Kings River Garlic Falls Run


Stretch: South Fork near confluence to Garnet Dike
Difficulty: Class V, class V+ above 2000 cfs
Distance: 10 miles, 2 or 3 days
Flows: rafts 800 - 1800 cfs, kayaks 800 - 2500 optimum 1500
Gauge: somewhat less than the inflow to Pine Flat (PNF)
Gradient: 96 fpm average, 160 fpm for two miles
Put-in: Yucca Point trail near South Fork confluence, 2240'
Take-out: Garnet Dike put-in for the lower Kings run, 1280'
Shuttle: 50 miles (3 hours) one-way, 16 on dirt road
Maps: USFS Sierra NF, AAA Sequoia, Topo
Season: late summer or early fall, from snowmelt
Agency: USFS
Notes: © 1998 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

Rafters and hardshell kayakers agree that the Garlic Falls run, erroneously called the upper Kings (there are runs higher up), is harder than either Cherry Creek to Tuolumne or the Middle Fork Feather. Because flows seldom fall below 1000 cfs except in late summer of dry years, this run does not seem safe for inflatable kayaks, although it has been done (see story below). Personally I was scared shirtless in a 14' raft at relatively low flows.

Some excellent pictures of this run are available at this Dreamflows gallery.

The toughest section, from Rattlesnake to Garlic Creek, is only two miles long, but takes nearly a full day to scout'n'boat. So despite the seemingly short distance, be sure to budget at least two days for this trip, three if you start on the South Fork.

The first descent was by Maynard Munger, Bryce Whitmore, and Roger Paris in July 1960! That was before the advent of “indestructible” plastic boats.

For an added challenge, as if the Garlic Falls run isn't challenge enough by itself, you can put in about 2 miles up the South Fork Kings with about the same effort as hiking down to the standard put-in. To find this South Fork put-in, which gets you to the river below the class VI rapid Fear and Loathing, turn off highway 180 at the bend past Tenmile (Hume) Creek, where there is a large flat area with plenty of parking. A poison-oak-infested trail leads down to the river. You must lower boats over a cliff, but the climb down is safe and easy.

Excluding the bottom 2 miles of the South Fork, which contain several class V rapids, here are the class V rapids I remember (plus a IV+ wrap rapid). This makes 14 class V rapids, more than on the Middle Fork Feather, and including one (Rough-Garlic Creek) that has already claimed the life of super kayaker Bob Porter.

"My good boating comrade Wxyz was with Bob Porter and about eight other experts doing an exploratory run on this stretch of the Upper Kings. In one of the drops there were two openings you could take. Bob took the right-hand one and was stopped in the drop when his bow struck a rock. He climbed out of the boat, several small ropes were thrown to him, but as he stepped on a rock to return to shore, he slipped and was carried under a large boulder. No one could get to him. His body was retrieved a couple weeks later when the water dropped. The party was so shaken by the loss of such a good boater and friend that they walked out several miles dragging their boats. Wxyz was next in line to do the drop, but of course, didn't.
Here is a quick run-down of the class V rapids:
V-  Butthole Surfer (mile 2)
    series of huge runnable holes
==  camp (mile 3)
    nice bench with trees on R just above...
V   Rattlesnake (eponymously, look for big Diamondback)
    flat boulder near bottom surf boats R into narrow slots
V   Kodiak
    can't remember the details!
V   Grizzly
    easy lead-in, need to move R to avoid pinning in center, rough runout
V+  Warp 2
    high sliding falls into hole, then a short pool before...
V   Cassady Falls
    ugly boulder falls with sneak route on left
V   The Gray Wall
    like Green Wall on the Illinois, except gray
V   That's Dumb (harder at high water)
    tight lead-in to huge drop and hole
V+  Rough Creek
    half mile long, any number of spots could lead to a death-defying swim
V+  Garlic Creek
    continues immediately after Rough Creek without any break
=   camp (mile 5.1)
    high bench on L with view of Garlic falls
V-  (unnamed) shortly below camp, several big holes
V-  (unnamed) tight maneuvering among boulders
    river mellows out
V-  Earlobe of God
    tight routes on far L or R, just above...
V   Hand of God
    steep violent drop, named when Chuck Koteen survived upside down run
    river mellows out
IV+ Leo's Late Lunch
    long boulder garden with wrap rocks
The shuttle is long and partly on rough dirt road. Good shuttle instructions are provided in both the Cassady/Calhoun and Holbek/Stanley guidebooks. The kayaker's book is correct is saying that continuing downstream to Mill Flat take-out (river left) greatly simplifies your shuttle.

First? Ducky Descent of Garlic Falls Run

Paul Martzen, now and perhaps then an expert hardshell kayaker, sent in this great trip report:

© 2003 Paul Martzen

I took a Semperit Dolphin down there in late 1985 at very low water and somehow ran or swam a lot of stuff. The boat was horribly inappropriate for whitewater, and greatly preferred to be upside down. If I could get back on once it tipped over, it was pretty stable and I could careen down the rest of a rapid by hanging on and laying as flat as possible against the upside-down bottom. This was actually the first time I had ever paddled this boat and the first time I ever paddled the Garlic Falls section, so I had no idea what I was getting into.

Three of us went through in an unusual manner. One fellow was fly fishing and hiking. Jay Tipton and I were hiking and trading off in the inflatable. Jay soon convinced himself that it was better to risk my life than his, so I did most of the paddling as we progressed, unless it was very easy water. Even stopping to cast, the hiking fly fisherman was much faster than the paddlers!

I remember that we lost our one paddle in the last 4+ rapid just above Rough Creek. Fortunately there is a lot of lumber from the old Hume flume accessible at just that spot. We scoured around till we found a short 2x6 piece of lumber which I used as a single blade paddle for the rest of the trip. We did portage most or much of the Rough Creek rapids, but from there on down I think I paddled most of it. I must have gotten used to the boat because I think I stayed upright for the rest of the trip. The fly fisherman was still faster though.

On a 1988 hardshell kayak trip, my good friend Mojo decided he wanted to take an inflatable through with us, so I loaned him that same Semperit Dolphin. Big mistake. The flow was around 1000 cfs I think. The river quickly hammered Mojo and he started portaging anything even remotely challenging. This got very slow and since it was my boat and friend, I felt responsible. So I developed a pattern of running a rapid, walking back upstream and running the Dolphin through. I must have been in good shape, but it was still very tiring. Upon entering a rapid the Dolphin would immediately fill with water and try to tip over. I recall that I got through some of the rapids right side up, but I clearly remember laying on top of the upside-down boat and flushing through a few rapids also. We did portage the Dolphin around all the really big stuff. Mojo's salvation arrived just above Garlic Falls when a group of hotshot rafters overtook us. Mojo quickly bummed a ride. That yellow Dolphin was rolled up and stowed, never to see Garlic Falls again.

A year or two later, Olie Brown of Three Rivers took a decent IK through with me. I can't remember how much he portaged, but he was adventurous.

As for flows, I have run the Garlic Falls section at very low flows and still had a pretty good time. I have paddled a hardshell kayak at 500 cfs, 400 cfs, and maybe even 300 cfs and found it enjoyable. The big rapids are much more manageable but still seem to have plenty of water for the most part. Many of the big rapids seem to constrict the water into narrower channels. When you do portage, carries are very short. The normally easy sections are terrible of course, because the river is spread out and shallow.

As the flow drops, there are a few rapids that become unrunnable, Grizzly comes to mind, but not many others. Such portages are very short and you should be able to boat nearly to the brink of drops, instead of scouting or portaging from way upstream as you might need to do at high flows.


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