Monday, July 19, 2004

The 7 Rivers Expedition is Complete...

Visit the Offical 7 Rivers Website to Purchase the Whitewater Adventure DVD
Click Here

Visit the official DVD Periodical of this Whitewater Expedition.
Click Here

John and Toby, along with our friend Travis, completed the eighth and final free-flowing river in our expedition lineup.

The boys and girls are headed home with lots of pictures and film. Here is all I have for now.

From Nikola Kelly via Email

"Hi Daniel,

Here’s my part of the Grand Canyon, Toby is giving the paddlers view. we are having problems getting my photos to take on this computer, john the wizard is sorting. ps can you do my spell check!

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, the last of the great high sierras, it was always dubious if we were going to be able to obtain this one, water shortage and the scary usa government seemed to be against us. But whilst driving out of the Kings Canyon, jacked from the trip of a life time, plans for the final descent of the illegal last river were set in place, maybe a little in denial that our dreamful kayak trip could be coming to an end.

So there we were, only three left from the team plus our friend, sifting around the Yosemite national park madness, we were weekend visitors trying to blend in. Scoping out the scene, Monday was our put on day, the day we were too bet the Man. Because of Homeland Security threats, excessive ranger activity and my fragile visa existence in America I opted to be trail support. An innocent Kiwi girl taking a walk down the river, radio in hand to warn the boys of possible threats, rather gripping experience for the boys I think. I enjoyed the different pace, waltzing along the track, light pack, but must admit, water passage is a much more efficient and exciting form of transport.

I will let Toby tell the story from the on-water rats.

Hope that’s ok we are hitting the road so a quick jobby."

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Grand Canyon of the T paddler report

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, from the water.

Four AM wake up, five AM put on. It was rough, but as the guidebook says, useful for “avoiding conflict” with the rangers. It worked pretty well until John discovered that his helmet was still in the van. During the run to get his helmet, John, um "soiled" his pants. Now we have one more thing to give John (AKA Isheet MeDrawers) a hard time about.

Once on the river, it was mad bombing to the top of the portage above Glen Aulin. The rapids were pretty runnable, but the water was very low. We were very exited to get past Glen Aulin without seeing anyone else. The best rapid of the river is right below G. A., a big slide with a couple of moves on the way down. It is the slide where one of the Knapps does an aerial 360 spin in the old liquidlifestyles video.

Below that slide it was flat meadows, interspersed with mostly unrunnable huge waterfalls all the way down to the top of Waterwheel Falls. I think that we may have run one rapid in this whole section.

Waterwheel Falls is enormous, not good to go at any level. We knew that we would have to portage it just from looking at the postcards at the gift shop in Tuolumne Meadows. So on to the shoulder went the boats. And there they stayed for the next hour as we switch backed down the hill. Below Waterwheel it seemed that all of the cool bedrock that we had expected was covered by enormous rock piles. We would bang through one section of manky rocks only to discover that the river disappeared into sieves in the next rapid. Back on the shoulder went the boats. Every now and again we would get back into the river when it flattened out and the sieves became less heinous. Even then it was a butt bruising experience. This was pretty much the routine all the way down to the top of the Muir Gorge. I think that we ended up being able to run two or three good rapids in this section.

Once at the top of the Muir Gorge we got on the radio with Nikki, she reported very difficult hiking around it. We had been told by Scott that it was all good, just when you get to the unscoutable one, run it five feet off the left wall. It was supposed to be an easy plop into the pool below. We found nothing that was good to go five feet off the left and nothing that plopped into a pool. All that was in there was one sketchy rock pile after another. Luckily we were able to scout everything and portage a lot. The last portage was the scariest. It involved a marginal jump onto a rock in the middle, then a traverse down the sharp spine on another rock to yet a third rock. In order to get from the second to the third rock we had to lower ourselves as far as we could hang and then drop down to the slick, wet rock from which we could seal launch. Passing the loaded kayaks from man to man through these moves was no picnic to say the least.
Below the Muir gorge it back into the rock piles and the portaging. We camped for the night at the first flat spot that we could find; exhausted and very glad to have survived the Muir gorge.

Day Two there were two more cool slides and a lot of rock piles and portages down to Pate valley. Below Pate Valley it gorged up again and many manky rock pile rapids and sieve portages brought us to the lake.

All in all we ran seven good rapids, hiked about as many miles with our boats and all swore that we would never go back. The consensus was that the guidebook is right, a backpack is the best way to see the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Middle Kings Day 5 "9 The Bottom Nine"

Having seemed to perfect it, we awoke and were, once again, deep in the shit. Or more accurately, right above 'the shit.'

Toby on the lower nine

photo by Nikki Kelly

*** Allow me to set the stage. We were 9 miles from the confluence, with a 2-mile hike up a big hill, then a 5-hour car ride direct to Sactown. Tommy Hilleke had a 1030 pm flight out of said large valley town on same said Day 5 of our Middle Kings trip. As you can imagine, we didn’t arrive at the airport on time (or even close to on time). Par for the course for Mr. Hilleke and crew.

Our original plan was to make miles into lower 9 on Day 4, but we underestimated the distance from our Fourth of July camp to Tehippiti Dome. When we arrived at the meadows below the dome most of the group was wore out and not ready to pass out of site of the ‘big rock’.

Still planning on giving the ‘airport on time’ plan a good college try, we awoke at 6 am, ate the last of our foodstuffs and hit the river. The sun was still a good two hours away from cracking into the gorge, and it was a bit cold and dark dropping in. Tales of the bottom nine usually feature comments like; “Mad-Bombing”, “we should have scouted more”, “hell, we should have portaged more”. Buffy remembered a lot of blind luck and wishful thinking delivering their crew swiftly through this final section of the river. Tommy claimed we would ‘bomb at will’ and ‘not get out of our kayaks for an hour at a time’. Not.

For Video of Day 5.
Click Here

Once again not a whole bunch of the action was caught on tape by myself, reason forthcoming.

The riverbed was littered with huge boulders and every corner presented another skyscraping horizon line. We began with some immediate “must-lookers”, meaning a scout was advised for all boaters by a ‘point’ man, who did not feel comfortable enough to send everyone through with just oral directions. The third big rapid saw Nikki take a hell-a hole ride, I was sure she would swim, twice. After fighting the hole for a good minute, she won the rodeo and pulled into the eddy, looking a bit disgruntled. She muttered something about, “to early after breakfast for shit like that”.

The next big rapid (conveniently located at the end of the pool from where Nikki surfed) was recognized as the cataract from which Nate Helms had swum two years prior. Tommy of course ran it without scouting and immediately signaled for everyone to get out and look at it. “Big Hole” was the specific sign utilized. We scouted and found a long boulder entrance featuring a well-formed 5-foot pourover with boxed in sidewalls at the exit. The backwash (the water returning upstream after a nasty hole which hinders the downstream progress of a paddler) seemed to be uniform and some distance from the fall. Determined to stick it, I set off on my proposed line. Right near the bad hole a piece of water deflected me right when I thought I would have gone left and I ‘augured’ into the right wall. The next 60 seconds saw my boat locked in sideways and me getting my ass beat. I tried the ‘upside down Jesus pose’, where a paddler rolls upside down and attempts to grab the water at the bottom of the river, like Jesus with his arms outstretched to the sky, and pull his or herself out and away from the hole. At one point I thought I had won my freedom, but upon returning to the surface found myself just as locked into the hole as in the beginning. Sensing the futileness of my situation, I released my paddle and pulled my skirt.
From years of experience of swimming out of nasty holes, I always find the easiest way to freedom is to ball up and head for the bottom and hook into the outflow almost always found there. As soon as you make contact, spring out with your legs in the direction of the water going downstream. Worked like a charm, only problem was there was a large ‘fence’ of rocks on the river floor, and I ran headlong into them with a pretty good deal of speed. The result was a big flash of light and a disorienting spin. I broke the surface and caught a rope provided by Mr. Hilleke. My head and ear hurt like a somofabitch and my balance/equilibrium was shot. Worst thing was I had to watch my 3500 camera float off the top of the next big drop.

Through the course of the next 30 minutes all my gear was retrieved, the camera dried out and my bell became a little clearer. This being 830 a.m., and only two miles into the nine, we were still optimistic to make our 2 o’clock takeout. The first big drop I ran I melted down underwater filling my ear canal with water and producing a shocking pain, a clear indicator that I had done something to my eardrum.

Every horizon line proved to be long, involved and littered with large boulders. With my head all wobbly I chose to walk some of these earlier big ones, but Tommy, Nikki and the crew managed to run most of the rapids.

And Toby again

photo by Nikki Kelly

After an early lunch I got to feeling better and joined in the “Mad Bombing”, as our 2 o’clock takeout time overtook us we were still working through big ass drop after big ass drop, with no end in site. We portaged a few times, but most of the lower half of the lower nine proved to, overall, be spectacularly clean.

Daniel post bell ringing

photo by Nikki Kelly

Just like they said in the Driftwood film,
“We arrived at the confluence tired and amazed that such a steep river could be so runnable”
-or something like that.

A group photo at the get out. Certainly an incredibly motley crew for such a big undertaking.
One Kiwi, an Alabamian, two Floridians a Tennessean and a Hoosier.

Nikki Kelly, Tommy Hilleke, Daniel DeLaVergne, Buffy Bailey Burge, Toby MacDermott and John Grace.
photo by Nikki Kelly

We took between 54 minutes and an hour and half to reach the top of the Yucca Point Trailhead, two steep miles above the confluence of the South and Middle Kings.

Relieved to find cold water and colder beer, we had little time to enjoy the grandeur of the Kings Canyon. We loaded fast and headed out for SAC, most sad to see such a prolific whitewater odyssey coming to a close. Others were deep in thought, trying to logistically put together what would be the sketchiest river of the Eight, and the final piece of the puzzle.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Day 4 Video

Here is a short bit of the film we shot on the fourth day.

Sorry for the lack of kayaking footage. Grace was on video point most of the day and I don't have any of his footage yet.

Click Here

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Middle Kings Day 4

Day 4

Awakening to a warm, sunny day, we set off for Ant Camp and the Big Dome. We ran a bunch of class III-IV down to ant camp. It is here that the rapids get real big and bouldery, not as big as day 5, but big nonetheless.

Tommy enthusiastically avoiding a large sieve.

photo by Nikki Kelly

And again.

photo by Nikki Kelly

We made our way through a myriad of boulder drops, not getting out too much to video or take photos. Instead we got into our groove and enjoyed a continuous class V boogie, boat-scouting, bombing session.

After hours of running the shit, we came to the aweinspiring Tohippity Dome (sp?).
This huge granite dome shoots straight out of the river right bank straight to the sky.

photo by Nikki Kelly

photo by Nikki Kelly

We made camp just below the dome, and right above “the Bottom 9” miles. These rapids turned out to some of the biggest, most challenging of our entire trip.

Monday, July 12, 2004

"Whitewater Classics" on the Middle Kings

Here is what a new guidebook “Whitewater Classics”, by Tyler Williams, had to say about the Middle Kings River.

Note: this book has some badass rivers in it. I had not seen it till over at the Burge’s, great read, I highly recommend it.

“Running the Middle Fork of the Kings is the ultimate whitewater adventure in the Sierra Nevadas. A trip down the Middle Kings crosses the breadth of the mountain range, and finishes in the foothills 50 miles downstream. En route, the river drops nearly 8,000 feet in elevation. The journey requires one to two days of hiking to reach the put-in, followed by five to seven days of paddling. There are class V rapids every day of the trip, and a handful of class VI drops. One could hardly create a more perfect setting for cutting-edge wilderness whitewater than the Middle Fork of the Kings.

The first exploration of the river was just one piece of an audacious plan to run all three rivers that bisect the southern Sierra Nevada. The rivers are the San Joaquin, the Kern, and the Kings. The adventures who made it their mission to descend all three in kayaks were Reg Lake, Royal Robbins, and Doug Tompkins……

They systematically ran the three major trans-sierra rivers in consecutive seasons, starting with the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin in 1980. This descent is considered the most impressive of the three, as the group had to employ a great deal of problem solving technique gained through their climbing experience to portage their way through the San Joaquin’s sheer-walled gorges. It was the Middle Fork of the Kings, however that Royal Robbins remembers as the “toughest of the three”.

“Whitewater Classics, Fifty North American Rivers Picked by the Continent’s Leading Paddlers” , Tyler Williams, Funhog Press, Flagstaff, AZ, 2004.

** Hats off to Robbins, Lake and Thomkins for their bold plan and attainment of the goal. Cheers to Scott, the Kerns, Buffy, The Knapps, Mark Hayden and BJ for sticking the modern day descent.

****There is lots more to the Middle Kings story in the book, check it out. There are also great stories about the Fantasy Falls Run and northern classics, the Homathko and the Stikine.

For the FUNHOG PRESS website
Click Here

Here is a link to purchase the title from REI
Click Here

Also in the book is a great bio on Buffy. and I quote

"The Middle Fork of the Kings remains her most memorable Sierra Nevada descent. Thus far, she is only one of three females to have made the grueling wilderness trip."

Well, lets see, two of those girls are Buffy and Nikki, sooo, they have both paddled the river twice now, seconded only by Tommy Hilleke, John Grace, Scott Lindgren (3 peater, the man) and thats it. Fellas looks like you're a bit behind.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Middle Kings Day 3 Video

There is a pile of rapids on this day, so I broke the video up into 3 sections. The basically represent the three 'gorges'.

Day 3 Gorge One Video (quicktime)
Click Here

Day 3 Gorge Two Video (quicktime)
Click Here

Day 3 Gorge Three Video (quicktime)
Click Here

Friday, July 09, 2004

Middle Kings Day 3 "The Meat of the Run" aka The Gorges

Toby dropping in day 3.

photo by Nikki Kelly

We awoke and immediately were in the shit, thick. All negotiated the first part of the upper gorge successfully. Buffy was second to last to drop into the middle and got stomped in a nasty hole. She swam and self-rescued herself by fighting up a big boulder on the river left (ironically the same cave where Tommy was vertically extracted two years prior). Unfortunately, her boat took off and ran the huge slide before she had the opportunity to re-board.

Tommy in the first gorge

photo by Nikki Kelly

The boys in the second part of the first gorge.

photo by Nikki Kelly

photo by Nikki Kelly

After this action you roll onto the biggest slide of the river.

Here is a shot of Tommy from the top of the slide.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Right below this slide comes the gorge with the waterfall and then a portage.

Toby running the waterfall gorge.

photos by Nikki Kelly

Buffy Bailey Burge running the waterfall.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Tommy hauling boats up the portage.

photo by Nikki Kelly

After the portage you drop back into the river and run the classic Willie Kern meltdown rapid. Here is a shot of Buffy.

photo by Nikki Kelly

This gorge leads to another, even tighter gorge with some serious “stuff”.

Here are the boys giving Nikki “the Stare”, mid scout gorge three.

phot by Nikki Kelly

Scouting the 30 footer deep in the third gorge.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Tired and with a broken kayak we made our Fourth of July camp in a flatter section of the river.
No big party, just a little bit of potato vodka and a couple of flint bombs and our fireworks show was over.

Middle Kings Day 2

Day 2

We awoke early and made our way down to the river. A foreboding sky was already building and we were anxious to get on the river. Right before we left, the forerunners of a group behind us made it to the river. JD Batove, Reiley Cathcart, Rick Smith, a kiwi and a guy named Dave were planning on a seven-day trip down to Pine Flat res. We were on a tighter time schedule and planned on 4 days of kayaking, with a takeout at the confluence of the Middle and South Kings.

John Grace somewhere day 1 of paddling.

photo by Nikki Kelly

The intial steep and manky section of the river was rather low and was easiest to navigate via the PCT located on the side of the river. After making several confluences we made it to the high meadow section. This winding flat section seen in the Driftwood movie is perhaps the greatest natural fish hatchery in the high Sierra.

John Grace somewhere up high

photo by Nikki Kelly

After dropping out of the Meadow we ran some great drops, highlighted by a REAL tight slot leading into a 15 foot cauldron. The boys portaged this drop on their high water mission 2 years ago and we were fired up to get to run it.
Here is that falls again.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Lunch Day 2

photo by Nikki Kelly

After running numerous big slides and such we were over it and ready to camp. We made our way down to what is known as “sick camp”. A medium heavy, cold rain began to fall as soon as our drytops came off. We sat around a raging fire while the skies unloaded.

After a hour the rain subsided and we fixed dinner and simply relaxed. Just before dark we walked the next section known as “the gorges” section. The river drops over 650 feet in just over a mile. Needless to say the action was thick and stacked up. We feel asleep with eager anticipation to run all of the badass rapids we had just scouted.

Middle Kings Day 1

Middle Fork of the Kings River

After our 5 hour Devil’s Postpile shuttle ride through Yosemite, the strain of the trip could be seen on everyone’s faces (or maybe it was the strain from John Grace’s driving. Still glad to be alive and on the other side of the Crucible, we were facing a steeply dropping Middle Kings. The High Sierra had been experiencing massive thunderstorms since before we set out on the San Joaquin. We needed to rest and recoup, shop for 6 days worth of overnighter foodstuffs, and organize our pack mules for the trip over the pass.

Buffy flew into LA on Monday for a visit with friends, and then headed to Bishop via bus. Clay Wright and Jed Weingarten caught wind of our trip and rang up to see if they could join our group. We gave them a big “thumbs up” and planned a sunset rendezvous at the Hot Creek Hot Springs just outside of Mammoth Lakes.

The hotsprings, very rejuvenating.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Al g taking the dare and swimming across the “hot spot”.

Sunrise at our high desert camp.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Along with Jed and Clay, Dixie-Marree Pricket and Christie Dobson joined us at our desert camp. We spent the next two days fixing kayaking, loading gear and related off river work. We spoke with several mountain climbers in Bishop trying to arrange human porters to help schlep our gear the 13 miles to the put-in. We found prices high and enthusiasm low, so we headed up to the Rainbow Pack Station to work out a mule train at least to the top of the pass.

The bizarre weather of the previous 6 weeks had led to a minimum of snowmelt at the highest elevations. The packers felt that the chance of clearing the pass was grim to none. Faced with the reality of hauling our fully loaded boats most of the way to the river, we repacked our gear, attempting to save valuable ounces of weight. Due to a previous ankle injury and lack of porters to carry all of his gear, Jed bailed out the night before we were to start. Our group called it an early night, falling asleep to the sounds of Clay packing his bags.

To our surprise we awoke to Clay also saying he was out, fearing the 6.5 miles of downhill into the Le Conte canyon would ruin his knees. Fred, who suffered a lower abdominal tear also backed out, due to his inability to perform even the smallest sit-up.
So we headed to the pack station three less and six strong.

The hike to the top of the pass (5ish miles) was a real pleasure with just our kayaks and no gear. Sooner than later we reached the first snowfield and decided to wait to ensure that the donkeys could clear it. Sure enough they made it most of the way to the top, but were stopped mid switchbacks. Our crew attempted to clear the way, but the first Donkey fell and was unable to get up until her pack was cleared from her back. It was here that we reunited with all our gear. Day hikers Clay Wright and Al G helped the boaters get their gear to the top of the pass.

The top.

photo by Nikki Kelly

John Grace and Baloo the Dog

photo by Nikki Kelly

After a short break we headed down the hill into Dusy Basin. We hiked for another four hours fully loaded until we reached ‘the brink”. The river right wall of the LeConte Canyon of the Middle Kings lay across the large pit below us. We hiked half way down “the switchbacks from hell” aka the Knee Buster walk and made camp on a lower bench. We met two Pacific Crest Trail hikers who were headed to Bishop for a resupply. The one who had come from downstream informed us that there was “some stuff” down there and that we were going to have to get out of the river a lot.

The view of LeConte Canyon from the brink.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Kicking it at “the Brink” after 8 hours of hiking.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Video from Day "The Big Hike"
Click Here

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Middle Kings River- "Trip of a Lifetime."

We made it out of the Kings river in 5 days. The trip was more than words can explain. Hopefully the following pictures and video and stories can help bring this amazing place to you.

Gotta run for the day but here are some images from the beg. of the trip.

Fred Coriell, Al Gregory, Buffy Bailey Burge, Nikki Kelly, Danniel DeLaVergne, John Grace, Toby MacDermott, Tommy Hilleke at the trailhead for Bishop Pass, 13 miles from the river.

Our gear headed up Bishop Pass (Donkey's no make it, we carry all stuff long way.)

photo by Nikki Kelly

Buffy Bailey Burge at the top of the pass. This is girl is smiling way too big for what she just did.

photo by Nikki Kelly

A snow storm that hit us at the top of the pass.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Corection: This the "Brink" looking into LeConte Canyon.

photo by Nikki Kelly

A fall on day one. Top of the rapid where a "squeeze play" is neccesary.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Tommy post sqeeze play. Day one falls

photo by Nikki Kelly

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Headed to the Middle Kings River

We are headed out to the Rainbow Pack Station to coordinate our mule porters for our hike tomorrow. We will start hiking in the morning, 13 some-odd miles and to the put in at LeConte Canyon. The hike climbs 2500 vertical feet to Bishop Pass and then drops down the other side through a series of killer switchbacks. Hope fully the mules will be able to clear the pass and carry our gear all the way to the river. Otherwise we will have to carry our fully loaded, 100-pound kayaks down the knee exploding trail.

We will take 1 day to hike and 4 days to paddle the 6400 feet of gradient that makes up the Middle Kings River.

More reports to follow.

Devil's Postpile Day 4

Day 4

We awoke from “Purgatory Camp” to a bunch of restless energy. Tommy and Fred went to retrieve the safety line and climbed up the lone cedar tree once more. They eked their way to the very top and were able to see a bit better into the right side of the river. They felt we would be able to paddle down the right hand wall and reach the pool with the exit crack above the last falls.

They removed our safety rope (our exit strategy below Broken Arrow, should we find our way impassable) and headed back to camp. The rest of the crew awoke to the finality of their decision and began to go to “war” and make it out the other side.

The first drop

photo by Nikki Kelly

We portaged the first drop and a team dropped in via the ultra-classic “Broken Arrow” Falls. The rock we planned to scout on proved to be too marginal, with most of the flow draining into a huge sieve pocket, not passable by kayak, we began to boat scout the right slot. All appeared to go down the right hand wall and the three of us dropped in. We proceeded down the right wall through a huge hole, splatted the wall and paddled into the pool above the last drop.

Daniel and Tommy dropping in to the crucible.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Tommy scouted from the left, felt the 9 foot drop was marginal due to the pocket in dropped into, but it was better than the portage. Feeling anxious, I took his directions, paddled like a banshee, dropped into the pocket and fought my way to freedom. Never have I ever been so happy to be one the other side of any place on any river ever as I was at that moment. Trust me.

Tommy on the last drop of the crucible.

photo by Nikki Kelly

We spent some time in “Shangri-La” checking out the falls and celebrating our “graduation” from the Crucible. We set out downstream headed for the confluence of the South Fork and an exit from the Crucible Gorges and the foreboding wall of the Balloon Dome.

The falls below the cruicible

photo by Nikki Kelly

To our surprise we found another four to five gorges with vertical walls shooting up forever high. To our good fortune the huge boulders in the streambed allowed us to portage the overwhelmingly huge sieves at river level. We wrapped around the end of the Balloon Dome and enjoyed a long lunch at the confluence.

For some reason or another we thought we had 4800 feet of gradient to drop total, and had still another 1200 to go. We headed down the now enlarged streambed (which held the river’s water much better). Tommy ran some big drops we chose to portage, but after a while we joined the mad bombing and made good downstream progress. Around 530, thinking we were in for another night, we rolled upon a huge blue heron and Osprey, and then there was the lake.

We made it, all we had left to do was paddle 7 miles across the reservoir to the Mammoth Pool Dam.

Good fortune was with us, and a fine gentleman named Leon and his family gave us a ride across the lake in their pontoon boat. Al G met us at the boat ramp wit h Pizza and Beer.

On the way to Fresno we came across a huge mountain lion in the road, a real special treat, topping off one of the finest river missions any of us had ever been on.

To check out footage from Day 4

Click Here

Devil's Postpile Day 3

Devil’s Postpile Day 3

Starting out of Pine Flat we were hunting down the confluence with the North Fork of the San Joaquin. The Driftwood boys schedule put us camping here and we were trying to keep up with their schedule.

We ran a number of big water gorges with lots of water; we then dropped into a large meadow featuring incredible camping. It seemed as if we were going to get away with our high water run down the Postpile.

Toby in the bigwater action.
Photo by Nikki Kelly

The words from the guidebook, “half the group hiked out at Miller’s Crossing”, and “most of the big drops are below Miller’s Crossing”, nagged at our thoughts. We arrived at the crossing and were looking downstream into one of the most foreboding Granite Gorges I’ve ever seen. We prematurely dropped into the vertical walled canyon and immediately bailed out.

Fred instigated a big scout on the river right and found a high, somewhat intensive portage. We made it around the dome in about 30 minutes and proceeded to drop into another series of gorges. This was where we found the river to go completely under granite bedrock, very bizarre.

We floated around the corner into a heavenly meadow, situated right below the ever-impressive Balloon Dome. It was here that we encountered the most vertical walled section yet. Another high scout revealed the gorge to be paddlable, so after a long lunch and a fish slaying, we dropped in.

We ran some walled in drops, rolled around corner through an inescapable gorge. We portaged 2 drops and found ourselves at the top of an unscoutable gorge. We walked out the river right wall as far as possible and found the “Broken Arrow” falls, indicating that we were in fact within “the” Crucible Gorge. Paddling into this place has been defined as the defining moment in a kayaker’s career. Who ever said that was right. With our high flow we were very hesitant to drop into this gorge that we could not scout. We could see a beautiful pool and a 100 some-odd-foot falls cascading into a wooded meadow. It was as if we were in Hell with Shangri-la 200 yards and a million miles away. Toby crossed a very marginal piece of granite, climbed the only tree around and gave a “very sketch” report on the rapids below our eyesight.

Scouting the crucible day three
photo by Nikki Kelly

Discouraged from the river we set out to find a way out and around the gorge. After a disheartening and ever-increasingly lonely jaunt around the surrounding granite gorge, the reality of our situation set in. It was then 5 pm and we had not one acceptable solution for exiting the gorge. We once again set out on to the river right slab and set up a safety rope to the tree. Fred climbed even higher in the tree and felt that if we could get out on this steep rock in the middle of the river, then we could rock jump around the first two rapids and be in a position to ascend the crack the Driftwood boys had used on their second trip.

With the plan in place we found only one spot to camp, a sand pothole right at the top of the Crucible. That night, be it due to stress, exhaustion, food poisoning or a mix of all, Toby became ill and was puking out the back of the eddy at camp.

The view from "purgatory camp".

photo by Nikki Kelly

“I have never felt so lonely with six people in my whole life.” - Tommy Hilleke

That night a sense of heaviness pervaded camp. We truly had no option but to drop into the unportagable gorge and hope everything worked out all right. I lay down, watching the moon rise on the big pool below the Crucible. I awoke several times during the night, only to be reminded of my predicament by the soaring granite cliff above our heads.

To check out footage from Day 3

Click Here

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Devil's Postpile Day 2

Day Two of the Devil’s Postpile

We awoke at what we now know as the spot where Clay Wright pinned his boat and hiked out. We began our descent into the first deep gorge. After running several slides, one over 300 feet long but low angle, we came upon a tight corner with a tricky rapid with a big hole at the bottom. Tommy ran down the meat and the rest of us chose to portage. After dropping back in to the gorge we ran three drops, the last an excellent 15-foot falls/slide.

John Grace

photo by Nikki Kelly

After paddling through this gorge we began to enter the upper crack in the earth gorge, where the river cuts through the high Sierra.

Using the safety link method we began to drop deeper and deeper into the gorge. With only six people we had a maximum of six drops of safety. Meaning that we could only exit the vertical walled gorge by ascending the river upstream, with each paddler providing the anchor point for the next paddlers down to exit. We ran out of safety line 3 drops before the end of the gorge. Feeling severely claustrophobic, Tommy and myself began a short mad bombing session, delivering us to the brink of a large falls. After setting up an anchor in the wall to “dock” our boats, I poked my head over edge and to my delight saw the ultra-classic “boof-o-matic falls”, a 20 some-odd foot slide into a ten-foot kicker.

photo by Nikki Kelly

After the falls was a gorge with 3 huge poor over holes. After a bit of contemplation by our scout Toby, we decided to portage the lower gorge on the river left. A short session of rope work later we were at the base of the gorge and realized that the drops would have gone. Next time.

We had lunch right above Fish Creek. It was here that I tested out the Blue Fox “Vibramax” 1/16 oz spinner on the local trout. 15 casts later I had hooked landed and released 15 trout, from 6 to 12 inches long. The finest trout-fishing spinner ever invented. Hands down.

After fish Creek the river flow doubled and we were definitely floating on the ‘juice”. Some of the best big water rapids were run near the end of Day two.

We made camp at “Pine Flat” where we ran across two rattlesnakes in our camp.

“Age 16-34, Male, between the forefinger and elbow.”

Messing with the rattler.

photo by Nikki Kelly

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