Middle Fork of the Kaweah (Hospital Rock)
|Stretch:||Bucks Flat (or Hospital Rock or Lower Turn-outs) to Potwisha|
|Difficulty:||Class V to V+|
|Distance:||2.75 miles (2.4 miles from lower put-in)|
|Flows:||500-1400 cfs at Three Rivers. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||217 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Bucks Flat Campground or any lower turn-out on General’s Highway|
|Shuttle:||3 miles one way, 5 minutes (In the park, $20 for 1-week or $30 for 1-year entry per vehicle)|
|Season:||Winter and Spring from rain and snowmelt|
|Written:||© 2010 & 2014|
|Featured in A Wet State #86 and in A Wet State's contribution to World Kayak's Video Guide|
So I will begin by saying that I did not get the chance to put it at Bucks Flat and run the entire Hospital Rock run. Darin and I got into town for a one week Kaweah vacation, arriving at 3 pm. Due to the time of the day and the fact that it was my first trip down the river (read “am chicken and want so scout everything and reserve the right to portage everything) we opted to put-in at the turn-out just a mile or so above the 420 gorge. This means that I did not get to run (walk) Chuck’s, V-slide, Little Niagra, nor the double drop just above our put-in. Our plan was to get back on the stretch later in the week and at that point put-in higher up and complete my personal first decent of Hospital Rock. However, fate had other plans. Near the end of the run I began taking on water, I suspect the rock at the base of the dam above Zero-60 caused my boat to give up the ghost. Three small cracks all going across the boat. Due to this damage and the fact that the following day on the Upper North Fork those three small cracks got together and formed one large three-inch hole in the bottom of my boat, our Kaweah trip was cut short and I was left with an incomplete decent of the run. Oh well, another time I will get back in there I am sure.
As for the run, we had lowerish water, about 775 at Three Rivers when we took off. I thought this was a pretty good flow for a first time down with my skill level. It was no pushy, it could have been more padded out, but overall it was slower than it would be with more water which is nice when the drops seem to just keep coming. For reference, I thought this run was a little harder than Golden Gate, though I also didn’t run several of the big rapids on Golden Gate. It was also however a completely different style, it felt more like a big creek than a river. The rapids were steep and boulder filled affairs or perfect bedrock drops. Both of which brought the consequences straight to your face, whether it was the plethora of sieves to avoid (see the entry of 420 gorge) or the holes leaving you completely alone just out of reach of help (see middle of 420 gorge), the hazards were more apparent than Golden Gate though in total perhaps the rapids were milder. Whichever is harder, Hospital Rock was a stressful run for someone like me.
For the positives, this was a great challenge. I may have been scared several times to the point where I thought I may be in over my head, but it was great to size myself up and come away having a better understanding of my comfort zone. I did walk around one sieve rapid that Darin ran, and I walked around Zero-60 as I just couldn’t talk myself into it (though this decision is haunting me and calling me back). None of that matters though, when you are in the 420 gorge, at the base of Table Rock Falls, boofing the perfect falls, or anywhere else on this run, you really feel like you are experiencing something special, a part of the National Park that most will never get to experience. Will I go back, yes. Will I be scared and wonder if that was the right decision, certainly yes.
Update 2014: So I finally got back, some 3 or 4 years later. This time we put in at the normal put in, then came back the second day for another lap, that time starting at Chuck’s Drop. It was fun to go back and be psyched on all the big rapids and much more comfortable in the boulder (sievy) in between stuff. It was still stressful, no doubt… but not in a “not having fun” way this time… this time it was smiles and high fives all the way down.
Thanks to Kevin Smith for contributing some photos.
Check out Darin McQuoid's Website for more great photos of the run.
For Another great perspective see the Day 1 and Day 2 write-ups of WV Creekin...
- Chuck Kern’s Slide (V to V+). So cool. Scout from the short trail out of the campground or from river side. Enter left, drop down the slide, try not to get pushed back too far right, hit the kicker, stay off the right wall, punch a few holes… and you are home free. Except one more big hole in the next rapid that you have to run before breathing a sigh of relief. On that one, try to end right.
- Plug Slide (V). This drop was bigger and more fun than I anticipated. The tricky part is that there is a big cushion/hole forming on the right that pushes you back left at the top of the main drop. We just caught and eddy on the left and ferried behind that cushion driving right and getting on the slide which leads to a 10-15 foot non vertical drop that we all plugged through.
- Sieve Portage (U). Unrunnable. You can run 2 extra drops directly up to the eddy exiting into the sieve. Or get out a rapid or two above and play it safe. Portage on the right. The portage is longer that you would think because you skip one last junky rapid before putting in and running one more. It is very obvious when you approach it, the river goes under an apartment sized rock.
Into Put-in (IV+ to V-). A tall rapid with sieves in play. We ran far right and followed a tongue back to an eddy on the left. Then ferried against a hard current in front of a sieve to exit on the right. If the water was a little higher you could exit on the far left around the sieves.
- V-Slide (V). No warm up, if you put in here, you push off into the entrance of V-Slide. Enter middle through a shallow channel. On the bend, drive right and go as far on the rock as you can before sliding off into trough as you can. Surprising, this is very soft. You don’t feel a thing at all. No joke. One junky rapid run center moving left leads to Little Niagara.
Little Niagara (V). Enter far right, in the bushes essentially. 40 yards of boog lead to a ramp best run right of center and a 90 degree turn to the boof. The drop is hazardous as the hole gets big and there is a cave behind the falls.
Boogie (IV+ to V-). Below are a few bedrock boogie drops. The one directly below has a sticky hole at the bottom and is two part. Scout this if you haven’t been in before. Enter a boof in the middle heading right, not too much or you get rejected by the boil. Too little and you drop into the meat of the hole below.
Double Drop (IV+ to V-). Looks bad, runs great. Run left down the top ramp and aim for the edge of the rock. It looks like you will piton, you won’t. Stay off the left wall, then exit the bottom on the far right.
- Alternate Put-in.
Small Slide (III). This is warm up, enjoy it. A small slide.
Zig-Zag 1 (IV+). A fun drop moves you from cushion to cushion through several turns. End on the right.
Zig-Zag 2 (IV+). Another fun drop with several more cushions to negotiate.
Down the Right (IV+). A junky rapid best run on the right, boofing into a small pocket. Then there was some runout. Things start to blur together.
Cocaine Alley (IV+). A junky lead-in, get right as the river splits and head into two large holes.
420 Gorge Entrance (V). Boof a ledge heading right. Eddy out on the right and scout if you haven’t done this before. Boof the next ledge heading left. Take the 2nd door from the left boof right, avoid the sieves, drop the next ledge on the right, move back left avoiding the sieves. You are now in 420 gorge.
- 420 Gorge Crux (V). A class IV lead-in results in the flow splitting around a large boulder. We entered on the right and worked left, some also start all the way left and stay left. You want to be on the left side of the boulder at the end moving to the right. This is made a little more difficult by the hole guarding the channel just above the drop. I got beat here and had to work hard to get out. Guess I didn’t get far enough right… or right at all for that matter. Whoops. Update 2014 It turns out there is an eddy at the lip on the right. You can use this to scout or even portage without much effort. Good to know... By no means the hardest rapids, but one of the hardest to have a clean line, and consequential at higher flows.
420 Gorge Run-Out (IV). Some fun read and run brings you through the remainder of the breathtaking 420 gorge.
Boogie (IV+ to V-). There are a couple of in between rapids that don’t have distinct character. If it is your first time down, you will probably have to scout one or two of these.
Sieve Rapid (V). Darin told me that there was a move to make to avoid a sieve, upon inspection it didn’t look all that bad, but while I was out of my boat I chickened out and walked. No reason to stress myself out more than I already was.
Chute (V-). A very large undercut on the left at the top and a sieve on the far right at the bottom. Enter moving right and then just ride the turbulence down to the 90 degree turn, hitting the curler off of the rock forming the sieve and try not to flip. I did flip in the exit curler and hit my head once or twice before rolling up. Still a great rapid, looks a heck of a lot worse than it is.
Where Does the Water Go? (IV to U). So my first time down with 775 cfs this rapid did not even register enough to make the write-up. At low flows though, a friend had a very close call with a sieve. At the similar flows that I returned with, most walked. The line is to get on a rock just off of the right shore... but the majority of the water disapears into a crack against the wall. Any lower and this would have been a mandatory portage.
Seam to a Rock (IV+). A large horizon line with what looks to be a rock just downstream and a very chocked off exit turns out to be much mellower than first inspection. Plug away down the seam, avoid the rock (which is not hard) and all the channels amidst huge boulders empty to a pool.
Table Rock (V). Some class III boogie leads to a sharp left hand turn, drive right to left to get some of the table rock, boofing out over the hole. The right side drops you into a large pocket hole. Luckily Darin and I had some miscommunication as he ended up in the pocket and my avid kayak porn watching led me to think he told me it was table rock. I bet he was scared in the pocket thinking of me barreling down upon him, luckily I went left and boof clear of him. Great drop. And man is it bigger than any pictures let on.
Boogie (IV). I just remember boogie, I don’t remember the details other than it was easier that the boggie upstream.
Boof (IV). What a boof, for some reason I thought I remembered seeing video of people effortlessly getting some of the rock on the right and auto-boofing over the hole. Guess not, you need to take a stroke or else you will back-ender.
- Dam (IV+). Left of center, just tip off and ricochet off the rocks on the way down. Or walk it. I broke my boat here I think.
Boogie (IV). One or two short boogie rapids leads you to another scout.
Zero to Sixty (V to V+). Down the ramp, into the seam, down the slide and point left. Easy right? Mind the cave and undercut at the bottom. At low flows you can paddle out, at higher flows you need a rope to get out. Fairly easy walk on the left (I know of experience).
Boogie (IV+). Some steep and manky (read “sieve filled” boogie).
Take out Ledge (IV+). Get all the way right, as far as you can. Otherwise the folks standing on the bridge just downstream may get to watch you swim out of this man-made ledge.
Take-out: From Visalia, take Highway 198 thirty-five miles to Sequoia National Park. Enter the park. 3 miles past the lodges look for Potwisha Day-Use. Park here.
Continue up Highway 198 for two miles to the turnout with the stone fence with a trail leading down to the river, or continue up a short way (like 200 yards) to the parking lot on the left for V-Slide and Little Niagara. Across the street there is a trail that leads quickly down to the water. Or, just across is a dirt road that leads in half a mile to a campground and Chuck Kern’s slide.
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