Thursday, July 17, 2014

Middle Kaweah

As my brother eluded to in the previous post, we spent a lot of time at the Kaweahs thanks to stellar hosting by Darin Mcquoid and Shanamar Dewey.  We arrived in Three Rivers hot off a quick run on the Dinkey Creek Waterfalls just before the run dropped out.  The next day we decided to explore the Upper East Kaweah from Lookout Point to the Lower East Kaweah put in, which, while a tad low with the Kaweah gauge at 800 was super high quality with a few walled in sections to keep us on our toes.  After the Upper East Fork, the remainder of our river time was spent on the Middle Kaweah.

Rolf above one we should have run on the Upper East Kaweah.  Photo: TJ.

JJ on a rowdy one on the Upper East Kaweah.  Photo: TJ

While the Middle Kaweah is incredibly high quality, the primary reason we didn't explore elsewhere in the Kaweah drainage was low water (low snowpack led to a long low water season for the Kaweahs), and the Middle Fork handles low water better than the other forks.  We started the first day with a run from Buckeye Flats (just above hospital rock) to Potwisha (the standard Hospital Rock take out), followed it up with a run from Moro Creek to Potwisha, and eventually built to a run from Panther Creek to Potwisha.  While the Hospital Rock run has long been known as a classic, this whole section is classic kayaking and comes together for one of the best days of paddling anywhere.

The first descent of the Upper Middle Kaweah (above Moro Creek) was documented in SLP's Burning Time 2 and started in the Cliff Creek drainage before continuing down the Middle Kaweah.  Since that descent, 2 additional descents have occurred, both starting at Panther Creek due to reports from the first descent party that Panther Creek to Moro Creek was the highest quality section and putting in there cuts the shuttle and hiking significantly.  Therefore, our plan was to head up to the trailhead early for a one day descent, hiking into Panther Creek with light, unloaded boats.

So, when the day arrived, we rumbled up to the trailhead just as the sun was rising, grabbing Kiwi Jordy Searle on the way to add to the group of Darin, multisport hardman Jared Johnson, Tom, and I.  The hike took a little longer than expected, but soon enough we were down climbing the slabs adjacent to Panther Creek down into the gorge just as the California heat was getting going.  Since no previous groups had completed the run in a day, we quickly geared up and were instantly greeted by walled out goodness.  Nothing too hard, but it was nice to have Darin's previous experience with us to ease the tension as we were in it to win it from the beginning.

Soon enough we were at the first major rapid, which consisted of a sievy entrance into an awkward off-vertical 12 footer into a boily cauldron and a walled out corridor (the only way rapids finish on this run).  Jordy and I probed it with reasonable lines and the others followed.  A few more rapids led to the crux of the run: Rusty's Rampage.  Fortunately, Rusty's is easily scoutable on river left, but portaging or setting safety for the first boater is not possible.  A slide to boof into a bunch of spray, followed by a fast moving pool into a rowdy left banking slide directly into a wall.  The good news is the wall isn't undercut.  The bad news is that the current splits at the wall between a walled out eddy on the left and freedom on the right.  And guess what, that left banking slide wants to send you into the eddy.  Darin and Jordy decided to probe while the rest of us watched and provided moral support.  Darin came through the lead in smooth but was shot left on the slide and surfed the pillow into room on the left.  While Darin waited (it's actually calm back there), Jordy came in hot, getting pummeled in the pillow, but managing to claw his way to freedom.  It took Darin about 5 tries to ferry out of the eddy, with a few good beatings on the pillow, but eventually he made it right.  The rest of us came through with 2 out of 3 ending up in the eddy and more battling but eventually everyone made it out.

 Tom dropping into Rusty's.  Photo: Jordy Searle

The same looking downstream. 

 Tom trying unsuccessfully to battle out of the eddy.

The run out of Rusty's is a walled in double pothole drop.  A nice shoulder boof on the left center delivers you into the boxed in second drop.  We all came through, although there was a little bit of battling in the bottom hole.  The walled out corridor is simply stunning, a waterfall cascaded in on the left as polished walls surrounded us.  Just around the corner is the final truly walled in section.  We scouted high on the right and found a 20 ft. low angle slide with a kicker into a pool on the right followed by a sieved out mess with a sneak on the left into a walled out sloping ledge.  Jared, Jordy, and Tom went first, with a surprise shallow landing at the left side sneak but no major problems.  Darin and I came next and the shallow landing turned out to be a 10 ft. drop onto a rock, but the rest of the rapid went well.  From there out, the run was slightly more open but still some good drops and unfortunately a few portages (although Jordy gave a long look at one that might have been another Kiwi in a pocket).  We ended up arriving at Moro Creek a little before 2 so a few of us decided to continue down through the next section down to Buckeye Flats campground.

 The author in the double drop below Rusty's.  Photo: TJ.

 Darin and Jordy in paradise.

 The author below the left side sneak.  Photo: TJ.

The author boofing the walled out sloper. Photo: TJ.

 Tom in a nice walled out drop.

JJ on a waterfall in the runout.

Just above the confluence with Moro Creek is a short portage around a nasty slot, but from there down to Buckeye Flats there are no portages and some great bedrock rapids.  First is a slide run charging right to avoid an undercut wall on the left, then an rolling ledge into a hole followed by a pinch into a sweet kicker boof.  A little boogie takes you to a rapid that looks a little dirty but boats great with several smearing boofs.  Then there's the crazy folding flume drop that feels very out of control but always ends with smiles.  A little more boogie takes you to the 15 ft. to 10 ft. double drop right above Buckeye Flats.  Finally, we arrived in the pool above Chuck's Slide.  We almost routed right off of it, but judgement got the best of us and we decided to call it a day.

A week later, we put in at Panther Creek again and rallied all the way down to Potwisha.  Needless to say, we were a little spent on the second half of the run, resulting in some interesting lines, like my epic surf in Chuck's Slide.  The rest of the run from Chuck's slide down is top notch with only one mandatory portage just above Hospital Rock.  I won't say too much about this section as it's well documented, but it packs some premium rapids in a short distance.

Beating at Chuck's Slide from Jim Janney on Vimeo.

Eventually, our time in Kaweah land came to an end.  A warming trend in mid-May sent the high sierra season into action and we were ready to get after it, which is another story for another day.

The Next Horizon Line: Upper Middle Kaweah from Tom Janney on Vimeo.

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