of that fact that I
spent an unplanned night on the river. This is due to being generally
about situations that may lead to a long cold night with no gear. The
beta was that Middle Cherry is supposed to take
about five hours and change. With a ten o'clock meeting at
take-out and a hour plus shuttle, we should be starting the hike some
time after eleven. That gives us a thin margin of error. It's
October thirty-first and gets dark at five-thirty. We camp near
so being there at ten is no problem. Unfortunately the Sacramento
contingent of our group has run into traffic and will be a little
late. A little late turns into an hour late. Car problems turn that
hour into nearly two. It's noon and we're loading the kayaking gear
into one car. I'm having second thoughts. We are already way behind
froze last night at lower elevations. I'd at least like to know
where put-in is, soup the road we go. We're on
the right track all the way until passing Cherry Lake. Then our
veterans are not quite sure which road to
take. We take a turn to the right and end up in an open patch with a
view of Middle Cherry Creek, a tributary of the Tuolumne River,
dropping out of Cherry Lake. We're still too high up, and retrace our
steps to the main road. A few miles further down and we're on the right
It's now one in the afternoon. Four and a half
dark. The run has a steep, cross country hike in through thick
underbrush. Then four miles of V and V+ with a crux, forty foot
waterfall in the middle. There is no perfect line on this one, contact
with rock seems to be unavoidable. The portage takes over an
hour itself and involves tricky rope work. There won't be time for that
today. I'm out, I'll come back another day to see the beauty
of the canyon. Then another team member is out. It's down to just two.
A good number for going fast, but not for safety. They still want to
put on. Knowing that situations like these often lead to epic stories,
I decide to put on anyways.
We quickly don much of our kayaking gear, shoving
into kayaks and start hiking. It's steep and slippery. We traverse a
lot to find clear paths. It's hot out, amazingly so for Halloween.
We're all sweating. The hillside is steep, every step is a struggle
against slipping and losing control. With the time constraint we have
to push that limit and hike as quickly as possible. We stay close
together so no one gets lost in the thick brush. Thankfully Thomas
Moore has been here a few times before and has a general idea of where
to go. Too close to Elanor Creek and we get cliffed out. Too far up
Cherry Creek and we get cliffed out. There is a fine line right down
the center that should allow us to reach the confluence and only lower
our boats by rope one time. An hour after leaving the car we're on the
right track and reach river level. No time is wasted putting our gear
on. It's beautiful down here, but we need to keep moving ahead of
impending darkness. Thomas leads the way, with an amazing memory for
the complex and blind boulder gardens. It's steep and photogenic,
curved white granite walls surround us. There is no time to get out and
take picture of this beauty. Five or six rapids in and we
make a quick portage. A dangerous rapid ends in a small pool above a
whirlpool. An excessivly large chock stone blocks all the flow,
the river siphons underneath. A whirlpool in the middle
of the river; a sight to behold. We hurriedly walk down the left
bank and seal launch in.
Rapid after rapid is knocked down, each
complex. Suddenly we are in another big, blind boulder garden. Thomas
tries to go left and
gets hung up on a rock; I go to the right, only to eddy out above
several dead ends. He moves far left and vanishes from sight. Taylor
Cavin follows while I surf across a hole, attaining upstream to reach
the left channel. Taylor looks back and yells "first descent" because
Thomas just told him that he's always portaged this one before.
Thankfully we're past the worst section and it's easy going to a pool
the bottom. A few more big boulder gardens with a fun slide or two
mixed in leave me wishing for more time to take photographs, but that's
not today's mission.
Out the left bank it's obvious that something happens
downstream. We make a quick portage around a tough rapid that's been
run a few times and paddle right to scout Freebird, the
largest falls of the run. Freebird is an odd fortyish foot sliding
waterfall. There isn't any truly bad line, neither is there a perfect
line. Contact with a rock shelf is unavoidable, it's just a question of
how one wants to tackle the issue. It's been portaged but we'd be out
of daylight by the end of the long and complex affair. It's also
photogenic, so I coerce Taylor into going first so I can shoot from
Taylor Cavin feelin the
From above I can't see Taylors line. He signals Thomas to
me off a little bit more left. Sure thing. On this horizon I can't see
anything to line up from. Well it looks like I'm about a foot more left
then where I'd seen Taylor go off. I paddle over the lip and take a
small stroke so I don't go all the way to vertical. Quick acceleration
and a bump from the right then from the left and I resurface out the
bottom. Not too bad. I hurry downstream and scramble out so I can get a
shot from below.
Cherry what? The whole Cherry Creek mess is a bit
confusing. It goes down like this:
"Cherry Creek" is the last mile of Cherry Creek before the confluence
with the Tuolumne. The majority of the run is actually on the Tuolumne
and is the classic summer run that's commercially rafted.
"Cherry in the Middle" is the section of river below Cherry Lake,
starting at the confluence of Eleanor Creek and Cherry Creek ,
down to the bridge over Cherry Creek, described here.
is the renown run
above Cherry Lake.
It's worth noting that there is a section from the base of the dam at
Cherry Lake to the confluence, and it takes most of a day on its own.
Eleanor Creek has also been run, but is reported to be terrible with
one good rapid right above the confluence.
From Highway 120 East, make a
Left turn onto Cherry Lake Road. Follow Cherry Lake Road down across
the Tuolumne and back up the hill until the obvious bridge
over Cherry Creek.
Put-In. Continue uphill on Cherry Lake Road and follow it past Cherry
Lake. Cross the dam and stay right towards Lake Eleanor Wilderness
Trailhead, 1N14. Stay on 1N14 until a right turn on 1N97. Follow 1N97
until there is a large opening with a small fire ring. There is no
parking lot or another other marker. Then head downhill toward the
confluence. Try not to veer to either creek or you will get cliffed
out. Just to the Cherry Creek side of the confluence you can get to the
river by only roping your kayaks once. Google
Maps Put In Marker.
is acess to the dam and slides
via an old irrigation ditch. From take-out backtrack towards Highway
120, taking the first left turn possible. Park at the end of this road
and follow the poison oak trail. Thanks to Benjamin Sheib for both
running shuttle, braving the poison oak trail and sharing pictures.
Ideal flows are between 350 and 450cfs, although it has been
up to 700. Use the
gauge above Holm Powerhouse
because the water often comes down