On your marks, get set, go.
Although the start of the season felt as though it was a case of hurry up and wait. Things have changed drastically. This season has set its self apart because of the amount of amazing paddling to be had. When it rains, it pours.
Don’t get me wrong; you still have to work for your kayaking in the good years. There is often a lot of speculation about flows, access, teams and even weather.
There have been periods this season where I’ve almost felt like a kayak trip broker. Phone call after phone call finding flows, run beta, teams, sorting logistics, you name it. Talk, talk, talk…
Despite bad weather I managed a hot lap on the infamous South Branch of the Middle Feather. Rain and cool weather did little to dampen our spirits our enthusiasm for this granite playground.
Ben Brown, a happy kiwi chappy
For the pure fun factor I would have to rate the South Branch in my top three rivers. Ever. Low stress, great crew and I even learnt how to run big water falls (big is a relative term of course, especially for a kiwi).
Word on the street was that the Rubicon was finally at a boatable flow.
After getting shut down on our early Rubicon trip things seemed to be looking on the up and up. The vague info we had on flows was that it was in but it could be high. The forecast was for hotter weather. But, the river could be on its way out. This means that the snow pack feeding the run off was almost gone. We had speculation a plenty.
Talks with Dave Maurier and Tera Muir had me firmly on the fence. Too high? Too soon? Hmmm too good to miss!
After a much faffing the call was made to commit to the trip (who says kayakers can’t commit?).
We quickly assembled our team. Did the usual last minute scramble to pack, load the cars and head for the river.
Upon arrival at the put-in I spied something that filled me with confidence. Rocks. There were plenty of rocks exposed at put-in. They weren’t there last trip. Happy days.
In true California over night style we launched our kayakers into the flow sometime close to 4pm. Twenty miles (30+km) of fantastic white water lay between us and the cold beer at take out.
Joining us on the trip was the one and only Taylor Cavin. He had just got off the run a few days earlier so had plenty of info on where and when to be.
The Rubicon gives you a few miles to warm into things and then the gradient is turned up. Once things steepen up, rapid after rapid are offered up for the enthusiastic paddler. It is one of the funnest read and run rivers on offer. Very quickly we picked our way down stream.
Some of the team were feeling bolder so partook in some white water rodeo. This involves paddling oneself into a large hydraulic, getting destroyed, and then swimming out. It’s a hell of a way to earn a beer.
After some bold boat scouting and a little bit of poke and hope “the swim can’t be that bad”, we made our intended camp. Just in time to dry our gear before the sun tucked away behind the surrounding hills for the evening.
Multi-day trips are all about packing light and taking only what you need. After a dinner of gourmet sausages and makers mark we settled in for a very mild evening under the northern stars.
Shannon avoiding a very aggressive rinse cycle
Matt Coles aka. pitonacon
The crack of 11am had us back on the river and moving progressively down stream. We elected to walk a few of the stauncher rapids early on the day.
The first day on the Rubicon has a few decent sized rapids but day two is where all the paddling really happens. Mile after mile of fantastic white water awaits those who venture into it’s hidden treasure. By nature, the rapids a steep, continuous and a very good type of busy.
An unanticipated feature in the run is the trees. Due to the river hardly ever running (it’s dammed) Alders have taken root and prevent you from catching eddies. It often means that scouting from the riverbank is not really an option. It’s almost a good thing though. The reason being, there are just so many rapids that could/ should be scouted and it would take too much time.
Dave Maurier's secret weapon. Be so light you skip over everything
Pitonacon searching for the next rock
After four fantastic hours on the water we shouldered our kayaks up the steep bank to the waiting cars… and beer.
Spot the professionals. Take out as it should be
Knowing that flows were good else where, we headed back to Auburn and started work on the next adventure.
It took all of two phone calls to plan our next mission. It was a pleasant change from all the humming and harring of recent trips. Tyler Fox had come into the mix and the call was made to head north to Big Kimshew Creek and Secret Stash.
What better way to celebrate American Independence Day than to drive big vehicles and kayak more of the Sierra’s amazing granite.
Keeping to our theme of 2011, we weren’t at put-in until 4pm. In hindsight it was probably a good thing. The flow was definitely on the low side of good and being late in the day meant we caught the peak flow.
The first mile of our run consisted of bouncing and pin balling of every rock we could. When questioned on the flow being too low, Taylor simply replied, “it’s been run lower”.
Young people can land flat.
Even after running the first 20 footer I was struggling to find the aesthetic in the run. To compound our time pressure from starting late, one of the team tweaked his back running the first big drop. It took us half and hour to sort things and the call was made for him to hike out. This left us with a nice compact team of four. We picked our way through the mank filled gutter directly below the 20 footer and things finally began to clean up. With the team moral on the rise we started making good progress down stream.
He even had time for the 'air guitar'
The two main drops you here about on Kimshew are Kimshew Falls and Frenchies Drop.
Our first taste of Kimshew’s goodness came in the form of Kimshew Fall’s. Finally all the crashing down stream had paid off. A double stepped 40ish footer was what lay in wait. Jackpot! Photos were taken, video was shot and high fives were exchanged. This is what we had been seeking.
After regrouping in the pool at the bottom we made the call to make up some time. The drop immediately after Kimshew is a fantastic 15 footer into some fun clean boating. It would have to be one of the standout drops of the run.
Our run off Frenchies went smoothly. Matt Coles did scare us a little after seal launching above the drop, missing the ferry and running much further right than the ideal ‘left line’.
One drop in particular stands out in my mind. Lower down in the “boogie water” section lies a nothing at all rapid. Crashing downstream I emerged from the seething white chaos just in time to see my fate. A four high ‘U’ shaped pour over. I proceeded to drop in side ways with pretty much no speed. For non-kayakers, this is a very bad idea. After being side surfed and rolling a few times I looked longingly at the boys in the pool below. I wasn’t coming out. Shit bugger fuck! My first swim in three years.
Back in the boat and back on track, hoots, hollas and high five were exchanged as we continued downstream towards camp.
Taylor’s last words of advice on the final drop were “boof, tuck and hold on”. Varying degrees of success put us at our camp for the night.
After a restless nights sleep (thank you drunk roaming locals), we packed the boats and pushed our kayaks back into the current. Below lay the Secret Stash.
The Kimshew – Secret Stash combo is rated by some, the best days kayaking in California. I struggled to see the appeal but this was more due to having picked up a bug and feeling like shit.
We paddled many good rapids and had a great day on the water. However, take out and some down time couldn’t fast enough. And thank fully it did. Moves were made, kayaks were carried and we were done for the day.
Day two begins with a bang
As I mentioned earlier, when it rains, it pours. Back to civilisation and cellphone reception and our next plan was already sorted. Back to the Rubicon.
After some deliberation about kayaking vs. feeling like shit, I did the only sensible thing. Went and bought painkillers and a few of those five hour energy shots. Back on track.
Lou Urwin joined the team as we headed back to the Rubicon for a hot lap. We had talked about a one day trip but decided better of it because camping in there was legit. Why rush true such a beautiful place?
Our second trip was more of an express trip. We knocked an hour and a half of the first day and another hour off the second.
The key difference between the trips was the fact that no-one swum on our second lap.
I did, however, give it very strong nudge. About two mintues into day two I boofed and failed a very sticky ledge hole. Turns out the river was a little lower and things a little stickier than I realised. Cue the rodeo. After a very long minute or so Matt Coles (yes Matt I am telling the world this) got to shore with a throw bag. Ahhh, my hero. Not so. After the first throw was too short, a second attempt was taken but alas, I was actually in the hole, not a metre further down stream. “Fuck Matt! I am getting very very tired”. Enter Tyler Fox. The throw bag and I connect and gradually I am pulled from the clutches of the bastard hole. Job done? Nope. Now exhausted I am faced with prospect of running the drop we portaged last time. Not happy. After rolling up, post bastard hole, I manage to claw myself to where I need to be (roughly). Another roll had me giving the “I’m ok” but only just. Turns out the terminal hole wasn’t that terminal.
The next five minutes of my day were spent collapsed on the bank feeling very tired and very un-athletic.
Thankfully that was the sum total of our misadventure for the trip. The rest of the day ran pretty smoothly thereafter.
South Fork Gorge Salmon, South Branch Feather, Rubicon, Big Kimshew, Secret Stash and another Rubicon. Perhaps the best ten days paddling I’ve ever had.
Life is Good.