Until today, it had been quite a while since I made the journey down to Coloma to paddle the South Fork of the American. When I first moved to Lake Tahoe almost 10 years ago I used to go there all the time.
But gas prices kept rising and my motivation kept waning. Plus, the addition of the Reno Whitewater Park kept me fairly satisfied as long as it was above 800 cfs.
But this paddling season has been short lived due to poor precipitation this past winter. Many of us boaters are left feeling a little unsatisfied, and the only river that has any decent amount of water in it within a 2 hour drive of Reno is the South Fork.
The Gorge section is good fun, but if you are serious about playboating then the Chili Bar section is the way to go. The wave at Maya is a blast, and what is even better is the play hole at First Threat.
First Threat has changed for the better. It used to be a bit disorganized and a little thrashy, but now it is much cleaner and offers a lot of opportunity for some powerful moves and tricks.
The other notable rapid that offers some fun is Troublemaker. If you want to make the rapid a lot more interesting try running the far left side. Be advised that if you do, you will definitely want to throw a strong boof stroke at the horizon line.
It was good to be back down there on the South Fork even if it was so hot and dry that it burst into flames.
Situated at the base of the Sierra Buttes and in close proximity to Sierra City, California, the Wild Plum section of the North Fork of the Yuba is a wonderfully consistent class IV run.
Roughly eleven miles in length, this section can actually be combined with Moss and Rosasco Canyons to make it even longer. However, I suspect that you will have your fill by the end of the day.
There are a plethora of fun rapids, all of which are very runnable, and if you are a solid boater your only primary concern should be several downed trees in the river. There are some significant holes, including the one at the bottom of the blown out dam, and obviously the run gets harder the higher the water level gets.
The way the North Fork of the Yuba drainage works, flows are actually highest in the afternoon. The Dreamflows’ gauge for Sierra City is off by 12 hours, and regardless, it is just an estimate. The day I ran it the flows were at the high end of their projection at around 650 cfs.
Hopefully this video provides a good depiction of the run. This time I went with a classic and often used song that I like nonetheless because it always reminds me to appreciate each day, especially on the river, that I have. One of these days I’ll get a camera with better stabilization. Until then, I’ll keep trying. Thanks to Kevin Drake for the photos. Where are we going next?
This past Sunday I made it down Giant Gap on the North Fork of the American for my second time this season. The flow was somewhat lower at around 850 cfs, but it is still a quality run even at that flow. The scenery alone is spectacular.
The video does includes a couple of scenes from my first trip, but I felt important to include them in order to give a more comprehensive picture of the entire run.
It is difficult to capture many sections of the roughly 14.5 miles simply because the canyon walls are quite steep, friends are often impatient about waiting while I set up, and I have a hard time stopping to film when I really just want to run the rapids. Despite a certain amount of diligence, there are still many other fun class IV rapids that are not featured in this video.
On another note, I still struggle with the public release of information regarding special places like Giant Gap. But my firm belief is that knowledge is power, and the more people that appreciate the beauty and remoteness of places like Giant Gap, the more chances we have to continue to protect and preserve places like them.
Countless travelers zooming up and down Highway I-80 between Colfax and Truckee, California would never know of the beauty that lies just beyond their vision. Just over the eastern crest resides Giant Gap, a canyon of immense depth and beauty.
Because of the continuous nature of the river, and the fact that it is quite difficult to get out of your kayak, I was able to capture limited footage of the run. Nevertheless, I hope you at least get a taste of this California classic.
Giant Gap is an upper stretch of the North Fork of the American, which is formulated by the snow melt of the High Sierras surrounding the Lake Tahoe Basin. Primarily fueled by the Granite Chief Wilderness area, Giant Gap offers crystal clear water, an abundance of rapids, and spectacular scenery.
The Gap itself is framed by vertical cliffs that would be almost impossible to climb out of if attempted; therefore, it is wise to be prepared. You should expect to run several class IV-V rapids over the course of 14.5 miles.
To access the river you must carry or drag your boat 1.5 miles down the Euchre Bar Trail. Once headed downstream, it is not long before you are encountering rapids that continue for several miles before relenting.
The ones of most note are Nutcracker, Locomotive, and Dominator.
Nutcracker is to be approached in the center of the river right channel with a slight left-hand angle. Drive hard through the first hole and expect to immediately punch another head on.
Locomotive is to be run on far river right, but should not be attempted at all at flows higher than 1200cfs. There is a difficult portage on the right that requires some 5.5 climbing and boat beleeing. At higher water you can get out of the river on a small rocky nook on the right, and then belee someone downstream as they walk through the water to the easiest point of ascent.
Dominatrix into Dominator can be run river left or right, but should be scouted no matter what. You will know you are approaching the rapid when the geology of the river begins to change to a lighter colored rock.
In between each of these Class V rapids are numerous class III-IV rapids that are also worthy of respect and careful negotiation.
After winter, it is always a bit awkward dusting off the paddling gear and heading for the river. Arms feel like small rubberbands, and reflexes are still in hibernation. But after instinct and experience begin to recall their responsibilities, your body slowly remembers what it loves about paddling on a river.
It was quite nice to descend down from the snow covered Sierras to the beginnings of spring in Colfax. Chamberlains is a perfect class III-IV warm up to kick start the paddling season and remember what it is all about.
Here is a little off-the-couch production that depicts the first days of river recollection, hanging out with some Cali folks.
There are rivers, and then there is Bald Rock Canyon on the Middle Fork of the Feather. Just north of Oroville, California, this granitic masterpiece is a close equivalent to Yosemite Valley, except for the fact that there is an extremely exciting and challenging class V river run coursing through the middle of it.
I have paddled Bald Rock at many varying levels and at different times of the year. The major obstacle to contend with is Atom Bomb Falls, and the higher the water level the harder it is to navigate the must-make ferry above it. It is the only mandatory portage, and the rest of the rapids are boatable in some form or another. Optimal flow is 1,000 cfs, but the run certainly goes quite well anywhere between 800-1500cfs.
What is unique about Bald Rock is the geologic composition. White gleaming granite walls quickly envelope you as you meander downstream into the maw. Flakes of rock and giant boulders have sloughed off the sides of the canyon and fallen into the riverbed to form rapids. If you imagine the canyon as a giant V-shape with debris falling into its middle, you can also imagine the undercuts that ensue because of this action.
Nevertheless, the majority of the rapids are good-to-go, and a solid team with good scouting and reasonable judgement can make it down unscathed.
Many paddlers opt to camp overnight at Atom Bomb Falls. It is a beautiful array of rock and sleeping spots are numerous. If you elect to do the run in one day, keep in mind that the Middle Fork of the Feather flows into Oroville Reservoir, and unless you are lucky enough to get a tow across the lake from a motorboat, you will have a 3-mile paddle out across flat water. Following that is and a steep climb up to the dirt road that serves as the take-out. It’s a long day no matter what.
My most memorable moment on Bald Rock was a trip I did in mid-February. I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Kevin Greggerson along with his motorboat, and his girlfriend was kind enough to run shuttle for us. We were bombing down the run with me in the lead, and just as we were coming to the lip of Curtain Falls a Bald Eagle flew directly over our heads. Instead of stopping to scout, I stroked off the lip and landed comfortably at the bottom. Kevin and Andrew followed directly afterwards, and each of them had perfect lines. We were all smiles when we reached the boat and the warm clothes, beers, and smiling female faces inside.
My second most memorable trip was with Grant Korgan, and I will never forget watching him get absolutely trundled in a rapid to the point where I thought he might drown. I hate those situations in kayaking when you are in a position where you simply cannot access the person in need. Fortunately, he escaped the jaws of death, and he is still plunging into giant rapids today. The infamous rapid is halfway down the run, right above Curtain Falls, and it is marked by a giant pyramid rock at the bottom. Another friend of mine, Kells burst his ear drum in the same rapid.
As far as the combination of scenery, quality whitewater, and lack of crowds is concerned, Bald Rock is a true gem. It is logistically difficult to access, but it is definitely worth the effort.
Fordyce Creek is located in the Sierras just west of Truckee, California. It is an absolute gem for its spectacular scenery and miles of uninterrupted rapids. I often feel as if I am traveling on a high alpine trail when I am kayaking Fordyce.
However, Fordyce is not to be taken lightly. It is fairly remote and full of surprises. I have seen a significant amount of carnage over the years, including one death as a result of a vertical pin, a deep face laceration, a fractured jaw, and several swims. Additionally, every year there are new placements of fallen trees to contend with, and these obstacles always seem to be around blind corners or hidden in tight chutes.
Despite these inherent dangers, Fordyce is an unforgettable experience that will leave you both satisfied and sufficiently exercised. Optimal flow is between 3-600 cfs, but it can be run as flows as low as 200cfs.
Boatable flows on Fordyce are few and far between. In my experience, the past 8 years have consisted of calling the dam keeper and asking what the flow is. Usually, there is a period of one to two weeks in the Spring when it is running, and then sometimes is the Fall it will also run as they prepare to drop the reservoir down for the winter.
Part of the problem is the area around Fordyce is a popular recreational area for OHV-4 Wheelers, and many of them like to cross the creek. Even though many of them equip their vehicles with snorkels, the creek has to be at fairly low level for them to make it across; in fact, I have seen several of them stuck in the river, attempting to wench their way out.
So come summer, the snow completely melts away, Fordyce release levels go down, and the 4-Wheelers come out. Naturally, I would like to see a compromise where whitewater enthusiasts can be guaranteed boatable flows for part of the summer, and the 4-Wheelers can have their own scheduled dates. For as it stands now, kayakers and rafters are not receiving equal consideration.
Once you make the challenging 4-wheel drive down to the put-in, look for the water shooting out of the pipe at the bottom of the dam. If it’s not, you have just gotten screwed by the irregular releases that have historically presided over the run.
If there is water you scramble down the trail adjacent to the dam and the outflow pipe for Fordyce Lake. Look for the painted arrows at the far side of the parking area.
As soon as you apply your first stroke forward, the day is on and you are quickly approaching the first rapid, Eraserhead. A fun 50 foot slide, Eraserhead is usually run far left or center until the bottom,where it is best to make an immediate right at the point of connecting with the bottom hole.
There are many class IV rapids between here and the portage. Although, it should be noted the portage has been run by at least two people I know of, one of which had a dicey run at best. You will know when you are getting close because you will emerge into an open hanging valley suspended above a spectacular view of Old Man Mountain. Portage right or left.
On Sunday, I headed over to the North Fork of the Feather with some friends to take advantage of what is basically the last of any boatable flows until the rain and snow begin.
From Reno, we headed north on 395 to Hallelujah Junction and then took 70 west through Quincy to the Belden area. Be advised: we got pulled over for speeding on 395 because it is patrolled by aircraft. Needless to say, when we pulled off at the Junction, a patrolman was waiting.
The North Fork of the Feather is a roadside run that is the result of a deal that the American Whitewater organization negotiated with PG&E. The deal guarantees flows on the last weekend of each month, June – October from 10am-4pm. I have been a member of AW for quite some time, and if you are a whitewater enthusiast I recommend that you join and support them.
The run itself is class III-V with most of the difficulty crammed into about approximately a 1 mile stretch. Our group was able to run it 3 times because of the ease of access and the relatively short shuttle.
This season has been slim for me as far as kayaking; in fact, worst season on record since I started kayaking 10 years ago. I bought a brand new Jefe in the spring and never had a chance to take it out because of extensive house projects. Aside from the Rogue last weekend, where I boated a Kingpin, I had not been paddling at all.
My maiden voyage in the Jefe had me excited. I had heard many good things about this creek boat, but had never experienced them myself. I had also been warned that there is a break in period, and some of my friends had actually swam because of its nuances.
Well, swim I did. One the second run, I got pushed up against a boulder, flipped, and could not roll the damn thing. I tried several times to no avail. Eventually, I pulled my skirt and swam the most difficult section of the river. I couldn’t believe it! I used to paddle this very exact run in a playboat. It’s amazing how fast someone like myself can quickly get out of shape and out of his element.
After my Jefe disappeared for a while behind a big house sized boulder, it eventually emerged fairly unscathed. My friends pulled it to the side of the river and, after catching my breathe, I continued on. In fact, I went back for a third run to cure any psychological hiccups.
On the same disastrous second run, we came upon a group that had unfortunately experienced a vertical pin. Apparently, the paddler had to cut his kevlar skirt to get out. While the NF of the Feather is not remote or considered to be difficult class V, it has the ability to throw some surprises at the unexpected paddler.
There are numerous undercuts and sieves, and because of its ease of access and popularity there are significant possibilities for future incidents, injuries and even deaths. I hope that never happens.
Regardless, I am pleased with AW’s efforts, and it represents the opportunity to get on a fun fall run when little else is flowing.
Update: A recent post on boof.com details the pin, as well as provides some shocking pictures of the sieve that the paddler was stuck in. Check out these Flickr Photos –
This past weekend I journeyed northward for a long overdue trip down the Rogue River. A Tahoe contingency combined with an Oregonian posse to fly fish and float the Wild & Scenic section that starts just down the road from Galice at Grave Creek. We were fortunate to have 3 days of sunny weather complemented by beautiful fall foliage and a flow of 1250 cfs. Much bourbon was consumed, an excessive amount of shit was talked, and few fish were caught.
The Rogue is one of those classic rivers in Oregon that I have frankly always put off because there is so much to paddle in California. It is not a challenging run in terms of difficult whitewater, but it is a wonderful experience for any river enthusiast because it is filled with impressive scenery, abundant wildlife, and rich history.
If I recollect correctly, there are basically three distinct canyons with the first and third containing the only noteworthy rapids of any distinction. The first one is Rainey Falls. It contains a rather stompy hole on river left, which can easily be avoided. The second is Blossom Bar, which is generally run on the left.
I was paddling a Dagger Kingpin, which allowed me the freedom to explore interesting lines in both of these rapids. The rest of the time I sought out any play I could find.
We saw several bald eagles and deer over the course of the trip, and I had a river otter paddle by me just a few feet away. On the first day, there was an abundant amount of salmon spawning up the river, and it was fantastic to watch them leap clear out of the water around almost every bend.
The second night we camped just down from the Rogue River Ranch. It is a neat place with an old museum and several other interesting structures that were sold to the Bureau of Land Management under the Wild and Scenic Act. You can read more about it here. Suffice to say, it contains over 8,000 years of history involving both Indians and white pioneers. You may feel like a discoverer making your way down the Rogue River corridor, but the fact is many people have come before you. The Rogue has been used as source of sustenance, travel, protection, mining, and recreation for a long time.
As one who appreciates the incredible force of rivers, I will not forget the black and white photograph inside the museum that showed the Rogue at a tremendous level back in 1964. We were a great distance above the natural banks of the river, say, 100ft or more; yet, a grainy photograph showed the river coursing over the very ground we were standing on. When nature decides to kick ass, get out of the way.
The Rogue is another example of what proper resource management can accomplish. It could be buried under a dam project or polluted to the point of no return. Instead, it is a source of revenue for local outfitters and businesses, and it allows for visitors and locals alike to experience wilderness and history unabated in a unique and preserved wilderness setting.
We must continue to preserve our rich natural heritage.