Sunday, June 20, 2010

Elk Creek near Happy Camp

Because it is an enormous drainage, on the north side of the Marble Mountains, this creek was high up on my to-do list for 2010.  After a trip to the Middle Eel, I got two more days off and rallied Miguel and John Warner.  We drove via. Greyback Saddle from O'Brien to Happy Camp, though this road is usually closed in winter.  After eating breakfast at the Frontier Cafe, we headed across the river to set shuttle.  12 miles of driving brought us from take-out to the unfortunate locked gate we at Sulfur Springs trailhead.  We began our hike here, aiming to paddle from the Granite Creek Confluence down.  The hike wasn't too bad, but my biggest piece of advice is the trail is on river left, so before you arrive at Bear Creek, head to the other side of the river from the road.

This area burned two years ago, resulting in one of the most beautiful wildflower displays I've seen.
After 3-miles of hiking we arrived at Granite Creek and took a well-needed break.  It was fortunate the weather was cool, as this hike would have been brutal on a hot day.

Once on the water, the pace was steep and continuous (200 fpm+).  A little more water would be nice, making the big drops spicier though.  Here is John Warner on Elk Cr. above the Granite Cr. Confluence

After 1.5 miles we reached the Dream Chute, where the creek drops through a steep boulder-garden/cascade into a gorged out waterfall with a sticky hole.  I had seen pictures of this on Google Earth, and it was veritably responsible for us hiking all the way to Granite Creek.  I decided to give er a go, and wound up plugging the hole, logging seconds of downtime and emerging with a huge back-ender into the hole.  Somehow I managed to flush against the wall, rolling up with a big smile.

Here is John Warner scoping the Dream Chute.

Looking down into Dream Chute

More boulder gardens continued, with occasional bedrock goods spiced in too.  The gradient was steep, yet despite the forest fire, we didn't have one log portage.  Here is Miguel in Chopstick Rock.

Miguel sliding down Upper Elk Cr.

We finally arrived at Smooth Walls Falls, where a diversity of lines treated us O.K.

Below here more steep rapids continued all the way to Sulphur Springs, where we took our lunch break. It was here that the creek changes character, from a IV(V) to a III-IV section.  Because it was such a long drive, our shuttle was set at the Klamath confluence, 13 miles downstream.  Here is Miguel sticking a boof in his new Burn.

A quiet moment on Elk Creek

Many more miles of mellow water brought us to the final 5 miles, containing an interesting class IV bedrock section and the one rapid we all portaged.  Here is Miguel charging the corkscrew drop.

Here is the rapid we portaged.  It would've gone, probably on both sides, but it was the end of a long day for us, when we reached take-out we'd paddled almost 16 miles, dropping close to 2,000 feet of gradient.

Finally...the take-out!

The Confluence.

Though this creek is not quite a classic, it is borderline classic.  Definitely worth doing, with just a touch more water it would've been even better.  If you are a class III-IV boater, the best section is from Sulphur Springs on down, or the guidebook section downstream of the East Fork confluence.  If you are after some bigger drops, the goods are upstream of where you can drive, and slightly higher flows are recommended than what we had (Salmon @ 5.2 ft, Indian Cr. @ Happy Camp 500 cfs, Klamath @ Orleans 9,000).  Here's what it looked like from Highway 96.

1 comment:

  1. Wish I could post a picture of my cataraft sailing down the portage piloted by Mark Fritzke...quite a sight. I would love to raft this run again. Not too high of water though. )

    Dr. Strange