The Guidebook

To visit the LiquidLore Guidebook, click right here. It's the starting point for all kinds of whitewater beta and the main reason this site exists - be sure to check it out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Middle Kings In February

Middle Kings in February? I wish. I'm confident you'd need a snowmobile to get in there and a sleigh to get down the river at this time of year - not a kayak. So no, this isn't a very up to date report - in fact, I ran the Kings in 2008, about one and a half years ago. Behind the times, I think so.

It's good though, very good. If you put "Middle Kings" into Google you'll get a virtual treasure trove of trip reports, photos, videos and horror stories to either get you real fired up or too scared to go (or both). I thought I'd add my 2 cents anyways, even though all the information in the LL guide is readily available at a number of places - there is a short Cali section in the guidebook, so might as well make it as thorough as possible right?

My friend Bob and I had set our sights on the Kings to top off our visit to California that summer, and in the end we managed to combine forces with some acquaintances from New York whom we knew from boating down there but hadn't paddled a lot with before. This trip is a great way to get to know someone that you didn't really know before. After finishing up at Upper Cherry it looked like levels were going to cooperate to hit the Kings right away - after some boat repair in Groveland and some good food we set off to run the huge shuttle.

Our sweet shuttle rig somewhere on the east side of the Sierras.

By the time we got food together, dealt with the cars and got in and out from the take out is was a few days before we got to Bishop. We started hiking on July 5th late in the evening, finishing up the hike the next day.

The hike is a bitch - hard work up over (as I'm sure you've heard) a big mountain pass and back down the other side. It's awesome up there and it would be worth it just to go hiking up that way some time. With a hurting knee I ate a lot of Advil on the hike in - we pre-emptively bought a 500 pill bottle before the trip, just in case. In retrospect it was lucky I could make it in - on Upper Cherry the week before on the second day I couldn't portage my own boat, or barely walk for that matter. I sat out on the second lap to Cherry - had I not I don't think the Kings would have happened.

Early on in the early morning.

Approaching the bottom of Bishop Pass.

At the top - Steve Arns, Bob Butler, Matt Young, Jeff Hazboun and Phil LaMarche.

A cool tree at the top of LeConte Canyon.

Make sure you bring good footwear....

Half way through the switchbacks down to the river - despite the knee-busting that goes on the scene there is amazing.

Even in mid-July it was suprisingly cold at the put in, and the mosquitos were horrible. I wish I'd brought a bug jacket - some of the other guys wish they'd brought more than a bivy and a layer of fleece... I awoke on the first night to the sound of unfurling space blankets as some of the lads tried to keep warm. It's a weird trip like that - you need something proper to keep warm the first night, but by the last night way down in the valley I think I slept on my sleeping pad with nothing on top at all.

The river itself is awesome. It's a hard trip with endless whitewater - it is sustained all the way through with the last day being the toughest. I think a lot of the difficulty in this trip comes from the fact that even on the first day of boating you're already exhausted from the huge hike the day before.

You get the full spectrum of whitewater here. There are plenty of granite slides and gorges through the first two days with a good dose of bombing and a few portages. Some of the run is suprisingly manky, especially at the start before the tributaries start coming in. This combined with heavy boats might explain why we broke 3 or 5 kayaks on our trip...

The last two days of the Middle Fork are different - the granite all but disappears and you're faced with mile upon mile of boulder gardens. On the last day - the infamous Bottom 9 - the boulders get way bigger and the river steeper. This stuff is hard - blind, huge rapids and some spots that if you don't have to portage you probably will anyways. Horrible poison oak appears at the top of the Bottom 9, just to make the portaging that much more fun.

Low voluming sliding early in day one.

More sliding on day one.

Day 2 breakfast whitewater.

Phil LaMarche about the tear through the hole at the bottom of the biggest slide on the run.

An atypical view of Tehipite Dome.

The easiest rapid on the bottom nine?

When we reached the confluence of the Middle and South Forks it was pretty exciting - like everyone says, we'd make it down the Middle Fork... It was a truly amazing trip, testing us all to our limits while providing some of the best whitewater any of us had paddled. If you are up for it, this is a trip that cannot be missed. This is the beta you need to get it done.

All smiles at the confluence of the South Fork and the Middle Fork.

The Kings is a river I'll certainly be returning too, especially considering the upfortunate luck I had with gear on this trip - in a way I feel like I didn't finish the run in it's entirety. We had three broken boats - two were repaired with bituthane without too much trouble. The same went for me, at least on the second day. However, my 35 day old boat didn't break once, or twice. By the end of the trip the boat developed no less than nine cracks in the hull. Nine! By the time the final, huge crack opened in the stern we had run out of bituthane, duct tape and gorilla tape and I was officially the owner of a submarine, not a kayak. At least we were half way through the bottom nine at that point. After a very scary swim while trying to run a rapid I had no business running with a boat that instantly filled with water I portaged pretty much the last half of the bottom 9, hiking out at Yucca Point as everyone else paddled down to the car at Pine Flat. It sucked.

The hike out was hard, but nothing compared to the hike in. I did carry my boat out - there are several other busted boats left in there that don't belong left in there. Figuring I had a long wait at the top of the trail I hitched a ways out the road to the Kings Canyon Lodge where I spent the day eating good food and hamming it up with the people who own the place - if you're ever in the area be sure to stop in. I was picked up by the guys 8 or 9 hours later, and back to Bishop we went to get the van at the put in.

And that's my Middle Kings story. It is a fantastic trip. It is a tough trip. I can't wait to go back, and you should go too.

Yes, there are five cracks in this boat under the seat.

And the one that ended my kayaking on the Kings.

No comments: