Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Farewell 2011

All come to Bald Rock. Out in the street, they call it murder. At around 300 cfs, most people will, at least, say its too low. A 'Wild and Scenic' river shines forth though, showing that while other rivers may be too low, it still has 'just enough' flow. The Middle Feather's source high in the Sierras is still melting, giving us water to enjoy a fine river gorge over New Years Eve. Serving as the take-out for multiple other kayak runs, Milsap Bar is the remote put-in for this California classic. What lies downstream is a deep, dark, smooth, and spectacular gorge that demands respect. Even at, what could be, the lowest flow ever paddled, this river still packs a punch you wouldn't want to serve to an unknowing bystander.

Meet Mike Peacher, he's a whitewater assassin. Lead him to the burl, and he will charge.

Looking at the river gauges on, I began to realize how dry the state of California actually is right now. Nonetheless, having probed the South Yuba river at extremely low flows recently, I began to question whether Bald Rock would still be relatively runnable at 300cfs. I convinced myself and Mike Peacher it was. Therefore, we set in motion a plan to kayak into Bald Rock canyon and spend the night on December 31st 2011. What we would take away from the experience was a series of trials and tribulations that you can only get from an expedition, of sorts.

Committing to the canyon at Milsap Bar, later than hoped, as usual.

After getting lost a few times, we made it to Milsap Bar and made our vessels ready to launch for an over-nighter. Having heard stories of car theft at Milsap, I made sure to hide my keys in a super-obscure, debris-infested, hillside, to prevent possible foul-play. I was asking for it.

It channelizes well, making it feel somewhat pushy, even at meager flow.

To our pleasant surprise, the river was very gentle and pleasing, as we found the narrow lines easily. Sure, the huge granite stones were exposing more of their ugly under-sides, but the river also allowed us more freedom to avoid them. With the bad, also comes some good. Peacher, having never done the run before, was stoked to be mobbing some burl, as was I.

The eye of Bald Rock looks on.

Before too long, we reached the entrance to Atom Bomb gorge, the crux of the run. Unfortunately, the lead-in rapid was a bit too rich for our taste, and so we made a sketchy portage up and over some icy boulders. I decided to check out the river-left side of what is normally a portage at higher flows. I quickly exclaimed, "Oh my god!" to Mike, as I caught my first glimpse of the drop. It was good-to-go!

Squeezing through, like mustard out of a bottle.

Speed is the key to bridging a gap. I charged the not-even-boat-width crack and somehow found purchase in the meager 50cfs flowing through. I propelled myself through that gap successfully, and enjoyed the calm, deep, pool below. Peacher went next and didn't have quite as much speed, and somewhat wave-wheeled the drop. But it still looked pretty tight.

Finding the path.

The exit of the drop was a debris infested sieve, but with minimal flow, we were able to find a safe passage, which allowed us to avoid the infamous 'hairy ferry'. Makes me wonder if anyone else has run that drop before. By this time, it was getting dark, and so we carried our boats around the massive Bishop-sized boulders. Finding a perfect camp-spot, with plenty of weathered driftwood, and a nearby cliff to keep us on our game, even through the late-night Tequila shots.

Living on the edge, quite literally.

New Years Eve is, for most people, the biggest party night of the year. We, on the other hand, were alone in a remote river canyon, reminiscing about all the other great river-trips we had taken that year. It was a windy night that kept the fire raging all night. Luckily, there was a plethora of large, beautiful, driftwood lodged in the high-water sieves, providing wonderful camp fuel, for warmth and cooking.

We awoke, later than hoped, thanks to Tequila, to find a glorious California day of sunny blue skies warming up the trees, rocks, birds, and burl for 2012. We scouted the final drop of Atom Bomb falls from our boats, and I declared I wouldn't run it without heavy back-up on hand, to save me in case of an easily botch-able line. It exudes some serious power, even though the flow had dropped even further than the previous, last day of 2011.

Here, Peacher examines the ultra-burly final falls.

Shortly downstream of Atom Bomb, there is, what I like to refer to as, The Rok Sieve. I haven't seen the GoPro footage, but Rok told me he accidentally charged in blind, once. Which lead to an epic, all-team swim through a nasty sieve. We portaged it of course, as Curtain Falls thunders shortly downstream, stoking us up, for a nice 20 foot waterfall. Well, it wasn't much of a falls this day, but got our blood pumping nonetheless.

Floating down a perfect ramp of the earth, Mike Peacher enjoys the Curtain.

The river was pretty deceiving at the low-flow, as I scouted a rapid I thought was easily runnable. To my dismay, I got pinned on a stone in the middle of the river, and felt the boat flexing under me. Somehow, I wiggled off unharmed, but my boat suffered a devastating blow, that breached its integrity on the side. No worries, I can paddle with water coming in my boat, for a while, at least.

As you can see, it was still pretty exciting in there.

There were many more 'pretty-burly' rapids than I remembered, towards the end of the run. Keeping us on our toes until we saw the massive Feather Falls cascading down the river-left, where Fall Creek enters, with just a trickle on this day. I guess most fishermen were hungover from NYE, forcing us to paddle the 3 miles of flat-water to my friends property on Bean Creek.

It was tight.

I made a horrible decision. It looked like there was a trail going back upstream to a road not too far from the lake. Key word, looked. It didn't exist, and we were forced to do some of the hardest 'shwacking' I've ever done. I lost it at one point. Yelling seemed to help me deal with the stress of carrying a heavy kayak through a steep, thick, and slick forest. But hey, that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger, right?

Bald Rock.

Well, if you are interested in doing this run, feel free to e-mail me at for directions on where and how to park at my friends land on Bean Creek. He is super-cool and willing to run shuttles for beer. He fed us some amazing lentils and rice that really hit the spot, and then drove us back to Milsap Bar. Where we found that my keys were stolen by some mischievous creature. We thoroughly scoured the hill I left them on, and found no trace of them.

Leaving our trace.

We got the old Subaru hot-wired pretty easily, but didn't realize, until after Joe left, that my steering-wheel lock was still engaged. Leaving Peacher and I stranded in a remote spot. So, we made the best of it, and slept in the car, occasionally cranking the engine to heat us up. The next day, we hiked the 9 miles back to HWY 162 and called our good buddy Justin Patt. He came to our rescue with pizza, beer, and most-importantly a drill.

Its always worth it, no matter what happens in the end.

A little elbow grease later, and we were back on the road, mission almost complete. Keys just weren't on our side this trip, as we couldn't find the key to Joe's gate either. Forcing us to hike a mile down his road, and back up with all our gear. It wasn't nothing but a chicken-wing on a string!

Bald Rock is one, hell of a way, to start a year, which I'm sure is going to test us just like every year. But thats what keeps me 'Charged Up', seeking the next adventure, not knowing how its all gonna work out. Keep exploring!

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