Whispers of a big mission into the Grand Canyon of the Toulumne had been circling around crews in California for a few years now. A year ago, I got the invite from good paddling buddies – Cully Thomas and Macy Burnham. That year, they hoofed in and scouted out the canyon, returning with a solid report of some “next level whitewater”. Fast forward to this spring, conditions and crew were spot on and we pulled the trigger. Starting late at night, we promptly took off in the wrong direction for an hour. Fun times. After figuring out we were definitely not on the right trail, we re-cooped and took off over Mule Pass. Passing out in the middle of the trail, we awoke to the beautiful East slope of the Sierras and daunting peaks full of snow.
False summit after false summit, we finally arrived to the base of the Mule Pass. The post-holing and vertical climbing wasn’t for the faint of heart. Then off in the distance was a figure of man scaling down the pass with obvious and impressive skill. He walked over to us and introduced himself as a member of the ground support for the 1st descent of the Middle Kings. He then proceeded to say that it was going to be tough, but we could make it over the pass and into the canyon. Revitalized after that ironic brush with destiny and motivating beta, we then dredged up the steep incline for the remainder of the day. With the sun setting, the mosquitos hatched and we were running into camp trying to escaping their brutal wrath. Everyone was exhausted and knew that tomorrow’s Slide Canyon would not let us through easily.
Sore and worn down, the team arose to the first large portage of many. This happened to be the most unique portage I have ever done though. It was a massive landslide that careened down into Piute Creek and up the other side of the canyon! After some technical walking we finally got around the slide and into river where we could start our “boating” part of the mission.
Day 1 of paddling (day two of the trip) started off promising with small bedrock slides, but turned into a pile of boulders for miles. Many many portages later, the paddlers and ground team all arrived at our milestone, Benson Lake. Hustling out of sight and across the lake, we camped near the outflow of the lake and settled down for the first good sleep of the trip.
Morning trout fishing and a beautiful lake paddle, we exited the lake into granite wonderland. Everyone was giddy as we were finally on some quality Cali whitewater. Just what we were looking for! The whole day was really quality and our high flow proved to be just right in the open granite sections. Dodging rangers and other campers, we pulled into Pleasant Valley. Pleasant Valley was a snaking meadow of beautiful, crystal clear waters full of mother mosquitos. We climbed high out the canyon, to yet again, escape the swarms. After 4 full days of brutal “expedition boating” we had a long group talk about continuing downstream into Piute’s final plunges or hiking out of the trial that ran through camp.
After some contemplation, we decided that regardless of the high flow or steep gradient, we still wanted to check out the final canyons. Day five started out just like we knew it would…with our boats on our shoulders. But we all didn’t expect to portage for the entire day! That’s exactly what ended up happening as we rappelled and bashed through manzanita for a solid 12 hours. Thankfully there were small water breaks and plenty of food to go around, re-charging some very beaten souls. All of our hard work payed off in the form of more sick camping and scenery (theme of the trip). We camped, perched on the side of Piute Creek Cascades, with a view of the Grand Canyon of the Toulumne downstream…our goal for the following day.
The final morning, we literally rolled out of sleeping bags and slid into the water sliding down about 100 feet of gradient. A nice wake up for sure! But the slip-n-slide was short lived, and we found ourselves hiking yet again, past boulder choke. After the confluence with the GC of the T, we hustled through a couple miles of really nice whitewater and chilled out for a few hours while waiting for the sun to set. Special thanks to the ground support team and the crew for making this one happen. Quite the epic adventure!