Kayak Journal

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Close but no Cigar

“We Ran the River, But the River Wasn’t Running”
-Ben Coleman

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….

Pictures forthcoming.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Upper Cherry Creek One-Day Attempt

Some will say that Upper Cherry Creek in the High Sierra one of, if not THE, finest multi-day class V-V+ expeditions in the world. Our crew has decided to refute this claim. This trip report will outline our argument and attempt to prove our point. We are not arguing that Upper Cherry doesn’t have more clean runnable Class V+ than most rivers, we are not claiming that scenery is less than the spectacular. No, our point of contention is that the river does not require the typical three days to hike and paddle, in fact we believe that not even two days are required.

On Tuesday the 26th of July, Toby MacDermott, Daniel DeLaVergne, Pat Keller and Tommy Hilleke will attempt to complete the expedition in one bone crushing, energy sapping, and backbreaking day.

photo by Tommy Hilleke

The Plan

Monday July 25th
1) 6:15 am- Fly from the East Coast to San Francisco CA.

2) 1 pm- Rent a car, pick up the kayaks at the shipping terminal and head for the High Sierra.

3) 10 pm, Camp at the trailhead for the 11 mile hike to the putin of Upper Cherry.

Tuesday July 26th

1) 3 am- Awake and begin the 11 mike hike through the wilderness to the put-in. Due to the heat wave gripping the area we will use the cool night air and light boats to make the typical 9-10 hour hike in 5 hours. This is a crux of the plan because the trail is poorly marked, Many tales of woe exist about wayward paddlers wandering around in the Emigrant Wilderness in search of the elusive trail.

2) 8:15 am- Arrive at the putin of Upper Cherry nearly exhausted and ready for a bit of rest.

3) 10 am- Putin for a day of amazing whitewater (hopefully just one day)

4) 4:30 pm- Paddle across part of the Upper Cherry reservoir, hike 20 minutes through the dust and heat and then drink cold Budweiser.

5) Drive down to the Yosemite border town of Groveland and enjoy a fine Mexican meal.

Wednesday July 27th

1) Drive back to San Francisco, do some sight seeing and get back on a plane for the East Coast.

The River

Here is some photographic evidence of the stellar quality of whitewater to be found on the 11 mile stretch of Upper Cherry Creek.

The river from the top of Styx Pass (the end of the hike in).

photo by Nikki Kelly

The first slide after the put-in

photo by Tommy Hilleke

Same Slide.

photo by Tommy Hilleke

Same Slide.

photo by Nate Helms

Nature’s Art

photo by Nikki Kelly

The wide open granite flats of the upper section.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Toby MacDermott dropping through one of the upper gorges.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Nikki Kelly on the seldom run “Gorrila” falls.

photo by

The infamous Cherry Bomb Falls and gorge, the crux of the trip.

photo by Nikki Kelly

photo by Tommy Hilleke

The gorge of the bomb.

photo by Tommy Hilleke

photo by Nate Helms

photo by Nate Helms

Cherry Bomb gorge is followed immediately by the first pothole gorge. This is the entrance slide.

photo by Nate Helms.

The Potholes.

photo by Tommy Hilleke

photo by Nikki Kelly

The runout of the 1st Pothole Gorge

photo by Nikki Kelly

The first major cataract below “camp 1 and Cherry Bomb” is the “Grove Tube” falls, portaged by most.

photo by Nikki Kelly

The 25-foot falls just below the grove tube rapid.

photo by Nikki Kelly

Same Falls.

photo by

The double pothole gorge comes next. The entrance to this falls is also one of the crux moves on the trip.

After the Double Pothole comes the second teacups gorge.

photo by Tommy Hilleke

Just below these teacups comes the “Kiwi in a Pocket” falls.

photo by Tommy Hilleke

Immediately below the Kiwi falls is Dead Bear Falls, marking the end of the REALLY big stuff.

photo by Nikki Kelly

At the confluence of West Cherry and Upper Cherry creek comes this falls, affectionately known as “Down The Pipe”

photo by Tommy Hilleke

Monday, January 03, 2005

Rio Blanco al Interior

Purchase the Whitewater Kayaking DVD covering this trip.
Click Here

To Check out video of the Rio Blanco al Interior
Click Here For Video 1 “Just Like California but better”
Click Here For Video 2 “The Mandatory Big Falls”
Click Here For Video 3 “The run Out”

Click Here To Download Quicktime Viewer to your computer
After recharging in Pucon we headed to the airport to pick up Jen Cribbs. She decided to show up at customs with a grocery bag full of healthy fruit and veggie snacks. Not a good idea, especially not on the day they decided to institute a crack down on internationals bringing potentially harmful fruit and vegetables. To our surprise we saw Jen handing over her bag of fruit on the National Chileano News. Pretty funny stuff.

Ben Stookesberry on the first drop of the Rio Blanco al Interior.

photo by Nate Elliott

The next day we headed up into the Zone of Dispute. The Zone is an area running along the length of the Chilean and Argentinean border. The area is a swath 40 miles wide that is neither here, nor there. You must cross the borders of each county on opposing ends, requiring a double border crossing every time you travel from one country to the other. The zone has some phenomenal kayaking but there are few roads, and no houses or people or anything, stopping is discouraged and camping in illegal.

Lenticular cloud formations in “the Zone”.

We new of a pretty good run up in there but one had to be quick and dodgy and hope the federals aren’t at your car when you return from your little “experience”. Hiking into the river and paddling through one hell of a box canyon.

Riley Cathcart on the California Falls.

photo by Nate Elliott

Nate boofing into the maw of the top hole on the California Drop.

Click Here For Video 1 “Just Like California but better”

The next falls down was eventually portaged due to the lack of applicable safety and bad looking room.

photo by Nate Elliott

This is the slide located in the runout of the box canyon containing the above falls.
Ben Stookesberry probing the big hole at the bottom.

photo by Nate Elliott

Riley same slide

photo by Nate Elliott

After this gorge the river goes through a real active and tight class IV canyon and, boom, there you are at the lip of a falls you can neither scout nor portage. Our ‘pyschic’ guide told of a line down the middle of a 15-foot U shaped ledge. The water was real high and nervous glances abounded. Finally a paddler just took off and ran her down the gut. A shout was given and crew followed suit. Amazingly no one got caught in the hydraulic at the bottom. Good thing, cause next up was mandatory 40 footer, barely scoutable. Este and Nate climbed up and confirmed that yes, it was 40 feet and that no, we could not walk it. So most of the crew just bombed off it blind as bats.

Larsen on the big falls.

Nate Elliott on the big falls.

Click Here For Video 2 “The Mandatory Big Falls”

After this falls was nice 15 foot ledge with hole.
Here is Chris Larsen giving it a go.

A view down into the canyon after the mandatory waterfalls. Notice the tight darkness, and falls pouring into the river from the right. This a series of class IV rapids leading into 5 other committing, marginally/not-portagable and fullof boulder drops along granite walls. One missed place piece of wood and trouble would be had.

photo by Nate Elliott.

The river requires a great deal of logistics and one must pass through a generally unportagable and definitely class five gore with a mandatory 40 foot fall. The vertical extraction squad are a long way away and the gorge is in a section of South America with no government.

Click Here For Video 3 “The run Out”

Monday, December 27, 2004

More Exploration

After returning to Pucon from our trip up North, we wrapped around to the backside of Volcan Villarica to the Llanchue River (sp?).

Villarica getting its smoke on.

Robbie Dastin, Este and a few others discovered the upper Llanchue several years ago. The run comes off the backside of Villarica, opposite from the Palguin. The upper run is relatively roadside and features solid class IV-V rapids, a 17-foot falls and a nasty class V+ that has been run by the likes of Polk Deters and Josh Anthony. The takeout is at a pleasant hot springs just after a walled in 20 footer run only by Mr Dastin.

The 17 footer.

photo by Nate Elliott

Polk Deters.

photo by Nate Elliott

Daniel scouting same rapid.

After a day on the upper (and an extensive soak) we set off to explore the un-run Middle Section. This section of the river remains one of the last ‘unknowns’ of the Pucon region. The river makes a large bend to the left away from the road and drops between two imposing mountains. Due the hostility of the environment, few kayakers have ever penetrated the gorge. With news a new trail and 3 falls dropping over 80 meters, we set off into the unknown.

A friendly Tarantula we found after an hours bush whack into the gorge.

We never found the falls, but did make it to the river below what we felt was the steep section. The level was too high but we committed to return and further explore the middle section.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The truth About Kayak Exploration

Kayaking is not all about running sick drops and high-fiving wit h your bros on the side of the river.

Sometimes you got to get out in the woods and do your research. In Chile these missions are characterized by long drives on bumpy dirt roads, frustrating hiking into impenetrable jungle flora, and furtive glimpses into impossibly tight box canyons.

Over the weekend we set out on one such mission to the zone north of Pucon. We had 5 five‘hits’, or potential rivers, to check out. The first river we investigated looked enticing at the takeout so we sent a search party upstream. The gradient seemed to be going the wrong way, the flow was low at the top and the river bent away from the road into desolation zone.

Here is the potential put-in we found for the Rio Dijo.

The first two rivers came up ‘no go’s’ so we set out around the third river. We had seen a photo in Kayak Session of some Germans running the next river we were looking into, so we had high hopes. This time we were stymied by low water, but committed to return and paddle the mini basalt gorges we scouted.

We drove through a national forest as we wrapped around the Volcan Llamia.

Here is a group of Ararcaria trees on the ridge approaching the pass.

Aracaria tree and Volcan Llamia.

Dastin, Deters and Riley driving through the Volcanic basin of Llamia.

The next river we checked on was the infamous Rio Traful Traful. The run is reminiscent of a Colorado class III with some serious Chileano Class VI at the end.
The final falls on the river.

No one wanted anything to do with “Trufulator” falls, so we called it a day.

Next day saw more driving on shitty roads and hanging off of spiny bushes and bamboo, trying get a good look into more basalt canyons.

We finally put on the Rio Blanco and located some class IV in box canyon and portages.

Portage on the Blanco.

After a fine evening at the ‘Termas de Rio Blanco we made the final loop to the Machine River and back home to Pucon. We did not paddle much, but we seriously increased the group’s knowledge base about the rivers in the zone we had just explored.

A smoking Volcan Villarica.