Monday, September 19, 2011

Sierra Wrap-Up 1: Fantasy Falls

It is no secret that one of the greatest aspects of padding is that it brings people together in a mutual team experience unlike many other sports and or recreational hobbies.  So the focus of this writeup is to bring light to the many talented and motivated paddlers who I had the pleasure of enjoying the water with this summertime.  
So the story lets off at the Royal Gorge, which leads directly into a 30 mile paddle out through Generation and Giant Gaps.  Next time I paddle Royal it might be a 4 day just so I can enjoy this stretch instead of having to power through.  Here is the rapid marking Euchre Bar Trail as seen in the movie Wild Americans.  Here are Taylor Cavin and Chris Zawacki getting ready to make another 30 miles

Then it was back to Coloma for a day at the end of which Alex Wolfgram rallied me up for a sunset paddle of South Silver Creek.  Here he is charging into the steepest part of the Autobahn slide as we put-on.  Alex is an awesome guy who brings major stoke, emphatically charged up and always busting with laughter.

Walking back up to the car for shuttle, the moon was hitting Skyscraper and the Off Ramp on South Silver Creek

Then it was off to Fantasy Falls where Niko Peha introduced himself in a solid fashion.  Here he is charging the first falls drop which I like to portage.

Orion Meredith has been known to wake up and bake himself a huge boof for breakfast!  It appears as if he lightened his load today.  Fantasy Falls Day Two.

Willy Pell prefers charging through classic sections of California whitewater at higher flows in the sunshine.

Louis Geltman, on the other hand has a distaste for the mank, but when it's a little fluffy.."it's not that bad" he says.

Benjamin "Airtime" York decided to take a summer break from schoolteaching and immerse himself in the study of boofology, here he conducts some research on the theory of potential boof distance off Mushroom Rock, FF Day 2

Ben takes a minute to inform Orion that his last boof wasn't A-grade material. "But there is potential for extra credit downstream"

Downstream the Jedi Mind Meld is the only way I could capture the monstrous rapid which I will always portage.

The finest moments of Fantasy Falls come where the river lets you take a break and enjoy the finer moments of life, like staring at amazing waterfalls and floating through old-growth forests.

Good crews come together.  LtoR Louis Geltman, Willy Pell, Niko Peha, Ben York, Orion Meredith.

The Dark Gorge, or Rifleman's Gorge, FF Day 2

Putting in below the "I want my mommy gorge" after a morning portage session, Fantasy Falls Day 3.

A succulent in full bloom on the portage route.

The Untouchables Portage awaits downstream, don't even think about it.

Here Willy Pell can't decide, "is this Fantasy Falls or is it really happening?"

Yeah, its Fantasy Falls alright especially if you grew up with it in your backyard like B-Y.

 Downstream of Fantasy Falls the equally, or even more fantastic Island Slide awaits.

Sadly, so many beautiful California whitewater river trips end in a Reservoir.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Paddling Siskiyou Gorge With Walt Garms

Did you notice the days are getting shorter?

This is an almost-seasonal, and long overdue post from a trip I took last November up to the Smith River.  I had been hoping to meet up with Walt Garms and ask him some questions about the misfortunate 1st descent trip on the upper Middle Fork of the Eel River which suffered the fatality of Czech paddling legend Jaroslav Mach way back in 1994.  My curiosity in the topic came as result of our trip down the said stretch of river, nonetheless I was stoked to paddle with somebody who I consider an old school paddling legend that was still boating.  I had never met Walt however, and figured he was an old guy who wanted to paddle something mellow anyways.

I met up with Walt and set shuttle at the Panther Flat Campground River Access.  The weather was beautiful Smith sunshine the day after the storm and the river looked inviting.  We arrived at the Patricks Creek Lodge since the water was flowing great (20,000 cfs at Jed Smith), and I mentioned the narrow gorge that laid upstream as a trivia factoid.  Suddenly Walt says we should scout it and blam there we were walking along the narrowest stretch of Highway 199 which I swore never to do again for fear of my safety and well-being.  Its literally a cliff on both sides with the river down below, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic and we quickly had our lines dialed.

This is looking up Little Jones Creek and down at the Siskiyou Gorge
Per Walt's request, we put-in directly above the gorge, where an easy river access bother with a warmup right?  This guy was starting to impress me (he had flown a plane into the Gasquet airport) with his nonchalant calmness as we paddled downstream towards a great stretch of whitewater.  The first drop gets down to business with a sneaky river-wide hole where the river pinches through a narrow flume.  Just downstream, another big drop awaits at the glorious Little Jones Creek confluence that we were able to run center.

This is an epic day in the Siskiyou Gorge--looking back at the Little Jones Drop

Beware of a big hole bottom left here alongside the wall.  Next comes a steep drop we scouted that due to our healthy flow had an excellent boof line down the center, to avoid the Maelstrom down the right.  Walt then tells me he's going down the right, and proceeds to have a styling line.  In proper form I chose to go right as well.

Walt Garms going right

The Runout of #2
Downstream you arrive at the remarkable exit drop.  This is a two part rapid and upon scouting, it looks like the rapid drops into a gorged out hole, but "don't worry" I  told Walt, "the hole is only a pillow off the left wall and just an eddy on the right."  With some hesitation (his first of the day) he requested to see my line first, and I proceeded to sell it for him.  There is no really good portage route for this drop, so giver!
Walt sticks the entrance boof

And styles the Exit Ramp

Just downstream we met our friend Julie and paddled the Patricks Creek Section, which generally has awesome play when the Smith has healthy flow.  It was a great day of paddling and Walt informed me the details of their trip down the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Eel which ended shortly downstream of the confluence with the Middle Fork.

Julie enjoying the Middle Fork Smith
The Siskiyou Gorge section has more of a steep creek feel than the other Smith gorges downstream and doesn't get paddled enough because of it, however it is an incredibly beautiful section of river that will be flowing soon.  I like it above 10,000 cfs at Jed, and have run it up to 30,000 with good results at a trip that ended with oyster shots at the Patrick's Creek Lodge.  Just a reminder, happy paddling!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sierra Loving...Royal Gorge Style

After working as a freelance photo-kayaker in Coloma during 2006, I've only managed a couple of trips down to the veritable promised land of kayaking.  It was truly awesome then, that I was able to return this year to some of my favorite runs and to reunite with some of my favorite friends too!  It started off in the usual way, my phone rings and it's Scott Ligare on the line telling me "Royal Gorge is coming in".  This I already knew, as I had been keeping an eye on the gauge as well.  With a quick "Yes", I was in and driving south the next day.  One stop at Eureka Natural Foods then a quick stop in Sac to see my sister and then up to Coloma where the posse awaited.

The next morning we were off to put-in.  Taylor's boat was already waiting for him down at Heath Springs Gorge due to circumstances he encountered during an earlier trip, so the first few miles were paddled with Zawacki and Ligare in a flash.
Zawacki makes Mr. Boof-face!

Ligare- he's got double vision!

We arrived at Heath Springs Gorge stoked to fire off some big drops

The Heath Springs Gorge is renowned for dealing out lots of amazing lines and notoriously dangerous with a 40 footer into a 50 footer with a hungry cave at the bottom.  This year has already seen two back injuries at Upper Heath and an assisted removal from the cave at Lower Heath.  One of the back injuries occurred on our trip, as a member of the group behind us had a bad line off Upper Heath, boofing and landing on his side.  After searching for our best options it was decided that we would build a stretcher and carry our friend up to the flat spot on the gorge rim overlooking the falls.  Fortunately with the two crews we had enough manpower and ingenuity as we leashed two logs and two paddles with a throwbag to build a makeshift stretcher.  Immobilization was a primary concern and the carry was brutal, while we were conducting the carry, another paddler Tom was sent back to put-in to call in a helicopter evacuation.  Once we arrived at our campsite, we relaxed and did the camp thing.

Eventually Tom returned, and later  as we were cooking dinner around the fire we heard the sounds of a chopper heading up the canyon.  In a very extraterrestrial-aura we gathered our shit quickly so it wouldn't disappear in the updraft of the chopper.  The fire was quickly blown out, and paddlers were running around with their gear left and right.  I can't imagine how Nate felt during all of this, laying motionless and looking straight up at the lights coming from his ride out.

Down dropped an alien in a spacesuit with a flashlight swirling all about.  Then we gathered round as the EMT assessed the situation, and assisted with transferring our friend to the stretcher.

 Apparently the helicopter had seen some other kayakers en route at the base of a waterfall, and landed only to be informed by the paddlers that they "were fine".  This delay, however, meant that they were running out of gas and the chopper left for re-fueling leaving us alone for a few minutes.  They quickly returned, and with the cable lifted the two men, one on a stretcher, up to the chopper.  As the heli-bird flew away, it left us with a quiet sense of accomplishment mixed with compassion and hope for our friends best possible recovery.  But we were still in the Royal Gorge within the Desolation Wilderness and had two days and over 30 miles to go, so I went to bed dreaming of UFO's, flying saucers and little people running around in space suits....or was that real?

 Taylor had encountered another crazy situation two days earlier.  The shortened version of his story goes something like this "someone lands flat on Upper Heath, a Swiss Father and his two sons paddle upper and lower heath then with a giant 'whoop' are gone, a different kayaker goes into the cave at lower Heath requiring his friends to assemble a z-drag and hoist him out, he falls back into the cave after failing to properly attach himself to the rope, the crew assembles the z-drag a second time and someone kicks a boulder loose,  the boulder falls 20 feet and lands on Taylor's head and neck, they get their friend out of the cave when he properly attaches to the rope, Taylor and the paddler who landed flat hike back to put-in together in pain."

Looking down the lip of Lower Heath into the Yawning Cave

So at this point, Taylor was needing to get out of his limbo stay at Heath Springs.  We portaged first thing in the morning, allowing him to move on with his life and into the best section of the Royal Gorge.

The Beautiful exit from the Heath Springs Section

Life was good as we paddled through the desolated granite wonderland.  After the initial tone of suffering, a bright and cheery mood was restored as we dropped through the endless rapids and major portages that make up the royal gorge.

The boys admiring Scott's Drop

Zawacki prepares to plug Split Falls

Taylor Cavin tapping in

Scott's Drop and Wabena?  No thanks...they sure are pretty to look at though! 

Zawacki cooks his bacon on a stick over the campfire like a real man

We camped at the mouth of Wabena Creek, giving me an excellent chance for a side-hike where I spotted a monster Bear coming down from the hills.  Here we are chilling.

The paddle out contained more heads-up rapids before we arrived at Generation Gap.  In one such rapid Taylor missed an easy line in class II and got sucked through an enormous sieve, "reserving a beer" for take-out.  After recovering his gear we took a lunch break and then continued on down to the Generation Gap put-in.  Only 30 miles to go!  After the notoriously long Generation and Giant Gap paddle-out, we were graciously welcomed by a cooler full of cold coors light!  Thanks Alex, for making Taylor's Reservation possible!

The Generation Put-In Falls

The Unforeseen