Saturday, August 22, 2009

Swift Creek Gorge

This is a classic run that flows later in the spring and always leaves you stoked.  I have heard it compared to Vallecito Creek in Colorado for its high quality and easy access.  Once the flow on the Trinity Above Coffee Creek drops down to the 500 cfs range, Swift Creek is on the verge of being in.  High water, however, makes for some scary hydraulics within this tight notch, and eliminates the eddy above "The Elbow Cruncher" portage.  Usually, the 300 cfs range on the Trinity gauge is a more managable flow for most people.  At higher water, though the gorge is not reccomended, the rest of the creek becomes a kick in the pants, and is runnable all the way down to Trinity Center.  The hike-in and paddle are short enough that we have done this as an after-work run, leaving Weaverville at 5:30.

The swift Creek trail is heavily used and a very nice trail, keep an eye out for the carnivorous pitcher plants and ladyslipper orchids.  

After 3/4 mile of hiking, the gorge will come into view, and should be scouted in its entirety before dropping in.  The ruggedness of the gorge will be immediately obvious, as exit would be extremely difficult and dangerous.  Be extra careful to check the eddy below the 20 footer, and immediately above the portage.  If you don't feel comfortable with catching the eddy, you shouldn't be dropping in. 

Looking down the lip of the 20 with the eddy (right) and Elbow Cruncher (left)

Keep going up the trail and put-in below the bridge at an obvious campsite.  There are several boulder gardens to warm-up, they are usually pretty chunky, as the flows should be low for the gorge.  The first falls into the gorge has a nasty recirculating hole feeding into a cave behind it.  Be careful with this drop, especially at higher flows.  

The next rapid is mank, with wood in it.  If you run the first falls, eddy out left and portage across this log.  

Damon Goodman keeping his balance
Below the mank portage, is the crux 20 footer with the mandatory eddy.  Right angle is mandatory coming off the drop, but the landing is green if you boof too hard right.  I prefer to roll off the drop without so much as a stroke, just maintaining a right angle.  The portage has been run, it is a slide into a crack, but not quite tempting enough for me.  

Damon Goodman - Speed Blur

Orion dropping the 20 during a thunderstorm

Two more fun drops lead you to the final falls, exiting the gorge.  This is run hard left, against the wall, and with slight left momentum to carry you away from the shelf bottom right.  This one is definitely a plugger, and can also be a chunker as the flows get lower.  If you have all day, this is where you get out and hike back to the top for laps on the gorge.  

Bigfoot guide Chris drops the Final Falls

The paddle out is more steep boulder gardens and a small section of hydraulically mined bedrock with small slides and sticky holes.  Check your take-out on the hike-in, I prefer to exit the creek where there is a large boulder on the left next to a bigger drop. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Upper Red Cap Creek

Stand of Incense Cedar on Road to Put-In 

Emerging from the seldom visited western flank of the Trinity Alps, Upper Red Cap is high quality creekin'.  In fact, the drainage is large enough to draw comparisons such as "mini-New" or "Mini Salmon" to its bigger brothers nearby.  The gradient, however, is more ample on this run, and flowing through several gorges this creek sports some great rapids.  Finding your way to the creek is part of the challenge, as you drive through wineries and eventually reach some unmarked turns...bring a map and you'll have no troubles.  We paddled this section when the salmon was at a meek 4' on the gauge and had enough water to get down, but in the future I will probably not return with less than 4.7'.

The Hike-In

Getting to this creek is not easy, though we were pleasantly surprised to find the road was in great shape all the way to the top, and there was a trail leading all the way to put-in.  Pretty good access considering this was a (potential) obvious first descent.  While hiking in on the trail, several spur trails take-off, though you generally want to stay all the way to the right, as long as you continue downhill.  You will reach a small flat filled with mining junk along the middle fork of Red Cap, keep staying to the right, negotiating along the mini-gorge, until you can see the main-stem of red-cap. The last descent to the creek has a poison oak bush waiting for the unwary kayaker. 

Damon about to get P.O.

Orion at Put-In

This run is characterized by steep boulder gardens in a remote canyon.  The first big rapid you get to is the "Logjam Drop".  This marks the beginning of the first canyon.

Orion Meredith Boofin' Away

Too Low To Go--The Crew Portaging an otherwise Sweet Drop

Orion Meredith at the Bottom of the Aforementioned Drop

Fun Rapids continue for a while below here, until you reach "the pinch", where the creek splits up through a weird boulder garden and then comes back together in a gorged out rapid, that could be a difficult scout at higher water (though the rapid would be much cleaner).  The bottom of this could also potentially develop a respectable hole at high water.

Chrisler Torrance in "Wall Check"

The Boys on Red Cap

Damon Goodman in The Pinch

Below here the river lets up for a while, and flows through an enormous landslide-carved channel where a debris flow appears to have temporarily dammed the creek, only to break through the earthen-dam.  The result is a long, steep boulder garden where the river spreads out fairly wide, this continues for nearly 1/4 mile before backing off again.

Damon Goodman Drops in on the Boulder Garden while Orion Looks On

Martin Scouting the Bottom of the Boulder Garden

After backing off for awhile, Red Cap Creek saves up its best for last, with a final bedrock gorge containing several sweet drops.  

Chrisler boofing "The Shelf"

Martin in the final gorge

Red Cap Creek is a run that I can't wait to do again, with abundant flow I think it will be a classic North Coast creek.  At our flow I would say it was mostly class IV, with a few tricky drops, however at high flows there would be a good amount of class V.  

Saturday, August 8, 2009

North Fork Trinity River

The North Trinity is still one of the steepest and most difficult runs in the Northern California mountains.  Reliable spring flows, classic rapids, spectacular wilderness scenery and emerald green water combine to make this one of my favorite runs.  Around the corner from put-in, the river starts dropping out in its push towards the Trinity.  Much of this section is visible from the shuttle road, high above—it’s much bigger than it looks from the road. Here is a short video of the North Fork Trinity

Limestone Ridge from Hobo Gulch Rd.
The first two miles pack in the fun drops, with a very continuous and steep nature.  The stand-out rapids are the first one (which has a nasty log in it) and the island drop.  When the river splits, and the left channel is clogged by a large log, take the smaller right channel.  Eddy out, and clamber down the island to scout. 

Chris Zawacki styles the First Drop at lower flows (500 cfs).

Paul Fritze boofing the next drop

After the initial 2-mile steep section which contains many ledge drops in steep boulder gardens, the river backs off for a while.  One rapid of note is a pinched out flume with a tricky seam.  This drop can sneak up on you as there are no large eddies above the tricky horizon line.

Fritze styles the Pinch

After this you reach paradise gorge.  Within this beautiful mini-gorge lurks one particularly sticky hole, that would be a rough surf.  Be sure and boof hard.

View from inside paradise gorge

Lunch Break below paradise gorge

Purple Lewisia Succulent, Endemic to Trinity Alps

Once through this gorge, you will be at the Cabin of Gaines Horn, who runs a business with his wife Karen making "climbing jewelry", and other fascinating trinkets.  The cabins are very beautiful and could be used as an emergency exit point (or put-in), as a trail leads back to the road here.  However please respect the private property by not stopping here unless it is necessary.  If you happen to see the landowners, they are very nice people, say hi to them for me.  Here is a link to their website and Karen's blog

Paul Fritze checking out the climbing jewelry

Fascinating Micro-hydro power generator

Many fun rapids are interspersed throughout the middle section.  Most are short, steep drops into powerful hydraulics.  There are also a couple of fun mini-gorges with sticky holes lurking around to keep you on your toes.  One of these we call "party time", though it really should be "scary time", after having three simultaneous swimmers out of one hole.  We boat-scouted directly into this drop, and had marginal success, with about 40% of our crew stuck.  Orion got the worst treatment, he describes being pinned upside down underwater, his wedged between his boat and an undercut rock with the current holding him in place.  Fortunately he was able to muscle his way out of the boat, which remained pinned after he exited.  Be careful not to blunder into this rapid on the left, an eddy and easy boof line are on the right side.  

Extricating Orion's Boat from "Party Time"

Beautiful wild azalea lines the banks

The river calms down for a while, and another access point exists, where there the Waldorf Crossing trail heads back to the shuttle road on river left.  This spot is recognizable where a small creek tumbles down a bedrock shelf into the river on the right.  Downstream you reach Mr. Squiggles…a classic drop where the river falls 8 feet into a crack, scout left and boof hard right.

Ben York airing out his boof at Mr. Squiggles

Miguel spawning

The final gorge contains several classic drops as well.  Of particular note is Leap of Faith—an 8 foot boof into a very sticky hole.  Even at 500 cfs I’ve been violently cartwheeled in this drop.  Portaging and scouting this drop can be very difficult due to the vertical canyon walls—be careful to set safety here as Arn’s Falls is just downstream.

Looking back up at the Leap of Faith

The left side of Arn's is a hideous sieved out cataract, the right has a classic line that collected a log several years ago making it unrunnable.  The portage on the right can be tricky, and this year we were putting in our boats in a small eddy on the right and paddling the last two drops. The portage route is along the cliff on river right…high water can make this portage much more intimidating.  Below here, fun rapids continue all the way to the take-out.

Looking Down Arn's Falls

John Warner running Arn's Falls

Beware of high water on the North Trinity, I wouldn't recommend paddling it with more than 1,200-1,500 cfs unless you are very comfortable in big water.  500 cfs should be considered the minimum.  The shuttle is rather simple, to get to take out turn at the sign for Helena, about 5 miles west of Junction City and drive about 1.5 miles to the take-out bridge.  To reach put-in continue up this road for about 3 miles to where the marked Hobo Gulch road veers off to the left.  Continue for 15 miles to the Hobo Gulch campground.  This road can be snowed in during winter, though it usually opens up during march or april. 

The boys payin' some dues after a rough day on the North Trin

Willow Creek Carhood Section

The Carhood Section is definitely a staple for local creekers.  Very few sections of river can rival the technical and fast-paced action offered by Willow Creek.  Especially as flows get high, the consequences of missing a line are strengthened by the numerous off-channel sieves and wood, not to mention swimming in the bouldery rapids is a painful option.  However, at the optimal flows, this creek is easy class V and fun as it gets.
Put-In at the first bridge up from the Town of Willow Creek on Hwy 299.  There is a small rock (on the right side of this picture) that can be used as a gauge here, when the rock is covered (even just barely wet) you are good to go.  Use your own judgement about what flows are too high.  Right away you will get a feel for the continuous nature of the creek, the first substantial rapid is Pyramid Rock, which consists of a boulder garden entry to a boof with a suprisingly sticky hole (that I have shared with two other people simultaneously).  Sorry about the blur.

Damon sticks his boof in Pyramid Rock

Downstream is one more boulder garden before the mandatory (and small) eddy on the right at the top of Carhood.  Carhood is definitely the most difficult drop of the run, and often portaged down the right bank.  The move is to boof left, then make a hard right turn and steer through a manky rockpile.  

Dan runs carhood at a good flow (photo Mike Lee)

Downstream are more fun class IV rapids for about a quarter mile until you reach the launching pad, a fun boof into a weird slot.

Miguel launching

Below here you enter a continuous boulder garden that eventually pinches into a slot with a tight left turn.  This turn has a nasty undercut on the right that is difficult to avoid at lower flows, at high water you can boof the undercut.  Be careful here as Eraserface is immediately downstream, and should be scouted left.  Did I mention to bring your elbow pads?  

Eraserface is a classic drop where you enter through a narrow slot on the left, and make a quick dog-leg turn, boofing the drop at the bottom.  If you fail to carry momentum through the dogleg, you will probably get pushed right, brushing the rock and going deep at the bottom.  At higher flows you can really air out the boof.  There is a line down the right side as well, though it is more difficult to scout. Take a moment to appreciate the many sieved out boulder slots and undercut rocks laced throughout this jumble. 

Will Parham entering Eraserface

Will Boofing the bottom drop

Downstream the gradient lets up for another 1/4 mile of easier rapids, the next large horizon line you approach is Lambada.  Lambada was named for a log that you used to duck, then boofed in the middle channel (still runnable at high flows).  The line has changed now and it is run down the right-side, cutting back to the center once you are past the large boulder.  This is probably the second most difficult rapid and should definitely be scouted by first-timers.  Once again pay close attention to all the sieves and undercuts when you scout.

John Warner entering Lambada

Immediately below Lambada is a drop we call pillow-biter, run center then boofing toward the right channel.  This spits you into a large pool above the last rapid of the run, White Trash.  White trash is a fast ramp, clogged with boulders, and can be very manky if you get off line.  I enter far left, and generally stay left (close to the bank).  This rapid ends and there is a small eddy on the right before the take-out boof.  If the water is high I don't recommend running the take-out boof, the forbidden section starts just downstream.  If the water is really high, there is a take-out trail on the right side of white trash that I recommend (the take-out eddy washes out at these flows).  Now that you know the lines go and run it again, my personal record is 12 minutes for this section...
The take-out is marked by a large pullout about 1 mile downstream of put-in, with a row of large rocks.  You may wish to scout it out before dropping in.  When you reach the take-out boof it is fun to go down and scout the first forbidden rapid, which contains a man-eating whirlpool type sieve.  If you like what you see, you can continue into the forbidden section, but be careful in there.