Monday, July 12, 2010

Living a Fantasy (and at times a nightmere) on the North Fork of the Mokelumne

Team NC geared up for the Fantasy mission
After getting off Dinkey Creek we had to hit the road immediately once again to check another high sierra classic off the list. This time it was Fantasy Falls of the North Fork of Mokelumne and we were all excited to get into this run which we had heard was one of the most beautiful of all the California classics. One rest day and a food resupply was all we needed before meeting Darin and Jonas at the put-in to get started on our descent.

Knowing the water was low and the first few miles filled with mank, we decided to hike the first mile of river rather than abusing our boats in the water. Even with the hike, because of the low water, Day One still involved a decent bit of manky rapids for us, but it also had some pretty fun rapids tucked in there as well. After about 30 min. on the water the sky got dark, the air cold and we were all reminded of the fact that no one but Jonas brought any type of shelter with us. Fortunately, the hail storm that ensued didn't last too long and the sky cleared by the time we made it to camp. The best part of Day One was definitely the camp spot. Sleeping by the river totally surrounded by granite in the middle of no where is really something everyone should experience.

Beautiful Fantasy scenery

 Our Bratwurst BBQ

Scenery at Camp One

We woke up  to more or less clear skies for Day Two and started making our way down the river, hoping the extra flow of the morning would provide us with a bit cleaner rapids. The day started off well, but by lunch time the sky darkened and rain fell again and started to set the tone for what was to come. 

Jonas showing us how to do it at one of the first rapids of day two

Sometime in the afternoon, after the storm had passed, we arrived at our biggest portage of the run up and over a big granite dome. While at one section where you walk along a granite slab about 15 feet off the ground, Ben slipped on some slick granite. As he started to slip he realized that there was no recovery, so he did the best thing he could have possibly done, he spotted his landing, threw his boat and jumped. He landed on his feet, but unfortunately, his left ankle landed in a hole and as he fell forward, he broke his ankle. Gareth was on him quickly, and after stabilizing him, a splint was built and an evacuation started. 

Ben Blake keeping a smile on his face after the accident

For whatever reason, I had decided to bring my phone along on this trip, and out there, in the middle of no where in the Mokelumne wilderness, I got cell service.  Quickly realizing there was no way Ben was getting out of there on his own, I called for a California Highway Patrol Helicopter (I specifically called CHP because they offer offer free heli evacs if they're not busy). Within an hour of falling we had Ben loaded into the helicopter and on his way to the hospital.  ***See bottom of post for an update on Ben's condition***

 Ben loaded up and ready to fly

Goodbye Ben! We miss you out here.

It was an eerie feeling to put back on the river as  group of five instead of six, but we knew we had to keep moving downstream if we were going to make it out of there the next night. We only paddled probably another mile that night before finding a nice campspot to lay our heads and get some rest for the next day.

Minus the fact that we didn't have Ben along, Day Three was awesome. The scenery only got better, the rapids cleaner and the weather hot and sunny.

Jonas missing the log and hitting his boof

Gareth lining up for Fantasy Falls

Gareth boofing the fifteen footer after the Fantasy Falls drop

Taking an afternoon break in the middle of some unbelievable scenery

Jonas entering the Island Slide

Darin about to enter the meat of the Island Slide

Jonas hitting his boof over a hole everyone else walked

Cali Class Three!

Gareth pulling up to the dock after the big lake paddle

In total, everyone in the group besides Darin swam at least once, some others who we will not mention chalked up two swims. The rapids were committing and consequential and the overall feel rugged and tiring. I definitely recommend everyone who has the skills to check out Fantasy Falls, just don't expect it to be a Fantasy the whole time...

I think our trip might have been especially cursed. Check out the list below of all of the crazy things that happened in those three days:
  • First on scene to motorcyle accident on the way to put in
  • Flat tire at put in
  • Broken paddle during first mile
  • Dropped video camera in the water during second mile
  • Hail storm on Day One
  • Swim off of a log pin
  • Swim on first rapid of day on Day Two
  • Ben falls off cliff and gets helicoptered out
  • Swim at last rapid of day on Day Two
  • Strong headwind on lake paddle (ok I guess that ones standard but it still sucked)

***Ben Blake Update: After being evacuated to a hospital in South Lake Tahoe, Ben got X-rays to determine that he broke two bones in his ankle and needed surgery. A couple days later he flew home to Gainesville to be with his family during surgery. The surgery went ok, but was extremely painful for him, and he has still yet to be released from the hospital due to their inability to manage his pain. It could be six months before he is walking on his leg again. Please keep Ben in your thoughts and send all the good energy you can his way. He's an awesome friend, boater and all around person and deserves all the love and support he can get. ***

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