Welcome to California
land of the sieve, please boat carefully

I've had California dreams for quite a while now and after teaching a class in San Francisco, I was pretty stoked to meet up with some friends and fire up my first granite whitewater.After the class I made a brief detour over to Zion to do some sick canyoneering and then back to the North Fork of the American River where I met up with my buddy Bryant Burkhardt for a run on the Chamberlain Falls section.   There are two kinds of class 4,  there is class 4 with hard moves but not so bad consequences, and there is class 4 with easy moves but horrific consequences.   Chamberlains is absolutely the latter.  Sieves, keeper holes, and pin spots abound.   People die here, not often, but it happens.  

Luckily I just bought a shiny new Jefe and I'm feeling pretty invincible in it. 

The only problem?  I haven't been in my boat in 2 weeks, which is an eternity for me.  I peel out feeling pretty solid,  and drift casually toward the pillow coming off the first big rock in the first big rapid.  The water is so silvery, so beautiful.  Nonchalantly I ride slightly onto the pillow AND IT GRABS ME!  Before I can say WTF? I'm getting sucked around the wrong side of the rock with a sieve visible just downstream.   I crank out of the tight spot and back into the main flow, feeling pretty shaken.   Confidence doesn't paddle the boat, skills and muscles do, and I've been letting mine slack off.

Bryant gives me the beta at every major rapid, generally, it goes like this: "Eddy out on the right, drive left, then back to right.  If you miss the drive there is either a: a bad pin spot someone died in, or b: a sieve someone died in."   None of the moves were hard, but that sort of beta definitely makes your gonads tingle a bit.  Bryant was really chill about it all, and I can only imagine that cali boaters think about sieves the same way we think about wood.  Sure, it's dangerous, but you see it so much it's just not as freaky and maybe it ought to be.

Chamberlains tumbles down a steep deep granite canyon that is very beautiful.   The first mile or two felt like about 75 feet per mile, with several very good drops, including Chamberlain falls.   The falls looked so easy... and of course I got munched.   I flipped in the cross currents and had a really hard time rolling up on the grabby eddylines below.  It felt like someone was literally grabbing at my paddle and trying to pull it down.  One of those rolls where you take a big loud breath when you finally pop up.  

I made the stupid mistake of taking video (which I will never use, ever) instead of taking pictures so I don't really have much of the run shown at all.   This is a classic typical rapid on the run.   On this one you had to drop through a hole on the far side of the river, spin, ferry against the current mid rapid, behind the boulder, turn, and then run this side, threading between two pin spots.   And if you didn't make the ferry?  A really awful looking chute called the toaster slot, which was the best option.  A little right of the toaster slot and you could drop into the pin spot of certain doom.   Bryant says: "we came back with a comealong and we still couldn't get the boat out of there."  Eeek.    Like I said, easy moves, horrible consequences.

The granite boulders in here, and throughout the Sierras are fascinating.

These boulders also make for some deceptively sticky water.   I ran this ledge after Bryant.   I had a ton of speed and boofed like there were pit vipers below me,  landing slightly off balance my stern started sinking back into the hole.   Alarm bells went off in my brain and I did something I haven't done before,  I leaned out away from the hole all the way over on my side and started just grabbing water, saying out loud "No, no, no, no!"  (which must have been hillarious).   Sculling and drawing like a madman  I managed to pry my way out of the hole, instantly I hit a wave train, flipped, and rolled up just in time to go backwards through a narrow slot between two boulders finishing the whole thing off with a nice deep brace.  Whew!

Even though I was boating like a total spaz that day,  I really enjoyed my first ever California Sierra river and can't wait to come back and do more.  Thanks Bryant for showing me the lines.

Bryant Burkhardt is a lead instructor for California Canoe and Kayak, former US National kayak polo team player,  and paddling videographer,  visit his blog Paddle California

Bonus photo:  Speaking of boating like a spaz,  the next day I ran the Pilsbury run on the Eel river at floodstage.   Very much a class 3, even at this level,  I managed to get weird on this one too.   In the final rapid I picked a line where I was going to try to drive hard between two lined up holes to miss the bottom one, shown here.   You can see the top hole on my right, which I did miss.  A second after this photo was snapped I was driving right and thought I was totally in the clear.  Not!  I drifted over what I thought was a wave only to look straight down into the deepest meatiest part of the hole.   I fired up the afterburners and hit it with everything I had,  made it to the top of the pile and just as I thought I was through,  it literally threw me back into the pit, where I proceeded to bounce wildly like a piecc of popcorn,  somehow never flipping over.   I remember being in there, seeing all that brown water rushing under me and thinking:  "If I flip it's gonna rip my arms right off!"   Luckily I bounced right into the outflow.   Thats about the worst line you could take through this rapid!  Good times.   Thanks to Jeff of Liquid Fusion Kayaks for doing the run with me.    I can't wait to get back to Cali when I'm feeling a little more solid!

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