CALIFORNIA I - MOONLIT BOATING AND SNOW DRIFTS

The White Water Tourists and Poly Boys team up for Easter escapades in Northern California

So much for Baywatch

.I thought as I stood there in my Tevas and shorts trying to dig our wonderful off road two wheel drive vehicle out of the snow. We were cursing Mark the teacher, for it was Mark that talked us into going to California in March when everyone else goes in May. Still, revenge was sweet- guess whose split paddles I was using to dig the vehicle out with.

Evil Chris wrecks Mark's splits.

Going to California in March was a gamble and after two days it was looking like the gamble had backfired badly. Wed had over 24 hours of non-stop rain- precisely 24 hours more rain that my Eurocamp Wendy House was designed to cope with. Morale was low. Sitting in the diner in Colfax, after running Chamberlains Falls on the American North Fork (NF) we were planning our descent of Giants Gap, also on the American. Unfortunately for us, we failed to appreciate the connection between the drive to the put in (involving driving to an altitude of over 3,000 ft), and the 6 inches of snow on cars arriving in the car park. Sure enough, our 2 wheel drive off roader got stuck and we couldnt get to the river at all. Luckily for Mark, the weather was going to go our way. Not only did the rain and snow push up water levels on the American and Yuba, but from the moment of Marks arrival we enjoyed a record breaking heat wave for the whole of the rest of the trip, with top temperatures in the 80s, kicking off early snow melt. He clearly has the right contacts.

The Night time paddling at Hurley pays off

After the frustration of being unable to reach Giants Gap, the team was eager. So eager in fact that we ready to knock off half the rivers in the guidebook in an afternoon, or more precisely, three sections of the Yuba (SF)- Edwards to Purdons, Purdons to Route 49 and 49 to Bridgeport. We headed off at Midday on a finely tuned schedule only for one member of the team to realise after 15 minutes that hed forgotten his thigh pads. Youd think hed have noticed something like that earlier. More faffing.

Much shaking of heads by local paddlers didnt deter us as we set off confidently. On the middle, Grade V section we were overtaken by local hotshots all paddling the latest creek boats, who were amused by the extremely small radical play boats some of our group had.Sketchy boats, guys!

On to the third, Grade IV/V section at 4pm. We soon discovered that when Lars Holbeck says in his guidebook that its IV/V, he means it. Most things ran, but new to the river, this was not a river where Team Tourist could apply its usual long necked boat scouting approach. Yep, we were going to have to get out sometimes to inspect.

Top notch boating on the Yuba.

The next time I looked at my watch it was 6.30pm and sun set was due at.6.30pm. As darkness started to consume us, we resorted to the Tourists usual approach- the Rainsley straight line school of paddling. As the light failed, this was getting hairier and hairier until the final straw- the sight of both of the teams tiny play boats upside down and next to each other half way down a fairly gnarly drop, banging up against a sheer rock wall. The Team met up for a conference- walking out looked impossible and so Wheeler night time paddling took over as we sheepishly paddled the easier rapids relying purely on the moonlight, portaging the harder ones. Fine on pool drop, next to impossible on continuous rapids. Eventually, the inevitable mutiny happened and we went into another huddle. We were well and truly stuck- after what must have been two hours spent trying to walk out we realised that we were going to be stuck out for the night in wet kit. Mark suggested we all huddle together for warmth. We noted wryly that 4 out of the 5 of us were qualified to Coach level 3- or higher- and that all that wonderful emergency kit that we all took on our coaching assessments was elsewhere.

We spent half the night stuck within sight of these cliffs...this was the following morning after we returned for the boats!

Still, the lack of emergency kit turned out to be a blessing, because it compelled us out of necessity to finally find a way out, eventually leaving the boats tied up to a precarious cliff face, and walking out along the beach to reach the car at midnight. We had escaped Marks clutches!

The first and hopefully last time we get stuck in the dark. If only wed read Simon Westgarths article more carefully- sure enough they also finished in the dark- on exactly the same section of the Yuba.

Dont Worry, How Long Can Two Miles on the Bear Take?

The next day, we sheepishly returned to the scene of the previous days epic, studiously avoiding other paddlers (the shame of it all) and finished what wed started. There were still some pushy IV-V rapids to the finish.

The Bear was the local run, just outside the local town, Colfax, an ideal second run of the day- quick blast down the gorge to round off the day. Needless to say, the guidebook rather understated the gorge which was well high and chuntering, the highlights including a sump that I managed to probe and a fairly sizeable V, which we were still studying at 6pm.

This rapid is massive close up, honest..!

Like carrying your boat down from Snowdon

We were determined to finally run Giants Gap on the American NF. Supposedly a pushy run for newcomers to the river at 1330 on the gauge, we christened it Giants Flat- beautiful, fun pool drop IV for the first few miles, but little more happening for the remaining ten! The carry in was the biggest challenge- a 2 mile descent of 1,000 ft- as Andy put it- like getting the train up to the top of Snowdon and shouldering the boat down to Llanberis Pass.

Beware Billy no mates American boaters

We really should have known better- our previous experience from US boater frequented locations like Ecuador and Chile was that strangers who ask to boat with you swim and almost drown on you, guaranteed. This time, our local expert dragged us off to run a little local classic, Weber Creek. This turned out be a classic alright- the classic boulder filled tree strewn ditch from hell. It was also bone dry. The expert admitted half way down that it was the highest level hed run it.

I wasnt amused- wed travelled half way round the World in search of big volume IV/V action and hed dragged us down this? Fortunately for him, the Weber ran into the American SF and a wonderful couple of green play waves. He was lucky.

We travel half way round the World to find Hurley mk 2..

After a few days spent east of San Francisco on various sections of the American NF and Yuba SF it was time to head north, to where all the theory (web site river level gauges, American friends, guidebooks) suggested we should head to find water so early in the season. They were right- Burnt Ranch Gorge on the Trinity was at just the right level- a classic IV/V pool drop run- and the Cal Salmon was only just below optimum levels- more classic pool drop. Burnt Ranch earned Jay the hole trashing of the trip award although to his credit he didnt bail out- a good job too because we were too busy filming him to attempt a rescue. He had that haunted look on his face afterwards.

See Jay get nailed! (4 meg windows media file)

Mark on Burnt Ranch Gorge.

At the end of the Cal Salmon run, the play boat boys were about to get their revenge over the creek boat boys in our team. Would you believe it, one hundred yards from our camp site, at the take out was a perfectly formed play wave that bore an uncanny resemblance to the middle gate at Hurley (when its on 3 gates)- and I should know. Lovely green shoulders and trough with a retentative pile, I get all excited just thinking about it. Slightly faster and more powerful than Hurley, but lacking the side gates. The play boat boys amongst us were in seventh heaven whilst meanwhile the creek boys hid behind their books, crying. Read em and weep, Lard boys. Even my InaZone 240 was up for some hernia moves.

Si Wiles makes the Java fly...

All we needed to complete the picture was some good old fashioned concrete and thieves emptying the contents of our car. Eventually I came to my senses- surely we hadnt come half way round the World to recreate the Thames Valley. Mind you, if Id been a nineteenth century explorer panning for gold, you can be sure that the Salmon would instead today be called the New Thames- and the camp site New Hurley. It was time to move on.

Lars Holbeck must die- Mark Rainsley

After a rather low run down the Salmon SF, spent overtaking American groups at high speed, we were off in search of some creek paddling. Clear Creek came recommended by our American friends. Then again, theyd also recommended the New River, which runs into the Trinity. This turned out to be the classic Grade I/ VI nightmare that I think most of us have encountered in Wales over the years- the sort of God forsaken boulder filled ditch much championed by Mr Sladden. Several miles of Grade II were followed by the classic portage from hell, where we spent an eternity teetering with our boats over our shoulders on sheer scree slopes overlooking the Grade VI from hell. This was closely followed by 100 yards of classic pool drop - a reminder of the river we had assumed that the recommendation guaranteed us- before we were unceremoniously deposited back in the Trinity.

Clear Creek got off to an unpromising start- a 2 mile hike- like the walk in for Giants Gap only this time we were carting 20 kgs plus of kit uphill. All this for another New River? We were in for a pleasant surprise. Several thought provoking IV and V sections led us into a stunning sheer sided gorge that ran and ran for 3-4 miles. As we paddled under the road bridge wed driven over earlier on the drive up, we all relaxed- according to Lars our guidebook guru, we were into the wind down phase of the river.

Mark on Clear Creek.

All of a sudden, a horizon line came into view and like the close knit team that we are, we fought each other tooth and nail for the remaining break outs. That was a close one- a walled in hole immediately upstream of an undercut- unpaddleable by even the most hairy and gnarly of Pro boaters. It got worse, we then rounded the next corner only be confronted with a huge steep walled-in rapid (Grade V? Grade VI?) which we couldnt inspect or portage. There we were in a real live Foxy cartoon.

In the Clear Creek gorge.

Straight line Rainsley dropped down to the next eddy to attempt a closer look and got a closer look than hed bargained for, missing the eddy and running the entire thing blind. Needless to say he found the wafer thin lines through two river wide holes- others following behind were not so lucky.

Clear Creek- a gem- the surprise package of the trip. Si and Andy ran into a family of grumpy looking bears whilst running the shuttle luckily the bears couldnt figure out how to get the two tasty looking meals out of the four-wheeled tin can.

That Devon Experience

After Clear Creek, we upped the pace, driving to and running Box Canyon on the Sacramento. After a big wall climbing experience on fixed ropes to access the put in, we enjoyed a beautiful deep grade IV gorge followed by good continuous rapids. Onwards southwards to the Yuba NF. We recreated that Devon experience with the Lavazzola and Pauley Creeks, two quality small volume creeks which were dead ringers for our own Lyn and Erme; with trees to match, as Mark discovered. As we got off the river at the finish, Mark, the teams Duracell Bunny, continued off downstream, muttering something about lightweights and soloing Rossasco Canyon.

Pauley Creek.

Onwards south again, to the infamous Cherry Creek on the Tuolomne, classic Grade V and dam release- this would be at just the right level. Our epic 5 hour drive (*three hours of which consumed by u-turns) was capped off with a hairy off road drive down to the river. The Tuolomne didnt disappoint- classic big Grade V boulder garden. No let up, really rather good. Maybe not Simon s favourite, as he took an unscheduled trip to the Underworld. A seemingly safe sneak route dropped him and his boat down into a nasty little cave siphon. The coaches amongst us finally got to do all that Z drag business for real.

The splendid Tuolumne.

Japanese Hiking

Team Tourist lived up to their name on the final day, toting cameras and oh gee thats cute comments around Yosemite Valley. We indulged in a spot of Japanese hiking; stop the car, take a picture, drive on. Stunning, but touristy. On the way out, we quickly jumped on the Merced at El Portal for the final fling. It just looked big and bouncy from the road from the river it was a Alpine style helter-skelter ride of continuous 4+, a shock to find something continuous after days of pool drop and boulder garden.

Then we toured San Francisco, ticked off the Golden Gate Bridge and trams in 60 minutes straight. Flew home.

Well be back.

Chris Wheeler paddled with Mark Rainsley, Simon Wiles, Jay Sigbrandt and Andy Roo Evans.

Mark and Simon would like to thank Perception for their continued support and their shiny new Java creek boats.

Many more photos from our trip.

Chris 'Magic Knees' Wheeler This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.