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...

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