Ryan Allen knew the challenge that lay ahead. So did fellow Chattanoogan Bryce Evans and Asheville, N.C., resident Bryan Knight.
They had been there before: Just reaching the remote starting point of California's Kings River middle stretch for kayaking would test their durability.
After driving four hours to leave one car near the end of the river take-out point and then motoring another eight hours, they faced a strenuous 12.6-mile backpack to the start of the float. Then there would be the 40 miles of paddling the river's Class V rapids.
For another Chattanoogan, Nick Murphy, and Atlanta's Tim Collins, who grew up in Chattanooga, the 11-day July adventure was a new experience. The surrounding grandeur of Kings Canyon National Park made the difficulty worthwhile.
Flying their Creek Boats -- kayaks designed for steep, "technical" whitewater -- to Sacramento cost $250 for each of the five. They rented one vehicle at the airport -- one member of the group had a car already there -- and loaded the boats for the long drive.
"You start on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas and get to the top on the west side," Allen said.
The trail they hiked led through Bishop Pass, 12,000 above sea level, and Dusy Basin, a "big series of high alpine lakes and streams." Along the way, the men gained 2,000 feet and lost 3,000.
Starting at 7 a.m., they reached the first stopping point at about 2 p.m., camping at 10,000 feet.
"You start at Bishop, California," Allen related. "You put all of your stuff in the kayak and hike over a mountain pass. It's a lot of work, but the scenery is worth it."
They reached the river the next day after a two-mile descent into LeConte Canyon. Then came four days of paddling and three nights of sleeping under the stars, surrounded by mountain peaks extending to 14,000 feet. The take-out point at Pine Flat Reservoir near Fresno was 1,900 feet above sea level; they hit the river at 9,000 feet.
The kayakers mixed trout they caught with freeze-dried food.
They saw a bear and a lot of deer, along with three other groups making the same trip.
"But you're so occupied with trying to manage the river," Allen said, that there's little time to look at the wildlife.
Desp ite the long travel by air, by car, afoot and afloat, the group returned feeling rewarded.
"There's nothing that takes as much effort or is as logistically challenging as this," Allen said. "It's kind of the cream of the crop as far as expedition kayaking goes."