Extreme Cooler Packing–the Biggest Challenge of the Middle Kings

Speed descents on hard rivers seem to be all rage these days.  What first caught my attention was when Tommy Hillike and John Grace did the Middle Kings (including the hike in) in 1 day.  Then Chris Korbulic and Ben Stooksberry did it in an even shorter day.  If I’m not mistaken, Tommy and John also did Upper Cherry Creek and the Grand Canyon of the Stikine in 1 day.  Now, I’ll admit that all of this is impressive.  I mean, there’s no way I could hike 13 miles over an 11,972 foot pass and then paddle 50 miles of Class V+ in under 24 hours.  So my hat is definitely off to these boys. 

 Darcy on one of the easy rapids in the Bottom 9.  We spent 11 hours kayaking this stuff for my 30th birthday–not bad!
But, in recent conversations, our good friend Brad brought to our attention that Don Beveridge had accomplished an even more impressive feat on the Middle Kings—he made his “5-day Extreme Cooler” last 9 full days in the near-Fresno 100+ degree heat making it so that our crew had ice cold beverages at the take out.

Take that Tommy Hillike!

It was July of 2009 and we had resigned ourselves to missing the Middle Kings.  Don and Bill’s family was having a reunion in British Columbia and so we left California just days before it seemed the Middle Kings would be in.  The day after the reunion, we were surfing Skookumchuck when we decided to check the gauge for the Middle Kings…just in case.  To our amazement, it was in.  A solid week of thunder storms had kept the river at a good level.
 Access Denied

So we loaded into the car, drove 20 hours straight to Bill’s house in Coloma, grabbed creek boats, overnight gear and a 2nd car.  Without rest, we drove the 6+ hours to the take-out (remember, we’re in a major hurry, don’t want that water to run out on us)!  After we tried to sleep for 4 hours in the sweltering heat, we got up and proceeded to watch Don pack and re-pack and insulate his precious cooler with extra clothes, a sleeping bag and a foam pad. 

Don had put a lot of thought into beer selection and cooler preparation. He layered the bottom of the cooler with a selection of pre-chilled beer:  PBR for instant takeout gratification and re-hydration, then onward to the likes of Stone IPA and Green Flash.  On top of this he layered three blocks and a bag of ice to try to give the cooler a fighting chance.  The sleeping bag and clothes were to add as much insulation as possible to the total cooler package.    

Now, we had bought the ice the night before on our way through Fresno so day 1 of ice really begins with the night shuttle. 
Bill and I were very skeptical.  It was only 6am and the temps at the take out were already in the high 80’s.  We planned on hiking in the next day, and were going to spend 6 days on the river, so the cooler would have to last 7 days in this heat and there wasn’t any shade for the car.  So, we placated Don by sitting by while he meticulously arranged his cooler, all the while knowing it was pure foolishness and that we’d be drinking warm beer 7 days from now.
 Almost to the top!
30 or so minutes later Don was ready to go.  We got in the car to embark on the 8 hour drive to the put in.  Although the route takes you through Yosemite National Park, we were totally over being in the car and just pressed on to Bishop without taking the time to soak in the granite domes. 
About 1 hour out of Bishop an amazing hail, rain, thunder and lightening storm hit.  We drove through in awe of the storm and even more impressed by the 2 fires we saw spark up from lightning strikes.  Our impression turned to gloom, however, when we got to the Bishop ranger station to pick up our backcountry permit and learned that one of those fires was right at our trailhead and our trail to the put in was closed INDEFINITELY.
 Bill in some typical “boogie” water on the Middle Kings

F&%K!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Was the first thing that came to my mind.  We’d endured over 36 hours in the car, sleep deprivation, mal-nutrition, and suffered through watching Don pack his stupid cooler only to strike out here in Bishop.  My 30th birthday was just days away and I really wanted to spend it in the Middle Kings but Mother Nature was seriously F-ing up my plans.
So, we languished in a cheap Bishop motel room for 2 days and 2 nights.  I was worried that we’d never be allowed to access the trailhead, and Don was worried that the extra days might cause his ice to melt.   Then finally we heard the word—the trail was open (well sort of).  It was open enough that we could get in and get hiking if we did it fast!

 And, no, once we got to the river, the hiking portion of the trip was NOT over.  There was a descent amount of portaging in the ensuing days
So, on day 3 since buying the ice, we starting hiking.

 Don in the relentless Bottom 9
It took us a day to hike in and then we paddled 5 days of the “steeze.”  We hucked big falls, ran the shit, blah, blah, blah.  
The important part to this story….yes, wait for it…we arrived to our scorching hot car 9 full days later to find…oh, yes, we couldn’t believe, Don was right and we were wrong…there were 3 tiny little chunks of ice floating in the cooler as we opened the lid.
I never would have thought as we trudged across that hot and dusty parking lot that there was a chance of anything cold being in that car; but as Don, Bill, and I all peered with our tired and anxious eyes into the cooler, we witnessed those precious little ice pieces give up the last of their solid H20 state after putting up one hell of a fight.
Then we reached our hands into the frigid cooler water and pulled out 3 icy cold PBRs. 
What a sweet ending to our almost botched Middle Kings trip.
I’m sorry I doubted you Don.  All bow to the king of cooler-packing! 
So, while we may never break a speed record on the Middle Kings, Don can pack the hell out of a cooler, and I can assure you, we will always have the coldest beers at the take out.

One Response to Extreme Cooler Packing–the Biggest Challenge of the Middle Kings

  1. Shayne June 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Ahhh Darcy,

    You capture the essence of the spirit of kayaking well in your story. There is nothing like a wonderfull cold beer at the take out! That guy is a keeper for sure, since he has his priorities strait.
    See you on the water soon someplace with a cold one after the paddle.

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