Ramsey run on the North Fork Stanislaus
By Stuart Gibson
After countless runs on Board's Crossing, my friend and I felt like we were ready to tackle the 11 mile Hell's Kitchen run immediately above Board's. The morning of our intended first descent, we came to our senses and decided to start with the last four miles of Hell's Kitchen, commonly known as the Ramsey Run. Thus narrowly avoiding what would certainly have been an agonizing ordeal, we set about finding our way down to the Ramsey put-in. The gate mentioned in Holbek and Stanley was locked as expected. A half hour later, we found another locked gate with a barely passable 4x4 track going around it through the woods. My 4Runner being up to the task, we eventually found our way to a point about 1 mile from the put-in. As we were getting ready, two jeeps full of old-timers showed up and offered to carry our boats as far down the track as they could. This offer was gratefully accepted and we caught up with them about 1/2 mile later. The remaining 1/2 mile to the river was a strenuous carry. We put on about 1pm with 180 cfs in the river.
The Ramsey put-in is deceptively calm. You can hardly see the water moving. But we knew there was some very steep whitewater downstream. Sure enough we came to our first portage after only 1/8 mile. It didn't take long for us to fall into the routine of the day; Scout rapid on foot, run or portage rapid, paddle 100 feet, scout next rapid, repeat for 5 hours! Imagine 2 miles of bedrock slides, boulder choked cataracts, and waterfalls of all sizes, with only the shortest of pools in between, and you have the upper two miles of Ramsey. With gradients hovering near 200 feet per mile, we were confronted with a seemingly endless series of intimidating horizon lines. The biggest drop on the run was a 30 ft. falls between very high granite slabs. We were not even tempted to run it due to the massive hole at the bottom and deadly looking room-of-doom cave to the side. The best portage we could think of was high up on the left wall. It was a tough one by any measure and not something we looked forward to repeating. Luckily, on our second run, we discovered a relatively easy scramble down the right side, with the bonus of a super fun seal-launch.
After 5 hours of this kind of intensity, things finally started to ease up, which was good because we were running out of daylight. We boat-scouted most of the remaining two miles to Sourgrass bridge with the exception of one granite gorge that looked like it would be runnable if we weren't so exhausted. Unfortunately, the portage was the toughest one of the day, requiring us to lower our boats 30 ft. down a cliff and then climb down after them. On our second run, this gorge turned out to be one of the sweetest sections of the river, much like the choicest parts of Canyon Creek or Board's Crossing. To the best of my recollection, I portaged about 12 times that first day. I was able to reduce that to 9 times on the second run. The second run still took 6 hours because we shot about 160 photos, many of which you can find here: http://www.sgibson.com/river/ramsey. Was it worth it? You betcha! Even with all the hardships, this run is a true classic, and a great test of your class V creeking skills. As noted by the kids on Boof.com, flows above 300 cfs would make this a much more challenging and dangerous run. As for Hell's Kitchen............stay tuned!
Upper Middle Fork of Cottonwood Creek
(Platina to bridge on Platina Rd.)
by Stuart Gibson
Three words, boys and girls........."Holy fucking shit!"
This run will kick your ass and blow your mind. Imagine Mark West, only completely continuous and twice as long. Imagine the final gorges of Canyon Creek for four solid miles!
Joe O'neill and I did this run on Friday and Sunday with pretty much the same flow of 250 cfs each time. The USGS gauge at Cottonwood was reading around 3000 cfs.
On Friday we put in below the privately owned powerhouse at the end of Beaufort Rd for a 7 mile run to the A-16 bridge. On Sunday, we put in above the town of Platina for an 11-plus mile run to the same bridge. The first two miles below the town are very brushy class II and pretty unpleasant. Right about where a ranch can be seen on the right, the action starts in earnest. It's between 2 and 3 miles of easy class IV to the diversion dam, with one portage around a log, and one barely visible log pointing straight upstream. The portage around the diversion dam is somewhat trying, but not too bad. 1/4 mile later is the powerhouse and things pick up a bit. There's no point in describing the rapids......there are way too many of them, and they just keep coming. It's all 95 ft/mile, very narrow, very technical, very tight maneuvers, with lots of boofs, usually though a series of powerful waves and holes. There is no shortage of pin-rocks and many trees growing right in the middle of the creek. Many of the drops are slightly blind, but we only shore-scouted one time. There's a whole lot of solid class IV in there and two rapids that I'm inclined to rate IV+. About three miles from the take-out, the creek eases off for a much needed break in the action. After about two miles of II-III meandering, the final gorge starts and the whole thing finishes off with a thrilling series of III+ rapids that will leave you very very satisfied, if not exhausted..:-)
This run will not be forgiving of mistakes! The lower section is several miles of poison oak away from any roads. The required moves are very precise and there are many opportunites for trouble. I wouldn't recommend trying the run unless you are feeling very tuned up, energized, and possessing a bomb-proof brace. Groups of 5 or less would be a good idea. It's 46 miles from Red Bluff to Platina on highway 36, and about 12 miles from there to the takeout.
On a side note, we did the North Fork from Ono to Lower Gas Point Rd. on Saturday. The CA Creekin' description makes it sound like a worthwhile class IV run. When we got done, all we were thinking was, "What were they smoking?" After the intial series of bedrock ledges, it was pretty much class II for the entire 5 miles of the run.
South Fork Trinity River - Big Slide to Three Bears
By Stuart Gibson
Are you hankerin' for a wilderness run that's hardly ever done, with lots of sun and fun? This could be the one! Imagine nearly 17 miles of clear blue/green water flowing through deep tranquil pools with high granite walls on both sides, lush vegetation, and the occasional waterfall. Now imagine funtastic class III and IV boulder-slalom rapids generously distributed between these pools. That's the South Fork Trinity. It has all the granite gorge splendor of Burnt Ranch, all the pool/drop thrill of the Cal-Salmon, all the cabin-sized rocks of Chamberlain Falls, all the remote wilderness atmosphere of the Tuolumne or, dare I say, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
Our small group was excited to try this run, but intimidated by it's remote nature and our friends who said we were crazy. We had been warned of class VI portages. We couldn't find anyone who had actually done the run, so all we had was the Holbeck/Stanley description which is somewhat vague and out of date. The shuttle is an almost prohibitive 50 miles. Luckily, we found Paul, a very friendly local kayaker/outfitter from Big Flat who ran our shuttle for $75. There was some confusion about just how many miles it would be from Big Slide to the end of South Fork Road, so we made that our take-out for the day. Now we know that it is about 12 miles, which is good for a one-day trip. We took just under 6 hours to do the 12 miles, but our group was small and experienced. It's easy to figure that a larger group might take 7 or 8 hours. The day before, we had paddled the 9 miles from the end of South Fork Road to the confuence with the main Trinity at highway 299 which inludes the Three Bears rapids about 3 miles down. In retrospect, Big Slide to below Three Bears would be the ultimate trip........short enough for a long one-day.........long enough for a self-support overnight. This run would not be fun in a raft. The rapids are constricted boulder jumbles and there are at least three portages. At our flow of 500 cfs, the portages were just class V. That hair-boater neighbor of yours would run them without even having to get stoned first. The rapid at Big Slide is a long one and makes for a strenuous portage. There is probably a way to put in downstream of Big Slide which would save quite a bit of time and effort. We had two other portages. One, at about mile 3, was similar to the Big Slide rapid - runnable, but just a bit too intimidating for us. The last portage at about mile 5 was the scariest looking rapid on the run. While small portions of the flow disappeared through various cracks and sieves on the left, the majority of it blasted down a chute on the right and through a couple of violent holes before slamming into a large rock. The portage was pretty easy by comparison.
The rest of the run is just a blur of one excellent boat-scoutable III/IV rapid after another, highlighted by our favorite of the day, which we dubbed "Good to the Last Drop". This long class IV started with a must-make leftward diagonal move past yet another SUV-sized rock, over a hole, then a cut back to the right, followed by a series of ledge-boofs before shooting the final 8 ft. falls down the center. The aforementioned flat-water pools were a welcome rest from the otherwise continuous action. We even went by a camp-site my Dad used to take us to more than 20 years ago. Over-all it was an amazing day. The scenery was breathtaking. The sky was bright blue. The clouds were fluffy white. The sun was toasty warm. Our smiles were about two feet wide!
East Branch of the North Fork Trinity River
by Stuart Gibson
The East North Trinity is a jewel of a run in every sense. Narrow
and heavily wooded, it careens through plentiful class III and easy
IV rapids with lots of rocks to play on or maneuver around. With a
mix of pool/drop and continuous gradient, several surf waves, and
lush vegetation, it's got something for everyone.
There are several put-in and take-out options. The normal take-out is at a small picnic area with blue porta-potties about a mile up the road from highway 299 (near Helena) and about 1/4 mile downstream from the confluence of the East Branch and the North Fork proper. Of course, it's possible to take out just about anywhere between here and the Pigeon Point take-out at Big Flat.
From the normal take-out, drive up the road about 3 miles to where the bridge crosses the East Branch. Put in here for a class III/III+ run. Drive another 1/2 mile up the road and put in at a clearing for that much more class III+ action. Drive about 3 more miles to the end of the road if you want to tackle the class IV section. This upper section of the river has a couple easy IVs and one solid IV as well as many fun class IIIs. At higher flows, both sections go up a notch, and there is always the danger of freshly fallen trees. The upper run has a large tree spanning the entire river close to the water. We were barely able to duck under it at about 250 cfs. Apparently, it is possible to add another 3 miles of class IV creeking to the run by driving up Hobo Gulch road and finding your way back to the river further upstream. Like Canyon Creek, this creek is fed by the Trinity Alps and benefits from its snowpack. With a nice wet spring and a willingness to bounce off a few rocks, it could be runnable into May or June.
by Stuart Gibson
This is the Clear Creek near Redding, not the one near Happy Camp.
We tackled this run with trepidation since we'd heard that it had
difficult rapids and difficult portages. With a flow of about 300
cfs, we put on near Need Camp just downstream from Whiskeytown Dam.
The canyon was often quite narrow with the entire river squeezing
between rocks as little as 10 feet apart. The canyon walls were
variously rocky outcroppings, steep grassy hillsides, or lush hanging
gardens with carpets of emerald green moss and ferns. In many places,
it seemed like a smaller version of the Chamberlain Falls run.
Because of the recent rains, there were numerous waterfalls coming in
on both sides.
There were indeed some challenging rapids on this run. The first easy class IV was a narrow zig-zag slot with an easy portage on the left. Several III+ rapids followed. About 4 miles into the run we came to the unmistakable crux. Obviously a class V at higher flows, we found it to be an intimidating solid IV with right and left routes and a difficult scout/portage on the right. Beyond this, we found several more easy class IVs culminating in a narrow slot rapid. The natural tendency with this rapid is to catch the last eddy on the right, but the easier scout and portage are on the left. The portage is a grassy goat trail high on the left slope. Some of our party found it rather unpleasant while others found it to be no problem. The rapid itself is not so bad as long as you don't mind bouncing off one or both sides of the granite exit channel.
Eventually we found ourselves at the take-out recommended in Stanley/Holbeck. Having used this as a put-in the day before, we already knew that the three miles of river below contained superb III+ whitewater with lots of smooth splat rocks, several play waves, and really fun rapids. Our take-out after about 11 miles of clearcreekin' was the bridge at Clear Creek Road which is approximately 7 miles west of highway 273. To get to the put-in for the lower three mile run, continue up Clear Creek Rd. to Cloverdale Rd. Turn right and go to Placer Rd. Turn right and go about 1 mile to the west end of the bridge high above Clear Creek. You will have to hike your boat 1/2 mile down the old road to the river, and it's private property, so a commando style put-it may be necessary. To get to the Need Camp put-in, continue across the bridge to Muletown road. Follow this road several miles north. It will turn into a somewhat rough dirt road with shallow creek crossings. Follow signs indicating Need Camp or Whiskytown Dam (left turns).
Clear Creek is indeed very clear, and the water is not as cold as you would expect from a dam-release river. This is because Whiskeytown Lake has a special system set up to draw water off the surface of the lake. Though certainly challenging, this run is truly beautiful and a real kick in the ass. The lower section is a great way to end the day or break up the drive to/from the Bay Area.
By Stuart Gibson
On May 28, Bruce, Jim, Stuart, and Sean decided to run Canyon Creek which dumps into the Trinity River near Junction City. They'd gained more info from a road-scout the day before than from any other source. They'd seen the mini-gorge with intimidating holes, narrow slots and blind corners. Stuart had hiked down to look at the final drop. It was scary, but tempting. None of them had done the run before, nor had anyone in camp or at the store.
Their take-out was a bridge across the creek 2 miles up Canyon Creek Road at Powerhouse Road. Group consensus was that the upper 4.5 miles of the 7 mile run would be relatively easy, but was still an unknown factor. Everyone had seen clearly from the road that the last 2.5 miles would be challenging. Sean was unsure about the lower section, so his car was left at the middle take-out/put-in 2.5 miles up river from the take-out bridge. All four then proceeded to the upper put-in, another bridge across the creek 6.8 miles from the take-out.
The upper section turned out to be continuous gradient with few eddys and no pools. The flow was thought to be in the 200-300 range. It was shallow with many sharp turns. The only portage of the day was around a fallen tree which came into view with only a short distance to get to shore and no eddys to speak of. After more than four miles of 80 ft/mile creek with no major rapids, they came to the middle take-out and Sean's car. The upper section had been challenging, yet easy, and Sean decided he didn't want to miss out on the "good stuff" yet to come.
The group kept on for another half mile of similar creek when suddenly things got interesting. Their first clue was the appearance of granite on both shores. The gradient seemed to increase. The channel got even narrower. A look of anticipation, determination, and fear could be seen on all four faces. Bruce, in his C-1 Cascade and with a presumed history of east coast creekin', was more than willing to probe whenever Stuart wasn't quite bold enough. The first of four mini-gorges had been seen from the road, right next to an old mining shack. As with most road-scouts, it had been hard to tell how sticky those holes were going to be. They turned out to be very punchable, but still exhilarating. With marginal eddys and huge granite boulders, this section produced wide smiles all around. Onward!
Mini-gorge number 2 was less difficult. Mini-gorge number 3 was worth a quick scout. It had a series of large seam/holes and a clean run-out. Bruce asked for and was granted probe status. The Cascade, being the tank that it is, had no trouble spanning these features, but the other three guys were in shorter boats, so they were still worried. However, as with the first Gorge, they found this section to be challenging, yet truly fun. Everyone knew that the final and most difficult gorge was just ahead.
Feeling confident in the small eddy at the top of the final gorge, they decided to rely on Stuart's thorough description, and aimed for the eddy just above the last scary drop. On the way, they encountered several holes, a very big hole with a cheater slot around a boulder, and a three foot wide slot through which 95 percent of the current was rushing. Immediately after this slot was the scout/portage eddy. The final drop was a wicked looking S-turn leading right into an undercut. Looking at it from the rocks, all four paddlers agreed that the undercut was flushing enough and the consequences were minimal. Bruce was elected once again, and made it look easy. The others followed soon after without incident, except for Stuart, who got turned around and went through backwards, thus proving that it wasn't so bad afterall.
The takeout bridge came into view a half mile later. Everyone agreed that they had discovered a really great run, and couldn't wait to do it again. Sean said he was very glad not to have missed the "good stuff". They also agreed that the upper section was a solid class 3 and would be too shallow at any lower flows, and that the lower section was an easy class 4, and might still be runnable at half that flow. It was obvious that the lower section could be quite a bit more difficult at higher flows. Also, there were at least two fallen trees which would completely block the river at higher flows.
Boards Crossing (North Fork Stanislaus near Arnold)
By Stuart Gibson
For those of you who are not familiar with this run, it has a six mile upper section and an optional 2 mile lower section. The upper section is considered to be easy class IV at 500-1000cfs. The lower section is considered to be class IV with a couple IV+ drops and a class V falls. While conventional wisdom holds that neither of these sections is runnable at flows in the 200-300 cfs range, I have been running the upper section at 200 cfs for years and having a blast. I was led down the lower section at 1000 cfs once, and it was quite the stompin' run - a little scary, but very fun. I had always been curious to find out whether the lower two miles would be runnable or even enjoyable at 200 cfs. I was afraid it would be way too shallow and would require a lot of scraping and portaging. Most everyone I talked to about it felt that it was not even worth trying. But I have this thing about low flow creek runs, so one Saturday, I convinced a couple friends to do the entire 8 mile run at 300 cfs. Our group was composed of two experienced class IV kayakers and one with a couple easy IV runs under her belt and a cautious but enthusiastic paddling style.
The lower take-out is hard to find, and when you do find it, it's a steep dirt road best suited to high clearance vehicles, which we had two of. The number one piece of advice for this take-out is to have mosquito repellant ready when you get off the run. They attack quickly and by the hundreds. It is easy to spot the take-out from the water since the NCPA flow gauge is located just up-river. The shuttle is almost 20 miles and I admit to thinking that there was no way the extra two miles of paddling was going to be worth it. Luckily, it's mostly paved. The descriptions in Stanley/Holbeck are accurate, but it's much easier to just go with someone who knows where to go.
We finally put on the water around 1pm. We blasted down the upper part in a couple hours. It's a nice steady progression of harder and harder rapids, ending in a series of really fun IV minus chutes that happen to be just up-river from the Calavaras Big Trees State Park bridge. So you are guaranteed an appreciative audience of swimmers and picnickers. Of course, having an audience can be a little nerve-wracking!
The nature of our trip shifted then to more serious and uncertain, since we had no idea what to expect at this flow. I knew we had to watch for the first big drop and take a good look at it. My memory from two years earlier was sketchy at best. I did remember making up my mind to run the drop at the last minute after staring at it in fear for about a 1/2 hour!
We came to the first drop only a short distance down from the Big Trees bridge. Not expecting it to be runnable, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it definitely was. There was no question that it was harder and more dangerous than any of the rapids in the upper section, but we could see an obvious route that ended in an exciting boof over a 6 ft. falls. My more skilled companion and I ran it with no problem while our friend portaged and kept her throw bag ready. We agreed that this rapid was a solid class IV at this flow.
The next big drop was just down river, and again, a quick scout revealed that it was scary but runnable. This time, the correct route was less certain, but we could see that all three exit chutes were clean. It was just a question of which one to aim for. I started right, intending to aim for the left chute, but was forced to adopt plan B and go for the center chute which was an 8 ft. falls between two boulders known as the 'Goal Posts'. I'm not sure where my friend was intending to go, but he ended up blasting over a big rooster tail and down the right most chute. This again was a solid class IV drop. We were definitely having fun.
From there on, it was pretty much a continuous boulder garden for about a 1/2 mile with too many mini-falls, chutes, rock slides, and ledge holes to keep track of. It was all very boat-scoutable and exciting. Eventually, we came to the big class V falls which I intended to portage even before I saw it. Surprisingly, it looked quite runnable. It was just that all the current was blasting towards a big wrap rock. None of us was feeling that cocky. Our reward for having some restraint was a nice 12 ft. seal launch adjacent to the falls.
After that is was another mile or so of continuous rock garden with one mandatory portage around a fallen tree. The take-out came into view. The mosquitos welcomed us with open wings. By that time, it was getting late. We had spent almost four hours on the lower two miles and only two hours on the upper six miles! We agreed that the lower section was totally awesome and definitely worth the extra shuttle hassle. I will certainly be running it again soon.
Update (8-21-00) Just ran the lower section at 180 cfs. It was still totally runnable and very fun. Even the falls can be run at this level.