Best known from it's exposure in SLP's
Burning Time 2
, the Upper Middle
Kaweah had only seen one other descent by the Huckin
This is due to the infamous "Rusty's Rampage", a mandatory slide that
pushes into a tenuous eddy. On the first descent three paddles were
broken while folks tried to escape the eddy. Perhaps this explains why
Ben and I couldn't find any compatriots for this mission, and were
regaled to a twosome. We knew setting safety would be a rare luxury and
lots of work, but didn't want to pass up the opportunity for good flows
and cool weather, a key ingredient to hiking in the Kaweah.
The exploratory group came in through the East
the drainage higher up via a strenuous ten mile hike. While driving to
the drainage, Ben Stookesberry and I sussed out some great beta from
first descent veteran Taylor
in from the Middle Fork trailhead, and entering the gorge at
Panther Creek would put us right above the hardest "best" section of
the river and take seven miles out of the hike. Running on somewhat of
a schedule and lacking a shuttle, this car to car option fit the bill
for our needs.
Stookesberry loads up his boat for
a quick overnight.
We planned to hike in, camp at Panther Creek and
morning, hoping to make the push through in one day, but packed and
extra nights food just in case...
The hike doesn't offer many views of the river due
and poison oak forests, so we kept out heads down and suffered through
until we reached Panther Creek and saw the gorge.
once dropping in, we'd be
"in it to win it"
Panther Creek is host to a beautiul campsite
the gorge rim
above the Middle Kaweah, and we quickly made up our minds to camp by
the fresh water and flat ground that seemed unlikely to be available in
major & map master Ben
Stookesberry tries to work some magic on
During the evening we scouted access to the river, which was a set of
steep ledges that looked possible but time consuming. Ben declared it
to be a "ten minute walk" to the river.
well, it wasn't an alpine start as we arose at
eight and made breakfast. Once packed up we embarked on the steep
descent to water level, being forced to rope our boats down several
pitches and spend a little more than ten minutes to get below the scour
like we should have just sent
our boats down Panther Creek...
Early in the morning we geared up and shifted
downstream progress, something we'd
have to get a lot of to finish in one day.
gets a nice warmup through
the first series of rapids.
The second move of the same, seems like perfect
disturbing lack of portage options. Just like the Hospital Rock section
of the Middle Kaweah, the Upper was full of polished, slick granite.
Slopes that normally wouldn't cause a problem were too slick to
scouts helped us make progress
through a few more boulder
gardens, here is a quick glance back upstream.
Only a few minutes into the run, we were at a rapid that we couldn't
quite scout the bottom of, and had no real options but to formulate
what was happening from above, on what turned out to be a very friendly
than it looks.
Nested in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, it was
surprise that even
with steep gradient, the river maintained a wonderful pool drop
character. The pools were just long enough for nice recovery without
any flatwater paddling, and the rapids were improving.
boofs deeper into the Upper Middle
Still grinning from the nice boof, Ben and I
an eddy at the
top of what appeared to be a significant rapid. From the scout it was
obvious that portaging would be quite an undertaking, the rapid was
big, a little dangerous and there was a line.
one last time. He is
standing level with the
top of the rapid.
A technical lead in consisted mostly of dodging
sieves, and one final move over a ten foot drop. The key was to get up
high on the pillow and maintain enough momentum to not get pushed into
the cave behind the drop.
boofs at the culmination of the
longer boulder hopping scout
revealed a narrow pinch with a nice long
One of the most amazing things about the Sequoia National Forest and
the Kaweah River that flows through it, is the constant change in flora
and fauna. This section of the Sierra contains the fastest transition
from foothills to the divide, and as such it's only minutes of driving
to go from desert scenery to giant Sequoias.
a few hours kayaking.
We were really enjoying ourselves at this point, soaking
in the unique
scenery and both secretly dreaming that we had put in below Rusty's
Rampage. Right on queue we were out taking a look at the infamous slide.
We both climbed up a monolith to scout the slide, and
decided it looked
good, although it did also have a big entrance that doesn't get snow in
videos. However, the downstream horizon was in question, and Ben
embarked on a long extended scout high up the left bank to make sure we
could safely make it through the cataracts.
Ben returned to a high overlook where he could set safety
and film a
unique angle, signaling for me to eddy out between drops to receive
more beta. On our initial scout we both agreed the ideal line was a
different approach than that made by earlier runs. Everyone had tried
to come in on the left, but driving hard and trying to force their way
to the right side. The slide banked from right to left, and this
obviously didn't work, with the success ratio hovering around 40%. The
higher you climb, the higher you fall, in this circumstance back to the
left and the subsequent eddy.
We decided to come in on the far left, but nice and slow.
situation like this angle is more important than momentum (since you
couldn't get any up the banked turn) The key would be to wait until
past the banked turn and take two strong left side sweep strokes to
make sure our bow was pointed to the right in the outflow of the slide.
I came down through the entrance, cruised through the
between an eddy on the left and the main flow, and dropping into the
slide on the far left, nice and slow, and waited until I was past the
temping boof flake to take my left strokes. I took two big left strokes
but was in complete whiteout, not sure where I was heading until I hit
a fluffy pillow on my left, rolled quickly and was fired up to be
floating in the river right eddy. Ben then gave me verbal to run the
next mean double drop, and helped me out of my boat to set safety.
Climbing around on the polished, sloping granite slabs was much more
frightening than running Rusty's Rampage, but safety needed to be set.
Stookesberry lines it up on the
Ben vanished in the bottom I was
worried he was going to the left
eddy, but he held a strong angle and resurfaced upright on river right.
Stookesberry runs the mean double
drop exit of Rusty's Rampage. A
picture says a thousand words, and the holes were not nice but no swims
The river twisted to the right, and after a low
slide one more
horizon blocked exit from the gorge. An extensive scout didn't make us
smile, it was a sieve filled, unfriendly finale to the Panther Creek
Gorge. A left side sneak move involved a eight foot boof with a narrow
landing, followed by what seemed to be a pothole on the right and crack
on the left. The crack had most the flow going into it, and lining up a
good boof down the center with left angle would be ideal.
Down in the rapid, Ben fired up his headcam and
thumbs up. I
came down apparently online, but after boofing I found myself surfing
the pothole, and Ben came in hot and managed to boof over me, getting
some epic footage. I continued to surf in the pocket, knowing a swim
would be dire as potholes don't tend to let swimmers go. Eventually I
caught a surge and grabbed a crack in the right wall, and managed to
pull and push myself downstream, glad to have gotten away with one.
Once out of the Panther Creek Gorge the walls
enough to give
portage options, although none were needed as we continued into a
think Ben was surprised as I was
about this clean waterfall.
mini gorges awaited us. Locked in.
We pushed downstream noting we must be close to
were two fisherman perched above another gorge. We made a quick portage
around a dangerous entrance move before dropping into a nice rowdy
the triple set, the last rapid
of the Upper
Middle Kaweah is true representative of its character.
At this point there is a trail up to the
this section is
occasionally run in conjunction with Hospital Rock, although the
quality is not on par with either section minus one or two better
of the better rapids below the
trailhead and above Buckeye Flat
We had flows of 600-700 on the Middle
Kaweah at Three Rivers
thought it was perfect. Ben thought it would be possible to portage
Rusty's Rampage, and while it would not require any technical rope work
it would likely be as dangerous as the rapid. On the whole this run is
destined to become a classic with the short hike in, locked in gorges
and no mandatory portages. Arguably the hardest single day of kayaking
in California, because you just can't walk very many of the rapids.
Panther Creek put-in. (The Green marker)