Friday, August 16, 2019

Granite Creek: San Juaquin tributary

Priscilla and I had planned to spend a week in the High Sierra's just the two of us the last week in June of 2019.  For this trip I was hoping to find something that was the High Sierra kayaking experience, but without the stress that can come along with paddling class V.   Scouring maps, I decided Granite Creek was just what we were looking for.  It looked like manageable gradient, with polished granite bedrock, domes, slides, and pools all in what looked to be a class IV package.  I sorted out the logistics, found some hiking photos of flickr for a flow check, and felt pretty good about the situation.  Then I noticed it had a page on AmericanWhitewater and while there wasn't much detail on there, enough was present to relieve any anxiety about misjudging how the maps would translate to reality.

We started off the week doing Mill Creek with Joseph Hatcher, Darin Mcquoid and Shannamar Dewey.  Darin had attempted to run Granite before, but had got stopped by snow.  We got some more information from him and our faith in this being a good idea was galvanized. 

Palaver on Mill Creek.

We made our way south from Mill Creek through Yosemite, paddling, camping, and looking around on our way towards Wawona, then into the San Joaquin drainage.

We paddled down the NF Stanislaus into Big Trees State park.

Then walked around looking at some big trees.

Below a portage on the SF Tuolumne 

After a night at Squaw Dome, overlooking Granite Creeks descent into the San Joaquin (below the part we would be running) we headed up for the culmination of vacation on Granite Creek and what we hoped would be the High Sierra experience, without the class V.

Launch point (37.474277, -119.266936) for the short off-trail walk up to Squaw Dome.

After a spending a night at what I consider my favorite camping location Iv'e ever used, we drove down off Squaw Dome the next morning and found the take out road for Granite Creek, immediately a tree was in the way but we followed a track around it, then another 200 yards down a tree blocked the road entirely.  We looked for a way around, I thought I saw a way through off to the left, but following that route on foot back to the road further down 5-10 more logs were immediately visible across the next segment of road.  It seemed obvious even if we made it around these logs there were likely to be more.  We dropped the bike off anyway, planning to hike out the two miles at the end.

Getting close.

We made our way up to Granite Creek Campground and found a good spot to pitch our tent, it was now about noon and Priscilla wanted to take a rest day and do the run tomorrow with an earlier start.  I didn't think we had anything to worry about, but since we would be sorting out the river without any hard beta I didn't want to force her hand, possibly leading to a stressful day on the water.  Instead we set about the task of relaxing, spending the rest of the day avoiding mosquitoes and doing some pseudo-bouldering as we took tabs on the notable diurnal cycle of the creek.

The next morning we let the sun heat things up, then got to it. It is possible to start another mile up at a bridge (37.542899, -119.282266) over the WF of Granite creek that adds a couple more quality rapids.  However, we liked the sound of starting straight from our campsite so launched there.
The first part of the run is open and bouldery, it's easy going but moves along. 

 Before long the walls meet the creek at a low angle and some small ledges appear near the site of an old gauge on river right.  Below this point the creek took on a class IV character (at our flow) for the remainder of the run.

Everything was easy to scout along the granite sidewalks making up the bank, long slides started to appear, we were glad we chose to scout them because while most were easy, one had a class V type hydraulic at the bottom that we elected to portage.

A fun one.

The one we portaged, along the granite sidewalk on the left.

Back to back class IV rapids continued below the drop we portaged, some on the easy end of IV, some the high end, most smack dab in the middle, all high quality with plenty of variety.  We were finding the river very runnable and loads of fun, exactly what we had been hoping for.

Eventually the bedrock eased off and we entered a bouldery section, still class IV and good fun at this flow.  It was important to be on the lookout for the occasional piece of wood or small sieve, but most of it was read and run, with a couple blind spots seeing us hop out to take a look.  The only portage of the day was around that hydraulic mentioned earlier on. 

Reading, running, eddy hopping.

 In the midst of the bouldery section we stopped on river left to walk up to an outlook and eat lunch under the only overcast day of our trip.

Priscilla limbers up on our lunch break.

More bouldery rapids continued downstream, the rapids were all runnable and we were having a good time.  One island caused us pause, but we found a way to squeak by to the right of the island and downstream the quality whitewater continued.

Eventually we turned a corner and eddied on the left as bedrock returned at a small horizon line.  We scouted down a trail on the left and found we were at the end of the run, the trail led to a walking bridge and continued scouting downstream from river-right showed us the way through the final class IV sequence.   Below this bridge (which is in the middle of the final class IV sequence) the creek continues straight-ish for a couple hundred yards before turning sharply to the right.  We stopped at a small boulder bar where the sharp right occurred, and walked up the jeep road that exists there to a trailhead.  We knew it was important not to continue downstream, as the creek goes Richter from this point down to the San Joaquin.

Taken from Squaw Dome.

We had been planning to hike two miles out on the 5S84 road because of the numerous downed trees on it near it's junction with 5S30 where we had left our shuttle bike.  However we noticed there were two vehicles down here at a trailhead.  They looked stock, so figured they must have cut the trees out of the way so we dropped our boats and started walking back up to the bike, planning to come back with our vehicle to pick them up.  The 1/2 mile of road starting from the creek to a bit past the trailhead is rowdy, but soon becomes manageable for a vehicle with clearance.  We saw a few chopped trees, but it seems like the guys had been using an axe so we were not surprised to see many of the trees had been left in the road and they had just driven around them.  The closer we got to our vehicles the rowdier these off-road adventures seemed to get, however we felt that if an FJ Cruiser and a Tacoma could make do, so too would our Xterra.  We arrived at the bike and the mosquitoes were horrendous.  Taking pity on Priscilla waiting with the bugs, I pinned the throttle on our bike on my way back up to retrieve our vehicle at the put in when I could and rode some downhills I had planned on walking (our motorized bike is best described as "fragile" and the brakes are no exception), the lack of suspension made the rough road as exciting as any of the downhill trails I had been doing on my mountain bike that Spring.   Returning half an hour later Priscilla had managed to find a spot away from the worst of the bugs and expended a large portion of our remaining bug repellent.

We were nearly done with our trip, but the fun wasn't over.

 The Xterra performed admirably as we scouted lines and Priscilla spotted me as we made the engaging drive back to the boats, then repeated it in reverse with the boats on the roof.  We felt fortunate Priscilla had voiced that we not do the run the day before, as we would have been lined up to do the two mile hike out instead of being inspired into this fun driving adventure.  While it would have been worth the hike, we much preferred having the boats on the roof, rather than our shoulder.

What a day, it took about 50 more minutes to get back to Bass lake where we stocked up on supplies before heading back into the hills for our last night in California.  The next day we made the long drive back to Salem, Oregon satisfied on the High Sierra kayaking experience, without the class V.


Flows:  We paddled Granite creek June 28, 2019.  Here is a photo from the footbridge just upstream of the take out the day we ran the creek.  There was a large diurnal the day before, but the skies were mostly overcast this day and flows were more stable.

 I believe the South Merced is probably the most useful telemetry gage to use to plan a trip to Granite Creek.  The headwaters of both drainages share a joined ridgeline and begin at similar elevations.  The South Merced heading west, Granite Creek heading southeast.  We felt we had medium flows on June 28, 2019.  I would go back at higher or lower levels for a different experience, or the same flow.

Access:  Granite Creek flows into the MF San Juaquin on river right just below the Crucible on the Devil's Postpile run.  Upstream a couple miles from that confluence is the end of this run, just below a foot bridge (37.502456, -119.237707).  You will need a high clearance vehicle for Granite Creek, preferably with 4WD.  The last 1/2 mile to the take out is even rougher than the rest, and with a high clearance vehicle you may still choose to carry your boats up that part at the end.  A saw for potential trees across the road is a good idea too.  You also want to have an idea about what the snow situation is up there, it is often snowed in early in the season.

From Bass Lake take either Beasore Rd out of The Pines, or Minarets Rd out of North Fork.  The Minarets Rd/Mammoth Pool Rd stays paved longer, but is a further distance.  Beasore Rd becomes pothole filled a few minutes past Beasore Meadows, but takes less time unless you are a pothole crawler.  There were remnants of snow near Beasore meadows when we drove up, but that was the only spot. The Minarets route is a better option if snow is a concern.

The put in is a couple miles past the turn towards Clover Meadow (where a small building serving as a ranger station stands), going right at the fork half a mile past the station will deliver you to the lower Granite Creek Campground put in (37.540796, -119.267806), left at the fork will take you to the bridge over the WF of Granite Creek (37.540796, -119.267806).

I'd recommend caching a map or two of the area on your phone and familiarizing yourself with it before heading up there.

Click on the map to increase resolution.



Here are some other nearby gauges that could be used to try and ascertain when Granite Creek would be running.  June 28.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Into the Outside

Into the Outside

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Paradise River: Washington Cascades

1/3 mi

Stream: The Washington Cascades on the Paradise River are short, but sweet.  Located within Mt Rainier national park, they can be tacked on after an Ohanapecosh trip or if driving through to see the park.  Park at the Ruby Falls Bridge over the Paradise River, and walk 50 yards downstream on river left to scout along a convenient trail.    Safety is easy to set, and the trail on the left allows for laps to be had. 

After the initial set of slides is a double drop before the river turns right, then left again down some small slides that were run center-ish with the main current.  There are a few take out options, so poke around a bit to determine what your plan of action will be.  It is possible to hop out on either side after the double drop or on the left where the bedrock ends and boulders begin to hike back up for another lap, or continue through some class III to a predetermined take out on the right where the road gets close to the creek.  DO make sure you have a pre-determined take out, as going too far would result in an un-survivable trip over Narada Falls.

Transition from bedrock to boulders.

Flows:  We thought flows were perfect the day we were there for the first two drops, the rest of the section would have been better with a little more water.  I'd do it again at the same flow or with more water.  The run is at 4700' and is fed from snowmelt, and snow is often present along the banks when there is enough water to float the creek.  When we were there patches of snow needed to be negotiated along the trail, but were not prohibitive to paddling this section.

We paddled this section June 16, 2019

Just downstream from Ruby Falls were a couple little pinches.  We used the one shown below as a reference.  It would be nice if the rock with the circle had some water spilling over it.

Access:  This section is located within Mt Rainier National Park, there is an entrance fee of $30 as of 2019.  We did it after a day on the Ohanapecosh River.  From secret camp just head upstream about 3 miles and turn left into the park entrance.  19 miles later you cross a small bridge (46.778404, -121.739020) just before a "T" in the road, park next to this bridge.  The drop under the bridge (Ruby Falls) did not look runnable to me, the slides start about 50 yards below the bridge, there is a trail to scout on river left.  

Ruby Falls the day we ran the Washington Cascades

 You can either hike back out from the bottom along the trail, or find a spot downstream to take out on river right next to the road.  A lack of diligence runs the risk of going too far and not being able to stop above the un-survivable Narada Falls.  

Refer to the map below for orientation.


The Ohanapecosh River is a favorite of mine, I try to make a trip up there each year.  It's fun doing laps on the classic section, but I try to mix it up each year and do something new on top of the classic section.  That has typically meant just heading upstream on the Ohanapecosh itself, but this year Priscilla and I spent a day checking out Mt. Rainier National Park.  I had seen photos of a group running the Washington Cascades years ago (I believe it was Luke Spencer, Chuck Taylor and friends) so we decided to see if it had water while we were up there.

It looked like it had just enough water, so we continued wondering around the park and decided to come back Sunday after spending Saturday on the Ohane.  My dad was with us that weekend and had his IK, we thought the foam floor might be nice to pad out the low-volume slides.  When Sunday rolled around we headed back up to the Paradise River and had a nice afternoon sliding down the cascades in the IK.   The run is similar in style and every bit as fun as Sweet Creek, Henline Creek, or the Lake Creek slides.