Hidden Adventures: Kings River Expeditions

Dale Yurong Image
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Hidden Adventures: Kings River Expeditions
EMBED <>More Videos

We resume our "Hidden Adventures" series by going high above Pine Flat Dam for a ride along the Kings River.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The mighty Kings River runs through Twin Pines Camp in Dunlap, in the scenic Sierra National Forest.

Kings River Expeditions takes rafters by bus 10 miles from camp to the launch point for final safety instructions.

Helmets aren't required on the Class 3 run but we wore a helmet with a Go-Pro attached so you can see exactly what we saw on the river run.

But sometimes you don't see the big waves coming, so it can be an icy wake-up call.

Our guide, Casey Cornell, kept us focused.

"The most important thing is to have fun," he said. "That is the most important thing out here."

It's hard not to look deep into the crystal clear snowmelt, but staying inside the boat is key when you hit whitewater.

Each rapid comes with its own name -- from Big Mama to Banzai, and each offers refreshing waves.

Beware when you approach the big drop they call "Rooster Tail."

The crew was soaked but all smiles.

"You see something that's going to be a little bump, just lean into the middle of the boat," Cornell said. "That usually helps."

One thing you notice right away is when you get out on the water, you are not a passive passenger because teamwork makes the dream work on the Kings.

Like Vikings, we rowed in unison in search of battle and we found one.

A paddle high five for victory and then we moved on, only to get bumped by another boat downriver.

"I like to describe rafting as NASCAR," Cornell said. "Everyone wants to see a crash. They don't want to be in a crash."

You secure your front foot and secure your back leg so you don't get knocked overboard.

Some of our raftmates, Kelsey and Steve, wanted to test the waters once we reached a safe spot.

Stretches of calm, glassy water, though, were interrupted by big waves.

"This is a crazy, amazing total experience," says Kings River Expeditions Former Owner Justin Butchert. "Not just going down the river but being in the canyon. We're the only boats on the water."

Butchert recently sold KRE to Cornell, one of his former Recreation students at Fresno State.

"Casey's an amazing kid," he said. "It's like in the family. He's been with me for 12 years."

Justin no longer will worry about drought conditions shortening the season.

"I've been in the same position for literally 45 years," he said.

Rafting clearly is a lifetime sport. River guide Brian Serra is an ageless wonder.

Serra turns 75 years old in December. He knows every inch, every rock on the river."

Some are big boulders and avoidable, but others are submerged and can be troublesome.

"Knowing where they are comes from the experience of finding them," Serra said.

Old man river he is not. The water keeps him young.

"I think it's that perpetual motion," he said. "I keep doing it but I've stayed active with other things too."

Navigating the upper Kings can be challenging. Guides must be constantly aware of where the snowmelt can create roaring rapids.

"As soon as we see those hotter temperatures, it may jump a little bit but once we get to mid or end of June, it will decline," Cornell said.

This is a great place to forget about your troubles and your 9 to 5.

'It's definitely an off-the-grid adventure. There's no cell service up here. All you get is the soundtrack of mother nature.

Rafters savor this shared experience on the Kings River. They learn what it means to be a steward of the land.

"They'll carry this with them forever," Cornell said.

For more information on the Kings River Expedition, click here.