Sunday, November 13, 2011

Best in the West

Howdy Ya'll!

In my humble opinion, the Middle Fork of the Kings river is the best California Class V kayak run. After completing all the legendary rivers featured in the 7 Rivers Expedition, with the exception of Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, I feel pretty comfortable giving MFK top honors. With great effort, comes great reward, and this trip is no exception.
Having to hike your kayak, 5 days worth of food, and your camping gear 12 miles up and over a 12,000 foot pass, makes you wonder if its worth it. I don't consider the hike to be a burden, rather a pleasant stroll through some of the most captivating scenery on the planet.
This year, being my forth tour, I felt pretty comfortable with the all-around magnitude of the endeavor. The crew included Mike Peacher, Barny Young, Nick Murphy, King Charles, and Jordy Searle.
Ironically, King Charles was forced to hike-out early into the run, due to a massive breach in his kayak's hull. Jordy was injured from some burl on Hospital Rock, also slightly ironic, and simply provided ground support on the hike.
Once you make it to the river, after trudging down around 1000' of switchbacks, you are ready to taste the magical waters of his majesty. After speaking with a ranger at the put-in, it was confirmed that the water is cleaner than any tap-water. So, we got in our boats and started charging down the river, taking gulps as we plugged into the countless swirls. The beginning of the run is really low volume and manky, but fun nonetheless.
While driving the shuttle, we saw a few rattlesnakes and an owl carrying a mouse. As we expected, somebody noticed a Bear chilling next to the river, close to where I was portaging. Its so exciting in there! We made camp early after running the picturesque notch to slide rapid. The stars glimmered us to sleep quickly, deeply tired and satisfied from being in the Kings Canyon. I awoke early, with thoughts of the 7 Rivers cover drop, aka Squeeze Play, lurking closely downstream. I walked down to take a peak before anyone had woken, to find a lower flow than my previous descent of the rapid. I didn't like the way it looked.

Taylor Cavin, Dan Menten, Scott Ligare, and Chris Zwaki joined us in scouting the tight waterfall. Dan felt fired up, and decided to give it a go. I recommended that he charge. He charged, but the waterfall was hungry after having more than a year without action. He surfed the hole for while, locked in by the overhanging left wall. Ropes began to fly, but none were successful. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, Dan resurfaced, out of his boat, way downstream. We were all on the river left bank, unable to pull Dan up the sheer cliff we were standing on. I ran downstream to the last possible eddy before the next burly rapid. When I saw Dan floating toward the lip of said rapid, I fired my throw rope with great conviction. Luckily, the rope landed right over the bill of his helmet, but he didn't immediately respond. We yelled at him and he woke up just in time. I reeled him in like the biggest trophy fish in the world. Saved just in the nick of time. He was coughing up serious amounts of water and completely exhausted. After recovering all the gear, a ranger asked for our permit, and Peacher inquired as to why she didn't have a six-shooter on her side. Having just witnessed a near-death experience, we began paddling downstream with a different perspective.
The snow-bridge was one of the highlights of my entire summer. I have never seen such an amazing spectacle. While paddling under it, we were exposed to a cathedral of dimples that were nothing short of beautiful. It was a baptism of sorts, crossing under a snow-bridge created from the largest snow-pack in California's recorded history.
The ultra-classic big slide was epic as always, and I got stopped like a fast-ball into the catchers mitt in the hole at bottom. Luckily, I was able to stoke my way out of it without a problem. Not surprisingly, Barny broke his kayak soon before the waterfall gorge. We patched her up as best we could and ran some awesome whitewater. Looking at the one of the last un-run drops of the Kings, I'm surprised Tommy Hilleke or somebody hasn't given her a go. Its a pretty walled-in, backed-up, super-powerful hydraulic; so, I guess its not that surprising, since you get so many other 'good' rapids on the run.
We camped in an amazing meadow, and discussed how lucky I was to nail Dan with my rope. The next day, we woke up to another perfect, sunny, glorious atmosphere for routing long Class V rapids. I always remember the section just above the Big Bad Beaver to keep you more than adequately entertained.
Therefore, when we got to the BBB, all of us but Nick decided to walk around. With typical Nick Murphy fashion, he rode his Jah-mad up and over the chaotic compression hole that keeps most mortals at bay. Cheers of celebration ensued, as its always good to watch a team-member style the largest rapid on the run. Tehipite dome is one of the many rewards you receive from staying on point and continuing deeper into the canyon.
Always a hard night of sleep, thinking about MFK B9-er and the Garlic Falls, the final stretches of the trip. The bottom 9 keeps you humble more than any other section of river I have been on, but I love it for that. Too many rapids in there to remember, and you find yourself mad-bombing steep technical boulder gardens that can eat your lunch, constantly.
We kept it safe in there and took a rewarding break at the confluence of the Middle and South Kings rivers. Having completed all of the Middle Fork is an accomplishment for sure, but I have seen Garlic Falls serve up just as much carnage as the rest.
Lucky for us this time, we mobbed the big-water without hindrance, and celebrated with the sights of the take-out. As Barny would say, funny how you are ready to leave one of the greatest kayaking rivers in the world after spending 5 grueling days in there. The beers flowed forth, having been chilled by our whitewater roller-coaster.
We left my favorite place in the entire world, with a fitting California sunset over Pine Flat lake, which hinders the King's natural progression to the sea.
We made it to Barny's house in Groveland that night, but couldn't muster the motivation to paddle faster-than-usual down Cherry Creek the next day. So, we rolled in hot off an epic mission, to one of the best parties of the year, and raged late into the night with our fellow chargers. Cheers fellow brothers and sisters! Heres a little movie I made from the trip. Enjoy!


k dog said...

who's the inbred looking fellah at the end of the vid?

JB said...

I think that's my favorite shot of Tehipite dome. Nice work. Fun read.