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. ***

Fourth of July on Dinkey Creek

While we are all pretty beat down from a long three days on Royal Gorge, Dinkey Creek was dropping in and dropping out fast, so after a day off we charged south to the put in.

While our crew started out with Gareth, Ben, Adam and I, along with our Kiwi friend Rachel, by the time we finished the hike and made it to the put in, crowds of people were showing up behind us. Turned out we weren't the only ones excited about spending the Fourth of July weekend on Dinkey creek.
Getting ready to hike into Dinkey

Hiking down the granite to get to the goods

We quickly peeled out of the put in eddy and started our way downstream hoping to beat the crowds at least for a little while. After a few big slides to get warmed up, we quickly arrived at the infamous Willie Kern Slide, the biggest unportable rapid on the run. Starting off with a fifteen footer into a low angle slide, it finished off with a 40 foot high angle slide. Following this the river continues to drop off into a granite wonderland all the way to camp, including two 20 footers, a big portage and a number of other sweet drops. 

Rachel Curtis hitting the entrance boof to the Willie Kern Slide

Adam Bixby about to fall off the lip of Willie Kerns
A new perspective on the Willie Kern rapid (Photo of me by Darin McQuoid)

Gareth stomping the sieved out twenty footer 

The manky exit to the twenty footer

Jonas Grunewald dropping in on the granite planet

Me on the Good Morning slide, which was the Good Evening slide for us because we decided to run it on Day One and camp just below (Photo by Darin McQuoid)

After an awesome day of kayaking, we were all psyched to get to camp early and spend some time relaxing and fishing and just chilling out. Once dusk settled in and all of the groups had found a camp spot for the night, we did a total count of everyone on the river. There were 35 people paddling and camping in Dinkey on July 3rd this year. Among the five different groups, there were four different camp spots being used, all of which were in eyesight of each other. It was quite the fourth of July party, with fireworks and all!

Day Two we paddled with Darin and Jonas for most of the run and had a great time firing off the oh so many classic class five rapids Dinkey has to offer.

Jonas Grunewald running the pothole drop

Darin McQuoid boofing into beautiful Dinkey scenery

 Adam and I cruising through a steep rapid (Photo by Darin McQuoid)

Ben Blake showing us how to boof

 Darin and Macey tag teaming a twenty footer

Darin hitting the perfect line in the Nikki Kelly Slide

Gareth Tate entering one of the last big rapids of the run

This was my third trip into Dinkey Creek and it just gets better every time. For only having two mandatory portages and tons and tons of big clean beautiful rapids, I truly believe that Dinkey Creek is one of the best creeks in the world.

Feeling Royal on the North Fork of the American

With the California snowpack high and the weather staying cool, it seemed like it was taking forever to start off the high sierra multi-day season out here. Friends from the Southeast made their pilgrimage across the country and for the the first week they were out here I showed them around my favorite day runs in the area, including 49 to Bridgeport and Golden Gate, while we waited for the water to drop. So when we heard that the Royal Gorge of the North Fork of the American was dropping into a good level, we geared up for a mission. Taylor Cavin was leading the charge as our local expert (he had just did the run the week before at a bit higher water, so it was fresh in his memory) and Gareth Tate, Ben Blake and Adam Bixby were representing team NC.

Because we were a bit worried about the level rising, we intentionally had a late start on day one so we would be able to check the level before fulling committing to doing it. Fortunately, the level showed the perfect trend and off we went to put in. Geared up and packed up we arrived at the bridge to put on and made sure we had a swift entry as not to bring any attention to ourselves from unhappy land owners.

Day one starts off with a bang, with a number or tight slot drops meandering through mini gorges. Eventually the rivers opened up a bit more and granted us with some really sweet rapids, including the awesome double drop rapid seen below.

Adam Bixby entering the double drop rapid on Day One

Adam firing off the bottom drop of the double drop

Taylor Cavin cruising through a random rapid on Day One

With dusk settling in and our energy a bit low, we finally pulled into our first camp. I've seen some pretty cool campsites before, but this one definitely topped the list. The site was located on a grassy field located up above and in between the Heath Waterfalls. Heath One is a perfect 40 footer and is followed pretty quickly by Heath Two, a slightly higher waterfall and much more consequential due to being backed up by a bad cave.  After taking time to get dried off, we spent some time staring down at Heath One and choosing our lines for the next morning.

Night One Camp

Gareth and I checking out the Heath Falls from camp one

 A view of Heath One and Heath Two Falls

There's nothing like waking up in the morning to the thrill of running a 40 footer! After getting up and making breakfast, the whole crew geared up to run Heath One. Once safety was set, Taylor and Gareth made their way up to the top of the falls to kick off the huck fest. Ben and I were next and we both nailed our lines and had big smiles at the bottom.
Me waking up to Heath One
Ben pulling the trigger on Heath One
After getting our waterfall running on, the crew portaged our boats around Heath Two and started making our way downstream. Day Two was filled was tons of excitement, including watching Taylor Cavin go big on two of the larger waterfalls on the Royal Gorge, 50 foot Rattlesnack Falls and 70 foot Wabena Falls.
Gareth stomping a perfect twenty footer on Day Two

Taylor coming through the white rock gorge

Taylor showing us how its done on Rattlesnake Falls

Taylor going big once again at the lip of 70 foot tall Wabena Falls

After firing off Wabena Taylor was a bit sore from the hit, so we decided to camp for the night pretty soon after. We spent our time at Camp Two reflecting on the day and all of the amazing rapids and spectacular scenery we experienced along the way. 

Day three was long. While days one and two involved paddling around 3-5 miles a day, day three involved paddling almost 35 miles of whitewater. It took us over 10 hours to complete the mission, which included 8 miles of whitewater before arriving at the Generation and Giant Gap section of the North Fork. While mostly class 2-4, the day still involved many class 5 rapids and pretty much took every bit of energy we had to complete it.

To reward ourselves for such a successful mission, we did the classic California thing and hit up the In and Out Burger for some double doubles animal style!
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