Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This one goes to eleven

In case you missed it, the title of this blog entry is a famous line from "This is Spinal Tap" - referring to a new and improved amp that goes even higher than ten. The December Storm of 2010 certainly has that "eleven" feel to it...

What started out as blip on the fantasy weather charts matured into a full blown "hide the women, children and dogs" prediction - it did not disappoint. I suppose the appropriate joke would be "this is moisture tap" - you can see in the above Eastern Pacific Water Vapor chart; there was a conveyor belt of warm, wet air from the tropical Eastern Pacific. A low pressure spinning off the northwest coast has been pumping this air directly into the Sierra for an extended amount of time. An unusual western flow of air near the Canadian border blocked this low from progressing eastward; thus the extended weather pattern. I have heard various debates as to whether this was a true "Pineapple Express" event; but either way, it sure was sweet!

This storm was not a complete surprise, many of the weather models picked it up in advance. While we have occasionally seen storm total predictions in the 10+ inch range, rarely do they actually come through at those final tallies. For whatever reason, the models pretty much nailed this one though.

5 day HPC Storm Total Predictions for the Friday to Tuesday Period, Dec 17-22
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The heavy precipitation was expected to be accompanied by high snow levels; in the 7000-8000 ft range, so we pulled the boating gear out of storage and waited for the skies to open up... And they did.

Here is plot of the weather station at Johnsondale, about 25 miles upstream of Kernville, at an elevation of a little over 4000 ft. As you can see in the third panel, the total precipitation measured for the 5 day period from December 16th to 21st was 14 inches. Surely the orographics at the crest would have increased that total, resulting in (at a modest 12:1 ratio assumption) 15+ feet of snow!

The Johnsondale Weather Station Data

Of course with the high snow levels, a lot of that precipitation came down into the Kern River, causing a peak flow on Sunday, December 19th, of a little over 21,000 cfs (last years spring snow-melt peak was around 9,000 cfs). Below is a chart of the river flow at the Park in Kernville. You can also see that the storm added some 50,000 acre feet to the lake storage.

Kern River Flow, Precip and Lake Storage Data

The rain started in earnest on Friday Night, so Saturday we went up for a couple of runs on Brush Creek. When we got there the level was 3 on the gauge; a fine level, but a little disappointing considering the magnitude of the storm predictions. After 1 run down it had risen to 4, on our second run down it reached 5 - now we're cookin'!

The next evening it continued to rain steadily, and by morning time you could tell things were different. As we headed up the canyon all sorts of creeks that we had never seen before were cascading out of the mountains and washing across the road. Not only that, but there were several rock and tree falls as well; despite the distinct possibility of getting stuck on the wrong side of one of these falls, we pushed on upstream anyway to check out Brush Creek.

Just Another Day Driving up Canyon

When we finally pulled into the Brush Creek Parking lot, I had a brief moment of excitement - the gauge was at 10! I had paddled this section as high as 7 a few years back at peak spring melt, and it was awesome. Ever since then I wondered if the creek ever got too high to run, or if it just got better and better. My enthusiasm was quickly squelched though as a quick look at the bottom section of the river revealed that 10 was, in fact, too high. The banks of the creek were entirely made up of strainers; not eddies. There were also various other wood hazards thrown in the middle of the current. While a kayak decent was not to be, a hike up the creek was definitely in order.

Um. The portage actually looks like a portage...

The Limbo Log is Long Gone

Triple Drop looking like a Single Drop
The Z-Drop below Speedway


The Gauge at Brush Creek - Level? Too many ABU's

After the hike we got back in the car and checked out South Creek Falls; normally a trickle, this was a torrent sending spray up above the road level - awesome.

Rebecca at South Creek Falls (1000 cfs?)

After trying to stay as dry as possible in the torrential rain, we ended up deciding to get wet on a more reasonable stretch of river - the class IV Cable Run. When we got back to town, the river had risen to 14,000 cfs from about 6,000 cfs earlier in the day. By the time we got on the water and did our run we ended up pretty much on the peak of the flood at 21,000 cfs. There were some huge waves on the run, lots of trees in the water and the eerie sound of large boulders rolling along the bottom of the river as we were paddling down. All in all a very spectacular day!

The Park in Kernville at about 14,000 cfs

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

The latest forecast for the Sierra has something I have never seen before. There is so much water in this group of storms that they had to start over with the colorscale - almost 15 inches of water equivalent in the 5 day HPC. Wow.

Adventures to be had for sure, we'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Grand Canyon - more to come

Had a great trip in the Canyon this October; still catching up at work and wading through the thousands of pictures I shot, but something should be on the way soon. In the meantime, here are just a couple of shots I wanted to share.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Adventures on the South Fork of the Kern

Better late than never...
Living in the Kern River Valley, the South Fork of the Kern River has long been on my "to-do list". Finicky water levels, lack of willing partners and a similar driving time to the Kaweah kept it from actually getting done. Finally some friends talked Rebecca and me into hiking in for an exploratory mission; after seeing the impressive White Dome gorge first-hand, a trip was cobbled together within the week.

Topo overview of the run (click to enlarge)

Legend has it that only three other groups have done the 22 mile stretch of river from Kennedy Meadows to Long Valley (please correct me if this is wrong) with Royal Robins, Reg Lake et al. getting the first Descent in 1986 (a very late first descent for a river this size in the Sierra). Reportedly, the second descent crew of Keith Dinger, Charles Foster and Rick Norman portaged the White Dome gorge entirely. The best account of the run I found was from the last group consisting of Rocky Contos and Chip Childers who made it through the entire run with various tales of adventure.

From Rocky's trip report (click to read - recommended reading!)

"Defeated, I came back, seeing that Chip had gotten his boat to the side. No paddle. Would he hand paddle for a ways? Could we get another paddle at Sierra South that evening? He portaged the next couple class Vs as I went up to portage my boat down with him. During my portage along one of the 50 degree slabs, I lost footing and fell down, hanging on a tree. My boat went down to the river and started floating downstream. I yelled to Chip and scrambled down to him as fast as I could. A wonderful stroke of luck hit us, as Chip had found his paddle in the eddy right there, and incidentally, my boat floated into that at exact same eddy! I guess I had lost track of the paddle at that spot and continued searching downstream. The swim Chip had was his worst ever, and he was quite dazed from it - "hallucinating" he said."

After putting out a few feelers, Kevin Smith and Geno Hacker decided to join in the fun (how could you not be enticed by stories like that from Rocky?). Rebecca (still with an injured shoulder) and Allison Diller decided to meet us at camp and do their own exploratory hiking in the area of Manter Creek - the trip was on!

Through the magic of Delorme...

Before we get on to the account of the run, there are a few things to get out of the way first. Considering that only 3 of the 22 miles approach the magic 200 ft per mile gradient, don't be fooled. This is a two-day trip. It is conceivable that it could be done in a day by a group that knows the run, gets an early start, and is willing to hike some portion of the three miles out long valley in the dark; other than that, plan two FULL days. In addition, this is not a Sierra Classic in terms of whitewater; there are plenty of good drops, but there are also plenty of portages, both tree and sieve induced. Perhaps the Manter fire of 2000 hurt the quality of this run, but it is hard to say since nobody has done this run more than once.

With that out of the way, this run is a true adventure; spectacular granite gorges, beautiful side hikes, a serene float through Rockhouse Basin, bears, snakes and a very real sense remoteness await. We had between 300-350 cfs on the South Fork gauge - since there are no major tributaries below this section, I would estimate that we had very close to that amount in the river. I felt this was a low/medium flow for the run; more water would cover up some of the sieves and make a few drops more palatable with the trade-off of making some of the woody stretches come at you a bit quickly. Lower water would probably make some of the drops easier, but might induce a few more portages. A few days earlier when we hiked in the level was 450 - this appeared to be a medium/high level and would probably be my target if I went back in (which I might someday, once the memories of the portages fade away).

The SF Kern Gauge for May 25th and 26th


Put-in at Kennedy Meadows

The put-in for the run is at the road bridge over the meandering South Fork near Kennedy Meadows. To the North you look up the PCT towards Olancha Mountain and Monache Meadow, to the South you look into the Domeland Wilderness Area. From here you have a pleasant 13 mile paddle through scenic class I-III. The main concern here are the cattle fences - we encountered three of them - two we were able to paddle through and one we had to walk around.

NOTE: the first fence is about 20 yards downstream from the bridge in a braided section of river. Don't let it catch you off guard since getting stuck in barbed-wire would not be a fun start to the trip...

The Crew getting ready for their SF adventure!

This section is extremely pleasant; right up there with the scenic flatwater on Upper Cherry, the Kern Headwaters and Fordyce Creek. I could easily see turning just this section into an overnighter for Class III-IV boaters (requiring a two mile hike out the old road above the White Dome gorge); great camping, views of the Domelands and presumably numerous Golden Trout to catch.

Looking North

There is about a two mile stretch starting somewhere near mile 5-6 where the whitewater picks up a little bit; no scouting was necessary, but picking appropriate routes through brushy, braided sections required a little attention. Overall, this section went much better than anticipated and it only took us about three hours to eat up the miles between the put-in and the entrance to White Dome gorge.

Some Rocky Sections

White Dome Gorge

Approaching White Dome Gorge

As you approach the White Dome Gorge, the twists and turns in the river begin to take on some purpose and the granite starts to pinch in on the banks. Make sure you take the time to enjoy the scenery - it really is a spectacular place.

White Dome
It is pretty clear when the goods start; a boat scoutable class IV with a good sized eddy on the right is followed by a long class V dubbed South Fork Flush by Rocky and Chip. Scout this on river left and you'll be able to see the whole drop; this is one that would benefit from more water since the exit drop pinches down to about three feet wide with a good deal of water splitting off into a sieve (with another one just upstream of that for good measure). The rapid itself didn't look that difficult, but it also didn't look fun enough to push the risk-reward needle into the green for anyone, so we moved on.

After this is a sequence of fun drops; probably the whitewater highlight of the trip. We ran every drop in here except one, which also would have been much more enticing with more water since a slam into the left wall seemed inevitable at this flow. Every drop in this gorge was portagable at river level, but for about a quarter mile or so you feel locked in there with sloping granite walls; at this point there is no way out but forward. The second class V drop (pictured below) was fun and was follwed by the drop described by Rocky where Chip pulled his self proclaimed "Mark Spitz" in a ledge hole against the left wall.

Kevin in the Second Drop

The Mark Spitz Rapid (Smiling Slab)
At this point you begin to get the feeling of the character of the run; steep granite walls break off in huge chunks, tumble into the river in a pile and make rapid. Since the flows in here never really exceed a couple of thousand CFS, the river doesn't naturally to clean itself up by blowing channels between these large boulders. The result is a weird hybrid of Colorado whitewater in a California setting.

One of the best drops on the trip is near the end of the tight upper part of the gorge; a sweet double drop with rock-smear-boof on the entry and a largish hole on the exit - I like to call it peanut-butter-jelly-time.

The author smearing the entry

Kevin dropping into the second hole

and smearing the exit

At this point, the character of the river changes; the gorge opens up a bit to the left, the river begins to split into different channels and trees become a significant factor. The gradient here lessens, but it is still steep enough that you don't really want to go charging around a corner into a giant wood pile. There were still some fun drops, but the number of portages around strainers began to get frustrating, especially as it began to become evident that a late arrival at camp was inevitable.

Rebecca and Allison had planned to hike in at long valley and cut over a saddle to Manter Creek where they would set up camp. We were unsure of whether we would make it to that point by nightfall, so we were self-contained, but I much preferred a dinner of mashed potatoes and bratwurst followed by a night of sleep in a tent to a half pound of nuts and dried fruit followed by a night under a tarp with two other dudes and a forecast for rain.

It was somewhere in this section that our plan of attack became disjointed. Boat scouting would often lead me to a tiny eddy above a strainer where I would signal back that it was no good. Often we would end up portaging on opposite sides of the river with varying strategies and little communication. I suppose a time-out to regroup would have been in order, but we were basically in survival mode. The result was basically three independent paddlers making their way down the river instead of one coherent group.

In the middle of the chaos, there was one drop in particular that looked really good; a long lead in with a big airplane turn to the left followed by a riverwide hole. When we got to this drop we were on opposite sides of the river - I was on river left and Kevin and Geno were on river right. The entry to this drop pinched on the right side and required a squirrely boof with an overhanging rock before the airplane turn around a huge midstream boulder. Not being able to see well from my side I signaled Kevin to see what he thought. His reply was uncertain, so I signaled that I would begin the portage and asked if he wanted me to set safety. His reply was that he was walking too. After a 10 minute jaunt up and around the boulders, I was quite surprised when I got down to river level; Kevin and Geno were standing on river right, and Kevin's boat was floating in an eddy on river left? Confused, I gave the "are you OK" signal. Kevin replied that he was, but looked to be unable to get to his boat. My first thought was that he slipped on the exposed portage, dropping his boat into the river. In actuality, he got to the top and changed his mind on the drop, deciding to run it with the end result being a swim in the riverwide hole at the bottom.

It appeared the boat might make its way out of the eddy and float down directly towards me. If it stayed left we were in business, if it floated into the right channel we were in trouble. I scaled out on a strainer that was blocking the entire left channel and did my best Johnny Bench as his fully loaded Habitat floated directly into the tree I was standing on. Unable to get the boat out in time before the boat got lodged, I jumped in the water and pulled the boat downward, fortunately the weight of the boat and the strength of the current then pushed the boat underneath the strainer and I was able to swim it to shore.

At this point I was pretty sure that darkness would overtake us before camp. To the best of my estimate, we still had about 1/2 mile to go, at the rate we were going, we wouldn't make it. Thoughts of stashing the boats and hiking down to camp seemed realistic, but from our hike earlier in the week I thought the gradient would ease up, perhaps making the river travel easier. Continuing on until dark seemed like the obvious choice.

Luckily the river did mellow out and open up a bit, but the trees did get thicker. For the most part the river was boatable, but at one point we had to make a little duck between a tree and a rock to sneak through. I ducked under the branch and turned around to make sure the next boat got through. Geno was next and got pushed offline a bit, catching the tree sqaure across the chest. After a few seconds, it became apparent he was not going to be able to work free; furthermore he dropped his paddle to hang on to the tree and maintain his upright position. Debating between the paddle and Geno didn't take too long and I paddled to an eddy just below to help get him out. Between Kevin and myself, we were able to stabilize him and lift the log for safe passage. After Geno was safe on shore I started heading downstream looking for the missing paddle. The canopy of the trees and the setting sun made for poor lighting and I was unable to find the paddle; the good news was that the going was really quick with only one log portage before I saw the fire glow of camp around the corner. I gave out a little "whoop" which was quickly returned by Rebecca and I rolled into camp about 10 minutes before sunset.

Next into camp was Kevin, pretty much in the last of the daylight. Geno had elected to hike out the next day leaving his boat near the saddle that Rebecca and Alison had passed over to get to camp. He would be making his way down to camp from there by foot. We started dinner, drank some tequila, and hung out for a bit, waiting for a headlamp in the distance. Eventually we saw one making its way down the bank - unfortunately on the wrong side of the river. After a quick survey of a possible night swim across the river, we elected to ferry Geno across by boat. After some discussion of a reasonable spot for such a foolhardy endeavor, we got Geno and his overnight gear safe and sound to the other side.

Much food and spirit ensued (since that is what you do on single night trips) and in the morning we awoke to one of the more scenic camps I've experienced in the Sierra - which means it was totally sweet...

Home sweet home

After a hearty breakfast, it was the group consensus that a hike was definitely in order. There was absolutely no way we could paddle through this area and not explore; the obvious choice was to head up Manter creek as far as was reasonable (the obvious gorge shown below).

Camp with Manter Creek Gorge in the Background

After poking around for a little over an hour, I started to get restless thinking about the whitewater the lay ahead - Kevin was clearly thinking the same thing. We said our goodbye's to our pals (who would continue exploring this basin) and headed back to our crafts to finish off the short (at least we assumed it would be) three mile to the take-out/hike-out.

Taylor Gorge:

I'm not exactly sure of the time we left camp, but 11:00 am would be a reasonable guesstimate - for future groups, that is pretty much about as late as you would want to leave and still figure on getting finished that same day. With just the two of us, things went pretty quick; meaning we scouted anything that was class V, did one cool side hike - other than that (and an hour portage to go about 400 yards down river) we kept moving.

Right out of camp was a chunky class V - not very enticing - portage. Then we had a cool drop with a log all he way across the bottom - runnable with a funky exit. Then it got heavy. The next 1/4 mile to Taylor Creek had some seriously manky stuff; stuff I might run with a camera crew and safety, but two dudes and an unknown section of river still to go made the easy portage on the left an easy decision.

Yep, portaging high and left was clean...

Soon we hit Taylor Creek; I had heard there was a nice hike up here, so we parked the boats and scrambled up as far as we could. This was no disappointment. The waterfall just up from the river was just a teaser for the beautiful box canyon just upstream. I could have spent all day there, but after a bit of lunch, some lounging and a few picture, we new it was time to keep heading down.

A pleasant falls just below...

An Amazing Box Canyon

After lunch we started working our way down; to make a long paddle short, the river character changed quite a bit to more congested (i.e. treed) rapids - almost all of which were runnable. The problem arose in the scouting of said rapids. Thrashing through the now heavy undergrowth was arduous, and often portages were more difficult than running whatever manky rapid was the obstacle. Still, I would not say the run was without some fun drops.

Kevin on a boof somewhere

At on point, the river clearly starts to drop off and the banks do not facilitate any sort of scout. I ferried to the right side and walked down to the granite cliff and could only see a 10 foot slide into about a 20 foot fall (no landing visible) followed by a runout into boulders that appeared to just end in rock. River left provided no additional info, and since there was a serious portage alluded to in the previous trip report, we assumed we had met our match and had to do an up and over.

In retrospect, I think there is a good chance that drop was runnable. Certainly, it would be worth ditching the boats and scouting on the left at river level long enough to get a good look at it - I think the full scout might take 30 minutes - our portage took about an hour and a half.

Committing to the portage, I followed Kevin - who clearly has no fear of heights - some 200 feet above river level. At one point I had to run across an extremely exposed section of granite; if I was 10 feet above the ground I think I could have handled it. I wasn't, I was 200 feet above the stinkin' riverbed. As I breathed deeply and made myself scramble across the exposed dome, my feet began to slide downhill on the flaking, decomposed slab; knowing that I had no choice, I simply kept my feet moving forward, eventually catching solid granite again only to skid to a stop right next to Kevin. "I hate that Shit!" I exclaimed (or something to that effect). Kevin, being used to these sorts of things, simply replied "yeah, that was dicey" (or something to that effect).

After finally making our way down to the riverbed and catching glimpses of what seemed like potentially the best rapid on the run that we were portaging, we finished off the portage at river level past two chunky drops that might be runnable at higher water. Knowing there was not much more before we got to the end of the run, my ESP convinced me to jump out at a rather non-descript turn to the right only to scout what is certainly a mystery rapid. I swear, 300 cfs were rounding a corner at in a class II rapid, and only 100 cfs was passing through about 3 hotel sized sieved out boulders. BE WARE of this - I have no idea what would happen if you decided to go ahead and paddle into the class II entry.

This drop/nightmare signifies the end of the run. There might have been another 10 minutes of paddling class II, but the trail up Long Valley creek soon appeared on our left. The only bummer was the total lack of beer and babes at the take-out; we had to unceremoniously load our boats and hike the 3 (or was it 5) miles out.

The end - or is it...

Of all the things I remember about the difficulty of this trip, the one thing that stands out is that this is the only time I have ever seen Kevin tired. Don't get me wrong, it is not like I was a spring chicken, but those who know me know that I am old and being tired is a normal condition. But, the fact that, no matter how early in the season it was, this run wore out the indomitable Kevin Smith tells me that it is not for the faint of heart. With that said, if you have the will and the skills to hit up the South Fork of the Kern, an adventure surely awaits...

Monday, July 26, 2010

UCC - how low can you go

So, last year we probed the high side of great on Upper Cherry Creek; it was exciting to say the least. Ironically, in the high water year that was 2010, our trip tested the limits on the other side of the spectrum. Was it worth it? Well, read on...

Looking into the void: would my return trip be more successful?

During the week of July 12th it appeared that Upper Cherry would be coming in soon, but levels didn't seem to be dropping just yet, and people were hedging their bets as to when to drop in. Make a mistake on the high side, and epic stories or portages await, drop in on the low side and... well, I wasn't sure, but I was sure I had seen video of people running it ridiculously low. Geno was already in and we were hoping for another couple of boaters or so to round out the group; there was a possibility of Garreth and Laura joining us, but as the levels started to drop precipitously over the weekend, I was apprehensive that they would not wait around. At least Rebecca (and her bum shoulder) and Allison (who will shred it next year) were game on hiking along with us the whole way - good company and the ability to throw a rope would get us a long way. As luck would have it, potential of a first K-9 descent and the serendipitous appearance of several other slackers eventually brought the group to 10 boaters, 4 hikers and 2 dogs - yep, a real UCC party!

Going to sleep on Monday night with four at the takeout, we woke up to find a groggy Drew - sweet, we had a probe! After a somewhat hasty gathering of gear we headed to the trail head where we found Tim, Rachael and a couple more hikers (Matt and Dee) - sweet, more company! It was thus, that we began the hike, looking forward to, if nothing else, being in a spectacular place with some awesome folks.

Drew Duval stopping for a ciggy; one of the few times I caught up to him on the hike

Having done the hike the year before, this go-round was basically uneventful. Other than Drew and Garreth sprinting off into the distance, Laura's pack disintegrating, a couple of mosquitoes, Bishop almost catching a chipmunk and a lot of sweat, there was really nothing to make note of. Oh yeah, this is the one time we totally envied the hikers on the trip - they seemed to actually be enjoying themselves.

It almost looks like they hike themselves in...

I'm not tired, I'm just old

The welcome descent to the river

Garreth rocks into the put-in

Laura, disintegrated pack and all

Rebecca and Allison getting ready to cool off

The only thing to do once you get to the river...

almost heaven... upper cherryyyy

After a cool dip and a little hang-out time, we decided to head down to the put-in slide. Tim and his crew had not made it down yet, but it seemed like they shouldn't be too far behind us (a common UCC hike in misconception), so we geared up and went down for an initial taste of gravity. Geno gave us a little action with a kick-flip into the left pothole at the bottom drop, but all's well that ends well...

Laura Launches a Late afternoon Lap

Geno Genuflects to some Gnarly Granite

After a long hike and a little fun on the put-in slide, we were ready to set up camp, cook up a good meal, have a little wine and relax. After a hanging for a while without a sign of Tim and Rachael, Rebecca and I headed back up to the put-in to see what was up. We found Rachael, but no Tim and no Hikers - somehow they were ahead of Rachael at one point, then somebody hit a worm hole and some wild goose chasing occurred. This is pretty standard for the hike, so I won't go into it any further except to say that everyone made it in eventually, even peaches.

Camp#1 - good morning skeeterville

Camping on Upper Cherry has to be one of the best kayaking experiences out there, if there is anything that rivals it, let me know so I can go do it. Staring out at the granite domes and then down at the giant, crystal clear pools seems otherworldly. Cap that off with a star-filled sky, your sweetie by your side and a 7-hour-hike-induced coma and you are almost in heaven.

The next day we spent a little time getting our crew together (now 7 boaters, 4 hikers and 2 dogs) and then headed downstream on our adventure. Rebecca, Allison and Bishop planned on staying at river level until the gorge above Cherry Bomb and then going high with the hopes of seeing us run through the gorge and then meeting us at Flintstone. Walkie Talkies helped and both the boat crew and the hiking crew made quick work of the terrain down to West Coast Gorilla.

slip-sliding away day one

It's so pretty you don't even notice the boat abuse

Tim in the overhang

After a leisurely California style lunch above the Gorilla Gorge (Tim even busted out his leisure shirt), we routed in to check out exactly how nasty WCG looks at low water. The answer is that it actually doesn't look that much worse than at high water, but after oogling it for a couple of minutes, everyone decided to walk this time around.

We sent the hikers around the next gorge, but in retrospect they said they saw a line through on river left - for those who may venture in at a future date, this would save about an hour and a half of up and over, so make sure you check it out.

I was a little concerned about the exit drop at low water since I remembered most of the water going into a wall/pocket on the left; it was definitely worth a scout, but still went fine. The next open section before Cherry Bomb gorge was it's usual scenic and fun self, then (and this is more for my notes than anyone) a short 3 1/2 hours after leaving camp, we were there...

I had told Geno that I would do what I could to convince people to scout Cherry Bomb Gorge; I know he wanted to run it, but going in site unseen can be unnerving. I also told him that I was pretty sure that, no matter what plan we agreed on, we would probably just go in there without scouting. Turns out I was kind of right. After everyone agreed that a scout wouldn't be a bad idea, we all scaled up the granite dome, a task that took all of about 15 minutes. At this point we were overlooking the entry gorge, not Cherry Bomb itself. Upon learning that the real scout was another 20 minutes or longer, the consensus was that scouting was really just a waste of time and we did what I thought we would do from the get-go: head into Cherry Bomb Gorge.

It turned out that all the drops in the entry gorge were good to go - at high water I had portaged one that looked extremely meaty/manky. The exit drop at low water was again a concern due to water falling into the left wall, but went well for the most part. Next thing you knew, we were there.

In my last write up on UCC I compared Cherry Bomb Gorge to the Vatican of kayaking; I still don't think that is a horrible comparison, but in retrospect, maybe a better comparison would be the Pyramids. I don't know, there is just something ancient and magical about it to us kayakers. Certainly it is as breathtaking for its beauty as its intimidating presence.

Cherry Bomb Lake - peace juxtaposed to...


Cherry Bomb at low water is, in my opinion, a trade-off. The majority of the water goes off the kicker in the middle with little hope of getting the clean launch off the left side. On the other-hand, Drew proved that you could paddle out of the pothole, and I proved that landing on your head was not much of an issue...

Laura in the moment

Drew and Tim lead the way; Drew electing to go left of the entry rock and Tim electing to go right. All in all, I would suggest a right line at low water, the resulting sideways launch seemed to be more predictable than Drew and My corkscrewing method. After Drew checked out the pothole up close and I gave it some underwater scrutiny, the others settled in on what looked to be the way to go. With Garreth bringing up the rear, we had all made it through the most famous part of the gorge, now just the left-left-middle-right-middle-left remained.

Garreth, in the loneliest position...

Eric and Rachael Grinning

It turns out that at low water the actual line is left-left-anywhere-I think I missed a drop-anywhere-left, write it down if you have to. The main concern again,was the choke-stone on the exit, but much to our delight, Drew indicated from his perch, there was an opening on the left. And there you have it, we made it through. This was quite the opposite experience from the year before for me. I think I was even smiling and laughing (even on the inside). I was also happy that everyone decided to go in and nobody got left out making the massive portage by themselves.

Awaiting the exit seal-launch

With all the time we spent not quite scouting, Allison and Rebecca were even able to get good seats for the show. Allison was stoked that she actually got to see me roll in a rapid, something that rumor has I'm actually incapable of.

Allison, Rebecca and Bishop enjoying the entertainment

All that was left was some time on the Jedi-Slide and Tea-Cups, and we would be hanging out at camp.

Rachael drops into camp

Garreth's wonderland

Eric and Geno at happy hour

Home sweet home, camp #2

Drew antagonizing the fish

As we sat on river right (we obeyed the sign and did not camp at Flintstone) soaking up the sun and watching Drew catch and release at least 5 trout, a crazy vision appeared

Taylor, Nick and Josh rolling into camp

A group of three more kayakers came into view, dropping the teacups and, yep, a member of the trio flipped in the last drop into Flintstone pool and swam... much to the cheering and elation of the crowd. Don't worry, your secret is safe with me; besides, it is totally something I could see myself doing, so I hope to get leniency when it is my turn...

It was great to See Taylor and get to know Nick and Josh; we were all genuinely stoked to see them show up and share camp with us. Once the second crew of hikers showed up to camp a little later, our crew became 16!

Now as anyone who has done it knows, camping at Flintstone pool at the base of Cherry Bomb Gorge with the setting sunlight whispering off of the rocks... well, it's Nirvana, or Shangra La, or Happy Gilmore's Happy place; that is if you have already run Cherry Bomb Gorge. I can't imagine camping out at the bottom, staring up in anticipation, waiting for morning to come so you can hike you ass all the way back up to that locked in gorge. Sure there are some big drops on day two, but you can always just walk to the lip, say no thanks and pass (with various levels of effort). Maybe after I have run it a few more times the mystique will run-out, but I hope it doesn't...

Day Two began with a nice leisurely breakfast and Garreth and Laura going up to film the Georgia Boys headed back up to the gorge (no room for their story here, ask me about it sometime though). Right about the crack of 10 am we began making our way down through the goods.

Groove Tube and Perfect 20 were good to go

Perfect 20 - Tim



Then someone got the crazy idea to run the entry into Double Pothole at low water. After getting off my photographer's rock and watching person after person go into battle with the rocks on the entry, I decided (along with Rachel) that a much more sensible (and traditional) portage around the rock on the left and class II ferry free of rock contact would be the better option. As a result, though, I have no photos. I'm sure some will come though...

Rebecca wishing she had a kayak now

Double Pothole was sweet. Waterfall alley was sweet. Then it was Kiwi time. By the time I got down there (after more photo taking) Drew had already run it and was lounging with his feet out of the boat in the enticing pool at the bottom. Apparently he had styled it, but nobody could see into the pocket to determine the depths and reconnaissance potential therein. Still, not being a group to dawdle, Taylor, Laura, Garreth, Nick and Myself got after it.

The Amazing Mister Taylor backferries into perfect position

Nick in a pocket? Don't think so!

Laura showing the boyz

Of course everyone styled it, and I was the last to go. I didn't want to insult Mrs Pocket (I assume it is Mrs since Niki was the kiwi), so I proceeded to straight line it into the pocket.

Eric pre-pocket

OK, it wasn't a straight line, I actually thought I was doing OK, but the long awaited bump left never occurred and I resurfaced into the wall. I heard Nick yell "he's OK", so believing him, I swiftly paddled off the boil into the pocket, took it in briefly (hoping to never return), then paddled out. Happy to not have to be vertically extracted, I began to appreciate the low water level once more.

The good thing about low water was the ability to paddle out of the pocket, the bad thing was that the landing in Dead Bear was quite green. Even the waterfall slayers Drew and Taylor wanted no part of it, so we began what can only be described as an arduous portage. The payout at the end was the adult version of foam boats as we sent our loaded boats over Dead Bear.

The alternate Dead Bear line

Not looking good...

A better line

Another California style lunch awaited us at the bottom and all that would be left would be for the boaters to work their way out the low-water run-out and survive the final gorge, and for the hikers to somehow make it to the bottom and ride on the back of a kayak across the lake.

Hikers making time on the last day

After many rock encounters for the boaters and a rattlesnake encounter for the hikers, the lake was finally in view (it turns out the up and over on river left at the red rock gorge is the way to go - there is even a trail of sorts if you look for it). While most of us finished off the run at river level (don't blue angel the nozzle at low water, it gets pretty tight in there), the hikers finished off high and right.

A view of the log jam from the hiker's perspective

A quick paddle across the lake, a forty-niner burger and a beer, a 12-pack of Mountain dew and a 4:30 am arrival at home was all we needed to wrap up a perfect trip. So ask me again if I thought it was worth going into Upper Cherry at low water... Well, I can't think of anywhere else in the world I would have rather have been...