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.

August 6, 2011

Best Week Ever!

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…

Yes please!

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.

Kimshew Falls

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.