Giant Gap, North Fork of the American

Countless travelers zooming up and down Highway I-80 between Colfax and Truckee, California would never know of the beauty that lies just beyond their vision. Just over the eastern crest resides Giant Gap, a canyon of immense depth and beauty.

Because of the continuous nature of the river, and the fact that it is quite difficult to get out of your kayak, I was able to capture limited footage of the run. Nevertheless, I hope you at least get a taste of this California classic.

Giant Gap is an upper stretch of the North Fork of the American, which is formulated by the snow melt of the High Sierras surrounding the Lake Tahoe Basin. Primarily fueled by the Granite Chief Wilderness area, Giant Gap offers crystal clear water, an abundance of rapids, and spectacular scenery.

The Gap itself is framed by vertical cliffs that would be almost impossible to climb out of if attempted; therefore, it is wise to be prepared. You should expect to run several class IV-V rapids over the course of 14.5 miles. 

To access the river you must carry or drag your boat 1.5 miles down the Euchre Bar Trail. Once headed downstream, it is not long before you are encountering rapids that continue for several miles before relenting.

The ones of most note are Nutcracker, Locomotive, and Dominator.

Nutcracker is to be approached in the center of the river right channel with a slight left-hand angle. Drive hard through the first hole and expect to immediately punch another head on. 

Locomotive is to be run on far river right, but should not be attempted at all at flows higher than 1200cfs. There is a difficult portage on the right that requires some 5.5 climbing and boat beleeing. At higher water you can get out of the river on a small rocky nook on the right, and then belee someone downstream as they walk through the water to the easiest point of ascent.

Dominatrix into Dominator can be run river left or right, but should be scouted no matter what. You will know you are approaching the rapid when the geology of the river begins to change to a lighter colored rock.

In between each of these Class V rapids are numerous class III-IV rapids that are also worthy of respect and careful negotiation.

For more information check out California Creeks, and for river levels visit Dreamflows.

Chamberlains, North Fork of the American

After winter, it is always a bit awkward dusting off the paddling gear and heading for the river. Arms feel like small rubberbands, and reflexes are still in hibernation. But after instinct and experience begin to recall their responsibilities, your body slowly remembers what it loves about paddling on a river.

It was quite nice to descend down from the snow covered Sierras to the beginnings of spring in Colfax. Chamberlains is a perfect class III-IV warm up to kick start the paddling season and remember what it is all about.

Here is a little off-the-couch production that depicts the first days of river recollection, hanging out with some Cali folks.

Bald Rock, Middle Fork of the Feather

There are rivers, and then there is Bald Rock Canyon on the Middle Fork of the Feather. Just north of Oroville, California, this granitic masterpiece is a close equivalent to Yosemite Valley, except for the fact that there is an extremely exciting and challenging class V river run coursing through the middle of it.

I have paddled Bald Rock at many varying levels and at different times of the year. The major obstacle to contend with is Atom Bomb Falls, and the higher the water level the harder it is to navigate the must-make ferry above it. It is the only mandatory portage, and the rest of the rapids are boatable in some form or another. Optimal flow is 1,000 cfs, but the run certainly goes quite well anywhere between 800-1500cfs.

What is unique about Bald Rock is the geologic composition. White gleaming granite walls quickly envelope you as you meander downstream into the maw. Flakes of rock and giant boulders have sloughed off the sides of the canyon and fallen into the riverbed to form rapids. If you imagine the canyon as a giant V-shape with debris falling into its middle, you can also imagine the undercuts that ensue because of this action.

Nevertheless, the majority of the rapids are good-to-go, and a solid team with good scouting and reasonable judgement can make it down unscathed.

Many paddlers opt to camp overnight at Atom Bomb Falls. It is a beautiful array of rock and sleeping spots are numerous. If you elect to do the run in one day, keep in mind that the Middle Fork of the Feather flows into Oroville Reservoir, and unless you are lucky enough to get a tow across the lake from a motorboat, you will have a 3-mile paddle out across flat water. Following that is and a steep climb up to the dirt road that serves as the take-out. It’s a long day no matter what.

 My most memorable moment on Bald Rock was a trip I did in mid-February. I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Kevin Greggerson along with his motorboat, and his girlfriend was kind enough to run shuttle for us. We were bombing down the run with me in the lead, and just as we were coming to the lip of Curtain Falls a Bald Eagle flew directly over our heads. Instead of stopping to scout, I stroked off the lip and landed comfortably at the bottom. Kevin and Andrew followed directly afterwards, and each of them had perfect lines. We were all smiles when we reached the boat and the warm clothes, beers, and smiling female faces inside.

My second most memorable trip was with Grant Korgan, and I will never forget watching him get absolutely trundled in a rapid to the point where I thought he might drown. I hate those situations in kayaking when you are in a position where you simply cannot access the person in need. Fortunately, he escaped the jaws of death, and he is still plunging into giant rapids today. The infamous rapid is halfway down the run, right above Curtain Falls, and it is marked by a giant pyramid rock at the bottom. Another friend of mine, Kells burst his ear drum in the same rapid.

As far as the combination of scenery, quality whitewater, and lack of crowds is concerned, Bald Rock is a true gem. It is logistically difficult to access, but it is definitely worth the effort. 

Fordyce Creek

Fordyce Creek is located in the Sierras just west of Truckee, California. It is an absolute gem for its spectacular scenery and miles of uninterrupted rapids. I often feel as if I am traveling on a high alpine trail when I am kayaking Fordyce.

However, Fordyce is not to be taken lightly. It is fairly remote and full of surprises. I have seen a significant amount of carnage over the years, including one death as a result of a vertical pin, a deep face laceration, a fractured jaw, and several swims. Additionally, every year there are new placements of fallen trees to contend with, and these obstacles always seem to be around blind corners or hidden in tight chutes.

Despite these inherent dangers, Fordyce is an unforgettable experience that will leave you both satisfied and sufficiently exercised. Optimal flow is between 3-600 cfs, but it can be run as flows as low as 200cfs.

Boatable flows on Fordyce are few and far between. In my experience, the past 8 years have consisted of calling the dam keeper and asking what the flow is. Usually, there is a period of one to two weeks in the Spring when it is running, and then sometimes is the Fall it will also run as they prepare to drop the reservoir down for the winter.

Part of the problem is the area around Fordyce is a popular recreational area for OHV-4 Wheelers, and many of them like to cross the creek. Even though many of them equip their vehicles with snorkels, the creek has to be at fairly low level for them to make it across; in fact, I have seen several of them stuck in the river, attempting to wench their way out.

So come summer, the snow completely melts away, Fordyce release levels go down, and the 4-Wheelers come out. Naturally, I would like to see a compromise where whitewater enthusiasts can be guaranteed boatable flows for part of the summer, and the 4-Wheelers can have their own scheduled dates. For as it stands now, kayakers and rafters are not receiving equal consideration.

Put-in

Once you make the challenging 4-wheel drive down to the put-in, look for the water shooting out of the pipe at the bottom of the dam. If it’s not, you have just gotten screwed by the irregular releases that have historically presided over the run.

If there is water you scramble down the trail adjacent to the dam and the outflow pipe for Fordyce Lake. Look for the painted arrows at the far side of the parking area.

Eraserhead

As soon as you apply your first stroke forward, the day is on and you are quickly approaching the first rapid, Eraserhead. A fun 50 foot slide, Eraserhead is usually run far left or center until the bottom,where it is best to make an immediate right at the point of connecting with the bottom hole.

Portage

There are many class IV rapids between here and the portage. Although, it should be noted the portage has been run by at least two people I know of, one of which had a dicey run at best. You will know when you are getting close because you will emerge into an open hanging valley suspended above a spectacular view of Old Man Mountain. Portage right or left.

Continue reading Fordyce Creek

Backcountry Skiing Above Reno

There are several peaks above Reno, Nevada that offer excellent terrain for backcountry skiing. Here is a little video from this past Saturday that sums up the fun.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Here a couple of shots from a snowshoeing jaunt I did today in the mountains above Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe.

 

Skiing in the Sierras

What a fantastic weekend of skiing in the Lake Tahoe region. In the past week we have received more than 50 inches of new snow with more on the way.

It all started Friday morning at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. Check out a little video I made to give you a sense of the conditions.

Turn your speakers on.

I intermixed some photos I took at Alpine last year just to make the video a little more interesting.

As usual, I was shooting in really poor light conditions with my Canon A620. Still, for a compact little digital camera that also has video with audio capabilities, it is a nice little companion. It is already difficult enough to get my friends to hold still on a powder day. Carrying and protecting a large camera in cold, snowy, windy conditions would make it even harder.

I am waiting for a camcorder that is small and compact, offers excellent video quality, saves to a hard drive, and also allows you to take high resolution pictures. Come on Canon or Sony, you can do it!

On Saturday, I did some backcountry in a place I cannot reveal, and today I went over to my backyard resort, Mt Rose Ski Resort. It was quite windy and snowing heavily, but the powder was endless and I skied as long as my body would allow me.

I hope everyone else had a wonderful weekend!

Cruising Around Costa Rica

One’s Personal Perspective

Costa Rica is an eco-tourist’s dream. An abundance of flora and fauna, beautiful beaches, and big mountains make this country equally appealing to both naturalists and recreationalists alike. You can surf, fish, hike, rappel waterfalls, fly through the treetops on zip lines, race horses on the beach, and witness more wildlife than you ever thought existed.

However, the one characteristic of Costa Rica that is lacking, especially to those familiar with such destinations as Mexico, Peru, the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean for that matter, is the unimpressive architecture and a seemingly undefined or preserved culture.

Yes, there are coffee, chocolate, and African palm plantations, a few scattered pre-Columbian sites, and some evidence of Spanish influence, but frankly it is not that interesting in comparison to other places in the world where humans have left their mark. Costa Rica is beautiful, and its people are noble and proud, but it is not a place one should necessarily visit if they quickly get bored of ocean and rain forest activities.

Fortunately for me, I love to surf, and I am somewhat of amateur ornithologist. I appreciated the countless incredible surf spots and Costa Rica’s efforts to preserve large tracts of land in the form of reserves and national parks.

Continue reading Cruising Around Costa Rica

It Finally Snowed in the Sierras

On Saturday it was cold, snowing, and the light was flat, but I still managed to begrudgingly pull my hands out of my gloves, and fire off some video of backcountry skiing in the Mt Rose Wilderness Area.

Despite the fact that it did not make for very good video conditions, I am absolutely overjoyed to see some snow finally descending in the Lake Tahoe region. I am praying for more!

I would also like to give a shout out to the Mt Rose Ski Resort patroller who broke his leg doing avalanche control in the Chutes on Monday. I appreciate the work that he was doing and recognize that there are inherent dangers in this type of work.

I absolutely love the Chutes and it is the primary reason why I have a pass at Mt Rose. The ski patrollers do a great job of managing a notorious area and getting it open for people to safely enjoy.

Hopefully the team was able to learn from the situation and apply that knowledge to avoid similar situations in the future. However, it could be that it was simply unavoidable.

Here’s to a quick recovery.

The Reno-Tahoe Young Professional Network (YPN) at 210 North

Serving as the vice president of marketing for the Reno-Tahoe Chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA), working at Twelve Horses, and engaging in a pretty active social life, one would think that I would know most of the young working professionals in Reno.

But I don’t.

Tuesday night more than 100 of us  gathered at 210 North to kickoff the first meeting for the new Reno-Tahoe Young Professional Network. It was fun and I got to meet a lot of people that I had never met. 

I wrote about the purpose of the organization on the Twelve Horses Blog, but suffice to say there are some exciting plans and lots of positive energy.

I hope it goes far.

There is an upcoming kickoff party that will be held at 210 North on April 5th from 7-10:00pm. If you are a young professional and interested in getting involved with YPN then you should come.

tags:

Robert Payne

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