Firsts on Cherry Creek

On these rainy days in the office on the American River, we (the few who spend the winter here) often start to think about the adventures of the past seasons. And while we had many spanning through the spring, summer and fall, the peak of adrenaline and challenge was (for myself and several others) undoubtedly achieved on the Upper Tuolumne River, also known as Cherry Creek. This 8.6 miles class V run is considered by most as the most difficult commercially run stretch of river in the country. With an average elevation drop of 105 feet per mile include the “miracle mile,” which drops 200 feet, it’s easy to see why.

The leader of our group was Aaron Root, a solid class V boater with fantastically wild lampchop sideburns that would easily win the blue ribbon in any county (if there were such a category at the fair; I wish there were). In his boat were three of the Malode ladies; there was Sarah Shakal (aka, The Shock) who had only been on the run once before; Colleen Hardiman and Mary Maliff, who had never been on the run. Kayaking along with us was Suzie Jaques, and it was also her first time kayaking Cherry Creek. In my boat were a few of the Malode dudes: Lindsey Gulyas and Kyle Gordon (The Texan), as well as Angelo Munoz Rios (a Chilean guide newly arrived in California), all of whom had never been on the run. Oh yeah, I had only been on it once before too, and had never guided it.

The first time I rafted Cherry Creek few years before, our boat ended up flipping twice and flat-wrapping once so badly that we had to bust on the ropes and pulleys, so I already had a little anxiety going into the trip. When we woke up the morning of the trip at Meral’s Pool and our other guide still hadn’t shown up, my stomach shrank as I realized I’d have to guide it. As we began the routine of rigging though, I began to feel less nervous and actually started anticipating the opportunity. Then I got nervous again as we rigged the flip lines. Then calm again. Then scared. Then Excited…ad infintum, until we slid the boats down to the river’s edge. Then it was time to, as the battle-cry of the summer went, “Fire it up!”

The first few miles of Cherry Creek are sort of a warm-up, with some decent class IV drops and boulder gardens. Aaron would look over his shoulder and holler directions if he felt it necessary, and then we’d plunge into the rapid. We all felt good and for the most part in sync with one another so far; woots and paddle high fives galore were happening everywhere, as well as more personalized celebrations. Angelo made a habit of sticking his tongue out really far and then shaking his head from side to side so fast that his tongue jiggled, all this while still excitedly wooting. Lindsey’s celebration was to rock in his seat like a psych patient and beat on his knees with his fists still white knuckled and gripping the paddle blade. Kyle, recently having become obsessed with the movie Into the Wild shouted, “I’m Alexander Supertramp!” twenty-seven times that day.

Near mile 2, we came to our first class V rapid, Guillotine, which we stomped through fairly easily. Up next, was corkscrew, which has a huge undercut rock near the exit on the left. Now, guiding in a raft full of raft guides is great in a lot of respects, don’t get me wrong. But there are some downsides. All guides want to be in control; in fact, it’s sort of their auto-pilot mode. So having to listen and then actually carry out the commands coming from another person, even if it’s someone they know and trust, is sort of, well, impossible. What I’m getting at is, Angelo was starting to freelance, to throw in his own strokes that I wasn’t calling out. It ended up helping us on this rapid, and we cleared the undercut with no problems, so no one said anything. But up next was Jawbone, a more technical boulder garden with some decent drops. We were all still juiced and made the moves we needed to make, but it was a fight. Then we pulled over to scout one of the most difficult rapids, Mushroom.

Getting a good vantage point we watched Aaron take his boat through, but not easily, bumping along the guard rocks at the top and just barely making the move far right before ferrying as hard as possible back to the left toward a huge upstream pillow coming off the mushroom rock, which they ended up riding up on, tipping the boat like a bath toy, but not flipping it, and all of them were able to stay in the boat. By this time, two other boats who had been running with us entered the rapid, one of which got swept to the far left and pinned in the guard rocks. After a lot of shifting bodies around and tugging, they got it free and made it over the pillow, their guide getting launched all the way into the front seats and landing on the back of one of his paddlers. We ended up going through last. We decided after we watched the third boat to back-paddle through the move to the right so we’d be facing the left hand shore and wouldn’t have to spin the boat to make that move. It ended up working beautifully, and we got all the way across to the far left of the mushroom rock. We were nearly dancing in our boat after we exited the final drop smoothly.

Almost immediately after Mushroom, is another big class V rapid, Toadstool. Aaron was yelling the directions to us but it was getting hard to hear him because he was actually losing his voice. We decided to just follow them as best we could. After sliding thro
ugh the first hydraulic though we saw to our horror that they’d been sucked into a strong eddy just above a big drop into a huge muncher of a hole. It might have been a bit easier to get out of that eddy if there was only one boat in there, but with us following Aaron in, there was hardly room to maneuver, every time we tried to exit the upstream end we be pushed into his boat stubbornly. Finally on the fourth try we made just far enough back into the current so as not to be sucked back into the eddy. The problem was we rode up the boulder on the left side of the drop sideways. All of us leaped to the high side. The boat stood completely vertical on its right tube. We felt it wobble in it’s precarious balance, like a child learning to ride a bicycle, as it slid down into the hole. It happened too fast for me to think about if we were actually going to swim and what the swim in that monster hole would be like; all we really know is that we landed right side up. We looked up and heard cheers and holy expletives. I could hardly believe it.

We rode our triumphant wave through the next big rapid, Catapult, and then found ourselves quickly heading into the “Miracle Mile”. Aaron’s voice was almost completely gone by now, and all he was able to say was, “keep it up, it’s read and run for the next mile.” Everyone paddled their hearts and lungs out through Gar’s Lunch, Blind Faith and Coffin Rock. I cursed the bluest streak imaginable trying to steer our boat through some of the boulder gardens; all my friends on the raft agreed that I must have temporarily summoned some ill-fortuned sailor from beyond the grave. By the time we reached the next eddy above Sky King we were exhausted but happy and swigged as much water as we could in preparation for the next set of rapids. Sky King went much better than the last time (this was where our first flip happened on my first visit to Cherry Creek), and we headed into the next set, where one boat wrapped badly in the first boulder garden, and our boat nearly ran over a friend who was kayaking at Christmas Tree Hole.

The next big rapids were Airplane Turn, where just after the drop, another of the boats running with us wrapped. Lewis’ Leap, which has a huge drop in the center of the rapid that you have to ferry hard left while passing around a set of shallow wrap rocks. We made the move and made the drop, which I thought felt like the biggest drop on the run. By this point I was so tired that I wanted to trade out guiding, having finished the hardest rapids, but everyone wanted me to keep going; Angelo said it best, “todo o nada.”

We completed the portages of Flat Rock Falls and Lumsden, the latter of which Aaron made much easier by solo-paddling all four boats down, only one of which flipped; what a beast!

We bumped and grinded down the remaining class IV section, to the end of our run at Meral’s Pool, where camp and a well deserved rest awaited us. We gave one more exhausted cheer as we pulled into the eddy. As we lay in the boat after changing out of our sweaty dry tops and thermals, we were already talking about coming back to run Cherry Creek again.

Lowering Our Carbon Emissions!

Jan 2009 Greenhouse Action Plan Progress Report.
In 2008, the GAP helped bring about many changes around camp here on the American River, and we are happy to report a significant reduction in total carbon emissions per guest (people who stayed but did not participate in our whitewater rafting, ropes course or other outdoor education programs were not counted). In 2007, we measured the three major causes of our carbon emissions–gas and diesel, electricity, and propane consumption–at 44.8 tons for 5713 people, or 15.68 lbs per person. In 2008, we reduced that total to 32.1 tons for 5869 people, or 10.94 lbs per person, which is over 30% less emissions, surpassing our first stated goal of a 20% reduction by 2012.

How we did it: The overall reduction in emissions was accomplished in a variety of ways. In our first article introducing the GAP, we presented a mitigation strategy addressing specific ways we could reduce our carbon impact. Here, we’ll look at that list again and check out which of those strategies we adopted, and those we did not.

Electrical Use:
*Adjusted electrical thermostats in office (2007.)
*Turned off lights and appliances more conscientiously when not in use (2007).
*Changed procedures to reduce use (2008–work in small room in the office in winter, so it’s easier to heat.)
*Replaced as many lights as possible with compact fluorescent bulbs (2008)
*Replaced appliances with energy efficient ones. (2008—bought new Energy Star rated refrigerator for house, high efficiency space heater in office)
*Install solar panels. (2008—Solar Energy Exploratorium had off-the-grid photovoltaic/battery system installed. Plans to install more PV power in 2009 and beyond with goal of being a net generator of electricity.)

Place timers on shower lights (not yet implemented)
Install solar/ gravity battery system based around climbing wall (not yet implemented)

1= 2006, 15.53 tons CO2 emissions
2= 2007, 12.68 tons CO2 emissions
3= 2008, 9.31 tons CO2 emissions

Propane Use:
*Turned down hot water heaters (2007)
*Augmented water heater with solar heating (2008—built and installed 28,500 BTU in-line solar thermal hot water heater for main kitchen.)
*Adjusted thermostat in house (2007)
*Used cooking devices more conscientiously (2007)

Place timers on showers (not yet implemented)
Install even lower flow shower heads (not yet implemented)
Transition to flash heaters and have no heated water storage (rejected in favor of solar thermal systems)
Restrict shower use to overnight guests (rejected as a less than customer friendly policy)
Eliminate mobile home (rejected for now)
Convert mobile home to new form of heat (not yet implemented)

1= 2006, 6.05 tons CO2 emissions
2= 2007, 8.64 tons CO2 emissions
3= 2008, 3.5 tons CO2 emissions

Gasoline Consumed By Us:
*Bought more fuel efficient vehicle for errands (purchased post season in 2008— 100% Waste Vegetable Oil powered 1996 VW Passat tdi station wagon. Minimal impact on diesel use so far, however, the mileage is 40-50 mpg versus 16-20 mpg for Toyota truck and minivan. Use of WVO will reduce carbon emissions to 70% less than using a Prius!)
*Replaced gasoline vehicles with waste vegetable oil vehicles (2008— 100% WVO powered Ecobus purchased and brought on line; 2005 Dodge truck converted to 100% WVO system). Note: The amount of WVO use in 2008 was limited by technical issues with the Dodge’s WVO system as well as WVO supply limitations. Expect dramatic improvements next year. We were unable to find an appropriate “people mover” minibus.

Reduce the number of small rafting trips by consolidating (customers not cooperating so far)
Reduce shopping trips by using vendors who deliver (this is more difficult to implement if we want organic, locally grown food which vendors don’t handle)

1= Gas Bus 2= Dodge Truck 3=Toyota Truck 4= Vans 5= Flatbed Truck
Total Gas/Diesel Used: 2228.5 gallons
Total Gas/Diesel CO2 Emissons: 23.5 tons

1= Ecobus 2= Dodge Truck 3=Toyota Truck 4= Vans
Total Gas/Diesel Used: 2042.5 gallons
Total Gas/Diesel CO2 Emissions: 19.3 tons

Gasoline Consumed By Customers:
Encourage carpooling and hybrid vehicles by incentive parking (not yet implemented)
Sell or give away T-shirts to encourage carpooling (not yet implemented)
Reward hybrid owners by letting them eat first (rejected as a poor idea)
Provide electrical hookups for plug-in hybrids (not yet implemented)
Facilitate bus and or ECO- Bus transportation for groups (not yet implemented)
Shuttle groups from public transportation terminals with ECO-Bus (not yet implemented)

Food Program:

*Served more vegetables, less meat (2008)
*Produced fruit and vegetables organically on site (2008)
*Wasted less food (2008)
*Conscientiously bought food with less paper and plastic packaging (2008)
*Enlarged garden (2008)

Property Maintenance:
Replace gasoline water pump with solar electric pump (more practical to use grid connected solar to produce electricity for existing well pump- pending)

Recycling/Waste Control Program:

*Created system to increase compliance and decrease labor/risks of recycling employees (completed post season 2008 and will see more impact in 2009)

Create System and/or conscientiously use less paper (not yet imp
Go paperless on reservations and in every way possible (progress has occurred but not yet fully implemented)

Political Action:
Another less measurable, but perhaps the most important way in which we are combating human induced climate change is by raising the awareness of our guests and encouraging those who are interested to actively participate in the political process with us. Part of this strategy is letter writing, a long standing and extremely effective Malode tradition. This year we sent off around 500 letters written our guests in support of the solar investment tax credit bill, which was successfully passed later in the year! Another strategy we use is to educate our guests about this issue in a fun and stimulating way. Our new sustainable practices programs include hands on activities that explore solar power, alternative fuels, organic gardening, recycling, and other means of conservation.

Beyond the GAP:
As stated at the outset of the GAP, we realize that it is not enough to address human induced climate change alone. There are other urgent environmental challenges that also need our attention. The most dramatic of these is rainforest destruction. Sustainable Practices Program will begin to address these in 2009.