Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Middle fork of the San Joaquin, Devils postpile

I was lucky enough to get a week of from nursing school in the end of august and some how the middle kings and devils postpile were still in a good 1-2 months after normal, we had all done the middle kings so we decided on the postpile (I had done part of it a few years back but had to hike out, but tyson and rolf hadn’t done any of it). Driving out from Denver I picked up Tyson in salt lake and then we rallied out to sac to pick up Rolf and rallied up to Mammoth to get a few hours of shut eye.

Day 1

We were lucky enough to get a shuttle set up from a local climbing shop that ended up saving us 10+ hours of driving. We got dropped off in the national monument and began hiking down to beautiful 80 foot rainbow falls around 9am (if you can try and get into the park before 7am so it wont be open=less hassle). Putting on to a creek with about 150 cfs on it we paddled for about 30 minutes before starting an hour and a half portage on river left around some serious mank/sieve piles. Putting back in we were greeted by great low volume boulder gardens for a few miles before we got to the first gorge. The gorge started with a few marginal drops that get run but that we decided to leave for next time due to limited safety options. Lower down in the gorge we got to run some fantastic drops in the locked in gorge. Below this gorge the river opened up into some great slides for about a mile before dropping into another gorge. It was getting late so we decided to camp early at an amazing camp spot (something that was a constant throughout this trip).

The team (Me, Tyson, Rolf) at rainbow falls happy for an adventure

Rolf on our putin drop

Me on a great triple drop

Tyson on the same

Rolf riding it out switch

Rolf on a great slide in the first gorge

Tyson on a big drop in the first gorge (the pothole above this is scary)

Looking upstream from our camp

A downstream view

Day 2

We got up pretty late after a cold night of good sleep and didn’t put on until late morning. The gorge below our camp was short and sweet ending in a great 20 footer. The next few miles were mostly class 4-5 boulder garden read and run rapids until we got to the start of the boof-a-matic gorge. This gorge contained one unscoutable and unportagable rapid that we had good directions on from Kevin Smith. The highlight was a 40 foot sliding falls called boof-a-matic falls, after that I was able to scramble up to the gorge rim and get a look down on the last few drops that looked pretty full on but I thought we could run them. When I got back to the group I gave them beta and told them we could all go scout if they wanted but they said that I looked to nervous for them want to scout it. The last two exit drops were pretty full on but went relatively well but could be a bad spot to make a mistake. After the gorge we took a nice long break and watched a bad ass helicopter pilot get water out of the gorge to fight a fire in the fish creek drainage. After our nice break we ran a few more miles of great rapids before finding a nice campsite a few miles above millers crossing, we got to sleep early with our minds on the crucible that we would be paddling the next day.

Tyson happy to be on this side of that hole

Tyson dropping into a sweet slide

And in the runout

A badass heli pilot showing off

Rolf boofing

Rolf riding it out

Rolf on another fun one as Tyson looks on

Day 3

Getting up a lot earlier we were on the water by 9 am making good time through an amazing gorge with great read and run class 4-5 before making it to Cassidy crossing around 11am. Below the crossing we began making numerous portages in pretty gorged out conditions for the next few hours before making it to the crucible proper. We were able to do some friction climbing and get a look at the first two drops but we couldn’t see the last two rapids of the gorge. It is a very interesting feeling doing a run where you know that your going to have to run rapids without being able to scout them, this was the situation we had put ourselves in and it had me pretty scared dropping in. Once we were locked into the gorge below it was all business and all of my fear melted into concentration. The third drop of the gorge is the crux drop of the gorge, we knew that we could run the double drop right-right but that it pushed into a sieve just downstream. We had been told that a middle-middle line came in a higher water but we were having trouble seeing the second slot that was in the middle (most of the water was going left into a sieve) finally I got close enough to the lip that I could see the middle slot and went for it, we all ended up having great lines and were glad to be below that drop. The last drop of the crucible is a 15 footer into a pothole I set safety as Tyson and Rolf ran the drop, then portaged the drop in the middle due to a lack of safety from below. Below the crucible granite creek plummets a few hundred feet off the canyon walls into the river and we took a long break to soak in this amazing place. Back on the water we boated for another hour or so before setting up camp on a huge gravel bar. We wondered what the next day would be like thinking that there wouldn’t be to much more and that we could make it out by early afternoon (we were wrong).

Portaging our way closer to the crucible

That pool is only 4 drops away but feels o so far

A beautiful falls on granite creek

Our camp fire and sunset

Day 4

We got up early yet again and were on the water by 8 am, starting of with some good drops with a few portages thrown in we made it to the south fork confluence in a few hours. Taking a break we decided that we wouldn’t be too long from the bottom, but below here the portaging became more complex and more frequent. Our moral kept getting lower and lower as we kept portaging finally getting to the lake at 6 pm, our hopes of finding a ride out were dashed when we realized how late it was. We paddled across the reservoir in 2-2.5 hours and made it to the boat ramp just at dark.

Rolf loving life after a portage

Rolf on a great boof

Looking down into more gorges below the south fork confluence

Driving back to sac we didn’t get to an airport hotel until 2am, just in time for rolf to get a few hours of sleep before his 6am flight back to the real world and his job. This run is an amazing adventure in every imaginable way, great rapids, huge gorges, scary portages.

Here is a short video I put together of our trip:

Devils Postpile of the middle fork of the san joaquin from Tom Janney on Vimeo.

For a great write up and of course great pictures go to Darin McQuoid’s site: http://www.kayakphoto.com/darinmcquoid/middlesanjoaquin.html he calls the run the hardest multi day in cali which I tend to agree with.

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