How to portage the Seven Teacups and survive
Photography Maria Gates Narrative Richard D. Fisher
The Seven Teacups is one of the earth’s short but most spectacular canyoneering challenges. The “Teacups” is a succession of seven sculpted circular pools punctuated by six waterfalls. These sparkling emerald pools are set in tawny High Sierra Nevada granite slick rock that is polished to a high sheen. The pools are carved by rocks caught in a crevasse and under the force of the powerful high velocity water are swirled like marbles in the bottom of each cavity causing each pool to become deeper and deeper.
The name of this place is Dry Meadow Creek which is a tributary of the north fork of the Kern a few miles east of the tiny village of Johnsondale, California. The creek drops nearly three hundred feet in two-tenths of a miles which is over 1200 feet per mile.
The big view of the Teacups tributary and the Kern River forms a spectacular circle
between canyon-river-sky and set in majestic High Sierra granite cliffs. Here you
can seethe 7 Teacupsand also how the last quarter mile is obscured from view,
which is now the “Seven Teacups Gorge Mystery”.
“Back In The Day” 1998, I was in the offices of the top German outdoor adventure magazine and saw an incredulous full page photograph of kayakers dropping through an extremely technical and hazardous, yet visually striking pools, in snub-nosed kayaks. I couldn’t figure out what to think about first. Where was it? How could they do it? or How stunningly beautiful is it actually?
In 2005 I finally found the location and was able to take some interesting photographs sans people. At that time it was virtually impossible to get any type of directions or written description of this place, so typical of lacking information concerning this type of unique canyon world wide.
Due to the uniquely high water this spring 2011, the daring duo made the wise decisionto portage. It became clear to us from watching their heart stopping scout that they had been told where the portage was but had never actually done it themselves. Evan did a heart pounding descent on the north side of the falls only to find out that it is not possible without ropes in excess of 200 feet to get down that section. After he gave us a couple of near heart attacks ascending to his original position on an extended unprotected freeclimb of featureless slick rock, he rejoined Johnnie.
Look closely at the lower right quadrant of the above photograph and you will see a brilliant orange kayak. This will give you some perspective and scale of the mandatory portage of the Seven Teacups.
At this point it was getting very late in the day, so as Evan and Johnnie reached the bottom of this slick rock cliff, we departed for our three hour arduous bushwhack back to our vehicle knowing the daring duo were over the worst part and under the circumstances, reasonably safe.
Later at the Johnsondale take out bridge on the Kern River, we found that the canyoneers had several more close calls involving near broken legs, dehydration, and extreme sunburns. Being fifteen they were remarkably well-recovered the following day. They looked a lot like two nearly drowned and starving puppies, but our hats are off to them for their bravery as well as wilderness skills at such a young age.
THE SEVEN TEACUPS GORGE MYSTERY
For us one mystery still remains. What happens in the slot canyon gorge between the Teacups and the Kern River? It is not possible to see clearly from any vantage point but from our view point it appeared that there was another 200-300 foot drop through the hidden gorge to the Kern River. We have been told “there is really nothing in there except a few small falls.”. And on the other hand, we have been told that there are several small technical falls and deep pools and two more waterfalls in the range of 30-70 feet in this last mysterious quarter mile.
We leave our story of May 1, 2011 with a question: What specifically is in the lower Seven Teacups gorge. And we want to know the information from someone who has actually done
it personally. Can you help us?