Monday, October 19, 2009

Middle Cherry Creek

Good, Good, Good kayaking
Bad, Bad, Bad put in
Darcy on one of the many boulder garden drops on Middle Cherry
Don and I were hanging out in Groveland, CA waiting for Upper Cherry Creek to come in. We were about to head into West Cherry for a 2nd lap when we ran into some friends who had just finished a "new" run and were raving about it. Middle Cherry, they said, was not to be missed if there was still water in it. To be fair, they did warn us that we'd have to go through about 1 hour of hell hiking into the river, but that the whitewater was so good, it was more than sufficient payback. Well, they were right (somewhat).

Don enjoying some classic Middle Cherry whitewater
It was an hour of hell getting to the put in, but we were rewarded with one of the better day runs we did all summer in CA. The problem was, however, that hour of hell later turned into 3 weeks of hell when the massive cases of poison oak hit us.

Don during the first 300 yards of the hike--this part was great!

The hike started out innocent enough with a nice open meadow and a good vista of the confluence of Middle Cherry and Elanor Creek--our destination.

This is what our hike looked like for the better part of the hour and ten minutes it took us to reach the river.

But, that nice meadow all too quickly gave way to a hellishly thick layer of trees, bushes, and lots of poison oak that we ended up crawling through and over for just under an hour. Half the time Don and I couldn't even see each other even though we were never more than 20 feet apart. At one point during the hike I turned around to free my kayak from the tangle of bushes it was hung up in and noticed that there was a nice, oily poison oak leaf caressing my cheek.
Despite a thorough washing at the river, Don and I both came down with wicked cases of poison oak. It was my first experience with the stuff, and it really F-ing sucks!

Darcy on the first real rapid of the trip

At the time, though, we had no idea we'd soon be writhing in poison oak agony, and we were just happy to be at the river running 1 incredible rapid after another.

Darcy running a small waterfall in the first half of the run

Almost exactly half way through the run, there is a 40 foot drop that is rather intimidating, but goes pretty well if you don't mind taking a big hit (sorry, we don't have a photo of it). Also, if you are creative, there is a portage route on river right; but due to the massive amounts of poison oak here too and the sketchy nature of this portage and subsequent seal launch, I think I'd opt for just running the falls next time!

Don dropping the waterfall just below the little dam about 2/3 of the way down this run. Shortly after he landed this drop, the water began to rise...

Roughly 2/3 of the way down this run you'll come to a small dam where there is also a hike out option if necessary. Unbenounced to us, while we were down in the Middle Cherry Canyon, the dam keepers up in Cherry Lake had decided to start releasing water in anticipation of the hot days and snow melt to come. So, right about the time we got to this dam, we noticed that the water was rising.

Don running the drop just below the dam waterfall--this was the last we saw of our "put in flow"

Just seconds after Don landed this drop, the water doubled on us. We watched that big rock on river right in this photo, disappear. Then we decided we'd better get a move on since we had no idea just how big the river was going to get, nor did we know how much further we had to go until the take out.

The rapids below here were juicy and intimidating with the added flow, but they all went. We made our way downstream, scouting often, but made the take out just around 5pm. We got lucky as there were a couple of groups who put on behind us and ending up having to hike out at the dam.
Middle Cherry runs very infrequently as there are dams on both Middle Cherry and Elanor. But, if you happen to be there when somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-500 cfs are either spilling or being released, it's worth it. Just watch out for the poison oak!