For a long time people have recognized The Royal Gorge on the North fork of the American to be one of the most hard core and committing runs in Cali. Big water fall fiends have come from all over the globe to test their skills on these sets of massive drops. For a good reason...running 80 foot drops is one thing, but to do it with 3 days of gear in your kayak and out in the middle of no where, is a whole different game.
For this post only, I will type the approximate height to each falls in parenthesis like so...(?) to clarify any questions.
I myself have done this Multi-day High Sierra trip three times before this year...each time I went in I ran something bigger. My first trip in 2006, all I ran the first falls of Heath Spring gorge (40) and then walked every other big drop out there. I still had an amazing trip. Then in 2008 I ran Rattlesnake falls...a drop dead gorgeous granite 50 footer half way through the main gorge. Then returning with my Demshitz homies last year I ran Heath 1 (40) Heath 2 (60) Rattlesnake (50) and Wabena falls (70). So there is a natural curve here, the problem is that once you have gone that big before it's hard to say you wanna do it again.
This year I had just returned from a huge huckfest up in the Northwest so I was already in the right state of mind to go big. I was also really excited to get in the gorge and see what I felt like falling off. So after a bit of waiting and getting a group together, I met up with some great friends to run the Royal Gorge once again.
The run started off going well. We didn't get hassled by the land owners, and made it through all the mank with ease. After the mank clears, about a mile of good class IV-V drops come before you get to the big horizon that marks Heath Spring Gorge.
Getting to the first big thing of day 1 exciting as heck and ready to go...scouting Heath Springs Gorge.
The first drop, Heath 1, has quite a long stout entry that you can choose to run or walk...a few of us ran it with some good lines and off the infamous fall into the wall we went...
Turn out of the eddy and hold a long stroke to set your angle. This drop is the one that always gets run, but that doesn't mean it's easy.
Stomping her down for a nice angle of entry...
What an epic way to start off a huckfest this truly is...so money! Then if you are feeling up for some craziness you have a 60 footer that lands in a box canyon only a few feet below you. This drop is the most committing rapid of the whole run. If you decide to go, you are faced with a huge freefall into a locked in small, with a 15 foot exit slot immediately below. The level looked good and I had a partner in crime to join me for some lemming style safety. Fire in the hole!
"Heath 2" The line to run here is far right against the and get buried by two nice curlers, making for a soft landing and keeping you on the right side of the pool to exit far from a nasty looking cave. My line was good and I went pretty deep glad to see my spray skirt stayed on! Drew wanted to run it as well so I stayed in the small eddy and waited for him to drop in.
Drew Duval running the 2nd Heath fall...Big time!
Drew's skirt did not stay on...so with luck he made the quick move in to the eddy so Will Pruet and I could help him out of the river. A quick empty and off we went to rid ourselves of the burden of being so locked in.
Exiting the second Heath falls with a big late boof stroke to free your self of this dark place. This is a bad ass move that puts you in a calm place before the "Crux Gorge".
Crux Gorge is the tail end of the Heath Springs gorge...this has terrifying boulder drops all locked in a tight Colorado like box canyon. We entered with caution and made out way through the powerful maze of stout sievey drops. This was a big part of the run already behind us and in my opinion the scariest section of the Royal Gorge. After that the river changes into some really nice smooth granite and falls into a great set of drops before Rattlesnake falls and camp site number 1.
The famous turn and burn slide above the hikers bridge.
Bradley getting some Royal Treatment in the box gorge above Rattlesnake.
All the homies rallying down a serious tight spot in the river.
After Heath Springs and getting our groove on in the nice smooth section I was just as hungry as when I put on. The level was perfect to launch of the Rattler! 4/6 of our group ran the drop in the evening with a slightly higher flow than in the morning. The other 2 people ran it after breakfast as well. This was the first trip I had been on where my entire group ran Rattlesnake!!!!! Good Stuff!
My personal best line out of three runs off Rattlesnake...I ran it in the afternoon when we got to camp...letting the fire roll downwards from Heath gorge.
Camping at Rattlesnake is one of the best place you can ever find yourself... sleeping with the roar of the falls, beautiful scenery, granite chairs, and pre made fire ring make it a top 5 Cali camp on my list. The next day starts off mellow for a while before making it down the perfect 20 and some quality granite stashes. Next up and the drop I had been thinking about for too long...Scott's Drop!
I didn't get any photos of me running the Scott's, but great video! I scouted it for a while, but already knew I wanted to run this thing. I sent all of the group, but Drew, down to the bottom to run safety and take media. After a lot of thinking I sat in my kayak and focused on the task at hand. A very powerful and extremely hard 40+ foot falls was the first move...quick aerated water moved into a cascade that rivaled any manky big slide out there. So I paddled hard hitting my line off the top falls and landing about 70 degrees with a boof stomp quickly entering the hall way above the next slide in control and fine...with a slight mis-calculation, I boofed the big hole more middle than I wanted slowing up on a rock hanging off the left shore, taking my right to left momentum...I hit the big flake near the end and was bucked vertical. What I didn't do is scout the whole drop! I thought the last drop was into a clean pool...wrong! There is a small ledge hanging out into the pool from the right wall. I landed slightly hip checking the rock. The impact was big and my right knee and ass were out of my kayak before I knew what happened. I swam! Dam!!!! But I was still very pleased with my line and made it through the drop in alot more control than I thought...A big thumbs up to Drew and we all watched as he fired it up as well.
Celebrating life after completing the crux move of The Royal Flush...Scott's Drop! Maybe 100 feet tall???
Drew had a different approach and took two paddle strokes off the top falls...his righty took his boof away and put him way over the bars off the top falls. He went deep and rolled up far left in the hallway. Getting his shit together quick he paddled hard and droped into the center of the hole only to get pushed hard right and hit the same flake that took me. With all his angle he kicked over sideways and landed face first on top the ledge i hit the side of. A kiwi buddy wrote on his blog "He got the equivalent of a curb stomping." We were scared he had K.O'ed himself until we saw him swim. All 6 of his front teeth were either gone or terribly crack and broken. Ehhhh!!!! Yeah we got our shit together and started heading down stream.
After running a few miles including a great 20 footer...we arrived at Wabena falls. This is the final drop of the Royal Gorge proper. Drew wanted to get out of the river to safety that night, so him and Will just rallied down stream to take out.
I had a mission...to become the first bastard to run all the big drops on the river in one the same trip. This drop was now the only thing in my way. I scouted it and looked at my line for a while. I knew at this flow it was not as easy as last years higher water. The flake 15 feet down the lip was kicking a bit more and the pool looked like a harder hit. But all and all it looked good to go...
Getting to the pool above Wabena falls, this rapid is scary due to the fact your above a wilderness 70 footer.
Lining up down the boily ramp, please don't hit that flake weird!
Elbows out ready to huck the paddle away...trust me you don't want your paddle here.
Yeah grab that cockpit and tuck it up!
It was perfect! Handsroll and all I was fired up as it gets!!!!! My excitement turned into down stream progression as we did need to paddle 25 more miles of whitewater before we were all good. Once we arrived to camp, I was sore and one happy happy little boy. A huge goal of mine was accomplished over those two days and I don't get proud of my self very often, but this night I was flying high while eating my mashed potatoes and pre-cooked brats!
Camping in Generation Gap once we finished off the Royal Gorge...we still had 25 miles of paddling to go. It was a long 3rd day like normal and we got to the take out to see our cars waiting for us just as we left them!
When I got home and sat down with my lady and little dog we watched footy and saw pictures of an amazing few days of there. Thanks to all my paddling friends that made this mission possible and Toni for shooting the photos of the trip. Thanks to Drew for firing it up with me...I hope you are all good and happy with you new teeth! You the man Duval! I decided that I would call running all the big drops and canyons of the Royal Gorge..."The Royal Flush"