I woke at 3am and strolled to work in the darkness only to discover upon arriving that I wasn't due in until 8am. Doh. As I meandered home on the deserted streets, I sent a text message to a few friends - "Anyone up for SSV (South Saint Vrain) this afternoon?"
Forrest Noble immediately replied, "I'd love to, but I'm in Cali."
It was early and I definitely wasn't expecting any replies until morning, especially not a slap in the face about not being in Cali myself. "Wait," I thought. "I've got the next six days off, why am I not in Cali?" Being awake at 3am is rough, but the flip side is that I routinely get weeks off at a time.
The gears were cranking in my foggy brain as I dialed Forrest. He and Raggedy Andy were in the Reno airport - Upper Cherry Creek was running. I wasn't going to make his trip, but before I was home I had complied a mental list of eligible Mank Crew members.
I called Alex Kilyk in the morning. He doesn't keep up with the scene and had somehow never heard of Upper Cherry. He was skeptical of my plan to drive 23 hours for a single run. Thankfully, Moe the Kiwi was standing right next to him when I rang. On Moe's advice, they were in. The plan was to rock Christian's ride out. However, the day we were leaving all of his packed gear bags were stolen after the windows on his car were bashed out. Christian was out, but once the Mank Crew gets rolling, there's no stopping the trippin' train - all aboard! The drive was epic, but thankfully I was exhausted from work and slept almost half of it. We rolled in "right on time" to meet Nick and plan for an early hike.
At the beginning of the hike-in we found a gent named Roman who's buddies were doing an extended trip. He was hoping to go with our three day version and had been down twice before. In the hour of deepest desperation, the river gods will provide. He also happened to mention that he had an HD camera and would film the trip. We asked him how long the hike would take. His answer.....4.5 hours or so. Not that bad!
Seven hours or so into the hike we found the place Nick Wigston had warned me about. He said we'd be tempted to leave the trail and scramble down to the river early, but we'd miss the first gorge. 3 hours after we were supposed to have completed the hike, the temptation was intense, but we trudged on. Did I mention that Roman passed us in the first half hour and we hadn't seen him since?
After eight hours or so of hiking and battling through dark clouds of mosquitos, we reached Styx pass. The forest fires in Cali were intense. The California Department of Health had recommended that sensible humans not exercise outside due to the extremely poor air quality. These recommendations we of course ignored, but the smoke did create hazy conditions for all the pictures on the trip.
At 8 hours into the trip, Nick wasn't smiling anymore even with the most stunning scenery
At the start to the hike, some Cali boys flat out laughed as the CO boys loaded up our Kokatat drysuits into the boats. Little did we know that even high altitude Sierra runs enjoy 65 degree warm water.
If you ever go on a multi-day kayaking trip requiring a 12 mile hike in, I recommend bringing a package of bacon and a Kiwi. The Kiwi will carry the frying pan for you....
We woke up in the morning... We took two paddle strokes across a crystal clear pool... We slid 5o feet down granite and off a 15 foot vert with a cave on the left... Welcome to Cali!
As we boated on the first day, I couldn't believe what was happening around us. The sheer immensity of the granite can't be captured on film. My homie Petey always likes to make fun of the moon explorations. He says that basically we flew all the way out there, got out of the spaceship and then in the name of science, the progression of human kind and all things holy, we played golf and drove high speed laps on a dune buggy. If they ever discover water on the moon, I'm going to add kayaking to that list, but for now Upper Cherry Creek is what boating on the moon would be like if the moon had good boating.
Finally the point came. After hours of epic boating, Roman pulled over at a random eddy. The gauntlet was thrown down. We were at the point of no return from the Cherry Bomb gorge. Roman had been before, but was feeling rusty - he's out. We have no guide. The scout is over a mile and relatively worthless from about a thousand feet up. We have a long day in the morning, so leaving the boats for the night and returning having scouted is not an option. We all immediately try to remember the Seven Rivers Expedition walkie-talk. Right, left, left, right, center, left, right, left, right, right.....ummmm, wait how many drops were there again? We have no idea. However, Moe, Alex, Nick and I are feeling really good and have gelled as a team. We went down with Roman and partially scouted the initial gorge that commits you to the Cherry Bomb gorge. The above picture is as good a look as you get. We know that the 40-foot Cherry Bomb drop is scoutable from the lip, but once you scout it, you're committed to going off it and the rest of the gorge is un-scoutable, un-portagable. Nick says he'll go, Moe is in. Screw it, I'll go. Alex waited until walking back to the boats and then saddled up.
This is one of my favorite pics of the trip. Alex took it from his boat as Moe committed to the most intense adventure of my life.
After the above gorge we arrived in the Reflection Pool where you can contemplate what you've done because you are now completely committed to running Cherry Bomb gorge.
Alex and Nick went first. They both stuck the line, but we got the best pics of Moe. Alex is at the bottom taking a pic of me and Moe from his boat.
I'm at the top of the pic taking a shot of Moe and Alex from the safety of the rock.
This was one of the coolest sunny afternoons I've ever experienced - we're in Cali for sure. This shot looks back up at the Cherry Bomb gorge. I've been to committed to my boat for sure - Vallecito, 1st Gorge Lime, Inner Crystal Gorge, etc - but nothing I've done comes close to comparing to the CB gorge. The Colorado gorges allow brief exits on rocks that have fallen into the river and they are boxed in by 100 foot tall walls. The Bomb gorge is walled in 1000 feet by slick granite and provides absolutely no way to stand up. Exiting your boat would undoubtedly involving swimming over successive sticky ledge drops to the bottom.
This drop is named Perfect 20'. Kinda funny because it's actually a sketchy 30' with bad pockets on both sides of the LZ. Roman's line looks pimp and made for a great picture, but.... well check out the video.
Sketchy 30' was one of the first drops in the morning of day 3. And was immediately followed by...
Here's Alex halfway down the Waterfall gorge. He's on drop 3 of 6, I think - it's a little hard to remember. Just to put things into perspective, it goes like this: Gorge above the Reflecting Pool, Cherry Bomb, Jedi Training slides, Teacups, Flinstone camp, Cali Groove Tube, Sketchy 30', Double Pothole, Waterfall gorge, Kiwi in a Pocket, Brown Bear falls. Together that makes about 20 waterfalls within less than two miles, including a double 15', 20+, 30x2, and 40ish falls. Vallecito is no longer the best mile of boating I've ever done.
So we're tired. We have literally boofed our brains out on day three. Then there's the Final Gorge. It starts with this sketchy drop where all the water pushed into the cave on the left. Then it again commits you to running a marginal, but oh so good drop...
Here's the final major drop of the Final Gorge. Cherry Lake is within site, but you have to tread carefully to the end. The river right side of the landing is a terrible sieve and salvation lies only in the boat width exit on river left. Slick to the last drop.
Now the moment you've all been waiting for. My prose is out, but you're still wondering what ever came of Roman's HD camera. For your viewing pleasure......Make sure to crank the bass and hit the full screen button on the video! Click on this link to watch it in High Definition - way better. Upper Cherry Creek in HD.
Upper Cherry Creek 2008 from Powder Monkeys, Inc. on Vimeo.
Upper Cherry Creek is undoubtedly, without the slightest hesitation, my favorite creek and probably the best three days of life. Leave your wife, quit your job and go.
A huge thanks to Roman Nelson, Alex Kilyk, Nick Abrams, and Andy, known as Moe the Kiwi, for the video and photos.
Oh, in case you wanted to know, it's left, left, right, center, right, left, left.