Friday, June 8, 2012

The Good Kind of Devil... Devil's Canyon, Middle Feather

Typically in California, you finish one mission and are immediately planning the next. The South Merced was no different - as soon as the team was off the river and waiting for the shuttle, the wheels began rolling for the next mission. From Yosemite, we did a mad dash north in the night to be at the Middle Feather by morning for a two day trip through Devil's Canyon. The team: Tyler Fox, Jim Bob, Daan and myself.

Devil's Canyon is usually done as a three day trip as the area is amazing and the camping very good. Not for us though... We had two days to paddle, a flow of 2500 cfs and an airport commitment the day after. Fortunately there is a shuttle driver up the Feather so logically we called him to help out.

Not so logical was the conversation that ensued. After first declaring that he was not the "shuttle guy", he proceeded to lecture me about the perils of trying to paddle the river in two days without someone who had done it before. There was a lot of banter before we finally compromised on leaving his place at 8.30am.

We rolled in with five minutes to spare and realised (quite quickly) that we weren't going anywhere fast - welcome to Feather time. A bit of last minute packing and squishing freed up the front passenger seat for our shuttle guy. Taking his seat he then removed his hat and unfurled the longest (and roughest) mullet I have ever seen, about a foot from my face. 

Our shuttle passed by wonderfully. We were in constant fits of laughter and I had tears rolling down my face within the first ten minutes and it didn't stop until we waved this guy goodbye from the river. 

Once on the river we settled in for a decent day on the river. Things started out gently and soon fell into a rhythm of rapids and pools. One of the many great things about Devil's Canyon is that there are no long stretches of flatwater. The gradient keeps things moving consistently and along with our 2500 cfs of water, we were flying. 

Myself on an early rapid... It keeps getting better and better!
Photo//Tyler Fox

Although sunny, it wasn't a particularly warm day so we didn't stop too much. By the looks of the camping available in the first part of the run, it was no wonder to us that people choose to do this trip over three days. We were through the first canyon before we really knew it and quickly getting deeper into the run. There were a few quick scouts but mostly super fun read and run grade 4+. 

A rare stop: Daan enjoying his breakfast some six hours later.
You may note the half gallon of milk.
Photo//Tyler Fox

Feather goodness... Drinking from a side creek
Photo//Daan Jimmink

Mr Fox in an unexpectedly-steep rapid
Photo//Daan Jimmink 

We paddled the second canyon which passes under the Pacific Crest Trail. The rapids kept coming which kept big smiles on our faces. As our afternoon wore on we were starting to get cold so were on the hunt for a good spot to pull up for the night. Jim Bob had actually done this run before but for the life of him could not remember much about it. To his credit, he did vaguely remember camping below the second canyon. Soon enough, we found a beach with our names on it (well, not really but you know what I mean). Steak, honey whiskey, gummi bears and M and M's... Yes, please.

What was left of the afternoon sun!
Photo//Daan Jimmink

Daan and Tyler warming up while talking business
Photo//Jess Matheson

For what seemed like a pretty mellow campsite, it turned out to be more eventful than the river was. There was a bald eagle and some salamanders. I also intercepted a rattle snake on the beeline for my sleeping mat, and found shortly after an angry scorpion that I had been sitting on. 

He was just leaving.
Photo//Daan Jimmink

This was only part of our evening entertainment. The wind picked up to epic proportions. Nothing like a sandy beach in the wind for a good sleep.

Big is good. Boat size for windbreaking...
Tyler's invention.
Photo//Tyler Fox

Windier than it looks!
Photo//Daan Jimmink

After a reasonably disrupted sleep, we were up and off again. Not sure where we were, how far we had gone, or how much we had left to paddle - we got on the water early (by Kiwi standards). We paddled about half an hour and came across a pair of paddlers camped up on a sweet beach eating breakfast. They said it was about three or four hours to the take out so we would have heaps of time to get there in time to meet our shuttle driver at 6pm. 

We got into some beautiful granite rapids in some amazing little gorges which was really fun paddling. We had a sweet couple of hours of paddling and had enough time to take a few pictures!

Daan somewhere in yet another rapid
Photo//Tyler Fox

Jim Bob figuring out the line for the second time
Photo//Tyler Fox

Endless, good volume boulder gardens
Photo//Tyler Fox

Tyler living the Cali life.
Photo//Daan Jimmink

This looked kind of meaty... Daan amongst it
Photo//Jim Bob

The Devil was happy this day!
Photo//Tyler Fox

The only must-run of the trip - Helicopter - cause you would need one to get around it.
Photo//Tyler Fox

The two paddlers we saw earlier blitzed past us a little later. We had no chance of keeping their pace (locals who know all the lines) so settled back into our rhythm. Jim Bob did remember where the portage was which was helpful. We hopped out and climbed around, and as we were coming back down to river level met the paddlers again - Cody and Morgan - who showed us down the rest of the run. In river awesomeness, they also took us back up to our vehicle (at the shuttle guy's place) as we were well early after all.

Devil's Canyon is an incredible trip and possibly quite underrated. In terms of consistent gradient, heaps of rapids, wicked camping, not much flatwater, sweet scenery and overall good, multiday grade 4 - 4+ (at 2500 cfs) this trip is well recommended. We all agreed that we would go back for sure.

Cheers to Jim Bob, Tyler, Daan, Morgan, Cody and Steve for a sweet trip.

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