At the end of August, 2007 after my first season serving the Outward Bound School, a few of the more experienced staff members organized an informal end-of-season staff canyoneering trip down the North Fork of the Kings River in Patterson Gorge. All season long I had heard rumors about the big end-of-season challenge: mental and physical. I was intrigued.
We drove three hours from our base camp in Midpines to a outpost town called Balch Camp and spent the night on the roadside. Early in the morning we hiked a short distance down into the canyon and arrived to the first jump (50ft) at 7am in the morning. We discussed that the start of this journey was in fact the the "point of no return," meaning after this jump there was no realistic way to climb back out. Going down river was the only option. I had never really committed to an adventure of this type before, so I took a moment to consider what this meant. In my head I was thinking "...jumping off more waterfalls and dragging myself over talus for 3 miles with broken limbs doesn't sound like that much fun.." I really had no idea what I was getting into, just heard the rumors from other staff members. I had spent almost a month working with our leader Jason and I trusted him. I wasn't afraid of the jumping, I had spent a lot of my summers as a kid finding stuff jump off into water. I even enjoyed it.
Jason jumped first. He was holding a pelican case with a digital camera in it. He held it in his hand as he thought that might lessen the impact on the electronics (compared to throwing his backpack). Right after he jumped the case opened and the camera began to sank. He swam down to the near bottom of the pool to gather up the now wet camera.
After he retrieved his camera, I jumped. As soon as I hit the water after the first jump I felt the chilling cold of the 50 degree water. I spent the majority of the morning shivering until the sun reached us in the bottom of the canyon.
The trip down canyon involved some rappelling, lots of jumping, swimming and scrambling over rocks. It was an enjoyable day. At the end of the day we found a water slide which Jenny pioneered the first descent. Jason nearly slipped down a long stretch of slick granite.
The real excitement though, came late in the day when we were all tired and likely dehydrated. We didn't want to scale the barbed wire to reach our car so we took an alternate route which involved swimming in water near the turbines at the outflow of the Power Station.
All in all, on that first trip we prided ourselves in finding an alternative to the poison-oak-bushwhack which had nearly hospitalized members of the 2006 descent. We also suffered no major injuries which was an improvement on 2006 also (staff member broke his right wrist).
The next time I ventured to "Patterson Gorge" or the "Jump Trip" was the following year in 2008. Josh G. and I completed the descent twice in one week. Memories from my second descent were the repeated and impressive textbook jumping position by an fellow staff member Chris. That day Jason carried a "hi-low packet" which was a surprise ball of chocolate wrapped in duct tape for waterproofing. At the point when we (a a group) were either A) the most stoked or B) bonking, we were to open this packet and get A) more stoked or B) more stoked. We opened the packet soon after the two rappels. This time instead of swimming at the outtake, we just jumped the fence. Jason again lead our group and brought good humor and a strong sense of adventure.
During my third descent only a week after the second trip, Josh and I returned with one of Josh's buddies from college. Moving in a team of three, we moved quickly and had recent memory of the route's details. However, Josh injured his shoulder on the first jump because he had his arm out too far. I injured my hip after jumping off a small jump (five feet) onto a hidden rock later in the day. Josh had seen the rock under the water and had avoided it during his jump, but I didn't see it. That minor injury to my hip had ruined the rest of the day for me, I just wanted the day to be over safely. The following day I had pain in my right middle finger. Likely a minor tendon injury from pulling on rope.
After that trip, I wasn't took stoked on Patterson Gorge anymore. In 2011 a team of Outward Bound Staff went on the trip, I opted out. I wasn't sure if I'd ever go down Patterson Gorge again. But when I heard our Program Director was in for the adventure, I felt responsible to co-lead the journey with Josh. After all, in the last six years, many of our older staff have left Josh and I behind as the "senior staff." The staff that proposed going were all close to me, and I thought the camaraderie and adventure would be a fun end to the season.
On August 24th, two days before leaving California, Megan, Carolyn, Chandra, Josh L. , Josh G. and I headed out to descend Patterson Gorge. On previous descents we slept near the put-in but this time we chose to drive early in the morning. We left base camp around 430am. We brought 2 waterproof cameras, lunch, a rope, hardnesses and rappel devices and not much else. Traveling light and quickly, we were able to complete the descent within daylight. No major injuries were sustained this time we even improved our exit and found a trail. No trespassing or dangerous swimming. Fun was had by all. Albeit type 2.
The footage was collected by Josh and I and Josh created the edit and the music, totally stoked!