Thursday, February 17, 2011

Upper Hayfork Creek

A Short Video of Upper Hayfork Creek...I.K. Carnage? Yes.

Upper Hayfork is an interesting run that is shrouded in a cloud of mystery.  When I first read the Stanley/Holbek description, it turned me off to the run.  All the talk of portages and fishladders on a class III-IV+ section just didn't sound too appealing.  The grossly inaccurate flow information provided in the book only served to perpetuate the less than appeal for Upper Hayfork.  It's true that the Dam is managed differently on the Trinity these days, but even in the 80's, 3,000 cfs on the Trinity @ Hoopa did not translate into 500 cfs on Upper Hayfork Creek.

The Wolf
To make a short story longer, I was talking with my buddy Alex Wolfgram one day.  I mentioned Upper Hayfork, and in his charismatic fashion "Duuuuude!  That run is awesome!" Alex proceeded to explain that the "portages" were actually the best rapids on the run.  Then, Upper Hayfork made my list.

Upper Hayfork Country is just that, country.  Some very cool limestone outcroppings along the drive definitely peaked our interest though, as well marked signs for a natural bridge out here.  We set shuttle, and took off driving upstream from the East Fork of Hayfork Confluence at an obvious bridge.  Less than a mile upstream, the Fishladder is visible from the road, in a beautiful bedrock gorge...I wiped my eyes, "was this for real"?  In my typical fashion I tried not to let my expectations get too high for fear of letdown.

The put-in is a cherry little spot where you can park about 10 steps from the creek.  We waved goodbye to our Inflatable Kayaker Shuttle Driver who elected not to paddle the run with us due to time crunch.  Due to the time crunch, I didn't get many pictures either, but here they are, blurry ones and all.  Damon bounces through Roxy's Rock

The run continues along with good gradient and lots of bedrock.  Eventually you reach the obvious gorge portage.  The eddy above this is rumored to be extremely difficult to catch at certain flows, but with our scratchy level was no problem.  This gorged in rapid is literally so boxed in that its difficult to get a really good scout at it.  I basically traversed the entire portage route along the left gorge wall and was unable to get a good look.  Be careful if you portage as it is a little exposed up there.  
The rapid is a split drop around a rock that would make for juicy hydraulics if you came at it with high water.  There is also nowhere to set safety from, so even though its not a bad drop, treat it with respect.  Looking down the left slot.

I was able to climb up onto the gorge wall and take this shot.  You can't see the entrance rapid from this angle, but there is one.  At our flow we ran the left slot because the river right was too tight.  At higher water I bet the river right channel would make a sweet boof and be the preferred line.

Downstream was one more extremely tight boulder slot that could've used more water.  We did a boof to gorilla to seal launch maneuver, as always: scout when in doubt.  After this first gorge, the creek opened up again until we arrived at this sweet drop.  Well, it kinda landed on a rock shelf, but as long as you stick your boof it's good to go.  Damon Goodman sticks his signature Goodboof.

   More fun rapids downstream that could've used more water to make them more fun.

The view downstream

Finally, we arrived at Fishladder Falls.  And who was waiting for us, but our I.K. buddy Aaron, all suited up and fired up!  We were stoked!  Rumor has it that this drop actually used to be a falls, but it was blasted to allow for fish passage.  I can only imagine how sweet of a drop this used to be, but hey it's still sweet.  When scouting this drop, I didn't notice any chucks of rebar, but you know its in there, so be careful.  Here is the sweet entrance boof preceding the fishladder.

Aaron watched Damon and I grease the line, and with the look in his eye, jumped into the I.K.

Aaron charged through the first two holes, the third one he got sideways and was fine, but when he turned around backwards in the fourth drop, the boat was completely full of water.  Fishbone then performed a backwards piton, shedding the water and him from the rocketing I.K.  He then performed the inverted running man maneuver with true grace, as he swam the run out to the drop.

The take-out is less than a mile downstream, where you can also park within steps of the creek, just a little ways upstream from the bridge another small road goes right to the water.

Final Notes:
1) We paddled this one last spring as an after work run from Weaverville, though we did cut out of work a little early that day(3ish).
2) The flow was 1,600 cfs. at Hyampom, and though it was enough water to get down the run, I personally would prefer 2,000+ to juice up the hydraulics and pad things out.  I realize this is just my personal preference, and somebody else may find it enjoyable with lower flows, it was definitely not a stressful run.
3) I think the 3rd portage in the Holbek/Stanley book is the panoramic shot, but it could've been the one where Damon is bouncing over the rock.  We may never know.
4) The Fishladder drop is truly park n huckable, with an easy trail leading back to the top, and was actually really good at the lower level because its so channelized.  Next time I'm there and its a little bony, I'll just run the fishladder a few times and call it was the best drop anyway.
5) This run belongs on the top list of Bike shuttles.
6) When this creek is flowing good I bet its a real kick in the pants the whole way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Upper Middle Fork Eel River: Day Two

Day Two:

We camped at Hammerhorn Lake again, chowing down on food and going to bed early.  The plan was to have a crew run shuttle, whilst a couple of people stayed behind at camp to cook breakfast burritos and to make burritos for the river trip.  The shuttle is incredibly long, so after nearly two hours, we returned to camp and hurried our breakfast along.  Minutes later, the crew was tracking our way back down into the canyon, arriving at our boats close to 10:30.  Mike had come down with a cold and elected to carry his boat back to the road.  We were all bummed to be losing a member of the crew, but given his condition he made the right decision.  As we would later learn from Warner, it was a nasty cold indeed!  Here is Ed running the second breakfast rapid.

Here is the view Downstream

Immediately we dropped into a great section of continuous rapids with more water than the previous day.  The first two miles of the day would drop 125 and 215 feet respectively so we were expecting lots of action.  As on day one, we were able to boat scout 90% of the rapids that turned out to be cleaner and more fun as we went.  Unfortunately, John boat-scouted a drop blind, landing on a sharp rooster tail-rock that cracked his boat under the seat.  Investigating the crack.

With a foam patch cut from his pillar wedged between the crack and seat, we charged onward through more fun drops.

It seemed that we had a near perfect flow.

Another Rapid I scouted with a nasty piton rock, the crew wasn't convinced with my suggested line after Warner had a near brush with the rock here.

We had gone less than two miles and already we were stoked on the pace of the run.

A Bummed Warner

But the crack in Warner's boat had gotten worse. He was able to continue to the end of the second mile, at Beaver Creek.  It was here that John wisely elected to hike out, the river was still close to the road, and 10 more miles remained with another steep section through the "Osbourne Roughs" that dropped 111 and 242 feet in one two-mile stretch.  We made sure he drank lots of water, because it was getting damn hot.  His hike out is a different story though, as our crew of 5 became 3.

Onward we charged as two miles of relaxed whitewater with several spicy drops peppered in brought us to the confluence of Howard Creek, the beginning of the steepest gradient.  It was here that we took a lunch break, mowing down burritos and hydrating with an abundance of water.  

The weather was 90 degrees, helping snowmelt to hold the river flow.  Numerous tributary accretions had swollen the river to a healthy 800 cfs by this point, making for some powerful hydraulics and interesting seams.  Despite our expectations of deathtraps and a menacing character however, the run remained incredibly fun and beautiful.

            After lunch, the river's gradient slowly began to increase again.  A little slow on the trigger finger 

Eventually we reached the Osbourne Roughs, a steep and continuous boulder garden section very reminiscent of the final 9 of the Middle Kings, or Golden Gate on the South Fork of the American.

  The difference was the type of rock, as there was absolutely no granite to be seen.  Instead, we encountered house-sized boulders of Chert, Schist, Gneiss, and Mudstones intermingled with the predominant sandstone bedrock on river left.  Orion charging towards the steepest part of the run

Orion, charges on Downstream

Ed in the next boulder garden

There were nasty hazards to be avoided but fun boulder garden rapids continued one after another until we reached the crux of the gorge: Steelhead Falls.  

We were officially in the crux of the run, and our healthy flows translated into meaty hydraulics.  Though we portaged twice in here, they are both the kind of rapids you want to go back for.

As we scouted this enormous drop, Steelhead were jumping up the various channels, smacking into rock and sometimes making it over the falls.

At this point the significance of paddling on the Middle Eel occurred to me, not only were we experiencing a true adventure, but life in its fullest.  A healthy salmon stream is not widely encountered while paddling these days, in many ways our journey reflects the travels of these fish, bumping our heads into rock over and over before we get a chance to spawn.  The portage was mellow on the left, and downstream another huge, yet runnable rapid was portaged left as well.

The view downstream

Ed and Orion charging onward.

Some truly beautiful whitewater in here

We didn't walk too many times.  Orion launches another sweet boof.

And Sticks It...

And suddenly, the Middle Eel hits flatwater, the perfect time for a break in the shade. 

Time to relax 

After rounding a corner and charging through a sweet rapid, I recognized it as the one visible from the Recon section weeks before.  The final gorge of familiar whitewater went quickly, arriving at the Black Butte Confluence at 5:00 pm after another long day on the water.  Miguel was waiting for us at take-out, but Warner was not, so we proceeded to drive back up the road for our lost buddy.  We found him, riding in the back of a jeep with two friendly ladies, having a great time.  

Driving back for Warner's boat
            The Middle Fork exceeded all of our expectations and is a classic stretch of California whitewater that deserves to be on any class IV-V paddler’s list.  The amazingly forgiving river, quality whitewater and spectacular scenery and solitude make for one of the best rivers I’ve ever paddled.  Friendly locals greeted us as we arrived at the take-out, as well as a giant rattlesnake.

 Rattlesnakes inhabit the area, so I brought a snake-kit before our trip.  Some of the unique rocks were slippery (soapstone) while others were incredibly sharp, so good footwear is highly recommended.  Sunscreen and a water filter were nice too.  Additionally, the Black Butte River Ranch Store will run shuttles for both sections of the Middle Eel if you arrange it with them, phone # (707) 983-9438.  They also have Yolla-Bolly wilderness maps and cold beers at take-out (or put-in).  The Forest Service office was helpful in assisting us with access information as well, the Covelo Ranger Station # is (707) 983-6110.  We had flows around 1,600 at Dos Rios.  Go out and enjoy some wilderness paddling in one of the most remote areas of California and the West Coast.