July 15, 2009

Upper Cherry Creek

Where Kiwi’s can fly…

Finally, after four years of trying to get on Upper Cherry Creek all my stars aligned. I was free from any other commitments, the flow was good (well, ok at least) and I had a team.
The plan was simple, meet at the bakery in Coloma, drive to Cherry Lake, hike, paddle. Easy. Well not so fast.

The only other kiwi willing to join me on the trip was Jamie Garrod, however he was carrying a rib injury after a party wave session at Barking Dogg went horribly wrong. He was still keen to come and give it a shot.

The third member of the team, Dave came highly recommended by a good friend of mine, Joe Bousquin. However, come departure time, he had no kayaking gear and was MIA. Hmmm, what to do.

After many dead end phone calls trying to rally a team, I made the call and drove south to Cherry Lake trail head to see if I couldn't find a team there. Jamie, keen on a mission came along to check things out.

Can anyone say keen? Loaded and ready to go. Just need a team

After a lazy start to the day, a team from Reno rolled in about 1pm-ish. “Hey, are you fullas heading up to Upper Cherry?”, “Yeah, that was the plan”, “Sweet, mind if I join you?”…. Against their better judgement they started the 18km hike with a wayward Kiwi in tow. I was a happy chappy.

Anyone who plays down the walk into Cherry is staunch. Carrying 34odd Kg (75 pounds) 18km’s up hill takes it’s toll. The first few hours roll by pretty quickly but soon the burn starts to set in. Shoulders and hips get sore and your legs can go into a state of shock. Stuffing them into a kayak day after day doesn’t really prepare them for this abuse.

All was not lost though, travelling up with JC (team Reno) was hilarious. He was never shy about letting you know how much his heavy ar%^ kayak weighed or how that last hill was nearly the death of him. Tag Randolf and Matt into the mix and you have a recipe for almost wetting your pants… At least when you weren’t feeling the hurt.

Honest, I'm not hurting at all. Fake smiles during the walk-in

The scenery is out of this world. I have never seen anything quite like the moonscape we walked through on the way to put in. Photos, nor words can do justice to the High Sierra’s.


The first day starts with a sweet sweet rapid called Morning Slide and sets the scene for most of the day’s paddling. In one morning of paddling on Upper Cherry I ran more granite slides than I knew existed on the face of our fine earth.

Better than a coffee, Morning Slide, Matt getting going

It was pretty cool to be in there with a bunch of folk who hadn’t been there before. We spent the morning giggling like school girls as we ran slide after slide of sweetness. In the pools between we were all gob smacked by the views the stretched out in every direction. AMAzing!

Day one on Cherry is pretty straight forward as far as paddling is concerned. A ton of slides and three pretty sweet gorges.

Matt taking in the surreal landscape

Our first major portage came in what is known as the entry gorge. It took us the better part of an hour to get our boats and the team around a manky (shitty) blocked up rapid.

JC enjoying not carrying his kayak

From here we paddled down to the sieve pile (big arse jumble of rocks) that signaled the start of Cherry Bomb gorge.

Having watched John Grace and co. fire up Cherry Bomb in the Seven Rivers DVD years ago, it was a pretty cool feeling to finally be there for myself. Only a handful of times in my kayaking career(?) have I felt that feeling. The last time I can remember was floating around the corner to the Gates of Argonath on the Upper Hokitika back home in NZ. These places build up a legend and I had finally made it. Stoked.

My last look at Cheery Bomb from the bank

Cherry Bomb is not how I imagined it. Most rapids of that legend have an ominous raw. Cherry bomb was airily quiet. Perhaps it was because of the low water. Perhaps.

We quickly scouted the drop and cast our eyes further down stream. There were three horizon lines in the gorge and we couldn’t see the bottom of them. The first was obvious, run left. Sweet.
It was the second major horizon line that had us concerned. We knew that everything in the gorge went. We just weren’t sure where we needed to be on the second major drop. The fear of the unknown.

Having learnt to paddle in NZ and cut my teeth on West Coast rivers, its drummed into you very early on, don’t run things blind. It’s a great way to get yourself in trouble.

After much deliberation, we made the call to commit to the gorge. I think it was mentioned that if Rush (Sturgess) can hand paddle it at high flow, we should be fine.

A Kiwi taking flight

Turns out, we made it through without any drama. The boys all stomped Cherry Bomb and eddied out with massive grins. It was a pretty sweet feeling.

Matt getting into some pre-dinner tea cup action

From here down we ran a few more slides and then finished off the day with some super sweet tea cups that took us straight to camp. What a day.

It's not often you'll wake to a view this good into morning...
unless you're dating Megan Fox of course

Matt and Randolf running a breakfast lap to warm up

Day two (three) began at the crack of 9.30 as we pushed off from camp and down into the first slide. Grove Tube, Perfect 20 (more like mildly rowdy 30) and double pot hole awaited us.

All these rapids are sweet in there own right, but due to the water level and team enthusiasm we decided to pass on this section and opted for the quick walk around them. Double pot hole looked much better from the bottom but we were all still undecided about whether or not there was enough water to get far enough left on the lead in… Next year maybe.

Our paddling day really got going when we entered the aptly named Waterfall Alley. Drop after drop of Californian treats make up this phenomenal stretch of whitewater.

Waterfall Alley. I wonder how they came up with that?

For everything that day one on the water was, day two was not. After Waterfall Alley, we picked our way through some more slides and down into some low water manky gorges.

We pushed, bounced and scrapped our way through these and down into Red Rock gorge. After some quick portaging and creative line selection we made our way down through Red Rock and the final gorge, where we got back to some of the treats we had become accustomed to higher up.

One of our last rapids on Upper Cherry Creek. Randolf practices air paddling

One final portage had us around the log jam at the mouth of the river and into Lake Cherry. A further 15minutes had us walking up the final climb to the car park and the ever patient Jamie Garrod.

Beer, shower, Carl's Jr and more beer. Heaven is a place on earth.

Sweet As!