Des­ti­na­tion Cal­i­for­nia

Adventure - - Destination California - Words and Im­ages by Bar­ney Young

Since the ad­vent of ad­ven­ture white­wa­ter kayak­ing, Cal­i­for­nia has been a world-renowned des­ti­na­tion. Un­like the West Coast of New Zealand where many of our rivers are rain de­pen­dent, Cal­i­for­nia is re­liant on a good snow pack.

In 2011 I was for­tu­nate to spend 3 months pad­dling the ma­jor­ity of the clas­sic High sierra runs in a year with a record 250% snow pack. In the 5 years since that time, Cali has ex­pe­ri­enced a state of drought with 20% snow­packs and many of the reser­voirs dry­ing up com­pletely. “Back in 11” has be­come a term fondly thrown around as many of Cali’s top rivers have not been at a pad­dle-able flow since. That was un­til this year where a solid snow­pack has brought life back to the high sierra rivers. So af­ter plans fell through for an ex­pe­di­tion to Mada­gas­car – Cali be­came the ob­vi­ous choice – I was head­ing back to the promised land!

Blessed with an abun­dance of eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble rivers, an amaz­ing sum­mer cli­mate, strong pad­dling com­mu­nity and more re­cently the grow­ing US econ­omy it is no won­der why Cal­i­for­nia has re­mained on ev­ery­one’s pad­dling hit list. Cal­i­for­nia cov­ers all gen­res of white­wa­ter from the su­per clas­sic class III-IV sec­tions of the South Fork of the Amer­i­can, the stout class V sin­gle days trips such as Big Kimshew, Yuba Gap and East Kaweah but it is the ‘High-Sierra Mul­tiDay’ trips that dis­tin­guish Cal­i­for­nia from any other pad­dling des­ti­na­tion in the world.

Plan­ning a pad­dling trip to Cal­i­for­nia is sim­ple, pur­chase a ticket to San Fran­cisco, pack your pad­dling and camp­ing gear and go. When ap­ply­ing through the “Visa waiver pro­gramme” you have up to three months to ex­plore and ex­pe­ri­ence one of the most amaz­ing pad­dling des­ti­na­tions on the globe.

The truly lo­cal kayak­ing com­mu­nity of Cal­i­for­nia is spread right across the state it­self, though much of it is cen­tered along High­way 80, in Sacra­mento, Auburn and Truc­kee. Th­ese towns are cen­tral to all the clas­sic kayak­ing runs and hot-spots but also of­fer em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties away from the river.

It doesn’t mat­ter what pad­dling com­mu­nity you be­come apart of, lo­gis­tics in Cal­i­for­nia are pretty sim­ple. Due to the snowmelt na­ture of Cal­i­for­nia’s rivers there is a vari­able ‘or­der’ in which dif­fer­ent sec­tions of rivers come into man­age­able pad­dling flows. Af­ter con­sult­ing the on­line flow charts at www.dream­flows.com, rally a crew and go. For most runs you will need to set a shut­tle, which is of­ten long and con­fus­ing but with re­sources such as ‘The Bible’ (The Best White­wa­ter in Cal­i­for­nia, by Lars Hol­beck & Chuck Stan­ley) and dar­in­m­c­quoid.com you can lo­cate take-outs and put-ins eas­ily. With daily blue skies, clas­sic white­wa­ter and tem­per­a­tures be­tween 24-30 de­grees ev­ery­day it is no won­der why the High-Sierra multi-day runs have the rep­u­ta­tion they do.

Cal­i­for­nia has nu­mer­ous such multi-day kayak­ing trips, such as the South Merced, Royal Gorge, Dinkey Creek, Fan­tasy Falls, Up­per Cherry, Devils Post-Pile, Mid­dle Kings and more. Th­ese runs range from 2-5 days and re­quire a bit more plan­ning than a sin­gle-day kayak­ing trip. In 2011 I was lucky enough to “tick off” all the high Sierra clas­sics. But with a short­ened travel win­dow this time I had to be con­tent with a trip down South Merced, Royal Gorge, Fan­tasy Falls and a cou­ple of laps on Dinkey creek.

This year I spent the ma­jor­ity of my time pad­dling with young Cal­i­for­nian charg­ers Car­son Lind­say, Johny Chase and Evan Moore. De­spite many of the kayak­ing runs be­ing in their own back­yards this would be the year they would be able to stop watch­ing oth­ers’ footage from 2011 and ex­pe­ri­ence th­ese amaz­ing rivers for them­selves.

The first multi-day we were able to pad­dle was the spec­tac­u­lar Royal Gorge. Ex­pec­ta­tions are al­ways run­ning high when pre­par­ing for any big mis­sion. This said a three day trip down Cal­i­for­nia’s clas­sic “Royal Gorge” run how­ever is one that raises the bar that lit­tle bit higher. Un­like most class V creeks, where the white­wa­ter pro­vides the first rush, on a Royal Gorge trip the adrenalin is pump­ing as soon as you step out of the car. The rea­son for this is due to ac­cess is­sues and hos­tile land own­ers who have pre­vi­ously pre­vented teams putting on this class V-V+ run.

Luck­ily we were able to en­list the ser­vices of Car­son’s fa­ther who lives in nearby Truc­kee who could drive us to the put in and dis­tract the landown­ers for long enough to al­low us to get on the river and make a quick get­away. Known for its five big wa­ter­falls, this 3 day run of­ten in­tim­i­dates peo­ple as it is def­i­nitely a ‘go big or go home’ style of run. That be­ing said, there is still plenty of qual­ity ‘in-be­tween’ white­wa­ter and spec­tac­u­lar wilder­ness camp­ing on of­fer. In my opin­ion the Royal gorge is one of the most pic­turesque rivers in the world and any trip where safe pas­sage is granted will leave you grin­ning from ear to ear.

Af­ter this is Dinkey Creek, which is a kayak­ers theme park! Gran­ite slides and wa­ter­falls, all pool-drop and open to set safety and re­cover from car­nage means this run is able to be ex­pe­ri­enced by many crews that are only just start­ing to en­ter the class 5 realm.

‘Fan­tasy Falls’ sec­tion of the North Fork Mokelumne River is ex­actly that, and prob­a­bly some of the hard­est and most amaz­ing white­wa­ter on of­fer in Cal­i­for­nia, or the world for that mat­ter. Huge, com­plex, tech­ni­cal, in­tim­i­dat­ing rapids and wa­ter­falls with clas­sic riverside “flintstones” style camp­ing make Fan­tasy a run that will give kayak­ers wet dreams. This sea­son I was also lucky enough to ven­ture down to Kernville – The home­town of Evan and Johny. De­spite not nor­mally fea­tur­ing on a kayak­ers radar this year high wa­ter lev­els had pushed the Kern into the spot­light and th­ese boys were ea­ger to show me what their back­yard had to of­fer! Af­ter 5 days of jaw drop­ping mo­ments com­plet­ing mul­ti­ple runs of this thun­der­ing mon­ster I will be back… The Kern def­i­nitely de­liv­ered.

Cal­i­for­nia as a pad­dling des­ti­na­tion re­ally has it all. San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les are two ma­jor air­ports in terms of world travel, and there­fore flights are af­ford­able and get­ting a kayak there is usu­ally no prob­lem. The Cali pad­dling com­mu­nity is un­real, with the true lo­cals, South­east­ern in­vaders and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity all pad­dling con­sis­tently through­out the cal­en­dar year. All this is set in a spec­tac­u­lar ‘Gran­ite Won­der­land’ that sees more sun­shine than I thought pos­si­ble. If you haven’t been yet, put it on your bucket list and get there…I can as­sure you, you wont be dis­ap­pointed.

ABOVE: Ed­ward Mug­geridge, Heath 1 , Royal Gorge RIGHT: The boys be­fore camp, Fan­tasy Falls

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: Evan Moore, Big Boys Pants, Fan­tasy falls ABOVE: Camp­ing on Dinkey creek RIGHT: Nourea New­man,Rat­tlesnake falls, Royal Gorge

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