Tuesday, June 2, 2009

South Merced



Lars Holbek called the South Fork of the Merced one of the best, runnable, Class V multi-Day trips in the World. After our first trip down this, it's hard to argue with him. The motivation for doing this trip actually had a lot to do with Lars' statement - after his passing this year, it seemed like a nice way to pay tribute him, Nancy and everything they have done for the sport of Kayaking. Plus, with a recommendation like that, how could it not be a ton of fun!

We drove up from Kernville late Tuesday night after work; the plan was to meet a few folks near the take out and shuttle up to the put-in for a two-day trip. Unfortunately, the Yosemite Park crowd was in full force even mid-week, and the pre-arranged campsite was full. After some late-night searching, we finally found a place we could crash for the night- a parking space in the Indian Flat RV camp.

The South Merced is 23+ miles long with lots of Class V - I'm not sure if Lars' 4 hour and 14 minute run will ever be duplicated, but certainly the first time down we were expecting a long 2 days. The result was a desire to get on the river somewhat early on Wednesday - something that was not destined to happen. The Wild Goose Chase that ensued Wednesday morning as we tried to catch up with the rest of our group was somewhat comical - except for the fact that we never caught up with the rest of our group. I'll spare you the details, but a big apology goes out to Tim and Chad - note to self; arrange a back-up meeting time and place in case the shit hits the fan...

Four of us (Jason, Corby, Rebecca and myself) ended up putting on about 1 pm with thunder clouds building, there were a few miles of mellow, scenic river before we started to hit the class V's.

About 3 miles of scenery before it starts

The drops on the South Merced are not really one-stroke wonders; most rapids are fairly long and involved. Having never done the run before, the going was slow. Most of the rapids on the first day are formed by boulders, but there are a few granite drops - and yes, the blind corner on the right side below that one drop is clear...

Rebecca on the run-out of another long one

Since we were not sure how long we were going to be going for the first day, I did not get too many pictures. Definately missed the opportunity to take shots of a nice big rattlesnake during one scout. Also the first long class V with the tree-duck should have been a good photo-op.

After about 3-4 hours on the river, Charlie Center and his crew caught up with us. Yep, they saw Tim and Chad hanging out at the take-out around 1pm, waiting for us to show up - oops. Can I apologize again...

The good news was that we now had someone to expidite our way down the next couple of miles to camp - Super Slide! Super Slide is probably the biggest drop on the South Merced, and also one of the easiest. It was so super, we had to run it twice!

Looking down the final slide


Rebecca entering the slide

Jason exiting

By the way, the cary up to redo this drop is easy at river level, so even if you are not camped out at Super Slide camp, I highly recommed taking the time to do it again... So fun...

Like every other overnighter I've ever had in California, camp was awesome. We packed in a couple of bottles of wine and sipped and snacked while we watched Charlie reel in the trout - a couple of really big ones that got away, the biggest I've seen in a place that was not stocked. Nothing like a campfire and sleeping under the stars in a place that no one but boaters get to experience.

Corby's Camp in the mist of Super Slide

The next morning, we slowly packed up camp; half expecting Tim and Chad to come boating down from a higher camp. Charlie, Katie, Thomas and Katies Brother (sorry man, I'm always referred to as Rebecca's Husband, so I feel for you) did a breakfast run on the slide - nice lighting

Thomas having water for breakfast

Little Katie, Big Drop

After breaking camp and glancing upstream one more time, we started off on day two. For the next hour or so, we played played tag with Charlies Crew; trying not to cramp their style (8 boats is too many for such a congested run).

Corby just below camp - this qualifies as a "boulder rapid"

We came across them at "the portage" and a few other drops until we finally lost contact with them for good in one particularly long rapid.

Charlie Center - Da Man

The second day consisted of too many drops to recount, all of them class V, but kind of staying the same the whole way down - quality. There was an interesting mix of boulder rapids and granite gorges.
Corby on another nice slide

Eric probing a deep hole

We probably put on around 10 am and spent a solid 6 hours running the rest of the class V; it's kind of suprising how many drops this river has. At one point, as we were scouting one of the main sections - a triple drop in a funky gorge - it started to rain some of the biggest rain-drops I have ever seen. Dime sized drops maybe? Sure seemed spooky as we dropped into that section

Corby in the storm


Eric on another nice granite slide

Corby finds a nice boof in the mess

We finally got around to lunch about 2pm; thinking we were almost done with the class V's - fat chance!
Eric on another drop

Finally, things started to mellow out, it seemed like we now had a good chance to make it out before dark.

Jason Finally gets to smile

The last notable drop on the trip turned out to be one of our favorites - I wish this drop was on my local river so I could lead people through it blind all the time. The river narrows on the left side and plunges between some huge boulders in a blind chute. It sure looks like you are probably going to die, but it is super clean and fun!

Corby in the fun chute


The last 7 miles are class III - a long paddle out for sure, but as the soreness and tiredness sets in from your two days on the South Merced, this paddle out seems like an ultra-meditative state of higher awareness... Either that or I was simply entoxicated from hyperventalating for two days straight...

Thanks Lars!

1 comment:

red said...

That last one is "fire hydrant"... great name! What was your flow? Too bad this one had such a short window this year...
-Chris Tulley