Close but no Cigar
Well we made it to the put-in as planned, sometime Monday night. A few paddlers at the Cherry Boat ramp met us and they said the water was real low. Apparently the heat wave of the prior week put a burn on the remaining snow pack and the river went from high to low in one day.
Polk Deters, Andy O, Eric Stittmatter and a few others hiked up from the bottom and ran the last four drops of the bottom canyon. Ben Coleman drover down from Tahoe to meet us, and Toby MacDermott was willing to go in “level be-damned”, so we packed up for a low-water mission.
Realizing that the one-day descent at “fish-flow” would be a lame claim and of course followed by a legitimate one day descent at good flow next year, we decided to try and put on 1 mile below the putin and avoid the “broad” slides that characterize the upper stretch. Bad Idea.
With Ben in the lead, we hiked about 7 miles up the normal trail and split out to the left past the Yosemite Park Sign. Our 6 am start allowed us to enjoy the dawn as we walked up the Kibbie Ridge Trail. Even though I would only get to spend two days this year in the Sierra, the feeling of being in such a place was good for the soul. The High Sierra remains one of America’s wildest places, those that have had the opportunity to tramp around in her woods and granite knows the feeling, hard to beat.
Following advice from Chris Harges (never listen to a North Carolinian in California), we thought we would be able to walk off a granite dome to the top of the Class Four Gorge (2 miles below the normal put-in and at the top of the “Hard Water” section). Well beside the multiple cliffs we had to navigate it worked.
Once at the river none other than Bobby “Zone Dog” Miller passed us on his way downriver. “The Dog” comes from the Appalachian mountains of PA and is the modern day disciple of ELF boating, developed by kayaking legends Jim and Jeff Snyder.
ELF or Extremely Low Flow boating style was created in the birth of creek and river exploration, the Snyders used inflatable thrillseeker kayaks and bombed down runs like Elsie and Deckers Creek, sometimes topping out in the 600 foot per mile range. Point of it all is that the master of ELF kayaking was on the river with us, and that most certainly officially certified our low flow.
After waiting for Pat to complete his multi-pitch manzanita scramble, we were joined by another group, including Trent for GB and Phil from California. They acknowledged the lack of flow and said they were going to try and push through to the bottom. We enjoyed a great mad bombing section as we paddled through the upper gorges. Most stuff that would normally be pushy was boat scoutable plink-a-drop, but still damn fun.
We meet up with the other group and bombed down toward the main cherry gorges together. Nothing like 10 people sliding without control on slides and pilling together through chauce piles of rock. Highlight would be Ben C routing us through the Gorrilla drop with out even an eddy catch. We figured this would be a portage, but luckily it worked out just fine.
Before we knew it we were in the heart of Cherry Bomb Gorge, potentially the spiritual epicenter of the creek boating world. What an awesome place, every time I drop in there it blows my mind how special and surreal a place it really is.
Truth be told the gorge was more class four than Class five plus, the biggest danger landing flat off the big falls. Pat received the scout free first time run of the bomb gorge and then the first potholes.
We worked our way through the double pothole gorge without incident and were at “Kiwi in a Pocket” one and a half hours after putting on the river. Toby, Pat and Tommy ran Kiwi and Dead Bear, while Ben and myself chose the portage route.
We spent the next couple of hours making our way to the lake, soaking in the magnificent scenery and cali sunshine. We made it back to the car at 6 and headed to Groveland to hook up with the rest of the crew. They paddled regular Cherry Creek, had a great time, so we decided to paddle again the next day.
We slept in the dirt and cow shit behind Casa Loma and rallied up with 23 paddlers for a run down the Holm powerhouse section. I think every boating region was represented, we had Dieter King, Demany Smith, Gaylan and a slew of other from Ca, Pies from the island, Bo Wallace, Riley Cathcart, Josh Hill from the east coast and so on and so on. Was great to paddle on flow, and the Holm powerhouse section can’t be beat for good big water creeking action.
I think 19 out of 23 people ran Lumbsden, so you can image there were some classic lines. Dieter stepped up to the plate and ran her down the meat, Awesome! Polk Deters flipped twice and I evasively maneuvered around the center rock all to the amusement of the crowd. Sometimes it is fun as hell to paddle with 20 + bros, somewhat comical.
After hell shuttle to the top of the hill, we headed to San Fran and our flight back to the East Coast. Hopefully someone will return next year to complete the true one-day descent of Upper Cherry Creek at a good flow. We may not have succeeded, but it was sure fun trying. Where else can you go in the world on a 3-day paddling trip and run two world-class rivers? Till next time….