Darin McQuoid Blog Reviews Tutorials River Directory

South Fork of the San Joaquin "Lower" V-V+
Day Two

With hopes of completing the run in three days, we get an early start on our second day, and the river does not disappoint with stacked boulder gardens right out of the gate.

Ben Stookesberry enjoying the first large rapid of the day.

Inexplicably every fork and section San Joaquin we've been on has deep, inescapable gorges mixed with steep gradient, and the South Fork is no exception.

Ben Stookesberry gives beta to Matt Thomas as we enter the first gorge.

Photo: Kevin Smith

This gorge has a tiny hot springs at the top, Matt Thomas coming in hot too.

Matt Thomas charges into a big, relatively clean rapid, which starts a long gorge.

Every horizon we scout is a relief, no mandatory portages or worse. This is a great piece of river, and we are running everything, even if a few are more dubious, like the below.

There are a few larger drops sprinkled about in the first gorge, yet if the rapid has a line at least one person in the group runs it.

We are glad to be making good time and running a lot of rapids, because we all feared the run would be an absolute portage fest. Floating out of the first gorge there is the oldest gauge I’ve seen on a river, and we spend some time exploring it before moving on. Classic high sierra kayaking, we float through a beautiful open section which has an old cable car crossing. 

Kevin Smith soaks in the scenery.

The author in the gauge shack.

As we turn the corner challenging rapids set the pace for a second gorge.

Kevin Smith nails the first boof in the entrance rapid.

Matt Thomas gets the second tricky boof.

Typical of the San Joaquin watershed, the river continues on with big boulder gardens, but atypical for the the watershed, pools between drops are fast moving water, upping the consequence.

Kevin Smith, Matt Thomas and Ben Stookesberry scout another large rapid.

Similar to the Middle Fork, the riverbed is filled with sieves, although the rapids still have lines, they are getting more dubious.

Matt Thomas styles a boulder garden that is completely sieved out on the right.

Ben Stookesberry paddles the entrance of the same rapid.

The gorge has us locked into the river and we paddle hard for an hour and a half with no media breaks. As shade enters the canyon we come to a large horizon line. Ben and Kevin get out and do some friction climbing to scout. Ben signals me a line down the right wall, followed by a driving right. I come down the first wall smear, resurfacing to the left and stoked by how fun the line was, so I don't paddle hard enough back to the right. As I try to punch the pocket hole, the little Jackson Hero quickly enders back into the hole, and and I proceed to take a long ride. I'm getting plenty of air, and Kevin has time to hike down to me and offer a rope, yet I'm so close to getting out on my own. I take a good cycle through, yet am pulled back from five feet out and decide to take Kevin’s rope. Kevin does great work and pulls me out in still in my boat boat so I can roll up off the rope, lucky to get away without swimming.

Matt Thomas comes in next at as light leaves the canyon.

A quick downstream look as Kevin and Matt get out to scout the next horizon.

Ben Stookesberry paddles through.

The drop we have just paddled is one of the most unique I've seen in a long time, but just downstream we scout an even more interesting rapid, or falls, or both…it has a perfect twenty footer ( perfect if you ignore the substantial sieve on the right), yet the lead in looks dubious and so does the run out. We take our time and look from a variety of angles, and Matt decides it's good to go, making it look good and  motivating the rest of us to follow.

Matt Thomas runs the messy yet surprisingly smooth entrance.

Matt Thomas with a sweet first descent.

Ben Stookesberry up close in the mish mash below the falls.

The gorge continues on through several more large boulder gardens, Ben tries to get a look at one.

At the following horizon we scout right and see a large rapid, which has a complex lead in. The water pushes to the right side of a slide, which is undercut and has a large hole at the bottom. While this entrance move is certainly in play, the largest drawback is the the lack of a pool at the bottom. About half the flow is going the right side of the river, straight into the next rapid. The the other half goes left into a pile of boulders that looks, well like a big sieve. There is an eddy on the left, so as long as the paddler doesn't miss more than one or two rolls, drop a paddle, or swim, things should work out. 

I'm feeling inspired by the day we've been having. I like the cross current entrance move.. Kevin is kind enough to set safety on river left, while Ben films from above. From a small eddy at the lip I peel out and drive through two boofs, moving left, come down the slide and take an instant window shade halfway down, thankfully coming out screaming through the bottom hole and resurfacing upside down on the left wall. I take few attempts to roll and get off the wall, which puts me in the eddy on the left.

Kevin joins me in the eddy and we try to ferry across to the right channel, but the current is stronger than anticipated. We get out to portage on the left, while Ben and Matt walk down the right to the next rapid. As we portage we suddenly hear Ben whistling, and looking up we see him waving frantically, and drop our kayaks and start running down the bank. As we make our way over the rough terrain we can't see what is happening, then suddenly see Matt climbing back upstream from the bottom of the next rapid.

As we regroup at the top of the rapid we get the full story; from the right bank it had looked like an easy move around a sieve, but the dark water behind a rock was not an eddy, it was a shallow sloped rock, which sloped into the sieve. Matt came in and almost 50/50'd out of the sieve, yet it pulls his tail down and he  pinns. After a few long seconds he exits his boat and squeezes through the sieve, resurfacing past the rocks and swimming to shore before the next class V drop.

I am highly stressed that we just lost his boat under the sieve. Walking back up we can see the stern and are able to get a rope on the grab loop and hoist it back out. Good thing because at this point we were days away from help, and one of his shoes has flushed off during in the swim.

Matt is shaken but keeps his cool, we pull out a trusty breakdown paddle and start looking for a campsite, it's 7pm and has been a big day. We portage one more rapid and find a passable if not perfect campsite. Exhausted and shaken by the events late in the day, we're all glad that as a team we have "gotten away with one". 

Despite the scary experience, we sit around the campfire expressing our amazment at how good the river has been so far. To this point, if it had water on a regular basis it would be a classic multi-day. We hope it can continue in the same vein as we ponder the day ahead.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...