A hundred yards down the trail; I have already had it with my pool noodle backpack and resort to the classic “porter style” of kayaking schlepping. I push ahead of the Captain and Reichhorn until I make it to a split in the trail and a sign that says “Styx Pass” to the left and one that reads “Kibbie Lake” to the right. Having glanced at the map, I know that the trail goes over Styx Pass before dropping into the river, so I take the left trail. Thinking that everyone had done the same, I don’t wait here for anyone, but press on while the feeling has temporarily left my neck and shoulders. Another few miles and my neck starts cramping so bad that I lye down in an ant’s nest beneath a giant burned-out redwood, and wait for whoever will be next.
The Captain rolls up a few minutes later and we chow on a couple of energy bars, some goo, and the rest of our water while we wait for Reichhorn.
“Where do you think he is?” The Captain asks me in a somewhat rhetorical manner. I respond with a hell-if-I-know shoulder shrug, and ease into the cockpit of my kayak for a little post lunch rest.
“Let’s take a little nap and he ought to cruise on by and wake us up here in a sec.” I say as the warm sun lulls me into a rather deep sleep for such afternoon as this.
The next thing I know, The Captain kicks my bow and I come to.
“How long do you think we slept?” I ask.
“I’m not sure, but I think it might be a lot longer than we planned.” He replies as he looks to the west to survey the nearly sinking sun.
“Still no Reichhorn, huh?”
“Unless he passed us while we slept, and surely we would have seen that.”
“Yah, surely we would have seen that.”
“We best get some miles under us while we still have some light.”
“Yah, let’s get the fuck out of here.”
We awkwardly remount our kayaks to our backs and heads and make a move for the put-in. I pull ahead again, and force myself into a beast of burden mindset: staring at the ground, trying to reach my happy zen place, and hoping with every step that around the corner will be the river. I cross the mosquito marshes of death, navigate through granite kern maze, and finally reach the edge of the ridge and spot a fire in the valley a mile below. Overcome with joy, I make a beeline for the fire and quickly lose the trail. With dark quickly approaching and the mosquitoes still swarming I make it to the river and let out a primal holler to signal my presence to those who built the fire and are chilling across the river. I receive a similar call in return and hear the voices of Godwin, Tubes, B. Walleye, and Fuzz. Totally exhausted, I cross the river, drag my shit up the bank, and dive into the cool water for a refreshing bath. The Captain appears shortly there after, and we crowd around the fire laying on our cramping backs and wondering where the rest of the crew is. Hours later, Broyal and Kris come stumbling down the hill with their two-bulb LED headlamp, bloody legs and a trail of mosquitoes. This means that at some point they have either passed Reichhorn, or he has gotten lost somewhere along the way. Broyal walks up to the fire, looks around and asks,
“Where the hell is Reichhorn?”
Everyone is silent for a moment and then The Captain replies,
“I am not too concerned about him. He has some purification tablets and I am pretty sure he is carrying his own pot. I just figure we’ll stick around till noon tomorrow morning and, if we have to, run Cherry Bomb the morning after. Surely he will show up by then.”
After our first taste of the scrumtralescent bag meals, we sit around the fire staring up at the stars, half-expecting to see Reichhorn’s headlamp coming down the hill, and feeling glad that he had not been carrying Aquafienda. Sleep isn’t a difficult task as we dream of the wild rapids we will ride the next day.
Tubes, Fuzz, Godwin
We awake to the sun beaming down and illuminating our impressive high sierra camp. I look to the west and see the moon sitting aloft the white granite ridge above us like a giant pale marble about to roll off the hillside. The pool by which we camp is deep and clear, and the rocks provide a nice diving platform for a morning dip.
Into the crystal blue pool I flip, finding the water surprisingly warm compared with many of the snow fed rivers I have been on in the past. It is quite the compliment to my morning yerba mate. I keep looking over my shoulder at the hill we had all descended in the last hours of the day before, hoping to see a dot of red plastic making its way down, but every time I scan the horizon, I see nothing. We wait till one o’clock and decide that Reichorn must be terribly lost or already back at the cars, and make the decision to get moving down river towards The Cherry Bomb Gorge.
The top few miles of the river are like riding a little silver ribbon through a white granite paradise. Many low angle slides and a couple steeps ones send Tubes into a state of hyperbolic mania and he laughs himself hysterical as we begin to enter another gorge that provides some bigger, more challenging drops. Around every corner more giant bald domes stand guard to intricate canyons like gates to a goblins castle. It is hard to stay focused on the whitewater at times because of the breathtaking beauty of this magical place.
As the sun is just dipping behind the walls of the canyon, we come to a spot that B. Walleye remembers as the trailhead for the portage around Cherry Bomb. Beyond this point the canyon walls totally commit one to running the entire gorge down to Flintstone camp. B. and Godwin quickly decide to leave their boats, hike their gear around, scout and drop the bomb in the morning.
The thought of taking one more step through that mosquito infested wood sends shivers down my spine, and as I gaze up at the trail going straight over the granite wall in front of me and then back to the river that falls off the face of the earth and into that unknown abyss, I hear Tubes behind me,
“No way in hell I’m gonna hike my shit anywhere right now. I’m going in!” and Fuzz replying,
“Here that, mate! I guess I’ll have a go at it!”
Broyal and Kris quickly follow Tubes and Fuzz off the next horizon line, leaving the Captain and I staring at each other, scared shitless, but not wanting to regret our next decision.
“You want to go?”
“Yeah man, fuck it.”
“Yeah, fuck it. Let’s go. I don’t want to hike my shit around this gorge either.”
So we jump in our boats quickly so as to catch up to the rest of the crew who were about to round the corner and disappear out of our site. We slide into an eddy with them at the edge of the earth, and Broyal laughs,
“Well well well, looks like we got a couple more takers to this after hours party!”
After rolling into everything blind except for Cherry Bomb Falls we come out to see a couple of fellow southerners, calling themsevles Disney Landers, hanging on the rocks at Flintstone Camp. Gotta love it that everyone in there was from the south except one Oregonian, a Kiwi and a pr paddler that decided it would be a good idea to run this river by himself.
“Had any of you guys been in there before?” M. Mouse asks as we walk into Flintstone still high on dropping the C-bomb,
“Uhhhh, I think Broyal had once, but that was three years ago and before his laser surgery so I’m sure it looked completely different, not that he would have remembered it anyway.”
B. and Godwin look at each other as they listen to everyone talk about the majestic inner gorge. I guess the anticipation of waiting through the night was going to be a little too much for them. B. rallies Godwin and Stokesberry to head back up to the top and run that shit while there is still a little light left. The Captain and I decide to go check out the view from the river right side and watch the boys giv’er from over there. All goes well minus Godwin’s scary ass pin and swim in the last slot of the cherry bomb gorge, and everyone heads back to camp for some tasty bag meals. We fall asleep under the stars on the smooth, flat granite as we listen to the teacups quietly thundering just upstream, like a pacifier for the ears.
The Disney Co. are up and out early the next morning after eating everyone’s food and talking about how much more water there was when they came through. The rest of us hang around until noon taking our time and basking in the moment before getting ourselves prepared for what lay in store just around the corner. After a little pre-run scout, we jump into the next gorge, which is highlighted by the “perfect 20” and ends with a big bang called Double Pothole Falls.
would you like some peanuts, sir?
We make our way down the next beautiful set of teacups and then unanimously decide to walk the infamous kiwi in a pocket, which spits one out at the base of dead bear falls. Fuzz is feeling the go-go juice and walks back to the lip of dead bear, and aces a nice 40-foot alligator entrance. The rest of the day is filled with high quality rapids and a few portages due to low flows. The river has really dropped since the day before, and according to Disney, even more since the day before that. Most of everything goes off without a hitch until we get down to the last gorge before the lake.
We approach a river wide horizon and before anyone has a chance to jump out, Broyal drops over the edge. B. remembers the drop and gives a short description to Fuzz while I blindly follow whoever was in front of me off the lip. Turns out to be an easy, near vertical twenty-footer, and I surface at the bottom thrilled to have just plopped off such a nice drop. I turn my boat upstream to watch the surprised faces of the next few probes, and turn back around just in time to see myself floating into the next rapid.
Tubes, Kris, and Broyal are in the pool below giving a confusing paddle signal; wildly waving them back and forth. I am not sure what to think about such a signal (cause everyone knows “stop” is a paddle held horizontally above the head), but it is too late to eddy out, so I wait till I am at the lip, see an upside down blue Gus in the hole, and barely get enough rightward momentum to punch the hole and avoid a cave on the left.
As I land directly on the hull of the boat with a thud, I dig in with the turbo thrusters and pull myself out of the backwash and into the pool. Turning to survey the situation, I see Godwin’s upside down boat surfing a nasty hole backed up by a giant boulder and feeding into a burly, sieved-out cave.
“I haven’t seen Godwin in while, I think he’s...”
And Captain replies,
“ I am pretty sure I landed on top of him, and the way that boat is cart wheeling, I know that was no rock I landed on. I thought that fucked up paddle signal meant go left; luckily I started out driving right.”
The Captain paddles around the giant boulder just in time to see Godwin swimming out from under the cave at the back of the sieve, and turns around again to see just another kiwi in a pocket.
Fuzz is taking a ride like no other I have ever seen. After The Captain and I land directly on top of Godwin’s boat, B. Walleye and then Fuzz come through and do the same, except Fuzz gets stuck in there too. Apparently he mistook the fucked up signal to mean go left also, and drove straight into the meat. As he surfs, Godwin’s boat is disappearing and then surging from the depths like a great blue whale coming up for air and aimed straight at Fuzzy’s face. He flips a few times, but manages to get back up right, and continues to fight like beast that knows he has met his match. He screams,
“Rope! Rope! Throw me a fucking rope!”
We frantically look around, and see that there is no place to get out and attempt a rescue. I think about popping my skirt and throwing a rope from my boat, but then realize I will be pulled right in there with him. Finally after a good minute, B finds some slack water on the river right, manages to claw up to a tiny ledge, and starts throwing a rope at him. After the fourth or fifth try Fuzz really begins to dig in trying to pull himself past the boulder, and we hear a loud snap. Tubes yells,
“Oh shit, there goes his paddle. His paddle is broken!”
His paddle breaks, as well as his teeth, but he is still holding on for dear life. Finally B. hits him with the rope, he flips again, and everyone grabs the rope and pulls him out. He comes to the surface looking like a wet vampire with his newly augmented grill. Somehow, B. manages to lasso Fuzzy’s boat and we help collect the rest of the yard sale. After catching his breath Fuzz exclaims,
“Fuck, mates. This bitch is hardcore till the very end!”
He opts to walk the last few drops due to his broken paddle, and we make our way over the last few horizons and into the big blue lake. After a thorough safety de-briefing we head across the two-mile lake paddle as dusk is setting in. Upon arriving at the boat ramp on the other side we are greeted by none other than Reichhorn, patiently waiting with the suburban. He had taken the trail to Kibbie Lake, hiked an extra eight miles, survived testical cancer, and spent the night by himself in the mosquito hell fuck near the top of the ridge, before giving up and heading back to the car. Unlucky bastard.
It sure doesn’t take much of that warm beer to get us drunk, but then again, maybe it is the single malt. We camp on the lake, build a big-ass fire, and recount the past three days adventures as the bottles are passed around.
We awake the next morning with stiff hangovers, sore muscles, and ravenous hunger. The other boaters in the area are headed to Cherry Creek “proper”, but we decide to drive into Groveland, get some breakfast “proper” and check levels at the library to see where our next destination will be. The word on the street is that everything is too low, except maybe Hell’s Kitchen, and even that is questionable.
As we wait for the library to open Broyal says,
“Three years ago, when we did West Cherry, Upper Cherry Creek, and The Middle Fork of the Kings in succession, the level on Cherry was higher than it is right now. We headed straight for the Middle Kings after we took off Upper Cherry. It seems we might be in the same position...”