Sunday, December 11, 2011

A New Generation: Part III: Big Pine Lakes

By now, we had the High Sierra bug. After Cottonwood Lakes we were already looking forward to getting Maggie out on her first multi-day camping trip. We ended up getting a few days mid-week to sneak away and we decided to hit up the Big Pine Lakes area.

With another great 5-6 mile hike into the first couple of lakes and several lakes to venture to past those, this was a great place to spend a few days. You also get to pass an old cabin that used to be owned by Charleton Heston (now the USFS) and a very lush area of Aspen and flowers (that were in full bloom during our hike).

This area was a bit more traveled than Cottonwood lakes and we had more than a few interactions with curious hikers who found our party amusing. After a little poking around, we found a great little spot for our camp and settled in.

Every day with the little one is a learning experience for all of us. On our first car camping trip to Ladybug in Sequoia National Park, I set Maggie down on our bags while I took the tent down. A few second later I heard a little scream and turned around to find that she had rolled off the bags into a pile of leaves. I quickly brushed the leaves out of her mouth and made her promise not to tell her mother - now I am more creative when finding places to stick her while I have to do stuff...

Everyone seemed pretty happy with camp...

The next day we spent the morning checking out the area between the first two lakes - clearly an old mining area with lots of interesting artifacts as well as a cascade between the two lakes.

After a bit, we set off to check out the other lakes. We found a spot for camp at lake #5 and then set out adventuring for the day.

Along with amazing vistas, we saw the biggest tad pols I have ever seen in my life, their bodies were the size of ping pong balls!

After we had about enough, we headed back to camp for some leisure time.

It seems like you can't go wrong in the Eastern Sierra, but Big Pine was a big hit with us. Great camping and lots of little side adventures, many of which we were not able to get to. The next morning we loaded up and headed back to the car, very thankful that Maggie is happiest when she is out and about.

Of Course Sherman was very happy too...

A New Generation Part II: Cottonwood Lakes

After a successful camping trip into Manter Meadow, we decided that Maggie needed her first High Sierra Trip. Again, easy access was important since we were not sure how well she would handle altitude, but we had an added complication this time around. After we lost Copper and Lucy, the house seemed too quiet - yes, even with a newborn. So, after some discussion of whether it was a smart thing to do or not (and it probably wasn't), I decided to add another family member - Sherman.

A great option seemed to be Cottonwood Lakes, about a 5-6 mile hike in that is dog friendly. We knew that Maggie enjoyed hiking, but had no idea how Sherman would feel about the whole thing, much less 6 miles at around 10,000 ft. We couldn't have been more pleased about his hiking ability and behavior, his Marmot Poop eating and bed hogging behavior on the other hand needs some work...

Cottonwood Lakes are spectacular, especially when you have them all to yourselves as we did. While the bugs were bad in the trees, we were able to avoid them by camping on an exposed knoll.

I'm not sure we could have picked a better place for her introduction to the High Sierra - with a view of Langley out of our tent and the clear Sierra night sky it was perfect

For those who would contemplate bringing a newborn to this altitude, there are some issues. The low pressure caused the breast milk to come out like a jet, which resulted in some feeding issues. If you already have supplemented with bottle feeding that might be a better way to go. Of course, I'm not a doctor (well I am, but not the right kind), so talk to your physician to figure out what is best for you.

We were sad to go, we would have loved to have stayed up there longer; but it was time to go and we will certainly be back with Maggie next year.

A New Generation Part I: Manter Meadow

It has been a little while since we posted here. For those who know us, we welcomed Maggie Merced Giddens into the world on June 3rd. She came into the world happy, health and very alert. From the day we got her home it was evident that she was happy when she was on the move - I guess all that time in Rebecca's belly while adventuring seemed to carry through into her personality. So move is what we did...

After a little adjustment time (both for Maggie and Rebecca) we decided that everyone was ready for her first camping trip. We figured something manageable like Manter Meadow would be a good start. A pleasant 3-4 mile hike into a wonderful meadow in the middle of the Domeland Widerness. This seemed like a good place to start for a few reasons; first, it was a short hike so we could get out quickly if we needed, and second, there is a spring so that we didn't have to carry water along with all the extra baby stuff that now was added to our kit.

She loved the hike, looking all around at the great wide world - at least until she had enough and fell asleep. At camp she was a trooper, mostly sleeping and eating, but always up for some sort of adventure when those two things were not going on.

We met our friends Dave and Alison (and Charlie) later that afternoon and it was nice to share her first camping trip trip with them.

It wasn't the best night of sleep under the stars, but I have had worse. Certainly it was exciting to be out there with a new baby girl with a whole world full of adventures ahead of her...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A little break...

It has been a while since we have posted here - we are still doing fun stuff, but little Maggie is taking up most of our free time, and I mean that in a good way. Here is a little video that Spencer Josif did of our Upper Cherry Creek trip this year. As always it was an amazing experience...

Upper Cherry Creek from Spencer Josif on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


With all of the high water in the Southern Sierra this year, it has been a little more of a challenge finding steep, low volume runs. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been fortunate enough to get two high quality runs that are new to me; the Upper South Fork of the Kaweah and the Upper Tule (aka the South Fork of the Middle Fork, aka the Nelson Branch). If you are looking for water falls, these runs are a good place to start; they also have some pretty unique scenery and will certainly be put on my "to do" list every spring.

Upper South Fork of the Kaweah

I had heard about this run from a couple of people, and it wasn't exactly a glowing report. Yeah, there was a nice 20 footer in there, but people were not exactly lining up for this stretch. Part of the problem, I believe, was the access points; if you use the public access at the bridge near the park boundary and the road bridge that is the put-in for The Shatner Ranch stretch, I think there are a fair number of portages and it would probably make this a long day. If, however, you ask some land owners nicely, you may be able to put in about a mile below the park boundary bridge and take out at the first foot bridge, which leaves you exactly zero portages and a very enjoyable run.

The night before we had ran into the Italian Hammer Crew; they had just gotten off the Shatner run and were excited to find something with a little more classic California bedrock. They had briefly looked at the upper run but the water seemed high for a run they didn't know anything about and they elected not to go in. While I had no idea what the Upper run would be like, I was pretty sure there would be at least one good drop, and the weather had cooled significantly and the river was dropping so they were stoked to join up. In the end, the level was 1.6 on the SF gauge, which I would call a perfect medium level.

Along with the Kernville Crew, Austin, Spencer, Evan and Johnny, it was going to be a big group, but it ended up working out well in the end.
Austin had some beta that we should approach some land owners below the 20 footer for permission to take out; they were super kind and had absolutely no problem with it. In fact, they were very interested in our trip. We also found a put in with a slightly worn trail in the grass (probably from the previous couple of groups that had boated the run this year) which put us in about a mile below the "normal" put-in. You know you are in the right spot if the first drop you see is the one pictured below; not very big, but a meaty hole with a big boil on the left side.

Hammer Crew Party Drop #1: Gio

Waiting for the shuttle, we stared at the hole long enough for it to start growing. It was getting to the point where putting in below it seemed like the right thing to do, but once the shuttle arrived, Daniel (Hammer-Crew lead boat) and I hurried up and got in to do it. After a little odd-even match, I ended up probing. It went well, and everyone that followed suite made it through without too much excitement.

What followed next was a long stretch of read and run class IV with one significant class V drop (to my recollection) which was fairly soon off the bat. There was a technical lead-in to a two stage drop with a potentially uncomfortable run-out if the first drop got the bet of you. Daniel fired it up first and made it look good, so the rest of us followed. This time there was some significant action with Spencer and Evan executing quick rolls on the lip of the second drop. Gigi's (Hammer-Crew member) action is shown below

Hammer Time!

About a mile or less above the big drop (which you can see from the road), you start to enter a granite section. Above this I would say the characteristic is much like the North Fork of the Kaweah with boulder problems being the main characteristic. Once you enter this gorge it feels much more like the East Fork, granite slides and large house-sized boulders dominating.

Evan exiting the first rapid of the Granite Gorge
The first rapid in this gorge is probably the most difficult one on the river; a multi-drop affair with a giant boulder splitting the flow before a chunky 10 foot ledge. The ledge is hard to scout from the top of the drop, so you can either run part way through and eddy out right above the ledge or just trust that the right side goes (albeit bumpy). Under no circumstances should you probe the far left side. Just saying.

Spencer in the Slide section
Just below this drop are a series of three fun slides. I didn't get pictures of the first two, but again, think bottom half of the East Fork

Gigi loves getting pics in my blog!

Evan bracing through the final slide

Austin Charging

There are a couple of more boulder drops before the highlight of the run, the 20 footer.

Spencer - check out the Monkey flower in the background...

The lead in is somewhat complicated, so make sure you pay attention before you get too excited for the falls. Also the eddy on the right has a very green water landing (at least at our flows), so a super boof right would not be recommended. It looks like it really wants to launch you off the lip, but after running it, I would say that is deceiving. Go ahead and try and boof back to the center. The face plant works, but feels a little silly (I speak from experience)

Austin on South Fork Falls

Another cool thing about this drop is the giant house overlooking it; they were very interested to see us running it and were taking photos from their porch. This drop is definitely classic Kaweah, and even if the rest of the run were marginal, it would almost make it worth it. As it is, the rest of the run is just fine on its own and this is simply the icing on top.

Team Kernville Hammer Crew (Johnny, Evan, Spencer and Gio)
All in all I would say this is a good class V run for when most creeks in the area are too high. The Kaweah was running in the 2100-2500 range, but the South Fork gauge is obviously preferable. I would go in there up to 1.8 without hesitation, but around 2 I think the read and run would get juicy. It could be run lower too, but I am guessing that below 1.4 the slides and falls would still be good but the rest would not be nearly as much fun.

Here is a video edit from Austin Nickell

Upper South Fork Kaweah, Class V from Austin Nickell on Vimeo.

Upper Middle Fork of the Tule: The Nelson Branch

The next week we rallied the Kernville Crew again, this time with the addition of Andrew. The target was the section above the Middle Tule, which is a great run on its own merit. The Tule drains a much lower area of the Sierra than the Kern to its South (and East) and the Kaweah to its North. Due to this, the river had run out of snowpack and the levels were dropping quickly. The Tule at Springville was about 220 cfs the day we ran this section and the gauge on the Nelson Branch (if you walk up the flume to where it diverts from the river was 0.40

This run has some classic big drops in the 10-30 ft range, but be prepared for a long day. We put in at a trail-head 1.5 miles up from the confluence with the Wishon Branch (which is the takeout) and it took us over 4 hours to complete the section; granted we removed a log and took a bunch of photos, but still...

Andrew Drops in
Apparently there is another put-in a little farther upstream that adds a few more drops - but if you put-in at this point the action starts of pretty much right away with the tallest drop of the run, a solid 3o footer (after a short brush portage).

Johnny Dropping in - Evan in the pool below for perspective

WARNING - there is a rock in the center landing of the pool, so DO NOT roll off the center. I had heard rumor of this so I probed the standard right line which involves trying your best not to reconnect hard with the ramping rock at the bottom. Here's a hint, try to get a little of right to left early on the lip so you don't launch off the right side early; this keeps the bow down and creates more of a glancing blow...

Evan's turn


I guess I was surprised to see everyone charge this drop, but enthusiasm was high, which was a great way to start the run.

As cool as the 30 footer was, I thought the run-out of the pool was a really unique drop. It consisted of a short slide into a solid rock corner. You pretty much just had to paddle into the pillow and ride it out...

The next half mile or so had a bunch of fun drops, starting with a fun 12 footer

Evan Stomps the 12'er

Then a long, narrow section followed by another three-tier drop with some creative line potential

Johnny in Sliding off the porch
This is soon followed by another signature double drop

Austin in #1

Spencer in #2

For some reason the Tule has had it out for me this year; I had another flounder moment at he bottom of the second drop where I ended up surfing. Yep, surfing a waterfall. After a little bit of thrashing around I was able to get out, but if it wasn't me, I would have thought it looked pretty funny...

After this, the character of the river degrades somewhat and there are several portages before you get to the end of the run. Many of them look runnable, just not pleasant. There are a couple of cool drops though; one of them slides around a corner and under an overhang.

Andrew in Monkey-Fu

And another nice banking slide

Spencer putting money in the bank
Here is another edit from Austin on this run...

South Fork of the Middle Tule, Class V from Austin Nickell on Vimeo.

Once again, another great day on my second new run in as many weeks. Gotta love living in the Sierra with a new adventure around every corner!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ocoee Copper: 1996-2011

Earlier this year we lost our Basset Hound Lucy after 15 wonderful years; Her brother and best friend (at least with four legs) Copper was left as the only dog in the family as we waited for the birth of our first child. As sad as Copper was to not have Lucy around any more, I do think he enjoyed the extra attention.

But try as you might, you can't stop time and 15 years is a long time for a Basset. But what a fantastic 15 years they were.

Copper and Lucy were doomed from the time we took them home. They were not going to get the standard Basset Life of leisure. Nope, they were tortured from the start. I remember one day, not long after we got them, we were at a race in Tennessee; we had discovered how cute it was when they tripped on their ears. So, of course, the first thing we did was take them to the top of a giant grassy hill and run down with them over and over - they would step on their ears and then tumble the rest of the way down.

From then on, they pretty much went wherever we did, and we were often shocked at the places they could go...

The way it worked most of the time was that Lucy was the brains of the outfit and Copper was the brawn. This was evident the first time we discovered hide-and-seek. We were at the Perception house at the Ocoee when we realized that they would naturally track us by our scent on hikes. We went out behind the house in the woods and one of us would run through the woods while the other held them back then let them loose. What ensued was the classic hunting howl followed by flapping ears and sniffing noses. Lucy was far better at figuring out when we looped back over our scent, but when it came to crossing a log or a creek, Copper was the first across.

And so it went on for years, each of them with their very distinct personalities, but always a great team.

It was always funny when people would adventure with them for the first time. At first they would have these apprehensions that these silly looking dogs would get stuck or have to turn back. Then there would be shock and amazement (and a fair bit if laughter) as they witnessed their determination and surprising stamina. Finally there would be respect for these little dogs and their great, big hearts.

One time, in particular, I remember hiking to the top of Olancha with them, a peak at over 12,000 ft elevation. As we got close to the top the boulder piles were getting bigger and bigger and a storm started getting close. It was clear that we were not going to be able to make it in time if we had to lift them up over each boulder, but they had no intention of being left behind. So we did the only thing we could think of, we tied them together with a pair of rain pants and poncho and then put a rock on them so that we could summit quickly before the storm.

Of course it wasn't always go-time; they had plenty of relaxing Basset time. It was always funny how copper used to like to take breaks in flower patches - we just assumed he was posing for pictures...

He was also the nap-time snuggler extraordinaire; great for sick days (or hangovers).

If he couldn't snuggle with you, he would find Lucy and pile on top of her...

As far as he was concerned, any attention was good attention, even if it meant having his mom dress him up in funny outfits or put peanut butter on the roof of his mouth...

We always made fun of Copper because he was a bit of a sissy, especially compared to his sister who was amazingly tough. It was pretty much the end of the world if he had sap in his paws or if nobody would let him up on the couch. Of course he had that look that would just melt your heart...

But when it came down to it, he was as brave as they come. No fear of heights and certainly no intention of not being there at the end of the adventure...

And in the end, they don't come with hearts any bigger than these two dogs.

They were the first members of our family and taught us so much about love. It was very special to us that Copper stuck around long enough to meet Maggie.

They will be missed always, but we were so lucky to have them and I would like to think they were lucky to have us.

So now our lives have forever changed, we no longer hear their paws on the hardwood floor or their bark at the door to be let in. We no longer have their stinky smells or their warm kisses. The last of the Wild Sierra Bassets are gone.

What we do have is a wonderful baby girl a basset lifetime full of memories. We will tell her about you often.

Thank you so much for your time here and your love. You opened our hearts and created a family for Rebecca and I to share, and for that, and so much more, you will always be remembered.