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August 10, 2011

Upper South Stanislaus


When is an adventure not an adventure? By definition an adventure is an activity without a know outcome.

I received a text from Taylor Cavin via Shonnon Mast.

530 #Shannon

“Do you want to go and run a river that has only seen a few trips, ever?”

530 #Ben

“Is a fish water proof? Sounds like a great idea. Who, What, where and when?”

530 #Shannon

“Something on the Stan with Taylor and his mate Chris. Meet at the bakery @ 8am”

Cue the packing of gear, food and take out beer.

An early start had all the loose ends tied and off to Sierra Rising Bakery in Coloma. 8am rolled around and Shannon rolled in ready to go. He filled me in on the to head south about four hours to a run on the Upper South Stanislas River. Taylor’s buddy Chris had been eyeing up a section down there and it had only one or two previous descents. Word from Chris was that it was “very steep”.

8.30 comes and goes, no sign of Taylor.

We receive a text from 530# Taylor “I’m moving, but very slowly, Coloma clubbed”.

Stop right there. Already we have all the necessary ingredients for a great adventure. Previous experience, however, lead me to believe that I already knew the outcome… epic.

Shannon and I joked about it as we waited for Taylor.

A late start, a four hour drive, an unknown run with an unknown put-in, an unknown hike in, an unknown amount of gradient (steeper = harder and therefore slower progress).

With all the unknown factors then surely this would be an adventure. Hmmm.

We already knew we were going to benighted (its fancy adventure speak for getting stuck out in the dark). We knew that we wouldn’t finish the run in the light and would surely have to walk out. We knew there would be lots of paddling, a lot of hiking and hauling of kayaks around unrunnable rapids. All this and we hadn’t even left the bakery. And better yet, we knew all this and still went… and were very happy about it all.

Eventually we left the bakery, drove highway 49 south to Sonora, made the turn and drove to Pinecrest Lake. Here we meet Chris Korbulic, our man in the know and with the information on the run. The info being, we were to paddle three miles and steep granite goodness back to the lake. Simple as.

Even as we drove out of Pinecrest on the way to river we decided to over ride common sense. “Shannon, reckon we should leave some dry cloths in the take out vehicle?”, “Nah, it’s California, it doesn’t get cold here. Hmmm, not a great idea when you’ve parked the car at close to 2000m above sea level.



Eventually we made it to put in on the river right, having tried unsuccessfully to put in at the river left ski field (another cue that it might actually get cold up there).

A twenty minute hike popped us out on the tree line of an amazing granite valley system. In the distance we could see the river. Steep, granite, amazing. Cue the high fiving white guys. Forty minutes later we were at the river.




Chris made short work of the descent into the Upper South Stan. Shann, Taylor and I trailed behind trying to keep up with his enthusiastic pace. Jackpot!

Although we had predicted steep, unrunnable mank (steep, shitty kayaking) we arrived at some very long and very runnable slides. All at the timely hour of 5pm. Taylor often referred to this as a ‘Calpine’ start. Very much the opposite to that of our alpine/ mountaineering counter parts.







We justified this by saying putting on earlier would mean that we wouldn’t the peak daily run off. (Cali rivers pretty much all run off snow melt. Meaning that they will peak and drop depending on the amount of sun they get. Di-urnal Flow).

Chris and Shannon made short work of the first two rapids. Chris had a pretty good piton (hitting a rock and coming to a dead stop) but continued without too much concern.

My run of the main slide was not as straight forward. Half way down I crested a rise and dropped about 6 feet straight to a dead stop. The resulting impact stove in the front of my kayak, left two holes in the nose of my boat and left me with a good dose whiplash.




The moment before impact

After a quick pit stop repair at the bottom we were back on the water and making our way slowly to the lake. We had about 3 hours to cover 5km (3 miles) to the lake…. and dinner.

Turn after turn revealed slide after slide, drop after drop of granite fun. Mixed in with all this were rapids and sections of manky paddling with some portaging required.

Despite the steepness we made ok progress down stream. There were a few rapids of note and many many more that were just great fun.





The one that really got our hearts going was HUGE. Boof to enter, punch a hole, drive hard left onto the rock and lock in for very steep 40 foot slide into a very small pool at the bottom, quickly through some busy water, boof right, drive through some more busy water, be center moving hard left and avoid the big reconnect/ redirect down the bottom on the right, punch a sticky hole and catch the only eddy before the river disappeared into a 40 foot high seivy manky mess. Start to finish the rapid was probably about 70m long (200 feetish) and dropped, a lot. None of the team ran the aforementioned rapid because of the consequences. A, hitting the big rock that extended into the main flow. B, only one eddy before the waterfall of horror.

After much discussion boats were quickly portaged and we were back on the river.





The diminishing light and lack of time meant that the camera stayed firmly packed in the back of my kayak.

The faster the precious light faded, the faster worked our way down stream. There were a few nervous moments as we descended our way down stream. Nothing was going wrong but the potential for mistakes was increasing. Paddling in fading light means that decisions are rushed and situations aren’t always thought through, as they should be. Paddling with a very good team with sound judgment meant we avoided these problems.

We roped our boats into the start of the last major portage as the last rays of light disappeared over the distant horizon.



The frenetic pace of the past hour finally gave away to calm. It was obvious kayaking as we knew it was done for the day. Jokes were shared as we all embraced the situation. All day long we knew that were we going to end up stuck in the dark. Now we were.

We could see the lake from where we stood atop a granite dome. Maybe a mile and a half stood between us and the lake, and then a short 20minute paddle back to the car.

Our only problem being is that we had a bunch of gradient to loose on the walk out. Easy in the light, much harder when you can only see the 20 feet in your headlights beam.

After rope lowering the boys and some creative crashing through trees we made it to the bottom of the portage. From here it was back into the kayaks to paddle the mainly flat water through the meadow. It would have to be some of the more exhilarating class two paddling I have even done.

The final portage took a very long and tiring 15 minutes and finally deposited us at the lake. Not a minute too soon either.


Of course...

Finally back too the car at the crack of 11.30pm we slowly loaded the boats, borrowed what dry gear we could from Chris and gingerly made our way back to the cars, food and bed.

As we tucked ourselves into bed at the timely hour of 1.30am I doubt you could have found such a content bunch of smelly, tired non-adventuring adventurers.

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