Dinkey Creek (Waterfalls)
|Stretch:||Near Ross Crossing to Balch Camp|
|Difficulty:||Class V to V+|
|Flows:||250-700 cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||280 fpm average (457, 345, 350…)|
|Put-in:||Downriver 1 mile from Ross Crossing|
|Shuttle:||40.0 Miles (2.5 hours one-way, 29.4 miles on good dirt roads)|
|Season:||Spring/Summer from snowmelt.|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #48 and Andrew Pernicano's great video|
OK, so I typed up two discussions of some of the accidents that occurred in the three days prior to my trip down the run. The point was to illustrate the dangers and the preparation needed to safely navigate this river. I hesitated long enough to post this write-up as I did not think that I would be a proper vessel to state such an opinion… long enough that Darin posted a discussion on the same, so read that before getting too fired up for how great the run sounds. Thanks. Also, I am aware of the fact that by doing this write-up I am likely contributing to the very thing that has erk'd me (us).
So moving on, Darin has told me a time or two that this is likely the best run in the entire world. Whether or not he actually believes that is another issue, but simply putting it out there is a bold statement. How could something that is so close be so good. I know Cali is good, but is it that good? Yea, this run was pretty stinking good. Slides and falls continue unabated for the length of the run. You never see many images of the runout below Nicky Kelly’s because there are no class V+ drops down there, what there is are many 10-20 foot tall slides and falls all with straightforward lines. How big and fun can a class IV+ to V- paddle out be. What an amazing place.
Most people choose to complete the run in 2 days though with a team of folks who have done it before it can be done in a day, though dang that must be tiring. The day starts with a 2.5 hour shuttle on dirt road. Assuming you find the trail head (i.e. where an unmarked trail drops inconspicuously off the road) you arrive at the water ~1 to 1.5 hours later. The hike is steep and poorly marked at the end so getting a little lost is common and adds considerably to the pain in the a$$ factor. Lucky for us it was a very cool July day, I can imagine with normal June/July weather in the 100s the hike would suck. Luckily the hike is all downhill and is boat draggable for about half of it. Good thing too since you are essentially crawling through Manzanita tunnels at times. Some people who get a late start in their day choose to sleep at put-in near the side creek and paddle out in a day.
Once on the water you get no warm up. The first large slide is 50 yards downstream of put-in. Below, you come to the first commonly portage drop which quickly leads to more slides and rapids before you get to Willie Kern’s and the entrance to the most intimating part of the run. Below Willie’s you get two waterfalls. The second of which should be scouted on the right as only ¼ of the water exiting this drop does not enter a sieve. Downstream lies a mandatory portage which is class V in nature (the portage itself) and requires teamwork to perform safely. Below the exit of the gorge, the river becomes much more scoutable and portageble. Just downstream of Spike lies the Breakfast Slide. Good camping exists above it or below the first Double Pothole just below. From here, scout blind rapids as a few have large holes and flush into potential portages. There is another almost always portage drop just below the boulder gardens, folks either portage the top two drops in the gorge and seal launch in or portage the third drop as well requiring friction climbing and roping boats. Below, you get quickly to Anaconda and then Prison Love. Below is a mile of great class IV-V boogie down to Nicky Kelly’s Slide. Below which is a mile of great slides and falls which eventually terminates into more boulder gardens with one last set of big holes prior to the class IV paddle out. You will not walk away from this run wishing you ran more rapids. I have never seen a river that kept up its pace for such a length, it is almost hard to believe that the run is ~4.75 miles long not including the class IV paddle out.
- Put-in Slide (V). It starts off with a bang, hope you warmed up in the eddy at put-in because you are now in the first rapid. Scout from the right. Run center or far left though the center is far more common.
Clapper (V). After 1.5 small rapids, eddy out right before the obvious horizon line. This rapid is commonly portaged due to the rocky nature of it that assures a sore back. It goes though.
As Good as In Between Can Be (IV to V). Coming out of the eddy you can boof the left side of the right channel, be aware of the piton. Below are two ledges, run left of center and then center. The next rapid is best run 3-4 feet off the left wall moving back right away from a hidden piton on the far left.
Willie Kern’s (V to V+). Enter the ramp and fly through the hole below. At higher flows, this is faster and the hole is meaner. Staying right worked well. The bottom drop is 30-40 feet tall, not quite vertical. It needs to be run between the two rooster tails else you risk a pocket on the right or breaking your ankles like Willie Kern apparently did.
First 20’ (IV+). Drive as far left as possible, like onto dry ground. The right 2/3rds of the river fades off into an undercut.
High Pressure 20’ AKA the “Malkinator” (V). For such an easy waterfall, it is God awful stressful. Boof left, the right 3/4s of the river goes into a sieve. Don’t boof too far left as the wall extends out just a smidge and Peter Malkin broke both of his legs here. Somehow, he mustered up the strength to paddle the remaining miles of the run… crazy Russians. To exit, the small left channel can be bashed down to the eddies below.
Pre-Portage (IV+). OK, so it is really only a class IVish sort of move, but there is a hole with a wall backing it up that tail stood half of our group and back-endered me. Oh, and you are 25 feet above the entry of the mandatory portage. Scout left, possible to seal launch in on the left around the move but you will likely piton from 6 feet up…
- Portage (U). Time for a little teamwork. The portage is via the easy eddy on the left. Pass boats along the cliff face. Darin left a rope attached to down climb the ravine in 2011 so hopefully it stays a while. It is best to lower boats via a separate rope. Assist boaters by holding their boat on the 45 degree slope and releasing them to their seal launch. It is highly recommended that only the last person does a throw and go once all the others in the team are downstream to rescue the gear. In 2011, a group threw the last boat off only to have it capsize. While fighting to get the loaded boat to shore, an experienced Italian boater who was pulling the boat to shore was swept into the next rapid and unfortunately perished in a sieve on the right side. A freak accident that occurred despite the group doing the portage safely. The next day, another group did a entire group throw and go and lost one of the boats in the rapid as well. So, please be careful. The eddy on the left above the next rapid is large, but simple accidents or bad decisions can be costly here. It is safer to take your time and do the portage right then to rush through it.
Exit Rapid (V). Scout on the left. Enter the left channel (most just seal launch into this channel from the scout) and then run center moving left. Boof the ledge downstream on the left and drive left away from the dangerous sieve. Then drive back right to avoid the wall and pocket eddy below. The portage is sketchy at best. But as there was a boat in the rapid making the line much harder as well as a soul in the sieve, I choose to do the portage instead. It involved a throw of my boat into the pool below with a friend station downstream after his run of the rapid. Next was a friction climb out as far as possible until my footing gave way and I was sent sliding down the 40 or so feet down the steep slab to the river below. It would be difficult without someone willing to run the rapid. Everyone else ran the rapid just fine. It just seemed to that I needed to pay my respects to the man and the rapid… and it was scary of course, so I choose to walk.
Spike (V+). A large double drop. Scouted on the right, and portaged on the right as well for those not wanting to run it. Be aware that there is a cave on the right behind the first curtain. Two folks ended up in it this year that I know of. Close calls for sure.
Camp: The first decent camp is on the right after one more small drop. It is a granite slab with room for 8-10 on reasonably flat ground. This is where we camped.
Breakfast Slide (V). One smallish drop as your warm up, and you are at a large horizon that you may have noticed from camp (sarcasm, it is impossible to miss). This drop slides down some 40-50 feet total. The right half of the slide is nonexistent so the common line is to get through the initial pillow and slide down the center though getting rejected left is common as well and is fine.
Double Pothole #1 (V+). One small ledge and then an eddy on the left, scout the drop on the left (also an easy walk). Usually run far left, I have also seen lines on the right. This rapid is also known for causing swim practice.
- Camp: There is a camp on the left and right down here. The left has some sand, the right is on a granite slab. Just below is a rapid that is best run far left to far right behind the center island to avoid large holes on the far left and far right in each channel.
Pre-Double Pothole (IV+). Set safety here, scout/portage right. A slide drops you into a large hole. You are only 20 feet above the entrance to Double Pothole and the water rushes quickly into it. We had a swimmer, luckily he and his boat ended up in the eddy. The paddle entered Double Pothole never to be seen again.
Double Pothole #2 (V+). Portaged far more often than it is run. If the water is medium to low, an easy portage on the edge of the rapid at river left on the left is easiest. Otherwise, portage right.
Boogie (IV to V). Below here the river is more boogie. One or two more bedrock drops are followed by a section of Boulder Gardens. When you come to a boulder garden that has a 10 foot boof in the entrance, eddy out left to scout and take pictures.
Boof to Boogie (V). A 10 foot boof on the right leads to a boulder garden. We all moved right immediately to avoid the mankier stuff down the left. Small eddies exist just downstream. Then you enter more boogie and a ten foot slide that leads to a large eddy on the right. Below this eddy, the river enters a straightaway with 3 or 4 large holes and run right up to the lip of the Hallway, eddy out left to scout.
Hallway (V). A 8 foot sloping boof into a seam leads to a hallway between granite walls, the bottom is best exited far right or far left. A large pool is below before the river enters The Gorge Rapid.
- The Gorge Rapid (P/V+/V-). Several different options here. First and foremost, get out on the right and scout before leaving the pool. The first two drops are almost always portage due to a large sieve in the second drop but with that said it has been run a time or two down the right. Some people choose to seal launch in below the second drop, careful to avoid the hole from the second drop and then run the ledges leading to the 10 foot tall third tier. The challenge with that tier is that it is hard to scout and you HAVE to be far right to avoid boofing onto a rock. Set safety for the seal launch as in 2009 someone swam after seal launching in and broke his back when he swam over the third ledge. To portage this requires passing boats a little further before lowering them down a steep granite slab. You also walk down this slab. If it is raining, it would be stressful. With it dry, it is surprisingly tacky… at least with 5.10 shoes on. One in the water below, ferry out and boof the exit ledge on the center. Downstream lays on more drop best run center driving right boofing a large hole just above Anaconda.
Anaconda (V to V+). Another common portage. Several large holes lead to a rocky chute and a shallow landing zone. Easy walk on the right. Below is a fun class IV+ rapid best run down the center though at low water the entry is cracked out and requires a quick portage.
- Prison Love (IV). Yes, I put it as a IV. There is no entry move. It is easy to set safety. If you run it, you are 90% sure to flip. And probably 25% sure to swim. The water drops into a super sticky, walled in hole, that’s all. We all walked easily on the left.
Below here the river gets easier, and enters some slides, and boulder gardens before arriving at a sweet set of falls.
15’ to 20’ (IV+). A sweet double set of falls best run right and right. The bottom one has captured boaters who messed up the center line in the cave behind the curtain.
- Portage (U). After another short section of easy boogie you get to a mandatory portage around a falls with a chalk stone sieving it out. Portage left. Hint, when seal launching in, the rock is super slick. But just behind you is a small cave with sand in it. Grab some sand an put it on the rock to aid in traction while climbing back in your boat. Seriously…
Boulder Gardens (V). A few stout and consequential boulder gardens led to Nicky Kelly’s drop.
- Nicky Kelly’s Slide (V+). Enter left or right, slide down and drive or boof through the two ledges. Though if you are thinking of running it you are not reading the details of the line. The scout is best on the right. The portage is not bad but is aided by lowering boats over a 10 foot ledge.
Goodness (V). Too many drops to detail. A handful will be scouted as they are large horizons. My favorites were the airplane turn on the far left to a boof, the pothole wall grind on the right, and 20 foot ledge with reconnect that looks horrible but went fine, and of course the last stout Double Drop.
Double Drop (V). A super steep double drop is the last stout bedrock drop on the run. The entry is best run far left of center, regardless you will melt into a seam and whiteout. Roll up and drop the exit ledge. You will plug in and likely come out upside down, but apparently everyone always comes out. It took Darin until this, his 8th trip to come out upright and then I went next and stole his thunder… luck. But dang you go deep! If it weren’t so much fun it would be terrifying!
More bedrock boogie gradually gets easier. Eventually you enter some boulder gardens again though they are easier. When the river braids out amongst rocks, scout from the left shore.
- Last Rapid (V). This rapid is occasionally portaged as there are 4 large holes, each one getting progressively bigger.
That is the last rapid of The Waterfalls and from here it is a quick paddle out down class III-IV with occasional sieve to avoid.
- Flume (IV-P). Once you pass under a water tube, be ready to make a quick portage around a high pressure jet of water coming out of a turbine from the right. Easy walk on the right. Some people run the rapid far right ducking the jet. That is a good way to lose your head. Literally.
Take-out: From Fresno, take Highway 180 East towards King Canyon. Take it through town eventually heading north one block on either Del Rey Ave or North Academy Ave (after 13.5 miles) and turn right on East Belmont. After 6 miles this changes names to Trimmer Springs rd. Follow Trimmer springs around the lake until it begins going up the Kings River itself. Cross the river and go left 3.2 miles up to Balch Camp.
Put-in: Drive Back towards Fresno 10.6 miles on Trimmer Springs Rd. Just after the bridge over Big Creek, turn right on Big Creek Rd. In 4.8 miles stay right and cross the creek. Climb 7.7 miles, passing under the power lines. At the crest of the hill, make a left onto Ross Crossing. In 8.4 miles turn right at the 4-way intersection. In 4.4 miles turn right back onto Ross Crossing. In 2.2 miles you will cross over Dinkey Creek, continue another 1.9 miles climbing away from the river. Park just before a left hand bend. If you reach the Ross Creek, go back a short ways. The trailhead is hard to spot and is more just a trail that drops down quickly away from the river. It is however well groomed at the start as of 2011 so it should be easy to recognize that you have found it once you have actually found it (if that makes sense). After some bushwhacking, you will come to a granite slab, go down the slab to the creek below. Cross the creek and begin climbing the remnants of a forest service trail. After 100-200 yards drop down to the right on the steep not quite trail. This will drop you down to the creek, follow the creek at creek level from here to Dinkey Creek.
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