Thursday, August 05, 2010

Middle Kings

Greetings fellow Sentient Beings!

The Middle Fork of the Kings river in California is like an old wooden ship, which I believe defines diversity. If you give her respect, proper permission, effort, attention, and admiration; she will reward you with the greatest ride of your life. However, if you neglect these simple principals, she will leave you cold, wet, hungry, hurt, and stranded for Bears to come along and eat your heart out. She is guarded by the towering snowy peaks of the Sierras; so that, one must be strong, willing, and motivated just to catch a glimpse of her majesty. If you so desire to ride her emerald green maelstrom of swirls, waterfalls, and rare pools, come prepared to do battle with yourself, possibly your friends, and most certainly some challenging whitewater!

What I love about the Middle Kings expedition is its diversity of trials and tribulations you must go through to complete such an epic journey. The trip begins as you use a modern chariot to transport yourself 300 miles across the Sierra Nevada's to Bishop, CA. Drew whipped all 200 or so nimble and fast Subaru horses into action, and we enjoyed the scenic drive through magnificent Yosemite NP. Once at Base Camp, Bishop, be sure to stop by the Ranger station, and speak with an old man at first, but then realize, sooner than later, that he is losing his wits, and must be traded for a much more agile young female ranger, who will give you a free permit to legally gain residency in the Kings castle. Find a local market, and obtain foods that are light, never up tight, and out of sight; as you will need plenty of caloric energy to replenish your weary muscles after long days of battle. You should attempt to rig up some sort of kayak carrying device, but really hope and pray that a wise man will come along and show you the way up and over the 12,000' high Bishop Pass. Drew brought his rather pleasant lady friend Karen and her friend Mary Jane as witnesses to the grandeur in which one must work through to reach the headwaters of the Middle King. They began their ascent earlier than I, and thankfully, Jason Hale, my wise man, celebrated the beginning of our hike with a cold Budweiser.

The celebration was short-lived, as my so-called kayak backpack rapidly inflicted gross amounts of pain upon my feeble mind and body. After making up to 10 vain attempts to correct the system, the sun was fading quickly in the distance, and I hadn't made much progress. Therefore, I decided to abandon my ship and give word to Mr. Hale that I wouldn't be continuing into The Canyon. Luckily, my wise man, wouldn't take no for an answer and helped fix my spirits, backpack, and energy levels. With a fresh breath of air under my sail, I took off in pursuit of Drew and the ladies. Standing at the base of Bishop Pass is one of the many intimidating sights one sees on the trip; however, with our life-giving sun retiring to the west, our motivation to push on into the cold unknown of the alpine night was lacking. Therefore, the wise Jason suggested we camp below the Pass and get an early start the following day. I concurred, and we set up camp for the night while enjoying a night under our lunar lad. Of course, we didn't wake-up near as early as hoped, but made quick time of the arduous Bishop Pass summit, and re-united with Drew and the crew near Dusy Basin. Trust me, if you've made it this far, don't think its over with, because going down is just as hard as going up with a 100lb turtle shell on your back.

When you finally arrive in Le Conte Canyon where you catch your first sight of his majesty, your muscles are screaming at you to stop, but your mind is telling you to reap the rewards of your hiking, and ride the liquid that will take you through a granite wonderland. Our friend Nathan Klema showed up with a crew of Colorado chargers ready to pilot their crafts down the mighty Middle Kings. After a brief discussion, it was realized that Nate and the crew hadn't spoken with the young lady ranger, and were lacking an important piece of paper. Never fear, the beauty of kayaking is freedom, and with that freedom, we are able to go places where other non-equipped people can't go. So, they took off downstream to reap the rewards of their effort, and we shortly followed suit. Feeling beat down from the energy sapping hike, we didn't venture too far into the Canyon before finding a sweet piece of Granite slab to call home for the night.

The next day, our CO companions started off the Charge by routing through our camp rapid while we were still cooking breakfast on the fire. I was able to document their swift and courageous paddle strokes, which gave them smooth rides down the tight pinch drop into a nice Disney-esque slide. Stoked on life, we geared up and immersed ourselves in the cold flow of the river-- something that feels so natural to me. Soon, we were eddied out scouting the 7 Rivers Expedition cover shot rapid, which the CO boys fittingly called Squeeze Play. Drew and Hale fired into the 4 foot wide slot that the river comes tumulting through and over a 15' drop. I decided to give Drew the documenting device for once, and he captured me Charging though an amazing gateway to the soul. As we expected, our group of 3, that had all experienced the Kings before, caught the 5 Kings virgin Coloradoans, and respectfully played on through.

At one of our breaks, Drew mentioned to me that if I wanted to be a great filmmaker like Daniel DeLavergne, R.I.P, I was going to have to start running rapids first and blind. His advice took hold, and I proceeded to Charge into the Money Drop and so on to capture Drew and the Wise Man in battle. Giving my Full Throttle attention to His Majesty, I was able to successfully navigate through the Devils Washbowl's, which contains many powerful slides, swirls, and stones. Our energy levels were off the Richter, and soon I found myself in the lead again bombing into rapids I couldn't remember. I tried to catch a weak swirl, but the river swept me away and I was forced to look down the barrel of a big burly rapid and giver her what I had, which was barely enough for the toll, but the Wise Man wasn't so fortunate.

I embraced a large stone in the middle of the river after said rapid, and I felt something dislodge me from behind. Jason had followed my irresponsible lead, and as he resurfaced from the drop, his eye made significant contact with the gear laden stern of my boat. The meeting was too abrupt, and forced separation of the skin above the Wise Man's right eyebrow. Hale enthusiastically informed me that my insane bombing techniques aren't exactly 'safe' for the team. A Wise Man is always prepared, and Hale is no exception, which is one of the many awesome reasons I enjoy kayaking with him. He used his Iphone to take a picture of his wound, and being a nurse, diagnosed the cut and guided Drew to repair the damage with his superior med-kit. I took a much needed safety break, and agreed to run sweep to avoid further mad bombing carnage.

Soon, we approached what Taylor Cavin has so eloquently dubbed Raw Dogg Falls gorge, which beholds a magnificent 30' waterfall. Unfortunately, Drew's boat didn't want to scout, and took off downstream without its skilled pilot. I jumped in after it, but had to abort the rescue due to the proximity of another rapid. We took off running downstream after the red beast, and caught a glimpse of it Charging over the 30'er. Drew and Hale decided to probe the nooks and crags close to where the incident happened, where as, I began running down the well established trail praying to see red at every opening. After, about a mile or so, I was rewarded with a beautiful glimpse of red plastic wedged ever-so perfectly against the right wall. I thought I was going to die running back in my super warm Kokatat dry suit, but made it back in time to stop Drew from paddling my yellow boat, which he actually owns, in search of his red boat. Hale and I put back in the river and paddled some standard Class V+ Middle Kings Burl in hot pursuit of Drew's boat.

We carabinered a throw-rope onto Drew's pinned boat and began tugging, but our strength was too much for the grab-loop, and it broke, sending the carabiner directly into Drew's shin. He was a bit disappointed to say the least. However, after Hale and I paddled some more super-scary rapids, we saw Drew re-united with his boat downstream. Come to find out though, that Drew's Watershed dry-bag was missing, containing his precious food, camera, and amenities. Luckily, his dry-bag carrying his sleeping bag and pad were still on board. Without the kayak's skilled pilot, and full of water, the boat came into severe contact with a few hefty stones. These encounters left the boat mangled on the bow and stern, but still sea-worthy.

The next day, we continued our rapid descent into the section of river that beholds the Big Bad Beaver. We could tell the river-level was definitely on the 'High Side of Good', and upon reaching the BBB, our thoughts were confirmed by a massive stream of white cascading down the perfect granite. We scouted the rapid thoroughly, and discussed possible approaches to running the beast. In the end, the Wise Man was the only one brave enough to run it, and he did so with style. His energy was rampant having completed the largest of the runnable rapids on the Kings, and it is something I want to experience someday. We thought there weren't many more significant rapids below the BBB, but we were wrong, again, as the King never seems to let you put your guard down.

Finally, we reached the sacred Tehipite Dome camp-site, and were stunned to see a non-kayaker camping at our usual spot. I quickly realized that this man, named Bob Kannen, was a Ranger, and went over to see what he was doing. As most Rangers are, he was very serious and inquisitive into our doings. We explained that our permit was in Drew's lost dry-bag, and so, he wrote down our information to confirm validity of our stay. He was very dissapointed that we didn't have a map, but we tried to explain why we don't need a map, seeing that the only way out is downstream, for us, at least. He took a picture of us, and explained that the Park Service wants to monitor our tirps in there. I guess they want to feel apart of it too. Knowing that our Colorado com-padres didn't have a permit, I hurried upstream to their camp where I informed them of Bob's presence. Once again, they used their freedom to elude a possible confrontation.

The bottom 9 miles of the Middle Kings is by far the most continuous stretch of whitewater I have ever paddled. Many of the rapids are simply too crazy too run, and so, you must expend a lot of energy carrying your kayak around and through the maze of boulders, trees, and poison oak that lines the banks. Nonetheless, this is my favorite section of river, as you are able to 'Mad Bomb' many of the sweet boulder-garden style rapids with a firm grip on your black shaft. We made amazing time through this section, having planned to paddle the lower Garlic Falls section the same day.

I was tired around noon, when we passed the confluence of the Middle and South Kings rivers, where we planned to take a break. Jason and Drew were way out ahead of me, as I was pleasantly floating along enjoying the spectacular scenery. They didn't even notice the confluence, which doubled the flow, and added a nice warmth to the river. I guess they were still in Charge-mode. Drew, having a leaky boat, got out to drain at the first big rapid of Garlic Falls, but Hale decided to fire right in without having a scout. I followed suit, and saw Jason get back-endered out of a big hole. Luckily, I also went super-deep in the hole, and back-endered my way out too, but enthusiastically motioned for Hale to pull over as I was lacking energy to continue into the next rapid.

As usual, Hale did as he pleases, and dropped over into the next rowdy pour-over hole. I looked over my shoulder from the eddy above to see Jason getting pummeled in the swirl. I quickly jumped out with my throw-rope to rescue him from further torture, but he made it out of the hole on his own accord. However, as so many paddlers have also experienced, he hit a stone just as he was attempting a desperate roll, and ended up swimming into the pool he had already floated it into. I laughed at him, seeing that he was alright, only to see Drew getting destroyed in the hole that Hale and I barely made it through. I was already set-up for rescue, but as Drew swam out of the hole upstream, he was swept over to the river-left, where if, I would have thrown him a rope, he would have been pulled into the hole Jason swam out of. Therefore, I just yelled encouragement at Drew to swim for the pool at the bottom with his gear. He wasn't too happy that I didn't throw him a rope, but I took off paddling downstream as he wasn't able reel his boat in himself.

I eventually was able to dock Drew's heavy, water-logged, kayak as he made his way downstream on foot. Drew and Hale, having just gotten beat-down, weren't feeling too 'fired up', and so, we played it conservative in the remaining burly big-water of the Garlic Falls. We were surprised to see some rafters down there, scouting a rapid with a typical big hole at the bottom. We walked around it, but one of the rafters, also named Will, Charged in there, and got worked a little bit, but came out fine. I was feeling really good at this point, having completed the majority of the rapids without getting worked. Therefore, I resumed 'Mad Bombing' many of the remaining rapids, also pulling over to let the others take the lead. I Charged into one I couldn't see, and got worked in a big swirl, but after embracing the chaos, I was let free, still connected with my boat.

We made it to the take-out sometime in the afternoon, having paddled 19 miles of epic whitewater that day, we were relieved to be off the water. My rock house worked at keeping my cooler full of PBR in the riverbed, but the water had dropped so much that it was no longer submersed. No worries though, the beer was still chill, and we toasted to victory. Cruising out in my 84' Ford Escort diesel, we weren't in luxury, but we were moving along for super-cheap at around 40mpgs with kayaks on top. The 300 mile shuttle is quite an endeavor in itself, and forced us to camp out near Tuolumne Meadows, running out of stamina to push on through the night. We made it full circle, as we were greeted by the beauty of South Lake once again, and parted ways, hoping that this wouldn't be that last time to experience the exhaustion, relief, and satisfaction that comes from finishing a Middle Fork of the Kings 'high-water' expedition.

I was able to get some pretty good footage from the trip, and made a little video using music from my friend Omega. All photos were taken by The Wise Man. Check out the video here...

Peace, Love, and :)

1 comment:

matias said...

I missed the kings this year, but your very fun write up made me be there again...
hell of an adventure you all had there...
Regards from a snowy day here in Bariloche.


ps: a-I will remember never to follow your lead. b- let´s hope the rangers do not read your blog...