This was my third trip into this incredible place, but was different from previous trips. The reason wasn’t unique to me, it has happened on a few other trips in the past. The last time was on Fantasy Falls of the North Fork Mokelumne, a three-day wilderness trip north of Dinky Creek. These trips were special to me because they kept happening on my anniversary with Jess. This trip marked 12 years of adventuring and working around the world together, having an amazing time.
When we met we were both studying Outdoor Education. Kayaking was something that we both really enjoyed and it is what brought us both together in the first place. Over the years our kayaking improved and allowed us to adventure in more challenging places. Now we belong to a small group of kayakers who have the great pleasure of adventure kayaking with their other half.
There are different challenges when it comes to kayaking with your other half. I tend to get worried faster, instead of just laughing at my friends when they are getting beat down in a hole (I will rescue them at the same time). It’s never nice seeing somebody you love and care for get hurt or struggle while on the water. I have seen Jess bleed, get a concussion, slip and get a seven-month hematoma, get boofed on while stuck in a hole only to see her roll up with a black eye, drop a kayak while portaging and spend the next hour putting it all back together. While I have seen my fair share of her carnage, Jess has also been witness to my own misfortunes. Seeing me break my paddle at the crux moment of a steep rapid, roll at the lead in to a newly changed rapid, get stuck in a syphon, get spun backwards in the lead in to Alpine Falls and having to run the drop backwards, and smashing my face on a rock and having to super glue me back together when I refused to go to hospital. So this trip was our anniversary, and the other thing that made this trip very special is that we were paddling it with four other people. These four people were made up of two other couples - Sam Swanson and Anna Wagner, and Rata Lovell-Smith and Phil Palzer. This is something that I don’t think any of us had experienced before, three couples paddling a multiday trip together, in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of must-run Class V. What could go wrong?
We did manage to find a shuttle driver, but it was about four hours later than we would have liked. This meant that we arrived at the trailhead at 5.30pm. After mucking around and packing for a good 45 minutes, we started the walk down to the creek. We made good time down the hill - the track had already seen a few teams this season, meaning that we didn’t have to work too hard to find it or to follow it. An hour and a half saw us at the put in. The river looked low, much lower than our first trip down in 2013. I was a bit worried about it being too low; my hope was that we were at the bottom of the diurnal, meaning that the flow would come up in the morning or overnight. We set up camp, with an amazing fire pit and made some food, classic dehydrated meals and sausages.
The goal for the following day was to make it to the take out before dark, meaning a one-day descent of Dinkey Creek. Because I was worried about the flow, we deiced to put on the water early to give us more time. We were on the water by 6.30am, starting with a big slide. Anna got a random deflection, pushing her to hard river left and pitoned her kayak. Not a great way to start the trip, but she shrugged it off well.
We made great time down the rapids, a combination of good scouting, great following, my memory and the strength of the team. We made it to Willie Kern’s with the sun just starting to shine on us. A few more rapids downstream we helped each other out with the portage, throwing boats around, passing gear and holding people in place to seal launch. I went last and did a throw and go. The team was fast and got all my gear, and me, to the side before the next rapid.
The rapid just downstream is one that has claimed a life in recent years, and always has me on edge. The rapid looked like it was harder with the lower water. I ran it first and set safety by climbing back upstream and putting myself in an eddy, protecting a nasty syphon. Jess was last and she ended up getting pushed into a wall downstream, out of my view. She couldn’t get out of the spot, the wall was also undercut and so every time she tried to roll up she was forced back underneath the wall. I climbed back to my kayak unaware that anything was happening. I couldn’t see anyone but there was an extra throw bag by my kayak. Jess swam out ok, and was in good form around the corner having shaken the experience off well.
Spike came next, a three-tiered rapid that looked good to go. I went first making it to the middle before flipping and going through the last hole upside down, which meant that it flushed me out easily. Sam and Phil had the same line. Rata had a similar line, with the addition of adding four ends in the middle of the rapid. Anna got pushed super far left and managed to have the cleanest line of all of us. None of us sold the line enough to entice Jess to have a go.
The low flows meant that we had a bit more time to think and move on the water, but our bodies were getting a beating. We stopped for lunch at the normal camp and took a good break. This was a good time to do some stretching and take some Vitamin I. Wearing elbow guards is essential for creeking in Cali. There are so many times when you use the elbow guards to fend off rocks while paddling rapids, portaging or even to protect your face while you are upside down. The downside to elbow guards is that it can flare up your tendons. I was starting to feel it by this stage in the day and decided to not wear them for the rest of the day.
With lower flows a lot of the rapids landed on rocks, which had been covered on my previous trips on Dinkey Creek. We used the signal for leaning forward often to indicate that people should have their spine forward to protect it on landing. The day continued, everyone taking big hits and impacts on almost every rapid, especially Nikki Kelly’s drop.
The rest of the trip went very smoothly, lots of boat scouting and shore scouting. The run out was rather slow, and there was a bit of beatering in one of the last rapids. This was largely to do with fatigue, at this stage of the day we had been on the move for nine and a half hours. We made it to the car at 4pm, everything was still there and we could see there were a couple of other teams behind us on the river.
What an amazing trip. Paddling on the couples trip worked super well, awesome safety, support and everybody worked together not as three units. I feel very blessed that I am able to spend so much of my time kayaking, but also that I get to spend it with the one person in the world that I care the most about.