This past week we took a little trip to the Kern River Valley in the southern Sierra Nevada for a rafting trip with Kern River Outfitters.
We had left Tuesday open so that we could see the nearby Sequoia National Monument. The day started well, with a leisurely amble along the half-mile Trail of 100 Giants (a grove of giant sequoia), but after lunch we found that our car wouldn't start. To make a long story short, jumping it didn't work, the ranger gave us a ride to the nearest phone at an isolated lodge 15 miles away, we eventually got a tow back down the mountain to our hotel, and when we finally arrived the car started again — it turns out the starter motor was failing and just needed enough of a jolt to get out of its stuck state.
Wednesday and Thursday were our rafting days. The Lower Kern has rapids that are mostly class III-IV on the usual I-V scale, meaning a good level of wetness, excitement, and navigational effort without too much danger, though we did have to portage around one class V rapid. We were part of a group of fourteen guests on three boats; the other guests included another faculty family from Whittier, several surfers from Camarillo, an older rafting groupie who was doing the trip solo after her husband and his friend had had a near-drowning heart-attack helicopter rescue on a previous trip, and a father-daughter couple. Wednesday evening we camped by the river and enjoyed a cowboy dinner (which mostly meant fancier food than they usually provided, haybales as decoration and the company of a number of other rafting company employees, but we did have one real cowboy in attendance, now working as the company bus driver, and at some point a herd of cattle wandered through the camp as if on cue), and Thursday morning's breakfast included some very good cowboy coffee.
The weather stayed good for us: clear and not too hot, although there was a lot of smoke in the air from the Clover Fire that has been burning since May in the Sherman Pass area. Compared to our trip two years earlier on the American River, I'd say that the rapids, the guides, and the food were at least as good, the camping facilities not quite as nice, the river much more uncrowded, and the location a lot more convenient from Southern California: worth doing again sometime.
We had planned to stay one more day but the car's earlier misbehavior made us nervous so we cut the trip short. On the way back we took sort of a shortcut along State Highway 184 (physically shorter, but probably more time-consuming than 99 due to the slower driving speeds); we didn't stop but it was interesting to see that small-town America lives on in places like Lamont, relatively uncorrupted by strip malls and fast food chains.
Photos here, the first few mine and the rest from the photo CD that we picked up as we checked out from the rafting trip.