Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Last week a friend from SoCal headed north and we met up for several days of whitewater kayaking. He has a real job and was taking a week's vacation. And while kayaking is my job, I also was looking forward to the chance to spend a week boating for fun and hanging out with my friend - a vacation of sorts. The main goal was to relax; get away from the stresses that go with any job and just enjoy the river. We planned to start paddling near Yosemite and head north depending on what rivers had the best flows.

We started on the South Fork of the Tuolumne a little ways outside Groveland. We had never done the run but a new gauge has been installed and was reporting an optimal flow. After setting shuttle at the take out my friend suggested we drive a little further past the normal put in and float an additional couple of miles - he used to work at a summer camp in the area and was sure it would just be a simple float through mellow water that would only add an hour or less to the day. Sure. No problem.

And the river started out exactly as described. We had to avoid several fallen trees but the river was slow and gentle so it wasn't too bad. After about a mile we came to a little slide; and then to a bigger slide entering a granite lined gorge. We got out to scout and I decided to scout a little further to see what the gorge had to offer. After the initial slide there were a couple small drops before the river crashed down a 30' waterfall slamming into a wall. OK, we could walk around that. But below it were more big drops, most of which had rocks in all the wrong places. Eventually we found an even larger waterfall that crashed into several boulders. In the end we ended up just portaging the boats around every drop in the gorge for almost a mile. A mile of scrambling along smooth granite slabs and crashing through poison oak, roping the boats around cliffs and sweating fiercely in the summer heat. It took over three hours to complete the portaging and we got to what was supposed to be our starting point just before dark. After hitching/hiking to retrieve our vehicles we made it to town just in time to order a pizza from the only place that was open before heading back to crash at camp.

The next day we decided to just do the normal run. But after getting my boat pinned early on in a shallow channel I tweaked my knee climbing out. From then on the river was my nemesis: rocks in bad places, wood blocking good channels, trees blocking visibility and a reluctance to run anything risky. So a second slow day brought us to the take out near dusk and settling for pizza at the end of another exhausting day. So far there was little rest and relaxation happening on this vacation.

So we decided to move up to a different river - the North Fork Stanislaus. This was a much friendlier river and a perfect day on the water. So feeling a little encouraged we decided to try to get up to do Mill Creek, a two day trip coming off of Mt. Lassen that I had done last year. After a fair bit of time on the road (and a night crashing at my place in Folsom) we made it to the takeout and hooked up with the local shuttle service to drive us up to the put in. We got a late start but cruised down the river to make camp by 5pm. We finally got a chance to sit and relax in nature and enjoy a warm California evening under the trees. It finally felt like a vacation.

After finishing up Mill early in the afternoon we had the choice of trying to squeeze in one more river the next day. But my friend had a long drive to get back to LA and quite frankly we had had enough. We got in some tough paddling, some fun paddling, and a little relaxation. It was time to call it a vacation and get some rest before heading back to work.

Here's the video from the NF Stanislaus and SF Tuolumne:

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