The Cherry Creek run on the Toulumne has a well deserved reputation for being difficult. It is the hardest run in CA that is run by by commercial raft companies. Landon Lipke, manager of River Store in Lotus, CA, calls it the Class V proving grounds.
I’ve been paddling a lot the last few seasons, working my way up through harder runs. I was nervous about Cherry Creek, but felt strong, and I was excited to catch it on the last weekend they were going to be releasing water.
I headed up friday night, pretty late, pulling into primative campsite and finding Jeff, Ryan and Jillian had just arrived. I’d run into this crew a few times over the last year, but hadn’t actually paddled with them. They were planning on rafting CC. We chatted for a bit, then crashed.
Early morning start, drop a car in the campground at Merals Pool on the Toulumne, and then on to the put in. Sort the gear. It’s the day of the Cherry Creek race, and I see quite a few familiar faces, people I know, and a few that I recognize from magazines and videos. We put in and headed down river. It’s only 2 miles until we get into the action, with a IV+/V- rapid. For the next 5+ miles, it’s nearly constant class V action, with few breaks, and pretty much every rapid offereing excitement and challange. We get out to scout Mushroom, and then I hop in my boat and run it. After running it, I stop and watch others, watching some poor guy take the worst beatdown I’ve ever seen in person. He slips into one hole, gets hammered, finally gets out, just to slide into another, gets hammered again, finally gets out, only to find himself faceplanted against a huge rock, sliding down it into a third big hole, where he goes round and round for many minutes before finally swimming out. Luckily/amazingly he was ok. I was glad I’d already run the rapid. Had I watched him go I might well have portaged.

(Unfortuantely, my camera flooded sometime after mushroom, meaning I got very few pictures. Luckily, I was able to dry it out and it appears to be working perfectly )

Although good paddlers, the rafters I was with were feeling in a bit over their head. After a scary swim, Jill decided to hike out. Jeff and Ryan made the same decision a short while later. I was able to hook up with some other paddlers, and continued down the run. Hard, but fun. I did walk two rapids, Flatrock and Lumsden Falls. Flatrock looked do able, and with a better safety crew I would have run it. Lumsden I’m not so sure about. Maybe. I’d need to see someone else run it first. It is burly. BURLY

Most of the rest of the run was pretty casual, with only one Class IV drop, and I’m back in camp. There is a rocking party going on, I have a beer and a sandwich, but I’m pretty tired from my week so I mostly chill out in the campground. Jeff, Ryan and Jill all made it back safely, but Jeff is pretty bummed to have left his $3000 raft upstream, and I think feeling a bit down about underestimating the river. We eat dinner and fall asleep to the sound of thumping techno music.

Sunday I volunteer to hike back in and get the raft out. We hike up the road, down a steep hill, and swim across the river. As planned, we’re here before the water level rises, but we know it’ll catch us soon, so we start getting the raft down. We line the raft where we can, pick it up and carry it, paddle a few spots. It’s tough, hard work, but we get it done, and an hour or two later we’re at Lumpsden, just as the water starts to rise. We paddle the last few miles. At that point I’d pretty much written off my day for paddling. It would be too late to get on Cherry Creek again, and I figured most paddlers on the Toulumne would have already headed downstream, but as we got to Meral’s Pool, I saw four kayakers getting in the water. Funnily enough, I knew 2 of them, one through surf contests who I’d never even seen on the river. They agreed to wait for ten minutes while I grabbed my boat, and I ended up paddling the T with them. Fun stuff and an uneventful run. I’ll admit to be being pretty tired sunday night, after Cherry Creek sat, carrying out a raft, and paddling 20+ miles!!

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