Friday, September 16, 2011

Decision Time On Dry Meadow Creek - a.k.a. Dry Meadow Creek The Hard Way

After four days of running laps on Brush Creek, the plan for our fifth day in California was to check out the Teacups of Dry Meadow Creek. We had decided that we would simplify logistics by only using one car and hiking to and from the Teacups (rather than portaging our way to the Kern River and paddling out). The hike was supposedly only around one and a half miles each way, which just didn’t seem like that much. We were planning to run the Upper N.F. of the Kaweah a few days later (which would require a four mile hike) so a three mile hike seemed like it would be a good warm-up.

I’d like to blame someone else for this plan, but it was my idea... and let me assure you that it did nothing to “simplify logistics”. What we didn’t know about the hike was that a lot of it was off-trail and it ended up requiring some unanticipated reconnaissance hiking in addition to the mileage to and from the Teacups. The hike was also mostly through an area that had previously burned in a forest fire, which resulted in crossing over many downed trees along the way. Needless to say, it was harder and took longer than any of us had anticipated.

We parked John’s trusty Subie at what we guesstimated to be the correct pull-off on the side of the road. The hike started up a steep four-wheel-drive trail which quickly turned into a faint walking trail and then no trail at all. We found ourselves following a dry wash downhill and out into a dry meadow, which seemed promising, given the name of our destination. It also seemed very likely that the dry wash we were in would lead us to Dry Meadow Creek, but we really didn’t know. We kept moving, taking breaks periodically and sometimes taking turns going ahead (sans boats) to scout out the best route. We were pretty sure we were going towards the creek, but just hoping we would come out at the Teacups or at least upstream of them on Dry Meadow Creek and not at the Kern River.

Eventually we could see that our route was going to intersect a larger drainage ahead. Our hopes were raised and as we got closer and could see that the drainage was not large enough to be the Kern River itself. First we heard the running water and shortly thereafter Dry Meadow Creek came into view. Relieved to have found the creek, we cooled off in the refreshing water and then began to work our way downstream. We paddled a few small slides and rapids and completed a couple of short portages. Before too long, we found ourselves looking at one of the most impressive geologic features I have ever seen.

The first Teacup of Dry Meadow Creek ends in a dead end pool where almost all the water goes under a bedrock land bridge a mere two feet wide. The next six drops range in height between eight and twenty five feet and land in impressive round potholes, some of which were twenty or more feet deep and had slightly overhang walls. After the runnable Teacups, the next drop is somewhere around 50-60 feet tall and lands onto rocks and the drop following that looks even larger and disappears into a crack. Certainly not a place to miss the take-out and as we looked at it I couldn’t help, but think of the infamous accident and impressive rescue that took place here when someone accidently missed the takeout.

For a while we all scampered about, just in awe of the amazing sight before us. At first we were just taking it all in, but soon the scouting began in earnest. The six Teacups are run as a set and accessing them individually isn’t really possible (at least not without some rope work). None of the six drops were especially hard or dangerous, but the third one immediately became the focus of our attention. The aptly named Superfreak, had an angled, pinch in the entrance and then about a twenty-foot freefall. It also had a reputation for making boaters land on their heads. I couldn’t help, but think to myself that I would almost rather land upside down than land in a big left brace on my already strained left shoulder.

On either side of the river, the smooth, bowl-shaped granite severely limited our mobility while scouting and would also limit options for setting safety. Any trouble that required extracting a person or boat from any of the first four teacups would be very difficult. Adding to our thought process was the fact that we only had two 65 foot throw ropes. We had assumed that we would paddle in pairs with the other two members of the group on the bank with ropes. It seemed logical at the car, but looking at the Teacups in person made me wish we had a long length of static rope, or at least a couple longer throw ropes.

Standing there, I couldn’t believe I was even considering not running the Teacups. I had dreamt of running them for well over a decade and had paid the price of admission by completing the hike. However, the more I scouted the more I worried that the third drop was going to make me land in a big left brace and destroy my shoulder and the rest of our trip. Even if it didn’t do further damage, I imagined being upside down against one of those overhanging walls and trying to roll up with my strained shoulder. A swim at the base of the third drop would require some serious assistance from the rest of the group and an injury would require a rescue that would be extremely difficult considering our lack of adequate gear.

Ultimately it wasn’t something I was willing to risk in such a remote setting or something I wanted to risk burdening the rest of the group with if something went wrong. I announced to everyone that I was not going to run it, but assured them I would do whatever was needed to support them if they choose to run it. It turned out Leigh and John also had second thoughts and in the end it was only Terran who made the run. He had great lines on all six drops and overall made it look quite easy. He also managed to keep it upright on Superfreak, but did land in a big brace, making me feel at least partially validated in my assessment while scouting.

Despite Terrans great lines I didn’t find myself second guessing my decision. After his run, Leigh conducted some reconnaissance hiking to scout out a possible quicker route back to the car, but eventually returned and explained that the trail we thought we had seen just disappeared after a short distance. We decided we would just have to go out the same way we came in and we began the hike with about as much enthusiasm as could be expected. When we finally got to the car we were all extremely dehydrated and beaten down by a long day of carrying boats and very little boating.

Dry Meadow Creek is not as high on my California wish list as it once was. However, I do think that I will go back there at some point in the future. The Teacups are simply too unique and beautiful to not go back and seeing them in person only solidifies the mystique that surrounds them in my imagination. After all, now that I know about the logistical challenges, next time will be much easier. In retrospect, we should have set shuttle on the Kern River and accessed the Teacups by boating and portaging our way from higher in the watershed. However, you live and you learn and I’ve got no regrets. Everyone needs a humbling day of wondering around in the wilderness now and then… and I was overdue.

Until Next Time...


kayak session

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