Saturday, January 26, 2008

Malibu Whitewater?

Two years ago I decided to go to graduate school in California. Unfortunately I didn’t go to the good part of California where there’s lots of creeks and waterfalls. I went to the very expensive, very dry, very hot section of California known as Malibu. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If not, it’s regularly featured in such distinguished weekly journals as US Weekly, People, and Star.

In Malibu, shampoo is eight dollars, ranch dressing doesn’t exist, and girls wear furry boots in 85 degree heat because it’s fashionable. I forgot to mention that there’s quite a few celebrities that live out here as well. For instance, two days ago I saw Kirk Cameron and Pamela Anderson, although not at the same time. I saw Kirk in the morning and Pamela in the evening.

Speaking of float bags, it started to rain two days ago. Malibu does not handle rain very well. First, the entire area is paved. Second, there’s a raging forest fire every other month which destroys everything not made of pavement. There are therefore very few trees, comparatively speaking, and when it does rain there’s quite a bit of run-off.

This is great news for kayakers. Unfortunately, the bad news for kayakers is that Malibu is at an elevation of 16. I know, I thought it was a typo too, but it’s right there on the sign as you drive into town. Here’s a picture of that depressing sign.
Due to the lack of gradient, in the past I have had to satisfy my boating joneses by going to the ocean. This wasn’t very fun. The first time I took my Vibe out to the beach a woman walked up to me and told me that my boat was “so cute and little”. She was wearing what looked to be a pair of noseclips as a bathing suit– bathing suits are very tiny out here. I wanted to tell her that her bathing suit was also “so cute and little” but I didn’t. Anyway, the ocean kayaking wasn’t very fun because the surfers have the good waves and I didn’t feel like getting in a knife fight so early in the morning. (I prefer rumbling with surfers after lunch) Secondly, the lifeguard kept coming over and telling me that I had to kayak over by the really big, sharp, barnacle-covered boulders because I might run over some celebrity’s small baby if I stayed where I was.

Needless to say I gave up trying to paddle in the ocean, and thought that I would just have to wait until I returned to North Carolina in the summer to get some boating in. That was until it started to rain two days ago and my roommate announced that Malibu Creek had water in it. I had driven past Malibu Creek numerous times and even pulled over on the canyon to look down at it once. I had never seen water in it. I had seen lots of tumbleweeds, dirt, and scrawny bushes though. I also knew that there was a 100 foot dam somewhere in there. We decided that we should give it a try.

American Whitewater unfortunately had no beta on Malibu Creek – it’s almost as if it’s not a real creek. So we turned to the great Wikipedia for our pre-kayaking beta needs. This is the best info we gleaned from Wikipedia:

“The endangered arroyo toad lives below the dam. The dam is also home to a huge mountain lion and is frequented by cliffdivers.”

Thanks Wikipedia. I guess we were on our own. Unfortunately, we would have to wait a day because my roommate, who is in law school, had to go do some sort of lawyerly mumbo-jumbo the next day. He was pretty exited about whatever it was he had to do because he went shopping to buy some nice clothes. I forgot to mention that in Malibu, unlike North Carolina, it is unacceptable to wear sweatpants to court. (On a side note, I once saw my roommate run a thirty-footer with a sketchy approach without scouting, and now he’s wearing silver, penguin-shaped cuff-links - how far he’s fallen. That's a picture of him talking about delegable duty and corporate malfeasance with another future magistrate at the put-in) But back to Malibu Creek.

My roommate got out of his lawerly mumbo jumbo early yesterday and we decided that we still had some daylight left to scout the creek. We spent a few hours hiking along the highway and descending into the canyon whenever the opportunity presented itself. There was a lot of water flowing through the canyon and we were both a little relieved that we weren’t paddling that day, and hoped that the water would drop by tomorrow. We both agreed that the creek looked a lot like the Cheoah with the exception of two rapids that had some weird, non-natural holes in them and of course, the hundred foot dam.

Unlike the Cheoah though, Malibu Creek offers mandatory portages of both class 1 and class 6 rapids. When was the last time you had to portage a class 1 rapid? It’s hard to believe Scott Lindgren hasn’t put this little gem in a paddling flick yet. By the way, we saw Martin Sheen at lunch while we were eating sandwiches and drinking over-priced fruit smoothies. He didn’t talk to us though – probably because we were covered in mud from our scouting trip.

Oh, I forgot to mention the picture of the hundred foot dam we found on that great boating website, Wikipedia. Here’s a picture of it.

As you can see, the move is very similar to the move at Oceana, except that it’s not. We decided that this drop was not runnable and that we would take out before it (mountain lion permitting) whenever we happened to stumble upon it…downstream… somewhere…

The next morning we got up early, (about eleven o’clock), and headed to the river on a beautiful sunny day -it sure is nice to go kayaking in January in shorts. We arrived at what could have been a put-in and were careful to not step on any arroyo toads as we unloaded the boats. Needless to say the put-in wasn’t super busy when we got there. There were about 4,700 fewer people at this put-in than at the Ocoee put-in. This is probably because Malibu Creek doesn’t have a put-in and even if it did, Malibu doesn’t have any whitewater kayakers – except me and my sweet roommate. Our friend from back home who is also in law school here, Sarah, came with us to document this historic descent down Mighty Malibu Creek. (From here on out it will be referred to only as MMC)

The first rapid, which we called “No pets, No smoking, No Trespassing” (at least that's what the sign said) was an easy little class two slide which my roommate still managed to mess up. We then proceeded downstream to the fun rapids. It was amazing how many big boulders were in this creek – I guess that’s what happens when you build a road and dynamite a tunnel through a canyon. There was also a strange smell to the water, almost like egg salad. I don’t think the water was very clean. In fact, I’d rate it somewhere between the Chattahoochee and a sewage treatment pond. Nonetheless, the rapids were quite fun and it was nice to get some class 3/4 creeking in again. Here’s some pictures.

The biggest rapid was in the steepest part of the canyon, which Sarah couldn’t reach. It looked a little like Sweet’s Falls and was maybe fifteen feet tall. My roommate managed to pin against a rock and get stuffed under an undercut at the same time in the run-out of this rapid. I pulled him out because I care about people. You can see the horizon line of this drop in the picture below.
The hikeout of MMC was not fun. It took us forty five minutes to scramble up the canyon wall with our kayaks. This was the most harrowing part of the whole day – one slip on the mud and it was going to be a long way down. We were able to rope the boats up the last thirty feet or so - which was nice. Then we had some burritos - those were nice too.