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Upper Cherry Creek V-V+

Matt Thomas

   Oregon Kayaking's  well written Upper Cherry Creek trip report. The best known of California’s multi-day classics, UCC is wildly popular with people from out of the state, and can be a bit of a shit show when it’s in. 

Devin Knight hikes on the ridge line.

Looking into Cherry Bomb Gorge from the hike.

Matt Thomas enjoying a meadow.

The Teacups and Flinestone Camp.

Garret Brown about to drop in and reap the rewards.

   The hike to Upper Cherry is nine miles, and surprisingly, not as scenic as you'd imagine. The trail generally stays level after the first climb, and follows the ridge line, staying in the trees which obstruct view but give much needed shade. While it's relatively flat, nine miles with a loaded kayak is just  that and can still be tough. It's best to do Upper Cherry with someone who has done it, to avoid getting lost on the trail and extensive amounts of scouting for some of the gorges.
Nap time at the first slide.

Upper Cherry Creek starts off in good style; Daniel Brasuell gets going.

   Below the first slide the river widens out into the "Granite Moonscape" where there are hardly any trees in sight. Here the slides are wide and shallow, a bit annoying if it weren't for the scenery. If the slides aren't shallow, beware of high flows and a perilous journey to be had downstream.

   After a mile or two of low angle, low stress kayaking, the river drops over a few boulder gardens before the first real gorge. I've always portaged one of these, which is followed by a tight slot that can be a bit sticky at certain flows.

Matt Thomas gives the slot a go.
California Kayaking

A good bunch of read and run slides lead into a big boy that can be easily portaged.

Matt Thomas runs West Coast Gorilla, the culmination of day one if you camp above Cherry Bomb.
Hot Shit

  Just below the West Coast Gorilla is the "Class IV Gorge". It's only class IV relative to the big rapids on Upper Cherry Creek, so stay on your toes, especially for this crux drop of the gorge that has an undercut cave on the bottom left. It can also be portaged right.

 Jason Craig runs the crux drop of the class IV gorge.

Class IV gorge viewed from below.

The Island Camp above Cherry Bomb Gorge is a great place to camp.
Overnight Kayaking

Matt Thomas with Cherry Bomb Gorge in the background.
whitewater kayaking

The Cherry Bomb entrance gorge. Just around the corner is the portage into Cherry Bomb Falls.

 Matt Thomas makes the Cherry Bomb Sieve portage. This portage leads to an eddy at the lip of Cherry Bomb Falls.

Garret Brown dropping the bomb.

Dustin Stoenner

   Cherry Bomb gorge is to many the crux of a run down Upper Cherry Creek. It's not Cherry Bomb Falls itself that makes the gorge so threatening, but the series that follow. Immediately below the landing is the weir, a low head dam like ledge notorious for causing extended surfs. The key to the weird is enter it pointing left, because at all flows it's relatively easy to surf out the left side. Not so much for the right side.

   Below the ledge is the classic series: left left middle right middle left. Don't forget because once in the gorge it's impossible to scout. The last ledge has a sieve in play at medium to low flows too. Once beyond the stressful part of  Cherry Bomb the canyon opens up into The Teacups, one of the most perfect series of slides and falls anywhere in the world.

Orion Meredeth, Seth Stoenner and Jason Craig enter the slides above the teacups. Note the big walls from Cherry Bomb in the background.

Jason Craig boofs through the slide. A hidden piton awaits for those too far right on this slide too.

Daniel Brasuell boofing through the teacups.

The above teacups lead right into these, how can a river be so good? Dustin Stoenner contemplates.

  The teacups empty in a beautiful large body of still water. To the left is the over used Flinestone Camp, which USFS has requested that kayakers not camp at. Please respect their wishes and support our continued access to Upper Cherry Creek, and camp somewhere else. There is no shortage of beautiful campsites in this wonderland. Flinestone camp pool sits perched above the California Groove Tube, which goes better than it looks. Respect to the first person who ran this one!

Matt Thomas groovin it up. Note the horizon line below too.
Whitewater Kayaking

Seth Stoenner observes Daniel Brasuell getting tubed.

California Groove Tube leads right into the Perfect Twenty - Devin Knight
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Daniel Brasuell living large.

   After the perfect twenty is the calm before the storm. A short pool leads into Double Pothole, a drop most know from the amount of video publicity it has seen. Double Pothole drops about sixty feet from top to bottom, and scouting can be a chore. The best scout is from the right, but requires passing kayaks up to a ledge. There is a portage option on the right, but only if you have good traction and are comfortable friction walking across a very exposed ledge. The next best option if you are scared of heights or lack good footwear is to walk back up to the California Groove Tube, ferry across and take an extended walk (on somewhat of a trail) around the left side of a granite dome that creates Double Pothole.

Matt Thomas – Double Pothole
Whitewater Kayaking

Jason Craig enjoying an evening run down Double Pothole.

Daniel Brasuell finishing strong.

  There is a nice campsite on the right below Double Pothole, which allows you to scout Waterfall Alley and contemplate the joy that is to come in the morning. Waterfall Alley is a series similar to the Teacups, but shorter with larger drops. The first series lead to Kiwi in a Pocket, an often portaged drop that leads into the infamous Dead Bear. Kiwi in a Pocket is a thirty foot waterfall with large pocket cave behind it. It's amazingly easy to end up in this cave, but at medium or lower flows, paddling out through the falls is possible. Higher, a tough vertical extraction is required. From the lip of Kiwi it's easy to portage the whole gorge high on river right, because if you want nothing to do with Kiwi, you won't want Dead Bear either.

  Kiwi in a Pocket is followed by a nice ten foot boof, and then Dead Bear. A large, sieved out but runnable cataract leads into Dead Bear, a thirty to forty foot high falls that caused a shoulder dislocation on its first descent. Subsequent descents have proved more successful. At medium or higher flows it's possible to run the whole entrance on the left and avoid the rather tedious portage to dubious seal launch on the right.

Devin Knight – Dead Bear
whitewater kayaking

Ryan Knight – Dead Bear

    After Dead Bear the river has no more large falls, but plenty of action all the way to the lake. Of note is the Red Rock Gorge which has two drops that are normally portaged, and the final gorge into the lake

This drop in the final gorge is especially noteworthy, because on the bottom left is a nasty pocket hole that feeds into a sieve. Although the lake is in view, it's worth the time to set safety.

Upper Cherry Creek has been hailed as the “Holy Grail of class V+ expedition kayaking”. It’s a great run, but I wouldn't call it the Holy Grail. Each run offers unique opportunities and challenges. Upper Cherry Creek offers immense amounts of granite bedrock with a generally friendly nature, and can be low stress at the right flow. The nine mile hike in is about as easy as a hike of that length with a loaded boat could be, not the horror story some have claimed it to be; nothing vs the Middle Kings. That said after stating it was 9 miles for years, I finally brought a GPS on the hike and it is 10.5 miles.

The granite moonscape is unique and worth spending time in. Upper Cherry Creek is generally referred to as a three day run, but it can be done in two moderate days if a group member knows the run. Beware of the mosquitoes when you arrive at the river, if you push downstream to the top of the first long slide your extra effort will be rewarded. General common sense will go a long ways to preserving the beauty and future use of Upper Cherry Creek. It's in the wilderness, so please be responsible and get your wilderness permit. While hiking stay on the trail as much as possible, and carry your boat instead of dragging it.

If paddlers as a whole show good wilderness etiquette and respect for the wilderness rules, it will help ensure future generations of paddlers the joy of Upper Cherry Creek. 

All this is mentioned because absurd things happen on Upper Cherry Creek that put access at risk, such as someone spray painting and flagging directions on the trail. 

At medium or lower flows, Upper Cherry Creek is one of the easiest of California's High Sierra multi-days. Even with the hike in, it has a lot less "dealing" than the other runs like Fantasy Falls or the Middle Kings. On the other hand it can be scary and dangerous when it's high. Thankfully in 2014 a gauge whent live, and now we can monitor flows in real time. We found 325 to be a nice medium low. I'd say it's probably runable from 200-400cfs depending on how you like flows. At 400 personally I'd portage Cherry Bomb and others would probably run it.I like to see the Inflow to Hetch Hetchy at 600 and dropping when I hike. Cherry Creek above Cherry Lake Gauge.

Ben's 8th River video and TR of Upper Cherry Creek.

Upper Cherry Put-In on Google Maps.

Camp above Cherry Bomb Gorge on Google Maps.

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