Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cali Trip - Part 1: Pauley and Lavezzola Creek

After a great trip down the MF Feather last Memorial Day weekend, (trip report here) Jason, Shawn, Chris and I decided to head down to California once again this year for another boating adventure. Originally, we had discussed doing another multi-day self-support trip, this time on Deer Creek, however, with the unpredictable water levels, we decided it would be best to just head down there and boat whatever had the best flows. With the large amount of snowpack in Cali this year, our concern was that levels would actually be too high, but cooler than normal temps kept the levels at bay, and they only came up slightly due to the rain that was hammering the entire west coast. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to bring Deer Creek to a boatable level, so instead we headed further south to attack the Yuba drainage.

I had heard of Downieville as both a world class kayaking and a mountain biking destination, so I was pretty excited that this was where we were planning to base our operation. I had also drooled over trip reports, photos, and videos of runs like Pauley Creek, 49 to Bridgeport, and Giant Gap; they had been on my list for awhile now and I was really looking forward to knockin' a couple off.

It was now Wednesday evening, and the time of our departure had come. Chris, who was coming down from the Portland area, met me at my house where we tried to shove all of our gear into my Outback. Normally, two people with boating gear wouldn't be a problem in this type of vehicle, but as anyone will tell you, I pack everything but the kitchen sink, and man do I love gear! After packing 'er full, we headed south to Grants Pass where we would meet up with Shawn and Jason at Jason's parents' house. Jason, who now lives in San Diego, flew up here just to go on the trip; it really shows how much he likes me...oh, and the other guys and boating as well, I guess.
Once Chris and I arrived and traded pleasantries with Jason's folks, we headed to the bar "JD's", which is part of our southern destination ritual. Usually this place serves up quite a few stories of interesting encounters and misadventures, but this night it was pretty quiet, which I assume had to do with it being the middle of the week. After a couple of rounds of beer and shuffleboard, we headed back to Jason's abode for some rest before continuing south.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs which Jason's mom had prepared for us. Like every other time I've been to their house, they treat you like one of their own and give you the star treatment; it was good to be back! After devouring breakfast, we headed to the grocery store to grab some food for the trip before making our way to the California border. As tradition would dictate, our first stop in Cali was the Sierra Nevada brewpub. It's fairly expensive, but the food is pretty good, and man I love their beer! We had lunch and did a small self-tour of the brewery before heading to our final destination, Downieville.

When we finally pulled into Downieville, it was drizzling rain, which was very reminiscent of the state we had just come from. Is this really what we had traveled to sunny California for!? Being the wimps we are, we all decided to just kick in on a hotel room and wait for the rain to subside before camping out, hopefully the following day. We ended up staying at the Riverside Inn, which as the name suggests, sits right on the Downie river which flows through town. Both Pauley and Lavezzola (separated only by a single ridge) combine to make up a majority of the flow of this river, with each of the confluences being ~1 mile upstream from our hotel room, basically within walking distance.

Topo of Pauley and Lavezzola Creek.
The cool thing is you can lap both in the same day since
they're short, (~3 miles each) separated by a small ridge,
and share pretty much the same put-in and takeout!

The room was ~$100 an night which wasn't too bad since it was split four ways. It also had a full kitchen, free breakfast, and a fireplace to sweeten the deal and make it a little more romantic for the other guys...

Our room (photo stolen from their website)

View from the back porch of the Downie River

View from the back porch looking at the bridge into town


Downieville with the ridge separating
Lavezzola and Pauley in the background

Once we had settled in, we decided to do a little recon and scout Pauley, as well as head up to the Love's Falls section on the NF Yuba to see what that was all about. (Love's Falls on Oregon Kayaking) After a quick drive up the road from our hotel, we parked at the "Second Divide" trailhead which can be used to hike into Upper Pauley. (adding ~1.5 miles to the normal run) The normal put-in can be accessed by simply hiking down the hill from the trailhead, skirting the private property on the uphill side. (being careful not to trespass on their land) Since we were just scouting, we quickly ran up the trail to scout the upper stuff. We peered over the edge in a couple of spots where we saw what appeared to be a lot of fun class 3 to 4 drops; although, since we were between one and two hundred feet above the creek it was hard to tell for sure.

Shawn scouting Pauley Creek from Second Divide Trail
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

After looking at Upper Pauely for a 1/2 hour or so, we headed back to the car and drove up past Sierra City to the Love's Falls on the NF Yuba where the PCT bridge passes overhead. It had actually started to snow on us as we drove through Sierra City, and soon it was dropping quarter sized snowflakes. We parked as soon as we saw the PCT sign, and then hiked down the trail about 1/4 mile to the bridge. I have never run this section, but my understanding is that the bridge can also be used as a put-in to avoid trashy class 5 stuff above. What we could see from the bridge was pretty sweet looking with a huge classic boof just below us. It certainly looked like more than I was willing to bite off, especially with no warm up and a solid flow of water. After drooling over the back-to-back ledge drops, which made up all of what we could see, we headed back to our sleeping quarters.

Shawn and me on the PCT bridge over the Love's Falls section
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

View from PCT bridge looking upstream at the Love's Falls Section
(Photo by Jason Naranjo)

Once we were back at the hotel, I called Eric, who would be meeting up with us the next morning. Next, we cooked up a mean pot of pasta, had some beers and mountain taffy, enjoyed the fire, watched some bizarre comedy channel, and crashed out for the night. The next morning we woke up to partly cloudy skies and a free breakfast at the innkeepers' quarters. They were a nice couple and told us (in a roundabout way) they don't get many mountain bikers and kayakers staying there because of how cheap we are... Can't say I was too surprised. About the time we finished up breakfast with our hosts, Eric and Amanda rolled up in his ultimate shuttle rig. Since they had driven until 2am, Eric decided to sit a lap out and catch us on the next one. With that, he graciously ran our first shuttle.

Pauley Creek:
Based on the internet gauge on the Dreamflows website, (here) we had ~225 cfs, which is a low to medium-low level. After running the creek I would have to agree.
Since we were planning to do a couple of laps we decided to wait for Eric to hike into the upper section, and instead put-in near the Second Divide trailhead. It's about a 5 to 10 minute scramble down to the creek depending on where you want to put-in; we decided to start just above the first technical drop we came to. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful this place was, it was going to be a great day!

Shawn pulls out of the eddy at the put-in to Lower Pauley

After a fairly mellow warm-up section, and an easy class IV mini gorge, we arrived at the first major drop of the run, a ~12 footer, Federal Falls. At this level it was pretty straightforward down the right side with no real hydraulic at the base. I've heard that at higher flows, the hole gets pretty sticky and left is actually the preferred line. I set up for some shots while the other three ran it nice and clean. I quickly put my camera away and peeled out of the eddy toward the drop. I ended up taking my boof stroke way too early, (which I have a habit of doing) and subbed out pretty good, but came out upright with a big smile on my face; good fun!

Chris stretches for the delayed boof at Federal Falls

Shawn drops over the lip of Federal Falls

By this time, Chris and Shawn had already scouted the next drop and gave me the sign to run it left, which I did without issue. The others came through shortly after.

Chris digs in at the ledge just below Federal Falls

More mellow water ensued until we came to the next horizon line, a nice slide with a small boof, followed quickly by another small ledge. We all ran it starting center left and angled right down the slide. After the boof, a quick move was made back to the left to run the bottom ledge.

Next up was a fun 6 to 8 foot ledge, which allowed for a nice boof. Chris signaled the line down the middle and we all fired it up with good lines.

Jason drops over the 6-8 foot ledge

Jason and Chris relax just below the ledge drop shown in the previous photo
(photo by Shawn Haggin)

A couple of river bends later, the wall narrowed down signaling the second waterfall, Split Falls (a ~15 foot drop). After a quick scout, I offered to run it first so I could set-up for some photos from below. The line that I planned was to set-up on the right side of the narrow entrance, angle left down the slide and hit the boof about halfway down. Luckily everything went according to plan, and I was now sitting below what would be my favorite drop of the run. One by one, the others came through with similar lines and results.

Chris hittin' the kicker at Split Falls

Shawn droppin' in to Split Falls

Jason gets airborne at Split Falls

From here, the rest of the run was class 2-3 all the way to the takeout at Pauley Falls. Unfortunately this 20 footer looked a little bony to run on this day. I was wishing the creek had another 75 to 100 cfs to clean-up the entrance a bit; in a couple of days I would have my wish...

Soon after we had gotten back from grabbing the second car from up top, Eric showed up at the takeout ready for some action. This time we hiked up Second Divide until we saw a sign for Third Divide Trail (probably about a mile and a half). Shortly after this, a spur trail heads down to the right and to the creek. All in all, it was a pretty easy hike which maybe took 20 minutes. There is a cool little mining cabin and outhouse here that is worth checking out, if you have a few minutes.

After putting on, we quickly had to portage a river-wide log before continuing downstream. What followed was what I considered to be the best section on Pauley, minus the waterfalls. To me it felt more tight, technical and gorged out, with low stress class III/IV drops stacked on top of each other. We ran it at a fairly rapid pace, so I didn't get out to take any photos, except at one of the taller ledge drops.

Eric goes over one of the taller ledges on the upper section of Pauley

Soon enough, we were back to where we had put on the first time, and since we now knew the lines we blazed down with Eric following by sight and verbals. Since I already discussed the run above I won't go into too much detail, but a couple of parts are worth telling...
The first one happened at Federal Falls. Since we knew it was a pretty safe drop, we all conspired to lead Eric over it with minimal beta. My understanding is that he was told there was a small ledge coming up that you wanted to be right on; the line was correct, just the height was a little off. =) I came through last, only to see Eric with a big smile on his face, apparently he had a great line and was very accepting of our little prank.
The second occurred at Split Falls. I was dragging a little behind, and as I approached the lip I could hear all sorts of hootin' & hollerin'. I was used to this behavior paddling with Jason over the years, but decided to eddy out left and peer over the edge to see what all the commotion was about. As it turns out, they had all bombed over the fall "blue angel style", and Shawn had gotten stuck in the hole. Unfortunately, Eric was right behind Shawn, and also got stuck trying to avoid hitting him. Luckily they both made it out without swimming and had a good laugh about it afterward.

In the end, I would have to say that Pauley Creek is a great run, even at these lower flows. Basically, it was low stress class 4 which made for a nice warm-up to our trip. We had planned to also run Lavezzola, but we were a little tired and had heard mixed reviews on the run. With that we called it a day, and headed back to the hotel, which we decided to keep for another night since the weather was once again looking iffy.

The following morning we were greeted with bright sunny skies and warmer temps; according to the innkeepers it was forecasted to get into the mid 70s. This is what we came to Cali for!

Wild Plum (NF Yuba):
It was now Saturday, and we decided we'd run the "Wild Plum" stretch of the NF Yuba (called the "Sierra City" run on Oregon Kayaking). The flow for the NF Yuba at Goodyears Bar was ~1400 cfs (here), which correlated to ~650 cfs at Sierra City (here).
We paddled from Wild Plum campground to Shangri-la Resort. According to our highway miles, this made for a ~11 mile day on the water. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos of the run, however, I can say that it is really high quality with miles of continuous class IV, and a couple of IV+ gorges. It's definitely worth doing if you're in the area. I have to say I was a little tired out by the end of the run. Here is a trip report from the "A Wet State" website, Wild Plum.

Since the weather had gotten so nice, we decided to man up and do some campin'. Eric had spent another day on Pauely and Lavezzola with his buddy from Sacramento, Bill. I had paddled with Bill in Oregon and we had a great time on the river, so I was glad he was showing up for this trip. Eric, Amanda, and Bill had already picked out a site and set-up camp at Ramshorn, about 5 miles west of Downieville. It ended up being a pretty nice campground with only a few other people staying there. This would be our home for the remainder of the trip.
As soon as we walked into camp, we were told of their day of boating, which came with high marks for Lavezzola. I made the comment that I wish we would've done it, and no sooner did the words come out of my mouth did Eric jump on the idea of another lap. It was only 5pm, and although I was worn out from already boating quite a few miles, I didn't want to miss out on doing the run while we were in the area. He was also able to corral everyone else, except Shawn who wanted to get started on the fire; the boy loves building a fire...

Based on the internet gauge here, Lavezzola had an estimated 250 cfs, and once again a medium-low flow. Amanda needed to grab some things in Downieville, so she graciously offered to run our shuttle. We once again headed up the road which follows the ridge separating Pauley from Lavezzola. This time we drove past the Second Divide Trail for a short distance to where a bridge crosses over Lavezzola Creek, marking the put-in. Since both Eric and Bill had done the run before, they were able to guide us down without scouting from shore. I have to say, I was actually pretty impressed with the run; although I don't feel it was as good as Pauley, it's certainly a great addition if you're already there. There were a couple of standout rapids, with two of them being double drop ledges. It also has a few sections that were similar to the upper Pauley run with more of a tight mini-gorge feel.

Jason in one of the bigger drops on Lavezzola
(taken on the last day at higher flows)

Shawn on the same drop
(taken on the last day at higher flows)

Jason and Shawn enjoy the scenery in one of the beautiful mini-gorges
(taken on the last day at higher flows)

Shawn runs the second tier at one of the fun double drops
(taken on the last day at higher flows)

The author drops over the first tier of the same drop
(taken on the last day at higher flows by Jason Naranjo)

Jason dropping over the second tier of the double ledge
(photo by Shawn Haggin)

Shawn and me enjoying the sun and fun somewhere on Lavezzola
(taken on the last day at higher flows by Jason Naranjo)

It should be noted that there is a recommended portage about three quarters of the way through the run. It has a tricky slot leading into it, but the main drop can be portaged starting above or below this. Once past this portage, it's pretty mellow to the takeout, with maybe a few more class III drops.

Jason below the recommended portage.
No real clean line off this bad boy, and the left wall is
extremely undercut with lots of water pushing into it.
(taken on the last day at higher flows)

On the the last day of our Cali trip we actually ran Lavezzola again so Shawn could get a taste of it, and since it was short it would still allow us to get an early departure back to Oregon. On this run down we had ~75 more cfs which really improved the quality of the creek. It helped fill-in some of the shallow gravel sections as well as made the big drops more fun. In fact, a couple of the holes packed a little punch. I nearly paid the price with a missed line that sent me into the left wall which knocked me back into the hole; this sequence can also be seen in the video below.

The author goes for an unintentional hole ride
(photo by Shawn Haggin)

Once we finished up with the run, I decided to walk over and take a look at Pauely Creek Falls to see if the increased flow from a couple days ago would clean it up enough to run. After inspecting it from a couple of different angles, I decided to give it a go. Shawn and Chris agreed to hangout below the falls, and Jason agreed to man the camera. I put in at the eddy just above the falls and ferried over to river left where I planned to run it. After a quick glance over my shoulder I peeled out and gave a good stroke off what I had assumed to be the flake. However, the entrance made sort of a tricky double-flake and once again I boofed a little too soon. I entered the base of the falls a little more vertically than I wanted, but luckily it was deep enough and I came through without issue.

The author takes an early boof at Pauley Creek Falls
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

The author emerges from the base of the falls
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

Shawn and Chris spectate from below Pauley Creek Falls
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

It was good to have both Pauely and Lavezzola checked off of the list, for I had been wanting to do these two class IV classics for awhile now.

Next up E to P and 49 to Bridgeport!

To be continued...

Here is some head-cam footage of our trip down both Pauley and Lavezzola Creek:

Pauley & Lavezzola Creek from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.


  1. Hi Nate-
    Thanks for posting "POV - Strainer on Lavezzola"; that is a great learning video for us kayakers.
    Did you work yourself over that log, or get pulled off it to the left?
    Is the paddle on the right from a friend of yours? Did he get pinned also, or get over it?
    Did the 3rd in your party manage to get over or around it?

  2. No problem, I'm glad it's been a learning tool for people and that it's sparked so much discussion.

    1. I went over the top of the log, with help from my buddy.

    2. Yes, the paddle was my buddy's. In fact the same one that was pulling me off the log. He was actually flushed under upside-down and backwards, after being stern squirted by the log.

    3. The first boater through (yellow boat) was able to get over it on the left, where I was. He didn't even know it was there until he was on top of it.

    Hope this helps,

  3. Good info Nate-
    Did you figure that rock where your buddy threw the rope from was a better angle to pull you over the log, as opposed to a sideways angle? Could you tell it was a riverwide log from where you were pinned, so you couldn't get around it?

  4. I see most of the comments about this vid are at http://wheelsandwater.blogspot.com/2011/04/stuck-between-log-hard-place-4311.html

    Looks like you answered these questions.
    I'll post over there.

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