Saturday, April 19, 2014

Humboldt Kayaking Spring 2014

With a strange weather pattern this winter it took a lot of waiting for Northern California boaters to finally get wet.  Luckily a precipitous spring pattern developed and we got some paddling in however the lack of snowpack has made for a strange season.  My prerogative has been to paddle new and unfamiliar runs, of which there are many!

Right alongside Highway 101 is an excellent little creek run that has a one-of-a-kind unique character.  Rattlesnake Creek flows after good rainstorms and offers some kick in the pants fun whitewater.  Aside from its beauty intermixed with highway bridges and jersey walls, one of the highlights of this run is kayaking through a tunnel that was blasted to reroute the creek while building the highway.  I recommend putting in at the rest stop, but the best part of this run is downstream of the last highway bridge where the action is non stop.

Then my list of "rivers I still haven't paddled" brought us to a familiar classic--the Upper New River.  Hooking up with my buddy Paul Gamache we made the 3 mile hike upstream of the standard run, to the confluence of Virgin Creek and Slide Creek where the New River begins.  We had good spicy flows thanks to a wet storm and the river was boiling its way downstream through tight gorges, the New River's signature style.  In his RPM Max, getting swirled and backendered all day long Paul had a stressful day on the water.  I guess that's what happens when it doesn't rain, all the kayakers are out of practice and more scared than normal.

In the hills of Southern Humboldt, Salmon Creek is a drainage that has only been paddled a few times.  Private Property blocks access to the stream, which makes for an interesting class IV+ run at higher water.  Good levels for the creek makes for too much water to run the falls halfway down the run however, and we learned this year how sensitive the gorge is to subtle changes in water level.  Our mission on Salmon Creek took us three days:  Day one was a good flow for the run, but the falls were scary high upon our arrival, we quickly portaged.  Day Two: The flow was lower as we bounced our way down to the falls, when we got there the scout revealed the gorge to still be at a high flow, with a scary boil in the entrance drop feeding hungrily towards an undercut wall.  Jakub Nemec fired it up at a stout level and after watching him battle his way through the gorge my buddy Jon and I decided to save it for another day.  We returned with Ben York the next day to retrieve our boats and give er.  The flow had dropped overnight again to a level that was barely-runnable but nonetheless hiking around the beautiful idyllic southern Humboldt hills made for a better than enjoyable paddling experience. 

Man of the Hour: Jakub Nemec

Then it was back home and wait for the next rainstorm.  When it came, we slithered on up to Willow Creek for a couple of backyard laps on our local mank-fix.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Burnt Ranch Gorge..For the Family

After a long hiatus from the blog a recent trip down Burnt Ranch Gorge that became a very special occasion sparked my urge to share along with some general beta about the run as well.  I was hanging out at Uncle Tom's Cabin doing my usual routine of waking up, coffee, brush clearing, watering the garden and whispering to my tomatoes to "please turn red".  The sound of tires rolling down the dirt driveway perked my attention as Teague rolled up rocking a fancy purple Pirouette S atop his car.  "Are you gettin' ready for the race" I asked him, "Nope" was the reply "just trying her out".
I was expecting to paddle with Russell Kramer and his father John, who were planning on rafting the Ranch so my next question of course was "how long till those boys show up".  Before we knew it they'd arrived and we were blessed to meet the storied Kramer family parents.  A plan was hatched to meet them at Cedar Flat and knowing they had a raft to rig, and how slow rafters can be, we lagged a bit before leaving the cabin ourselves.  Justin finished outfitting his Pirouette S and we loaded our gear into my truck when our friend Jon came rolling down the driveway with perfect timing.  Jon threw his boating gear in and saw the longboat sticking from the back of my truck.  I told him it was Teague's and he turned to Justin, "You gettin' ready for the race?"

Jon had been contacted by "two Japanese paddlers" who were looking to hook up with some local boaters who knew the lines so we drove down to Grey's Falls to meet up.  As we pulled in I saw a teenager and it became clear that we would be paddling with another Father/Son combination today.  We met Masa and his son, told them shuttle was already set and that we'd see em at Cedar Flat.  When we arrived there 10 minutes later, I saw the Kramer rig departing and figured we'd catch up to the raft in no time.  The Japanese duo were paddling well and we floated downstream on a beautiful summer day, the first of September, figuring we would catch the rafters shortly.  Passing the dump, our normal kayaker put-in, a playwave that has been in since they began the release was washed out and it dawned on me that they had let more flow from the dam again.

What release am I talking about?  The details have been sketchy and generally unavailable, but with a stroke of fortune (and perhaps legal discussions) the Bureau of Reclamation decided to release flows from Trinity Dam hoping to avoid a tragic repeat of the Fish Kill of 2002.  The impetus for making this decision is that fisheries scientists are predicting the largest Salmon return in recent history.  One week prior to the beginning of this water release, which began on August 15th a heatwave brought water temperatures up to unusually high and conditions were getting ripe for another fish-kill scenario--the release couldn't have come at a better time for fish, or kayakers. 
 The duration of this release is under question right now, originally the end date was supposed to be September first.  Recently however, I've heard rumors of the 1,000 cfs release to continue until the 23rd of Sept!  To top that off it was also rumored that the dam operators would be spiking the river up to 1,800 on the 13th, simulating a natural flow spike.  All of these thoughts crossed my mind as I passed the washed out wave and smiled big.

If you aren't familiar with Burnt Ranch, 1,000 cfs is a pretty ideal flow.  The rapids tend to be more forgiving with enough water for rafts.  But it was higher than that.  Speaking of rafts, where was the Kramer combo?  Our crew rolled into the Pearly Gates stoked and left even happier, everyone passing the test. 

Next we arrived at Meteor Rock, where awesome lines exist to both sides of a round rock, with a meteorite-looking undercut just downstream in the middle.  It's hard to decide which line to take sometimes because they are both so good!  Downstream comes Son of Scraper and shortly thereafter the infamous Toilet is a photo of my old man boofing it back in the day.

Everybody's favorite rapid follows, run center, and then after a longer pool you reach hole-in-the-wall, which is also run center.  An even longer pool follows to allow for reflection of how your paddling is going that day because the most difficult section is approaching.

Guilt Complex starts off the 100 foot per mile Burnt Ranch Falls section.  It is also called double drop although there really are three drops:)  Then we were above the falls and wouldn't you know it there was a raft waiting for us!  Russell and John were happy to see the kayak-platforms they would be able to commandeer should their rafting endeavor become hapless.  We were happy to see some potential rafter carnage and took off in a flurry of paddlestrokes down the first falls.  Well, none of the three falls are really a true falls, more like big rapids with bedrock and monstrous boulders around.  It's a combination that produces dangerous sieves and pockets, limitless opportunities for carnage abound.

The first falls exemplifies this description as the right side of the main drop has become a gnarly man/boat eating sieve.  The Showerhead, which is the center slot, recently claimed my friends kayak for 2 weeks during a vertical pin/sieve extravaganza.  It took us a z-drag, pully's and climbing equipment as well as a team of 8 to retrieve it and left me feeling with an even spookier feeling about running that line.  At levels of less than 1,000 I don't recommend it.  To top it off, the main drop, Jaws, has had a log in it.  The log was cut in an effort to free it and it managed to somehow vertically pin in the runout of the drop.   All of this adds up to a classic northcoast rapid.  Masa rolls through the Jaws.

And the Kramers too

Everybody styled it and we proceeded to the next eddy above #2.  Second Falls is a big rapid that I consider the most difficult of the three falls at certain levels.  We encouraged the Oto's to get out and scout while we showed them the lines like proud locals.  Hyland boofs the center line.

Teague showed us how they used to do it.

Then the Kramers stepped it up and styled their line because it runs through their blood.

Looking downriver towards #3

As Masa and Kenya approached the drop, Masa missed his move for the center slot and boofed into the right side entrance hole.  This resulted in a beat-down and I ran with my throwbag towards the hole.   He swam and flushed down the second part of the drop, mystery style, reappearing downstream of the safety kayakers.  Jon and Teague had already discussed their plan, "you take the swimmer, I'll get the boat".  Jon helped chase down and assist Masa to shore while Teague waited for the boat to finish doing rounds in the backed up hole.  It freed, plunged over the bottom drop and Teague peeled out in hot pursuit.

Kenya had been waiting in a midstream eddy this whole time, and I gave him a thumbs up.  He proceeded to style the line like he had been doing all day long.  When I paddled down to the crew, Masa was loading up into the raft and Kenya was in the eddy too but Jon and Teague were nowhere to be seen. They had chased the ghost boat into the third falls on a recovery mission.  I looked at Kenya and smiled "I bet your dad didn't think he would be going rafting today".  Then I led Kenya down #3, where he pulled off a clutch roll above the final drop and proved he was a fighter after rolling up again at the bottom with a big whoop!  Then came the Kramer/Oto combo.

We took a quick break below the falls to reflect on the awesomeness of the gorge and the Kramer's continued on downstream.  During the discussion Teague talked about how he had "gone off the final drop backwards and was getting worked in the hole as Jon came dropping in upon him."  to which Jon replied "I was looking at the pointy end of that longboat as I came down the drop bracing for my face".
Downstream of the falls is a big long pool before some of the best rapids of the river. 

We continued downstream into Hennessy launching the center boof. 

 Next comes Origami where multiple good boofs await.

Above the New River confluence

Table Rock is downstream where the river constricts to a raft-length wide.  Ride the tongue down the right but beware of the nasty nub sticking off the right wall, which has pin and elbow-crunching potential.  A fun mile of rapids, including my favorite Walrus Rock, bring you to the New River Rapid confluence.  This time of year the New River is usually warmer than the Trinity due to its sun-baked status and provides epic opportunities for snorkel-diving and exploring.

Greyhound rapid is next where you want to avoid a nasty cleft along the right wall.  Then another mile of easy water brings you to Grey's Falls.

 Grey's used to be sort of anticlimatic--I never saw any carnage and in fact, it was pretty hard to carnage out there.  That has all changed however thanks to the addition of a new log a couple years ago.  In defiance to the norm, this log has actually contributed to the rapid's improvement, making the plunge steeper, the turn tighter, and adding more potential for workage with a couple holes on the side and a rockpile on the right.  Kenya had, I think, his only bad line of the day, flipping in the seam that comes off the wall.

But we were all stoked.  The most remarkable achievement of the day, I think, is related to Burnt Ranch Gorges storied history.  The first descent of Burnt Ranch Gorge, in 1970, involved a father/son combination of Mel (dad) and Mike Schneller, who paddled with Dick Schwind at 350 cfs.  Tragically that run ended with Mel dying of a heart-attack at the take-out in Hawkins Bar, overwhelmed by the achievement.  To date however, this may be the first time that two father/son's paddled the Ranch together.  It was an awesome day enjoyed by all and reinforced the fact that Burnt Ranch Gorge is a whitewater splendor.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Klamath River--Seiad Valley to Green Riffle--Six Rivers Source to Sea

Day One (Two Really)
During the night it started to rain, and the gentle percussion continued all night long on the roof under which we were so fortunate to be sleeping.  Explore Six Rivers owes a big thanks again to Tom Alexander and Four Winds Rafting in Seiad Valley as well as Alice DiMicele for putting us in contact.  While hanging out with Tom and his friends Eli and J we were stoked to hear that they would come rafting along with us for a good stretch of water from Seiad down to Thompson Creek.  It would be the first time the Explore Six Rivers crew would have a raft along for the mission.  Also discussed was circus sideshow as a part of rafting since Eli was trained in the circus arts at Humboldt State.

Photo: Will Parham

Morning came and the shuttle arrangements were discussed.  The plan was to drop our kayak/canoe crew off where we took-out the previous night at the upstream end of Seiad Valley and then meet up with the shuttle crew at the Sluice Box River Access at the downstream end of the valley.  Tom graciously offered to put us up for another night thus solving our problem of having a dry place to sleep and having to repack the truck with all our crap.  Wes elected to drive shuttle with the Four Winds boys who helped us all the way down to Happy Camp. 

The paddle through Seiad was generally disinteresting flat water and the beautiful mountain scenery we enjoyed the day before had succumbed to grey rainclouds.  It was cold and for sure snowing in the mountains all around us as the rain continued steadily.  While floating through Seiad Valley we passed the confluence of Seiad Creek and Grider Creek, both of which added substantially to the rivers flow.  Before long we arrived to Sluice Box where the raft was waiting.  

Photo: Will Parham

Boiling eddy lines and swirling currents were making me quite nervous in the open canoe and I forced myself to do a practice roll to quell the fear.  The practice roll was successful, but the fear remained.  We headed downstream into the canyon separating the Marble Mountains to our south and Red Buttes Wilderness to the north.  Side streams were flowing strong and seemed to be coming in everywhere.  The river also picked up its pace since entering the canyon and we were enjoying some fun wavetrains. 

Before long we reached Savage Rapids, and Will got out to film.  I came charging into the drop straight down the gut and right towards the breaking wave.  When the canoe hit the exploding wave it didn’t swamp the boat like I was expecting, instead, the hull of the canoe struck the wave and sent me launching into the air!  Yee-haw!  Right behind me the raft came through with Eli juggling away in the bucking raft.  This was some quality entertainment and we were definitely enjoying the river as it should be enjoyed.

Photo: Will Parham

The circus sideshow continued unabated

Just downstream, another rapid called Otter’s Playpen kept the crew grinning.   The river was on the rise, and moved us quickly downstream to Thompson Creek where we parted ways with our rafting/juggling friends.  Downstream the Klamath enters an amazing canyon lined with metamorphic slate bedrock.  The road isn’t noticeable through here although it is just above; the only intrusion comes from the gigantic boulders lining the banks.  We paddled onward; enjoying the ease of the miles we were making and looking forward to eating at the Pizza House in Happy Camp.  

We passed China Point, named for Chinese miners who worked here during the late 1800’s.  Here the Klamath makes a gigantic horseshoe bend as it carves around the northeastern edge of the Marble Mountains and begins flowing south, instead of the westerly course we had been on since Iron Gate Dam, 70 miles upstream.  There were a couple of nice surf waves however, too good to pass up.

During this section the river also flows past Fryingpan Ridge, an incredible limestone formation that we decided to stop and investigate for caves.  After pulling our boats aside we went charging up the hillside to be repeatedly thwarted by thickets of poison oak and never reached the mystical cave we were searching for.  Nonetheless it was a good side hike and nice to be out of the canoe and moving my legs for a bit.  Getting back on the water we enjoyed the last five miles to Happy Camp where we arrived by four o’ clock, making for a short 40-mile day.

Jon spelunking

Happy Camp has a unique history, dating back beyond its present name.  The town was denoted in the 1860’s by a traveler who remarked about the cheery nature of the local miners who were all doing successfully with their gold-discovering exploits.  Ironically, this name replaced the previous title of Murderers Bar.  I have a friend who swears he saw a ghost while staying at the Forest Lodge.  When driving around Happy Camp these days one cannot help but notice that many of the locals have “No Monument” signs in their yards and in front of businesses.  The signs are protesting the proposed Siskiyou National Monument, which would extend from Seiad Valley all the way past Happy Camp downstream.  Supposedly the proposed monument would involve placing many restrictions upon the locals who already live in the area and as such, these signs are posted nearly everywhere.  It is a contentious issue that is further complicated by the presence of Mexican Mafioso weed-farmers who invade the hills surrounding Happy Camp every summer.  A friend of mine told me that recently the Siskiyou County Sheriff responsible for policing the general area was forced to retire after the mafia-growers had literally outnumbered and outgunned the lawman, who was fearing for his life and unable to effectively do his job.  

Photo: Will Parham

As foretold, the crew loaded our boats and charged to the Pizza House for some highly anticipated goodness. The Pizza House is notoriously delicious as they make their own dough and they do it right.  I recommend a trip to Happy Camp for the pizza alone!  The ladies there didn’t even mind that we were still wearing our drysuits as we devoured perhaps my favorite food of all-time till it was gone.  Then we returned to Seiad Valley where we were so blessed to have a place to stay, the cold rain had continued all day long and it was forecast to continue.  Actually the rain had increased in its intensity and began to pound upon the roof while we hung our gear to dry around the heater.  After paddling 90 miles over the last two days we were shagged out and with our full-bellies the crew turned in early for the night.  Tomorrow we were looking forward to finishing off the trip with another 40-mile section guaranteed to be a big water extravaganza.  The rain drummed on the roof all night long causing me to sleep like a rock.  

Day Two: Happy Camp to Green Riffle
We woke to even harder rain that was forcing its way down from the sky.  After gathering our equipment we bid our gracious hosts adieu and headed off downstream to finish the three-day paddling bender.  When we reached the put-in at Indian Creek the crew stopped for a moment to appreciate the intensely high water.  Logs were floating past us and the creek’s flow nearly rivaled the river into which it was flowing.  I was exceedingly nervous and second-guessing my decision to bring along an open-canoe for the trip.  Fortunately “I was surrounded by a crew of solid paddlers”, this I told myself repeatedly to try and find some semblance of comfort.  But there was no comfort when we reached the first horizon line and I saw an exploding wavetrain that continued as far as the eye could see.  Dodging breaking waves and charging past boiling eddy lines was my task for the day, that and staying away from the randomly appearing whirlpools. 

Photo: Will Parham

After having good lines and making my way cleanly through several rapids my confidence was building.  Dragons Tooth rapid quickly put an end to that—one look down the gauntlet of exploding hydraulics and river features put me right into check.  I slid into this fascinating liquid artistry that was entirely reminiscent of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon—chocolate brown water rolled along in a chaotic fashion.  Feeling a strange sympathy for all the small rodents and deer that constantly run about this planet in fear, with all due respect I needed to take a nervous pee.  Negotiating that rapid was a 5 minute battle, the canoe filled with water instantaneously and I was forced to maneuver my way about with an extra 100 lbs of water in the boat.  Then, after finally making it to the bottom of the rapid I was met with the equally formidable task of splitting between two monster eddy lines that were sure to do me in had I failed.  After my successful line through Dragons Tooth, I was bailing the boat frantically because I saw another horizon line just downstream.  There was just no downtime for the open canoeist who finds themselves on the Klamath at 25,000 cfs.  

Photo: Paul Gamache

Bailing frantically
Photo: Paul Gamache

Devil’s Toenail turned out to be the next rapid and equally daunting as the previous.  I found myself on the scramble once again, boat full of water and trying to avoid the eddy lines at the bottom.  Looking ahead my friend Wes got completely enveloped by a spontaneously formed whirlpool and I felt the hairs on my neck rise.  After 20+ years on the water, this was one of the most stressful days yet as I charged ahead hoping to avoid the same feature that gobbled my friend before me.  Before long we reached the Independence Bridge and river access where our shuttle rig waited.  Will traded up shuttle detail with Jon, who took one for the team and hopped in the truck.

Photo: Will Parham

Taking a break at Independence

Photo: Paul Gamache

The Open-Canoe Setup, thanks to Don Iverson for making it possible...sorry Don, I'll get that bailing bucket to you, the floatbag is in the boat though:)

Photo: Paul Gamache

In contrast to my stressful canoeing, the kayakers were playing their brains out all around me.

Photo: Paul Gamache

We were constantly passing by some of the largest river features any of us had ever seen, and the boys were proudly dropping into them.  At one point, Will dropped into a house-size wave for a surf just as a whole tree floated into it.  Unable to avoid the floating hazard Will surfed straight over the root ball, rail-grinding the entire tree.  Paul was charging into some monster boofs that we sent him over.  Jon and Wes were playing in the abundance of river features.

Photo: Paul Gamache

 We had made 20 miles in a little over one hour and it had been a wild ride.  More big drops were ahead for sure, though nobody had a good idea of where they might be.  Ferry Point rapid, known as the high water rapid, was a guaranteed big one that we were anticipating, but when we arrived found it to be completely flushed out.  What we did find, however were some of the biggest surf waves any of us had ever seen.  Will, "Did you see that rail-grind!"

Photo: Paul Gamache

 The largest rapid turned out to be Ti Bar rapid with some legitimate holes to be avoided.  The open-canoe onslaught continued and I was tiring quickly as my friends in their kayaks comfortably floated down the wavetrains while I fought my way along the edge, bailing water any chance I could get.

Photo: Paul Gamache

None of us had ever paddled to Green Riffle before and we stopped at a couple of river access points before we actually arrived to G.R. for fear of passing the take-out and having to deal with Ishi-Pishi Falls at massive flow.  When we finally arrived to green riffle, it was only 4 and ½ hours later and we had completed what many people do as a 2 or 3-day float during the summer.  Mission accomplished!  After 3 great days on the water we had done it and made our 120-mile goal.  Unfortunately, the water was so high that we were unable to turn the truck around at the bottom of the shuttle road and had to back it all the way out the steep river access instead.  On the drive home we discussed the remaining Ikes section and Upper Klamath sections that still remained for the Explore Six Rivers team, especially the possibility of kayaking Ishi Pishi Falls at high water.  The section we had just paddled is one of the best big water play runs any of us had ever paddled—hands down.

Photo: Paul Gamache

Here's to the mighty Klamath River!

Photo: Paul Gamache