Oct 28, 2008

South Fork San Joaquin V-V+ (P)

Day Two

With hopes of completing the run in three days, we got an early start on our second day, and the run didn’t disappoint with stacked boulder gardens.

Ben Stookesberry enjoying the first large rapid of the day.

Inexplicably the San Joaquin always manages to have deep, inescapable gorges mixed with steep gradient, and the South Fork was no exception to the rule.

Ben Stookesberry gives beta to Matt Thomas as we enter the first gorge.

This gorge also had a tiny hot springs at the top, Matt Thomas comes in hot too.

Matt Thomas charges into a big, relatively clean rapid that starts off a long gorge.

Every horizon we scouted was a relief in the first gorge. This was one good piece of river, and we were running everything, although a few were a bit manky.

Darin McQuoid

There were a few larger drops sprinkled into the first gorge, and if it went someone fired.

We were glad to be making good time and running a lot of rapids, because we all feared the run would be an absolute portage fest. Floating out of the first gorge we saw the oldest gauge I’ve seen on a river, and spent some time exploring it before moving on.

Classic high sierra kayaking, we floated through a beautiful open section that had an old cable car crossing.

Kevin Smith soaks in the scenery.

Turning the corner past the cable crossing and gauge, challenging rapids set the pace for a second gorge.

Kevin Smith nails the first boof in the entrance rapid.

Matt Thomas gets the second tricky boof.

Ben Stookesberry comes screaming through a hole in the middle of the awesome rapid.

Typical of the San Joaquin watershed, the river continued on with big boulder gardens, but atypical to the watershed, the pools between drops were generally fast moving water, upping the consequences.

Kevin Smith, Matt Thomas and Ben Stookesberry scouting up another large rapid.

Similar to the Middle Fork, the run was also filled with sieves, although the rapids still had lines, some were getting dubious.

Matt Thomas styles a boulder garden that was completely sieved out on the right.

Ben Stookesberry paddles the entrance of the same rapid.

Benjamin steers clear of the right channel.

The gorge had us locked into the river as we came to the next large horizon line, where Ben and Kevin got out and did some friction climbing to scout the next drop. Ben signaled me down with a right on the wall followed by a driving right line. I came down the first wall smear I resurfaced to the left and didn’t try hard enough to get back to the right. As I punched the pocket hole I didn’t think it would be too bad, but I quickly rear endered back into the hole and proceeded to take a long ride. I was getting plenty of air, and Kevin had time to hike down to me and offer a rope, but I felt like I could get out on my own, took a good cycle through, but was pulled back from five feet out and decided to take Kevin’s rope. Kevin did great work and pulled me out while I was in my boat, and I rolled up off the rope, glad that I got away without a swim.

Matt Thomas came next, and the unusual lighting didn’t bother him as much as me, because he styled it.

A quick downstream look.

The lighting gets better as Ben Stookesberry paddles through.

The drop we had just paddled was one of the most original I had seen in a long time, but just downstream was an even more unique rapid, or falls, or both…it had a perfect twenty footer (ignoring a substantial sieve on the right), but the lead in looked dubious and so did the run out. We took our time and looked from a variety of angles, until Matt decided it was good to go and fired it off, motivating the rest of the group to follow.

Kevin Smith on the messy but surprisingly smooth entrance.

Matt Thomas with a sweet first descent.

Ben Stookesberry, in a shot that shows the considerable run-out to the falls.

Ben Stookesberry up close in the mish mash below the falls.

The gorge continued on through several more large boulder gardens, Ben tries to get a look at one.

Next we scouted a large drop from the right bank. It had a complex lead in that pushed to the right side of a slide that was undercut, then a large hole at the bottom. The tough entrance move was certainly in play, but the largest drawback to the drop was the lack of a pool at the bottom. About half the flow went to the right side of the river and straight into the next rapid, and the other half went left, into a thirty foot wide pile of boulders that appeared quite sieved out. There was however an eddy on the left, so as long as the paddler didn't miss too many rolls or drop a paddle, things would work out.

I felt fired up about the day and liked the cross current entrance move. Kevin portaged quickly and set safety on river left, while Ben filmed from above. I hopped in my boat and came down into a one boat eddy above the move, peeled out and drove through two boofs to the left, came down the slide and took an instant window shade halfway down, came screaming through the hole and to me surprise was on the left wall. It took me a few attempts to get off the wall and roll, but I had no problems catching the eddy on the left.

Kevin joined me in the eddy and we tried to ferry across to the right channel, but the current was too strong so we got back out to portage on the left, while Ben and Matt went down to the next rapid.

While portaging we suddenly heard Ben whistling, and looking up we saw him waving frantically, so we dropped our boats and started running down the bank. As we made our way over the rough terrain we couldn't see what was happening at all, until we saw Matt climbing back upstream.

From the right bank it had looked like an easy move around a sieve, but the water behind a rock was actually peaked off the rock, and sliding into the sieve. Matt came in and almost 50/50'd out of the sieve, it pulled his tail down he was pinned. After a few long seconds he exited his boat and squeezed through the sieve, resurfaced and swam to shore before the next class V drop.

I was highly stressed that we lost his boat under the sieve, but we were able to get a rope on the grab loop and hoist it back out. It's a good thing we were able too, because at this point we were days away from help, and one of his shoes flushed off in the swim.

Matt was shaken but kept his cool, we pulled out a trusty breakdown paddle and started looking for a campsite, which we found after portaging one more drop and settling into a passable camp.

We were all shaken by the events late in the day, and glad that as a team we had "gotten away with one".

Even with the scary experience we were all amazed at how good the river had been so far. To this point, if it had water it would be an mandatory classic multi-day. We hoped it would continue in the same vein as we dreamed of pushing through the next day.

Day Three

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