The options are a bit more
limited in California during the
fall months, and this year was no exception. With a four day weekend
ahead I met up with Paul Gamache and Alex Wolfgram in Redding and
headed for the South
, Cherry Creek and
Loading up the car for some kayaking, somewhere in Redding.
I won’t go into details, but off the water this is what a
of our trip was about.
Sunday morning we set out
at a decent pace for the ¾ mile
hike-in down the North Fork Stanislaus until the confluence with
Highland Creek where we would hopefully have enough water to kayak.
Paul Gamache hiking through some beautiful granite scenery.
We made decent time and here is a downstream view above the confluence
with Highland Creek, around 10:30am.
The first thing we noticed
was rather low flows, perhaps 250cfs
compared with the previous 400cfs that Alex and Ben had last year. This
necessitated a few extra portages, as the majority of the water went
under rocks in places. Most portages were short and quick,
but eventually after some clean bedrock drops we reached the first
Sribar runs a fun early bedrock
section at 500cfs.
Bigger flows, bigger holes, Rok Scribar punches one.
David Ernst starts the big portage.
Ben Hawthorn, Alex Wolfgram and Paul Gamache below the first major
portage, plenty of sieves in here.
The portage is a rather long traverse that ends in a nice seal launch.
Of you can seal launch in and run the "Psychotic Lover" pictured in the
Several of the largest
drops in the river come quickly after the big portage. I always think
they'll look better at a different flow, and they never have. Looking
back upstream at quadruple drop.
After Portage 24 the character of the river is
good for about a mile. Full of bedrock slides and a few big holes. Stay
on your toes and scout as needed. The section culminates in
"Mini-Curtain" aka the "Perfect 20" which is just what it sounds like.
A near perfect twenty foot falls with a significant IV+ lead in to keep
Jason Craig drops in.
Stay on your toes after the
Perfect Twenty, I make two portages within a short duration, although
both can and have been run. To my surprise the vast
majority of rapids in Hell’s Kitchen are boulder gardens, not
clean granite bedrock drops. Most are long
read and run affairs with the occasional portage for mank that cleans
up with higher flows. On my first trip as evening set in we reached the
above the Ramsey section and paddled through the gorgeous meadows to
our campsite above the first rapid in the Ramseys section.
Early in the morning David Erst probes a rapid above Ramseys.
Rok Scribar drops into the same at 500cfs.
The morning saw us up at
a decent hour and we started off with a
quick portage around the first post-meadow rapid; it goes but
a major sieve. The following section is one of the steepest and best on
the run, one mile long mix of boulder gardens and ledges. Eventually is
a nice slide directly
upstream from the third named rapid, “Astrobiologist
Paul Gamache on said unnamed ledge drop.
Alex Wolfgram boofing the same drop.
Obviously the next drop is “Astrobiologist Creep”
aka "Hourglass Falls".
The boys scouting it up.
After a quick scout I gave
it a go and had an ok line getting a little
sideways at the bottom but punching through. The climb up the cliff to
get a shot of Paul running it was scarier than the rapid, at least for
someone as scared of heights as I am.
Paul passes a boat to Alex on the portage for Astro.
While Alex finishes portaging Paul Gamache runs
David Ernst, note the big cave on the right.
We hit up a lot of read and
run after this for quite a ways, eventually
we portaged on the right around another large sieve that should have
been portaged left. More boulder gardens followed and we got out to
scout a drop that at low water was a 5’ slide that went into
a rock with a boxed in, recirculating eddy on the right. Paul probed
pitoned at the bottom but managed to get out left, while Ben drove from
right to left and still got pushed into the rock at the bottom. Alex
was portaging on the left, and I found myself getting lazy. I hopped in
my kayak and put-in where Paul did instead of carrying back upstream to
get the right to left movement. I ended up pitoning in a similar manner
but got pushed into the boxed in eddy that was about 5’ wide
and 10’ deep with vertical rocks on all sides, and the water
jetting down the slide to block the exit. I was stable and upright so
figured no big deal and tried to blast across the jet, only to get
blown up against the rock again and flipping upside down. I tried roll
attempts on both sides but wasn’t getting anywhere as it
surfed me up against the rocks, and eventually while I was trying my
fifth roll it surfed me back into the jet of water where I was finally
able to roll, but suffered a partially blown skirt. I knew I had to get
out quick and started ferrying back across, leaning hard into the rock
and disappearing underwater as I made my way across the jet of water.
Thankfully I made it out before my boat was fully inundated with water
and sinking while I was still in it. A short break followed and we were
back into the read and run boulder gardens, eventually getting out on
the right to portage a large jumbled mess. This whole run is pretty
vague in the memory due to numerous long boulder gardens that we were
able to boat scout, but eventually after many rapids and a portage or
two we came upon one of the few distinct rapids mixed in a boulder
garden. It had a nice 5’ ledge at the top followed by a long
The last bedrock slide below a ~10' waterfall.
Here is Paul Gamache on the initial drop of the final gorge.
Paul Gamache on unnamed but fun rapid.
It's larger than it looks in the above images, Rok Scribar a tiny speck
at the top.
Rok finishes the final boof in good style.
seemed like a fairly short time after this that we started seeing
people on the banks and eventually arrived at the popular Sourgrass
campground, our take-out.
not classic, but it is
good fun, and quite a bit of exercise due to many portages.
certainly worth doing at least once in a year for the scenery,
occasional large rapid and quality portages. The Ramseys section offers
up a better one day run with more action and notably less portaging,
although you do miss out on Mini Curtain. Flows for Hell’s
Kitchen are quite an issue, while you can count on having some water
you’ll never know how much until you get to the bottom of
Highland Creek. You could also go from low to high water overnight.
This graph illustrates the issue with highly fluctuating flows from the
Shuttle directions are in Holbeck & Stanley’s book
“Best Whitewater of California”.
. Daniel Brasuell also