By Nick Wigston
Photos by Jen Ross
We have been driving around California for about two weeks now, paddling some of the steepest creeks in the state. It is July, so the snowmelt is trickling away. We spend some days driving to rivers only to find no water, while others are spent exploring some of the most beautiful granite canyons on earth.
After several weeks of sleeping on the ground, and paddling class V rivers every day, our energy levels are running low. The anticipation of running the next river on our list drives us on. For Sean, Jared, and me, expedition kayaking fuels our lives. Most people live to make money, buy a nice house, a nice car, and live in the suburbs. We live to kayak.
The time has come to put the icing on the cake. We are ready to take on the ultimate High Sierra creek. Upper Cherry Creek is a three-day expedition stacked with big waterfalls and long, fast granite water slides. Upper Cherry is at a perfect water level and not more than an hour from Yosemite, our current location. We load up the car and head for Cherry Lake, the take out for the creek.
We ride in silence as we think about our upcoming adventure. The rumors and horror stories of past trips run through our minds. There have been tales of long arduous hikes and portages, and stories of paddling through huge bare, smooth granite canyons, littered with big drops. We have been told stories of the infamous Cherry Bomb Gorge, whose steep walls and technical rapids allow no escape, except by river. The stories put a feeling of fear into all of us. It makes our stomachs feel like lead weights. Overcoming that fear by conquering an adventure so long and difficult sends a warm tremendous pride through oneís body. This pride drives us to attempt such journeys.
"I heard itís a pretty good hike to the put-in," says Jared with a sly grin.
"It canít be too bad since so many other people have done it," I say doubtfully.
"Letís get it done," exclaims Sean, "Iím not scared of a little hike."
We arrive at Cherry Lake, the take-out, midday on July 2nd. It is about 90 degrees out, perfect hiking weather. We find the trailhead and begin getting our rations together for the three-day expedition.
|The crux section on Upper Cherry Creek: Cherry Bomb gorge, with 40-foot Cherry Bomb Falls at the top.|
After a half hour of sweating in the California sun, we see a truck pull up. A couple of bearded, sun-baked paddlers look out the window at us. Surprisingly enough, Jared knows the driver.
"Are you guys going to run this?" he asks his friend.
"We just took out," Says the driver. "Canít you tell? You guys are in for the adventure of a lifetime. I hope you all have yak-packs because that hike will kick your ass if you donít."
"How far is it?" I ask.
"Twelve miles over that mountain," He replies. A look of distress crosses all of our faces. "Make sure you start early in the morning because it will take all day. Donít hike alone cause youíll get lost. When you get to a fork in the trail near a big granite hill, head to the right. Once youíre on the river, youíll run into a series of fast technical slides with big hydraulic holes. The river mellows out until you reach the first gorge. Thereís some good shit in there. When you reach a tree across the river, you are approaching Cherry Bomb Gorge. Get out on river left and scout the whole gorge. There is an amazing campsite at the base of the gorge. That is all I can tell you now."
After hearing details of the hike and the two days of extreme kayaking, we decided to get a good night sleep and begin our trek in the morning. We spend the rest of the day hanging out by the lake rigging our not so state of the art kayak carrying systems. I strap my snowboarding backpack to my boat and put it on my back so it sits sideways. The weight of the boat along with three days of gear is going to be painful. I walk around a bit to test out my new rig. I have to be careful not to hit any trees with the ends of my boat, which protrude three and a half feet to either side of me. I wonder if I will be too wide for the trail.
A few hours later, an injured character walks up from around the lake. Itís Forrest Noble with his arm in a sling and a huge grin on his face. "Hey guys," Says Forrest.
"What happened to you?" asks Jared.
"I ran the last thirty footer and dislocated my shoulder," says Forrest still with a big grin.
As we chat, Gary, Ethan, Gordon, and the rest of our crew from Colorado paddle up to the boat ramp. We hang out with them for a few hours listening to stories from their trip. We heard everything from how horrible the hike was to how sick the creek was to how beautiful the canyon and all of the gorges were. They told stories of carnage and near drownings, foot and shoulder injuries, and how much fun it really was. All these stories put fear into our hearts, but made us even more eager to start our own expedition.
As the sun slowly rises the next morning, we all know that it is time to start our journey. We pack our things and drive to the trailhead only to see our friends from Oregon, Eric, Ben, Brett and the Knight others. Everyone packs their gear in relative silence, anticipating the strenuous hike that lies ahead.
Day One: The 12-mile hike to the put in, through Styx Pass
I knew I had to get started with the hike or I would lag behind. I pick up my seventy-pound boat, which is precariously strapped to my backpack, and take the first of many steps on the way to the put-in. After a couple of miles I am still at the middle of the group. My shoulders are already in pain and I am starting to wonder if this was such a good idea. I see a nice tree to stand my boat against and take a rest with Devon and Ryan Knight. It seems like a good time to munch on the power bars I have in my snack bag. We sit, and eat, and we start to realize how long this hike is really going to be.
"Nick, where's your paddle?" asks Ryan.
"Itís right theÖÖwhere is it?" I reply. "I must have left it at the last rest stop." I immediately sprint back about a mile to where I last remembered having my paddle. I come around a corner and see it sitting there. I am now officially at the back of the line. I make it back to my boat and continue hiking. I am now alone and will be for the remainder of the hike.
The trail leads me up and over Styx Pass, and offers some of the most spectacular views in California. I look out from the top of the pass and see miles of naked granite domes speckled with trees. I can see Cherry Creek from here. It is far away. I can see a gorge containing several waterfalls. Though small they look, I know how big they will be when we are in there. I think I am about half way now, and my legs, back, neck, arms, stomach, and everything else attached to my body are all getting very fatigued. The end of my boat has been hitting me in the ankles for about four hours now, and I am starting to get very aggravated. "Why are you doing this to me?" I ask my boat. Gus answers by banging my heel once again. "Thatís it, one more time and I am going to throw you into the canyon." He hits my ankle once again. I donít come through with my threat. I just keep trucking, up, trying desperately to reach the top.
I finally reach the top of the peak only to see the top of the next peak. A feeling of defeat starts to creep up inside me. "Damnit Wigston, why are you doing this to yourself?" I ask myself.
"Itís going to be worth it. Just keep going," my conscience answers.
"This is the stupidest thing I have ever done," I say out loud. "There is no way any river could be worth this torture."
"Just keep going we are almost there."
"I sure hope so, because I am out of water, and Sean has the Iodine." At this point I had already filled my water bottle with water from a little stream I had found. I figured if I got Giardia, it wouldnít kick in for another two weeks. By then I would be home and it wouldnít matter, because I could just go to the doctor and get some drugs.
Just then I stumble on a sign that says "Cherry Spring". I look around and see a stream of muddy water. I follow the stream to its source and find a pipe sticking out of the ground with crystal clear water flowing abundantly from its mouth. Suddenly a feeling of hope comes over me. I am back in the game. I drink as much of the ice-cold spring water as I can, and get back on my feet and go.
After another mile or two, the trail finally begins its descent to the creek. A couple of hours later at the brink of nightfall, I come around a corner and I see the campfire in the distance. I scramble down the hill and paddle across the creek to meet my buddies. "We didnít know if you were going to make it," says Sean. "I bet Trey a six-pack."
"That I wouldnít make it?" I reply.
"You need to jump in the water. You are the dirtiest kid Iíve ever seen," Sean says.
After a much needed bath I join my friends at the campsite. "How long have you guys been here?" I ask.
"About four hours" says Eric. "Where are the rest of the guys?"
"The Knights and Brett arenít here yet. Are they behind you?" asks Eric.
"They were ahead of me a long time ago," I say. "They must have taken a wrong turn."
"I think theyíre lost, man," says Trey.
"They probably made it to the river further downstream. We will catch up to them in the morning," I say.
"Nick, do you have a lighter?" says Ben with a joint in his hand.
"You bet your ass I do," thrilled to finally be able to relax.
"Good, cause weíve been waiting for four hours for that lighter, I mean you, to get here."
Day Two: First Gorge to the campsite below Cherry Bomb Gorge.
As the sun comes up in the morning, everyone awakes to the bluest sky possible. I slowly lift my sore body off the ground, eat some oatmeal, and begin to get my gear together for the first day of paddling. As we begin downstream, we are immediately greeted by a steep section of fast granite water-slides with big holes. Eric signals to us from shore and we negotiate our way down the drops without scouting.
"Thatíll wake you up in the morning," I say to Sean after he gets surfed in a big hole at the base of a drop.
"No kidding, I hope the whole run is like this."
When we get to the bottom of the slides, everyone is pumped. The twelve-mile hike has become a thing of the past, and we are now focused on the amazing whitewater that awaits us downstream.
After miles of easy slides and drops, we arrive at the first gorge. All I see is huge granite domes sloping into the creek. The creek seems to drop off of the face of the earth down below. I paddle up to a horizon line, which looks like a big drop. I get out of my boat and take a look. The river constricts to about five feet wide and drops twenty-five feet over a gnarly, twisty, corkscrew-like waterfall. I signal to the rest of the crew that they need to scout.
Everyone looks at the drop, and several people start to portage around it. Andrew, Ben, Eric, and I are the only ones still looking. "Whoís going first?" I ask.
"Iíll go," Andrew says. A sigh of relief echoes from the rest of us.
Andrew gets in his boat while the others set up video cameras. I stand at the bottom with a throw rope. After he enters the drop, he immediately gets pinballed and slammed into the wall and flips over. "Oh shit," I say to myself with the throw rope ready. He rolls up in the pool below and smiles at me. Now it is my turn. My nerves are pumping as I look at the drop one last time. I get in my boat and tell myself what I need to do to stay upright. "Okay Wigston, paddle hard for the middle of the drop, launch off the lip and brace until you get to the bottom." I believe that I can do it. My nerves build up until I am at the lip of the drop. Now they are gone and I am in the rapid. Every move comes naturally until I reach the bottom. Upright! A huge smile grows on my face as I look up at my cheering friends. An indescribable feeling of great accomplishment comes over me. "I made it through," I think to myself. Eric and Ben both run through with good lines, and we move on to the next section.
After a couple miles of fairly easy rapids, we come across a fallen tree spanning the width of the river. After we slide over the tree, we see the river dropping into a tight gorge. "That must be Cherry Bomb," I say. Everyone gets out on river left to scout the entire gorge. Some of us carry our camping gear to the smooth granite beach that waits at the base of the gorge. This way we can paddle the gorge with light boats.
We hike to the top of the gorge and look down. I see a big crystal clear pool nestled between the gray walls. Just below the pool, the river drops over a forty-foot waterfall landing on a huge rock. "I guess we are walking that one," says Jared. Our eyes drift to the next drop below the waterfall. A slide, which looks to be about forty feet tall, leads into a fifteen-foot ski-jump landing in a small frothy cauldron. "Holy shit," says Sean. "It looks like it will send you flying into the wall on the other side."
"I think you have to land sideways so you donít smash into the wall," Jared declares with a smirk. "It looks sick. I think that is Cherry Bomb Falls"
An overhead view of Cherry Bomb Falls, a huge, difficult drop that guards the entrance to Cherry Bomb Gorge
We walk around the corner so we can see the rest of the gorge. The chasm reveals about ten consecutive drops that lay directly below Cherry Bomb Falls. Each drop looks to be between five and fifteen feet tall. All of them land in very strong hydraulics. The steep granite walls slope directly into the water. There is nowhere to get out of the river except at the end of the gorge. Having a person with a safety line would be impossible down there.
Silence has fallen over all of us as we study the rapids carefully. Everyone thinks over the possible consequences of making a mistake. "Each drop looks good to go," I say, to break the silence, "but once you are in, you are committed to the entire gorge. The smallest mistake would cause you to get sucked into one of those holes. You sure as hell wouldnít want to be swimming in there." No reply. This is the most challenging and committing section of whitewater that I have ever seen. I look around and see that everyone else is thinking the same thing. After a twelve-mile hike and six miles of challenging whitewater, my body feels pretty worn out. I donít feel like I have the strength to run the gorge today.
After looking at the gorge for a while, Sean, Jared, and I decide to wait until morning to make our decision. Eric, Ben, and Andrew make the call to run it now. Everyone else decides to portage due to the extreme danger of the gorge. The three troopers head up to their boats while the rest of us wait to watch them come through.
I walk down to the section just below the gorge only to find the most beautiful and perfect section of whitewater I have ever seen. There are about three amazing granite water slides followed by four beautiful twelve-foot waterfalls. Every drop lands in a teacup shaped pool carved out of the granite. I stand in awe as I realize that this is the river of my dreams. At the bottom of the last drop sits a very large pool. Alongside the pool is a granite beach the size of a baseball field. I run down to the beach, drop all of my gear, and collapse to the ground. I lie on the beach and relax for the next two hours.
As I lie on the beach, I begin to think about Cherry Bomb Gorge. I run through all of the drops in my head, trying to imagine myself in the gorge. For my first mental descent I run everything perfectly. I enter Cherry Bomb Falls fast and slightly sideways. I hit the launch ramp at the bottom and fly sideways into the churning pool below, landing right above the next hole. I charge over the hole and scramble into the eddy below. Now I exit the eddy and negotiate the next five drops without stopping. Left, then right, then down the middle, left and left again, I go over the correct lines in my head. Now there is another eddy to stop in. I catch my breath and continue down the next five drops.
I open my eyes and start to feel pretty confident in my ability to run the gorge in the morning. I see Eric, Ben, and Andrew pull up to the beach in their kayaks, having just completed the gorge. Eric walks up to me. "How was it?" I ask.
"That was the sickest thing I have ever done," he replies with enthusiasm, "That should be illegal."
"Did everyone have good lines?"
"Everyone styled it. I almost got sucked back into the hole before the falls, but I made it out in time."
"Iím glad you guys made it through okay. I have been sitting here daydreaming about running it for two hours."
"You should run it man..."
"We are going to look at it again in the morning and then decide."
As the evening progresses I continue thinking about Cherry Bomb. I develop a plan of action for conquering the gorge. I also come up with a plan B in case something goes wrong or I mess up one of the lines. It is nighttime and everyone is hanging out around the campfire. We all talk about yesterdayís hike and the whitewater events of today. We listen to Eric, Ben, and Andrewís story of Cherry Bomb Gorge. Jen, Jaredís girlfriend, has joined us by hiking up from the lake, so she is very interested in hearing the stories of the adventure so far.
Later Sean, Jared, and I get together and talk about our morning run. We go through the lines together to make sure everyone has them memorized. There is no way to scout the drops when you are in the gorge, so memorization is the only way. Sean and Jared are pretty optimistic about it, while I am beginning to psyche myself out. I begin to worry about the things that could go wrong. I think about getting stuck in a hole and having to swim and possibly drown.
"Donít worry so much Nick," Sean says to me. "Youíre solid, you can run that shit. You are going to stomp it tomorrow."
"I know I can run it, I am just tired and sore and I donít know if I have the strength."
"Just get a good night sleep and youíll be ready in the morning," Jared assures me.
"Youíre right," I reply with confidence. "Iíll be fine in there."
After a while we all get out our sleeping bags and go to bed. I find a sandy patch to sleep on thinking it will be soft. I realize an hour later that when sand packs down it is as hard as rock. This fact leads to an uncomfortable night and waking up with back, neck, and shoulder pain. While I sleep I dream all night about Cherry Bomb Gorge. In some dreams I have good lines and make it through unscathed, while in others I get worked in a hole and end up swimming.
I wake up with anticipation, and see that everyone is still asleep. "Sweet, I can sleep a little longer," I say to myself. I lie back down but never actually get back to sleep. Finally I get up and make some oatmeal for breakfast.
Slowly all of my friends rise. Sean, Jared, and I get our stuff together and hike up to take another look at the gorge. Sean and Jared seem excited but also nervous. I just feel nervous. We go through the lines again to make sure they are stuck in our heads. We hike up to the boats in silence. I am fighting back and forth with my conscience..
"I can do this. Itís not that hard."
"But I am so sore and tired, there are plenty more big drops downstream too."
"When am I going to get another chance to run this amazing gorge?"
"It isnít going anywhere, besides the rest of the creek is going to be just as good but a little less dangerous. All of the big waterfalls come later; I donít want to use up all of my energy in one gorge. I can walk around Cherry Bomb and run the perfect section below it. Then I will have the energy to run the big falls downstream."
"Maybe you're right," I say to myself.
We finally arrive at our boats. It is time to make the final decision.
"Are you guys going to run it?" I ask my buddies.
"Yeah," they both reply.
"I am going to walk it," I say as I make my final choice.
"Okay dude, but youíre going to miss out."
"I know, but I am not feeling one hundred percent, which is what I need for that gorge." I gather my gear together and start the mile long uphill portage. "See you guys at the bottom."
I carry my boat up to the top of the gorge to get a good view of my buddiesí run. I meet up with Jen who is taking pictures and Trey who is videotaping for his movie.
|Sean and Jared in Cherry Bomb Gorge
"Are they coming soon?" Jen asks me.
"They should be down any minute."
A few minutes later, Sean fires off the lip of Cherry Bomb Falls. He lands just above the hole and flips upside down. "Oh shit," I think to myself. He rolls up quickly, charges the hole and pulls over in the eddy below it. Soon after, Jared comes flying off the falls and joins Sean in the eddy.
A feeling of relief comes over me knowing that they made it. I am sure they are feeling the same way only they are probably pumping full of adrenaline.
They run the rest of the gorge with style, and I meet them at the bottom. When I get down to where they are waiting, they are both collapsed on the shore. They both have huge looks of exhaustion on their faces paired with ear-to-ear grins.
"That was SICK!" Sean exclaims to me. "You should have been there. I have never been so tired in my life."
"I can tell," I say back to him. "Are you ready to run the teacups?"
I gear up and we all slide into the river. We bomb down the first three slides in succession, and catch an eddy above the first drop. One at a time we run the perfect waterfalls.
I enter the first drop with speed and take a powerful stroke at the lip to launch my boat forward and land flat in the pool below. I soar into the air and drop twelve feet to the frothy pool below. I am filled with adrenaline.
"Nice boof," Jared yells over to me. We continue to boof the rest of the drops one after the other. We slide into the large pool at the bottom and look at each other. We all have huge smiles on our faces.
"That was awesome," I exclaim.
"SIIIIICK!" Yells Sean at the top of his lungs.
Jared Johnson gets huge air at Cherry Bomb Falls
I look around at the waterfalls and the huge granite domes and the crystal clear water, and I realize that this is the most spectacular place I have been in my whole life.
I start to think about people in the rest of the world. I realize that most of them are probably hung over at home, thinking about puking in the toilet from a hard Fourth of July the night before.
We are out here, a dayís hike from any form of civilization, running some of the toughest whitewater in the world. I become aware of how good a life I have. Most people only dream of days like this, and today is becoming the best day of my life.
We begin our descent of the next gorge and quickly find ourselves at the top of an abrupt horizon line. It looks like the river disappears down below. We all get out of our boats to see what lies below. It is a thirty-foot waterfall with a ledge jutting out about a quarter of the way down. It lands in a large pool with undercut walls on either side. The outwash from the falls pushes into the walls with a lot of force.
"This looks pretty sick," I say to Sean.
"Yeah, I think I am going to walk it. Are you going to run it?"
"I think so. It looks hard but I think I can do it. Letís watch some of the other guys run it before you decide."
"Whoís going first?" Jared asks.
"Iíll giveíer," says Ben.
He has a good clean line, so we all decide to run it. One at a time we descend the falls. When my turn comes, I look at it one last time, pick my route, and get in my boat.
I start to mentally prepare by telling myself what strokes to take and when. I peel out, take a few strokes to gain some speed to the lip, and I see the river disappear beneath me. My stomach takes a sharp jump into my chest as I plummet to the pool below. I dive deep into the water and resurface right side up. The outwash pushes me into the undercut wall on the left.
I spin myself around and paddle as hard as I can away from the wall. A feeling of excitement and rushing adrenaline overcomes me. I cannot stop smiling. I pull into the next eddy and get out of my boat to hold a safety rope for the rest of my crew.
Everyone goes one at a time and has clean lines. Most of them get pushed into the wall but no one has any trouble paddling out.
We all walk downstream a little to scout the next drop. Getting to the edge involves walking along a very steep granite slope. The only thing stopping us from falling forty feet into the river and swimming over a forty-footer is the friction between our shoes and the rock.
We all walk very carefully to get to the vantage point. I look down and see a very narrow, technical drop that leads into an undercut rock on the left. After the undercut, there is a twenty-five-foot waterfall that lands in a big granite pothole. There is a huge hole right at the lip of the drop. The water in the pool circulates behind the curtain of the falls at the bottom. Right after this drop, there is another fifteen-foot drop into a big wide pool. The end.
Sean and I look at each other. "Holy shit," I say. "This is the sickest drop I have ever seen." We begin looking for a place to portage. "The portage looks impossible. Weíll probably slip and fall into the river if we are carrying our boats around this. Letís run it."
"Okay, you first," he says.
Jared Johnson runs the thirty footer
We walk back up to our boats, get in, and run it one at a time. I approach the technical entrance drop and maneuver past the undercut rock, paddle hard to punch the hole as far left as possible, see the top of the big drop, dive deep into the pool, resurface, and paddle quickly off the fifteen footer and into the pool below.
"Whoooooohooo," I yell as loud as I can as I turn around to watch Sean, Jared, and the rest of the crew come down. I get out of my boat and walk up on shore to hold safety for my friends. They run the "double drop" one at a time, each having his own exciting line.
Finally, it is Ericís turn. He goes into the entrance drop and runs into the undercut rock. He flips upside down and floats toward the waterfall. "Oh shit," I think to myself as I get my throwrope ready. Eric rolls up right at the lip of the falls.
He goes through the middle of the hole and dives deep into the pool. He resurfaces behind the curtain. Everyone is frantically trying to get closer to him so we can throw a rope to him. A second later he paddles out from behind the waterfall.
He gets spun around a bit in the pothole and eventually charges his way out and over the next drop and into the pool below. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief for Eric being okay.
At this point everyone is high on an adrenaline buzz. We all have illegal smiles on our faces and canít wait to see what is next. We scout the next gorge, which is laced with beautiful teacup waterfalls. Everyone runs through the teacups until we reach another thirty footer.
This drop has a dangerous recirculating hole at the bottom of it so everyone except Ben, Ryan, and Devon decide to portage. The three of them run it with clean lines. We stop at the end of our portage to eat lunch and enjoy the perfect day.
Jared Johnson runs the large double drop
After lunch we continue down the river. There are several miles of easy rapids and flatwater until we reach the final gorge. The final gorge is supposed to be the easiest of all the gorges so we are not too worried. We run this gorge in two groups.
Sean, Jared, and I compose one group, and we go a few minutes after the other guys. Most of the drops in the last gorge are fairly easy and donít usually require scouting. We arrive at a drop that looks pretty small and narrow. We can see the other crew below, and Devon signals us to walk the rapid. It looks small and friendly, and we canít figure out why he told us to walk it.
Sean paddles up a little closer to the drop to try to see what it is all about, when his boat suddenly gets sucked under a rock. He is holding onto the rock to keep himself from getting pulled into the sieve. He looks at me with an expression of panic on his face. He knows and I know that if he gets sucked under the sieve, he may never come out. I pull into the eddy above him and jump out of my boat while Jared charges up onto the rock that he is stuck on. We run out to Sean and grab him. We pull him out of his boat just as it is sucked into the sieve. His boat surfaces in the pool below.
"Jesus Christ that was close," I say. "Youíre lucky we got you out when we did."
"Yeah, I couldnít hold on much longer. You guys saved my life."
"Thatís twice Iíve saved you," says Jared referring to a trip from the year before.
We all sit on the rock for a minute and regain our composure. The thought of almost losing Sean sends a chill down my spine. We get back in our boats and collect Seanís boat and paddle from the pool below. As much as we would like to sit and relax for a while after such a scary experience, it is important that we keep going so we can make it to the lake before dark.
We continue down river to reach the take out. Finally we get to the final section of rapids. We pull up to the lip of a drop and see the lake about a half-mile down below.
"Weíre almost there," I say. "Letís bomb down this section and be done with it."
Jared Johnson enters the Teacups Gorge below Double Drop
I get out and scout the first drop. It is an easy twenty footer so I signal to Sean and Jared to go off the middle. They both go and I follow. Sean gets out to scout the next drop. He tells us to start left and drive hard right off the drop.
Both Jared and I have good lines and wait in the pool below for Sean to come through. The eddy that he used to get out and scout the drop for us was so close to the lip of the drop that he doesnít have enough room to gain the speed necessary to run the rapid. He comes over the lip and dives deep into the hole below. When he resurfaces he is in a cave behind the drop. He is being circulated in the hole and canít get out because it is enclosed on three sides. He is trapped in there under water.
"Jared, try to get to him through the backside of the cave and I will get out over here and throw him a rope!"
I pull up to the steep granite wall on the river right shore. I jump out of my boat and try to climb up the wall. The smooth granite causes me to slip back into the water. My boat is floating away downstream and I begin clawing my way up the rock. I slip in the water again. I look over and Sean is still in the cave.
"Hurry Wigston!!!" I say to myself. Finally I find a ledge that I can stand up on. I get on it and immediately pull out my throwrope, and before I can throw it, Sean comes swimming out of the cave. I pull him onto shore. He gets out of the river and coughs up some water. He looks me right in the eye, and I see the desperation in him.
"I thought that was the end man," he says to me with complete exhaustion. "I thought it had me."
I feel tears in my eyes. "Letís get the fuck out of here."
As we hike down to the lake I begin to think. This was the first time I was seriously scared for my friendís life. I knew his life was in danger and no matter how hard I tried there was nothing I could do about it. I couldnít save him. I begin thinking of what I could have done differently so that I could have saved him. We were all affected by this experience.
Being so close to death made us appreciate life. We started to think about why we are doing things that are so risky. Is it worth it to risk our lives like this? The more I think about it, the more I realize that it is the risk that attracts us to these adventures. The possibility and the fear of something happening are what drive us to these extremes. Conquering the fear of danger and completing the mission is the best satisfaction of all. I canít live my life worrying about death. That wouldnít be living.
A long-range view of the Teacups Gorge below Double Drop, which is visible in the background.
Footage of this descent and many other great runs can be found in the classic video, The White Album. The White Album features many Colorado kayakers and includes one of the best carnage sections ever. You can purchase the White Album for under 20 bucks at: http://www.ologyproductions.com/
Editor's Note: The White Album video trailer on the ology website has some pretty incredible footage, including Jared's Cherry Bomb Falls run featured on this page, and lots of other stuff. This video looks good!