After taking off the Middle Kings, Matt, Xavier, Ryan and I headed back to Fresno to gorge ourselves on In and Out burgers and check flows. The water levels on or next objective, the Devil’s Postpile section of the Middle San Joaquin river were on the low side but looked to holding steady. After a plethora of phone calls to every Postpile veteran we knew, Will Pruett joined the team and our decision to drop in was confirmed. We rallied to Mammoth, diving through Yosemite Valley for a third time, and got ready to paddle into the fabled gorges of the San Joaquin. The next day we found ourselves at Rainbow Falls and started heading down the river. In the name of making time, we opted to walk the first sieved out gorge high on the left and after a character building bushwhack through manzanita back down to the water, we put in right above the goods.
Schwackin’ to the river
After some good boofs and tight boulder drops, the river dropped over a set of stacked up slides into our first mini-gorge.
Action in the first gorge.
Sliding into a crazy exploding rock fan.
The gorge then opened up into mellow low angle slides. Ryan’s beta on the biggest slide in this section was “you could send your grandma down this one backwards…”
California class II
At the end of the slides, we got into another gorge with a full on entrance rapid and a glamorous 20 foot sliding falls at the exit.
The burly entrance drop, with waterfalls pouring down in the middle of the rapid. This entire first section of river was committing and stunningly beautiful.
Xavier Engle, glamour boof.
The gorge ended abruptly, and we made our way through some chunky mank to our first camp led by confident and talented boat scouter Will Pruett.
Camp 1. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around, ecstatic about the whitewater we had run that day and full of nervous excited energy about what was still to come.
We woke up in the morning and continued charging the mank into the next committing gorge. The rock cleaned up a little bit, the drops got better, the walls hemming in the river larger, steeper and more inescapable, and before long three of us were hanging onto the gorge walls in a small swirling eddy while Ryan precariously climbed out of his boat at the lip of huge misting horizon line. This was the Postpile I had heard about for so long…
The horizon line ended up being Boof o’ Matic falls, one of the most unique launch pads I have ever seen. Ryan routed us through with a smile.
Ryan on boof o’matic
Below boof o’ matic, the river dropped over a marginally scoutable horizon line into what looked like a big hole and then disappeared around the corner at 100 miles an hour. What lay around the corner was a bit of a mystery. However, our beta for this section was “When you get to a section below Boof o’ Matic that you can’t scout without climbing out of the gorge, it’s good to go.” With no other options except downstream progress, we dropped in, boofed hard and made through the two semi-blind rapids with one rowdy hole ride in the exit rapid and big smiles all around.
Will buried in the exit rapid of the boof o’ matic gorge.
The rest of the afternoon down to Cassidy Crossing was spent boat scouting through some quality whitewater with the occasional scout or portage thrown in. The dangerous sieved out nature of the river-bed kept us on our toes all the way to the Cassidy Crossing bridge, and I was glad when we reached camp and got to relax. There was some palpable nervous energy in camp that night, knowing that early the next morning we would be dropping into one of the most notorious gorges on the continent and that we would be running some big rapids that we weren’t going to be able to thoroughly scout…
We woke up early the next morning and started making progress downstream, team anticipation at an all-time high. After a few hours of paddling some big scary rapids and portaging through the committing entrance gorges, we were staring down into the guts of the Crucible.
Will peaking into the entrance gorges.
Xavier’s point of view, looking into the Crucible. Shangri La is visible at the end of the gorge, four rapids and a thousand miles away.
Scouting out the first rapid in the crucible…
At this point we were all on fire, had solid beta on the lines, and it was no time to hold back. We put in at the top, and ran the sweet curling boof into the entrance rapid.
Will charcing against the grain. Will’s charc is well aligned with the universe.
We kept routing downstream and ten minutes later we were out the other side Crucible in Shangri La and on top of the world.
Ryan boofing through the last drop in the crucible.
Looking back at huge semi-scoutable gradient in the Crucible. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of this place.
Lunch in Shangri La, under a 100 foot waterfall.
Enjoying lunch post Crucible, we had high hopes of making to the reservoir that night and paddling the six miles to the boat ramp under the stars. Those dreams were crushed when I boat scouted into a sieve/crack combo in the first significant whitewater after lunch and was forced to exit my trusty watercraft, lucky before it disappeared under ground.
It took three hours to z-drag the boat out of the sieve, and I had plenty of time in those hours to contemplate the risks of class V+ expedition kayaking, especially how much it would suck/how possible it would even be to hike out from my present position in the canyon. I extend a huge thanks to Will, Xavier and Ryan for the solid rope skills, team work, patience, and motivation that was necessary to free my kayak.
The kayak after extraction. Oops.
Luckily, I was able to pound the boat out into usable condition after it spent ten minutes in the sun. If you are tired of breaking a boat a season, buy one of these. This Hercules has seen so much abuse over the last 2.5 years, it defies logic that it isn’t broken.
Will says “sometimes you embrace the swirl, sometimes the swirl embraces you.”
We ended up camping at the confluence of the South San Joaquin on a Main Salmon-style beach each of us contemplating what we had accomplished over the past three days. We paddled/portaged out to the reservoir the next morning through a myriad of dangerous sieved out rapids with the occasional 12 foot glory boof thrown in there for good measure.
Classic portaging on the Devil’s Pospile.
We got to the lake at a reasonable hour and hitched a ride six miles out to the boat ramp with some friendly beer swilling Cali rednecks. It was a good feeling being at the take out of this one, having rounded out the last two weeks with an incredible trifecta of class V expedition kayaking: The Clarks Fork Box, the Middle Kings, and the Postpile back to back to back. It was everything I love about kayaking packed into two weeks. Padding big challenging whitewater with good friends on long trips in breathtakingly beautiful wilderness river canyons. For me, kayaking doesn’t get any better than that.
Looking back up at the run from the shuttle drive out. The entire run is visible from here. We put in off of the back side of Mammoth Mountain, seen in the upper right of the photo, and paddled to the reservoir seen in the lower right. The Crucible is located just left of the Balloon Dome, the prominent granite dome in the middle of the photo.
~ Ben Luck