Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stuart Fork Trinity River: Wilderness Run

After backpacking to Emerald and Sapphire lakes last summer, I decided my return to kayak the Stuart Fork Trinity was imperative.  This is a beautiful river, whose headwaters share the highest peaks of the Trinity Alps with Canyon Creek, the North Fork Trinity, and South Fork Salmon River.  Because it emerges from these glacially-carved granitic mountains, the channel is primarily continuous boulder gardens with round granite boulders.  The gradient is quite steep, averaging 180 fpm, though the first two miles drop 400 feet.  Towards the end you work your way into bedrock drops with some punch, making the most of the gradient.  This also makes for many even, ledge holes to get worked in and also provides some interesting undercuts.

The Stuart Fork area is rich with mining history, during the hike-in you follow the path of a canal used to divert water for hydraulic mining operations.  It's pretty safe to assume that everything has been mined in one way or a nother.  Though this area is wilderness, its crazy to think that 160 years ago it was the most happening place in Northern California.  Looking down at Emerald.

We decided to hike to Deer Creek, approximately 7 miles up from the trailhead.  I roped my buddy Chris Zawacki into making the trek, and we got an early start, hitting the trail by 7:00 A.M.  The hike took us approximately 4 hours, but including our stops, lunchbreak, and brief losing of the trail (not maintained in winter), we probably didn't hit the water until noonish.  We did manage to hike through snow along several sections of the trail, not so rare in May.  Here's a sweet bedrock rapid next to the trail on our way up.

The first two miles are steep and continuous.  It is also incredibly scenic, with mountain views all along.  It really makes you appreciate kayaking, as the views from the river blow away the views from the trail.  Though we could have used more water (1,200 on Trinity @ Coffee Cr.) we had a good flow.  Eddy's weren't numerous but there were great drops where the river squeezed against bedrock and the scenery was amazing.

More of Chris Zawacki on the Stuart's Fork.

One major memorable rapid was at the Alpine Creek confluence, where a boulder garden with 4 or 5 consecutive moves as well as shady off line consequences awaits.  We were tired and took a quick break here.

Downstream you arrive at the Deep Creek Confluence, the falls on Deep Creek has been run, though we decided not to go for it as the creek was quite low.  The falls drops right under the trail.

This marks the end of the boulder gardens and the beginning of more bedrock rapids.

Zawacki styles yet another Stuart Fork Rapid

We decided to portage this drop due to interesting caves along the right side, though it is runnable.

Here is the view looking down another two-part rapid in the bedrock section.

Chris tackles the rowdy hole in part two

Towards the end, we also portaged the rapid at Cherry Flat, happy just to be back near the take-out.
In retrospect, there were endless rapids, and including the 7 mile hike it made for a very long and tiring day.  I consider this run to be a north coast classic, though as much for the scenery and adventure as for the rapids.  Because you hike along the river, you can go as far as you wish, though Deep Creek is a good halfway point.  Get an early start if you plan on hiking to Deer Creek.

The Stuart Fork is 20 minutes north from Weaverville on Highway 3, alongside Trinity Lake.  Turn left after the bridge and drive approximately 5 miles to the trailhead.


  1. Lora, Utah Josh, and I hiked up to the meadows (~ 8 miles) 5 or 6 years back and ran it from there. We did portage a few times with one of them being the monster boulder garden steep mess coming down near deer creek. Agree with you that it was a classic but carrying camping gear and boats to the meadows was some serious work! Nice having the mother in law living less than 5 miles form the trailhead too.

    See you on the river again soon.


  2. Hi Tim, long time no see! Hope that life is treating ya good thanks for the supplemental beta and happy 2012! Let it rain!