East Fork Kaweah V-V+ (P)
“Is this run destined to become a California classic as equipment, skills and the daring of kayakers continues to notch ever upwards?” (Kaweah River Log)
Through word of mouth the East Fork Kaweah has rapidly been gaining a reputation as a true California classic, with Taylor Robertson going so far as to call it “one of the three best one-day runs in California.” Needless to stay, coming from a legend like Taylor our group was fired up to get on the East Fork Kaweah.
Devin Knight, Shon Bollock, Garrett Brown, Jason Hollerman, Eric Petlock and Taylor Robertson peering down into the East Fork Kaweah.
The East Fork Kaweah is becoming well known for nearly continuous bedrock rapids and strenuous portages through poison oak and over rattlesnakes, all for nearly eight miles. On the way up we weren’t disappointed with our first rattlesnake sighting of the day while peering into the gorge.
Looking down into the East Fork Kawah at Triple Drop/Dead Man's Alley.
This was going to be Taylor’s twenty-first run of the East Fork Kaweah, so we were able to take our time getting started in the morning knowing we would make good time down the run. We arrived at the normal put-in bridge around noon and you could feel the excitement while we geared up.
Over the 06/07 winter a rock fell into “the cave drop” that lies below the standard put-in bridge. On his last trip Taylor and others spent over two hours portaging this drop, so we put in a little ways downstream of the bridge, near a shady trailer that had a nice trail to the river.
Once we hit the water it was quality bedrock drops from the get go, filled with good boofs and classic creeking lines. There are so many good rapids on the East Kaweah it’s almost absurd. After paddling through ten or so high quality drops we got out for a great photo opportunity.
Garrett Brown boofing away on the East Fork Kaweah.
I can’t even come close to remembering all the good drops in here, let alone all the different lines, as each rapid was of IV+ to easy V character requiring easy but necessary moves. We were all glad to have Taylor leading us down the lines negating any scouting that would normally be necessary. We had already paddled as many good rapids as most runs have when we arrived at “Skyhook” a long, big bedrock rapid that Taylor has ran twice with a 50% percentage, taking a big hit on the wall the second time he ran it. The portage around Skyhook is a long affair down the left bank, not overly strenuous but it has several ledges high above the river, with poison oak growing off the wall, so it’s a fine line between getting all up in the oak and not falling off the cliff. We spent around half an hour portaging Skyhook and jumped back in the river to wash off and start the next portage immediately downstream.
Garrett, Shon and Eric starting the next portage with the bottom drop of Skyhook in the background.
Skyhook has been run by quite a few people, and caused more than its fair share of carnage, but the next drop downstream is an absolute mandatory portage where the East Fork Kaweah flows under the rocks. This portage requires an eight foot seal launch into a pool with an undercut and a nice ten foot drop downstream. After this we portaged a few more times around sieves and then the run got good again, really good. Mixed boulder gardens and bedrock drops led into a sweet double drop I went off blind to get setup for pictures.
Here is Taylor running the first half of the unnamed double drop.
Garret Brown is finishing up one of my favorite rapids of the run.
Numerous rapids and slides continued after the double drop until we got out to take a look at Triple Drop aka Dead Man's Alley. Triple Drop is the largest clean drop on the East Fork Kaweah, and normally gets run because of the scary portage around it. Unfortunately for us, flows were a little too high and the second hole in Triple Drop looked like it was pulling back in from about fifteen feet downstream.
Jason and Garret passing boats to Taylor at the lip of Triple Drop with the climbing chain visible on the left.
Thus began the terrifying portage. The only route around Triple Drop involves using chain attached to a very rusty ¼” climbing bolt attached at the lip of Triple Drop. We had great team work and moved all the boats across in about fifteen minutes and it was my turn to climb up. I walked right up, gritted my teeth and made the climb studiously ignoring the bolt while Devin Knight spotted me from below. Big thanks to Devin for going last, people often don’t believe that I am scared of heights, but I am and was a little gripped about this one because of the exposure and rusted bolt. The last person also gets no spotter for the moment when the bolt does rip out, so they would fall right into the drop. [Note, as of June 2008 the bolt has been replaced with a sturdy setup in a better position]
More exposed climbing to finishes off the portage.
At lower flows Triple Drop is very fun, although the rest of the run is not.
Devin Knight on the second tier.
Ryan Knight with nice extension on the boof.
Ryan Knight and Chris Korbulic exit triple drop.
If I remember correctly one or two mandatory sieve portages were up after Triple Drop, then another incredible long section of rapids, slides and falls, all which went on verbal and were incredibly fun.
Devin Knight freewheels a waterfall on a 2008 trip.
After many of these we eddied out above a large horizon line where Taylor said to wait a second, then come down and make sure we caught the eddy on the right. Jason proclaimed this to be a V+ move and started a portage higher on the right. The move is a clean ten footer with a mandatory “eddy” that is more slackwater on the right. About half our group went high and the other half took turns running to the eddy where Taylor was waiting to help out.
Shon running the ten-footer into the small eddy above another large drop.
My angle here does not do this twisty sliding drop justice. The right wall sticks out halfway down with the majority of the flow slamming into it, and then into a very retentive hole downstream. It’s been run, but none in our group had seen it cleaned, the few they had seen run it took a big hit and then proceeded to get torn up in the hole. Knowing the caliber of people Taylor kayaks with we didn’t even give this one a thought.
The character of the Kaweah stayed constant in here and good drops continued for quite a ways with the classic mix of big boulder gardens and many, many bedrock slides and falls.
Ryan Knight enjoying a slide on the East Fork Kaweah.
A few of us got out to get pictures of this one on Tay’s advice, it’s quite clean, fun and photogenic.
Eric running one of the countless clean slides.
View of Seth from below with lower flows.
Many more good rapids later we scouted this drop that doesn’t look larger than anything else on the run, but has a stomper of a hole around the corner, and a sketchy sieve that at least one person has swum under.
Jason styling on through another classic.
Just a handful of rapids later we portaged a falls that has been run, but doesn’t really have a line where you clean it, seems to be one of those random luck disappear in the fold and hopefully pop up at the bottom kind of falls. The gorge down here is gorgeous and we took a break after the portage.
Getting back in our boats Taylor yelled out “no eddies” and started to take off around the corner with all of us following as closely as possible. This section of the river is simply unreal, containing six to ten back to back fifteen-twenty foot high slides, all of which are clean and low stress, so much fun!
Some of the goods in the "no eddies" section taken on a 2008 trip with Ryan and Devin Knight.
Once we got through all the slides the character went into technical boulder gardens where we were grateful we had someone leading us down, lots of sieves and pitons lay hiding in the wrong routes. These technical but fun drops carried on all the way to where the East Fork Kaweah hits the Middle Fork and we paddled a short way to the take out.
The East Fork Kaweah is an absolute classic, and I’ll certainly make the trek down to get on it again. We had flows peak at 900 on the Kaweah Gauge on our descent, and while flows were perfect for everything else, slightly lower flows would have made the trip that much better by letting us run Triple Drop.
Access is straight forward for the East Fork Kaweah. Take out at the confluence, or if you are camping at Three Rivers Hideaway you can paddle all the way down to your campsite. From Three Rivers Hideaway drive upstream until you see Mineral King road on the right, and follow this road until you hit the East Fork Kaweah bridge. Park at the bridge and hike back downstream until you find a decent trail to put in. If there are non-kayaker vehicles near the trailer, I personally wouldn’t go anywhere near it. If you have haven’t done the run before, plan for a very long day with a lot of scouting. Poison oak is everywhere, and rattlesnake sightings are common so watch your step. We did the run in five and a half hours, but moved at a decent pace and only scouted two rapids that weren’t portages, and we had no carnage. I could see this run taking twelve hours if you don’t know it, so be warned.
[2009 Retrospect: After experiencing much more of what California has to offer, I have gone back to this run several times and don't find that it falls into the list of what I would consider classic to be. The "bullshit" factor is rather high with three unpleasant portages, a fair share of mank and a lack of good boofs. After a few laps most the slides are too easy, making you wish for more interesting moves. If you are fired up the big drops still aren't inspiring, and if flows are high enough to make the majority of the run good, then "Triple Drop" is a portage. Once Triple Drop is good to go, then the run is a little bony, and the mank is nearly on par with the notorious Bridge Creek. I would consider Hospital Rock more of a classic, it's a run I would do laps on. Not that the East Fork Kaweah is bad, but once a year is enough for me.]