Saturday, May 2, 2015

Black Canyon for the first time, again

 The Black Canyon of the Colorado, 2015

One of our favorite winter trips from Kernville is to nearby Las Vegas, and it is not for the bright lights and gambling.  Not far from the bustle of Sin City, is its polar opposite. A place where time stands still and you are really in no hurry to do anything; probably because you are sitting in a hot spring with the relax-o-meter pegged at 10.

The crew at the put-in
 Thanks to the good folks at Desert Adventures, we were shuttled to the base of Hoover Dam, a sight in itself.  Along with the family, we were joined by Rose, Sarah and Emily, who were making their maiden voyage down the canyon.  Maggie had gone several times before her first birthday, but for some reason we were unable to find time to fit in a trip last year, so this was Peyton's first trip, at the ripe old age of 1.

Left to right, Rose, Sarah and Emily

 For those that don't know, you need a permit for this trip and you have to be escorted to the put-in by a licensed outfitter.  Once on the river, you can camp pretty much anywhere, and in the first 3 miles or so there are many side excursions that are worth checking out, most of which have hot springs of one form or another.  On this trip, there were two shuttle vans dropping off customers, but as usual, most folks headed off downstream rather quickly and we were left with the whole canyon to ourselves.

Innocence and, well, not so much...
The first stop after a long gaze at the impressive Hoover Dam, is the Sauna Cave.  A test bore into the walls of the canyon to determine the best location for the dam hit a hot spring; lousy spot for a dam, great spot to spend the morning.  A trip all the way to the back of the cave is pretty much required.  Hot and very dark...

Don't get anything in your nose Maggie
They say that the water from the hot springs is habitat for a brain eating amoeba, Naegleria Fowleri.  I have heard that there have been no reported cases in Black Canyon and that the signs are just a precaution.  Still, I am careful with the girls to make sure they don't get water up their nose.  I'm not so worried about myself since I'm pretty sure that, while the water might provide a suitable habitat for the bug, my head probably doesn't...

In the Sauna Cave

Looking out
After a nice long soak here, we made our way downs stream past Gold Strike Canyon (a nice little hike if you have plenty of time) and Palm Canyon, where we stopped at a warm waterfall.  There is a short climb up on the downstream side if you want to sit in the small pool at the lip.  We skipped this part on this trip, but another worthy side excursion.

For my money, Boyscout Canyon is the best spot for an adventure, so we stopped there for a hike and some lunch, and of course, another soak.  The canyon itself is amazing with a series of slots and climbs through warm water and the occasional pool to hang out in.

The side hikes are not the only fun to be had as the views are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon below Diamond Bar.  The water is also crystal clear and poking around the various coves and caves is fun for everyone. 

Another fun spot
 The marquis campsite on this trip is Arizona Beach, with access to Arizona Hot Springs, but if for any reason that beach is crowded, there are many other options, including Moonscape Canyon just upstream.  Maybe it is the way we time our trips, but I have never felt like Arizona Beach was too crowded to find a spot.  This time around, we ended up sharing the rather large area with one other couple.

Practicing for next year
Already better than Dad at this...
Arizona Hot Springs is the bets hot spring on the trip, with a short hike up a beautiful canyon that terminates in one of the best springs I have seen.  For the adventurous, you can hike up another mile or so to some pictographs (not shown) that are interesting, to say the least.

Starting up the canyon

Peyton enjoying going into the slot

Dad gives rides up the ladder

Dads have fun in here as well...

The girls had a blast playing in the canyons and springs as well as climbing around the rocks at camp "laying eggs".  The benefit to bringing a giant canoe is the endless supply of food, beer/wine, and, of course, firewood.  After a great night of a whole lot of nothing, we had to head out the next day to meet our shuttle.  As always, we waited till the last possible moment to leave the campsite and still make it to Willow beach by the prescribed time, so we didn't stop for many pictures.  This part of the trip is scenic as well, in particular there is a steep walled canyon near "emerald cave" with a very cool catwalk for the gauging station.  There always seems to be a bald eagle roaming this spot and bighorns scrambling along the cliffs.

As usual, we rolled into the takeout with only a couple of minutes to spare.  The friendly shuttle driver was waiting for us and we were quickly on our way back to "civilization" and the drive through Las Vegas and our way home.  Whenever you leave this place you always wish you were able to spend a little more time, but the good news is that it will always be there for you.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Giant Perspectives

Feeling a bit small... 
With the first real snow of the season, I started getting an itch to get out of town and up to the Sequoias.  If you have never ski toured in Sequoia/Kings, it is something you should do when you get the chance; actually it is something to do every time you  get the chance.  Take my word for it, you won't be disappointed.  Having toured nearby Sequoia National Park many times, we decided to check out Kings Canyon for this trip.  A recent storm had dumped about 3 feet and there was another storm slated to come through, so I jumped on a cabin reservation in Grant Village, the perfect place to ride out a storm and find some fresh tracks.  Grandpa was also willing to have the girls over for the night, so we got to have a good ol' fashioned Eric and Rebecca Adventure, which was nice.

Rebecca happy to not be carrying kiddos
A quick side note on Grant Village; I highly recommend it.  The John Muir Lodge is a nice option for those that don't want to go the rustic route, but the cabins are also quite nice.  They are pretty sparse, but Cabin 9, which we stayed in, has everything you need (a heater and a bathroom with running water).  We would poach the Lodge fireplace Apres Ski (there was hardly anyone around to care) and the restaurant had good food and very reasonable prices.  Our package included breakfast (you could choose from anything off the menu) and ran around $120.  Maybe it was just a combination of our mid-week stay and the bad weather, but we found this little enclave to be much quieter than nearby Sequoia.  It turns out the road between the two parks was closed as well, which made a mess of our plan to drive through Sequoia on the way home, so check the road closures before you plan your trip.

Rebecca sipping on some Wine with John
Excited to explore the area, we stashed our stuff in the cabin and slapped on the skis for an afternoon tour of Panorama Point.  The trail-head is right next to the lodge and, being Monday, snowshoe and ski tracks were already laid from over the weekend.  The first couple of miles consisted of climbing almost 1000 ft up a road with not much to look at, but once you get to Panorama Point everything changes.

Our track for the afternoon.  7.7 miles, about 3.5 hours and 1500 ft of climbing
Panorama Point lived up to its name.  Despite the stormy conditions, looking up into the Kings River drainage over Hume lake is a special sight.  The confluence of the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Kings is once of the sacred places in the Kayaking world as it marks the end of the Middle Fork Kings descent.  It is also just a damn beautiful place regardless.

Eric Picking out lines on the bottom 9

Don't lick the... Never mind...
From here we were pretty jazzed to continue our adventure and skied along the ridge towards Park Point.  Soon the ski tracks turned around, so we were left to break trail the rest of the way, but it was well worth the effort.  The trail is well marked and cleverly crosses back and forth over the ridge so you get alternating views of the High Sierra and Central Valley.  With the storm rolling in and clouds on the move we were treated to all sorts of spectacular light shows. 

Looking over Shell Mountain into the High Sierra.  Pictures never do it justice...

Typical terrain along the ridge
It is a little over 2 miles from Panorama Point to Park point along the ridge.  There are two small climbs that, without skins, required a little herring bone work from time to time, but not a big deal.  There is also an option to take a road (we took advantage of this on the way home), but the ridge trail is nicer.

Traversing the West side of the ridge and looking out into the valley
 To be honest, Park Point was a bit of a letdown.  There is a fire tower, which doesn't bother me, but the cell towers and power lines are a bit harsh after such a nice Ski. 

The Fire Tower from Park Point.

Looking up into the Kaweah Drainage
 Given the opportunity to do this trip again, I might choose to turn around where the trail tops out about 1/8 mile before Park Point to keep the secluded wilderness feeling.  There isn't much to see from Park Point that you won't get along the way.

It was getting late in the day, so with about 1 1/2 hours of daylight left we turned around and headed back; sticking to our tracks until we hit a section of road that took us around the last main climb.  This section of road also has some nice views to the west and provides access to the open slopes that, with a bit more snow, looks like a prime area to make some turns.  As it was, we mainly stuck to the road, occasionally finding stashes to hit on the way home.  Great tour, great views, with more snow it would also have a great reward with some turns on the way home.

After some R&R (read bottle of wine, a couple of beers and a nice dinner) we retired to Cabin 9 for the evening.  Waking up to another 4 or five inches of new snow, we filled up on another nice meal at the restaurant and headed off on our next adventure to see the big trees of Grant Grove.

Grant Grove Ski Tour: about 5 miles and 500 ft of elevation gain for our modified tour
The Grant Grove ski tour also leaves out of the village and makes a four mile loop (I think) past the General Grant tree through varied terrain.  Only a relatively short section of this trail goes through Sequoias, so I suggest getting off the trail and exploring the Grant Grove as you pass by it since there isn't a whole lot else to see on this tour.

The meadow in Grant Village
Unfortunately, the fresh fallen snow was super sticky, making our skis 20 pound snowshoes once we got off the beaten path (about 1/2 mile into our trip).  We also made the mistake of not exploring the Grant Grove on the first pass through, thinking the trail would take us through more groves; so we ended up heading back around the loop again to play in the big trees. The General Grant tree is the Tallest Sequoia at almost 270 ft, and, to my surprise, the biggest at the base even though it is only about 1700 years old.

Again, pictures don't do it justice
 I was, again, surprised to learn that the Mark Twain Tree was taller, some say in excess of 300 feet tall.  Alas, as Mr Twain said, "to succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence"; something I'm sure the men who cut down the tree had in spades. 

The Mark Twain Tree
Which leads to another trail in the area which we did not get a chance to check out this time through.  The Big Stump trail is also nearby, making two nights at Grant Village a future option...

Animals in the woods

More animals in the woods

Monday, December 8, 2014

A little two-wheel action

Got a chance to get in a ride on Cedar Canyon before the end of the high country season.  Thanks to Jeff Sherman for putting some clips together.  Big day but a fun ride.  I highly recommend it for the adventure biker.

Cedar Canyon Nov 2014 from jeff sherman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Old Man Fantasy

To be honest, Fantasy Falls was not on the top of my wish list for this year.  In fact, when I came to the realization that the small window of time I had set aside for a High Sierra trip was not going to include the Middle Kings, I was pretty disappointed.  Even though I had never done this section of the North Fork of the Mokelumne, I was pretty sure it ranked somewhere far below MK, Devil's Postpile and Upper Cherry and probably below some others, but it seemed like it was in the cards and I was going to make the best of it.  After three days of negotiating some of the most difficult water, scenic alpine meadows and spectacular gorges I have ever seen, my opinion has drastically changed.  Fantasy Falls is the real deal, especially for an old guy...

It started off well, then it went south quickly, then it got better, then it got rough again.  I'm not talking about the river, I am talking about everything before we got to the river.  I left Kernville on Friday of Memorial Day weekend.  To avoid traffic and enjoy the drive, I took the east side up to Tahoe where I was going to Meet Gareth Tate and some others who were up for a Fantasy adventure.  During the drive past Lone Pine I quickly realized that not hiking into Middle Kings was a very good call.  Even though the water was dropping towards the magical 1500 cfs at Rogers Crossing, it was just a mirage; there was still a ton of snow on Whitney and Bishop Pass and I begrudgingly conceded that Fantasy Falls was the right call.  The drive was superb with majestic Sierra views and some excellent AM radio to accompany me.

Looking up at the Alabama Hills and Sierra
Scenic Bridgeport
Arriving in Tahoe in time for a beer or two and a frozen pizza, Gareth mentioned that L.J. Groth (one of the purported members of our crew) had some friends playing in a band that night.  Not wanting to already get the rep of ditching a crew-member, I agreed to head out.  I am pretty sure that I was not aware that we were going to a Casino.  I know I was not aware that we would be driving for some ungodly amount of time to get there.  I damn sure know that I was not planning on staying out past 2 am.  I'm too old for that and I probably told Gareth something to that effect once or twice that night.  On top of that, the folks that knew Fantasy and were going to boat with us moved their trip forward a day, so we lost our guides.  No big deal, I guess, Gareth and L.J. had done the run before and we should be able to work it out.  

The next day (minus the first couple of hours) was a good day.  We hooked up for some bike riding with Scott Lindgren and crew for a ride on Mardis.  Way above my head in terms of gap jumps, but good times nonetheless.  A margarita and some tacos were in order and we were able to ply some info about the run from Scott.  Right, Left, Right were apparently the best portage options.  We didn't exactly figure out where though...

Sunday was a great day.  We loaded up with LJ and got in sweet ride in South Tahoe somewhere, then it was off to South Silver where we met up with Derek Beitler.  On the way we got some beta from Darin McQuoid; something about wood in Rifleman's (wherever that is) and verification of a right portage and a left portage (no mention of another right portage though).  Something about the fact that we would probably portage Jedi Mind melt and that the gorge after the Untouchables goes better than it looks.  I wrote everything down on a yellow post-it, but when we got word that Chris Korbulic was rolling into town and would join us we were stoked; he probably knows the run as good as anybody, so we had our guide back!  We got a sweet camp on Icehouse reservoir even though it was memorial day weekend; things were looking up...

L.J. Groth sliding the entry to South Silver

Gareth Tate show the way on Sky Scraper

Day 1

The next day we woke up to the realization that we still had quite a bit of shuttling to do; apparently the put in is not on hwy 88, it is actually on 4.  Go figure.  At least we knew where take out was, Salt Springs Reservoir; now we just needed to find it.  We also found out that Chris et al would not be joining us today either, but would put on the next day and probably catch us before too long.  Word was that the first day was not too long and that we wanted to put in late anyway to try and catch higher water.  Then the plan, I guess, was to just work through the second day until the cavalry came.

A look at the North Fork Mokelumne above Salt Springs Reservoir.  Put in, in case you didn't know, is in the lower right corner where the "Alpine State Hwy" aka 4, goes over the river.
Upon getting to the put-in we found the water level to be a little lower than we thought it might be.  About 6-8 inches below the "low" mark.  Considering it was almost 4 already this was not exactly how we thought it would be.  The dogma about Fantasy is that you would rather have it high than low; and, as Darrin McQuoid put it, "if it looks low at put-in, don't put on".  Also, it has a large diurnal, lower during the day and then really picking up around 4 in the afternoon.  Well, it didn't look low, it just did not look as high as we expected.  So we gathered our stuff and began heading downstream.

I say we headed downstream; actually we went about a half a mile and ran into the famous Fantasy Mank.  Now, I am pretty comfortable with boulder gardens and rapids that others generally call "mank", but with lowish water and group that had not done much boating together before, it was clear we were not going to make a lot of headway on this section.  Here was lesson number 1 for the trip; when someone tells you to put on the river late and bomb down to camp number one on Fantasy Falls you should a) ignore them and put on early or b) make sure they are there to lead you down or c) put on late then go ahead and hike the "Mile of Mank".  Having missed options a and b, we decided that this section was not worth the time we were going to spend on it.  We found the trail on river right and followed over a small saddle.  It soon made it back down to the river where we put on again. 

You know you have portaged correctly when you find a sign...
Photo Credit: Gareth Tate; well at least his camera

Once on the water again we were able to make some time; if memory serves, there were some fairly straightforward rapids and some mileage eating scenic meadows.  Soon, however  you start to see some of the character of Fantasy Falls as you begin to enter some granite mini-gorges.

First of many scenic meadows

Derek in the first Mini-gorge
Our late start and mellow pace caught up with us and we realized that we should probably just camp out while we had enough light to get comfortable.  During a brief scout we found a nice granite ledge that would make do and we set up for the night.
Camp 1; a little earlier than anticipated

A quick note on camping on Fantasy Falls; there are a few "standard" camps, but the options are pretty wide open in Fantasy.  There are a ton of granite shelves next to rapids and camping in the meadows seems pretty unlimited albeit potentially buggy.  The reality is that your spot is going to depend on your pace.  Unless you know the run well, I would recommend planning on 3 days.  To reiterate, unless someone knows the run well, I would get an earlier start than we did on day one.  I think 1-2 pm would be very reasonable to get down to the standard camp after the watermelon seed drop with some relax time to spare.  If you can get down to that camp on day 1 that would make days 2 and 3 very manageable even without much knowledge of the river; otherwise, count on at least one long day - which leads us to our second day...

Day 2

Normally Day 2 would start you out in the thick of things, but we hadn't gotten there yet.  However, it didn't take long before we started hitting the start of the real Class V on Fantasy.  There was one larger drop that was pretty memorable, then it started to gorge up into a series of class V rapids, one of which had a bit of a tricky fold into a hole.  There were not a lot of clean lines here...

Soon we were at the "watermelon seed drop".  Due to the fact that our water level was on the low side to begin with and now, we were running this in the morning on the low side of the diurnal, it looked a little tight.  We weighed our options for a few minutes until Derek decided that he would much rather run than portage.  He probed with LJ close on his heels; the result was good, so Gareth and I soon followed.

Relieved to finally be at the standard camp for day one, we kept pushing.  Having heard that most folks portage the next drop after camp and in the interest of time, at least that was the convenient excuse, we portaged the next drop without even scouting.  After this you hit one of the most famous sections of the river and one of the most scenic and classic stretches of river in the Sierra.

A fun slide section leads into a larger roosting slide with a bit of a hole at the bottom.  At higher water it seems that it would be easy to stay up on the left shelf, but at our flows it dried out a bit and it looked like you were likely to fall off the shelf part way down.  I took a good look and decided that it was still fine and lead the way.  There was a little bit of a hit coming off the shelf, but still good to go.  Gareth fired off soon after

This is followed quickly by Big Boy Pants; one of the better rapid names I have heard.  Again, at these flows it was a bit bouncy but still fun and certainly picturesque.

LJ Putting on his Pants
After this we had a little lunch stop in a manky section and then things got busy again.

A little break from the action

G.T. on the Mushroom Drop

To be honest, there is a lot of whitewater on the second day; and for us, a fair bit of portaging.  I suppose we could blame it on the water levels or the fact that we just didn't know the river, but I think the reality is that this is just a very hard day on the water and if you want to run it all, you really need to be in the right mind set.  We certainly ran our fair share, but in the interest of time, the cameras got pulled out less and less...

Gareth and Derek checking out the reason for portaging the Jedi Mind-Melt Gorge
As the day was coming to a close, we came to the good to go portage.  At least that was what my notes from Darin said.  Something to the effect of "the river turns hard left after a meadow section and there is a nice 10 footer that goes into a gorge.  Portage right."  I ran the drop and then got out to portage. Apparently Gareth's memory didn't jive with these notes.

G - "This is the good to go Gorge".  
Me - "No, I'm pretty sure this is the good to go Portage.  LJ, what do you remember"
LJ - "I'm not really sure, man."
Me - "Dammit!"

Fairly convinced that I was right, I made them both walk up the right bank to see if the recognized anything.  There was a lot of hemming and hawing, but no real conclusions.  We did see the backside of the ski resort, which meant that we had cell phone coverage (Gareth did remember that much).  As we sat around in the waning light, Gareth busted out his phone to call for beta.  The whole thing was pretty surreal.  Four guys on a granite slab with kayaks lounging while we made a call to someone who could give us directions.  We sat there for a while waiting...

Me - "Well, what's the verdict.  It's getting late, we need to get moving"
G - "I don't know yet, I'm checking my e-mail"
Me - "Dammit!"

This is one of the reasons why I love paddling with Gareth.  My personality can become fairly obsessive at times, and while I like to think I can roll with it from time to time, it is not my strength; Gareth is an expert at rolling with it.  For that matter, Derek and LJ are pretty advanced when it comes to that department as well.  I think on high Sierra multi-days you probably want more Gareths than Erics.  But you should probably still have an Eric or two around just to keep things moving...

Long story short, it was the good to go portage, and we soon got things going in the right direction again.  It turns out that we were about 100 yards away from where someone on Gareth's previous trip had fallen down a cliff and broken his ankle, prompting a heli-evac. 

This is what I think of your portaging...
 The end of this portage has a good run-out where we had to sort out a little more mixed beta.  The last words with Darin about the portage were "at the next horizon line after the portage, go left."  Looking at the horizon line in the run-out, every bit of water reading skill screamed "Go right!".  Of course, now that we had gotten down to water level and it was getting dark, it was impractical to scale up the cliff again to get a look at this drop.  Gareth agreed to probe, going with our gut instinct, and it worked out.  Apparently the next horizon line is the one where you go left.

It was getting dark now; luckily during the portage I had eyed a little platform above the river that looked like a good campsite.  We called it a day; apparently many others do the same here since the campsite had a nice fire ring and a spectacular view of the valley.  Tired and wired after a long day of boating we had some of the best dehydrated potatoes and salmon you'll find anywhere in the Markleeville area. 

Day 3

Camp #2 on day #3

Obligatory shot for future Jet Boil sponsorship
Knowing we still had a big day ahead of us, we still took the time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and let the sun fully come up over the canyon.  The rapid that we had stopped at was not particularly large, but still stout with a nasty looking boxed in hole.

I have broached this topic before, but the mental side of class V paddling is interesting.  Let me take this rapid as an example.  When I first looked at it, everything seemed straight forward and I was ready to jump on the water and get going.  As everyone else lingered to scout it, I came back to look at it again, partly because I was waiting for them to set up safety, but partly to see if there was anything I missed.  Derek threw a piece of wood into the backwash of the hole and it quickly got sucked back into the drop and disappeared.  Not seeing it resurface, we started talking about the line again.  Perhaps a full 2 minutes later, the stick popped up again.  We looked at each other uncomfortably.  This was clearly a nasty little hydraulic.  Still, I was sure it was no problem to clear it with a boof off the left edge.  Should I run a drop that I know I can run but has severe consequences? Or should I just carry around it; there was sure to be plenty more fun down the road.  The confidence I had was severely shaken, but this drop was only four, maybe five feet.  There were many conversations in my head as I walked up to get my boat, which I had left on the bank above the drop the night before, then loaded that morning in anticipation of running the drop.  The bottom line was that I trusted myself to run the drop, and if something happened, I trusted my crew would be able to help me.  I picked up the boat and walked it down to the water and put on.

I was right, there would be many more drops that day, many that were much bigger and harder than this one; but this was, by far, the most uncomfortable I felt on the whole trip.  I ran it without incident, but I'm still not exactly sure why it felt so weird.  In hind-sight, I'm still not sure whether or not I should have run it.  In some ways, the relief of making it through without a problem might have given me confidence, which ended up allowing me to run some of the bigger drops further down the run.  But at the same time, you are always told to listen to your gut on the river, and I am still not sure exactly what my gut was trying to tell me.  I guess the bottom line is that, even after 30 years of kayaking, I am still trying to figure it all out.
Trying to start the day off right (or, in this case, left)
The moment of truth...
As we pushed on past the camp rapid, there was not a whole lot of warm up.  As an aside here, it always pays to take the time at camp to check out what is downstream.  In this case, the next rapid had a log in the obvious line, and thanks to Derek, we were aware of it before we even put-on.  As another aside, when Gareth says there is a little hole to punch, put nose-plugs on if you have them.  After feeling good about the camp rapid, the next one that we ran on verbal handed out a little bit of carnage.  Just a reminder not to get on your high horse just yet...

So, in case you were coming here to look for footage of the untouchables, you are in the wrong place.  We walked that gorge.  I gave the gorge after it a good look, but I think more water would make it more appealing.  The fan was not much of a fan and contact on the rock on the right looked probable.  Nobody else was really interested either, so we took a pass this time. 

After this, things mellow out a bit.  Read and run class IV is what is on the menu for brunch until you get to the namesake of the run.  Fantasy Falls proper is about as scenic a place as you will find

This is Fantasy
While the drop is stunning, it is straightforward, so we quickly rallied in two groups for media purposes and dropped in.  LJ and myself first, then Gareth and Derek. 

Gareth living the dream

Derek in the midst
 After nice lines and a little down time to soak in the majesty of the place, we knew we had to get going.  We had a date with some big rapids downstream and they were not going to run themselves. 

"Oh no, my stocks are not doing so well!"
Leaving the dream land
Anyone who puts on Fantasy Falls knows that they are going to have to come to terms with a rapid known by many names.  Some call it California Class III in homage to the late, great Daniel DeLavergne.  Some call it Show Me Your Tits, which apparently was spray painted on the rocks at one time or another.  Some simply call it The Thing.  Some say it is a crap shoot and that 50% of the time every time, you swim.  I had spent three days coming to terms with the idea of getting pummeled in some hole and having no choice but to swim.  I knew the sequence; Fantasy Falls, walk around Island Drop, then roll the dice on CIII.  But then a funny thing happened on the way.  We got to the Island Drop and it didn't look that bad. 

"What am I getting myself into..."
The Author heading into the Island Drop

Boss, the Plane!  Fantasy Island

See you on the other side...
Probably one of the most unique drops I have run, Island drop is for real.  There is a very long lead-in slide where you get to stare straight down into the slot for what seems like forever.  The boat gradually picks up speed until you are shot straight into a towering wall of foam.  From there, all I distinctly remember is feeling the droplets of water falling on my head from the curtain on the right as you exit the hole.  An in explainable feeling of joy and calm in the middle of chaos.  Those droplets signify that you have made it through the beast, upright and in position for the exit.  Probably one of the strangest things I have noticed while running a big rapid.

Well, there were two parts to running Island Drop.  First, was that I was super glad I did.  It was awesome.  Second, I now had an excuse for not running The Thing.  I could sit there happily holding the video camera while everyone else got pummeled.  People could ask me how my run was and I could be like "Nah, I wasn't feeling it.  I just ran Island Drop and thought I would call it a day."  They could say I was a puss, but I could live with myself.

We pulled up to the scout the drop that is quickly becoming a part of California lore.  I crested the granite knob that hides the beast from view and was immediately taken aback by how big it actually is.  Part of you knows that things are always bigger than they look on video, but it almost defies physics how this small amount of water can create such enormous features.  For damned sure, I was not running this.

We admired the rapid for a little bit and Gareth started looking around to see who the first victim for his video camera was going to be.  Before I could even bow out, LJ said "I'll run it".  If nothing else, we now had a show to watch...

In hind sight, LJ was the perfect probe.  Some folks might flail a few panicked strokes here and there and make it look like a struggle.  To my recollection, of the few strokes LJ took, most of them were back strokes at the lip to line himself up for the drop.  Needless to say, he made it look good.  Really good.

Keep in mind, this is only half of it...

LJ cleans it
On the down side, the scientific fact is that 50% of paddlers swim this rapid.  LJ just made it without swimming, so the odds were looking worse for the rest of the group...

My mind was starting to swing from the "no way in hell" camp to the "I suppose I could get pummeled and survive" camp.  Gareth looked at me and I could tell he didn't want to wait for me to hem and haw on this one.  He handed me the camera and ran to the top.  I should have known there was going to be problems when a few minutes later he poked his head back over the rocks to look at his line again.  Somewhere out there there is a nice video of this run.  I don't know if Gareth is ever going to release it though.  It went something like this:

Entry far left.  Peton.  Surf across the biggest wave in the Sierra.  Bounce off the far river right boulder.  Surf across the second biggest wave in the Sierra.  Spin around backwards.  Drop, with no speed, into The Thing.  Instigate Surf.  Instigate ejection procedure.  Watch helplessly as safety takes pictures of you while your boat washes around the corner and goes downstream.

Gareth setting up for the perfect surf
50% of the time every time
So... um.   I'm standing on the rock and everyone is paddling downstream.  There is no safety left.  I am pretty sure it is going to be a while before they can get boat and paddle to shore.  Luckily Gareth is on shore, but he is running downstream after his gear too.  Well, I kind of wanted to run this, but I am not going to run it by myself.  I guess I'll go get my stuff and start walking down.

By the time I packed all the camera gear away and got my boat down to the bottom of the drop, Gareth appeared again on the bank.  In no uncertain terms, he told me that I needed to get back up to the top and run the drop.  I know he just wanted to see me swim, but after the show he put on, I couldn't really not run the drop.  Besides, after watching them, I did want to run it.  Add to that the fact that my odds were now, scientifically, back to 50/50.

To make a long story short, I was not as graceful as LJ, and not as exciting as Gareth.  In true slalom paddler fashion, I caught an eddy about half way through the rapid on the left.  It is actually a nice way to run it if you can get out of the eddy and get your momentum going back to the left again.  While styling it would be preferable, I was happy to get through with my boat still attached to my body.

We regrouped in the giant pool below the drop and relived our triumphs and tribulations.  Lingering for a little bit before rounding the corner, we got going again.  There were still a few more drops before the lake, some of which were well below the high water line of the lake.  As we ran out the final gradient into the still waters below it was quite the stark contrast.  Unlike Upper Cherry, where the log jam prevents you from paddling from the mayhem to tranquility,  Fantasy Falls allows you to make that transition.  

Gareth finishes off the run
As we cleared the last drop, the Moke grabbed me one last time for a little surf before she let me go.  Just a little reminder not to get on my high horse.  After three days of very continuous class V, we now had a few miles of flatwater paddling to go to get to our car.  To be honest, I needed some down time to clear my head after such a big adventure and the grind through the lake was just what I needed.  I pulled into the boat ramp with a mix of feelings; excitement, relief, fatigue, more more than anything I was just content and happy to have had the chance to get on this section of river.  A section of river that I probably would have never done had not the stars aligned and forced me into it.  In short, sometimes we don't really know what is best for us, but at least the universe helps guide us in the right direction.

The End, or is it...
After the rest of the gang got to the takeout we celebrated briefly with some beers before parting ways with Derek.  The rest of us would clean up the shuttle and figure out where we were going from there.  A bottle of tequila, beers and whatever else was lying around helped make the time pass as we pulled into Markleeville.  The streets were rolled up for the night, but we found some nice folks at the Creekside Inn that were willing to open the kitchen and the bar for us.  Stories were told and good times were had as we devoured whatever they put in front of us.
Looking at the headwaters of the Moke

We finally pulled into the put-in after hours and finished off the evening watching highlights of the trip in Gareth's van.  Passing out in the dirt in a kayaking/booze haze seemed the perfect way to end the trip.  Oh yeah, and Chris, I hope you like the reading material we left you...