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

Watch Video from Day 1 in widescreen format

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Watch video from Day 1 normal aspect

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Watch Video from Day 2

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What the Guide Book has to say about the Postpile

What “The Best Whitewater in California” by Lars Holbek and Chuck Stanley has to say about the Devil’s Postpile of the Middle San Joaquin.

“This section was first run by Reg Lake, Doug Tompkins and Royal Robbins in the summer of ’80. Chuck and I completed the in three and a half long days in July ’86 and came away elated and impressed. My hat is off to the first descenteers.”

“This is the most demanding run I’ve ever seen. In many places it is like Yosemite Valley, but the walls are only a river’s width apart. The scenery is awesome, as are the portages. The portage through the Crucible area near Balloon Dome requires delicate friction climbing, lots of precarious rope work with people and boats, and flawless teamwork. We ‘blitzed” it in 5 hours”

“This run makes Bald Rock Canyon seem like a Cub Scout campout.”

“If you’ve done all the other high Sierra runs, and want more, this is for you.”

“To quote Chuck, “You’ll have to figure out the shuttle yourself. If you can’t find the put-in, you’ll never get down the river.”

Lars Holbek “The Best Whitewater in California- The Guide to 180 Runs” Watershed Books, Holbek, Stanley, Copywright 1984.1988,1998

A river report from “The Best Whitewater in California” written by Hayden Glatte had this to say about the Devil’s Postpile

“The first time I ran the Middle Fork San Joaquin, in 1988, it was just as intense as it is now. Phil DeRiemer and I had an estimated 50 portages, a few of which we slogs through poison oak and manzanita around impossible mini gorges. After 4 days of adventure we came out on the other end torn, scraped, thrilled to be alive, amazed at the beauty witnessed, and friggin’ dog tired.”

“The next two times I ran it, in ’96, the goal was to stay in the riverbed until absolutely forced higher. We had about 34 portages at the higher flow (650 cfs at Miller Crossing), and 26 portages at the lower flow (410 cfs). We made almost all the portages close to the river; on a few we had to go up and around. At the higher flow we made three rope-assisted portages. One of these, in the Crucible section (just above granite creek), requires roping the boats up a bluff on the river left and then down a slab to a tree still 25 feet above the river. From here we threw the boats in and jumped after them. Anchor slings made life much easier and basic rock gear is useful.

To check out the waterfall at the base of the Crucible Gorge.

Click Here

Video of the Balloon Dome, forming the left hand wall of the Cruicible.

Click Here

Even though we didn’t do any technical rock climbing, there is plenty of very exposed rock clambering. We also still had 4-6 no-option-but-to-run V+ drops due to vertical rock walls. One of these, in the Crucible, is not even scoutable. This run is one of the most beautiful and scary there is. It’s full-on adventure.”

-Hayden Glatte, “The Best Whitewater in California- The Guide to 180 Runs” Watershed Books, Holbek, Stanley, Copywright 1984.1988,1998

"Exactly" -Daniel DeLaVergne

"What they said." -Tommy Hilleke

"You're telling me" -Nikki Kelly

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Devil's Postpile Day 1

Devil’s Postpile of the San Joaquin River Day 1

After a leisurely morning at the Devil’s Postpile National Monument campground with lots of coffee drinking and other such pre-expedition activities designed to stall out the inevitable and approaching high water putin, we began a solid crack of noon start.

All we really knew about the river is that you want the “perfect” water level, which according to Willie Kern is 550-650 cfs flowing into the Mammoth Pool. Rick Smith and Scott Lindgren both told us that we want a meager flow at Rainbow Falls, with the brink of the fall having water all the way across, but barely. They also said that the first rapid should look “not runnable or barely runnable” and that the river should be almost not floatable. We were facing ample flow, easy to float on and the first rapid was “Awesome”.

Willie also told us we were facing a seven-mile “portage” down the river to the “slides”.
We had a pleasant chat with a “bro-bra” ranger who informed us of the new “CFR”, Code of Federal Regulations changes, which made it illegal to kayak in the National Monument. But he did say if he saw us the he would give us the Devil’s Horns hand signal and say “awweeaayeeah”. From the appearance of the volcanic rock in the riverbed and the potential for trouble with the law we elected to drive a mile downstream to the Rainbow Falls trailhead and walked a mile and half to the base of the 80-foot falls.

Earlier in the week we found a postcard of the falls that appeared to have the recommended amount of flow for the run, and the water spouting off that 80 footer that morning was certainly more than we were supposed to have in the riverbed.

Tommy and Freddy ran the first gorge we came to and then we started walking high staying out of the riverbed and on the granite bench on river right.

Right at the end of our long portage Tommy and Toby dropped in early and ran a nice double drop.

Toby paddling the Bliss-stick MAC somewhere above the first crack in the earth, Devil's Postpile

photo by Nikki Kelly

Toby portaging after the sweet double drop.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Near the end of the day we came upon a pothole into a slide affair with a huge recirculating hole. Tommy ran it and barely made it out of the backwash.

We ran some big slides and then deicided to camp mid slide section.

We survived (barely) the Devil's Postpile of the San Joaquin

Well we made it. We will have a day by day report of what happened with pictures and video up soon, but lets just say that it is without a doubt the hardest river trip (aka river mission) that any of us have ever been apart of.

When Royal Robbins paddled the river in 1982 he reported 64 portages, lets just say he was real close on those stats. The water was high for our trip and we kept thinking it was gonna be the end of us. At the end of the trip the level only forced us to walk 4 rapids (several of which Tommy ran, of course). But the continual and enormous piles of boulder/sieves forced us to walk an uncountable number of rapids.

The river went COMPLETELY under rock (no sign of flow on the surface) at least 4 times.

If any of you know much about the Devil's Postpile, you will recall tales of the "Crucible Gorge". An unscoutable, unportagable section with the river left wall shooting straight up out of the river to the top of the balloon Dome summit, thousands of feet above the river. The river right wall does an equally impressive number and forms a ridge of domes which essentially rules out any exit from the gorge, but more on that later.

This river is the finest fishing I've ever seen. We paddled a full 8 hours everyday and I still managed to catch 72 trout, some in the "Trophy" category.

Fred at the Putin
photo by Nikki Kelly

looking into the crucible
photo by Nikki Kelly

big trouble
photo by Nikki Kelly

the upper river