Thursday, July 01, 2004

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

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