Thursday, June 18, 2009

California Trip Report: Hiking Yosemite with my Mom

My mom and I at the top of Quarter Dome (right before the big push up to Half Dome)

After driving up to Sacramento from the Kern, I dropped Gareth off at the airport (he had to fly to Philadelphia to teach a swiftwater rescue course for a few days) and picked up my mom so that we could spend a few days exploring Yosemite National Park.

From the second I arrived in Yosemite valley I was blown away by the scenery. I was immediately surrounded by so many huge waterfalls and granite domes that I did not know how to take it all in. The first day we took a hike up to the Cathedral lakes (located at almost 10,000 feet). The hike was interesting as a good bit of it was in the snow and we managed to get pretty lost to the point that we almost turned around. Fortunately we found our way back on the trail and were able to enjoy the breathtaking views from the lakes (my camera was malfunctioning so no pictures).

The following morning we went for the most epic day hike ever, and the most famous in Yosemite- the Half Dome hike. The hike up to Half Dome involves over 17 miles of hiking and an accent and descent of 4,800 feet. My mom had been a little nervous about taking on such a hike, but was also the one that really pushed us to do it. Following the advice of others, we woke up at 4am to start our epic day in order to avoid the afternoon storms and masses of people also attempting the hike. The trail began without much warm up as we climbed up over 2,000 feet of elevation in our first three miles past two spectacular waterfalls.

Eventually we made it up out of the Yosemite Valley and across the Little Yosemite Valley, before starting to climb again, this time headed towards the top of Half Dome. Before reaching the infamous cable section of the climb, you must first walk up the steep granite steps of Quarter Dome. Because of her extreme fear of heights, this was extremely difficult for my mom, as the steps are not exactly lined with railings. I was very proud of her for making it to the top of Quarter Dome and approved of her decision to stop there. The climb up to the top of Half Dome looked steeper than I ever imagined, and I was nervous for myself, let alone my mom.

Deaths on the climb up to Half Dome are not uncommon, and there was actually a death there last Saturday (which was comforting to hear as we were about to start the hike). The climb involves a very steep granite grade, lined by cables which you use to literally pull yourself up the rock. It was full on to say the least. I cannot believe so many people do it, and I am surprised there aren't more deaths. I made it to the top without many troubles and took some time to take in the 360 degree view of Yosemite Valley and its surroundings.

A view from the top of Half Dome

Another view from the top of Half Dome

Me looking down into the valley from the top

The infamous cables (this is on a not so steep section, there was no way I was pulling my camera out during the steepest part)

A view from the hike down

After such an exhausting day, My mom and I decided to spend our final day in Yosemite a bit more relaxed. We started off with a drive to Glacier Point where we were granted some spectacular views of the park.

The Yosemite Valley including upper and lower Yosemite Falls

A nice view of Half Dome (the left most granite dome) and Nevada Falls

Following Glacier point, we drove a little ways and arrived at the trail head of Taft Point, a little 2.2 mile hike with relatively easy terrain. At the end of the hike we were given some great views of the valley from a different perspective.

Me hanging out at Taft Point

After an awesome lunch at the grand Ahwahnee Hotel (the most expensive hotel in the park), we decided to head over to El Capitan to watch some of the climbers do their thing on the world's largest piece of granite monolith rock.

Me free climbing the first twenty feet of El Capitan

El Capitan

The climbers slowly but surely making their way to the top

Eventually it was time to say goodbye to the stunning Yosemite rocks and head back to Sacramento to pick up Gareth from the airport. Upper Cherry here we come!

A parting view of Yosemite

California Trip Report: The Forks of the Kern

Testing out the backpack system on the Forks of the Kern hike in

While camping at the Kaweah we met a nice couple (Rebecca and Eric) from Kernville that suggested Gareth and I go check out the Forks of the Kern run outside of Kernville. Because Gareth's shoulder was tweaked (he hurt it on the South Merced and aggravated it during his swim on the East Fork) we had been looking for a mellow option for the following few days and the forks seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. We were told it was an amazingly beautiful class four run that could be done as an overnight with some sweet side hikes. Sounded great to us so after taking off hospital rock we followed Eric and Rebecca south to Kernville.

Following a night camping out at the take-out, we were met by Bob (our shuttle driver) who took us the 20 miles up river to the put-in. The run had a two mile downhill hike in that Gareth and I decided would be a good opportunity to practice using our backpacking systems in anticipation of the 12 mile Upper Cherry hike in our near future. Turns out the carrying a loaded kayak on your back really isn’t as comfortable as one might imagine. I am glad that I got the practice using my backpack system but I am really not looking to ever putting it on again.

The river turned out to be just as beautiful as we were told and was filled with granite walls and tall peaks. We took our time moving downstream and managed to squeeze in some naptime by the river. After paddling over half of the total 18 miles of the run, we finally found a nice campsite and settled in for the evening.

A view from the hike in

Gareth on the hike

Gareth enjoying some of the 5 liters of wine we (aka Gareth) hiked in

Me hanging out in the hammock at camp

We spent the next morning relaxing at camp and catching up on some reading. When we eventually got back in our boats we only paddled for a couple hours before seeing a creek coming in that Gareth wanted to fish. After further inspection we realized it was the Dry Meadows creek side hike that had been mentioned to us. We decided to go check it out and man am I glad we did because it was absolute paradise. There were about ten teacup style drops, most of which were beautifully sculpted circular potholes. We probably spent around four hours just hanging out at this spot fishing and hiking and napping. The fishing was unbelievable considering we caught over thirty total trout within the pothole pools, one of which was over 13 inches (Gareth got that one). After catching four fish that we thought were sizeable enough to eat, we hiked back down to our boats and cooked them up over a granite slab fire by the river.

Thats me unhooking one of the fish I caught

Gareth fishing the pothole pools

Gareth reaching out for a fish that fell off the line at the last moment

Cleaning the trout

Fresh trout cooked over a granite slab...delicious!

Gareth cooking up the fish

Eventually we decided we had to keep moving downstream and finish up the river. It wasn't much further before we arrived back at the truck. We decided the best way to finish up such a great day was to hit up the Kern River Brewing Company, owned and run by Eric and Rebecca, the couple that brought us down to Kernville in the first place. We ate, we drank and we slept in the parking lot.

California Trip Report: The Kaweahs (East Fork and more Hospital Rock)

Relaxing out on my bother's apartment's rooftop terrace in San Fran

After taking the weekend to relax and enjoy the beautiful city of San Francisco, we were antsy to get back on the water. Although we were a little unsure of the water levels, we decided to head back down to the Kaweah drainage with the hopes of getting on the East Fork of the Kaweah, said to be one of the best day runs in Cali.

Upon arriving at the camping area we talked to some boaters who ran the East Fork the day before and said it was low but going, so we decided to head up to the put-in the next morning. When we arrived we were excited to see that due to the hotter weather of the previous days, the river had come up to a nice low end of high level, which was absolutely perfect.

Gareth, Matias and I spent the day picking our way down the 4.5 miles of classic class 4-5 rapids. The portages were a bit epic but the abundance of clean rapids made up for them. The only carnage of the day involved Gareth getting thrown into an undercut pothole wall that after multiple attempts to roll (it would have been impossible to roll there) caused him to swim and lose his very important paddle. Knowing the paddle was still being recirculated in the wall, we decided to send me in after it. So Matias held a rope, which was attached to my PFD, and I jumped in and swam in the wall until I managed to knock the paddle out. Gareth still owes me a beer for that one….

Me at the bottom of a sweet East Fork rapid

Matias styling a big slide on the East Fork

Matias at the lip of another drop

Eric from Kernville perfectly hitting the line at Triple Drop

Matias scouting as Eric makes his way through the second drop

The next day we decided to take advantage of the higher flows and get back on the hospital rock section of the main Kaweah. Hospital rock is one of those sections that is so classic that it can be enjoyed over and over again. It was a beautiful day on the water.

Gareth and Katie coming through the 420 gorge

Gareth stomping a boof in the 420 gorge

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Team Swain North: Checking In

I almost paddled with Laura....A contingency from Oregon swept south in route to Fantasy Falls when Laura politely declined my offer to go for a paddle. We had been on the road for about ten hours when we accepted the fact that we did not have a shuttle for the river we were traveling towards. Despite the many, and often creative, scenarios we created it was now clear that he was not going to call. Our shuttle driver had fallen off the radar and I was now faced with living up to the remark I had made earlier. Trying to stay positive, I said something to the degree of, "if we can't get a shuttle I will just leave some shoes at the takeout and run it on Sunday." Tasting the potential ramifications of my comment, I called Laura and pleaded with her to come join us. The Fantasy Falls section of the Mokelumne River is a classic 3 day trip in the Sierras that, similar to other rivers, requires a fairly significant shuttle. Though I truly wanted to paddle with some old friends; the honesty reality was that I didn't want to run 50 miles on Sunday, nor did the boys want to sit around ALL day and wait. Following her decline, Laura did Mention that Tim Collins was in the area. So, even though I did not get to paddle with Laura I will give her credit for saving the day. "Onward to Salt Springs Reservoir!"

After exploring some of the areas finer logging roads, sometimes twice, we finally arrived at the Salt Springs reservoir. The frustration of driving around for hours and being less then 15 miles from our destination was washed away upon seeing Tim happily asleep in the dirt. The next morning we geared up and packed into Alex's truck and began our drive up to 7,000 ft.

For the next three days we made our way through one of the most beautiful river valleys I have ever witnessed. Long quality gorges mixed in with equally long quality portages offered no shortage of challenge. I could ramble on, but sometimes words can not explain how rewarding it is to just to get up, push off, and work your way down the river with a great group of friends! So, I will leave it at that!

To offer closure to our shuttle saga; upon crossing the lake we were happily surprised to discover that the someone (possibly the previously mentioned missing shuttle driver) had driven Alex's truck and left it at the put-in?

Hope to paddle with you soon Laura!

Breakfast day #2

CA Gorgeous!

"You only get to run something blind once." -DD

Camp #1

Group scout

Looks good!

Elevated perspective




CA limbo

High portage

Tim getting ready to go DEEP on Fantasy Falls!


Salt Springs Reservoir
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