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 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?