Upper Cherry Put in - Beautiful place!! - Photo Josh Neilson
Sometimes things don't go exactly to plan. I had such good intentions to get back into kayaking in an orderly fashion after my surgery in January. The Dr said 3 months till flat water then another 3 till I could start getting on some rapids and building up from there. The first 3 months went past and i went kayaking on flat water for the first time which felt good. Then I left to start making my film and time to flatwater kayaking didn't really happen. I then decided after months of stretchy bands and other arduous exercises that id try out the mighty raft section on the American River which was rather successful with a bout of cheek cramp from smiling so much...
Then I left for Norway and motivation to kayak soon diminished due to the loss of a good friend to the river in Canada(love ya Si).
Upon returning to California I get myself back in a raft and did a bunch of rafting and the shoulder felt strong and got stronger and stronger due to 22 miles of class 3 and flatwater each day!!!
The thought was always in my mind that I could handle a run on upper Cherry Creek at a low flow and just walk all the big ones but with the season dragging on a lot i thought it wouldn't happen any time soon.. I woke up one morning to Dean saying something along the lines of "I just saw Tyler paddling past on an inflatable kayak and he said something about getting your gear together as we are going in to Upper Cherry tonight". I had predictions that it would still be high but couldn't miss an opportunity to ignite the injury comeback tour with 2 of my favorite paddling and general life homies Tyler and Lu!! SO I got on the phone and begged borrowed and bought everything I needed to make the 10-12 mile hike in and 2 days paddle out as successful as possible. Thanks Harvey and Nick for your gear!
So the departure time was 4.30 and by 6pm sharp we were rolling out the gates of Coloma central and on the rd to Cherry Lake! I was a little nervous and a lot excited! I announced that there would be a need for some serious celebration if the trip went well on the way home and some serious drowning of sorrows if it didn't!
With the drive and some sweet fast food under our belts we rolled in to cherry lake and met up with the rest of the NZ contingent for a briefing of what the plan would be for the next few days. We loaded out boats and attached our carry systems before setting the alarm for 5am and going to bed. And by bed I mean thermarest in the dirt by some cars in the woods..
Again with a departure time set, this time for 5.30am, we graciously stumbled up the hill with kayaks on our backs at 6.45 and got stuck in to 5.5hours of pain and suffering.
About half way in I threw a knee out and proceeded to hobble the last half trying to think about the pain on all the blisters rather than the knee falling off!! At the put in I realised that coming off the couch for 11 months and expecting to make fun of the hike in was rather stupidly optimistic but I made it none the less!!
Once I had slept in the small shadow of a pine for about 20 mins the rest of the crew arrived and we shared horror stories of our pain from the hike in and then go on the river. I portaged the first drop due to it being the biggest one of day one with no warm up and I wanted to test the waters before going too big too soon! Good decision or over cautious decision? Didnt matter! I was in one of the coolest places on earth with good friends and back in my kayak!
We made our way down stream knowing we had put on late and we needed to make some ground. The rapids on day 1 are pretty chill but an amazing place to be! The shoulder warmed up and the drops got better and better!!
We rolled in to a small island inhabited by about 9 other kayakers at about 6pm that night right above the crux gorge and decided to set camp for the night and dry out thermals by the fire.
Me on Cherry Bomb Falls - Photo Barney Young
Day 2 was a slow start as we lay in waiting for the sun to reach us at the bottom of the gorge. One by one we re packed our kayaks and made our way into the flow for the warm up gorge to Cherry Bomb. It wasnt till I was at the lip of Cherry Bomb Falls that I realised we had a bunch more water than Id seen it before. So much for a low water run to get back in the swing of things! My logic then switched and figured more water meant less likely to hit rocks so I was sweet!
While the crew scouted I signaled to fellow Kiwi, Barney Young and friend Charley who were in the ground in front of us to please run safety for me so I could then set safety for our crew at the base of the falls! A couple of strokes passed and I lined up the boof out of the eddy and onto the granite slide down cherry bomb. What a feeling! I slid fast and turned back right for the kicker. Friction was soon replaced with freefall flying through the air into the pool below and then a quick stroke or two and I was through the weir at the bottom!
A sequence of shots from Gopro footage heading down Cherry Bomb Falls
High fives were exchanged and I knew I was where I needed to be! Back in my kayak doing what I love!
The rest of the crew came down and had good lines! The highlight was seeing Matt Coles coming down, sticking his line perfectly for his first run ever and then celebrating every ounce of stoke he had in him in the eddy below! A pleasure to watch!!
At the bottom looking up at the beast that is Cherry Bomb!
The rest of the crew left us at the bottom of the gorge and camped another night while Tyler Lou Dave and I carried on to the lake. We ran everything apart from Kiwi in a Pocket and Dead Bear and made it out in good time!! Tired and battered we loaded the car and hightailed to Sonora for a much deserved 'Jack in the Box' eating fest because Sam Sutton would have wanted us too! I then kept my word about some celebrations on the drive home and while Lou felt unwell and tired and Tyler drove I opened a box of Coronas and yarned the whole way home beer in hand stoked to have a solid shoulder and a sweet crew to get back on the water with! Cheers to everyone who helped me with my shoulder, time off, rehab, and all the kayakers on the trip! I was stoked to be out with you guys!
Now I am enjoying a few more weeks in California and then back to NZ to start editing the film!