Middle Cherry is rarely run. There is sparce information on the internet about its contents. A quick search of it on google reveals little.
We were headed down to run the S. Merced on April 29th, hoping the water would hold. On our drive the water spiked. We fumbled around with a new plan, Galen checked the gauge at the dam on middle cherry. 750. Hmmm... "I think I ran it last time at 550" "It was great! we hiked in at a bad place but I know where to go now. It will be a little high but I think it will be all good. Lets head out." With some trepidation but mostly temerity, we left El Portal at about 8 am.
Cherry Lake. 4 miles from put in.
"I have never seen this gate before"
"Yeah, we are still quite a ways from put in, should we hike on the road?"
"There is a road, it will get us closer to the put in"
"Wow that creek put a huge gap in the road, do you think we can fill it?"
We spend about an hour filling in this trench and move forth with our journey. Around a few bends we reach the end of the road.
2 hours later:
After fighting viciously with manzanita we decide it may be best to go down to the creek, to attack at water level. We all decide this is great plan, not due to its merit as a plan, but rather that the other option is to combat more manzanita bushes. Down it is.
Now we are on a dewatered cherry creek, eagerly anticipating the Eleanor creek confluence. We hike, kayak, and portage our way to the confluence. Woohooo!! We made it! There it is, the beginning of 7 miles of whitewater bliss, or fear, or whatever, but we are here. Geez, sure seems like a lot of water, like a lot but hey, were here. Hmm, and it is 4 pm. That is late.
We get out and scout, looks hard but doable, we better get going anyway because we have about 100 more rapids like this. We all get spun and pinned and make to the bottom in fine fashion. Grinning, and hoping that our grin hides our fear of what lies below, we continue on. We run another drop that Cody portages. Then Galen is somehow on the shore scouting the next one. He gives me a few words and I am off on a 10 foot twisting boulder drop with a short lead in. Cody portages.
I eddy out and look at the next one. Looks rough but doable, but I can't see the bottom. Cody comes up to me "I don't want to have anything to do with the rest of what comes. I am out" "Okay" "Don't worry about me. I will make it out, and I am not worried about you" "Cool, let's have a meeting and get going". We exchange fire making stuff and make an exit plan. Tomorrow at the bridge at 1.
I get in my boat and push off into the partially unscoutable drop. I am driving toward the boof and fall a little short of what I want, land on a rock and start going backwards into an eddy halfway down a 15 foot slide waterfall, I think it is sieved out but I am not sure. I flip over, my paddle is on one side of the rock and my body on the other. I let go and roll off the rock with my hands, putting a huge gash into my finger as I go. I am getting worked in a hole at the bottom and claw my way out.
I look at Cody and shake my head, already questioning my decision to continue paddling. "This is not a great way to start" I think to myself. I am bleeding a bit and cannot hold the paddle aggressively anymore. Cody comes down and gives me his paddle before he begins his trek out.
We continue through huge boulder gardens, alernating scouts, and working towards camp. But as we work our way down the gorge walls become vertical and suddenly cramped. A horizon line quickly approaches and as we see the the mist floating beyond its edge we catch an eddy. This must be it. Freebird. The forty footer beckoned below. This vertical slide leads directly into a class V rapid with a hole that is backed by a huge flat boulder. We determined that if we could catch an eddy on the left we could make it through the left side of this rapid. The problem was that off this waterfall you would be going 40 mph directly into the right channel and the only way to catch the eddy is to use a huge pillow off this wall and surf your way into the eddy.
"How are we going to set safety?" "If you see me swimming, come after me" and off I pushed into the horizon. I blow through the bottom hole with my paddle tucked, I must have had the correct angle because before I know what is happening I am in the eddy getting crashed around, waiting for Galen. Galen pulls up looking dazed. "Lets get out of here" and as he places a stroke he gets sucked into the hole at the top of the next rapid. He surfs it all the way across the river, gets out and drives left, moving towards the only viable line: boofing the corner of the ledge. He makes it clean, to my great relief.
I paddle down for pats on the back and congratulations all around. He is bleeding profusely from his nose. "I think I broke it" "What? How?" "I didn't tuck my paddle" "Oh, well, lets eat dinner then."
We paddled through more boulder infested whitewater labyrinths. Soon we made it. "Ohh, I know this place. We can camp here." and so we did.
We wake up to a frosty morning. I suppose we didn't wake up, the hour just arrived where it was appropriate for us to sit up and start talking rather than just lay on our backs heating the half of our body that was closer to the fire. We had a long night.
We begin again, keeping in mind the "Mandatory portage" that lay downstream. Sweet rapids ensue. Then the portage. The falls has been run, and looked runnable, but not by us, not this time. We suffered through the 90 minute, 50 yard long portage. We roped our boats four separate times, we almost lost one boat, we swam, and grasped, and worked our way to the bottom.
Worst portage ever.
Finally the canyon opened up.
A few more rapids and we were at the dam that marks the beginning of the final gorge. We took a look at the beautiful entrance falls and hoped that one day we would return with much less water. With our boats on our shoulders we hiked 30 minutes out to find Cody had left us food and water. Cody had return to the jungle early that morning to "break his boat out of jail" as he phrased it in his note to us. It took him 5 hours to hike back in and out. He finally meets back with us at 1 pm; boat in hand.
Galen called his friend Jared to talk to him about the epic we had just experienced. Jared informs us that Galen and him had run it at 350, not 550 as Galen had remember. 350. not 550. So much for Galens memory, but when you have kayaked as much as he, can you really blame him? I can... I can.
Thankfully this adventure was done. I plan on going back someday. Hopefully to half the water, half the hike in, and a beautiful run on the final gorge.