Thursday, April 29, 2010

South Trinity: HWY 36 to Hyampom--Day Two: Sulfur Glade Creek to Hyampom

In case you haven't read the day one description it is here

The sun rose to the beach about 8:00, coaxing me from my heavy slumber.  It was damp and dewey, Ed claimed he saw some frost, but I must've slept through it.

In the morning I spent about an hour walking around on the enormous flat where we camped.  This area burned during 2008, and is beginning to revegetate nicely.  Upon returning from my jaunt, Ed was in his drysuit, with drybags packed and looking eager to go...

Recap on the camping situation:
Once you are past the river-spirit community a couple of miles (houses on both banks, suspension bridge) good camping is abundant.  I'm not sure exactly where we camped but we passed a gigantic flat and creek on river left that must've been sulfur glade creek, and I'd reckon we made it past there about another mile and a half.
The many enormous campsites are essentially deltas created by the monster floods during 1964.  Widespread logging of steep slopes and road-building practices (e.g. using too small sized culverts) led to enormous hillslope failures (landslides) that poured millions upon millions of yards of sediment into the South Trinity watershed.  This resulted in the "filling" of many pools and the "raising" of the river-bed.  Today, the system is still working all of this sediment through, though sediment inputs from human causes and the naturally soft coastal geology continue to contribute ample supply, keeping the system in stasis (impaired).  The salmon runs have been impacted as a result, but hey, there's tons of great camping!

Putting back on the water, and our stick gauge  
This put us about 17 miles into the 25-mile section and meant we would have ample time for scouting and portaging in the Hyampom Gorge.

After paddling for only an hour in the morning we reached Oak Flat and Butter Creek shortly thereafter.  Houses start coming into view, and the canyon opens up.  Butter Creek is the best take-out (unless you know landowners) for people who wish to avoid the gorge.  Taking out here requires an extra half-hour of driving time (St. Johns Road off Hyampom Rd), and it is a short steep hike up to the road (20 yards).  Nonetheless, this may still be less effort than lining/portaging rafts and kayaks through the rocky gorge downstream.  The gradient picks up slightly, and a couple of swift miles bring you to the gorge, which rises abruptly.  There is a large flat (Winton Flat) on the left upstream of the gorge, where we took a nice lunchbreak in the shade, put the elbow pads back on, and hydrated up.

Ed chilling on a beach where there was a goose-egg...We saw several nesting goose pairs.

Ed Scouting the Gorge

I was fortunate enough to get to snorkel this stretch of river, during the summer while doing a fish count.  I had already seen the ugly sieves and nasty pockets, and was happily looking forward to the portage on river left, which had an easy to catch eddy at our flow.  We took a good long scout on the right, however, and marvelled at the beauty of the nastiness.

I like the gi-normous undercut Limestone wall on river right, though taking this photo put me on an uncomfortably precarious slab above a man-eating crack in the wall.

The river forces its way through this notch, with a hidden mystery rock right in the middle, and head-hunting undercut on the right.

After pouring through one more VW Bus eating sieve, the gradient suddenly lets up and fun rapids follow for the next several miles.  The portage was really not that bad, though it was over large, uneven boulders for about 150 yards.  Here is the view, standing above another uncomfortable spot.

The fun continues downstream.

Eventually we reached another big class V rapid that we both fired off.  It had a fun double boof-entry to a ramp that ended with a crazy curler that you rode back to the left (of a sieve).  Ed styled the line, and I followed with a very not smooth line, catching every eddy and barely riding the curl to the left of a smooth rock, which I got a good look at.  I took a video of Ed, and should have it up soon.

A typical off-line consequence

More fun class III-IV continued for about a mile before it tapered off.  As quickly as the gorge began, it tapers off into the Hyampom Valley, with one final display of splendor as you pass an enormous limestone wall.

Two miles of flatwater brings you to the take-out, on the river left side about 1/4 mile upstream of the bridge in Hyampom.  Here you will find a big flat area where you can drive right to the river.  We, however, took out at the bridge, which was not such easy access.

Considering the easy access, high quality of scenery, wilderness and whitewater, likelihood of good flows combining with sunny spring weather and amazing campsites...I'd give the South Fork a definite 4.5 out of 5 stars.  There were certainly some nasty spots to avoid, but the river is generally quite forgiving with plenty of eddies for scouting and fairly easy portaging.  I'll venture to say that a crew of confident class IV boaters would probably make it down this run with maybe 2-3 portages in Klondike Mine, and another 2 in the Hyampom Gorge.

Rafting flows would ideally be slightly higher than what we had, as it would open up some narrow slots and provide more coverage.  In the words of Cassidy/Calhoun, "Any rafter who takes on this run must be a wilderness nut who doesn't mind several long, difficult portages.  Seasoned experts only.  Pack light."  We had ~1,000 cfs @ put-in (Forest Glen) I reckon ideal rafting flows would probably be 1200-1500.  The adventure is awesome and has the same remote feel as any other wilderness run that I've paddled.  Unlike all of the mainstream "notorious", permitted wilderness trips, we didn't see a soul for 2-days.  This run could also be extended all the way through to the 3-bears if one were inclined for a hefty 3-day (kayak), or 4 day (raft) trip.  Happy paddling.

Monday, April 26, 2010

South Trinity: HWY 36 to Hyampom--Day One Klondike Mine to Sulfur Glade Creek

To All My Paddling Friends,
I don't know of any reason not to do this run.  This has to be one of the most accessible and classic class III-IV (V, P) overnight runs in the country, and will probably be flowing for awhile longer.  I can't recall another river I've paddled with the same abundance of sweet wilderness camping spots than the South Trinity (Bruneau, Selway, M.F. Salmon, Grand Canyon, Rogue River & S.F. Salmon included)  In fact, I would rate the South Trinity among these rivers for the quality of scenery, solitude and beauty.  If you have done these rivers, you will undoubtedly appreciate the S.F.T. for its unique scenery and feel.  This shot is from S.F. Mountain, overlooking the Mad River, with Red and Black Lassic Buttes (Van Duzen Drainage) visible behind.

After paddling Lower Hayfork Creek a couple of days earlier, I convinced my buddy Warnertime to help leave my truck in Hyampom, at the bridge over the south fork (not recommended take-out).  Shuttle set, it was time to find someone to paddle with!  Several calls and messages later (my phone was running out of charge) I knew Silent Ed would be the man for the task.  After a night on the couch in Rio Dell, Ed picked me up at 8:00 A/M.  We drove to safeway in fortuna for a food/booze buy, then proceeded to stop at Murrish market for batteries to run the Ipod...then we stopped in Dinsmore so I could buy some sunglasses.  Ed then decided he wished to take a side-trip to check out the upper Van Duzen (class II-III).  Several more photo stops later, we finally arrived in Forest Glen and managed to put-on the water by 1:00 in the afternoon.

The Klondike Mine section has a great warmup before you get into the steeps.  Several small, technical rapids precede the first major rapid.  For the most part the run is actually not very difficult, despite containing substantial hazards (undercuts, sieves, logs) to avoid.  For rafts, I would recommend slightly higher flows than we had (1,100 @ Put-in) to provide coverage and more space through boulder-gardens and willowy areas.

  The nature of the river makes boat-scouting quite tricky, so I recommend scouting whenever in doubt (through Klondike Mine).  The first big drop is a long and complex affair, that would be difficult for raft passage at our flows.

After the initial wave of rapids, the run backs off again for a little bit until arriving at the major drop: Holey Schist!  This rapid is a holey affair and I mean water through rocks.  There is a sweet line down the right, that proved to be quite friendly for the loaded boats.  Ed sticks the line.

The portage down the left would be difficult, though not brutal.  After Holey Schist, fun rapids continue.

Eventually you reach the last major drop of Klondike Mine, with a nasty undercut on the left that draws most of the flow.  This is a longer rapid, and definitely deserved a class V- rating at our flow.  I don't have any pic's of this, but before you know it, the major rapids back off and the run gradually tapers off to IV- and then class III for the next 16 miles.  The Klondike Mine take-out is vaguely recognizable by a tailings pile 80 feet up the left bank.  This road has been decommissioned and is supposedly a 2-3 mile hike for access these days.  The float continues below here with a consistent pace with class III rapids interspersed throughout and a fairly even gradient.  There was a surprisingly small amount of flatwater @ 1,100, though in places the river coursed through tight willow and alder areas that could prove challenging for oar-frames.

The first major ranch comes on the left approx. 6.5 miles into the run, on the Left Bank.  A surprising amount of private property exists along this run, although most of the time the S.F.T. is flowing, residents don't have access to their land (due to snowed in roads).  South Fork Mountain, on the left, produces innumerable side-creeks that constantly add flow to the river.  After about 14 miles you pass the Riversong Community, where buildings are on both banks.  Approaching the river spirit community:

We couldn't help but check out this vintage Perception Eclipse, located behind an unguarded fence.

The South Fork sure is beautiful

Below here fun rapids pick up again for several miles.

After a while, I decided it was time for some beers and we started looking for a campspot.  The trouble we had was picking one!  We passed by one killer spot, then another o.k. spot, then passed by two more killer spots before arriving at the killer spot we decided to be our camp.  I loved this spot, with a huge beach, ample wood, and enormous grassy flat above.

We definitely saw some signs of life, though only one human and two dogs were aware of our presence along the trip.  This compared with the bald eagles, osprey, herons, goose, ducks, deer, lizards, frogs, turtles, woodpeckers and countless unique endemic plant species that inhabit the area.  See day two for more...

Monday, April 19, 2010

North Fork Cottonwood Creek

I recommend getting on this run ASAP, before this ever-giving spring (2010) subsides.  However, clandestine and commando kayaker tactics will be essential to continued access to this run.  North Cottonwood is among the most unique creek runs I have ever paddled, and at flows of ~525 cfs, it is a must-run classic.  After an early start from Arcata, and long drive, we made it to take-out in Ono at approx. 11:00 A.M.  This is god's country, with the sweet green grass and flowers a bloomin'.  The mini-mule farm on the shuttle road only reinforces the fact that curious looking green and red boats on top of a subaru are indeed auspicious in these parts.  In accordance, my buddy J.R. prayed for perfect flows, and supple breast-like rock formations.
But that's beside the point, especially if you manage to make the right turn (left) onto Sunny Hill road, which will take you to the correct put-in.  We, however, arrived at the terminus of Rainbow Lake road, and were fortunate enough to meet an informative local who told us we were about to put-in above an 80' dam in a box-canyon that might make a difficult portage...we quickly decided this wasn't in the run description we had read and headed for the lower put-in.  Extra-special thanks to this guy (who wasn't "that guy").  More potential exists at this upper put-in, but we weren't looking for anything extra.
After re-routing, we arrived at the correct put-in approx. 12:00 and still needed to run a shuttle.  The flow looked absolutely perfect, with surf-able looking waves at put-in.  12:30 came round and the crew was on the water.  The first rapid comes quickly on a left-hand bend, drops into a crack, and had a somewhat backed up hole with a log in it.  This may have been the only wood hazard on the entire run.  Some sketchy lines through here set the tone for our day, as the team fell into our boat-scouting and communication groove.

The run has an excellent feel at 500 cfs, with class III-IV drops carrying you along between the big stuff.  A mini-gorge rapid with a log-duck tested our teams communication skills, though good eddies exist above the log-pinch.

Another sweet rapid with a sticky hole came on a left-hand bend downstream.  Matt Porter showing how its done.

The first major rapid comes shortly thereafter as you begin to drop into an obvious gorge.  We sent Martin (probe jr.) first, and he informed us that this was indeed the first sticky hole referred to in Darin's blog.  He communicated a center boof with right momentum was the line, and we all charged it blind.  At our flows, it was indeed a 6-8' drop, with a sticky hole at the bottom. Several plugs, a couple flips and one back-ender later we were all sitting in the pool at the bottom, stoked.

Eventually you get into some granitic rock, this marks the beginning of the Shon's Crack section.  First, we portaged a crack drop that Shon has run.

Then we ran part of the non-stop rapid that ends with a falls into a crack that Shon has also run.  This second drop was a challenging portage, requiring us to run a lead-in rapid and catch a small eddy on the right. There is no good eddy above this falls, just rapids.  We all agreed that this is a runnable drop, and it looked sick.  I'm sure Martin will have the same regrets as me looking at this picture, until next time...

This marks the confluence with Jerusalem Creek, meaning you are approx. halfway through the big drops on this section.  Jerusalem Creek looks badass, and adds plenty of flow.  Downstream, fun rapids continue until you arrive at the sliding-pillow falls.

This was probably the most fun drop in my opinion, with a lead-in rapid bringing you to the final 10' drop that slides into a sizable pillow, then drops through a bottom hole.  We all ran this left with no consequence...well, almost no consequence.

Next thing you know we're out scouting the Big Kahuna, the perfect 20 footer.  This took approx  half and hour.  The left line was a sweet plug line, with a more technical boof line on the right.  Matt Porter got tired of waiting and fired it off with a sweet line down the right, fighting his way out of the hole at the bottom.  Sweet line after sweet line, we were all stoked to have run the falls.  Martin runs right.

And Melissa runs left

The view Downstream

Downstream was a sweet sliding drop through hydraulically-mined conglomerate bedrock.

  Some more  rapids brought you to the possible river access at gas point road on the right.  This is also the location of the final portage falls, into a crack.  The eddy above this falls was extremely difficult and sketchy to catch at our flows.  We had J.R. go first and then be the "catcher".

The problem was a small tree sticking out of the bank right in our way.  This falls also looked to have a runnable line, but none of us were takers.

The paddle-out was thoroughly enjoyable, though it would suck at lower flows.  We were amazed at the hundreds of surf holes and waves created by the never-ending sandstone ledges.  There were many low-angle slides and sharp bedrock shelves to scrape on, but at 500 cfs they were mostly covered.

In fact, the run doesn't let up as the gradient is fairly continuous with a fun mini-gorge section to boot.  There are some very cool cliffs exposed where you can see the tilted sandstone layers.  I'm guessing these are deposits from when the central valley used to be an enormous inland sea during the pleistocene? age.  Upon our arrival at take-out, we generated our strategy.  The shuttle drivers (me & Martin) took off to our vehicle parked at the Ono grange building, 1/4 mile away.  The remaining crew trolled around under the bridge until we returned, and upon our return attempted to make a somewhat hasty departure (not really).  Maybe we just hit it on the perfect day, with perfect flows and sunny weather, but we all agreed this to be a run we wish to paddle again.

Shuttle is easy, just drive up Rainbow Lake road approx. 5 miles, and past the mini-mule farm until you reach Sunny Hill road on the left.  Take this road all the way to the end.  The creek should have some small surfable waves at the put-in.  The run took us approx. four and a half hours.  Did I say no consequences?


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

North Fork Smith River Headwaters

This run was definitely not on my radar.  My motivation to run something new however, caught my interest immediately upon talking to J.R.  He was the brains of the operation, and had already roped Bearfoot Brad, potentially the worlds most weathered shuttle driver into aiding our mission.  Allow me a minute to plug Brad's Shuttle service on the Smith River.  Brad is a virtual black hole for knowledge about the Smith River; he absorbs all and will tell you as much as you are willing to ask...Be careful, the stories are all true!  He takes shuttle driving to a whole new level, tricking out his truck to maintain the shuttle road, and exhuming the courage and willingness to drive shuttle that you wish your girlfriend had.

According to Brad, it had been approximately 5 years since he took a crew to the Upper N.F.  Apparently they got separated and wound up hiking through wilderness in the dark.  This I tried to laugh about on our drive to put-in, but you can't help but wonder.  After leaving Gasquet at close to 11:00 A.M. our drive took us to the Ray's in Smith River where Wes purchased a delicious cut of Tri-tip off the BBQ outside and I was lucky enough to find some granola bars (past their expiration date).  The place was a total madhouse...there was about 75 random kids and all their parents in attendance for a planned 'easter egg hunt'.  Free coca-cola for everyone!  I must admit, beer in hand, I felt a little out of place.

But then we were gone like a whirlwind, and driving up the Winchuck River Rd.  It was a beautiful drive through unfamiliar territory, where the pretty girl (she was pretty) seemed to be impressed with Wes' large truck.  We averted the potential situation and continued up the road unabated, for we were on a mission.  It turns out the Upper NF shuttle road is actually lower than the normal put-in road.  We were able to follow our map and turn onto the proper road (290), and were immediately driving through overhanging bushes and trees weighted down with 6-inches of snow.  After a couple of miles of this we reached an impassable fork close to 2-miles from the river.  It began to snow as we declared this the put-in and geared up quickly.

After a mile hike down the road, we reached its terminal end.  

Unable to find any real trail, we dropped into a gully on the right that proved to be fairly easy going.  It was steep and woody for about 1/2 mile until we reached a flat spot and the river.  The forest was completely old-growth virgin, enormous douglas-fir trees, hemlocks, port-oroford cedars and possibly redwood.  We devoured the tri-tip, and put-on probably close to 2:30.  The run was entirely the opposite of the standard North Smith Run, with beautiful healthy forests on both banks and smooth dark mudstone rocks.

This section felt more like the middle fork run above siskiyou gorge, though not quite as difficult, and with more wood.

In all, we portaged about 4 times due to wood, but had another 8 log ducks or so.  Our level was ideal for ducking wood, without being too low.  The river grew in size gradually, and passed through 3 separate gradient sections before its meeting with Baldface Creek.  One of these had a sweet bedrock pinch with several ledge drops and mellow holes.

  I had been waiting and waiting for the Chrome Creek confluence, though we passed it without making any visual contact.  I did notice a sudden increase in water, and mile or so later we reached a large horizon line.  No time for pictures, we charged through the best and longest rapid of the entire run, a big and sweet class IV.  Upon our arrival at Baldface Creek we stopped for a well-needed break.  Baldface creek was easily larger than the North Smith at the confluence.

Cold times call for cold beers...Baldface coming in on the right side of the frame

Below here the character of the run changes completely and assumes the standard N.F. feel for the remaining couple of miles.  Props to Brad for coming through, waiting at Major Moores...good trip