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
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)...so 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.