Stookesberry, Korbulic Bag Unrun Section of Cal’s Kaweah


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They’re at it again, this time exploring new realms of verticality. First Ascent expedition kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic recently returned from a first descent of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River in Sierra National Park, testing ropes as much as their adrenaline glands on a five-hour descent into a never-before-run, 2,000-foot-deep canyon….

The June mission involved an eight-day vertical epic, putting in a big wall traverse with help from Yosemite climbers Forrest Noble and Jared Johnson, followed by a five-hour descent into a never-before-run, 2,000-foot-deep canyon with no potential for escape…

On his First Ascent blog, Stookesberry says they hit it at exactly the right flow in a section that was long considered un-runable by the kayaking world. The duo survived “a highly technical portage around Class VI waterfalls, a separated rib and the sketchy 100-foot gnar of the Twizzler” to complete a first descent on a section of isolated whitewater that Stookesberry called the hardest river he’d ever run.

Following is a piece of their tale (

From Stookesberry’s blog:
“Since moving to Northern California 12 years ago, I have considered the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California my back yard. At more than 400 miles long when measured from north to south that is a big back yard. Calling the far northern end of the mountain range home, I let the canyons of the Kaweah River slip off my radar until 2009. This was a gross oversight on my part because the Kaweah is without a doubt the most pronounced portion of the entire range, flowing from over 12,000 feet in elevation to near sea level in less than 30 miles. That gradient combined with a snow pack that averages more than 30 feet deep above 6,000 feet—and melts in the torturous southern California sun—has carved canyons into the glacially sculpted 100-million-year-old bedrock that are simply unmatched anywhere in the world for whitewater kayaking.

“After more than three decades of kayaking, one last stretch of the Kaweah River was still left un-run. Possibly the last major first descent left in the entire Sierra, Nevada the Marble Fork and it’s 2000-foot-deep marble canyon was as close to an impenetrable canyon as anything else in North America. According to the Kaweah River page that tracks the history of kayaking on the Kaweah, the Marble gorge on the Kaweah River was, “un-runnable and would probably never be run.” This is exactly the reason why I made a point to check out the Marble Fork during my first trip to the area in 2009. When I first saw the impossible gorge I recognized both the alluring possibility of kayaking massive waterfalls and the daunting challenge to get there: Class Six waterfalls high up in the gorge would necessitate a portage unlike anything that had ever been done with a kayak….

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