Monday, I was one of the 20 some odd guides who assembled in Groveland, CA to take on the Cherry Creek for the first run of the season. The experience felt one part business, one part reunion, and one big part a flurry of whitewater soaked adrenaline.
Our guides are a diverse group. They vary in age, experience level, background, personality. Some have been guiding for the better part of two decades, some are working only their third or fourth season. The guides on Cherry Creek yesterday, both guiding and paddling, make up the core of our rafting outfit. They are the ones that work and manage the majority of our trips. As a group they love and respect what they do, and they enjoy being around each other. It was great to take on the Creek (as we call Cherry Creek for short) along side them.
Cherry Creek never fails to inspire in me a tangle of strong feelings. There’s the excitement of waking up as the sun rises to embrace the coming challenge, the anxiousness of the last few minutes before getting in the rafts (the uneasy calm before the storm), some serene moments of being in an unquestionably beautiful canyon during the warmups, and then the bleary, blurry bliss of the adrenaline that carries you through class V rapid after class V rapid. Finally, at the end of the day, when the adrenaline abates and I have solid ground under my feet, I feel a great sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
It’s usually difficult to talk about the Cherry Creek while rafting it. The pace of the river is aggressive and doesn’t allow a whole lot of time for chit chat. But I found some minutes, here and there, to talk about the river with the guides. I wanted to find out about two questions: 1. What is your perception of the river and how has it changed over time? and 2. Why should people want to raft the Cherry Creek?
To the first question there is a basic consensus; the river is huge and wild but over time it slows down and becomes more comfortable. Drew, in his 10th year of guiding (3rd on the Cherry Creek), says, “It’s like guys you see doing huge snowboarding jumps. You’d never imagine you could do that, but then you just work up to it. It’s not as extreme as it seems, though. It’s not that much of a jump from the main Tuolumne.” I know what he means. The first time I rafted on the Creek a few years ago, I was lost in the blur of amazing class V whitewater. Only now, after six or seven times through it, do I start to understand the rapids. Ryan, we call him Horse, echoes the sentiment, “The first few times is a blur. Then things start to make more and more sense.”
So why should people want to raft the Cherry Creek? Noah, one of the senior guides who trained me when I was just getting into whitewater rafting, says, “Because it’s a blur.” Then he laughs, “Because there’s so much in there that you can’t quite comprehend all that’s happening to you at one time. Cherry Creek is a major reason I’m here. I love boating up there. I love the teamwork that it takes, and it’s always nice to come back year after year and be really confident in the team.”
Ryan makes the case for Cherry Creek’s uniqueness in California whitewater: “It’s the top of the game. It’s the pinnacle. Not many people get to see it, but it’s there every summer with guaranteed flows every day. It’s something to be seen if people are up for it.”
I can’t say it any better. If this trip is an indication of the future, we’re looking at a great season of class V whitewater on Cherry Creek.