Saturday, June 2, 2012

MF Feather - Devil's Canyon (2012)

Every Memorial Day weekend a small crew of us head down to California for some of the best whitewater on the planet -- it's become a tradition. Our first choice has always been to do a multi-day self-support trip, but since it's totally flow dependent, we aren't always so lucky. Having done the MF Feather three years prior (trip report here), we were itchin' to get back on it, especially since it typically is at a good flow toward the end of May. However, the last few years had brought abnormal snow pack to the Sierras. The flows for the previous two years had been too high (due to a huge snow pack), and this year it looked like it was probably going to drop out due to very little snow pack -- The last time we were on the MF, we had flows of ~1,200cfs, and we had hope for similar flows. With that, we began making plans for a backup. In the end, we decided that plan B would be day runs on other classics such as South Silver, Foredyce, and 49 to Bridgeport (SF Yuba). About a week before our trip, we started to watch the gauges on Dreamflows almost incessantly. The flows on the MF Feather continued to fall while one-by-one our plan B options started dropping out. Finally we decided to just stick with our MF plans, and although it looked like it would be under 1,000cfs, it was still considered within the runnable range.

Now with our destination determined, I put together a checklist of items and started preparing for the trip. The only thing I really needed to buy was food, and for most of my meals I just decided to go with the dehydrated variety, for its convenience and to save on weight.  

Actually that’s not completely true, I did have to get one piece of gear, the new Bliss-Stick Tuna, which I'd been salivating to try out on a self-support trip. Just to make sure all the gear I’d be taking would fit, I packed everything up and started shoving it in the boat. I did have to cut away some pesky mini-cell foam from the rear bulkhead, but it was nothing a steak knife couldn’t handle…  In the end I was pretty darn happy with how everything fit within this new large volume creeker. 

So, I have to fit all of this in there?

With the stow floats loaded. Note the foam cut away at the front of the center bulkhead. This allowed me to store my day-use drybag.

Fully loaded!
The crew for our trip was set at 6, and included Jason Naranjo, Chris Arnold, Shawn Haggin, Aaron Loft, Roman Androsov, and me. The plan for running the MF was to leave from Oregon on Thursday morning, put on Friday around noon, and hit the take-out the following Monday. This would give us a full 4 days on the river – one more day than last time, which would allow us a much more relaxing trip. Roman, Jason, and I left Eugene fairly early and would be picking up Chris who was flying into Chico from China. Shawn and Lofty would be playing catch up, and would meet us at camp just outside of Oroville. The drive wasn’t too bad, and I actually spent most of it in the back seat, doing stuff for work. By the time we had rolled into Chico, Chris was already waiting for us at Sierra Nevada Brewery, where we ate dinner and had a few pints before heading to camp. Once in camp, we spent some time finalizing our packing before heading off to bed.

Loaded up & headed to Cali!


Getting fuel for the trip

Late night preparations...

The next morning (Friday), we loaded up the cars, ate a quick breakfast, and headed toward our shuttle buddy’s house, about 45 minutes away, near the take-out at Milsap bar. Once we had picked up the drivers, we headed toward Quincy and the put-in at Nelson Point. Quincy is actually a pretty cool little town, which seems amazingly well kept for such a small community in the middle of the Sierras. Before getting dropped off at the put-in, we stopped for some coffee and another quick bite. While there, the forecasted rain started to move in, and although we weren’t looking forward to camping in the rain, we did hope it would bring the level up a bit – as is, we would be putting on with ~900cfs, the low side of good. While gearing up at Nelson Point, the sky cleared up a bit, which was nice for keeping our layers nice and dry starting off the trip. After bidding our shuttle friends farewell, we headed off downstream. 

The flow over the four days we were on the river

Gearin' up at the put-in

The calm before the storm...

Day 1 - Nelson Point to Cleghorn Bar (~12 miles):
The first few miles of the river are pretty mellow, and mainly class II/III stuff, which acts as a good warm-up – this is especially helpful for getting used to the loaded boat. I tried to get a feel for the weighted Tuna as best I could by catching eddies and making ferries I normally wouldn’t bother with in this type of water. It seemed to perform very well and gave me confidence for what lay downstream; although, as with any boat, it was clear I’d need to plan my moves sooner with all the extra weight in the rear.

The first sizable drop we came to was marked by a fairly large boulder on the right with a sieve at the base and some wood shoved against it. The hazards were easy to avoid by running it from left to right over the 5’ to 6’ ledge. Everyone in the group had great lines and we continued downstream. 

Jason makes the move on the first sizable drop

Shawn dropping over the ledge with a good line

After another couple of miles we reached another sizeable horizon line, which consisted of a rather busy lead-in before dropping out of sight at the bottom. Based on the last trip, we had remembered that the last pitch (another 6’ or so ledge) was rather trashy and had a few tight lines for running it. With that we hiked down the left bank (which was kind of a bitch) to give it a scout. I was surprised at how good it actually looked even though we had less water, and I quickly picked out my line, the center-right airplane boof. Apparently everyone else had decided on the same line, as one by one they dropped over using that move. After taking pictures, I handed off the camera to Jason, so I could take my turn. Working my way down the lead-in I drove to the right to line up for the bottom ledge. As I put in a draw stroke for the final move I tripped a bit on an eddy line and didn’t come off with as much control as I would have liked. Luckily, I still managed to get in a good enough stroke to clear the base and avoid the pin/piton rock at the bottom.  

Aaron running the lead-in

Chris with a great boof of the bottom ledge

The author digs in (photo by Jason Naranjo)
The next few miles contained some pretty fun drops, including a couple of quality boofs, but we were definitely craving more water to clean up some of the mank. We actually had a pin situation in a really trashy boulder garden that required some time to straighten out – luckily everything went smoothly and it wasn’t too big of a deal. The following photos are from some standout drops from this section. 

Loft runs "Nose"

Jason takes his turn

Loft with a great boof on one of the larger drops of the day

Chris gets a face full on a another fun drop

Shawn droppin' in

We soon arrived at the drop that had resulted in the only swim and a lost paddle on our trip from three years ago, a boulder ledge with a sizeable hole on the right side. This time better beta was given, and we all ran it from right to center with good results.

Shawn does it right, by going center...
Below here the river started dropping over a series of trashy boulder bars, but to be honest, I remember them being almost as bad even with more flow. Basically we would drop-in in formation watching whomever was in front of to see how much they got knocked around, then correct as necessary. There was one more good sized ledge in this section that was pretty fun, which occurred at a sharp right bend in the river.

Chris, starting well...

...and finishing well

Once we got close to Cleghorn Bar, we started looking for the camp we had used on our previous trip, on the river-right. Before long we had found it and proceeded to set-up our sleeping quarters for the night. Almost like clockwork, the clouds built up and the rain started to fall, which made the first part of our stay less than ideal. None of us even felt like changing out of our drysuits, so we wore them while we stood around the fire, ate, and did some fishing. About an hour or two before we went off to bed, the rain stopped and allowed us to climb out of our suits into more comfortable attire – things were looking up a bit.

My sleeping quarters for the evening

Making the best of the weather situation

Chris fishing with the proper safety gear...

Somehow a fire makes everything better

Day 2 - Cleghorn Bar to Stag Point (~5 miles): 
The next morning we awoke to pockets of blue skies mixed in with white and grey clouds. The forecast had called for a 30% chance of showers, and I pretty much figured we’d be getting those off and on throughout the day. Taking advantage of the dry weather we currently had, we started hanging stuff up to dry while lazily making breakfast and a small fire. Since we had only planned to run five miles of the river, we were in no hurry to break camp. Roman, Jason, and I spent some time checking out the old steam donkey that was used during the gold mining days and left behind, near our camp. The engine had a date on it that read 1867, and it really looked amazing for its age.

Starting off with good weather

Warming up and drying things out

The engine for the steam donkey

The steam chamber

Roman takes a closer look at the steam chamber

By the time we finally rolled out of camp, it was ~11am, which would give us plenty of daylight for the limited number of miles we needed to put in. The rapids started to clean up dramatically, and we had lots of fun warm-up drops before the old PCT bridge came into view, signaling the start of Franklin Canyon. After running a couple more fun drops (one underneath the bridge and one just after), we were sitting above the lead-in to Franklin Falls, a 10’ to 12’ falls into a sizeable hole on the left, and a nasty boulder drop on the right. We had all portaged this drop the last time, but four in our group were feelin’ it this time around. With proper safety set and me on camera duty, the rest of the crew fired it off one by one, with a couple of good boofs, and a couple plunges. In the end, everyone made it past the hole safely, and we continued on our way.

The bridge marking the entrance to Franklin Canyon

Jason drops into one of the first rapids in Franklin Canyon

Roman with a great line on Franklin Falls

Loft runs the lead-in to Franklin Falls

Loft drops over Franklin Falls while Roman looks on

Just below Franklin Falls was a double ledge with a hole at the base of each. Both holes looked like they could be punched easily, so after giving the quick scout I told the others to run it right down the middle with a good stroke and speed on both tiers. On the next drop the river split around a rock island, with a right line mostly blocked by wood, and a left line that looked kinda ugly. Everyone but Loft (who snuck the wood on the right) opted for the portage on river-left.

The left line around the rock island

Taking in the view below the island drop

With only a couple more miles of river to run for the day, we found some more fun rapids along the way, including a long rapid with a hole at the bottom, which surfed both Aaron and me – luckily we each made it out in our boats with smiles on our faces. When we finally picked out our campsite it was only ~1:30pm, so we were feeling a little lazy, but at the same time looking forward to a day of relaxation, especially since the weather had gotten much nicer.  The camp we had found was just before Stag Point on river-right, and one of the best campsites I had ever stayed at. It basically had all the amenities, from plenty of sandy tent spots, to pre-made rock chairs around the fire pit, to a beautiful waterfall cascading down on the other side of the river. Heck, it even had a grilling grate, garden claw, and tennis ball left behind by previous occupants -- man this is livin’! 

Our camp on day 2

Jason puttin' the Tuna to good use off the river as well

One of the rock chairs around the fire pit

My room

Great views from camp

For the rest of the day we kept ourselves busy with a multitude of activities, including fishing, rock skipping, rock fights, and lounging around in the sun on our rock furniture like lizards. Among all the members of the the group we caught quite a few small trout, most we threw back, but we did keep a couple for grilling that night. To me, this is what these trips are all about, and I was really glad we had decided to take an extra day to get down the river.

More fishin'


Rock skippin'

More loungin'

Water bottle / garden claw fightin'


and catchin' dinner!

That night we built a fire and made dinner, including cooking those fish. Shawn had cut up quite a bit of wood throughout the day, so by the end of the night we had a real rager. Unfortunately Shawn had already gone off to bed before Chris started piling the wood up high, so he basically missed out on the fruits of his labor. Although we had set-up our tarps, we didn’t get a drop of rain overnight, and luckily this weather would hold for the remainder of the trip.

Fire time!

Cowboy T.V.

Fire dance
Day 3 - Stag Point to Island Camp (~9 miles): 
Day 3 of our trip started off with bright sunny skies, although it did take some time for the sun to creep above the canyon wall and illuminate our camp.  By the time it had, we had almost packed everything up for another day on the river. Since the 9 miles we planned to do was pretty stacked with whitewater, we tried to get a little earlier start to the day, and ended up leaving camp around 10am.

The frog that saw us off on day 3 (photo by Jason Naranjo)

Once again, we were treated to a mile or so of warm-up drops before the walls started gorging up for the second half of Franklin Canyon. Before long, we reached a drop where a cliff wall rose up river-left, which was once identified by a pinned boat on the right side. This drop isn’t very difficult, and we basically boof’d the top ledge, running the drop from right to left.

Chris making the right to left move

Next up was a series of three drops, separated by moving pools. The first was really good, with a monster boof rock located dead center in the river. Chris had probed and was giving beta from down below, while I took pictures. As the crew dropped of the rock like lemmings, Chris started signaling to go a little further left, which looked like it would give a little extra boost off the rock. Since I was last, I was able to take advantage of the extra instructions, which I graciously used for a monster boof off the apex of the platform – it was sick!

Shawn hits the right side of the boof rock

Aaron with a more center line

and Jason with the best line yet

 The next part was an S-Turn of sorts that had a pretty tricky diagonal that got the best of me. Fortunately I rolled up before getting pushed into the recirculating eddy against the right bank.

Roman gets a mouthful on the second part of the drop

Roman in the run-out between the second and third drop

The last of the three drops was pretty interesting. Everyone else in the group had already run the lead-in and were eddied-out on river-left above what appeared to be the final ledge. As I worked to try to join them, I missed a tight move around a rock and was blown right. What I faced in front of me was a boulder choked section of river that I hoped did not end in a sieve. I made the split second decision to turn around and give’er as opposed to trying to work back left, since I would run the risk of flipping and/or dropping in backwards. Luckily I found a fairly clear path, and ended up at the bottom waiting for the others. The rest of the crew ran down the center-left, with mixed results, and afterwards, I actually felt my line ended up working out a little better – funny how that works out sometimes.

Looking back up at the last drop of the three. Unfortunately my camera was acting up, so I didn't get a picture of a boater running it.

Just around the corner we came to a long series of drops, affectionately known as “What Dreams Are Made Of”. Half the group got out to scout while the others waited in the water for beta. Scouting from both shores we relayed the lines to the others. For the first pitch, a nice boof flake presented itself on river-right, which was followed by a fairly busy run-out. Between here and the next pitch were a couple of generous eddies on either side of the river to stage from. Just below the eddies the river dropped through a couple of larger hydraulics that could be run right down the center with some aggressive strokes/braces. This stretch emptied into a fast moving pool, before dropping over the final pitch of WDAMO.

Shawn enters What Dreams Are Made Of

Between the first and second drop

Shawn blasts into the second part of Dreams

Lofty looking for some dreams in the bottom hole of the second drop

For the last part, I had remembered entering hard right and working left (from our last trip). Although it appeared to still be the best line (upon scouting), it was much more trashy, and I really didn’t feel like dropping into it. This was further confirmed by watching a couple in the group pinball down the drop, somewhat in control.  I had read and remembered this last part being unportageable, but it actually was okay down the left side, with only a minor bit of effort. It should be noted that the run-out to this drop has a very dangerous sieve against the left wall. It's easy to avoid, but would be a real hazard for a swimmer or out of control boat.

Aaron takes the recommended right line, but not without dealing with some garbage

Aaron halfway through the third part of Dreams

Chris gets high & dry on entering the third part of Dreams

Not far below Dreams, we came to a rather large, and exciting, boulder garden. Chris and Shawn had jumped out ahead and were already scouting. With the lines communicated, the rest of us were able to run it without scouting, which we did in good form. The crux move of the drop was at the bottom, where you had to make a move right or left of a large boulder that the water was piling into. Left was definitely the cleaner option, and is what all of us decided to run. Darn near all of us got pushed into the rock, but it was such a big fluffy pillow, the worst it did was flip a boater or two – fun stuff indeed!

Chris eddies out halfway down the boulder garden

Shawn digs in to make the move at the bottom of the boulder garden. Note the large boulder in front of him where the water is pillowing off of it -- that's the crux move.

Immediately below the boulder garden was another horizon line. Everyone had gotten out to scout, and what lay in front of us was a double drop, with the second dropping into a rather large hole. After looking at it briefly, I decided that I didn’t like either the entrance of the drop or the bottom hole, and decided to shoulder my boat around it. Jason had already made the portage, while Roman was running a trashy sneak line down the left. The other three ran the main line, boofing over the hole without issue.

The crew gets out to scout the double drop

Loft with a nice line on the bottom tier of the double drop, clearing the meaty hole

Once we had regrouped below the double drop, I mentioned to Chris that one of his favorite drops was coming up next – before I could even mouth the words, he said, “S-Turn?!”. When we got there it was easily recognizable by a sharp right-hand bend, and a cliff wall on river left. I quickly got out of my boat, grabbed my camera and headed downstream along the right bank to setup for photos. The drop had changed slightly with the lower water, and although it was still an S-Turn, entering hard left, like we had last time, was not an option. Instead we would need to drive between a couple of boulders center-left, trimming a bit off the top part of the ‘S’. Chris, who was scouting from the other side, gave the thumbs up and signaled the line to the others. Once I had taken photos of everyone coming through, I once again handed off the camera to Jason and hiked back up for my turn. Even with the new line, the drop was plenty fun and exciting, and I had to ride a deep low-brace blasting through the bottom hole.

Chris blasts though the bottom hole of S-Turn (this drop feels much bigger than it looks in the picture)

Roman enters S-Turn

The author makes the turn (photo by Jason Naranjo)

Relaxing below S-Turn (photo by Jason Naranjo)

Soon we came to the old wooden man-made dam, which creates a set of nasty chutes, between logs, on the right, and a vertical 8’ (or so) drop on the left. I had read that the left-hand falls contained rebar, but the move/boof was fairly straightforward, and I couldn't see any such metal sticking up through the foam. Chris made his decision quickly and went back up to his boat to run it while I hung out at the base with a throw rope. With minimal effort he cleared the hole and paddled away from the falls. Between seeing his line, and the strenuous portage, we all decided to run it. Everyone had good lines, and we continued on.

Jason finishes up The Dam

As we started to round the corner below the dam, the new PCT bridge came into view, signaling the start of Devil's Canyon, and the most spectacular setting yet. Before proceeding on, we decided to take a lunch break, since we had done about half the day's miles, and there were limited places to relax once we crossed underneath the bridge. Since we'd planned to relax for a bit, I stripped off the top half of my drysuit and aired out a bit, while the others jumped off the cliffs. Chris even broke out his fishin' pole and caught a couple of fish during our snack break. Just when I was feeling relaxed enough to take a nap in the mid-day sun, we decided to start headed downstream again so we could get to camp with some remaining daylight. 

Chris gets his jump on

... followed by Roman

The new PCT bridge, marking the entrance to Devil's Canyon

The rapids that followed the new PCT bridge started off with a few read-n-run class III drops before the walls closed in and we reached yet another large horizon line. I quickly eddied out at the top of the drop on river-right and looked over my shoulder to see what was below. I still couldn't see the bottom, but also couldn't get out to take a look due to the cliff wall. Chris then floated past and dropped in. After starting the drop down the right he headed left at the bottom and dropped out of sight. I waited for him to appear below the drop, but he didn't -- I couldn't tell if he was getting worked or if he had eddied out. Shawn blew past next while yelling, "I'm heading down". I thought to myself "here we go", and quickly followed, running the right side the whole way down. The bottom of the rapid split around a large midstream boulder where the walls also created a pinch and some beefy hydraulics. It was actually quite clean and ended up being fairly big and exciting.  Chris, who had in fact eddied out in a small pocket on river-left, joined us below to wait for the others. 

Roman exits the large drop described above

Jason in the canyon just below. The scenery was pretty spectacular in this section, but I knew it only got better...
The gorge we were now passing through was quite impressive, with spectacular rock wall formations and large granite boulders resting in the middle of the river. There were also more fun rapids in this section, including one that formed a large ramp down the left side of the river. We also had a couple portages around drops that were formed by sieved out rock piles. The second is marked by an active landslide falling into the river from the right. If you choose to run this drop be very careful; the last trip we had a very close call here when one of the two guys who had joined our group (halfway down the run) was trapped above a sieve with no way to get safety to him. He ended up doing a self-rescue that required some impressive rock climbing skills. I still remember the feeling of watching the situation unfold while feeling completely helpless.

Jason runs down a sneak channel to avoid the sieved out section on the right. Note the waterfall coming off the right wall!

Roman at the same drop

Droppin' in

About a quarter mile below the landslide sieve, the river made a right-hand bend and split around a large island. This island happened to be where we had camped the last time, and we were looking forward to camping there again since it ended up being a really great spot. It only has a small sandy gathering area to setup a fire, but also has lots of little spots to bivy throughout the island, making for a private setting, if you so wish.  My favorite part about the camp was that it's located in the middle of a big class IV rapid. The river creates a soothing sound to go to sleep to, as well as drown out your buddies who snore like grizzly bears. We also found a cast iron frying pan hanging from a tree. That, along with a stick of butter that Chris had been toting around, gave Jason the order to go catch us some fish for dinner. About an hour later he showed up with four of them, with one being the biggest of the trip! 

Riverside rooms

The common area

Our own private island!

Jason with the catch of the day

Trout deep-fried in butter -- Yummm...

As the sky became darker the fire became larger, and before long we had to stop Chris from continuing to pile wood onto it. We were all pretty tired and pretty much stood/sat there staring at the fire, without much chatter. One-by-one we headed off to bed to rest up for our last day on the water.


We build 'em big on this island

Day 4 - Island Camp to Milsap Bar (~7 miles):  
The next morning we got up and broke camp fairly early, since we wanted to get off the river at a reasonable hour. A quick scout of the rapid that surrounded our camp revealed a line off a ~4' entrance ledge, followed by a rocky run-out with pin potential throughout. We all made our way through it, with me being the only one that got pinned, luckily it was only a brief one and I was able to work out of it.

About a mile downstream of our camp, and after a few warm-up rapids, we came to the first big drop of the day, "Eat the Meat". This bad boy is a double ledge that has two pretty impressive holes. I had seen this one run down the left in both videos and photos, so was a bit surprised when Chris probed it with a nice line down the right. Even with both line options, I couldn't quite muster up the gumption to give it a go that early in the morning. Roman was the only other one to run it, and also had a good line down the right.

Chris lines up the bottom hole at Eat the Meat

Roman drives for the right line...

and eats some meat...

The next drop we came to was a ledge where everyone had eddied out on river-left. I had eddied river-right and was feeling a bit lonely as I waited the instructions from Aaron, who was out of his boat scouting. After watching everyone run what appeared to a be a boof against the left bank, I got the thumbs up that the right also went, so I dropped in using the only option available to me. It ended up being good to go, skirting a fairly big hole at the center of the base of the drop.

Next the river made a left-hand bend and entered the heart of Devil’s Canyon – a white granite setting that words or pictures cannot do justice for. The first drop was pretty straightforward, starting with a 5’ ledge/hole, followed by a long straight run-out with a couple of juicy hydraulics. After a quick scout, I let everyone know that it was good to go right down the middle, which is the line everyone used successfully.

Chris boofs the top ledge

Roman enters the juicy run-out

We were now floating through a long calm stretch, when the “Diving Board” came into view, which is a big granite slab that sticks out over the river as the name implies. Supposedly this is a great campsite, and with the view, it would be pretty hard to argue with that; although, getting your boats up to the platform would require some fancy footwork and/or a little rope work.

The crew paddles underneath The Diving Board

What also came into view was the huge granite wall on river-left that was carved out from a rockslide; this is the same rockslide that filled the river with giant granite boulders, creating Granite Dome Falls, a.k.a. “The Portage”. Before getting to The Portage, we still had one more obstacle, Pyramid, a rather large rapid, identified by a massive pyramid shaped rock at the bottom, which could be seen from well upstream – I wish I would have taken pictures of it; it's a pretty cool sight!

Just around the corner from Pyramid and Granite Dome Falls

The last time we ran the MF, I had thought Pyramid looked good to go, but at that time it was a little bigger than I wanted to bite off (especially with the extra flow). Now being a little more seasoned, I was actually looking forward to getting to this rapid, and once I laid my eyes upon it, my excitement grew even more --the drop was totally clean, albeit with a couple holes and other large hydraulics to deal with. Not only that, but the sun was shining bright, which added some solar courage, it was good to be on the water! Jason also liked what he saw and decided he wanted to probe, so with that, I grabbed my camera and headed downstream to setup for some shots, as well as set safety. He basically ran the same line that I was planning to run, and had a really clean go at it, complete with a big smile on his face at the bottom.

Scouting Pyramid

Jason halfway down Pyramid

Jason stoked with his run!

I decided to go next, so handed off the camera once again and headed back upstream. Once I got in my boat, I ferried across above the drop so I could enter on the hard right, against the polished granite wall. As soon as I dropped in I immediately threw in a right draw to navigate around the first hole, which went well. Between here and the next hole (on river-right), I got tripped up a bit and ended up going right toward the hole I was trying to avoid. As I was dropping into it, I pulled the biggest stroke I could muster, which was just enough to clear the hole, but not without flipping. Now in the backwash, I was able to quickly roll up and work into the eddy on river-left. Man, I love the speed/hole punching of the Tuna! Everyone else in the group followed soon after with similar lines and a variety of results, including one or two more flips.

The author enters Pyramid (photo by Roman Androsov)

The author digs in and prepare to enter the bottom hole (photo by Roman Androsov)

Shawn exits Pyramid after a successful run (photo by Roman Androsov)

Chris slips past the bottom hole (photo by Jason Naranjo)

The only things separating Pyramid from The Portage was a large bottomless pool, a result of a dam created by the landslide. The portage around Granite Dome Falls consists of a long, somewhat torturous, carry on river-right. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but with a loaded boat and the sun beating down on you, it can be a little exhausting. Furthermore, if you’re allergic to poison oak, you’ll want to watch your step as you shoulder and/or drag your boat along the path.  Once we had reached the platform below The Portage, we hung out and ate a snack, while taking in the amazing view.

It should be noted that although it’s considered a mandatory portage, it has been run more than a few times. That said, the drop is full of sieves, and should not be taken lightly, as setting safety at any point in the drop would be almost impossible.

Chris starts the portage around Granite Dome Falls

The top of Granite Dome Falls

The middle of Granite Dome Falls. This part actually looks pretty clean.

The bottom half of Granite Dome Falls

Once below the portage we ran a couple more really fun drops, as well as one that a few of us portaged. Before long we were presented with a maze of massive boulders, the lead-in to the must-run class V, Helicopter. This lead-in is not particularly difficult, but since the boulders hamper your view of what’s downstream, it can be a little exciting, especially knowing that the whole right side of Helicopter drops over a giant rock sieve. The cleanest line through this lead-in is to run the first part down the left, than cross over to river right, drop through some fun hydraulics, and then cut back left into the pool/large eddy above the runnable left-side of Helicopter.

Chris empties his boat after a brief scout of another large drop

Lining up the same drop

Approaching Helicopter

Helicopter itself is actually one of my favorite drops on the run. It’s not too difficult or dangerous, but does have 3 holes to bust through before making the final banked turn, headed right. The last time I ran this I was flipped by the second hole, but rolled immediately before heading into the third. Although I hadn't run it with style, it was still a real hoot, and I was really looking forward to getting some redemption. After sizing up the drop, Lofty decided to fire it up first. After making the tight entrance move, he lined up for the main part of the rapid and dropped in. He busted through all three holes, barely getting his head wet. He then eddied out below and waited for the rest of us.

Loft probes Helicopter

Making the final turn in Helicopter

One by one the rest of the crew dropped in, once again with similar lines and a variety of results. After everyone had successfully made it to the bottom, I packed up my camera gear and got ready for my turn. Before getting in my boat, I took one last look to validate my line -- my goal was to stay high & dry the whole way down. I popped my skirt on and slid into the water, taking a deep breath before dropping in. The entrance went smoothly, and before I knew it, I was headed toward the first hole. The drop goes so fast that it’s hard to remember when and where I put each stroke, but I do feel I powered through each hole like I had planned in my head. After making it through the holes, I knew I had it made and relaxed as I rode up high on the banked turn to finish it up – man, what a great drop!

Jason takes his turn

Shawn breaks through the first hole in Helicopter

Roman throws in a drop stroke to line up Helicopter

With only a couple miles to the takeout we knew we still had at least two big rapids before we could call it a trip. The first came fairly quick, at a sharp left-hand bend. This drop is very recognizable by the ramping boof flake on center left, which is probably the line most people take. To be honest, it didn’t look as good or fun at this level compared to how it looked with more flow. That said, the hole at the base was also much more benign, so it was still the line I was planning to run. The other line option was running another good looking boof off the right, which was Roman’s planned route. After taking pictures of Chris and Shawn running the left line, I saddled up for my turn.

Chris coming off the boof ramp nicely

As I dropped in, I was somewhat barrel rolled by the twisting ramp and deposited against the left wall upside-down -- the one place I didn’t want to be. I quickly tried to snap off a roll, but wasn’t able to get all the way over; as I was falling back into the water I could see my face headed right for a rock just under the surface. At the last second I tucked my chin into my chest, but still took a nasty blow to the forehead area. The force broke the visor on my helmet, but luckily my face was left intact. Even so, it twisted my neck pretty good, and I could feel the headache coming on. I quickly eddied out and motioned to the others that I’d had taken a pretty good hit, but was okay. I spent the next bit of time resting while waiting for the others in the group to run the drop, which all did with good lines. After we had all gathered and I had assured everyone that I’d be fine, we continued down the next stretch of fun boogie water.
We soon reached a long lead-in that marked the start of Grand Finale. I mentioned/reminded the others that supposedly once you enter the lead-in you’ve committed to the drop. With that we got out early and started hiking down the bank on river-right. Upon inspection, it appeared that the lowish water had rendered the left line somewhat unrunnable, at least not without bashing/dragging your boat down the lead-in. The next best option was to run down the river right, which was fairly meaty, then cut back to the center of the river and drop over a well-defined boof ledge. Chris stated that he was going for the latter, and walked back upstream to get in his boat and fire it up. After staring at it for a bit, I just didn’t like the look of the line all that much, partially due to the residual effects of smashing my face on the previous drop. I quickly made the decision to shoulder my boat with another in the crew. Instead of walking all the way from where we had gotten out of our boats, we actually ran about half the lead-in and tookout in an eddy on river right. The walk around was a little long, but not too bad. Much easier than the portage around Granite Dome Falls, but with more poison oak to equal it out a bit. Since I didn’t want to hold up the group, I didn’t even bother taking pictures or watching their lines, but it sounded like everyone ran it super clean.

Looking at the crux of Grand Finale during the scout

Below Grand Finale, the river mellows out, with only a couple read & run drops on the way to the take-out. The last class III drop should be approached with caution and run left of center, since the right has a pin spot that has trapped a couple of boaters in the past, including one this year. Apparently the one that just happened was pretty precarious, and he is lucky to be alive/walking today.

When we reached the takeout at Milsap Bar and beached ourselves just above the bridge, our shuttle driver showed his face and informed us that we were 2 hours late, which was true. It’s always hard to judge exactly what time you’re getting off the river, but he still was not letting us off the hook that easy. Luckily some beer and food from the car was able to console him, and soon enough we were all laughing and ribbing each other. After taking a group picture, Shawn, Aaron, and Chris took off so they could make the drive back to Portland at a reasonable hour. Roman, Jason, and I still weren’t sure if we wanted to do half the drive and then finish it up the following day, or do it that night. We decided we better head back to Sierra Nevada to make a decision over some food and beers.

The crew after a successful run down the MF Feather! (Me, Shawn, Chris, Aaron, Roman, and Jason)

A view of  Mount Shasta, from the car on the way home.

What a great trip, and just as memorable as the first time we went down. It’s hard to say anything about the MF Feather that hasn’t already been said, but I'd say it still stands out as the best multi-day I’ve ever done. Here are a couple of takeaways I had from our trip:
1.      Take your time and do it in four days if you can, especially your first time. There is so much to see that you don’t want to rush down all the drops without taking in your surroundings. The relaxing nature of this trip added perfect contrast to all the exciting whitewater.
2.      Bring a fishing pole, or at least have a couple among the group. Since this stretch of river sees little fishing pressure, they’re pretty easy to catch. Most are relatively small, but still put up a good fight.
3.      The whitewater is better with more flow. The first time we did the run we had ~1200cfs, and this time we had ~900cfs. The drops were certainly cleaner with more water, and we actually walked a couple that we had run on the previous mission. Even so, it was still super fun, and once you pass Cleghorn Bar and the river channelizes, it cleans up tremendously – don’t let the first day mank set the mood for the rest of the river.
4.      Watch the weather forecast and be prepared for rain. Even though it's the start of summer in California, Mother Nature can still bring bad weather, and I’ve heard that rain is common in this area, even during this time of year. A simple tarp can be indispensable for a trip like this.
5.      Figure out your hand signals ahead of time for scouting/relaying beta. There are a lot of drops on this run (many more than I’ve discussed/shown here), and in the interest of time, this will greatly help for moving down the river efficiently.
6.      Be prepared. This may be obvious, but make sure you bring the proper group supplies, like breakdown paddles, maps, GPS, etc. Although there are access points scattered along the river, a hike out in many portions of the canyon would be extremely difficult.
So there you have it, my lengthy and sometimes boring trip report of our 2012 Memorial Day trip down one the best multi-day runs in the country, the mighty MF Feather! I plan to do a short write-up on how the Tuna performed loaded down, as a companion to my first impressions, found here. What I can say is that it once again met/surpassed my expectations -- Stay posted for more on this!

Until next time...

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