Friday, July 24, 2009

Upper Cherry Creek: Is Disneyland Really This Scary?

That's what I am pondering when staring down the barrell of THE signature California granite gorge, recalling that more than a few people out there had used the "Disneyland" comparison when attempting to paint the picture of Upper Cherry Creek. While the run is just laced with relatively brainless bedrock goodness and drops, there is a bit of "real deal" in there too.

I haven't been to Disneyland, but if it is anything like this place, then I can see the reference much more clearly. From the brink, it looks like the shelf tilts a little to the pocket side of things, and my lower level scout on the right wall confirms this to a greater degree. Well, this is what we do. We didn't fly across the continent and endure all the logistical and physical burdens neccesary to just skip the main event, the big golden feather. Plus, it looks alot easier to float downstream than it is to portage back up to the top of the gorge and around.

No need to watch everyone else's lines. The line is obvious. Left. Preferably without any flipping, hole surfing, pocket loitering, or other even less recommended activities. In the boat now. Go Rolf, I can't wait any he good?....... OK. Here we go.....Boof...Sliding, don't lean upstream....Uh Oh, leaned upstream....Flying through the air hairy side down....How did we end up in this mess? ....................

It all started with plans for Middle Kings that were pacted in a Nashville Airport bar awaiting our flight to BC last summer. Flows ended up being higher than we wanted upon arrival, and Upper Cherry was just coming in. No small consolation here. Everyone knows Upper Cherry is the most quality creeking on the planet. We'll just make it a mellow trip instead. Tom Janney, Jim Janney and I rolled up to the takeout and met up with Will Rawstrom from Vail, Tim Kelton from New Mexico, and cutting edge tuber Rolf Kelly, also from New Mexico.

The hike is rough. Maybe it was coming off of 3 weeks of the couch. Maybe I was out of shape. Maybe I got too hasty of a start and then bonked. OK, it was all of the above. It took 6 hours to get to the top, and I was feeling it.

Jim, all too casual.

Needless to say, as we dropped through Styx Pass and down to Lord Meadow, the exhileration and anticipation of what lay downstream quickly whisped away any pain and discomfort. Luckily everyone waited for me.

We threw our gear on and ran down the first long set of slides to our camp. Oh yeah, it felt good sliding down smooth granite with cold refreshing water splashing you in the face. This was how it was going to be. Fine by me.

Slip Sliding Away

Jared Johnson joined us that evening, and would be instrumental in our expedient travel through the bowels of the run the next morning. He has done the creek a whole lot, and assured us a "mellow" loaded boat cruise through the Cherry Bomb.

Moon Camp


The first many miles of the run were a blurr of sometimes manky, sometimes not, bedrock slides. Some that went for really long distances.

Morning Meditation

We all portaged the Gorilla drop, not wanting to dash our chances at the more classic drops downstream. The Class 4 Gorge was totally not class 4, but what do you expect? If it had been class 4, that would have been a big let down.

Class 4

Rolf on the same

Below here was our little break before committing to the Cherry Bomb series below. We scouted the long gradient filled rapid below and then hopped in, running some great drops into the big pond above Cherry Bomb Falls.

Chunky double ledge

Tom, writing a check his butt ended up cashing downstream.

No turning back now

And now we are back to where we left off at the beginning of the story. Let's see, as I recall, I was flying through the air on a serious edge. Landing upside down, I finally got to test my eskimo roll I had been working on all summer at the local club pool session. While rolling up, I remember the ecstatic inner dialogue of "Yay! Not in the pocket". With the clearing of the water from my eyes and vision returning came the sharp reallity that I would be dropping into the weir sideways with no forward drive in approximately one second. After a brute left sweep off the drop and a flutter of right strokes, I worked out of the hole, into the eddy, and was happy to be below this thing. It wasn't pretty, and I was pretty pissed I botched the line.

Doesn't look so horrible in the picture. Why did I say anything?

About this time, Jim came down with a great line, so I dropped down a few ledges to make room for the others.

Smartass Flight 413 coming in for landing.

The other interesting line of the group came from Tom, who also flipped upon landing the main drop. The best part was his decision to get stuck in the weir with his visor completely folded down on his face. This, now that all is well, is most hilarious. At the time however, I can't imagine that anyone thought it was going to go well. Once he finally surfed out, it was the most crucial game of Marco Polo I had ever seen. Good stuff, this Tom Janney. All I could hear was "Where do I go?" accompanied with blind swiping of blades, followed by Jim and Rolf beckoning for Tom to paddle to his left into the eddy they shouted from.

Rolf in the "runout"

Once reassembled, we began routing down the runout, trying to remember which step of the Middle-Middle-Middle-Left-Left-Left-RIGHT! sequence Jared had given us we were blundering into. It went well for us, excepting a few cartwheel sessions by some of the guys. Then we ran down the big slide to teacups warmdown into Flintstone Lake. It was noon, so we had plenty of time to get more laps on the teacups, which combined with napping and squeezing water bottle filters, is what the rest of the day consisted of.

God's Country

On a technical note, having a water bottle filter as your sole source of water purification guarantees yellow piss for the whole trip. I will bring an MSR pump filter in the future, a little more weight, hours less of squeezing.

Following are some teacup shots from the afternoon and following morning:

Rolf on a late afternoon stroll down memory lane.

The next morning, we sorted out the Double Pothole Gorge, which to me, just wasn't looking appetizing. We ran the Grove Tube, then the "20 footer" and I hiked the dome on the left and set safety for the rest of the crew on the main drop.

Tim Kelton submitting to gravity

Expecting to Fly

Exiting the "20 footer" that I swear, is a 30 footer.

Stalling above the unavoidable entrance to Double Pothole

Everyone greased it, leaving me with that familiar feeling. Yes you know what I mean. Next time. But off to the waterfall gorge next. This was a tighter stacked and more walled in version of the teacups upstream, and is truly the epitome of what I look for in boating.

Heaven on Earth?

Loving it, but not enough to go really big, most of us portaged around Kiwi and Deadbear. Rolf was on fire, and decided that portaging was not what Upper Cherry was all about. He ran Kiwi before commencing a long scout of the Dead Bear.

Rolf "I'm normally in a tube" Kelly

Preferring water in his lines, he opted out of the seal launch on the right and bossed his way down the left side all the way from the top, before fading off the high side back down and to the right into a perfect pitched melt into the flow on the right. This was one of the more impressive things done in a boat that I have seen.

From here down to West Cherry the run was really scenic class 3-4, with amazingly clear and deep pools, alternating with granite domes and huge stands of trees. The most subtle, yet commanding contrast between the east and the west is the size of the trees. Don't get me wrong, I love our trees back home, but there is nothing like staring 150 feet up at the tops of giant trees. Big place, big experience. After West Cherry snuck in on the right, things got more interesting with a sizable drop followed by a cool but manky gorge. This gorge opened up into the home stretch to the lake, which had 2 excellent minigorges, the second of which ended up being pretty stout. Upper Cherry Creek is truly good to the last drop.

From the top of the class 4 gorge to the bottom of Dead Bear Falls is 2 miles. This is most assuredly the highest quality and most amazing stretch of creek I have ever paddled. To run everything in it must be a truly satisfying "full circle" type of experience. Paddling with the guys from the Rockies really enriched the experience, and after pounding a few beers, we all reconvened in Groveland to discuss the next move over some raw buffalo steaks. California really is so good.

Will and Rolf, conveying the vibe of the run.

From left to right, Tim, Tom, Jim, Rolf, Will, author.

Finally, I didn't have a camera on this trip, and am completely bogarting off of Tim Kelton and Tom Janney for all pics posted on this post. Without them, the trip would be alot harder to remember in the years to come. Thanks so much for letting me use these pictures guys.

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