Lake Eleanor had not released in quite a long time, and a friend in Groveland discovered the dam was releasing so started to wrangle a crew together.
Our day started early as we loaded up the Suburban and made our way towards Cherry Lake. We stopped in at the Forest Service to ask them about finding the trail. The guy didn’t know much about the area, navigation or map reading, and when I asked him how he finds his way around in the mountains he told me “I just follow the guy in front of me”. We did manage to get a map, which had the all forest roads marked on it, which turned out to be extremely helpful in finding vaguely the right spot to start hiking.
Reading the descriptions of Middle Cherry made the hike-in sound like the hardest part of the entire trip - a steep, hard-to-find and not-really-existent trail, poison oak everywhere and big bluffs. We found the start point pretty easily, and it turns out the Rim Fire of August 2013 (which burnt 257,314 acres) had burnt all of the bush on both sides of the West Cherry, making it easy to scout the route down to the river from the road.
We decided to hike to the junction of West Cherry and Eleanor Creek, which then becomes Middle Cherry proper. The hike was relatively easy because of the burn, with only a few sections of poison oak along the way. When we arrived at the confluence we pulled out the Tecnu and had a good wash to get rid of any oak we had touched. Once on the water the signs of the recent fire became more apparent with lots of trees in the river, making a few of the rapids more dangerous than they normally would have been.
The kayaking was quite slow going. There were some fantastic rapids in the mix but they were far outnumbered by the mank ones.
Most of the good rapids were solid granite, a few double drops and bigger rapids.
The biggest and crux of the run was a must-run, 40-footer with a reconnect at the bottom and lots of sticky holes in the run out, followed by a river-wide hole with a tree blocking half of the river.
Our crew had great lines and low drama, while the team behind us ended up with a broken nose. Lots more read-and-run paddling got us down to a dam. Below the dam was my favorite section, which had two big rapids followed by four multi-tiered rapids.
The river started to flatten out just as the bridge marking the take out appeared. Getting from the river to the road was almost more dangerous than the river itself; it was very loose gravel and super steep. Our vehicles were all at the take out with our shuttle drivers just waking up from a nap.
Middle Cherry was a fantastic adventure, with lots of teamwork needed to get everyone down this section safely, but I don’t think I’ll be going back in anytime soon!