The Kaweah is a crazy
place, within minutes you can go from sparse
rolling foothills to forest so thick and verdant it's truly a jungle in
there. A jungle of poison oak, so thick and vast that like taxes and
death, there is an unspoken acceptance of it as part of life.
Earlier in the week we had driven to the top and
dropped in, but
decided that it would not be a wise move considering the gradient shown
on the map. Instead we hiked in three miles to Admiration Point. This
trail is shown on the Topographical Map, but not on the map that's
handed out at the park entrance, and as such is not well known. What we
saw surprised both of us, not that the river falls over a series
to Seven Falls on the South Branch Feather, but it does it in a gorge.
the scene from Admiration
last of the falls is where the
trail from Potwisha ends. "Marble
two above Marble Falls, somewhere
in the 40-60' range.
steeper above...we guessed they
were around 30-40' each.
The problem...a gorged out rapid of unknown proportions, obviously
Zoomed out view of the series, quite a disturbing lack of portage
It was an easy choice to head to the Upper
of dropping into the Marble Fork from the top. Still, we knew that we
would return, this brief glimpse was too alluring. The day after our
Upper Middle Kaweah trip, Ben hiked in four miles
from Potwisha Campground while I rested an injured foot, and he came
back with an interesting report. The trail led to Marble Falls, dropped
over some sieved out boulder
gardens, and disappeared into three distinct gorges. Each was visible
from the trail and contained at least one large drop and several
potentially manageable cascades.
We decided to go light and fast, leaving from the
trailhead at six,
packed for one day. Mr Stookesberry was kind enough to bring his 70
meter rope, which weighs more than the average overnight kit.
by cooler than
normal weather, Ben and I reached Marble Falls a
little before nine am.
Point from river level.
Ideally we would have waited for good lighting, but we knew time was of
the essence if we wanted to get off the river before dark. I opted to
probe while Ben put in the work for a great angle. I thought I would
have time for a few strokes before the lip of the
falls, but from the seal launch to the lip I just had time to get my
balance and take one necessary right stroke to correct my angle.
sun peaks over the ridge line as
Ben runs Marble Falls
in Sequoia National Forest.
While walking on the trail around a sieved out
felt a little
hesitant about dropping into the foreboding canyon. Once it there would
be no easy egress. Ben didn't seem so hesitant though, and following
his lead I seal launched into a pool above a portage.
bedrock was still marble, which
was tacky, a relief from other
Kaweah fork polished granite.
With a relatively fast portage behind us, Ben and
scouted a boulder
garden and found a theme for the day. The boulder garden was full of
sieves, but did have narrow line that looked neither fun nor safe, and
a series of quick portages followed, until we stood at the lip of the
second canyon. Apprehensive about what might lie in the canyon, we
scouted each drop
to make sure we could work our way back upstream if necessary.
scout & slide followed.
more set leads to the big horizon
we'd glimpsed from the trail.
We kept our upstream escape options in mind, although the last
waterfall would be much harder to escape from. Knowing we'd be more or
less committing to working our way downstream.
she sure is big!
As the photograph shows, portage options were looking a little thin
too. Rappelling to the base was out of the question, because it landed
in a punchbowl, then went right down a canyon into a sieve.
was debating running this hundred plus foot drop anyways.
We then set out to find the best route for us to
around the beast,
eventually returning to our kayaks an hour and a half later. We were
glad to have found a way around that didn't involve any technical rope
work, although we would have to rope our boats seventy feet up a steep
scree field, then simply traverse through the poison oak forest and
drop through "the green door" a nice, fairly open draw that led down
into the heart of the canyon.
Another hour and a half later, we were only too glad to jump in the
water and cool off, marveling at the beauty of the canyon and conscious
that we might just be getting into an unplanned overnight stay.
It was time to push on again, off we paddled into the third canyon. The
bedrock had changed between the canyons, any trance of marble was gone.
What we now had was something we'd achieved familiarity with in far
bedrock, always a little chunky but fun too.
bouncing, and a little bit of
water turn into
above the gorge looked like it
could be full of technical rope
work, but to our relief the slides were going quite well.
From Ben's scout we knew there would be a big
Finishing off the slides we scrambled for an eddy. Out of our boats we
only had to walk ten feet to see that, amazingly, it went. The slide
certainly was big, but there was no reason it would not go. There was a
potential piton in the middle at the top, but after that the slide
opened up, curved to the right and banked in that direction too.
Tired from our already long day, I gave it a
thumbs up and
hopped in my
boat. I tried to drive left in entrance, but my bow was still pushed
too far center and I took a small piton, but resurfaced upright and
took off down the rest of the slide. It was only too apparent that the
slide was steeper than it looked from the top, and I was going really
fast as I hit what had appeared to be a roller, and launched in the
air. Thankfully the slide was banked, and I was flying down the middle
of the slide, bracing for impact, landing in a soft splash in the
aerated base of the slide.
eyed, I looked back up at Ben and
gave him two thumbs up with a
big grin. I marked where I took off and landed in this photo of Ben.
Ben drove harder left in the
entrance, where a pillow pushed him back to the center and away from
the roller. Ben Stookesberry, the slide is longer than it looks, he has
already dropped about 20'
the bottom holes.
Refreshed from the fun slide, we put our blades in
water and pushed
downstream into an incredible amount of portages around sieved out
boulder gardens. We got into the grove of it when suddenly the earth
dropped away again.
To our delight this portage, although of a similar
set, only took
about twenty minutes. A slide on the left side had lodged in the
ravine, creating a nice set of shelves to walk across. Without these
the portage would have been henious.
by another Marble Fork cascade.
Light was starting to fade as we hauled our boats
nasty boulder gardens. I couldn't help but gaze at the left bank
dreaming that the diversion would show up around every corner. The
diversion continued to elude my wishes, but again and again we portaged
around sieves, until suddenly I stepped out of my boat onto smooth
granite to scout another big set.
A perfect twenty foot slide into a short pool
a thirty foot
slide transitioning into a horizontal launch pad. We shook our heads in
amazement at the cleanest large drop of the whole Kaweah, hidden
between terrible boulder gardens.
one last look before embarking
down the slide.
to make a high speed transition.
We cruised across the pool below the slide and embarked on
what was to be many more portages around sieves and undercuts.
fading fast, one last piece of
the Marble Fork.
We grunted through the portages, ran some mank and were exhausted by
the time we finally reached the diversion at eight pm. Not too much
time to spare!
Was the Marble Fork worth doing? The good drops
wonderful, and the
in between is equally terrible. It might have the worst portage to fun
ratio of any run that I'd return to...yet I would return to it.
Probably not every year though, and certainly not for multiple