the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American. Hiking into this run, we ended up camping in the most marginal camp site I have ever known. Crawling out of the gully, we began a very wild canyoneering kayak trip that saw us portaging a few unrunnable falls with giant roostertail reconnects and running one sweet sliding thirty foot falls as we descended our way to the North Fork of the Middle Fork American.

North Fork Middle Fork American. I was very impressed by the challenging rapids on this section, several of which we portaged on sight in order to escape the canyon by nightfall (which we did just barely). The one-of-a-kind Devil's Slide is a spectacularly locked in river-wide slide kicking with such force as to make a blasted-out, super-soft landing where the water can not be bothered to recirculate upstream. The mist of the rapid feeds lush ferns and over-hanging vines, giving the gorge a tropical sense of place.

North Fork Kaweah- Hiked up to Burnt Point Creek confluence with Rok Sribar and the Slow-venians and paddled down through Cherry Falls. I used my paddle as a machete to slash through old-growth poison oak that had tree limbs dangling down to face level. Aggro graffiti tagged at the lip of Cherry Falls was the unheeded writing-on-the-wall of the cockpit-rim-to-ribcage rough treatment it would give me.

South Kaweah extreme architecture tour. After Rok had clarified that the flow report of another group retreating from put-in was too high for you, we had to put on. Even though it was screaming around corners and grabbing onto branches high. Some people have decks hanging out on i-beams above bedrock rapids. Tragically, in order to afford them, they are rarely home to enjoy them.

South Fork Middle Fork Tule. While I stashed beer in the river at take-out, the Austrians assumed I had gotten in the Slovenians car and vice-versa, leaving me to hitch-hike to put-in. Hopping into my samaritan's car, I met a flea-bitten Inca Hairless bitch who had just had pups and sidled into my lap, saggy teats and all. When we got to the twenty-footer I had seen from the road, Rok tried to dissuade me from running it, claiming that the exit rapid was committed and not good. Too late Rok, I already scouted from the road! I was blown away by the over-hanging punch-bowls and many waterfalls of this run.

Lower Tuolomne at 11,000 cfs. My first run of the lower T was enhanced by several factors: Getting paid to safety kayak it, clear, big water, sponging raft company food which would later provision the first descent of Reed Creek into the Clavey.

Reed Creek into the Clavey first descent. I attempted this run in 2008 with a group of four. We put on at the bridge and hiked out after portage-festing the second mile which drops over 600 feet. It was the campsite that we found after this fail which would make the lower put-in for the successful run by Jake Greenbaum and myself. We made one portage, ran 3 large bedrock rapids and found that the best section was the final mile into the Clavey- the "Reed-and-run" section as we called it. Kind of like a miniature Clavey or an alternate put-on to the Clavey.

Lower Clavey. This paddle out of Reed Creek was a sinus-injecting, hole-punching hee-haw. Awaking at the bridge that marks the start to find the flow had risen a full foot overnight made it extra attention-getting. Paddling out on the Tuolomne made for a trip where we went from 200 cfs on Reed to 1000 cfs on Clavey to 10,000 cfs on Tuolomne.

Middle Mokelumne first descent. This run was known to drop lots of gradient in its plunge to meet the South Mokelumne. The South Mokelumne was known to be a portage-fest. Good thing then that only Cody Howard and I put on because most other souls would have acquiesced to common-sense and hiked out when the run turned out to be an extreme-low-flow portage-fest only occasionaly interspersed with sweet read-and-run slide sections. The final portage down to the South Mokelumne was a spectacular set of waterfalls.

South Mokelumne. Just when we though the portaging was over, we were encountered by a double over-hung gnar-gorge that mandated a heinous portage. The next portage required a thrilling chimney down-climb through a crevice. Enough good rapids to make me want to put on up top at the bridge one day...

North Mokelumne, confluence with South Mokelumne to Electra run. Thrilling big water fun at 3,000 cfs. This was the first time I have hitched a shuttle from the river itself when I chatted-up a motorist who was driving alongside the river watching us kayak. Turns out he was a sit-on-top kayaker with the love and understanding to help us out.

North Fork Stanislaus, Big Trees run. I was Shanghai-ed into this run by raft-company van-pool and experienced the highest flows in years on this great section. Afterwards, we found our way into a Willie Nelson concert in Murphys. I still have many more sections yet to run on this beautiful river.

Lower Rubicon River. This classic has only flowed every fifth year on average over the past 15 years due to its impairment by Hell Hole Reservoir. I had to get it while the getting was good. I logged 3 trips totaling 7 days on the Rubicon, taking a longer kayak on each successive trip to match the classic factor of the river. Flow-ey continuous sections, good rapids spaced throughout the entire 20-mile length, and several step-up drops thrown in makes for a true classic with a put-in just one hour from the white-water siphon of Coloma, California.

After this tear, its time to take care of biz-ness, life-style, and get some wave time at the China Bar rapid today in anticipation of the Auburn River Festival which kicks off tonight! This year the event benefits Access-for-All and the Jason Craig Recovery Fund.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Keeping on

Thanks to the incomparable Darin Mcquoid of the newly incorporated for this photo from Long Canyon.

Has it been six months already since the latest, cutting-edge, up-to-the minute tweet on guttersoftheearth? Yes.

Maybe it's because of the discourse surrounding the BanksMag ( article, "We came, we saw, we facebooked the shit." This commentary on the self-aggrandizing nature of publishing "exploits" made bloggers out to be exploiters. If an RSS feed fires across the internet, and no one's there to read it, does anybody care?

Maybe it's been a long, trying winter that has shaken my motivations for running rivers... The "why kayak?" question can be answered easily when the costs are shelling out for gas, spending time crammed into a car, and wearing cold wet gear. But when kayaking entails spending time away from loved ones and passing up on life's other offerings, motivation is tested to the core.

Maybe it's been a long wet winter that is still going on even in mid-May. Rivers that rarely run, either due to being de-watered by dams or having low, rain-fed watersheds, have been going off for months. The Upper Middle Cosumnes has been running too high for comfort since February. Sequoia National Park recorded their highest snow-fall since 1891.

It's probably because through it all, I've been kayaking.

New rivers to me for 2011:

Lower North Fork Cosumnes. One of the last days of December 2010 come to think of it... Will Pruitt, Darin Mcquoid and I made the first descent putting on below the Buck's Bar Gorge (alternatively called the Buck Gnar Gorge). We ran the "good-to-go gorge" and the thrilling "mini-crucible gorge."

Deer Creek into Lake Wildwood. It goes to show how loaded Cali is... Like how crazy it is that Upper Cherry sat unexplored for so long above the commonly run Cherry Creek section on the Tuolomne... And for years after that, Middle Cherry went un-completed... Anywhozles, the take-out for this run is just a few miles from the classic Bridgeport take-out on the South Yuba, the run I paddle most often. Deer Creek had been run before, but gone largely ignored for such an interesting creek.

Lower Silver Creek into the South Fork American. Thanks to Hilde for relaying the flow info! This creek was in the guidebook, but no one I knew had run it due to the massively thirsty Union Valley reservoir upstream. Classic like Credence Clearwater Revival cassette tapes.

Love's Falls of the North Yuba (bottom half at high water). I landed the namesake falls on my stern, dump-truck style. The rest was gripping. Thanks to Ben Coleman for letting me follow his wake.

Forbestown section of the South Fork Feather. Same gnarly rock as Little Grass Valley section upstream (site of GnarlFest, the world championships of kayaking). Same cool waterfalls.

Lower Jesus Maria Creek (likely first descent of this tributary of the Calaveras River). Driving around in this obscure drainage, on a day the locals claimed had brought the highest water they could remember, yielded a run on this steep but mostly class IV creek along with Alex Wolfgram and Ryan MacPhearson. Highlight was blind-bombing the ten-foot waterfall due to complacency.

Long Canyon into the Rubicon. Just when it seemed that the road-blocks of snow had dashed our hopes of running a multi-day, a frantic map session yielded a re-route into this tiny but classic stream. Just over the divide from our planned run on Screw Auger Canyon, we luckily found a perfect flow and a just-right level of challenge for the early season. We also fortuitously chose to camp on a granite ledge that would later prove to be the only real camp spot through the entire 10 mile length of the canyon.

I got to surf the Gay Wave on the North Fork American on all 3 days that it ran, one of which was a soulful after-work session with a hike-out in a hail-storm.

End of the World section of the Middle Fork American. Cool but not as cool as I was expecting based on the final stack-up that can be seen from the road. I should know by now... expectations management...

Dry Creek Falls. Watching Will Pruitt stick the upper falls was the gnarliest thing I've seen run in person. Evacuating the injured Jason Craig from the lower falls was epic but possible due to Jason's teeth-gritting fortitude through the ordeal and the many talents of the members of the team.

Send him your positive thoughts, prayers, well-wishes, and your money, as you are able.

The length of season we've already had, combined with the water content piled high and deep in the mountains, will make this summer a true marathon. There will be opportunities to run rivers that are typically hard to catch or do not run at all. Here's to health, staying motivated, and keeping on.

Thanks to the true people who are there watching your back, making you laugh, and there to affirm that this is really happening.