Monday, July 27, 2009

Middle Kings River

July 20th-25th Don Beveridge and I got back from a season of guiding in Ecuador this winter and decided we would try for our 5th time to take the summer off from work and just go kayaking. We've been trying to save money for this for years, but a long string of injuries including broken ribs, a torn ACL, broken leg, and broken bank accounts have stopped us in the past. But this year things all fell into place and here it is July 27th, we haven't worked in months, and we have kayaked many a beautiful river. We've been so busy kayaking, in fact, that this is the first chance at blogging I've had. I plan to put up a full summer report, but I figure I'll start with the most recent trip and work my way back to May when it all started.

So, the most recent trip is the Middle Kings River. This one requires a bit of background information which I feel is best illustrated by a timeline:

July 5th: Bill Beveridge arrives home from France and Don and I have just finished with our first ever trip down Upper Cherry Creek. We tell Bill that he has to come with us for our 2nd trip because it's "just that good." We had high water our first trip so we knew we could get another one in before the river dropped out.

July 6th: Help Bill pack his boating stuff for an overnight trip, drive to Cherry Lake hike 2 hours and camp out.

July 7th: Finish hike in and paddle to just above Cherry Bomb Gorge

July 8th: Run Cherry Bomb (poor Bill had to run Cherry Bomb Gorge and Double Pothole without scouting, but we gave him great beta, and I think deep down he liked it). Then we finished the river and drove back to Coloma

July 9th: Bill unpacks from France, we put away creek boats and load up play boats

July 10th: Drive to Canada for Don and Bill's parents' 50th wedding anniversary (we are all very distraught because we see that the Middle Kings in almost good and we are certain we are going to miss it while in Canada)

July 11th, 12th, 13th: Surf Skookumchuck

July 13th, 14th, 15th: Enjoy family reunion and anniversary festivities in Egmont, BC

July 16th: Wake up early in Egmont, BC, check Dreamflows and find that, by some miracle, the Middle Kings is hovering in the 1300 range. So we get all excited, pack up the car and drive all night back to California.

July 17th: 11am arrive to Coloma, CA. We pack our creek boats and at 5pm start the long drive to the take out for the Middle Kings. We arrive at Pine Flat Reservoir around midnight and camp

July 18th: Wake up at 6am, finish the shuttle, and drive 8 hours over to Bishop to get to the put in. While driving we experience a big thunder and lightening storm followed by 10 minutes of intense downpour. We notice some smoke in the hills near Bishop. We stop at ranger station to get our permit where they tell us we can't go to South Lake Trailhead because lightening has struck and there is a fire--the road to our trailhead is closed until further notice...

Bishop fire squashing our hopes of the Middle Kings
Don is trying to sweet talk the cops into letting us didn't work

But, alas, after 2 days of languishing in Bishop, CA thinking our marathon driving was for nothing, they let us up! (Well, they sort of let us up. We followed a group of cars that was being escorted up to retrive their vehicles from the trailhead and no one told us we couldn't go, so we took that as a green light). We called Shannon to have him check the flow for us one last time and he reported it was holding at between 1150-1250 which seemed sufficient. So on July 20th at high noon we started the hike in. Here Bill and I are enjoying some Bishop Pass scenery.

The hike in truly does SUCK, but the scenery is awesome.

Bill on the first "real" rapid Day 1

Prior to my trip, the only photos I'd seen of the Middle Kings were of the classic big drops. While those rapids are very impressive, to me, the smaller, but very continuous rapids were the real killer on this trip. Especially in the Bottom 9 (but also in many other sections on the river) the Middle Kings' gradient is relentless. I can say that this is the most tiring river trip I've ever done! Enjoy some photos of the "little stuff."

Bill on our "breakfast rapid" right below our 2nd night's camp

Darcy day 2

Bill Beveridge somewhere on day 2

Here is Don leaving Tehipite Dome behind and about to drop into the hellish Bottom 9. This was my 31st birthday, and let me tell you, after 11 hours of paddling I was feeling my age:) I surely earned my crappy dehydrated meal that night!

Don in the Bottom 9

Me in the Bottom 9

We were all relieved to get to the Garlic Falls Section the next day. And, we were quite shocked at how great that section was. I'd never heard much about it, but it's got some really quality rapids in it and the pool drop character was such a relief after the Bottom 9.

And, perhaps the sweetest part of the trip--getting to the take out and finding that Don's Extreme Cold cooler and his expert packing skills had come through for us! We had icy cold PBRs even after the 2 extra days of waiting we had to do in Bishop--good work Don! It was our first beer in a week, we'd successfully completed the Middle Kings, no one had broken into our take out vehicle, and we were happy!

Middle Kings Logistics:
There are a few options for the Take Out on the Middle Kings. We parked our car at Zepher's whitewater camp because we figured that would be a fairly secure place to leave an unattended vehicle for a week. But, in doing this, it meant that we had to also paddle the Banzai section, which at good Middle Kings flows is somewhat tedious (there is a lot of flatwater). There are directions in the CA guidebook for this take out, and it's about 1 hour east of Fresno. If you aren't too concerned about your car, you can drive up past the Zepher camp, cross the bridge and continue up river right for probably 4-5 miles and there are lots of fishing access points where you can park your car. If you park here you can avoid paddling the Banzai section. A 3rd option is to hike out at the confluence of the Middle and South Kings (at Yucca Point). This is not recommended as I hear the hike really sucks, AND you miss the Garlic Falls sections which really is pretty fun.
Put In: Drive your ass all the way through Yosemite and over the Sierras and down to Bishop--this took us just over 8 hours. VERY IMPORTANT: stop at the Bishop ranger station and get a wilderness permit. People have been turned back for not having this permit, so get one! Drive out West Line street in downtown Bishop to South Lake Trailhead. Hike up over Bishop Pass, through Dusy Basin and down into LeConte Canyon (13 miles), find the river and rejoice! We took 2 days for the hike in and then 4 days to paddle the river. It was a pretty good schedule, but I might allow for one more day on the river next time as we did put in pretty long days.