Monday, February 26, 2007

Sollie's W.E.T. Trip

Gorge rapids
It was all Sollie's idea, "Let's go up and raft the Smith River in February.. (it made sense because the Smith is dependent upon rain and not snow for its flow and it was finally raining). What didn't make sense was the fact that it was February, and we should have all been snowboarding!

Nine of us finally committed to go as we faced a long President's Day weekend. So Heffe and I drove up to Lotus to load the gear Friday night.

3:30am Sollie left Newport Beach for his 400 mile drive to Sacramento. Maggie left Reno at 5:00am. Jason and Brian would leave Marin in time to rendezvous with us on Hwy 101 in Willits. Justine, Nate, Heffe, Vlad, and I met Maggie in Sacramento at 9:00am. Sollie came in 15 minutes later.

After a quick food buy and securing all the personal gear in the Dodge Ram and Justin's new Toyota 4x4, we left the parking lot by 9:45am. We rolled north on I-5 to Hwy 20 where we skirted the north shore of Clear Lake while noting that none of us had seen more mobile homes in any community that had not been leveled by a tornado. Knowing that tornadoes are attracted to trailer courts (yes, scientific fact!), we realized that we were in potential danger and thought best to move quickly to Hwy 101 and head north to Willits.

Northern Rivers
Once we reached Willits, it was time for a Taco Bell stop. After 18 tacos, 6 burritos, odd nachos, and other quick meal fixes, the seven us walked out into the warm early afternoon sun to meet Jason and Brian as they rolled up in Brian's Illinois-rusted Toyota Camry. We gassed up, bought some potatoes, eggs, and carrots at Safeway and headed north as a caravan of three vehicles with nine passengers.

After a quick blast up 101, we skimmed the incredible northern, winter coast of California just north of Eureka. We went through redwoods, watched the sun drop to the surf, and crossed the Mad River as well as the mighty Klamath and Eel Rivers. We thought about the consequences of hitting a Roosevelt Elk at 60mph as we past herds of the beasts.

WET River Trips
Just outside of Crescent City, we headed northeast on Hwy 199 to Jedediah Smith, Redwoods State Park on the banks of the Main Fork Smith River.

Since it was getting dark, we made camp (while we marveled at Justin's full-size inflatable mattress and 12' x 12' Easy-up covering his entire truck) and quickly and cooked up a meal of pasta, dutch-oven chicken breasts, garlic bread, and salad. Interestingly, the water source was fifty feet away so due to that hardship, we took full advantage of Jason's forethought in stopping at the Marin Costco to pick-up a case of micro-brew. Well done.

It rained all Saturday night and we were greeted by BLUE SKIES (in February…in a rain forest!). After a round of breakfast burritos of potatoes, egg, hot sausage, and onion… we loaded up to find a section of river to run (interestingly we did not plan which run to do since there are four distinct runs suitable for rafts and only two of us had ever been on the Smith…yes, we are professionals!) Luckily 199 gave us some great views of the river, and we decided to do the Oregon Hole run on the Middle Fork of the Smith. The flow looked perfect and the run had a nice and easy warm-up before dropping into some class 3 and hard Class 4. As we drove to the put-in, I discovered that we were only 42 miles from Cave Junction Oregon, the put-in for the Illinois River as it flows north to the Rogue River and ending just inland from Gold Beach Oregon… sounds like a new combo trip: 3-days on the Illinois, a day on the Smith, 2-days on the Cal Salmon, and hit the Scott River on the way back to I-5… as Borat (or Vlad) would say, "Very Nice!"

We ran our shuttle and put-in just above the Gasquet Bridge. Just like every season, the wetsuits shrank, the dry-top gaskets tore, and the pfd's felt extra snug… odd. We loaded into two Hysides with Sollie, Heffe, Maggie, and me in one boat while Vlad, Justin, Nate, Jason, and Brian took the other.

The sun was out, the temperature was mild, and the water was crystal clear. Wow…a great day on the river!

After some easy class 3, we hit the Oregon Hole section. We ran three Class 4 rapids back to back with the only drama coming from Vlad's boat as they paddled into a deep hole with no momentum and off-angle causing three swimmers. Heffe threw a spot-on shot with his throw bag (we were first through and set-up safety) right to Vlad (the other guys got to their raft) and Heffe pendulumed Vlad into Saul's grasp. Vlad would paddle again!

The rest of the run was Class 3 and finished with sections of Class II as we united with the South Fork of the Smith River just above our camp.

Since we had some daylight after the shuttle, we played a Bocce Ball tournament that started in our camp and ended on the cobbled beach of the Smith. We played through the redwoods and ferns, down steps to the day-use area, along the beach, and back up the stairs to camp… team Gold won the tournament. Sollie came in last.

We had another pasta dinner with hot sausage, garlic bread and salad. Justin had to go to work on Monday so he and Nate left for Sacramento.

Again, the water spigot was simply too far away and we had additional beverages: Maggie had brought along a friend by the name of Jose Cuervo. And someone else had a friend named Jack Daniels. It was a lively campfire and everyone was safe and sleeping by 11pm.

Monday morning, we had another round of breakfast burritos, and we packed up camp leaving one raft inflated and strapped to the rack of the Dodge as we headed back to Crescent City.

Just south of the main drag in Crescent City, Maggie, Heffe, Sollie, Jason, and Brian put a raft into the surf while I took pictures and Vlad reveled in memories of his conversations with "Jack" around last night's campfire.

With 8' waves coming in strong and fast, the crew hit the surf for two sessions and called it quits by 11am. We said goodbye to Jason and Brian and we took Hwy 299 east to the Trinity through Willow Creek, Weaverville, past Whiskeytown Reservoir and to I-5 just south of Red Bluff. After our obligatory stop at Petro Truck Stop, we made it back to Sacramento by 6:30pm. We unloaded, said goodbye and Sollie drove 400 miles back to Newport Beach, and he arrived home at 12:30am.

So, after 1,600 miles of hwy, 15 miles of river, 1 hour of surf, and a sunny February weekend on the north coast of California…we were done. Thanks Sollie, it was your idea.

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