Kern and Beyond
by dustin sturges
Well, the road has been long; but despite my efforts to fight it, the road has finally brought me back home.
The Kern River was spectacular, although the actual kayak festival was sort of a bust. I was told that the festival was Saturday, so I showed up Friday night just to catch the finals of the freestyle event.
We sat under the floodlights and steady rain, until local kayaker Ben Selznick had his run and retreated into the nearest Mexican restaurant. (he made the top twelve but didn’t win) There were a bunch of hoodlums from PC that I hadn’t seen for awhile; dinner was nice.
As always, I was getting advice about who I should and shouldn’t follow the next day, and which rivers I had no business being on. I missed the advice that my friend’s thirty-foot-waterfall running girlfriend usually gives me: “Don’t be such a pussy! I’m doing it.”
I ended up settling on Brush Creek, a tributary of the Kern. It was supposed to be a total “Disneyland ride,” and it sounded pretty nice to me.
We were all up at the crack of noon, and arrived at the river shortly after. I could see that this might not be so Disney after all from the looks of the take-out—but what the hell, every one else was doing it.
The mountains around the little town of Kernsville are interesting. They look pretty much like vertical desert. As we drove up through the sage and cactus on a windy, little road toward the put-in, I could see the river. It didn’t look that bad—as long as we weren’t any further away than I thought we were. At the put-in, we geared up and started to hike down. I got one last kiss and a “try not to kill yourself” from my wife.
When we got to the river, I was sweating bullets—and not just from the sun beating down on my drytop. Brush creek drops something like two hundred feet in two miles. STEEP SHIT. We all went in order with me in the middle (although if something went wrong there wasn’t much anyone could do about it).
After the initial drop, kind of a granite waterslide, the cliff walls of the canyon rose steeply making retreat impossible. I was having a ball, bouncing off of the walls and being shot off waterfalls up to five feet high. There was no room for error, literally. Where the creek was wide enough to tip over, it wasn’t deep enough to get all the way under; where it was deep, it was so narrow that you just hung on and let the river have it’s big, hairy way with you.
About the sixth time we stopped to scout, we came upon a fifteen-foot waterfall. Everything funneled into it and there was no way around. As I sat there wondering how difficult it would be to scale the hundred-foot cliff and trek back to the road, Billy got into his boat and was shot off of the edge. It didn’t look that bad, but Bill makes everything look easy. I was still pretty stressed. I went back to the eddy we had stopped in. As I got there I guess I looked pretty rough because a friend asked if I was OK.
“I’m fucking terrified! Of course I’m OK.” I snapped at him. Seeing that there was no way around it, I decided to get it over with as quick as possible. I got into my boat, pointed down stream and let her rip. I’ll admit that it would be pretty difficult to screw up, but I was still very proud of my one point landing and subsequent resurfacing. The rest of the run went just as smoothly. I had almost stopped shaking by the time it was over.
We stayed at the Kern for a few more days and I ran Brush Creek a bunch more times. It was a blast. When all was said and done, we said our good-byes and scattered across the west. I will have to go back next spring. As I said before though, I am, for the time being, firmly planted back in good ol’ PC.