Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pushing the Comfort Zone in Tuolumne, Sept 10-11

A large group of us were fortunate enough to have 3 campsites, thanks to Justin for reserving them.  Scott bailed last minute, and I was left contemplating an early night to bed at home in San Francisco or taking a right hand turn at 92 on the way home from work.  The thoughts of some Tuolumne dome climbing and packrafting got the best of me, and I settled in for the 4.5 hours of road time.  I stopped in Oakdale for some food, and pushed it to the campground, arriving when people were still awake.

The weather forecast for the weekend was iffy at best, and was the basis for Scott not coming along.  Regardless, we headed out Saturday morning to climb on Northwest Books (5.6) on Lembert Dome.  Unfortunately, there were incredibly slow people ahead of us, who appeared to also be rather inexperienced due to them leaving a stuck link cam in what was a stupid and expensive mistake.  Warren and I eventually roped up with uncertain weather looming above.  This was his first trad climb, but he is a very solid climber, so I wasn't worried in the least.  However, at the top of the second pitch, thunder did jostle me, and I yelled down for him to hurry up (with some expletives in there for good measure).  We finished and were on the ground just as the rain started, which luckily didn't last long.  We headed to Low Profile Dome, partially due to the fact I have wanted to try Golfer's Route (5.7), but also because the climbs there have easy retreats.  I started up Golfer's, made it through 90 feet of sweet knob pulling with minimal protection, and the clouds rolled in angry and ready to spit.  We bailed and retreated to the car with a massive hail storm close on its heels, leaving Tyndall and Kenny without climbing a single pitch all day.  Dinner was calling us, so we drove to Saddlebag lake to leave a note to the other group that we were going to The Mobile.  I love the food there, enough so that I bought a silly "The Mobile" tshirt.

Day two.  Bring on the packrafting and more shitty weather.  Justin and I packed up the rafts and everyone else, and headed to Lyell Canyon to hike up and "float" down.  You'll see why "float" is in quotes soon enough.  Everyone was a bit slow for our tastes, so we blasted ahead, hiking 5 miles or so, scoping the whitewater as we went.  We noted 4 critical no goes, namely what I'll call "Big Tree Across the Water", "Sand Island Next to Real Island", "Bridge" and "Campground".  Besides those, there were a variety of nice drops, slides, and chutes to play with, but many areas appeared to be rather shallow.

Shit the water was cold when we put in.  Immediately, we hit some class I+ waves and a nice deep water float afterward.  That was not to last, and soon enough we were dragging our asses and expensive boats on thankfully smooth granite boulders.  I laughed after the first section of getting extricating ourselves from the boats to drag them along in the middle of the river.  Justin wasn't wet at all while I was soaked!  Well, that wasn't to last either as it started raining and the temperature dropped to the high 40s.  The butt dragging continued and our worries of ruining our boats were replaced with fears of hypothermia.

The first major rapid came as a 3 foot drop.  I was in lead and nervous, but paddled strong and felt a good rush I was took the plunge.  Not too bad.  Justin followed without issue.  Then, it was more butt dragging, furious paddling, pushing rocks, standing and dragging, and portages.  Ah, portages.  We had lots of those, and lots of removing packs from rafts, and reattaching them.  Towards the end, we got lazy with said portages, and would just drag the boats with our packs attached.  We hit a few more nice rapids with some scoping involved, namely a few nice steep drops with good pools below, and a long slide without much water.  We hit all of our mandatory portages around dangerous rapids, and as we approached the campground, the misery really set in.  One last major rapid (a sharp left turn with some nice volume coming off some rocks) left my boat filled to the brim with water.  I was done.  We tried to laugh as we played with various techniques for lifting our butts off the water, which involved laying down on the raft to distribute weight.  The truth of the matter was, this sucked.  Ok, it was type 2 fun, and I had a blast, but as we portaged one last time, I know we both felt like badasses for doing a rare (not allowed) descent of a river.

I crashed hard as I waited for Justin to figure out if Erica and Dave were still there.  I got very cold and started shivering, and was generally angry at myself for walking to the trailhead.  Justin said I had a blank stare on my face and looked like death.  Luckily, they made room in the car to drive me back to the campground where I quickly, and systematically threw my wet crap in the car.   I pounded an immense quantity of junk food while blasting the heat in my car as I drove back to San Francisco.  After an hour or so, I started to feel human again, and started thinking about the damage I did to my poor packraft.  Luckily, it was left mainly unscathed, except for a few dings in the bottom, one of which was likely the "screwdriver effect" when I was stuck spinning on a sharp rock.  Damn, these boats are durable! 


  1. I've hiked Lyell Canyon a few times and thought about kayaking the river. Thanks for the info: sounds too shallow in too many spots.
    Do you think it would be easier to float down on inflatable mattress? Are the rapids easy enough to spot and avoid as you approach them?

  2. Hi Robert,
    We rafted it on our inflatable packrafts, which certainly didn't keep us from dragging on the rocks. Maybe some other inflatable thing like a mattress would work? Now would be the time to check when the water is higher, but who knows what state the rapids are in.

    You can definitely scout all the rapids while approaching, which is what we did. One thing to keep in mind is that boating is not allowed on this particular section of the river, so be prepared to have to avoid park officials!

  3. Thanks for the feedback! Ultimately the water was high enough, but too fast flowing to be safe on just an inflatable mattress. Some people working there said they'd tubed down the river on the north side of the hwy, so we might try that next time!