As the trip approached, our group began to round out and then bloat as I recruited Knoxville up and comer Ben Warf and Tom recruited every class V kayaker in Colorado. The week before the trip was a mess of logistics and arguing about water levels, as the things we had are eyes on (Middle Kings and Upper Cherry) were still too high and a heat wave followed by a cold snap were expected for our chosen week. For better or for worse the Colorado contingent steered the group to heading straight for the Middle Kings upon arrival.
As usual, my flights out of the Southeast were delayed and I didn't arrive in Sacramento until midnight. Ben picked me up, and the drive began, destination South Lakes trail head. By the time we rolled into Bishop the dawn was just starting to wake and was in full affect by the time we reached the trail head. The Colorado boys (minus a couple stragglers - JJ, Oliver, and Rolf) were all asleep so we grabbed a few hours of less than satisfying rest. As the sun hit they decided they were taking off, but the stragglers and shuttle drivers still hadn't showed so we rested a little longer. The shuttle drivers rolled in but the stragglers still hadn't. At 10:30 we decided we better go if we wanted to make it to Leconte Canyon that day. It turns out the stragglers showed up just after we left and the shuttle logistics all got sorted.
Things were going well on the hike early despite it being extremely hot. Then, shortly after paddling across Long Lake I felt a twinge in my quad. It had been years since I had cramped up but I knew it was coming. I tried to drink as much water as I could to rehydrate, but by the time I was at the base of the switchbacks up Bishop Pass, I was laying on my back with legs spasming. There was nothing else to do but fight through it. JJ and the stragglers caught us at the top of the pass, and he threw some Cliff Bloks my way. We stopped at the top of the pass to eat lunch and enjoy the epic views. I was struggling bad and forced some food and a lot of water down despite having no appetite. Apparently trying to hike a kayak over a 12000' pass with no sleep or altitude acclimatization is a bad idea.
|Ben Warf Cruising Across Long Lake with Bishop Pass Waiting|
|Sean Over Bishop Pass and Heading Down into Dusy Basin|
|Ben Taking in Leconte Canyon From the Brink|
The next morning we finished off the rest of the switchbacks down to the river. The morning wasn't too bad, but overall it was the hardest hike in I had ever done. It was beautiful, but I was glad to have it done with.
Half of the boys were already geared up when we made it to the river. They decided they were gonna do the run in 4 days of paddling and the rest of us decided we were on the 5 day plan. That was the last we saw of Brad, Jason, Oliver, Rolf, and Tyson. So that was that, our group was down to Ben, JJ, Joel, Sean, Tom, and I.
After lazing around for a bit more we geared up and hit the river. I was prepared for quite a bit of mank the first day, but after a short while we were through it and the quality really picked up. Somewhere early on Joel sublexed his shoulder and made what must be one of the toughest decisions ever, he shouldered his boat right back to the trail head, where no shuttle vehicles were waiting since they had all been taken to the take out. I still haven't asked him how the hike was or how he got home, but I know he made it.
|The Author Taking in Leconte Canyon from the River (Photo TJ)|
|Ben Dropping into an Early One (Photo TJ)|
|Sean Plunging into the Money|
Once the boulder gardens picked up, Ben and Sean hit the trail. JJ, Tom and I boated down to the top of the waterfall gorge. It was one of the most beautiful, tempting, and terrifying pieces of whitewater I'd ever seen. Every drop had at least one pocket that could swim you and they were all flushing straight into the next. The kicker was the waterfall had become completely crucial anything but the purest of lines would lead to a first d of the awful boxed in drop just downstream. It started raining and we started walking.
We kept going, eating lunch above Raw Dawg Falls in a grove of huge trees. Huge bear scat was everywhere. I almost stepped on a Rattlesnake. We were defeated.
After a good scout of the Vallecito-esque Gorge (I know you Californians love it when your whitewater gets compared to Colorado), we decided to leave our boats and camp at the bottom, hopeful for the stoke of lower water and empty boats in the morning.
Our great camp was so nice that a bear even decided to wander in and check us out in the morning. Fortunately, it had also served to rejuvenate us from the despair of the previous day. The sun was shining and the stoke had returned to high. After some high quality warm up, we committed to the gorge. One quick portage around a sieve and some great boofs and we were at the exit with spirits soaring. It's amazing how it can turn around in an instant.
We ate lunch in Simpson Meadow, basking in the sunshine, before making our way down to Tehipite. The boulder gardens were great with the extra water. The Big Bad Beaver looked much better than I had imagined, but it was still easy to walk on by. After what ended up being a pretty long day, we arrived a Tehipite, settling in early in preparation for big next day in the bottom nine.
Our predicted early start didn't pan out. Tom was feeling nauseous so we took our time getting ready. Despite still feeling like he was going to vomit, he finally decided it was time to put on a little after 10. It gradually built as we left Tehipite. At some point it was on and it didn't let up. We ran a lot of great whitewater and walked quite a bit too. We all had good lines and bad lines as we battled downstream. As long as the focus remains, it's one of the best days of paddling anywhere. After about 7 miles our collective concentration and energy was waning, so we camped at a nice spot on the right just below a big slide into a hole backed up by a huge undercut on the left, relaxing and fishing as a scrawny bear came down to visit.
|Tom in a Nice Bottom 9 Rapid|
|The Crew Chilling above an Unusually Flat Section|
After a quick lunch above the start of the Garlic Falls rapids, we were set to finish this one off. Most of the crew was beat down and portaged and picked their way down, but for those who still have the fire, this section is most excellent. The big launch into the fluff at Cassidy Falls is one of the best moves of the whole trip, and the rest isn't bad either. After Garlic Falls and Rough Creek Falls the rapids start to taper off, and the mad dash through the paddle out was on. Going from the spires of Bishop Pass to the dust at the end of the road in the Valley leaves one with a serious sense of accomplishment.
While a trip down the Middle Fork of the Kings often marks the end of a California season, we had thoughts of adding a Cherry on top. After a few phone calls on the way back into Fresno, we had confirmation that Upper Cherry would be somewhere between medium and low and certainly not too low. Sean and JJ had other obligations, but Ben, Tom, and I had 3 more days to make it happen. While a rest day would have been nice, water levels and plane tickets dictated that we would be hiking in the following day. So, after a big meal and a night in the sketchiest Motel 6 around, we were headed off to Groveland.
A slow start and a long packing session had us heading up the Kibbie Ridge Trail just before 1. Somehow we had convinced ourselves that after the Kings hike, the Cherry hike in would be easy. It's easier, but 10.5 miles with a kayak on your back is brutal anyway you slice it. Again, Ben charged ahead while I stayed back with Tom. He hadn't been feeling well the whole trip and this hike was no exception. Still he sucked it up and made it happen. We rolled into lord meadow just after dark, crashing directly into our sleeping bags.
We awoke to several crews of paddlers getting ready for the day. We ended up teaming up with Evan and Wes before heading down for the put in slide and into Disneyland. It quickly became apparent that the water was lower than Tom and my first time down, but it was still enough to have some fun. With the low flows, we made good time down the moonscape to the entrance gorge to Cherry Bomb. We had a little pow wow and convinced the first timers that it was low enough that we should press into Cherry Bomb without a scouting hike.
|TJ with a beautiful line at the Put In Slide|
|The Author Applying a Little More than the Desired Boof (Photo: TJ)|
|A Nice Line From the Group In Front|
|The Clean Up from the Mess in Process|
|Wes About to Take Flight in the Cherry Bomb Gorge|
|The Scary but Oh So Smooth Cali Groove Tube (Photo: TJ)|
|TJ Droppin' Perfect 20 while Ben Watches from the Cave|
|The Author Leading the Charge Off Double Pothole (Photo: Ben Warf)|
|Double Pothole Under the Stars|
|The Author Starting Day 2 in the Waterfall Alley (Photo: TJ)|
|Coming in Hot to Kiwi in a Pocket (Photo: TJ)|
|And Exiting Just as Planned (Photo: TJ)|