My Inauguration into 'Old Fartdom' on Upper Cherry

 This blog is cross-posted on the Kokatat team blog

I grew up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and yet until last summer, I hadn’t yet done any of the high elevation Sierra classic overnighters. I didn’t learn to kayak until after I left home and by the time I was skilled enough to run them, I was no longer living in California. But more importantly, I never made it a priority of mine, and for years got swept up in other events and didn’t follow up on what my heart was telling me to do. Growing up just an 1.5hr drive from Upper Cherry, and yet never running it, had been a niggling thorn in my side for over a decade.

This last year, I decided to do something about that missing part of my soul and I made a point to return to my roots with a best friend from college, Dan Menten and a new friend James McCleod. Leif (my husband) dropped us off at the West Cherry hike and went back to my parents’ place to hang out with our two kids (Davis 4yrs, Calvin 1.5yrs). We barely snuck in a narrow window before the flows dropped out. My heart was singing the whole time as I soaked in the camaraderie of my friends and challenging my body in such a spiritual place that felt like home.

James, Dan, and I (left to right) fresh and ready to start hiking at 11 AM after a leisurely breakfast and the usual futzing around with packs and gear.

Who needs GPS! We are old enough that we still know how to pick a route and follow it on a topo map.

Dan "hiking" up West Cherry, shorty before a long lunch.

James McCleod catches a break in the toenail-demolishing slab downclimb as the afternoon shadows start creeping in.

It was amazing to be in that place with Dan - someone who I still look up to as an amazing mentor and paddler. Dan was that paddler who took me down my first class IV+ and V- runs and was always non judgmental and provided that boost of confidence that is so nice to have when making a step up. There is something special about long friendships where you don’t see each other for a while and then you are able to reconnect even after years apart.

We had good lines (See Dan's video from the trip) and life styled the trip to the max. These days it seems that the trend is to turn classic overnight trips into one day tests of skill and fitness. We went the other direction and took three relaxed days to do upper Cherry -  replete with long lunch breaks, naps, side hikes, lapping the teacups, and simply enjoying each other's company and most importantly soaking up the beauty of the wilderness. It was especially fun to listen to James work out his jokes for the upcoming North Fork Championship where he MCs the awards and is a true icon.

Dan Menten and I at camp and put-in, just after a lovely hike, fresh as daises. Photo by James McCleod.

James McCleod (upstream) and Dan Menten (downstream) near the beginning of where the river starts to transition from scaping-down slides to floating-down slides.

Dan finally runs West Coast Gorilla for the first time after walking it ten times since 2006. Never too old to try something new!

After a long napping lunch, we cruised through cherry bomb gorge an into camp around 3pm. I found I still had plenty of energy to lap the teacups and practice my freewheel. Photo by Dan Menten.

Just before dark during our second night below cherry bomb gorge, a group of youngsters (Ali Markoff, Cameron, Owen Doyle and Vance) showed up just before dark who had started out with the hike that morning. My only thought as they scampered up the cliff at camp to view the sunset was, WOW! they seem to still have a lot of energy after what must have been a grueling day!

The next morning we got an earlier start then them, but they caught us just below camp as we were scouting Double Pothole. We continued as a large group until below all the big rapids where we had a group lunch. As we were eating but not quite done, the youngsters said good naturedly “see ya old farts!” and headed downstream.

In one of my favorite moments, Dan put on his Ranger hat and in a serious voice asked Vance and Cameron, “Did you boys fill out your back country permits for this trip?” To which Vance replied.. “Ooooh can I have one as a souvenir!”

Mobbing it as a group through Waterfall Alley. Photo by Natalie Anderson.

Cameron sends Kiwi in a Pocket after I took one look at it and shouldered my boat. Is my age making me a scardie cat or wise? Photo by Natalie Anderson.

The Youngsters and the Old Farts chumming together at lunch. Photo by Natalie Anderson.

Well, this was the first time I had ever been called an Old Fart! I certainly don’t feel old, I feel like I’m in my prime both physically and mentally! But then, I looked around and saw the wrinkles on my friends’ faces and realized, that yeah, when you are over 35 you do seem old to under twenty year olds. I laughed and realized that I had just crossed a threshold and had been inaugurated to Old Fartdom! I’m officially middle-aged! 

Yes, our energy is slower and our wrinkles are deeper, but I also sense that there is a strong and powerful undercurrent to our ‘old fartdom’ that only comes from experience. I am more capable to enjoy the blessings of trips such as these than I ever have been before. 

Who wants to come on an ‘Old Fart’ trip with me next year?

Dan with a strong finish across the lake. Photo by Natalie Anderson.


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