Category Archives: photography|kayaking

Vincent Gulch and the Mine Gulch Trail

Mine Gulch Trail near Vincent Gap
Mine Gulch Trail near Vincent Gap

Nearly back to Vincent Gap after visiting Big Horn Mine, I debated whether to run part way down Vincent Gulch on the Mine Gulch Trail. The Mine Gulch Trail leads to the confluence of Vincent Gulch, Prairie Fork, and Mine Gulch on the headwaters of the East Fork San Gabriel River.

The only reason I was hesitant was that hunters might not expect anyone else to be down in the isolated canyon. On the way out to Big Horn Mine I’d encountered a couple of hunters and heard the occasional report of a deer rifle down in Vincent Gulch. After my experience in Colby Canyon the previous Saturday, I hoped my neon-yellow-green Mt. Disappointment 50K shirt would help make me more visible.

Hiking up the East Fork to kayak from the Bridge to Nowhere.
Hiking up the East Fork to kayak from the Bridge to Nowhere.

I’d wanted to check out the Mine Gulch Trail for a long time. Back before the drought, when rainy season storms would sometimes rejuvenate the streams of Southern California, the West and East Forks of the San Gabriel River were a local alternative to the three hour drive up to kayak the Kern River. My kayaking partner Gary Gunder, myself and other local kayakers had paddled as high on the East Fork as the Bridge to Nowhere. In 2003 Gary kayaked the upper East Fork from the Iron Fork. We’d done a lot of hiking with our kayaks and we began to wonder if it might make more sense to hike down the Mine Gulch Trail from Vincent Gap, rather than hiking up the East Fork.

Bigleaf maple along the Mine Gulch Trail.
Bigleaf maple along the Mine Gulch Trail.

Reaching the well-marked trail junction a quarter-mile from Vincent Gap, I turned down the Mine Gulch Trail. I was finally going to see what the trail was like!

I had been expecting the Mine Gulch Trail to be a rough, overgrown and little-used path. After crossing an area stripped of trees by sporadic debris flows and avalanches, I was stunned to be running in an idyllic forest of pine, fir and oak on a wide, needle-covered trail bordered with golden leaves of snowberry.

Tom Vincent's cabin in Vincent Gulch.
Tom Vincent’s cabin in Vincent Gulch.

Continuing to descend, the trail passed near Tom Vincent’s cabin site and then a mile or so from Vincent Gap started a series of long switchbacks. A couple of switchbacks down, at an elevation of about 5900′, was a small stand of ponderosa pines. Ponderosa pines are less common in the San Gabriels than the similar Jeffrey pine, but can usually be distinguished by their smaller cones. The trees had drawn my attention because one of them was especially drought-stressed.

Vincent Gulch and Mt. Baden-Powell from the Mine Gulch Trail.
Vincent Gulch and Mt. Baden-Powell

Below the switchbacks and about two miles from Vincent Gap, the trail crosses a stream bed. The seems to be a spot where many hikers turn around. The trail sees less use beyond this point, and as it descends the east side of the gulch it becomes increasingly adventurous and isolated.

About three miles in I encountered a group of four hunters hiking up the trail. They were a bit surprised to see someone running down the trail and asked if I knew about a “flat” area down the trail. Now I realize they must have been referring to Cabin Flat, which was some distance and much bushwhacking away.

Mine Gulch Trail low in Vincent Gulch.
Mine Gulch Trail low in Vincent Gulch.

After encountering the hunters, the trail became less distinct and more disconnected. The “good” sections of trail were relatively long and the game became to piece together the sections of old trail, rather than traipsing through the rubble of the ravine. Intending to be back at Vincent Gap by about 1:00, I continued working down the gulch about another 30 minutes and finally turned around about a half-mile before the Prairie Fork junction.

Terrain in lower Vincent Gulch.
Where’s the trail?

Having just solved the main trail-finding puzzles on the way down, the ascent of the gulch was relatively fast and took about as much time as the descent. Part way up the switchbacks I caught up to the hunting group on their way out. They joked around, asking what my “secret” was. I told them I’d still be down in the canyon if I was loaded down with the 50-60 pounds of gear they were carrying.

Running down the Manzanita Trail, then over to Big Horn Mine, and then down the Mine Gulch Trail had been an enjoyable stream of thought adventure. I’d found Icy Springs was still running and learned more about the geology and history of the San Gabriels. While I probably wouldn’t be carrying my kayak down Vincent Gulch, becoming familiar with the trail did open the door to other adventures.

Kern River Festival 2013

Hyside's Richard Dechants Aqua RV Hooligan Boat

Hyside’s Richard Dechant’s Aqua RV Hooligan Boat

Last summer it looked like El Nino was ramping up for a moderate-level event and the buzz was that Warm Episode ENSO Conditions were pretty much a done deal for the Winter. Only no one told the atmosphere — and it didn’t cooperate with warming SSTs to produce the expected event.

This and other factors resulted in one of the most meager Kern snowpacks on record with the April 1 snow courses averaging about 23% of normal. The lowest was in 1977 when the April snow courses averaged 19% of normal. Not only was this year dry, but last year was also a low snowpack year. 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 ranked a close second to 1975-1976 and 1976-1977 as having the lowest snowpacks on record in consecutive seasons.

The shallow snowpack and a cold weather system the week preceding Festival kept flows in the 450-500 cfs range Saturday and Sunday. There was enough water for Hooligan Boats, SUP Races, Whitewater Triathlon and Slalom Race, but the Brush Creek races had to be cancelled.

The weather for the 49th edition of the Kern River Festival was perfect, and even with the low flow there was plenty of whitewater action. Everyone looked like they enjoyed paddling the Kern. I know I did. More info, results and photos can be found on the and web sites.

Miracle Whitewater Slalom 2010

Early morning practice run on the Miracle slalom course

The high at Isabella Dam reached 102°F, but it was cool along the Kern River for the 2010 edition of the Miracle Whitewater Slalom Race.

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters, the Canyon Fire had been 100% contained the previous weekend, and did not burn Hobo Campground or Miracle Hot Springs, where the slalom course is located.

Last Winter’s big snowpack extended the season on both the Upper Kern and Lower Kern, and this year we were able to schedule the race in the Fall and still have excellent whitewater. Race day the flow came up to 890 cfs, a very good level for so late in the year.

The course was set so that no individual move was super difficult, but it was challenging to do the combined gate sequences well. Saturday, Olympic Silver Medalist Rebecca Giddens gave a pre-race clinic that helped paddlers deal with the difficulties of the course.

Thanks to everyone that paddled and helped with the race! Results will be posted on the KVRC web site soon.

Course description:

Gates #1 and #2 were downs in the wave train at the top of Hobo Rapid. They led to gate #3 — a flushing up in small eddy on river left at the island. A peel-out to a down in the current, gate #4, was followed by a cross-current move behind the pour-over hole to an up, gate #5, at the base of the drop on river right. A tight turn out of gate #5 was required to setup gate #6, a dive gate that wanted to eddy-out your boat. This was followed by another up, gate #7, in a good eddy on river right. Next was a series of moderate offsets, gates #8, #9, #10, ending at the top of a small rapid. Gate #11, a down just below the drop, setup a move to river left through some turbulent water and a couple of rocks to an up, gate #12. 

The move from gate #12, across several current differentials to the tight down at gate #13, was one of the trickiest on the course, and there were a couple of 50’s here. Gate #13 was followed by another down, which was offset from a dive gate on river left, gate #15. The dive gate was the lead-in to a nice left-to-right “S” at gate #16. Although it was in “easy” water, the next gate on river right, gate #17, was another up that was difficult to do well. Gate #18, a down, was the last gate.

Miracle Whitewater Slalom 2009

Keith Kishiyama paddling the 9-10-11 sequence on Saturday.

Good friends, good weather, and good paddling at the 2009 Miracle Whitewater Slalom at the Miracle Hot Springs Slalom Course on the Kern River!

Rebecca Giddens adjusting gates for the 2009 Miracle Sllalom Race
Olympians Eric and Rebecca Giddens set an interesting course with several gate sequences that had not been done in previous Miracle races. Racers found the 4-5-6 offset and  8-9-10-11 cross current sequences to be particularly challenging. Here’s a short  video of Keith Kishiyama paddling gates 7 thru 11. (Same video on Facebook.)

Saturday, Eric and Junior National Team member Nick Wilkening gave a pre-race paddling clinic, giving paddlers the beta on how to paddle the course fast and clean.

Thanks to everyone that paddled and helped with the race! Results will be posted on the KVRC web site soon.

Wild & Scenic Piru Creek!

Gary Gunder paddling in Falls Gorge on Piru Creek.

Gary Gunder Paddling in Falls Gorge on Piru Creek

Today President Barack Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Act, extending federal protection to more than 2 million acres and 86 rivers in nine states. Included in the Act are provisions to create new wilderness areas and expand existing wilderness areas in California, and to extend Wild & Scenic protection to eight rivers in California, including 7.25 miles of Piru Creek downstream of Pyramid Lake. Piru Creek is the first stream in Los Angeles County to be protected by inclusion in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.

The following segments of Piru Creek have been added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System:

(A) The 3-mile segment of Piru Creek from 0.5 miles downstream of Pyramid Dam at the first bridge crossing to the boundary of the Sespe Wilderness, as a recreational river.

(B) The 4.25-mile segment from the boundary of the Sespe Wilderness to the boundary between Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, as a wild river.

The reach of Piru Creek downstream of the Ventura County line — which includes spectacular “Falls Gorge” — was not addressed in the 2009 legislation. This section is within the congressional district of Rep. Elton Gallegly, and hopefully will be extended Wild & Scenic status in future legislation. In the meantime, a large part of the reach is within the Sespe Wilderness and is afforded the protection that the wilderness designation and having a Wild & Scenic section upstream, provides.

The photograph of Gary Gunder paddling in “Falls Gorge” on Piru Creek is from March 2005. More photos of Piru Creek can be found on my Southern California Creeking page Piru Creek – Frenchmans Flat Campground to Lake Piru.

Whitewater Slalom Racing

2002 World Champion and 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Rebecca Giddens zeroes in on a red up gate while racing in the T.J. Slalom at the 2007 Kern River Kayak and Raft Festival.

2002 World Champion and 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Rebecca Giddens S-turns through a red “up” gate while racing in the T.J. Slalom at the 2007 Kern River Kayak & Raft Festival.

A whitewater slalom course consists of a series of red gates and green gates that are paddled sequentially through a set of rapids. The paddler must pass through red gates moving in the upstream direction, and green gates moving downstream. Racers are timed, and a 2 second penalty is added for each gate that is touched, and a 50 second penalty added for each gate that is missed.

Typically, there are 18 to 25 gates, with 6 to 7 up gates, and the rest downs. The gates are placed to create challenges for the paddler, and the difficulty of a slalom course is usually about a grade higher than if the same rapids were paddled without gates.

In national and International races a specialized whitewater slalom boat is required, but at local citizen races paddlers also use plastic river-running kayaks and even playboats. Paddling slalom gates is a great way to improve your river-running skills!

At the elite level, higher performance boats and custom built whitewater venues have upped the adrenalin factor for competitors and spectators alike. The whitewater events were one of a few that sold out at the attendance plagued Athens Olympics. The Beijing Olympic Canoe/Kayak Slalom venue  looks challenging, and should warrant good television coverage by NBC.

In the past decade, whitewater kayaking has grown in popularity, but the sport hasn’t lost its “small sport” appeal. The  sport’s medal winning athletes, such as Rebecca Giddens, are not only superb paddlers, but are also very humble, hard working and hard playing people, willing to share their expertise and ideals. Rebecca and her husband Eric — also an elite paddler — now live in Kernville, California and operate the very popular brewpub, the Kern River Brewing Company. Eric will be setting the courses (gate sequences) for the whitewater events at the Beijing Olympics.

1992 Olympic Gold Medalist Joe Jacobi also works hard and plays hard. Joe, along with his partners at Gold Medal Connections offer paddling camps and clinics across the country. This year’s Gold Medal Kayaking Camp was the 11th on the Kern River. Joe will be part of the NBC broadcast team covering Canoe/Kayak events at the Beijing Olympics. For Joe’s “thoughts, ideas, and life lessons from the outdoors” see his blog Gold Medal Living.

If you’re curious about slalom, or whitewater boating, the 2008 Kern Festival is April 19-20 at Kernville’s Riverside Park. The Festival will feature two days of non-stop action with a steep creek race and raft races on Saturday; and a downriver race and the T.J. Slalom Race Sunday. There’s no charge to watch, and as a result of this year’s good snowpack, river conditions should be nearly ideal!

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