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It is hard for me to describe the Middle Kings in words. Even after researching, and asking numerous people about the run in the weeks leading up to this trip, nothing prepared me for the journey that three friends and I began at the trailhead to Bishop’s Pass. The Middle Kings is by far the most mentally, physically, and technically challenging thing that I have ever done.
To give you a brief overview of the Middle Kings, it is a multi-day, trans Sierra expedition. It begins with a 13-mile hike in, starting at 9 thousand feet, over a 12 thousand foot pass, and then back down to 8 thousand feet. From there, it is about 40 miles of remote class V whitewater, dropping 7,000 vertical feet from the put in to the take out, ending at about 1 thousand feet above sea level.
The hike was full on. I was carrying my Villain S loaded with food and gear. Thirteen miles with 80-100 pound loaded boats is only the beginning of the mission. We started hiking late in the afternoon, camped on the trail, and finished it out the next day. I had a lot of time to think about what I was getting myself into. I had to force myself to realize that I was ready for this trip, and that the only way out was to keep moving forward. We camped at the put-in that night, resting up before the first big day.
We broke the river up into three days. The first day started out as a super low volume creek, that gradually gained more volume as tributaries came in. Looking back, the first day was kind of like a warm up day. Class V, but lower volume, so more predictable and less pushy than the days to come.
The middle 9 miles was a kind of white water that I hadn’t had much experience with. There was much more volume than the first day, but still with the steep creek characteristic. This was probably the scariest day of kayaking that I had ever had. The river became continuous class V boulder gardens that did not let up. Swimming was definitely not a good option, and after a while I began to develop a new mind set: point downstream, keep your bow up, and don’t stop paddling.
That night at camp, we were all nervous. The main thing that I had heard about the Middle Kings before coming on this trip was how scary the Bottom Nine was. (That’s the last nine miles on the Middle Fork of the Kings.) This wasn’t a super comforting thought, realizing that the middle 9 had been some of the most serious and challenging whitewater that I had ever paddled. There was no sleeping-in the next morning. We got up early, ate all the food that we could, and geared up, preparing our minds for the battle to come. We were camped at the start of the bottom 9, so there was not much of a warm up. And that wasn’t the end either. The bottom 9 ends at the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings, and from there we had 11 more miles of class V big water to the take out.
The bottom 9 was the most stressful day I have ever had. The river kept the characteristic of continuous boulder gardens, however, it became steeper, and less clean. The riverbed became much more dangerous in the bottom nine. Scouting, portaging, and full on paddling through whitewater I had never imagined, made this a day I will never forget. It took us about half the day to get through the bottom 9. We reached the confluence, and a feeling of accomplishment and relief came over the whole group. We took a short break before starting the last 11 miles.
The last section of the Kings, called Garlic falls, was not an easy paddle out. When we finished the bottom 9, I was so relieved, I became a bit complacent, and wasn’t expecting the Garlic Falls section to be as hard as it was. While it was no where nearly as stressful as the bottom 9, it was still serious class V, and some of it was walled in, making it even more committing. But it went smoothly, and we all made it to the take out safely.
Reaching the take out to the middle kings is a moment and a feeling that I will never forget. Five days of nervousness, fear, and stress had just come to an end. The Middle Kings is not the type of run that you put on and enjoy every moment of. The hike, the length of the run, the difficulty of the whitewater, the strenuous portages, and the remoteness of the river, create moments where you question why you decided to do this run. The best way that I can think of to describe the Middle Kings is a battle. Both mentally and physically, you don’t stop fighting until you reach the take out. But I can assure you the feeling of accomplishment you have when the car finally comes into view is worth everything. There is only one way to know what the Middle Kings is like, and that is to do it yourself. The Middle Kings is the most beautiful place I have been, the most amazing thing I have done, and definitely my most proud accomplishment in the sport of kayaking.

See you on the water,

-Hunt Jennings

Due to the stressful nature of the Middle Kings, media wasn’t always my first priority, but here’s a few pictures of the scenery and a little bit of whitewater!