Goal Zero Extreme Adventurer: Mike McKay

What has Mike McKay, one of our Goal Zero Extreme Adventurers been up to? He is a kayaker, conservationist, and solar powered filmmaker.

“A week or two tardy now, but in mid-June through mid-July the Five2Nine crew rallied to the west coast, extending the spring creeking season by grabbing some snowmelt along the Coast and Sierra Ranges. The West Coast had been hammered by snowfall this year, and there was no shortage of water. Plans for the High Sierra Classics (runs like Dinkey, Upper Cherry or Middle Kings) faded into lower elevation big water runs.

The trip began after being joined by good friend and LiquidLore author Steve Arns, knocking a few laps down the Little White and the Green Truss sections of the Salmon drainage. More importantly, we were able to help out in a small way with documenting the removal of the Condit Dam, an enormous 100-foot tall piece of concrete infrastructure that block the migration of salmon up – and sediment down – the White Salmon River. This dam removal is one of the largest undertaken in the US, and the first of many such projects that will again free the energy of moving water and return the rivers below them to life. Documenting this dam removal is a fitting choice for this trip the Five2Nine team – powered by Goal Zero – used strictly solar power to shoot video, stills and edit for the latest edition of CURRENTS.

The idea to shoot solely on the power of the sun makes perfect sense in a place like California. For our pasty white hides, hidden under dry suits for the entire spring, the available energy in the hot California sunshine is clearly there for the taking. You can feel it, trust me. The solar project was really just a small example to demonstrate the possibilities. We can recognize that although it is a stretch to say that solar (or wind, or tidal) will ever meet the entire energy needs of a nation, what we really wanted to highlight through this solar-powered episode is the power we aren’t using. We aren’t plugged in. We aren’t using the coal-powered hotel plugs. We aren’t using the hydro-powered plugs at the roadside diners.

Through use of alternative sources we can make the most of the resources we have at hand, and limit the destruction of many others. Solar may not power the world, not yet anyway, but through small wins like this – through technology and conservation – we may be able to save some of our favorite rivers, particularly some of the small-scale or micro-hydro projects that threaten so many places we, as kayakers, hold dear.

Anyway, back to the action. With the snowpack melting and waters rising, we headed south, stopping at Brush Creek for some low-stress waterfalling before hitting the granite of Big Kimshew and the South Branch Middle Fork of the Feather.

Philip Kompass and Van-island local Shayne Vollmers joined the crew on Canada Day (July 1) and rallied up to Cody Howard’s (www.HuckingHuge.com) pad in Auburn for a night’s rest before a run down the Upper Middle Cosumnes the next day. Steep gradient, gorgous white granite and hard white water makes for a great day.

With the state in a weeklong heat wave, levels continued to rise. A quick check of South Silver – on everyone’s hit list – confirmed that we needed to look elsewhere and rallied to the nearby Slab Creek Section of the South Fork of the American. This is an outstanding section of read and run, big water class IV+ that was nobody’s second choice. The next day, a high water run of the bottom portion of Lover’s Leap and the Kyburz section of the South Fork American.

With some logistical stuff sorted out, including finding a replacement vessel (cracked boat on Kimshew) the crew gathered supplies and began the monstrous shuttle into and out of Milsap Bar to run the class V- multi-day Middle Fork of the Feather and a medium flow of 2000 cfs. With the normal access point blocked due to construction, this standout classic section of river now has a four-hour shuttle. Thankfully, it is three worthwhile days on the water and three spectacular canyons (unnamed, Franklin and Devils).

Everything you have – or will – read about this section is true. I won’t repeat it, but there is a reason why this was one of the first rivers in the United States to be protected with the Wild & Scenic River designation. It is stunning.

With bellies full of pizza, and the epic shuttle drive dealt with, we headed up and over the still-snowy range, dropping into the Yuba drainage and heading towards Auburn. The ultra-classic and very popular 49-Bridgeport section of the South Fork of the Yuba was running a healthy 5490 cfs, and we put on in the late-afternoon for a few hours of class V. Again, this run lives up to the hype. Big drops, big holes and stark granite lined riverbanks for 7 miles of excellent, pushy creek boating.

With the crew in various states of disrepair, we grabbed a solid night’s sleep in Auburn and began the long trip back to reality.

In all, despite the changing flows, we managed to paddle new rivers or sections for 10 days straight, and all within a few hours of Auburn. It may not have been the teacups of the High Sierra’s but it was a week well spent. Can’t wait to get back there.

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