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Stookesberry and Korbulic Go Long-Boating on the Fantasy Falls Run
Posted on June 10, 2014

Ben Drops Fantasy Falls

For some adventure fiends, good style is almost as important as the descent. Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesberry are clearly in that class, which is why they picked old-school kayak long boats to rerun a classic stretch of California class V whitewater first ticked by Lars Holbek, Chuck Stanley, and Richard Montgomery in 1982. In the latest dispatch from the Eddie Bauer adventure kayaking team, Ben Stookesberry explains the allure of long-boating and what made this trip such a California classic.

—LYA Editor

Stookesberry running the Bear Claw rapid

Words by Ben Stookesberry. Images by Chris Korbulic, Jordy Searle and Ben Stookesberry

In 1982, Lars Holbek, Chuck Stanley, and Richard Montgomery took a risk on a stretch of river unlike any that had been tried before. It was steeper and more isolated than anything these would-be river legends had ever attempted. The river they were trying was the major headstream of the Mokelumne, which flows out of a remote basin south of the Kirkwood ski area, dropping 3,200 vertical feet in 20 miles. Just a few years prior, it would have been unthinkable, but the rotomolded plastic kayak had just replaced brittle fiberglass hollow-forms, and now hitting rocks didn’t necessarily mean the end of your kayak, or worse.

Yet in addition to finding the boulder-choked cascades that normally accompany such a steep canyon, the trio found a river that lost plenty of its gradient over a parade of incredible slides and falls. After four days paddling and portaging, they floated out onto Salt Springs Reservoir in awe of what they had seen, dubbing the incredible section of river “Fantasy Falls.”

It’s been 32 years since then, and their “Fantasy Falls” is still considered to be one of the best sections of whitewater in California, if not the world. To be sure, they left plenty of challenges for future generations in the 40-odd rapids that they portaged. And with the rapid increase in technology, paddler skill, and sheer numbers, every single inch of the river has now been paddled in boats that are in most cases four feet shorter than the first kayaks used on the run.

Still, our whitewater tribe has never abandoned the older, longer boats, bringing them out of the garage for downriver races where speed, not maneuverability, is the name of the game. As extreme races have become increasingly popular in the last decade, the boat manufacturers once again have a market for these old-school long boats. The result is a new genre of kayaking that is just now opening the door to even the most cutting-edge extreme kayaking adventure. In the minds of some, a long-boat descent of class V is not only a new challenge, but the fastest and most exhilarating way to experience class V whitewater.

Our team—including Chris Korbulic, Jared Johnson, Thomas Moore, and Kiwi Jordy Searle—took it upon ourselves to make the first long boat attempt on Fantasy Falls since those early days. These days we consider this section a leisurely overnight, and showed that the long boats can travel through nearly anything that is possible in a standard creek boat.

Side note: One of the last rapids on the run, sometimes called “California Class 3,” is ironically one of the most intimidating on the run that is known for a keeper hydraulic that caused 3 out of 4 attempts to result in a swim. For the non-kayakers out there, a swim happens when the river feels like humbling you by forcing you out of your kayak. Luckily, “California Class 3” is also one of the friendliest places to swim, with plenty of time to recover your gear from a big pool at the bottom of the massive drop. 

Five swims, .5miles

Follow the epic missions of all our guides and athletes, including Stookesberry and Korbulic, twice weekly on the Live Your Adventure blog and daily via our Twitter and Instagram feeds @eddiebauer.

Author: - Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

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