Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three days in the Devils Postpile

After having an awesome time on Upper Cherry Creek (story to come soon) Jess, Matt, Shannon and I headed to Sonora for some well-earned R and R. Checking the flows online at Starbucks it looked like the Devil’s Postpile (Middle Fork of the San Joaquin) was the next big adventure. With a quick call to Taylor Cavin we now had a team of three – Shannon, Taylor and myself. We were still looking for another member to join our team but most people had work or other obligations. While we waited to hear back from other people, we had a daytime mini movie marathon. 

With a good night of sleep behind us, we met up with Taylor in Sonora. We decided to rally to Mammoth in one car after Jess kindly offered to do shuttle. The goal was to put on that evening but with the drive taking longer than expected, Dan Menton (group member #4) rallying straight from UCC and Kevin Smith inviting us to his house for a BBQ in Mammoth Lakes, the put on was delayed until the morning.

Flows still holding steady, we made our way into the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. We put on the Middle San Joaquin just above Rainbow Falls. This was a bad idea because the paddling took roughly three times longer than the walk would have, due to lots of wood in the river. After walking round Rainbow Falls we put back on the river.

A short section of whitewater and one rapid, called Mini Rainbow Falls, we started the biggest portage of the trip. It was about an hour, on river left, before we got back to the river. Once putting back on, the river felt very pushy. It was a tight gorge with boulders sitting on solid bedrock. We made our way down one of the best rapids of the trip – a clean 15 foot drop into a 5 foot drop into a 5 foot drop. The variety of rapids was huge. Small waterfalls, 300 foot slides, chunky holes and tight gorges all with beautiful scenery. 

Mini Rainbow Falls

Me on the first clean 15 footer

Taylor Cavin

Shannon Mast getting ready to keep his nose up

Dan Menton in a tight gorge

Dan still in the tight gorge

Seal launch into Crazy Fan Falls

Looking at the Crazy Fan and Dan

Start of the slide section

More slides

Best for last, the 300 foot slide into boof

While paddling through Waterfalls Gorge, Mexico Gorge and Boof-O-Matic Gorge there was very little portaging. The ones that did need portaging were all at river level and quite short. Once we exited Boof-O-Matic Gorge we arrived at our campsite for the night, just upstream of Fish Creek (a tributary on river left).

Entrence to Waterfalls Gorge

Perfect 20

 Boof-O-Matic from the ramp

One of the many fish caught on the trip, great fishing everywhere

It was a beautiful night, but an hour into my sleep I was awoken by Taylor and Dan when they found a rattlesnake. The snake was quite big and had 14 rings on his rattler. We spent a while chasing it out of camp before we could go back to sleep. 

In the morning we forgot to give Taylor a timeframe so at 10.40am we put on the river. Fish Creek came in quickly adding a lot more water than we hoped. The gorges opened up to a wider valley floor that gave things more of a big water feel. We had paddled about an hour when Barny Young and Blue Eyes Nick caught up to us. They had set off three hours earlier in the hope to catch us. The were trying hard to catch us after Charles King got his boat stuck the day before and they had spent three hours trying to extract it. The boat stayed, so Charles had to hike out which meant that their team was down to two.

An early boof on day two

 The rapids of the day were steep, bouldery and mostly good to go with a few river level portages thrown in there. Just after lunch we arrived at the entrance to The Crucible. The first rapid is a portage on river left requiring team rope work. It took us almost as hour for all six of us to be back in our boats below the portage. On second thought this rapid could have been portaged on river right starting upstream at the Miller Crossing bridge, which would have saved time and not been as risky. 

Team Portage

Looking into the Crucible

We paddled a few more rapids then got to a big one with a log in the middle. We decided to portage on the left. After putting back on we found ourselves stuck in the gorge with no good eddies and all the water going under some downstream boulders. I saw a crack upstream that I knew I could climb out of, but not with my boat. Barny grabbed my boat as I started to climb up the wall. Once at the top of the gorge I attached a rope to a tree for other people to climb out on. I climbed back down to water level and used my sling, attaching to the front of each boat, to hold them in place so each person could climb out and up without losing their boat. 

After a few more tricky portages we were exhausted but managed to find a good campsite. The downside to camping in the middle of The Crucible is that you still have the must-run rapids downstream which can make it hard to sleep.

Day two camp, fish on the hot stone

Learning from the previous morning, we gave Taylor a timeframe. Up at 6am and leaving at 8.30am, in the hopes of being on the water by 9am (we left camp at 8.45am). Within half an hour we were looking into the crux of the run. Barny and I managed to run a sneak chute on river right of the first rapid so that we were able to set up safety for everyone else. The next rapid was Broken Arrow, which had a good line down the middle. With a big pool and no real way to scout the next two rapids, Nick probed the double right line that ended with everyone getting backlooped in the bottom hole. The last rapid of the gorge was a pothole on the left – everyone got a good boof in and then we had made it out of The Crucible. We took a few moments to rejoice and take in the awe of our surroundings - one of the grandest places I’ve ever been

Rapids leading into The Crucible

Looking into the first must-run rapid

High flows, pushy water

 Shannon boofing the left line

Taylor above Broken Arrow

Boofing Broken Arrow

The first blind rapid, we went right

Second blind rapid, right again into back loop

From the bottom of The Crucible to the lake was a mixture of great rapids and obvious portages. The South San Joaquin and other tributaries were still flowing at a good level meaning that the last section was still very pushy. Taylor’s description for the line on one rapid was “Down the right and fight… There will be holes... Go for it, Daan”. Even the last rapid into the lake saw most people get tail-stood. 

 Just after the Crucible, water falls on river right

Taylor fishing

Such a beautiful place

More pushy rapids

Barny on Kidney Breaker

Taylor getting his stomp on

 Once on the lake there was a seven mile paddle out to the boat ramp. Barny spent the first half an hour drafting behind me and talking to everyone on a jet ski. After a few attempts he managed to get us a ride on some jet skis. Getting towed behind a jet ski was more complicated than first thought, so the jet ski drivers took us to their camp and upgraded our ride to a jet boat. The remaining hour and a half paddle out was completed in seven minutes. Shannon, Dan and Taylor weren’t as lucky so they had to paddle the seven miles unassisted. On the brightside, there was cold beer and chips waiting at the boat ramp for them.

The boat ride back

Overall the flow we had was high however it did fill in a few of the nastier holes and it gave a bit of cushion where there would normally be sieves. 

Next year Taylor and I are going to hold the first annual Devil’s Postpile Fishing Classic - a multi-stage competition including largest fish, best cooked fish and the most catch and release in an hour.

Cheers to Jess for the shuttle (a small feat in itself).