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The Waterfalls of Dinkey Creek - V-V+

Dinkey Creek is an incredible place that deserves respect. While most of the run is very clean, several spots are dangerous; in 2011 it took the life of an experienced paddler. Please remember that you are responsible for all the gear you bring in. There is no excuse for abandoning a kayak and jepordizing future access. If a situation dictates leaving gear, come back later and pick up your garbage or arrange for someone to do it for you.

Dinkey Creek has made the transition from hardcore expedition paddling to a modern classic. This once rarely paddled run has become a marquee destination for both out of state boaters and local paddlers. With warm weather almost guaranteed due to low elevation and a somewhat southern Sierra location, Dinkey Creek is a true gem of California.

I’d heard great things about Dinkey Creek, but the southern location deterred me, until cold, wet weather at the start of a week and a half road trip motivated a journey down to the Kaweah, eventually planning to work our way back up to Mt Shasta. Devin Knight, Ryan Knight and myself got off the East Kaweah, gave a few phone calls around and found perfect flows and good friends were waiting for us at Dinkey Creek.

Now just to fit it all in one vehicle….Dave Garringer, Ben Coleman, Devin Knight and Ryan Knight near take-out on the Kings River.

Loaded up we embarked on the two and a half hour one way shuttle. Dave and Ben had done the run before, but Best Whitewater only gives a vague “follow your instincts” for shuttle directions, but after only one wrong turn we were searching for the start of the trail. There isn’t much to mark the start, but eventually we found it and started carrying our gear through the forest. Cutting through a meadow we found a trail that thankfully some one cut out through the unbearably thick manzanita, I can’t imagine the hike without the trail. Ten or fifteen minutes later we came into view of Dinkey Creek.

This is why you don’t put in at the Ross Crossing bridge, this cascade is reminiscent of the South Branch’s Seven Falls cascade.

    We followed the plateau to the left, where eventually it turned into granite slabs leading to Ross Creek, where we more or less followed the creek to it’s confluence with Dinkey. Nice warm weather had us resting in the shade, the hike in is a bit of a slog and we only had a mile and a half of river in front of us, so we weren’t too stressed.

Beware of these guys.

Dave Garringer and Ben Coleman crossing the tributary creek.

“If you’re not ready to fire, you may as well hike back out” – Ben Coleman.

Dinkey Creek doesn’t have any warm up at all, the first rapid is a slide that drops over thirty feet, and this is just the beginning!

Devin Knight on the first rapid of the day, runs don’t start any better, and it’s a lot steeper than it looks.

Steeper than it looked isn't it?

It's no surprise that a section of river named "The Waterfalls" is characterized by waterfalls and slides, but it also has perfect swimming pools of water between drops. Some of us portaged this next drop because it looked shallow, but Devin styled it without taking a hit.

Simon Tapely getting a huge boof below the often portaged "clapper".

The inbetween drops on Dinkey are awesome clean slides or falls, some with nice punchy holes.

Taylor Robertson and Corey Boux on a return trip at  lower flows.

Unfortunately the rapids on Dinkey are named after people who have had carnage in them, which is quite a shame. Willie’s is the largest mandatory rapid of the run a superb boof onto a slide, with a thirty to forty foot near vertical slide to finish it off.  The key to the Willie Kern slide is going between two small roster tails at the lip (right of center) this sets you up perfectly for the bottom. The left side is not terribly deep and should be avoided.

Little Dave runs the entrance of Willies.

Laura Farrell about to drop over the brink.

It's steeper than it looks too. Chris Tully in the entrance to Willie Kerns.

Ryan Knight styling the final slide of Willies, this slide is epic…

Freefall to reconnect.

Take a moment to soak in the majesty of this place, Willie Kerns on the left and the next twenty foot waterfall on the right.

Go far left on the next twenty footer to avoid the right wall.

Yet another twenty footer lies downstream, this one is perfect except a sieve is at the bottom right side of the pool below it. Be sure to be in control on the left side, without being too far left where there is a hidden piton.

Same same from below.

Still not convinced, a few of us chose to portage on the right, almost lost a boat downstream and the whole thing ended up being a lot scarier than just running the drop and portaging the sieve on the left, which we did on our return trip. People have had closer calls with the portage route than by just running it.

We were worried about the boat almost getting free because just a hundred yards downstream is a large mandatory portage around a gigantic sieve. We found that the portage can be fast and clean, or slow and scary depending on how you have to handle it. At medium to low flows it’s best to throw your boat in off the forty foot cliff and jump in after it, but at high (good) flows you’ll need to get someone seal launched from the lower rock. Getting down to the lower seal launch requires delicate friction climbing on highly polished granite. The first time I was absolutely gripped and had to collect myself while down climbing. The second time I had learned my lesson and looped my throw rope around a rock to give me something to hold to while down climbing the highly polished granite.

There is a large pool below the mandatory portage, and downstream is another large drop that was once the most technical portage of the run, requiring exposed friction climbing and making kayakers pendulum their boats across the slab. Thankfully a few years ago the bad rocks moved and the rapid is now relatively friendly and good to go, although the entrance is still often portaged. [in 2011 the right hand siphon claimed a life]

The Pendulum.

Once known as the Pyramid Rock aka Spike rapid, the dissapearence of the pyramid rock has made this drop fall into the cliché role of another “triple drop" but the Spike name is sticking around despite lack of said spike. Multiple lines entrance lines exist on this rapid, but there is only one way to go at the bottom, far right. After an initial fifteen foot drop, fast moving boils lead into another ten to fifteen feet of vertical drop into a massive pillow hole formed by the water refracting off the left wall, and then one more drop into a sticky hole at the bottom. This one isn’t easy to style, and at some flows you can surf out of the bottom hole…

Ryan and Devin were the only ones fired up about it on our first trip, and neither made it through the bottom hole upright, but one got lucky and flushed through, and we had one swimmer into the large pool below.

Spike at 400cfs.

Corey Boux at a lower flow, showing that the pillow hole still packs a punch!

Just below the rapid another small drop leads right to a large flat slab on river right, the most popular camping spot on Dinkey Creek. Proximity to the water is great, but early morning sunlight and the low elevation warmth of Dinkey Creek can lead to some early starts on day two.

Bright, hot sunlight got us up early from the slab campsite on Dinkey Creek, and we gave the downstream drop one more scout while letting our breakfast digest. The good morning slide is one of the most unique features I’ve seen on a river. From the top it looks like a typical slide, but further investigation reveals that the right side of the slide is completely missing. The slide also slopes to the right, demanding the paddler to drive left and stay as left as possible to avoid falling off the slide, which has happened to indolent kayakers in the past.

Little Dave on the other hand, is a proficient and motivated kayaker enjoying the good morning slide.

Good morning Gareth Tate!

With grins on our faces from the good morning slide we shouldered our boats for the next two drops, the double pot hole and another carnage inducing pothole drop. Both get run on fairly frequent occasion, but have high consequences because of said potholes.

Laura Farrell runs yet another bedrock rapid, one run more often run than the double pothole but not afraid to dish up some beatdowns.

Drew Duvall runs the same.

Just below the above cascade is a nice sandy beach on the left that gets shade for longer than the slab. There is also a campsite on the other side of the river too, but it gets morning sun. Day two on Dinkey Creek has a lot more “full bade paddling” rapids with multiple moves and big hard strokes needed, my favorite style of kayaking. 

Drew Duvall runs double pothole.

Jonas Grunwald running one my favorites, a ten foot boof into a boulder garden.

Even more awesome read and run rapids lead into the next scout, a ten foot sliding boof into a big s-turn with a nice pillow hole at the bottom, this one too is a wild ride at 400cfs.

Taylor Robertson boofing into another of my favorites.

and into the pillow hole…

A small eddy at the lip of a big horizon grants access to either the second longer portage, or one big rapid depending on just how tough you are feeling. The first time down we portaged down to the bottom boof, a considerably longer portage than our second run, where with friendlier flows we seal launched in to run the bottom two boofs.  There is a portage route that has been in use on the left, but it demands a small amount of technical rope work. On the right is a portage which can be done with less effort.

The top slide lands in a big hole just above a boulder with the majority of the river sieving out under it, and this is enough to make most boaters portage.

Ben Stookesberry on one of four major moves.

Getting right and away from the big sieve for move two.

We seal launched into an eddy below move two so we could run an outstanding boof down the right, Corey Boux boofing away on the third move.

Ben Coleman and Little Dave revel in the quality of the gorge rapid.

Grins plastered to our faces, we paddled across the pool to the lip of another large rapid "Anaconda" This one sluice boxes down the left through several holes and undercuts, and most portage down the right side, except of course Ben who was just firing away and cleaned the drop with no problems while we finished the portage. Retrospectivly the Anaconda is friendler than it looks and we've been running it on a regular basis.

Adam Bixby plays snake charmer in Anaconda.

Several boulder gardens below the sluice box we got out above yet another slide, not terribly large, but with a terrible hole. Known as both “Prison Love” or “Penalty Box” the hole at the bottom loves to dish out beatdowns, and as Taylor said, “It’s a good place to practice underwater paddling” because it’s nearly impossible to roll in the narrow slot with funkey currents. The portage is also incredibly easy, but Ben and Corey fired it up anyways with mixed results.

Corey Boux testing out the Prison Love.

Ben Stookesberry swims after getting a little prison love.

For early starters on day one, Prison Love is also a popular camping site that makes day two quick work, or a great lunch spot on day two. Moving downstream we boat scouted many more rapids and slides, portaging left for the second mandatory sieved out mess on Dinkey Creek. Fun low angle slides continued to keep us smiling as we headed into a remarkably good mini gorge that contains a clean fifteen footer, long perfectly flat pool and twenty foot falls to finish it off as the run opens up.

Little Simon

Taylor Robertson on the near perfect twenty.

Dinkey contains an almost unbelievable amount of read and run slides and rapids, with the occasional scout and stout hole mixed in, all the way down to the final slide. Known as Nikki Kelly’s drop, the final slide is a sight to behold and at high water, an uncommonly padded out big time slide.

Devin was the only one fired up on the final slide, and after a good look he came down the right, crossed into the left channel and launched a boof off the pillow and screamed through the bottom hole in a gigantic squirt. 

Jonas Grunwald in the meat of Nikki Kellys.

A massive boof in Nikki Kellys is not uncommon, nor is a little carnage. Simon Tapely gets the boof.

The line looked way too fun, and the consequence way too low, not to run a drop this beautiful and fun, so I headed up to my boat, gave it one more quick look and slid into the water. I too entered on the far right, crossed into the left channel and started stroking hard as I came down the ramp, and launched a similar boof off the pillow and squirted out the bottom with a preposterous grin on my face. I love how the group dynamic works sometimes, Ryan was so stoked by our lines he hiked his boat back up to the top and ran it with similar results, what a great slide!

Dinkey Creek is full of fun boulder gardens after the final slides, although they get tedious at low flows, they are all great fun above four hundred cfs, and only too soon were we at the take out, elated by getting on an absolute classic and calculating the days until we could return.

Rok Sribar in the paddle out.

The elevation really is this low, the Balch Camp Bridge.

Looking back at Dinkey Creek, I can't get enough of this run and have to agree with Macy Burnam; "It's the best six miles of kayaking in California" which is saying a lot. If this is in your realm, put it high on the list of things to do.
Logistics: We put on with flows peaking at 350 on day one, and peaking at 420 on day two. Use the North Fork Kings below Dinkey Creek gauge. Check the North Fork Above Dinkey gauge first and subtract that from below, and what’s left is coming in from Dinkey Creek. I've done the run with flows ranging from 200 to 600 and find that between 300-400 is ideal for coverage while not being too pushy.

The shuttle is long and complicated, the California Gazateer won’t help much, but what will help is the AAA map for Sierra Nevada-Yosemite Area. It has the forest service roads numbered on it, and shows Ross Crossing too. I highly recommend backtracking to Big Creek and taking it up, the road from Balch camp up is a terrible 4WD road, full of brush ready to pinstripe your rig and rough enough to bottom out a Nissan pickup with larger than stock tires. From Balch Camp return to Trimmer Springs Road and head West. Turn right immediately after the green bridge over Big Creek. Just shy of five dusty miles later, stay right on Big Creek road (reset odometer) and cross Big Creek on a small bridge. About 3 bumpy miles later stay right on the main road. Reset Odometer. Hope your car holds together up the washboard and climb, passing under the large transmission lines. Around five miles later is a large intersection. Pray this gate is open, it's the seasonal closure. Go left and reset odometer (right goes down the old 4wd road to Balch Camp). Go under the transmission lines once again, staying on this road just over 8 miles from the last intersection with the gate. Now you're at Nutmeg Saddle, which has some signs. Go right on 10S67 (reset odometer) heading downhill on a road that was paved ages ago but has big potholes now. Stay on the main road and stay left at the sign for "Ross Crossing 5 miles / Oak Flat CG 2" miles. That's an obvious one. Over four miles from the last reset you T into a paved road, make a right and go under the transmission lines, following pavement to Ross Crossing. At the bridge reset your odometer and do not put on here. Continue up the dirt road,
crossing under the transmission lines again. At ~1.9 miles the trail is not obvious from the road, but it's the only trail up there with bushes cut within ten feet of the road.

Follow the obvious trail down to where it hits Turtle Creek at the old USFS crossing. Cross Turtle Creek and go slightly uphill on the old trail for fifty to a hundred yards then drop down to Turtle Creek and follow to the confluence...

Dinkey Creek Trail Association

Rok Sribar, Chris Tulley, Ethan Cummings, Darin McQuoid

Dinkey Creek Put-In

Dinkey Campsite

Dinkey Take-Out
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