Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fun on Fordyce

If you are looking for a run that has all the feel of a High-Sierra run without all the work, you'll find it on Fordyce Creek. Recreational releases in the late Summer/early Fall make this a destination spot for most Class V boaters in California once many other runs are done. We made the 6 1/2 hour trip from Kernville to see what all the fuss was about - was it worth the trip? You bet!

400 cfs of Fordyce - portage #1
After getting back from Upper Cherry Creek back on July 4th, things have not gone very smoothly at the ol' work place. Without getting into details, we were more than ready for a couple of days off after about a month and a half of mostly work and very little play. We were so ready, in fact, that we left Kernville at 8 pm and drove through the night, ending up at Lake Spaulding at about 2:30 am with no paddling partners, no pre-arranged shuttle, and basically no plan. The thought was that there had to be people there - it was the only thing other than Cherry Creek running in the Sierra.

As usual, our optimism for hoards of California boaters was ill-founded, and a couple of hours after waking up at 7:30 am (so we wouldn't miss anybody), our attentions were turned towards having to spend a day in Truckee being tourists. We had heard that Fordyce is a fairly long day and thought that certainly by 9:30 the hoards would have arrived - they hadn't, so we packed up and reluctantly drove off to check out the Tahoe area. As we were pulling out of the parking lot the cavalry came to the rescue. Two cars with boats! Chris was in one car - a Nevada City resident who had done the run a few times before, and Serge - a Russian born paddler who, like us, was a newbie on the creek. After a brief conversation, we agreed to paddle and off we went.

I had heard various reports on the shuttle - long, 4-wheel drive, easy to get lost, etc. I'd also heard various reports on the run - Class V, remote, scenic, etc. In retrospect, I believe someone can do the run reasonably without having someone who has done it before (certainly beta on walking around the last couple of hundred yards would help). I'm not so sure I would take on the shuttle without someone who has done it before. Needless to say, it is 4-wheel drive (any reasonable 4-wheel drive will do), and you can get lost (take the unmarked right near the top of the hill!).

The next day things went a little smoother, the hoard (two other cars) appeared earlier (9:00 am) and we had picked up an additional paddler in our party (Jason flew in from Utah just for the occasion). Since we knew the river and the shuttle now we had a fairly leisurely day

Once you get to the river, things start off pretty much right away with a fun slide.

Rebecca rubbed out in Eraserhead

Rebecca, Headless?

Immediately after there is a series of peton-potential read and run drops (far left, not too far right not too far left - got it?). Then there is a scenic drop into a pool in a rapid known as Old Man's. All the while in this first half-mile you are still marvelling at the surroundings and the crystal clear water. Soon the river basically tells you to quite taking it all in and pay attention dammit. As you leave the pool of Old Man's and round the corner you notice the dropoff that is Insanity Falls. Now every rapid on Fordyce has been run, two in particular on not what I would consider "classics" and Insanity Falls is the least "classic" of the two. Don't get me wrong, there is a legit line and it looks like it could even be fun, but for some reason, the serenity of the trip to that point just throws me off any desire to run this...

The Scenery coming into Insanity Falls

After insanity, the whitewater stays fun for about another mile woth a fun boof, bishops balcony another fun boof and then Rotator Cuff

A super-fun boof below the falls

Of the classic drops on the run, Rotator Cuff is probably the one that grabs your attention the most (along with split falls). There is a nice long lead-in ramp into about an 8 foot falls with a hole that is nicely backed in on the right side. Of the two days I ran it I had a super clean sky-boof (on the first day) and a deep melt-down (probably taking it for granted on the second day).
Rotator Cuff - glory boof or melt-down...

Jason rotating the cuff on day 2 (don't ask me how...)

After this the river mellows out noticably for a few miles; beautiful class I-II stretches occasionally interrupted by fun class IV drops or gorges.
Rebecca Cruising

Lunch - eating it all up
In this middle section you'll find yourself alternately oggling the surroundings and grinning at your paddling companions - an absolutelly amazing section of river.

Wolf on another fun boof

Where's Barry? Sliding on the sweet left line of course...

Jason pinned again...

After you cross under the green bridge, the whitewater picks up again. A fun gorge (rattlesnake?) and some more drops until you get to the highlight section of the trip. Fordyce Falls, Split Falls, The Hole that ate the Donner Party and more...

Fordyce falls is a fun 15 footer with easy lapability and a couple of different lines to try (including yet another melt down just right of where Jason is in the picture below).

Jason on Fordyce Falls
Another classic on this run is split fall - not quite 20 feet from top to bottom, but if add the distance traveled underwater after you hit the pool, it has to be approaching 25'
Alex on Split falls

Wolf taking on the Split

Jason about to go deep

After all this, The Hole that Ate the Donner Party really doesn't look all that bad, but I can attest that the hole at the bottom is sticky and has enough juice to enduce a couple of ends in a Jefe...

The hole that is about to eat Eric (green jefe entering on the left)

A little vid of Rebecca...

There are about 3 or 4 more fun drops after this until you reach a boulder garden that gradually gets more and more choked off. On the first day we tried to work our way down until we ran out of space. The best approach is to hit the trail on river left when you see a giant rock. Stay on the trail a couple of hundred yards, it will go back down to river level and you can finish the paddle down to Lake Spaulding. Once you are on the lake you get to paddle a couple of miles back to the parking lot where most folks get to hang out and drink beer while a couple of unluckies get to do the 2 hour round-trip shuttle...

Overall I would have to give this run an A+ rating (above 400 cfs) with the only downside being the shuttle (and maybe the lake paddle for some folks). We decided that Fordyce Creek is the bastard child of Upper Cherry Creek and the Headwater of the Kern. The fractured granite domes that surround you and the cedar and sugarpine forrest that try to block their view are, in my opinion, the highlight of the trip. I would easily do this trip as an overnighter just to hang out and enjoy the scenery a bit longer. I think it is one of those runs where higher water is definately better - with 500 cfs feeling better in every way than 400 cfs. We'll definately look forward to making the pilgramage again next year...

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