Monday, May 18, 2015

Sierra Blitz

What's left to say about kayaking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that hasn't already been said? The area is home to arguably the best kayaking in the world and is a mere state line away from Oregon. That being said, I don't make it south nearly as much as I'd like, a fact that has been compounded in recent years by the worsening drought along the west coast. This year I was determined to get some boating done in CA, drought be damned and when the little snow they had started to melt, we were ready.

Scotty Baker, Matt and myself left Bend around 1 in the morning and drove through the night in an attempt to maximize the small window of free time we had with as much boating as possible. Taking shifts behind the wheel, we made it to Placerville by breakfast and were gearing up at the South Silver put-in by noon.

South Silver lived up to the hype. One mile of granite slides that drops over 600 feet in elevation from start to finish. The highlight was running the SKyscraper/Off-ramp combo near the end of the run. We were joined by Anna Wagner and Matt Parker of Coloma for the descent and had a blast lapping numerous drops and playing around in that Cali sunshine. Spirits were high moving on from South Silver, despite the unfortunate fact that our beer bag had been stolen from the take out! Damn fisherman.

That evening we rallied a few hours south and met Matt's brother Sam and his friend Grace at the Iron Door in Groveland. After closing down the bar, we crashed out in the parking lot and awoke early to catch the release on the Cherry Creek section of the Tuolemne River. sam and Grace were kind enough to drive our shuttle and we picked our way down this Cali Classic. After sharing a few beverages and catching up some z's at the take out, we rallied back up the hill to Groveland to grab some food and check flows.

This is where things started to go a little side ways. After making a few phone calls, we began to hear that folks were holding off on Upper Cherry (our main goal of this trip) for levels to drop a bit more. Having a distinct time crunch and will the old Hetch Hetchy gauge reading a perfect level, we decided to go ahead with our original plan at pull the trigger on Upper Cherry. After grabbing a few more supplies, we headed up towards Cherry Lake and began to pack.

With 80 degree temps predicted, we opted to knock out a few miles of the hike into the put-in (10 miles total) at night, in an attempt to beat the heat and breakup the slog a bit. The night hike was absolutely amazing. Not only were we graced with full moon to light our way as it reflected off the white granite all around, the darkness made for some amazing views out into the valley to the west. After knocking off the first 3 miles of the hike (the steepest bit) we eventually lost the trail for a minute and decided to crash out and use the dawn to rediscover our route. Sam and Grace had decided to tag along and meet us at Flintstone camp on our last night on the river: besides the great company, they also provided a good supply of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Thanks guys.

The next morning we awoke to an amazing view. After a quick breakfast, we hit the trail and did the best we could keep moving towards the put-in. Hiking with a boat sucks. There's no two ways about it. I like to employ the sprint and rest method when dealing long hikes in. Set a goal (ie. the next ridge line) get there as fast as you can, and reward youself with an extended rest. No matter how you cut it, hiking with a loaded boat at elevation for 10 miles is a bear. That being said, Dan Rubado excels at this skill and caught us on the trail before too long. (he started hiking at 9 am and caught us around 1pm) What a beast.

After finally reaching the put-in we took a moment to enjoy the crystal clear water and slowly got around to loading up our boats. After everyone was set, we paddled across the creek to scout our first rapid of the trip (the "Put-in Slide.") This is when we first realized just how sideways things had gone... The normally manageable looking class V slide was absolutely ripping. We had very high water! After a quick discussion, we opted to walk the slide and began moving down stream. We decided that even with high flows, it would be easier to progress down stream, portaging where we needed to, then to hike our boats back out over Styx Pass.

The one benefit of the high water was that it made all the inbetween rapids on Upper Cherry super padded out and really fun. What's normally shallow class III slides became roaring class IV and V rapids that all required scouting. We had a blast working our way down stream and picking apart the upper reaches of Cherry.

After a rather long day or routing and walking, we arrived at the lead-in to Cherry Bomb gorge. We all knew that it was going to be far too high to run and began to long portage up and over the granite dome. We were greeted by Sam and Grace at the bottom who had cold beer and fire waiting for us a flint stone camp. A few hours later, we spotted another group working their way through the portage and soon were joined by a few friends from the gorge along with some Cali locals. Good times around the fire in a beautiful setting.

The final day on Upper Cherry starts off with a bang. Names like "Perfect 20" and "Dead Bear Falls" are world famous and their all packed into a single mile of granite goodness. Unfortunetly, the water was coming up, not dropping and we started our day with an extended portage around waterfall alley. Once back on the creek, we again began picking our way down the creek and enjoying beautiful scenery and really fun rapids. Before too long, we hit the confluence with West Cherry Creek and entered the Red Rock gorge. Another gorge that is typically considered tame and more modest flows, the Red Rock was padded out and we ran some great rapids with one portage mixed in the middle. Moving as one big group now, we got to see some of the boys fire up a few drops that we passed on.

The last gorge on Upper Cherry is often overlooked when reading through the many descriptions out there on the web, but it can't be understated when actually descending the creek. After a long scout, we all opted to walk the gorge in its entirety by following a decent trail high on river right. The gorge goes, but it's full on in there and many of the ledge holes look terminal with limited safety options.

The last leg of an upper cherry trip is the 4 mile paddle out across cherry lake (one reason its hard to get a visual on the flow before walking in). We learned later that their is an old dirt road you can follow on river left (lake left) that cuts the paddle out down significantly.After grunting out the final leg, we were greeted once more by Grace and Sam and toasted to our adventure. It wasn't the classic Cherry experience we had all dreamed of, but we still conquered an amazing section of river and got to spend 3 days in one of the most unique settings I've ever visited. It wasn't always easy going, but we worked as a team to get through it, and had a whole bunch of fun along the way.

Cheers, boys. Lets do it again soon.

Now just for the 10 hour jaunt back to Bend... I made it to work Monday morning..

Here's the video.

Beating the Drought: South Silver and Upper Cherry 2015 from Nate Merrill on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

One Hit (a year) Wonder

Our friend Alex comes into town every once in awhile and we are usually able to get him back in an IK once a year or so.  The last couple times it has been in the summer and he has gotten low water runs in on the Truss and Little White Salmon.  This year he was here during the weekend of the Creeking Competition and we were able to get him out on Canyon Creek, WA for a lap.  We didn't race this time so loaded up on the media and Nick was able to produce a quick edit of the trip.  Alex had a no portage/no swim day, not bad for a once a year boater!