The ultimate California kayaking expedition

Darin McQuoid and I crossed the proverbial finish line at Garnet Dyke Campground Friday evening capping off our nearly 6 week California Epic with the Middle Kings. Along with other West Coast Jackson Kayak expedition kayakers Devin Knight, Ryan Knight, Chris Korbulic, and Eric Seymour; and other noteworthy paddlers including Canadian phenom Corey Boux; Cali Veteran Taylor Robertson; Colorado Icons Gary Edgeworth and Forest Noble; Chris Gabrielli; extreme innertube guy Rolf Kelly; and Tim Kelton; Darin and I set a new Sierra precedent completing 12 of California's toughest runs in 39 days including 2 first Descents. After descending Fantasy Falls, West Cherry, Dinky Creek, South Fork Tuolumne, Grand Canyon Tuolumne, Poopenaut Valley of the Tuolumne, (first Descent) NF of the San Joaquin, Upper Cherry Creek, (first descent) Fish Creek, Middle Fork San Joaquin, and the Middle Kings through Kings Canyon we were exhausted to say the least.

All told the trip involved (per person):

1. 28 days of kayaking, 8 days shuttling vehicles, and 3 days of rest and feeding.
2. 73 miles of Hiking with expedition weight (70-80+)lb kayaks, climbing around 12,600 vertical feet.
3. 155 miles of class V - V+ kayaking Descending around 28,000 feet of vertical drop.
4. 20 nights spent out of our Hero and Super Hero.
5. $500 in Gas expenses and probably a few hundred more in brakes and wheel bearing work to Darin's 88' Nisan truck.
6. $200 to $300 in food of mostly overnight stalk. One of us likes generic and the other buys the organic brands so that's where the price differential comes in...

This expedition has obviously been more than a quarter century in the making as there is a plethora of information available on most of these expeditions from from the Pioneers like Lars Holbeck, Chuck Stanley, Don Banducci, Rick Fernald, Royal Robbins, Doug Tompkins, Newsome Holmes, Reg Lake, and Kenny Gould to the Driftwood and 7 rivers crews, but would not be complete without mentioning Jared Noceti and his crew for there South T first D and Rick Smith and Kevin Smith (not related) for their NFSJ recon.

With that said this trip would not have happened without ultra-motivated Darin McQuoid. Darin is now one of the, if not the, best and most able class V whitewater photographer in the business. He also saved us countless dollars while significantly reducing our carbon footprint by running many of the most daunting shuttles in California on his 1972 Yamaha dirt bike that gets 70 - 80 miles to the gallon. More importantly he provided the crucial beta that saved our asses on the hight water crucible run.

In addition to the 12 runs that I completed with Darin, he spent the 4 days before I arrived with the Knight Brothers on a high water Dinky Creek mission, a quick East Kaweah half day, and a late night speed run down the Disney Land like slides of South Silver. With just 3 or 4 years of class V expeditions under this guys belt, I can't wait to see what the future brings. Make sure to checkout and to see Darin's impressive body of work.

Also crucial to the success of our descents was the gear that Darin and I use. Jackson Kayak creek boats are the safest, most able, and most functional on the market. Werner paddles are the most durable and time tested paddle in the Universe. Kokatat PFDs and water wear are the choice of river professionals and the United States Coast Guard. Snap Dragon spray skirts were undefeated on this trip through high water descents and falls up to 75 feet tall. FNA helmets are the strongest, stiffest, and most durable helmet on the market. There is no better way to stay hydrated than with NUUN Hydration tablets. Annie's Mac and Cheese with Smoked Oysters is a river delicacy second to none.

Stay tuned to for photos and video from the the most recent contribution to the ultimate California itinerary The 8Th River Expedition.

Swelbows on the Edge

Swelbows on the Edge
Gary Edgeworth after 5 days on the Middle Kings. Eric Seymour Photo

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

June 21st, 2008: First Descent Lower North Fork San Joaquin

The North Fork of the San Joaquin has been on my too do list since the first time I attempted to find the fabled crucible in a newly purchased California Atlas and Gazetteer. With no mention of it in the Holbek/ Stanley guide, it stuck out as a large beacon of unknown real estate in the most dramatic drainage in California. After a brief conversation with Devin Knight (expedition Kayaker and Timberworks project manager) about the prospects of putting work off for another few weeks, I would finally have the time to turn my focus to this long sought after expedition. In it's entirety, the North Fork Remained untested by kayak until 1999 when Rick Smith reportedly made a run through the upper portions of the run. However, he stopped short of the confluence with the middle fork by 4 miles in order to avoid a section of river leading into the crucible at what was considered to be lethally high water.

Thus his hike out point at Sheeps Crossing would be our first point of entry to the North Fork inorder to claim the first descent to the steepest portion of the river down to the confluence with the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin. Our plan hedged on the prudence of a planned hike out at Cassidy Crossing 6 miles down the Middle Fork stopping just short of the fabled crucible. Making all of this possible really came down to the recollection of the river by Darin McQuoid from his descent of the Post Pile the previous year. He boldly guaranteed that we would be able to navigate the portion of the Devil's Post Pile of the San Joaquin from the North Fork Confluence to Cassidy Crossing at ultra high water.

Just having finished our Grand Canyon/ Poopenaut Valley epic Chris Korbulic was all in on the North Fork attempt along with our shuttle driver/ logestical coordinator from the Grand Canyon Chris Gabrelli. The crew would prove to be spot on descending the 400 fpm section through several locked in Gorges with at most a handful of portages. Huge props to Darin for his plan, and Chris Korbulic for carrying us through an un-scoutable un-portagable gorge in the middle of the North Fork.

Hike In: Sheep's Crossing trail (3 miles and 1800 feet down into the North Fork)
Hike Out: Cassidy Bridge (6 miles and 3500 feet out of the Middle Fork Canyon)
Put In: Sheep's Crossing (6200 feet)
Take Out: Cassidy Bridge (4500 feet)
Run Length: 9.5 miles (3.5 down the North Fork and 6 down the middle fork)
Avg. Gradient: 385 feet per mile on the North Fork
Put-In Flow: 300 cfs
Take- Out Flow: 1500 cfs
Shuttle Length: 15 minutes one- way from lower Granite Creek TrH to Sheep's Crossing TrH
Portages: 6 (1/2 of first 5+, 4 x in box canyon, 1/2 of sieve falls, good morning crack)
Special Notes: Cassidy bridge hike out kicked our asses for four to five hours.

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10 year extreme whitewater kayaking verteran. First descents of Rivers and creeks in 12 countries. Leo.