Wednesday, July 27, 2011

South Silver, CA (7.17.11)

What can you say about South Silver (CA) that hasn’t already been said or shown through videos/photos? It’s an ultra-classic, granite playground, and one of the most recognized runs on the entire planet! This is truly where kayak dreams come to life. It’s only 1 to 1.5 miles long, but it packs a real punch, dropping over 600fpm! This run is also much more accessible than other upper Sierra runs in both difficulty and logistics. That said, if it’s running at a solid flow, you better be on your game, and only the hardiest will run all the drops, including the famed Skyscraper & Off Ramp.

South Silver has a fairly small window of runnable flows, my understanding is one or two weeks at the most. It typically runs in late spring or early summer, but this has been a very odd season, with massive snowpack in the Sierras, and most of the west coast for that matter. It is this that put it on the radar as an addition to a planned trip on Fordyce, which had been in the works for months. With the possibility of bagging two new classics in one trip, the drive down from Eugene for a weekend of boating didn’t seem all that ridiculous, even as a solo drive.

Although I was the only one from up north, I had teamed up with buddy Bill from Sacramento, and we would be paddling with elements of his crew over the weekend. A friend of his, Brian, had joined us for Fordyce, which was awesome, but also an epic day that had us paddling to the take-out in the dark (trip report here). The next day we did a few miles on Lover’s Leap, which was also super good, featuring lots of juicy/technical drops stacked back to back to back.

By the time Sunday came around, flows seemed like they might have dropped into a reasonable level for South Silver. Supposedly, the best gauge to use was the “SF American below Kyburz”, looking for a flow of less than 1k, and 700cfs to 400cfs being optimal. On Sunday it was reading between 800 and 950, but since it can only be used as a correlation, we needed to check it out in person. With that, we put a group of four together and headed to the takeout. Bill and I would be joined by a fella’ named Anthony, and another named Gavin -- we were glad to have the company (and a small crew) for a run like this. Gavin parents had also come along to watch their son fire-up the goods -- since there is a fairly manageable hiking trail running the full length it was easy for them to get some good views of our descent.

The day we were there (7/17/11) the gauge was reading
between 800cfs and 950cfs.It was definitely coming up
throughout the day, which was quite noticeable when
we got to the Teacups.

As we hiked up the trail we made our way past the bottom mank section until we reached the last real drop of the run, Quadruple Bypass. It looked pretty straightforward, so we continued on. Next we got a peak of Plastic Surgery, which also looked quite manageable, after watching a group of boaters grease it one after another. The next big drops we came to were the dynamic duo of Skyscraper & Off Ramp. Words or pictures cannot describe the size of these two back-to-back monsters; I just stood there in awe looking up at them. Everyone in the group had pretty much made the decision that these two would be walks, although Gavin still wasn’t ready to write them off completely. From here we thought it best to hike to the top of Skyscraper, to see what the eddy service look liked between it and the Teacups.

Looking up at Skyscraper and the
top of Off Ramp, during our scout.

As we reached our viewing platform, we saw a group headed down, The Shasta Boyz. Without slowing down, they made their way through the Teacups with style, catching a last chance eddy on the left, at the lip of Skyscraper.

Dropping the third cup...

...and the last. The run-out at the bottom of the picture is Skyscraper.

A nice line on the last tier

One by one they climbed out of their boats and walked down the sloped granite rock to give a look. While they were doing so, we hiked back down to the base of Off Ramp to watch the show. After some time scouting and setting up proper safety, the first guy dropped in. He entered hard left, dropped off the flake and disappeared into the white. The next time I saw him resurface was at the lip of the last tier, where he dug in for a nice stroke and cleared the bottom hole. After a brief pause, he dropped into Off Ramp down the left, with right angle. After melting the hole at the base, he was taken with the flow into the undercut/sieve on the right, and underneath where we were standing. A few seconds later he came paddling out. It was a great line, but he didn't make it look easy. As much as we would have liked to watch the others come down, we were burning daylight and needed to get on the water ourselves. With that, we rushed back down the trail to grab the cars and head to the put-in.

The Shasta Boyz giving Skyscraper a scout

The Shasta Boyz showing us how it's done

Dropping over the last tier of Skyscraper

Off Ramp

Following the directions that we had from multiple sources (internet and guidebook), finding the exact location of the put-in was not easy. After more than an hour of driving around dirt roads and jumping out to search for foot paths, we finally decided to drop the gear (along with Bill and me) at “the clearing” while the others went back down to the take-out to drop off the car and ask the other groups for verbal directions. While they were doing that, Bill and I continued our search. After another hour, we finally found it after some bushwhacking down the hill. The other two soon arrived and we told them of our find. They were also able to get the directions from the other boaters, which would have required us to load back up and drive a short bit further. However, we were finally able to convince them that the hike from our current location was short enough and that there was no need to drive down.

After a short hike through the manzanita and down a short but steep hiking trail, we reached the water’s edge and the top of “Autobahn”-- it was now ~5:30pm. Basically Autobahn is a ~150 yard low angle slide, and as the name suggests, there are no speed limits. I would guess that by the time you reach the bottom you’re doing between 20-30mph, which is one hell of a way to start a run! As for difficulty it’s pretty much a no-brainer. You do have to brace off pillow/laterals in a few places, but it’s not too difficult to keep it straight and upright. The only real obstacle that is kind of in play is some rock at the bottom on the left, although it was pretty easy to avoid (at least at this level).

Autobahn. This is gonna be fun!

Instead of setting safety, we decided to go in groups of two, which was probably more effective anyway. Anthony and I would go first while Bill and Gavin waited for us to reach the pool below and give them the signal. Anthony started hard right down a shallow slide and dropped in first. Once I saw that he had entered, I went for the center-right boof, which was fairly shallow. Once I hit the meat, things started coming pretty quick, and after launching over a pretty big curler I landed in an eddy and caught a breath for a sec. I looked over to see Anthony who had also eddied out, but on the other side of the creek. We were only about a third of the way through and after getting the “good to go” signal from him I led the charge down the next section. As I hit the last pitch, with some serious speed, I could see the pool below and did my best to get some right angle coming into it. Upon breaking through the bottom wave-hole, I dipped my nose into the right eddy and made a dynamic 180 turn, stopping dead. “Holy %hit, that was crazy!”, I believe were the words that came out of my mouth. Soon after, Anthony appeared, as well as a couple of guys from New Zealand that had gotten to the put-in just after us. Everyone pretty much had the same response as me, in fact the Kiwis went up to run it again, which is pretty easy to do along the right bank. After giving the all clear to Bill and Gavin, they came blasting down with similar lines. It was really cool to see them come flying into the pool with big eyes and smiles on their faces.

Gavin and Bill enter Autobahn

Gavin lines up the bottom pitch

Bill gets airborne while blasting through a
speed-trap at the bottom of Autobahn

Just below was a fun little boof ledge that fed into a narrow chute, which led into a somewhat trashy boulder drop. We all made it through both in one fashion or another and regathered just above the next big horizon line.

One of the Kiwis gets in a nice stoke on the drop just below Autobahn

Gavin coming out of the same drop

With the others eddied out on river left, I ferried across to river center and peered over my shoulder to see if the drop below was boat scoutable. I couldn’t see the bottom, but did catch a glimpse of an undercut boulder with water pushing toward it. I quickly let the others know that it would need a scout. The drop was certainly runnable, but it was fairly trashy, especially the lead-in, and the undercut/sieve on the left concerned me enough to make the portage. Bill decided the same, and after setting safety for both Anthony and Gavin, who had good lines, we re-launched in the eddy below. This one is known as "Double Drop" and apparently gets better the higher the flow is, which stands to reason.

Anthony in the middle of Double Drop

Eddying out just below Double Drop

Next up was "Triple Slide", which is more of a double ledge with a fast run-out. The other two had already run it, and were down below scouting the next drop while Bill and I took our turns. I setup for photos and Bill fired it up using the recommended line hard river-right. After packing up my stuff I soon followed with a similar line.

Bill does it right (literally) at Triple Slide

Dropping the second tier of Triple Slide

Once I reached the eddy where the others were, I was told the drop below me was "Boof, Boof, Slide" and it deserved a look. I jumped out to see the creek drop over a 4' to 5' sloping ledge, then split around a rock outcropping through a narrow chute, with the right channel being the only good option. To be honest, I only saw one boof, but maybe this changes at lower water. Gavin was already heading up to his boat to give it a go. After seal-launching back in, he charged the drop and came over the boof with the proper right angle. After stalling out for a second, he dug toward the flume, dropped in, and crashed through the bottom hole without so much as slowing down.

Gavin makes the entrance boof...

...Then hits the slide

I decided to run it next. My only concern was the narrow crack on the left, which seemed fairly easy to avoid, however, we had safety set there to be sure. My line was a little more exciting: after cleaning the top part I dropped down the slide with too much left angle and was flipped trying to avoid the wall. I actually lost half my paddle grip, but luckily got it back in hand before snapping off a quick roll. Even with the sub-par line, it was still a super fun drop! Bill went next and got a huge back ender at the bottom, but recovered nicely. Anthony on the other hand, had the best line of the bunch and barely got his head wet.

Bill midway through

Bill goes for some style points

Anthony making it look easy

Below Boof, Boof, Slide were a couple of fun small slides that were both straightforward with little consequence. Since I was already out from taking pictures, I was able to give verbal beta to the others. From my perch, I could also see a pool, which I believed to be the one above the Teacups.

Gavin drives down the small slide just below Boof, Boof, Slide

Bill punches through another hole

Gavin heads toward the pool above the Teacups

After meeting up with the others in the pool, we got out and hiked down the granite slabs on river-right to scout The Cups. I was actually a little surprised by difficulty of this classic series of drops. It wasn't that they were over the top, just that I had expected them to be more of a gimmie. The first and last one were pretty straightforward, however, the second dropped about 12' into a crack (of sorts) where the creek exited at about a 90-degree angle, and the third had a nasty looking keeper on the right. Between here and the last cup was a 2' and a 3' ledge that were both good to go on the right, but the left sides of each looked like they could provide a good unintentional surf session. The crux for me was making sure I came off the 2nd in good form to avoid the hole on the 3rd; I was pretty good with everything else. To add to the excitement, it appeared that the flow had come up a little bit during the day, making the section a little more pushy and the eddies above Skyscraper a little bit smaller.

Scouting the Teacups

I was the last to go, and after watching the others style each of the drops on their way down, I was ready for my turn. It's amazing how slick that granite is, and I was finding it hard to find a stable platform to launch from. I finally decided on a spot just above the lip of the first falls. As I slid into the outflow of the pool, I didn't get as much upstream momentum as I had hoped, which unfortunately set me up poorly from the start. Basically I only had enough time to turn my boat 180 degrees, square up on the drop, and throw in a half-ass boof stroke. It was just enough to keep me upright and safely eddy out below it on the right, but it wasn't pretty. I took a few moments to get my head back in the game, then I started my ferry to river left to run the next. Once again things didn't go as planned. I thought I had lined it up perfectly, but upon landing I hit the rock outcropping with the bottom of my boat and was immediately flipped. I missed my first roll attempt and knew I only had one or two more before I dropped over the third falls. Luckily I held it together and pulled off my second, where Anthony (who was setting safety) begin yelling "You're good, you're good!". With just enough time to line it up properly I sailed off the lip landing on a deep brace and away from the hole I had been concerned about. I hadn't even had time to wipe the water from my eyes and I was headed toward the two small ledge holes. I drove hard and was able to make it right, plowing through both without too much issue. I was able to relax a bit while floating toward the final falls, as I drove for the line I had scouted, it became apparent (at the lip) that I was off by a couple of feet to the left. Once again I landed on a hard brace, far from styling it as I had imagined in my head. I didn't have time to think about it much since I needed to really dig in to make the right, one-boat eddy, just above Skyscraper. I was a little bummed about my line through the Teacups, and had we not been running out of daylight I probably would have hiked up to get some redemption.

Anthony runs the first Cup

Lined up nicely on the second

Looking good for #3. Note the pothole recirculator on the right.

Gavin making the move on #2

Gavin on #3

Gavin navigates the two small ledge pour-overs
between #3 and the last one. They both seemed
a little sticky, so the right line was recommended.

Since none of us had planned to run Skyscraper and/or Off Ramp (time wouldn't have allowed anyway), we quickly began looking for the route along the right bank. The trail was a little sketchy in spots but served us well, and with a little teamwork we finished our portage safely. Once again due to time constraints we skipped putting in above "Nose Job" and settled on a eddy below it. This next section was a series of three drops that were surprisingly fun, with the last having a sweet water boof, which I believe is called "Funk Falls".

We were now sitting above the lead-in to Plastic Surgery, where we got out once again to scout. The series of entrance drops were actually pretty big, with the hole just above looking pretty sticky, at least at this level. As for the main drop itself, it looked good as long as you entered in control and with left angle. The main hazard was on the right where the water smashes against a rock outcropping, and what appeared to be a deep pothole. I decided almost immediately that I wasn’t feelin’ it and prepared to shoulder my boat. The only one in the group that was giving it serious thought was Gavin, and after assuring him that we would have good safety setup, he decided to give it a go.

Our safety plan was setup to ensure that he didn’t go over the main drop upside down or out of his boat, which would be disastrous. Bill stood at the water’s edge secured to a safety line held by Anthony and Gavin’s Dad -- basically, ready to live-bait if necessary. After coming down the first tier of the lead-in he unexpectedly (both to him and us) peeled into a micro eddy against the left wall, which allowed him time to reevaluate his next move. After a few seconds he entered the drop once again and melted into the guard hole just above the lip of the main drop. Even though he went fairly deep, it didn’t slow him down much, which surprised me a bit. Coming out of the hole in control, he was able to drop into the grand finale perfectly and sailed down Plastic Surgery with a textbook line. It was cool to see him style it.

Gavin drops down the lead-in to Plastic Surgery

Melting the hole just above Plastic Surgery

Making the crux move

Gavin finishing up with a solid run

Just below here was Quadruple Bypass, and as the name suggests, is a series of four ledges. They all look good to go and a lot of fun, with the last one sporting a fairly sticky hole on the right. Gavin and Anthony were already down at the water and ready to go. Bill had run down to set bag at the last hole, while I did my best to get our two boats down to the eddy below Plastic Surgery. From above I could see both of them running the first couple of drops, and it looked like they had both gotten tripped up a bit in the entrance, where the current appeared to suck their sterns down. Soon Bill came hiking up the trail and told me that supposedly that what I had noticed was them getting pulled toward a sieve of sorts, and that one of them was slightly shaken by the experience. It was now getting pretty dark, and we had no time for a mishap, so both Bill and I decided it was probably better to just hike out from here, which I was somewhat conflicted about since it looked like such a fun series of drops -- oh well, next time.

Most people hike out below Quadruple Bypass and skip the last quarter mile since it’s basically a boulder bashing mankfest, which was probably better for us since we were out of daylight. Once back at the parking lot, we had a beer or two while changing and loading up. By the time we rolled into Placerville it was 10pm and our only real eating option was fast-food, so we settled on some good ol’ fashioned In-N-Out.

South Silver is without a doubt one of California’s (and the country’s) Ultra Classics. I felt like our flow was a nice solid medium level, which was perfect for a majority of the drops. That said, this made Skyscraper, Off Ramp, and Plastic Surgery pretty stout and more than I wanted to bite off. I would love to go back at a lower level and run the big three to feel like I truly completed the run. Although, even though I only did South Silver “light”, it was still an awesome experience with super fun whitewater, especially Autobahn. It was really cool to be able to run it in combination with Fordyce over the weekend. I’ll definitely be back for this one, and would drive all the way from Eugene just to do multiple laps on it over a long weekend.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fordyce Creek, CA (7.15.11)

After a failed attempt to run Fordyce Creek down in California last season (based on PG&E not releasing as published), a plan was once again hatched by the Oregon crew to try again this year. After checking our schedules, as well as with our buddy Bill from Sacramento, we determined that the best bet would be to shoot for the weekend of July 16. As we approached the date, the crew begin to drop off one by one until it was basically me and Bill, which meant that I would have to drive to Cali solo. I had pretty much given up on the idea of heading down there by myself, but after confirming that flows would be good, I decided that the lone drive might be good for me (some good soul searching). To sweeten the pot, it also looked like South Silver would probably drop in, which pretty much sealed the deal.

Since Bill would be driving from Sac, the plan was for me to meet him and his buddy Brian at Lake Spaulding, our camp for a couple nights and the takeout for Fordyce. The drive down took me about 8 ½ hours, long but not over the top. The nice thing about a solo mission is that you can stop whenever and wherever you want, which I did on a few occasions. By the time I reached camp on Thursday night, it was ~9pm. I had beaten Bill there, but Brian (who I had never met before), had already secured us a site and was crashed out in this truck. He soon emerged, and after trading pleasantries I went to work setting up my spot and getting a fire started. Right at about the time I got the fire established, Bill showed up, ready for some beers and chit-chat before heading off to bed.

The next morning we got up with the sun, cooked breakfast, and lounged around a bit before loading up and heading to the put-in. Checking flows, it looked like it was holding nice and steady at ~360cfs, a little low but still in the recommended range.

Spaulding Lake at sunrise

Our flow for the day, ~360cfs

It’s been well documented that the road into Fordyce is a 4x4 only route, and not suitable for most cars. Brian had a big Suburban, so we had little worries about making it in, although when it was time to retrieve it (after our run), we hoped my Subaru would be up for the task. After about four miles on this dirt road we reached the pass, and unfortunately a roadblock of massive snowdrifts. The problem would now become available daylight -- Fordyce is already known for being a long day run, so the added hike in was an unwelcome surprise. After kicking ourselves for not getting an earlier start, we decided to continue our mission and make it happen.

The hike ended up not being all that bad, since it was downhill and the snow was pretty well packed, which allowed us to drag our boats most of the way. We only had to hike about 2 miles before reaching the start of Fordyce Lake, which we then paddled across ~1.5 miles to the dam and our put-in for the run. While paddling across the lake I spent time to take in the view of the granite landscape that the high Sierras are known for -- ever since I started kayaking I had dreamed about being immersed in it, and now I was finally getting that chance.

Bill starts the unanticipated hike in

Brain makes his way over the monster snow drifts

Getting close. Fordyce Lake in view.

And now for some lake paddling...

When we got to the dam, I was surprised to see that all 350+cfs was cranking out of such a small opening, although it was coming out with quite a bit of force. We still needed to scramble down a few steep pitches before we reached the creek. Conveniently, painted arrows (for better or worse) helped guide the easiest path down the exposed granite slabs. Once at the water we relaxed a bit and ate a snack before putting on.

Paddling across Fordyce Lake

The dam release

Finally to the put-in!

Looking downstream from the put-in

The first bit of the run consisted of continuous, shallow, low angle slides. Almost immediately we were confronted with a river-wide log that we portaged easily on the right. Brian was able to sneak around it down a scrapey channel on the right. Once past this log and just around the corner we reached a large horizon line, where Bill exclaimed, “This is Eraserhead, we’re gonna want to scout this one”. After pulling into an eddy on river left, we hiked down to give’r a look. What lay in front of us was a massive slide with a pretty straightforward line down the center left. Basically I was told to avoid the big kicker rock, sitting dead center in the second half of the drop. Although it would be the biggest slide I’ve run, it seemed straightforward enough, and after watching both Bill and Brian clean it up, I hiked up for my turn. Like the others I dropped through the entrance and headed toward river left. As I approached the second pitch I headed back to river center to catch the green tongue that led into it. Unfortunately this tongue also fed right into that rock I was supposed to avoid. While scouting, I figured that I would be able to break left just above it, but Eraserhead had different plans… Once I knew that I wasn’t going to avoid it, I squared up on it and sailed over without even slowing down, nice! As I hit the bottom hole I was surfed right of the split rock at the bottom, finishing up with a big smile. I hoped that there were more like this downstream!

Bill on the second tier of Eraserhead. This slide is huge!

Bill readies for the hit at the bottom

Brian enters Eraserhead

Brian finishing up Eraserhead

Below Eraserhead were a couple of class III/IV boulder drops and slides before we reached the next larger horizon line, “Old Man”. A brief scout indicated that the line was good to go down the river right. I had wanted to hit the sweet looking boof on the left side of the channel, but was blown right just above it, so I ended up running the drop using the same line as the others, which worked out just fine.

Brian runs a random boulder drop below Eraserhead

The bottom of the drop shown above

Brian at Old Man

Exiting Old Man

Bill takes his turn

As we rounded the corner just below Old Man, I was reminded why I had driven all the way from Eugene to do this run, the high Sierra scenery. With the sloped granite walls extending all the way to the river’s edge and sparse trees/brush dotting them, it reminded me of pictures I had seen of classic runs such as Upper Cherry Creek. The sound of thundering water and a large horizon line signaled that it was once again time to get out and give a scout. This two part monster is known as “Insanity Falls”, and is fully deserving of its name. The drop has been run, but with a high likelihood of a massive piton at the bottom (or worse), all but the insane will choose to walk it. We chose the route on the right, which was easy enough and sported a cool snow bridge along the way.

The entrance drop to Insanity Falls

Insanity Falls

The snow bridge during the portage

Looking into the gorge below
Insanity Falls, during the portage.

Putting in directly below the falls, we were now in the short gorge that it spilled into. Just downstream was a walled in ledge that dropped 6 to 8 feet, with a rather sticky hole at the base. I have seen this ledge referred to as Loco[motive Falls], and the beta I had heard (and read), was to run it center-left. I had eddied out above the drop and ran down the cliff to set safety for the others. Looking at the drop up close I didn’t really like the recommended line, the left side was somewhat “U” shaped and a good boof was a must. Bill was the first to drop in, and after getting a decent stroke at the lip he was back ender’d upon landing and narrowly escaped a severe beat-down, which only reinforced my thoughts of the left line. Brian went next, running it more towards the center, which he greased.

The lead-in to Loco[motive] Falls

Bill takes the left line at Loco[motive] Falls...

...hang in there Wild Bill!

Brian takes the center line...

Which works out nicely!

At this point I had decided I wanted to run it center-right, so I ran the entrance drop down that side, where there ended up being a sweet sloping boof that I took full advantage of. Coming off a nice flat landing I drove straight for the bottom ledge, and with a last minute stroke I sailed off the lip and barely got my head wet. Super fun stuff!

The stretch below Loco[motive] Falls

The next couple of drops were kind of a mank-fest, including the next one, “Bishop’s Balcony”. We portaged in this section as we felt necessary and made our way further downstream. Soon we came to a really fun mini-gorge with no real ledges but some good padding and a nice pushy feel. This basically led into the next major drop of the run, “Rotator Cuff”. Supposedly this drop gets its name from the violent hole at the bottom which does its best to rip apart the limbs of any paddler that it gets its grips on. To me, the line was kinda trashy and with the bottom hole's reputation, I didn’t feel the need to run it. Furthermore, it was clear that daylight was starting to become a concern, as we had only gone 2 miles and we’d been on the water for hours.

Rotator Cuff

As we put-in below Rotator Cuff, I got the signal that one of the others had cracked their boat. This was not good news and only added to our time concerns. After putting together a makeshift patch with bitchathane and duct tape, we continued on. Luckily, the next six miles were much mellower and went pretty fast, with only a few scouts/portages. A couple of the bigger ones that stuck out were “Big Squeeze” and “Where’s Berry”, as well as another monster drop called “Bad Seed”. Bad Seed didn’t appear to be that tough of a line (you basically line it up out of a pool), but if you erred to the right, the consequence would have been high with both pin rocks as well as a log. Even if you ran the drop where you needed to, it looked pretty junky -- I guess it’s run fairly often, so maybe it cleans up a bit with more water.

Taking a break amongst the granite landscape during the mellow stretch

Big Squeeze

Where's Barry

Bad Seed

Stellar scenery below Bad Seed

We were now at the last few miles of the run, I was told that some bigger drops were going to start stacking up, which I was happy for. We first ran through one called “Sidewinder”, which was pretty straightforward, but the bottom hole almost caught me off guard, and I had to throw in some deep power strokes to claw my way out -- it was actually a good wake-up call. A drop called Typewriter followed soon after, and although it wasn’t very big, it did require a couple of strong moves to make it through cleanly.

The next major horizon line was “Fordyce Falls”, a sweet 15’er with a somewhat tricky lead-in. At our flow I just didn’t feel like bashing down the entrance, so instead decided to start at a left eddy about halfway down and ferry across to center-right where I ran the falls. It ended up being more of a double step than a full vertical, but super fun none the less.

Brian lines up on Fordyce Falls

Not far downstream we encountered another big drop, “Split Falls”. Although I was the only one feeling the drop, I was told to just “Paddle down the tongue and tuck! You’ll go deep, but the hole is friendly.” With those words of encouragement, I ferried above the lip of the falls, spun around, and dropped in. As said, the entry was both soft and deep. As I resurfaced upside-down, I was pushed against the left wall where I rolled up, losing my paddle in the process. Luckily, I was able to hand paddle to shore and convince Brian to retrieve it from a recirculating eddy.

The author prepares to take the plunge at Split Falls
(Photo by Bill Riedl)

The author at the lip of Split Falls
(Photo by Bill Riedl)

Give'n it the old "Oregon Tuck"
(Photo by Bill Riedl)

Split Falls from below

By this time the sun had dipped below the canyon walls but luckily we only had less than a mile to go, although we still had some big drops to contend with. The first was “The Hole That Ate the Donner Party”. Once again, more water probably would have opened up a better line, but at this flow it was just too much of a dice roll for my liking. The others agreed and we walked this one easily on the right.

The last two drops we ran were a large double-tiered slide, and another called Ninja. Both were good fun, and a great way to end the run. We had almost completely run out of light after hiking the last ¼ mile around the sievey/pinny mess and reaching Spaulding Lake. Now all we had to do was paddle 2 miles across the lake to the takeout. The paddle across was actually quite pleasant in the dark, but it had been a long day, and I was ready to be done. When we reached the boat ramp it was a little after 10pm, marking a 12hr adventure for the day! We were all pretty tired, but still had some work to do. Brian and I drove my Suby up to retrieve his truck, while Bill hauled our gear up to camp and got dinner going. By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag it was after midnight -- I was really looking forward to a late start and easy day of paddling the next day.

More scenery near the end of the run

One of the last good drops, a fun double slide.

Phew, that was close...

I had wanted to do Fordyce for a long time now, and I’m glad I did. The scenery was spectacular and it was a very manageable introduction to the High Sierras. That said, I would definitely like to see it with more water, say 500cfs. I think it would pad out the shallow slides nicely as well as open up better lines on some of the big drops. I’d definitely go back, and would love to do it every couple of years or so. Next time, hopefully the road will be open all the way and it will have a little more juice coming out of the bottom of the dam.

The footage from our run: