this run destined to become a California classic as equipment, skills
and the daring of kayakers continues to notch ever upwards?” (Kaweah
Through word of mouth the East Fork Kaweah has
been gaining a
reputation as a true California classic, with Taylor
so far as to call it “one of the three best one-day runs in
California.” Needless to stay, coming from a legend like
Taylor our group was fired up to get on the East Fork Kaweah.
Devin Knight, Shon Bollock, Garrett Brown, Jason Holman, Eric
Petlock and Taylor Robertson peering down into the East Fork Kaweah.
Looking down at "double drop" from the road.
The East Fork Kaweah is
becoming well known for nearly continuous
bedrock rapids and strenuous portages through poison oak and over
rattlesnakes, all for nearly four miles. (Ok the original write up said 8 miles, your first time it might feel like 8 miles.)On the way up we
weren’t disappointed with our first rattlesnake sighting of
the day while peering into the gorge.
Looking down into the East Fork Kawah at Triple Drop/Dead Man's Alley.
This was going to be
Taylor’s twenty-first run of the East
Fork Kaweah, [In 2007!] so we were able to take our time getting
started in the
morning knowing we would make good time down the run. We arrived at the
normal put-in bridge around noon and you could feel the anticipation in
while we geared up. Over the 06/07 winter a rock fell into
drop” that lies below the standard put-in bridge. On his last
trip Taylor and others spent over two hours portaging this drop, so we
put in a little ways downstream of the bridge, near a shady trailer
that had a nice trail to the river. [Years later I met the owner of the
trailer, a nice gentelman in his golden years. He was ok with us using
the trail because we pick up trash by the river. The trailer was his
get-away fishing escape. I assume he passed on as the land is now for
sale and the trailer has been gone since 2015]
What a gorge! Middy Tilghman at the put-in for the East Fork Kaweah.
It's a bipolar river, when it's good it's amazing, and when it's not...David Kissane at put-in, 2017.
Once we hit the water it
was quality bedrock drops from the get go,
filled with good boofs and classic creeking lines. There are so many
good rapids on the East Kaweah it’s almost absurd. After
paddling through ten or so high quality drops we got out for a great
photo opportunity. Some of these drops are blind and impossible or very
challenging to scout. It's good to go with someone who knows the run.
Remember to go right at the first horizon line.
Garrett Brown boofing away on the East Fork Kaweah.
Yoshihiro Takahashi on the same in 2016
I can’t even come
close to remembering all the good drops in
here, let alone all the different lines, as each rapid was of IV+ to
easy V character requiring easy but necessary moves. We were all glad
to have Taylor leading us down the lines negating any scouting that
would normally be necessary. Soon we arrived at “Skyhook” a
long, big bedrock rapid that Taylor has ran twice with a 50%
percentage, taking a big hit on the wall the second time he ran it. The
portage around Skyhook is a long affair down the left bank, not overly
strenuous but it has several ledges high above the river, with poison
oak growing off the wall, so it’s a fine line between getting
all up in the oak and not falling off the cliff. We spent around half
an hour portaging Skyhook and jumped back in the river to wash off and
start the next portage immediately downstream. It's not the kind of
drop you run every day, it took me until 2016 to run it. The real
hazard is the entrace, a gigantic sieve, it's best to set safety here
as people have swum at the bottom of the entrance slide and had very
exciting experiences. Thanks to everyone in our group who set safety.
Evan Garcia - Skyhook in 2016
Garrett, Shon and Eric starting the next portage with the bottom drop
of Skyhook in the background.
Skyhook has been run by
quite a few people, and caused more than its
fair share of carnage, but the next drop downstream is an absolute
mandatory portage where the East Fork Kaweah flows under the rocks. [has been run once at high flows]
This portage requires an eight foot seal launch into a pool with an
undercut and a nice ten foot drop downstream. After this we portaged a
few more times around sieves and then the run got good again, really
good. Mixed boulder gardens and bedrock drops led into a sweet double
drop I went off blind to get setup for pictures.
Here is Taylor Robertson running the first half of the unnamed double drop.
Garret Brown is finishing up one of the favorite rapids of the run.
Daniel Egger on the same in 2016.
Jordan Golnik, Gareth Tate and Jared Johson below double drop.
A handful of rapids and slides
continue after double drop, until we got
out to take a look at Triple Drop aka Dead Man's Alley. Triple Drop is
the largest clean drop on the East Fork Kaweah, and normally gets run
because of the scary portage around it. Unfortunately for us, flows
were a little too high and the second hole in Triple Drop looked like
it was pulling back in from about fifteen feet downstream.
[Retrospectivly the crux of the run is abve Dead Man's Alley, a move
through a hole and over a boil to avoid the left wall. Dead Man's Alley
goes better than it looks at high flows.]
Jason and Garret passing boats to Taylor at the lip of Triple Drop with
the climbing chain visible on the left.
Thus began the terrifying
portage. The only route around Triple Drop
involves using chain attached to a very rusty ¼”
climbing bolt attached at the lip of Triple Drop. We had great team
work and moved all the boats across in about fifteen minutes and it was
my turn to climb up. I walked right up, gritted my teeth and made the
climb studiously ignoring the bolt while Devin Knight spotted me from
below. Big thanks to Devin for going last, people often don’t
believe that I am scared of heights, but I am and was a little gripped
about this one because of the exposure and rusted bolt. The last person
also gets no spotter for the moment when the bolt does rip out, so they
would fall right into the drop.
Note, as of June 2008 the bolt has
been replaced with a sturdy setup in a better position - thank you Keith Kishiyama - older bolt on the right.
More exposed climbing to finishes off the portage.
When you run it Dead Man's Alley can be very fun - or scary if you get stuck in the eddy for too long.
Gareth Tate - 2011.
Aniol Serrasolses and the butterfly - 2016.
Devin Knight on the second tier.
Rok Sribar circa 2011
Ryan Knight with nice extension on the boof 2008.
Daniel Egger in 2016.
One junky rapid is often portaged
after Triple Drop, [thanks Gareth Tate for the line through it] then a long portage is done by most around Toxicali,
a slide that looks like it came from the Toxaway River in North
wall sticks out halfway down with the majority of the flow slamming
into it, and then into a very retentive hole downstream. It’s
been run, but none in our group had seen it cleaned, the few they had
seen run it took a big hit and then proceeded to get torn up in the
hole. Knowing the caliber of people Taylor kayaks with we
didn’t even give this one a thought. It's best to portage the
whole thing high on the right. [Jordan Golnik and I ran it in 2014 thanks to great safety set by Gareth Tate and Jared Johson.]
Jordan Golnik, Toxicali 2014.
There is more than one way to enter it. Doesn't seem like it really matters. Aniol Serrasolses, 2016.
Devin Knight freewheels a waterfall after the Toxicali portage on a 2008 trip.
At first it's a bit of in and out of the kayak for portages after
Toxicali, but then the character of the Kaweah stayed constant in here
and good drops
continued for quite a ways with the classic mix of big boulder gardens
and many, many bedrock slides and falls.
I like to portage the entrace to this rapid. Rok Sribar, 2011.
The same as seen from below - Shannamar Dewey in 2014.
Just a portage or two downstream, Ryan Knight enjoying a slide on the East Fork Kaweah.
A few boulder gardens and slides lead into a large pool above a
deceptive rapid, it's a fine line between the endercut on the
left and a pin on the right. Shannamar Dewey, 2016.
Then a few glory slides, Ryan Knight and Devin Knight in 2008.
The same slides in 2016, Shannamar Dewey.
These slides deliver you into some of the best gorges of the run. Shannamar Dewey enjoying one special place.
Just a handful of rapids
later we portaged a falls that has been run,
but doesn’t really have a line where you clean it, seems to
be one of those random luck disappear in the fold and hopefully pop up
at the bottom kind of falls. The gorge down here is gorgeous and we
took a break after the portage.
David Kissane and Cody Beach finish the "driftwood" portage.
Getting back in our boats
Taylor yelled out “no
eddies” and started to take off around the corner with all of
us following as closely as possible. This section of the river is
simply unreal, containing six to ten back to back fifteen-twenty foot
high slides, all of which are clean and low stress, so much fun!
Daniel Egger and Yoshihiro Takahashi in the gorge - 2016.
The glory slides - Jared Johson - 2014.
Many more good rapids later we scouted this drop that doesn’t
look larger than anything else on the run, but has a stomper of a hole
around the corner, and a sketchy sieve that at least one person has
Jason Holman styling on through the nasty rapid.
Once we got through all
the slides the character went into technical
boulder gardens where we were grateful we had someone leading us down,
lots of sieves and pitons lay hiding in the wrong routes. These
technical but fun drops carried on all the way to where the East Fork
Kaweah hits the Middle Fork and we paddled a short way to the take out.
One last majestic boof stork, Middy Tilghman in 2016.
The East Fork Kaweah is an absolute classic, and
certainly make the trek down to get on it again. We had flows peak at
900 on the Kaweah
our descent, and while flows were perfect for everything else, slightly
lower flows would have made the trip that much better by letting us run
Dead Man's Alley. Beware this gauge is far downstream, taking in the
Middle Fork, Marble Fork, East Fork and North Fork. Some years 1,200 is
medium, other times of the year far, far too high. Make the right call
at put-in. If it looks high - it is. Lines don't open up and slides
become low head dams.
Access is straight forward for the East Fork
out at the
confluence, or if you are camping at Three
can paddle all the way down to your campsite. From Three Rivers
Hideaway drive upstream until you see Mineral King road on the right,
and follow this road until you hit the East Fork Kaweah bridge. Park at
the bridge and hike back downstream until you find the only trail to
put in. If you have
haven’t done the run before, plan for a very long day with a
lot of scouting. Poison oak is everywhere, and rattlesnake sightings
are common so watch your step. We did the run in five and a half hours,
but moved at a decent pace and only scouted two rapids that
weren’t portages, and we had no carnage. I could see this run
taking twelve hours if you don’t know it, so be warned. On the
other hand it can be cruised in as little as two hours if you don't
have to give beta.
[2009 Retrospect: After experiencing much more of
to offer, I have gone back to this run several times and don't find
that it falls into the list of what I would consider classic to be. The
"bullshit" factor is rather high with three unpleasant portages, a fair
share of mank and a lack of good boofs. After a few laps most the
slides are too easy, making you wish for more interesting moves. If you
are fired up the big drops still aren't inspiring, and if flows are
high enough to make the majority of the run good, then "Dead Man's Alley" is
a portage. Once Dead Man's Alley is good to go, then the run is a little
bony, and the mank is nearly on par with the notorious Bridge
. I would consider Hospital
of a classic, it's a run I would do laps on. Not that the East Fork
Kaweah is bad, but once or twice a year is enough for me.]
[2017 Retrospective: At the right flow it's an absolute classic, and
the better you know it the easier it is to stay in your boat, and avoid
any hits in the mank. Knowing that Dead Man's Alley goes better than it
looks at higher flows helps a lot too.]