The rest of my week (aside from work) was spent making phone calls and preparing for a potential mission. After multiple candidates dropped off one by one, it was down to three of us, Roman, Shawn, and me. Not a very big crew, especially for a long drive with two cars, but this did not deter us. Neither did the flow, which was now looking like it would also be on the high end. It had risen from the levels I had based my decision on earlier in the week, which was being caused by snowmelt from unseasonably high temps in the area. The recommended flow was between 600 and 1,200cfs, and by the time we left it was sitting around 1,400; however a cooling trend was in the forecast, so I was pretty sure we’d be fine and it would drop into the high end of the zone.
We left Thursday night after work and made it all the way down to Red Bluff, CA, which was about 45 minutes north of our takeout. We ended up staying in a Motel 6, which was cheap, but far from deluxe accommodations. The next morning we packed up, got some grub at a greasy spoon, and headed south. We had heard that leaving a car at the takeout can be risky due to break-ins, luckily we were able to convince a very nice local to park in his driveway.
Next we headed to the put-in. The road was paved the whole way, which was good since we hit elevations of more than 4,000' with plenty of snow piled against the shoulders. After a little over an hour, we caught a glimpse of Deer Creek, and some of the rapids we'd planned to travel down. We got out for a quick peek, before heading upstream a couple more miles to our put-in at Potato Patch Campground. To our dismay the campground was closed, so we were forced to park our car at the gated entrance and alongside the road.
It was now time to pack our boats (much like a backpack) for our 3-day adventure that would take us through the Ishi Wilderness area. After stuffing and jamming as much gear as we could into our boats, we headed down to the water. It was difficult to find a spot since the banks were steep and the water was high. Finally we found a couple of less than optimal spots, where we sealed ourselves into our crafts and headed downstream.
After a couple of paddle strokes it became obvious that the heavy load was going to take a few miles to get used to -- I've done a couple self-support multi-day trips, but had been some time. Another thing that was clear was the higher than recommended flow. What was reported as nice warm-up class III, was definitely verging more on the class IV side. Figuring that we just needed to get settled into a rhythm, we continued downstream. Almost immediately we had to eddy out and walk around a river-wide log, further heightening our senses. Another mile or so below this we encountered a pretty sizeable horizon line and got out to scout. What lay in front of us was a pretty juiced up rapid that looked straightforward, but did require a strong move at the top to skirt a rather large hole blocking the entrance. Shawn offered to go first, while Roman setup with a bag, and I shot photos. Shawn entered the rapid, made the required move and threaded between the right wall and the hole, and after a brief mellow stretch he dropped over the second part of the drop. From my perch, I could see that he was eddied out far downstream. Both Roman and I packed our stuff and prepared for our turn. Both of us came through clean and joined Shawn in the eddy below. "Wow, that was pretty juicy" I said, with the others nodding in complete agreement.
Soon the Hwy 32 bridge came into view, and we had reached the point of no return--it was discussion time. We were now questioning our decision of putting on above the recommended level. It's not that the rapids we had just paddled through were that tough, they were actually quite fun. The issue was we did not know how the juiced up the creek would feel as we got to the crux gorge sections, with some rated as class V. After a long discussion and review of some trip write-ups and maps (which I had printed out), we reluctantly decided to fold our cards. This was a really tough decision for me, for I'd really wanted to do this run, and we had already driven all this way. However, better judgment took over and I'm confident we made the right decision. Luckily I only had to jog up the road a couple miles to the car, much better than having to hike out through miles of wilderness.
Footage from our failed mission on Deer Creek.
It was fun while it lasted!
It was fun while it lasted!
Our new plan was to try and put in on Lower Deer Creek for a two day run, where the it had a more reasonable IV/IV+ rating, but unfortunately this plan was soon crushed, as we were turned back by deep snow. "What the hell are we going to do now?!" We headed back to Chico to figure it out... Now that we had data service, I was able to check levels on Dreamflows for other runs in the area. To my surprise, the Downieville area looked to have almost perfect flows. We had spent last Memorial Day weekend there and had a blast. It was another two hours south, but due to the quality of the whitewater in that area, we decided to go for it. After a long drive into the night, we reached basecamp. Since the nighttime temps were still pretty cold, we decided to pitch camp about 15 or some miles downstream of Downieville where we would be a little warmer and out of the snow.
Wild Plum (NF Yuba):
The next morning we decided that our first run would be on Wild Plum. This was one of our favorite runs from last time, it’s basically continuous class IV for miles and miles. There are also two gorge sections on the run, Ladies Canyon and Moss Canyon. We had run both of these the last time, but the water level was now higher, and a road scout indicated that we would probably be portaging their main drops. Instead, we decided the best use of our time would be to takeout just above Ladies, and then spend the rest of our day with a quick lap on Lavezzola Creek.
After a pleasant discussion with some Sierra City locals at the put-in, we slid into the water and made our way downstream. The sun was shining with nary a cloud in the sky. California at its finest, it was going to be a good day! The run was just like I had remembered it, fun, pushy rapids, one right after another. In fact there are so many rapids, it would be almost impossible to count. It was also nice to have a relatively empty boat, which allowed for quick moves over and around the many boulders channeling the drops. The hazard on this run is wood, and although we didn't run into a lot, it was something that was certainly in the back of our mind as we scouted from eddies, as well as shore from time to time. Also, at least at this level, a swim could be long and gear could certainly be lost. None of this detracted from the quality of the run, we were smiling all the way to the takeout, ~10 miles downstream. The last big drop, just above Ladies Canyon, was a real hoot -- big hydraulics and a tight move. We all opted for the left chute at the bottom, avoiding the right, with an undercut man-made cement wall. We all had good lines, and soon after made it to our awaiting vehicle just around the corner.
As planned, our next destination was Lavezzola, a great little class IV that literally flows into the town of Downieville with its sister creek, Pauley. After dropping off a car we made the quick drive up to the put-in. Lavezzola was quite a contrast from the large featured river we had just been on, and although it only had about one quarter the flow, its narrow riverbed channelized it well. The flow was ~300cfs and it felt like a nice medium flow, and little higher than we had done it last season. We were now moving at good pace, eddying out where necessary and leap-frogging down the creek.
We soon came to a gorged in section, and I recognized the drop that was in front of us, a fun two-tiered plunge. I eddied out just above the lip and peered over my shoulder -- after confirming that it was clean I dropped through and quickly eddied out. The others followed soon after, and we were now faced with another drop just below us. I had also remembered this drop from before and how I had gotten surfed in the hole at the base. Since the water was a little higher, I decided to get out and give it a scout. Sure enough the hole looked a little sticky, so Roman went down to setup a rope while Shawn and I came down. We both ended up with good lines, and Shawn took Roman's place while he took his turn. Soon he appeared, got in a good stroke, and sailed over the hole to join us.
Next, we headed further downstream until we reached a drop with the view partially blocked by the glare of the sun. It looked to be a straightforward class III, with a visible eddy on the bottom left. As I eddied out above, both Shawn and Roman passed by. I briefly looked over my shoulder and could see that Roman was sideways and appeared to be stuck in a small hole. As Shawn gave me the signal to go hard left, I then headed down to help if necessary. I snuck the left side down what appeared to be a clear path, and this is when I first spotted a vertically pinned paddle in the middle of the creek (and just to my right). Before I had a chance to process it, I slammed to a complete stop and looked down to see a log across my stomach. I was now in one of the most feared positions to be in as a kayaker, and in a fight for my life. Since I have already posted a video and small write-up on the event that unfolded, I’ll send you there, which also has a bunch of really good comments and feedback from the readers. Both can be found here.
In the end I was able to get over the log and safely to shore, with the help of my buddies. I did lose my paddle and one bootie, but this was a small price to pay to still be breathing. Luckily my boat had eddied out, and Roman had a hold of it. Since I was now safe, Shawn gave chase to my paddle, as well as Roman's boat and paddle. He had lost his gear after being forced to swim by the same log. He was actually flushed through upside-down and backwards, scary stuff. I had a break-down in my boat, which I quickly fashioned together so I could join Shawn in the chase. Roman hikeed down the bank in hopes that his gear would be recovered. Now taking it cautiously, I slowly worked my way downstream. I was able to see Roman from time to time, and eventually we met up again, where he was able to show me that he had found his paddle. Not long after that, I rounded a corner to see his boat washed up on a gravel bar, which made it easy to grab. Now that Roman had all his gear, we were able to continue by water together, with still no sign of Shawn. After a long, slow, paddle out, we finally reached the confluence with Pauley, our takeout. We quickly scurried up the bank to the car, where we found a note from Shawn, which read, "Nate and Roman, stay here." I was pretty sure he was driving up and down the shuttle road in case we had hiked out. We decided that Roman would stay at the takeout while I drove up to look for him. Soon enough we met up, and the first thing I asked him when he rolled down the window was, "Quick lap on Pauley?" We both chuckled and headed down to grab Roman before going to camp.
That night we stood around the fire and talked about what had happened that day. We chatted about all the great whitewater we had run, but mostly analyzed the event on Lavezzola, and talked about what we did right and what we could have done better. It was about this time that my ribs really started to bother me, most likely caused by the amount of force required to pull myself over the log. I really wanted to run Pauley before leaving the next day, but I was pretty sure I would be too sore to do so. Also, the others thought we should just take it easy and head home in the morning.
Once again, the sun and voices in the distance woke me. I was surprised that my body didn't hurt as bad as I was thinking it would. I let the others know that I was good to go, so we decided to break camp and get a lap in on Pauley before heading back to Oregon. Once at the takeout, we walked over to look at Pauley Creek Falls, a runnable 20'er. Even though the flow was slightly higher than last year, when I ran it, it still looked a little boney. I figured I'd make a decision when we got there.
From the pullout at Second Divide trailhead, we scrambled down to the creek and put on. Although my ribs were a little sore and I was paddling with a break-down, I was feeling refreshed and excited to be on this great little creek. The water was crystal clear, the sky was dark blue and the sun was shining bright once again. After paddling through some class II and III drops, we arrived at the first big one, Federal Falls. This 15'er is pretty straightforward at this level, and we all ran it without issue. Just below and around the corner, we eddied out to scout the double drop that exited the small gorge. It appeared to be fairly sticky, but there was really no good way to setup safety or even consider portaging. With that we ran down the left side and had good lines and avoided its grasp.
Next up was a fun slide that we all ran down the left. We had seen this one from the road, so we knew it was clear of wood, but I still wanted to get out for some pictures.
Soon after was a 6' to 8' ledge that dropped into another hole, although it was pretty easy to boof over. Even so, we still setup safety and took pictures, enjoying the beautiful setting that surrounded us.
Before long we reached Split Falls, probably my favorite drop on the run. It's really more of a steep slide rather than a true waterfall, but dishes out plenty of excitement and sports a nice hole at the base. You can go for the gut down the far right, or try and air it out on the left. Between the three of us, we each took different lines, but we all made it through cleanly, and with a big smile.
Some more fun class II and III water continued all the way to the takeout eddy above Pauley Creek Falls. The others had already decided they didn't like the line so opted to walk out from there. I figured, what the hell, even though it's a bit scrapey it still looks fun.
Shawn and Roman hung out to make sure that I made it down okay. After running the entrance ledge I ferried over to river left for my line on that side. I pulled out of the eddy and dropped into the current, took one last stroke, sailed off the falls, and got as good as a tuck as I could muster. The landing was surprisingly soft, and I easily paddled away from the base and over to the right bank. I was right, it was boney, but still super fun and a great way to end the trip.
Footage from our run down Pauley Creek
After hiking out, packing up, and talking to some more locals, we started our long drive back home. On the way out we stopped to look at the massive dam the highway went over. There was a massive spillway that was releasing water, and we imagined (like any boater would) what it would be like to kayak down. Of course it would be suicide, but it's still fun to imagine. We also had one last stop in Chico for fuel and food before heading out. I had a chimichanga that was about the size of my head, which set me up well for the rest of the drive.
Our spring Cali trip was definitely a mixed bag -- from disappointment, to sheer joy, to near tragedy. Even with the mishaps, I still feel that California is one of the best places to paddle on the planet, and I'll be back soon enough -- in fact, we're already planning the next trip...