Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cali Trip - Part 2: The SF Yuba

...Continued from part one:

Hwy 49 bridge over the SF Yuba

After another night out underneath the stars, we once again awoke to bright sunny skies and warm morning temps. A few of us were up earlier than others, so we went into Downieville to see if the store was open and to check river levels by poaching WiFi from the Yuba Theater. Both Shawn and Jason made a phone call to their wives while I looked for a cup of joe. Unfortunately, not much was open and it was lookin’ like I was out of luck. After the phone calls were made and levels were checked, we jumped in the car to head back to camp. As we were pulling out of town we noticed a little diner with its open sign lit. After some quick deliberation, we decided to let the other chumps cook their own breakfast while we had ours cooked for us.
As we entered, it became obvious that this was the town's greasy spoon, equipped with an older waitress that wasn’t afraid to serve up a good dose of attitude with your meal. I understand having a bad day, but I think she was having more of a bad life; I literally thought she was going to crack a frying pan over Jason’s head when he "manned up" and asked for separate checks.

When we returned to camp, Eric and Amanda were packing up since they were departing that day for other adventures. While they were doing that, the rest of us discussed what we would run that day.
Based on the Dreamflow gauge, 49 to Bridgeport was still sitting around 1050 cfs. I was really hoping to hit it below a grand, and even that was on the high side of what I was planning to do it at. The decision was made to let it drop for another day and see where it was at then. Bill mentioned that Edwards to Purdons (E to P) on the SF Yuba was really fun and didn’t run that often. Since it was at a nice medium flow, and had also been highly recommended by Leah Wilson back in Eugene, we decided to give it a go. Essentially, E to P is one run up from 49 to Bridgeport on the same river, so it shares some of the same qualities, but is a bit easier and not as gorged out.

SF Yuba - Edward's to Purdon's (E to P)
As it turns out, finding the takeout made up the biggest adventure of the day. Even with Bill having been there a couple of times before, and the use of my GPS, we got lost more than once, and pretty much drove in a giant circle. After finally pulling out a map and some directions I forgot that I had printed out, we got back on track and finally reached the Purdon's Crossing bridge. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who were planning to enjoy this section of river, for the parking area was packed to the brim with other boaters, along with people that just wanted to lay out on the rocks like lizards. I guess 70-80 degrees and sunny skies will do that. I was actually wishing I had a shorty drytop and shorts instead of my damn drysuit.

View looking upstream from the
takeout bridge, at Purdon's Crossing
(photo by Shawn Haggin)

After dropping off my car, we headed to the put-in at Edwards Crossing. We pulled up to find the same situation as the takeout, a jam packed parking lot that forced us to park quite a ways up the road on a very narrow pullout. Not wanting to get geared-up until the last minute (due to the heat), most of us hiked our gear down to the river before putting it on. After we all had launched into the water we headed downstream.
The run immediately felt bigger, after being on the small creeks and lower volume river the previous days. I was pretty glad we had decided to run this before 49 to Bridgeport, for it would allow us a good warm-up on some pushier water. Since Bill had done the run before, and boat scouting was fairly easy, we didn’t get out of our boats at all and made quick work of the run. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to take any pictures, which is a shame since it was another beautiful run. I would have to give it a solid III+/IV rating with a couple of drops that were solid IVs. Probably the most memorable part of the run was all the people in their birthday suits, lining the banks throughout the run; it did make a couple of rapids harder than they really were, due to the distraction…
At the takeout, we hiked up the steep bank to the parking lot. We had planned to head over to the Chamberlain Falls section of the NF American for a lap on that one as well, but after the time spent finding the previous takeout and the fact that we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow, we decided to call it a day and head back to camp to hang out.
A more detailed trip report of this run can once again be found on the "A Wet State" website (here).

Chris, Shawn, and I share some bromance at the takeout
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

SF Yuba - 49 to Bridgeport
The next morning we made some hearty breakfast burritos and headed towards the river. On the way, we stopped at a gas station to once again check levels, and luckily it had dropped to ~950 cfs, setting up what we were pretty sure would be a great day.

The gauge used for 49 to Bridgeport.
We ran it on the 31st and had ~950cfs.

We had planned to meet Aaron Loft at the 49 Bridge put-in, but before we could do that, we needed to first drop off a car at Bridgeport, the takeout. After dropping off my car, we headed back the way we came and then took a right on Hwy 49 toward the meeting spot.
As we pulled in, Lofty came into view sitting in the parking lot doing some construction on his Nomad. I’m still not sure what exactly he was doing to it, but the whole cockpit was taped up and it looked like a pretty serious operation.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be the last one on the water, I relaxed and took my time packing my gear down to the river bank, where once again I planned to get suited up. The weather was warm, but not the sunny weather we had the previous day, much more overcast. Although it does take some of the solar courage away, I find it easier to read rapids with the high clouds.

The put-in comes equipped with stairs
and nice flat rock to gear-up on!

The view downstream was an impressive one, and the run pretty much starts out with a bang and no real warm-up; in fact, some of the hardest rapids of the run are in the first mile. One of my favorite things about this river is the white granite that forms the rapids and lines the banks. It makes for a kayaker's playground, with smooth boofs over ledge drops, and technical boulder gardens. It doesn’t come without its hazards though. Probably the most feared (for good reason) are sieves. Luckily this run has a reputation for being pretty clean, with only a couple of rapids that have real trouble spots. In my opinion, it is not on the level of consequence of the Tobin section of the NF Feather, where they are in play for essentially the whole length of the run. All of this said, the white stuff is certainly a draw for me, and I don’t think there is anything more symbolic of the California Sierra runs like its granite.

View from the put-in looking downstream at a couple of
warm-up rapids. The hwy 49 bridge is spanning overhead.

View looking downstream from atop the hwy 49 bridge at a
couple of the bigger drops at the beginning. The mandatory
portage is just out of view and around the corner.

Once everyone had geared up and slid in, we headed downriver. We ran a couple of entrance rapids before we came to the first real horizon line -- a two-part drop with a big hole center-left at the bottom where the water slammed into a large boulder, backing up the hydraulic. After some quick boat scouting, it was determined that there was a narrow line hard right which could be used to sneak past the grips of the hole. The line was not hard to hit, and everyone came through cleanly.

Just below this drop is the next horizon, a decent sized hole with an airplane turn that skirted it. The line here was to drop into it from river left, and right angle down the tongue that directed you to the center of the river below the drop. A missed line here could have resulted in some rodeo action, but the line was not too hard, and once again everybody rejoined in the eddy below.

The airplane drop from above, the view
partially being blocked by the trees
(photo by Shawn Haggin)

Jason does it right down the tongue of the airplane turn

Immediately below this drop was the start of a maze through the giant white boulders. Everybody had eddied out, and they were walking down the bank to give it a scout.
The first part of the drop consisted of some fairly pushy water, but open line, through the top of the maze. The second part of the drop basically dropped over a steep pile of boulders with a couple lines and a couple places you didn’t want to be. To me, the drop didn’t look that clean, and I didn’t really like any of the line options on down the steep boulder pile.

Looking downstream into the top part of the boulder maze

With that, I gave the others the signal that I was planning on walking it. Bill had also come to this decision, but headed downstream first to set-up safety for the others since the mandatory portage was lurking just below this drop. As I walked back to my boat, I saw Chris and Shawn run the first part and catch an eddy river-right, just above the boulder jumble. They each pulled out and had really clean lines down through it. Next came Jason, who also styled it in similar fashion; although he did mention to me later that it was pretty trashy and he bounced off a couple of underwater rocks on the way down.
The portage route was pretty easy on the river's left bank, and I was back in my boat and below the drop with the others after only a few minutes.
I was then asked if Bill was planning to walk it, to which I replied, “That’s what he told me”. Since we planned on having a nice safe trip down the river, I signaled to Bill to confirm. Apparently he had changed his mind after watching the others have such clean lines, and he motioned that he was indeed planning to run it.
After a few minutes of sitting in the eddy below as safety, Bill had still not come down. I got out of my boat and climbed up onto the rocks to look upstream and make sure everything was alright. Soon enough, I saw him paddling down through the first part of the drop. I gave everybody the signal that he was coming down. After eddying out for a brief moment in the same one that the others had used, he lined up on the bottom part and dropped in. Unfortunately, he was flipped near the top of it by a tricky curler, and ran the remainder upside down. He rolled up easily at the bottom as we all cheered him on. As he paddled over to the river left eddy where Shawn, Jason, and I were sitting, you could tell something was wrong and he was in pain. As it turns out, he had hit his head pretty good on one or more of the many rocks forming the drop, which was confirmed by the deep scratches on his helmet. The pain was in his neck, and obviously the primary concern was whether it was spine related. After a quick examination and a breather, we made the determination that it wasn’t a major injury; however, it was difficult for him to move his head from side to side without pain. Obviously this would not allow him to continue downstream effectively. We now had to figure out how to get him up to the road so he could get to his car, which luckily was at the put-in less than a mile upstream.
At this point, Jason decided to head downstream to let Chris and Aaron know what was going on. They had been figuring out the best way around the mandatory portage, and were probably wondering what had gone wrong. This left it to Shawn and I to safely get Bill across the river so he could hike up the steep bank to the road. Since we would be ferrying above the unrunnable portage, we took extra precautions even though it wasn’t a difficult ferry. I went across first and set-up a rope, as Shawn accompanied Bill during the crossing. Everything went without a hitch, and he was now safely on the river-right bank. After verifying a couple more times that he was OK, we parted ways and Shawn and I headed down to the others and the portage route.

Since the river was at a solid flow, it allowed us to make our way down about half of it via a little side channel. Once we had to get out of our boats, it was a pretty easy hike down to where the others were stationed on river left below.

Jason empties his boat (actually mine) below the mandatory portage

Right after the portage was the biggest runnable drop to this point, Mr. Squiggly. There was a pretty decent sized hole at the top of the drop, where it then funneled down through some other large hydraulics, before ending in slack water at the base. For some reason, no one in the group gave it much thought, and started the portage around this one as well. Perhaps, with the incident we had just encountered above, we were playing it a little too conservative, but once again our goal was to get everyone down safely, and hey, it’s always good to leave something for future runs as well…

Below Mr. Squiggly, the river mellows out quite a bit and allows you to take in the views for the next mile or two. Just as you start wondering when you’re gonna come to the next big horizon line, the walls start to gorge up, signaling the next stretch of harder water. This part of the river has some really fun pool-drop rapids in a gorge that was much tighter than what we had been through above. That said, the drops were certainly no more difficult.

Lofty runs one of the beginning drops in the second gorge
(if you count the top section as the first gorge)

Once in the gorge, the first drop that I actually got out to take pictures for, I believe, is called “Tower”. After a technical lead-in, the river splits around a couple of boulders in the middle of the river. The left line formed a banking turn against the wall and looked fun enough, however, the right side had one of the classic boofs that 49 to Bridgeport is known for. Basically, two rocks form a narrow slot where the water piles up slightly on the right one, forming the boof platform. The drop is probably 6 to 8 feet, and can launch you pretty good if you hit it correctly. Unfortunately, I got a little squirrely just above it and didn't hit the target dead on. I hate screwing up such an awesome boof opportunity.

Jason scouts the lead-in to Tower

Chris gives Tower a thumbs up after a quick scout

Lofty nails a nice boof off of Tower

Chris digs in at Tower

Shawn airs it out

After Tower, we ran a couple more gorged-out drops before coming to a river-wide 8 to 10 foot waterfall. After contemplating the drop for a few minutes, we all decided to shoulder our boats around it. There appeared to be a few different lines with sweet looking boofs, however, it appeared to be dropping onto a shallow shelf in the middle, and had pretty decent holes on either side. Since none of us had done the run before, we played it safe. I've since been told that this ledge is referred to by some as Marshmallow Drop, due to its soft landing, go figure...

After we had all made the portage, another group of boaters headed toward us from upstream. Without even boat scouting, they all fired off the waterfall Blue Angels style. Kickin' ourselves a little for not running the falls, we pulled into the eddy next to them and exchanged greetings. Apparently these guys were locals and graciously offered to show us some of the lines below. I believe the guy's name that was giving me beta was Joel. He was super friendly and tailored the lines to my comfort and ability level, based on a few questions. He mentioned that we had some mellow boogie water before the "goods" started in the next gorge.
Once we got there, we ran quite a few horizon lines based on verbals and following close behind. A couple of the drops were fairly large and probably verged on 4+/5-. One particularly fun drop was a low angle slide into a large hydraulic at the bottom. It was fairly benign, and put a smile on all of our faces.
We were now sitting in some slack-water above a pretty good horizon line. Joel described the drop as a large pushy S-Turn that should be eddied out left at the bottom to scout the next drop from shore. I asked him how big the eddy was and what happens if you end up running the next drop. His response was "You're really gonna want to scout it..."
With that, I entered the drop in the main flow, and followed the current down through the drop. As soon as I saw the eddy that I needed to hit, I set my angle and busted through the seam and into it. The outflow of this drop was actually flowing into the next one pretty good, so I was grateful that he had described what side the eddy was on.

The giant S-Turn that leads in to Eat the Meat

We made our way down the giant granite slab on river left to scout the drop below us, appropriately named "Eat the Meat". Basically, the drop funnels down through some pretty pushy water, ending in a big hole at the base. Luckily the hole was diagonal downstream to the left, so an unintentional ride in it probably would have only lasted for a few "ends".
At this point, Joel and his crew (who had run the drop without scouting) were sitting in the river-left eddy below. As he called to me, I ran down the rocks to see what was up. He basically said to run the drop as the name implies and hit the gut of it, mentioning that trying to sneak it on the right to the eddy on that side was harder than it looked, and usually results in a flip or going into the hole backwards. After that, he told me that they were going to be taking off downstream and we should only have a few more scouts after the next drop, "Corner Pocket", which was just below us and that they planned to walk around. He stated that he had taken his lickin' in the big hole at the bottom, and didn't feel like having one of those days. After thanking him and waving goodbye to their crew, I headed back up the rocks to the others.

Chris, Shawn, and Lofty were already getting into their boats to run the drop. I talked it over briefly with Jason, and we both decided that neither of us felt like dropping in and once again made the easy walk around.
Both Chris and Shawn had similar lines, heading to the right and breaking through the soft part of the hole on that side.

Chris partially through Eat the Meat

Shawn running a similar line as Chris at Eat the Meat.
If you look carefully, you can see Joel and his crew
portaging Corner Pocket on river right.

Shawn busts through the soft part of the hole at Eat the Meat

Aaron, while trying to get even further right (possibly to get into the bottom right eddy) was spun around in the tricky current and went into the bottom hole backwards, just as Joel had described. He flushed out and quickly rolled up after spending only a couple of moments in the hole.

Aaron in the large eddy between the S-Turn lead-in and Eat the Meat

Lofty gets spun around in the middle of
Eat the Meat as he tries for the hard right line.

Lofty throws an end in the hole at Eat the Meat

Below Eat the Meat are a couple of river-wide holes before reaching the entrance to Corner Pocket; both of the holes can be fairly easily punched on river right. I felt that this was the most visually impressive section of the canyon and was worth spending a couple minutes to take in the view.

I had been told (and had read) before the run that a small one to two boat eddy on river right at the very edge of the lip is used to portage Corner Pocket. Although this eddy does exist, there is also another larger eddy just above it, which is much easier to catch, and adds only a very minor amount of extra work. After choosing this option, we all made the long but easy walk around the drop to a rock shelf at the base of it. Here we rested a bit, ate a snack, and enjoyed our surroundings for 15 minutes or so.

Looking up at Corner Pocket, where the bottom hole is notorious for dealing out
punishment. The left-hand wall is extremely undercut with a strong eddyline
feeding into it, not a place to swim. Far upstream in this picture is Eat the Meat.

The crew takes a break and tells fish stories
at the end of the portage around Corner Pocket

Now that we were below Corner Pocket, we knew we still had a few big drops before the river started to mellow out a bit. I didn't take any more photos for the rest of the run, since we wanted to make tracks. That said, there were definitely a couple of standouts.
The first was a drop called "Around the World" (a.k.a. Typewriter) with a fairly long lead-in to a diagonal hole on river left which you rail-slide to get back to the center of the river. This one actually tripped-up a few in our group, and provided some good rodeo moves.
The next memorable one was a ledge with a sweet 6 to 8 foot boof center-right; I believe this one is called "Dues". We all had stylish lines off of this one.

We then came to a long/complex drop above which we got out to scout from river right. Essentially, the entrance had a nice 6 to 8 foot boof ledge where the river then made its way down through the next series of moves. Included in this was a rather tough looking ferry above a sieved out lower part of the drop; although at this flow it was pretty filled in and you probably could have made it through even if you were out of control. However, being out of your boat was certainly not an option. Both Aaron and Chris ran the entrance boof and then got out above the ferry where they started the portage; the rest of us just portaged from the top. I'm certain this drop must have a name since it is one of the largest on the run. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information about it, but it might be the one referred to as "Hairy Ferry", it's at least in that area, and the name was somewhat suggestive.

The last drop of any significance is "Tiger Tail". Once again we scouted this one by walking down the rocks on the left side. We only went about halfway down but determined the whole drop looked good to go. It's a pretty long drop with a couple of moves that need to be made. This includes a decision to go right or left of a midstream rock at the very bottom. I opted for the left side slot, and came through without issue. There were quite a few spectators on shore, which indicated to me that we must be getting close to the takeout. I wonder how many of them actually know what lies upstream...

From here it was pretty much class III to the takeout, with maybe a couple bordering on class IV. Soon enough, the wooden covered bridge came into view, which marked the takeout at Bridgeport.

The wooden covered bridge at the takeout

I was pretty happy to have finally checked this one off of the list, which had been a goal of mine for some time. Although I did have a few portages, I know I'll be back to take down some of those as well; the run is well worth the drive down and truly a classic. In the end, I felt like it was of similar difficulty (or slightly easier) to the Devil's Canyon wilderness run on the MF Feather, but obviously not nearly as long. Although most of the big drops can be portaged fairly easy, and most don't have significant consequence, it's still a solid 4+/5- run that would be an epic adventure to hike out of in most spots.

As we reached the parking area, we were relieved to see that Bill had dropped off our gear at my car; this indicated that he was off the river safe and sound. I later called him and he told me that after a precautionary visit to the hospital, he confirmed that he had not suffered any spine or bone damage, and therefore was determined to be soft tissue related. I was pretty bummed that he wasn't able to finish the run with us, since he had also been wanting to do it for awhile and I know he would have really enjoyed it. I guess we'll just have to make sure to get down there again so we can be there when he does...

We were all pretty tired out after the run and celebrated with a couple of beers at the takeout. Shawn and Chris had more than the rest, and provided some comic relief for the next couple of hours (at least in their minds). After going into Nevada City for dinner, we headed back to camp for some cowboy T.V. and our last night's sleep in the Sierras.

Lofty explains the finer points of California livin'.
After a few cold ones of course...
(photo by Jason Naranjo)

The next morning, we ate breakfast and packed up camp. Everyone but Chris hadn't had their fill of boating, that along with the fact that Shawn hadn't done Lavezzola convinced us to do another lap on it, which is documented in part 1 of the trip report, here.

After taking off of Lavezzola (which ended up being much better with more water), we loaded up and headed back to our home state, Oregon. Everybody but Shawn was planning to stay at Jason's parents house for another night on the way back. Before Chris and I left California, we made one more stop for a burger and fries at In-N-Out, a Cali staple.

Chris after puttin' fuel in the tank

What a great trip! Thanks to everyone who made it happen, including the ones that didn't even come along (i.e. Leah and Gabe). I'm sure there will be another one next year!


  1. Sweet trip report. Myself and a friend were down there a week or two later and had great flows (1300). Sweet run for sure. BTW, the mandatory portage at the top can be run. We did it at 1300, 990, and 750.

  2. "I've since been told that this ledge is referred to by some as Marshmallow Drop, due to its soft landing, go figure..."

    The rapid you're referring to is called "Ski Jump" as it was named in the Best Whitewater of California guidebook. That's what local still call it.