Big Challenge on Dinkey Creek



Waterfalls, trophy drops, and stellar scenery make California’s Dinkey Creek a kayaking paradise, but can it be run in a raft? When a crew decided to try, Darin McQuoid brought his camera to capture the action.


In 1989, after the first descent of Dinkey Creek, Paul Martzen said, “A high performance inflatable might be good for this run.” Little did he know, it would take twenty-five years for this to happen.


The waterfalls of Dinkey Creek, in the Sierra National Forest, have unparalleled whitewater. Six miles of glorious action, the first mile hitting over four-hundred feet per mile with only one portage. For many it has become a seasonal pilgrimage.One day there’s an email in my inbox asking about the possibility of rafting Dinkey Creek. It sounds like a good idea, until one of the potential rafters asks to borrow a sleeping bag.


Jump ahead a few more years and Dan McCain’s inquiry about rafting Dinkey Creek doesn’t seem that far-fetched. A year before Dan and Jeff Compton proved their ability to tackle the most challenging of river puzzles by completing the Middle Fork of the Kings River (check out their video here). A trip through the waterfalls should be a walk in the park for these guys.


As far as Sierra Nevada rivers go, Dinkey Creek is easy to estimate when it will be in. At least that’s true in a typical year. Tragically, we’re in the middle of record-setting winter for low snow pack, and when flows come up, we know it’s go time with little notice.


We meet on the late morning of April 10th, which feels strange for a run that typically has the right water level in mid-summer. An advantage is that April temperatures are far lower than the triple digits of July and August. This is of considerable benefit, since the raft, which can’t slide down half of the sixteen-hundred foot descent to the river, turns the mile-long hike into an arduous trek.


By now, we’re a little worried. I’ve never seen a raft go down anything this big and we have enough food for only one night. Putting on at three in the afternoon is certainly not part of the plan.


The moment we hit the water everything coalesces. We’re all veterans of the river; we speak the same language and move quickly, attempting to  capture as many images as possible. (It’s not like we see rafts tackling this kind of gradient every day.) All the kayakers are pleasantly surprised with how swiftly the raft team moves downstream and handles the first portage.


At camp we take note to always bring a raft—it’s fantastic for gathering firewood. To hit maximum flow, we start early the following morning, putting on a touch before eight. A true Calpine start. In our groove, the day progresses rapidly and without complications.


The normally brown foothills are clothed in gold this early in the spring, a fitting backdrop for one of the world’s finest gems of whitewater.


After a successful descent, Dan McCain sums up the trip perfectly:

“The Dinkey Creek trip was one of those trips that exceeded all expectations. We were very fortunate to have a great crew of people to take us down a truly unbelievable section of whitewater. Everything that you read about the waterfall section of Dinkey is true. The scenery is out of this world, the endless drops are big and clean, separated by big pools, and the canyon is truly amazing. It is a six-mile stretch of whitewater that will put an ear to ear grin on any paddler’s face!”