Sunday, April 17

Trip Report: Merced (Moderate/High Flow) - April 16, 2005

Run: Red Bud to Briceburg Bridge
Difficulty: IV
Flow: 1900 to 3000 cfs (estimated)

It is hard to judge the flows on this Merced run given reported inaccuracies from gauges and the confluence of other tributaries the closer you get to Briceburg, a decent guess for this run would be around 1900 and rising throughout the day.

This was my first run on the Merced, and long awaited since I had hoped to hit it last year. As a transitional class IV run I was somewhat nervous about both running a new river and also given the tall tales about several of the rapids including Nightmare Island, Chipped Tooth & Ned's Gulch. As suggested, we scouted all of the rapids from the road on the way up, which was invaluable and without doubt the best idea going. We couldn't have asked for better weather with a beautiful sunny day rising into the 70s, but that didn't change the temperature of the water which was clearly snow runoff.

After the put-in at Red Bud there are a couple of shallow rock gardens and a little wave train but there isn't much time before you are right on Nightmare Island. We couldn't get a good sense of where Nightmare Island started once on the river, and so as we thought we were getting close we edged and grannied down river left as we approached the river bend, lest we end up slap bang in the middle of trouble. Might I point out that during the scout it became crystal clear that river was really flowing and most of the rapids looked pretty darn mean.

From the road we had decided to take a pretty conservative approach for this first attempt and so we came down river left through the left channel around the island and then eddied out as fast as we could on the left side of the island. We got out of our boats and took a good hard look at the right channel which was really pumping. After lots of oohs and aahs we decided to give it a miss and so we portaged across the island and put back in right below the second drop on the right channel where we finished the end of the rapid and headed on down to Chipped Tooth.

Again, there isn't much time at all before you're in Chipped Tooth since you can basically see one rapid from the other. From the road we'd voted to go around the Tooth on river right and nudge down the right channel. We eddied out a couple of times above the rapid as we snuck down before peeling out and cruising through a couple of crux moves skirting the big nasty hole & rockface at the bottom. We all did a fine job if I say so myself.

With 2/3 of the gnarly stuff past us, we headed on downstream towards Ned's through some fun class III & III+ stopping for lunch on the way. There were some killer wavetrains and some man eating holes that we avoided, but of course the nice thing about running a river for the first time is learning how to read the river and keep yourself out of trouble - a skill I need to develop but did a good job of on this run.

Then came Ned's. We eddied out above it in a large pool and paddled down to get out of our boats so we could take a walk and scout the rapid again. The river had come up a lot since our morning look-see and some of the eddies we were planning to hop down on river right were washed out. So after some deliberation we decided to peel out and head right down river center and head aggressively for an eddy on river right immediately before the crux move & drop into Ned's. Here the trouble started. I didn't take the current seriously enough and should have punched it much harder to reach the eddy, instead I barely reach the bottom end and fouled myself on a rock right as I was entering the eddy. Partly-in and partly-out of the eddy, the current lifted my boat up and pinned me upside down against a larger rock right at the end of the eddy. Trying to roll up against the current was useless and so after an attempt I felt my boat slipping into the main stream with me upside down, and so rather than head over the crux into Ned's upside down I pulled out. I had a couple of nasty moments as I surfaced and saw my waterlogged boat next to my head, but I pushed it off and swam the rest right slap bang into Ned's Gulch. Swimming Ned's is an experience I highly recommend (note the sarcasm). All in all everything went fine as there is a pretty good sized pool at the bottom where I could swim to the riverbank on river right. Had to hike to get my paddle further down, but was no worse for wear which is more than I can say for the big toothy grin on the front of my Riot Booster where it munged into a rock at full force - it only adds to the character.

We decided to take out all the way down by Briceburg bridge rather than at the old suspension bridge which was in retrospect poor judgment since there is a fair amount of pretty flat water and we were all really tired. I underestimated the length of the run and it was after 6pm by the time we got out. Since the sun was off the river the temperature dropped significantly making the rest of the run rather chilly. Suspension down to Briceburg is listed as a class II run, but let me tell you, at this flow it was no where near class II - clear class III in most places with some serious III+. Just the kind of surprise you need to keep you awake when you're beat and ready to put in for the day! :-)

I had been a pogie fan in cold water before this run, but I really don't feel comfortable about self rescue when attached to my paddle like that, so it will be gloves or bare hands for me going forward.

I loved the run and can't wait to go back up and try the Gravel Pit above Red Bud as well as some new lines and to get another shot at Ned's.

A great run, highly recommended for the newbie class IV boaters. Thanks to Brian & Melvin for having my back and being great paddling buddies for the day.


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