Friday, August 14, 2009

Chawanakee Gorge

June 25th The Chawanakee Gorge on the San Joaquin River is an amazing stretch of whitewater, but it's very tricky to catch due to the dam upstream of it. If they had their way, the dam keepers would not let any water spill. Inevitably, however, the dam spills pretty regularly each spring giving the gorge flows of around 5,000-10,000 cfs--way too much for kayaking. An ideal kayaking range is 500-1500 (although 1500 would probably be pretty stout). While we were waiting for Upper Cherry to come in, we saw that the gauge was reading right around 700--perfect! The reading had gone from perfect to N/A many times in the past couple weeks so we were little scared that we would make the 6 hour drive down to the river only to find no water. But, we went and hoped. When we made it to the put in at 2pm, we found water!

The put in is a little tricky. After you paddle about 1/2 mile across a small reservoir, you get to the dam above Chawanakee Gorge. It's quite scary paddling right up to the brink of the dam to get out and portage down the steep right side of it. I'm not sure if it was something I ate, but I was feeling awfully sick at the dam. While I was busy dry-heaving, Don was scouting the best way to the river. At that moment I really wanted to hurl much more than I wanted to go kayaking, but I knew if we didn't go today, we might wake up tomorrow to find a try riverbed. So, in we dropped. We lowered boats and then used a fixed rope to get ourselves down to the river. Judging by the lack of kayak plastic anywhere, and the fact that the fixed rope was buried in a lot of mud, Don and I think we were lucky enough to be the first kayakers into the gorge this season.

Because we didn't end up getting to the actual river until around 3:30pm we were constantly pushing downriver as fast as possible. As a result, we didn't take too many photos. But, here is 1 of Don in the middle of a pretty cool series of rapids right in the middle of the run.

Darcy finishing one of the earlier rapids.
This run constantly has the feeling that you are going to get walled in (and in 2 short places you do, but the rapids are very runnable), but overall you can scout and portage everything at river level. Here I am enjoying some typical Chawanakee scenery.

Typical scenery in the gorge. There are 2-3 bigger drops on this section, but the overall character is what you see right here. It is a really quality section of whitewater if you are ever lucky enough to catch it with the proper amount of water.
Chawanakee Logistics:
This run is the Stanley/Holbeck guidebook. The road shuttle is about 1 hour each way, but there are good roads to the put in and take out.
Check and there is a Chawanakee gauge (if it's working).


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