East Fork of the Kaweah (Classic)
|Stretch:||Trailer to Middle Fork|
|Difficulty:||Class V to V+|
|Distance:||4.0 miles (+3.4 miles on the Middle Fork to get to take-out)|
|Flows:||~125 cfs to ~275 cfs (~600 to 1,000 in Three Rivers). Current Dreamflows Three Rivers gauge|
|Gradient:||286 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Just downstream of the bridge over the river, at the old trailer|
|Take-out:||Dinley Rd Bridge|
|Shuttle:||7.8 miles (20 minutes one way)|
|Season:||Spring/Summer from snowmelt|
|Featured in A Wet State #88|
Certainly one of the better known runs in California, the East Fork of the Kaweah has been considered a classic for years as well as an elite run. Perhaps it is the latter that has kept me off of it for so long. Each season comes around and invites come in… and I chicken out. But alas, with Diane and my move to TN coming in a few weeks, there is not more time to chicken out so plans were hatched and I promised myself I would not back out.
The run now starts a few hundred yards below the bridge, due to a new portage that is very difficult to walk. Instead you walk down a nice trail near a trailer to the river. The action starts immediately with a few nice ledges and boulder gardens in a tight gorge known for handing out some beatings. Below, the river quickly approaches Skyhook before briefly turning really nice with rapids including Double Drop and Dead Man’s Alley before again Toxaway. Skyhook and Toxaway are two very long portages for almost all boaters. Though both get run not horribly infrequently. The portages take about a half hour each and cover 0.15 miles and 0.2 miles respectively. The Toxaway portage ends at the top of the Lower section which class IV to V boaters often do on its own. Below, there are still a few short portages and numerous big clean slides. Certainly not a place for a class IV boater due to the boulder gardens… but also not really class V. The upper part of this run however has some consequence and powerful holes. The big rapids are big… the in-between rapids are in tight canyons with sieves and shear walls. Epics happen in here quickly. Luckily there are a few egress points throughout the day.
The run was good. At times really good… however, there are drawbacks to the run. The portages are long. And not getting poison oak during the skyhook portages is a rare feat. Also, when the water is high, the clean stuff gets mean. When the water is medium or less… there are some shallow rapids that get tedious. There is not really a happy flow in which it is all clean and yet not burly, at least from what I have been told. And for such a short mileage count. Even knowing the run plan on 4 hours. Groups are known to average closer to 6 or 7. And groups sorting it out themselves take up to 9 hours! I couldn’t believe it was only 4 miles. Seems like many many more!
So, this run is good. Really good. But it makes you earn it. I don’t think many people would be game for back to back days as the effort is too great. But a time or two a season… for sure. Clean granite and big gradient, tight canyon, and nice scenery? Who wouldn’t want to spend some time in here?
Check out Darin McQuoid's Website for more great photos of the run.
- Get Right (IV). Just downstream of put-in, run the first little rapid on the left but then run the next ledge on the far right. Folks have swum here and it is within sight of put in.
Sweet Boof (IV+). A fun double drop, first tier left of center moving right, second tier right of center moving right.
Slide (IV). A fun low stress slide down the left.
Boof on the Wall (IV). A fun boof that needs to be taking with a 90 degree left turn as the wall is just a few feet away.
In the Bushes (IV+). A junky lead in starts on the left, work across to the far right. Boof into the rapid in the bushes. This keeps you away from the large sieve on the left.
- Chaos Gorge Exit (IV). Boof down the middle. This hole can be mean… and if you experience chaos up river will prevent a swimmer from being able to safely exit the gorge. I heard a story of swimmers in the gorge being stranded until the team was able to get the boats back up on the canyon rim and drop them down to the folks in the river. That would suck.
Less Clean (IV to IV+). There is a rapid or two here that I don’t really recall other than finishing right.
Slide (IV). As you see the granite wall of Skyhook Ranch on the left, you get to an easy enough slide, just get as far left as possible as the right side slips into a big hole. Somewhere in here either above or below there is a slide that you want to run as far left as you can get as the river fans out. Just don’t end up on the far right as the hole is good size there. This is followed by another fun rapid best run down a small left channel to enter.
Prior to Skyhook (IV). Just prior to the portage there is a junky rapid, run the far left channel but on the right side (lest you pin). Then eddy out left to portage.
- Portage and Skyhook (U then V+). You have a mandatory portage where the river goes under a pile of rock. Get out left and follow the trail which briefly climbs the canyon a 50 feet or so. Skyhook gets run occasionally, but the portage route also skips this and drops you at the end. Bring long pants for this portage or you will get poison oak.
Seal Launch (V). Directly downstream, on the other side of the pool below Skyhook, you once again get out of your boat and portage on the left. The water once again goes underground. Portage left. Then seal launch in and run the exit drop down the middle. The last person kinda gets hosed here as the seal launch is difficult by yourself.
- Double Drop (V). At lower flows people run down the middle, at the higher flow we were able to boof the far left of the first tier. Exit down the middle. The hole at the bottom can get meaner as flows come up.
Slide (IV+). Immediately downstream is a rapid that has caused some beat downs. It is a slide that you want to enter center and finish right if you can, realistically you enter center and slid off to the left, hit a curler and finish middle. Just hit it straight and with a good stroke.
Pinch (IV+ to V-). A small slide on the far left then leads to another bigger hole. The river then shifts to the left off of some midstream bed rock and slips into a crack that you will plug deep if you end up in. You want to drive onto the bedrock and slide down the back side. Below is a small ledge that you run right side which then leads you to the quick portage just above Triple Drop
- Triple Drop (V+). At low flows this is a much easier drop, as flows come up the second tier gets a large recirculating eddy that is harder and harder to paddle out of. Boof the right wall, and run down the center/left of the second tier, and the right of the third tier. The portage is up a chain on the left which is super nerve-racking. I carabineered in before I ascended.
Car Drop (V). One sorta junky rapid (started left, then exited right) leads you to a possible portage. Some portage from the top on the right using an old car to climb out on. Others run left before boofing in the middle and exiting in a precarious spot on the right. Others continue and run the super manky exit that is full of pin potential.
- Toxaway (V+). Most will portage on the right. The drop is huge and slams you into the wall at the bottom. At the right flows, folks do run it though, but there are two other portages in the gorge and those take about as long as portaging the whole thing does, so running it doesn't save time or effort. Some folks like to run the 8 footer directly above it, but seriously… why, it isn’t that great and feeds directly into the falls with no real eddy to speak of, and it does not actually save any effort on the portage. To portage from the top, climb up a small way before getting on a nice plateau. Walk across that, stay low around the first bit of brush and then start climbing up to the old dirt road. Follow this downriver until it hits the river again at a sweet 10 foot ledge.
The run then continues through the Bear Ranch section down to the Middle Fork.
Take-out: See the Bear Ranch write-up.
Put-in: Continue up Highway 198 for 1.5 miles to Mineral King Rd, turn right. Continue up until you see a trailer on the left. Park here. There is a trail that leads down to the river just behind the trailer, put in just below the sieved out rapid. If you get to the bridge, you went 200 yards too far.
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