Wednesday, July 08, 2009

California Trip Report: Lower Tuolumne and West Cherry Creek

Taking a "California Lunch" on the Lower Tuolumne

After picking Gareth up from the airport in Sacramento we were both fired up to get back on the water after each taking a week off. Our plan had been to head down to Cherry lake and get on Upper Cherry. Unfortunately, the weather/water did not cooperate with us and due to a heat wave, the water levels rose back up, making upper cherry out of the question, and even making West Cherry too high. So we were forced to wait it out and take another few days off the water. Gareth headed into Yosemite to hang out with some friends and I spent the weekend on the coast with my family who happened to be in town.

Following the weekend we were dying to get back on the water so with West Cherry still too high, we opted for a big water class 4 day on the Lower Tuolumne. After getting some questionable beta on the run/shuttle, we stashed our bikes at a rafting place half way down the shuttle and drove to the put-in to camp for the night. The next morning we were met by "straight charger" Tim Collins and we put on for what turned out to be a really great day on the river. Since all three of us generally opt for low volume creeking over any big water runs, it was fun to change it up a bit and bust through so huge holes opposed to the creeky verticle drops we'd been paddling for the past month. We were told it'd be really easy to hitch from the takeout to where our bikes were stashed however that turned out to be very incorrect. We almost got stuck at some sketchy bridge far from our bikes but fortunately the one rafting trip that was taking off that day finally decided not to leave us stranded and gave us a ride. Gareth and I then hopped on the bikes and rode the 10 miles down to the cars.

The next day consisted of doing our research and pulling together all the beta we could to figure out just what was going on with the water levels on the Cherries. Eventually we concluded that the water level on West Cherry was somewhere between high and good and the three of us decided to hike in the next day. Tim Collins had done the run once before and became our fearless leader for the trip, successfully navigating us to the trailhead and down the two mile mosquito fest hike to the river.

Taking a break from the hike

Tim hiking into the granite planet

Me hiking in

We arrived at the put-in earlier than expected, but instead of paddling down decided to simply enjoy our time taking in the beauty of the area. We spent the afternoon relaxing, fishing, hiking around, and scouting some of the rapids for the next day. As soon as dusk set in the mosquitos came out in full force and caused us all to retreat to our sleeping bags before it was even dark. That was the most intense mosquito attack I have ever experienced.

At the put in- campsite #1

Tim admiring the scenery

Exploring the gorge after our hike in

Sun set on West Cherry Creek

Using the nomads to set up the mosquito net

The following morning started off with lots of low angled slides followed by this sweet twenty footer that falls off with rock ledges on either side. The line is to boof off the middle narrowly missing the "goal post" rocks on the sides. Just below the that rapid is a big 15 foot drop with a meaty hole at the bottom that you would not want to be stuck in. After a few more class 4-5 rapids we arrived at one of the bigger runnable rapids on the stretch, known as Charlie Beavers Mega Rapid. Only Tim decided to fire this one up (which involves four big drops back to back) but after watching him style it I am fired up to run it next year.

Tim running the "goal post" twenty footer

Gareth at the same rapid from above

Tim stomping the boof below the twenty footer

Tim firing up the second drop of Charlie Beaver's rapid

Our lunch spot looking up at Charlie Beaver's Mega Rapid

Eventually we got down to what most people call "the big portage" on West Cherry which includes the Edge of the World slide. I can definitely see why the slide has that name because as you come around its edge, you get the most spectacular view of the Cherry gorges and Cherry lake in the distance. It was the most dramatic portage I've ever walked.

We decided that the scenery was too good to not stop to camp, so we ended up putting in and paddling down to the spine that separates Upper Cherry from West Cherry and camped there. This spot gave us a view of Upper Cherry creek and West Cherry creek as well as Cherry lake.

Gareth hiking around the Edge of the World slide with a beautiful view of Cherry lake

The crew

Part of the big portage

Gareth relaxing at camp #2

After a beautiful night at our second camp, we hiked down to the river and put on at the confluence of Upper and West cherry. The level was stompy for the Red Rocks gorge and gave us an early adrenaline fix for the day. Eventually we made it down to the final gorge which we decided was too high for us and did our final portage of the day around it before putting in again just above the lake.

West Cherry turned out to be hands down the most scenic run that I did in California. Its high sierra granite nature made it unlike anything I'd ever see before. And the whitewater wasn't so bad either...

The final rapid leading into the lake

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