Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lower Van Duzen River--Grizzly Creek to Fortuna

This leg of the Journey was unique in that it combined a section of river with which we are very familiar, The Grizzly Creek Run, with the Lower Van Duzen just downstream.  After another much-needed storm the Duzen was flowing at 8,000 cfs at Bridgeville and we looked forward to some big water play and easy miles to the confluence.  A low fog hung in the river canyon and it was drizzling when we put back on the Van Duzen River at Golden Gate bridge, the take-out for the Goat Rock section. 

 Immediately we were surfing waves and playing our way down class II rapids towards Grizzly Creek.  We stopped at the Grizzly Creek mouth to get some shots of the beautiful old-growth forest and the clouds parted to make for an unexpected bluebird day!

The Grizzly Creek section is classic 2 mile play run that can be a snaky class III rock garden at low water, or a class IV huge-water extravaganza after big storms.  The playboating on this section of river is fantastic and I usually paddle the whole section facing upstream, trying to catch any and all waves.  After the Willow Hole and a good playwave, you round Devil's Elbow and the real fun begins...its basically a 2 mile long rapid full of exploding waves and holes.  The river reaches a head at the Corner rapid, where a solid rapid drops around the corner with a big cliff along the right bank and landslide on the left.  Downstream from here a couple of smaller rapids remain before reaching our normal take-out at the low-water bridge site.  Here Wes exits the Corner Rapid.

Rant: At this point I would like to genuinely thank Paul Gamache, for giving me a reason to paddle all of these rivers in their entirety.  I have driven to and paddled the Grizzly Creek section close to 30 times, every time we usually do a couple of laps to make up for the short distance of the run.  Not once, however, did I think about paddling downstream from here.  Nobody ever talked about it and we pretty much assumed it was uninteresting flatwater.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even to a youngbuck kayaker chasing the whitewater dream, rivers have more intrinsic value than simply their whitewater alone!  The major discovery of mine is that the Lower Van Duzen has some of the most amazing redwood scenery I've ever seen after 12 years of living on the coast.  There is no better way to see these trees than from the river, where the open canyon allows full views of the trees from trunk to top.  We stopped to take a break and walk through the forest at Owen Cheatham Grove.

The towering trees stand so majestically and create a unique quiet, you can hear the crunch of the soft needles beneath your feet as you walk around.  Occasionally a bird would chirp but the Redwoods literally are like a vacuum of sound.  The light was beaming through the trees creating beautiful shadows and I was stoked to be exploring a new grove of trees.  It turned out this was a filming location from Star Wars Return of the Jedi, but no Eewoks were seen.  It was a little squatchy though.

Paul realized he had left the keys to our shuttle rig at put-in and he and Wes took off to go get them.  They were picked up by the fourth car that passed, as I firmly stand by Highway 36 as the best hitchiking road I know of.  I was happy to have an excuse to hang out in the redwoods for a while longer, and so was Will who took advantage of the opportunity to get some beautiful shots.  After our extended break, we continued on downstream to more amazing scenery.

I don't know which particular Grove of Redwoods these are, but they are Magnificent!  Can't complain about the weather.

Impressive Sandstone bluffs along the Van Duzen River 

I always love being able to paddle into overhanging spots like these. 

There is no other way to describe the scenery but amazing.  When the river passes beneath huge sandstone bluffs with enormous old growth trees it makes you feel very small.  I was feeling a natural high from the en-dwarf-ines.

And suddenly the Van Duzen scenery opens up as you have left the Redwoods behind in the Van Duzen's final push toward the Eel.  The Van Duzen enters its wide floodplain with braided channels, landslides and wood hazards.  It starts to smell like cattle, as Dairy is a major livelihood in the area.

Confluence of Yager Creek downstream of Carlotta 

The finish line of sorts, Highway 101 bridge just before the Van Duzen meets the Eel.

 Paddling both the Grizzly Creek section and the lower section below it are highly recommended although I wouldn't continue past the Strong's Station area next time since the scenery drops off and there are no more good access points until the Eel.  We had lots of water and the float went very quickly, at lower water I'd expect more pools and a much longer float time.  Occasionally the river flowed towards some dangerous wood hazards, though they were mostly easily spotted and avoidable.  The abundant flows were nice and I wouldn't personally return with less than 1,000 cfs.  During the summer, however, many of these pools make for excellent swimming and the water becomes warm and clear.
On to the next river!


  1. Very Envious, the scenery is magnificent! Wish I lived in the USA like my sister then I could Kayak this!
    Rob (UK)

    1. Hi Rob, we are very lucky indeed to live in the only place on earth where you can paddle through these ancient forests. Make a trip someday, its well worth it! Thanks for ur comment Cheers,