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A California seasonal update
    The High Sierra rivers have come down to the right flow and as a result, things have been quiet around here. More time spent behind the steering wheel than the computer.  It sounds cliche, but it has been the best of times and the worst of times for many in California this year.  So a short seasonal update seems due as a lot has and is happening in the state this year. A while ago a reader asked me how I stay motivated to be on the river after close calls. More on that in a bit too.

It's no secret that it's a huge snow pack year. Normally big snow pack means small windows of correct levels for the High Sierra classics, but moderate temperatures have given us unusually large windows, like Dinkey Creek staying in for over a week!

People are going bigger than ever. I suppose it's the progression of the sport, but what was once run every few years has seen an immense surge in descents, with over fifteen descents of Lower Heath Springs, seven descents of Scott's Drop and ten of Wabena on the Royal Gorge.

In an unfortunate reminder that running waterfalls is dangerous, a kayaker broke their back on upper Heath Springs and was helivaced out. Not the first extraction of the year, but they should have full recovery in a year.

This is one of the toughest things I've written about. To clear up any misconceptions about what happened, here is my second hand report after talking to the team. A group of five was finishing the first mandatory portage and the last person did the throw and go with team members below in their boats ready to recover gear. The boat was pushed into the right wall and flipped, filling it with water. A team member tried to get it to shore, but was pulled into the next rapid "Pendulum" with the kayak. They briefly surfed with the boat in the top right hole before swimming. Everything went into the second hole and came out, except the paddler who went into a sieve on the right. Authorities are waiting for water levels to drop before they can make a body recovery.  It's a sobering reminder of how dangerous our favorite places can be, and that accidents can and do happen even if precautions are taken. I am unable to express how sorry I am that this happened. Positive thoughts, condolences and love go out to team & family members dealing with this terrible accident.

 The following day two boaters inexperienced in expeditions and challenged by the difficulty of the whitewater put on Dinkey Creek. Neither of them knew the run they both did a throw and go at the first mandatory portage, with their throw ropes attached to their kayaks. This resulted in the loss of both their kayaks. One was recovered, while the second was stuck in the Pendulum rapid, with its attached throw rope barely underwater in the main entrance line. If this wasn't enough, a knife was attached to a stick in an attempt to free the boat, then lost in the rapid too. A helicopter searching the canyon for the body from the day before was kind enough to pick up the sans boat paddler.
    There is a time to go big and push your limits. Doing so with only two people, both pushing their limits, on an extremely remote run that neither party knows, is not that time. They made an obviously bad judgment call and went to further the belief that kayakers are "crazy" and "risk takers".  This is the kind of thing that makes us lose credibility and endangers access to rivers like Upper Cherry Creek.

  How do we stay motivated to paddle hard rivers in the midst of these kind of circumstances? Honestly I don't fully know. We ran Dinkey Creek both before and after the death. Obviously our second trip was affected by the incident since we knew the team, and the whole thing was right there in our face. Perhaps we are naive optimistics, believing it will never happen to us, but really I know better than that. Most paddlers are intelligent, thoughtful people. While we choose not to dwell on the possibility of death, we all know it's there. But the reward of traveling through these amazing places, dealing with challenges and overcoming them (be it running a rapid or portaging) is part of what makes us who we are. For me personally kayaking has been life defining, and the most empowering thing I've ever done. The challenges and real and concrete, as are the rewards and the potential consequences. In a world full of gray areas, undefined expectations and vague goals (American Dream?) a day on the river is black and white, a successful journey from point a to point b. I believe this, and time in remote beautiful places, is what I embrace, but only a small part of the big picture. Perhaps like a lot of things in life, the beauty of kayaking is that the beauty is too complex to be truly defined.