Spring Time in California: Short But Oh So Sweet
Getting Back to California in early March and hearing reports of record low snow packs, I was not expecting my homecoming to be anything amazing. After spending some time at home I packed up again and headed up to Feather River country, and was greeted by a week long storm that left up to 80 inches of snow in the highest reaches of the northern Sierra Nevadas. After that it was on! Many of our favorite local runs around the Feather came up from the low elevation rain and got to do some very rainy runs on Spanish Creek, Butte Creek, the North Fork Feather and the West Branch of the feather.
It is so good to be back! Paddling with old friends and couch surfing around my old stomping grounds can’t be beat. There is something special about coming back to the rivers that taught you to love the water. Everyone claims that their home run is the greatest, because to them, it is. As the skies cleared and the snow that had only just fallen began to melt away, it was time for some sunny Sierra boating. Armed with my new Zet Raptor, First on the list was the Classic, Middle Feather.
The Middle Fork of the Feather, in 1968, was one of the first rivers to be designated Wild and Scenic in the US. For 35 miles, the only signs of habitation are a handful of mining camps, some occupied, some abandoned. The river can be done in two or three days, with what seems an endless amount of class IV-V granite boulder gardens and ledges. Once finishing the first 8 miles of warm up class III and IV with a couple bigger ones mixed in, the paddler arrives at the Pacific Crest Trail bridge crossing the river. That is a good sight to see! The bridge marks the entrance to Franklin Canyon, the First of two major canyons on the run. The big rapid that runs under the bridge sets the tone for great granite drops in a beautiful canyon that don’t stop coming for the next 20 miles. We finished all of Franklin Canyon in the first day. Being led by Middle Fork veterens Morgan Koons and Eddy Mutch, we never had to get out of our boats. I arrived at camp with my head spinning from great lines and beautiful gorge walls. We ate around the campfire and crashed early under a starry night, falling asleep thinking about what we knew would be the highlight of the river.
Rise and Shine! Devils canyon awaits!
It doesn’t take long after pulling out of camp before you start feel small as the canyon walls grow beside you. The rapids start to stack up and the moves get tougher. It all culminates at the two largest rapids of the run. The first is Tiger Tail. A tricky entrance slide leads to a sticky hole that had me doing some unexpected cartwheels, ends in a short pool above “the portage”. It has been run many times, but has its consequences. There is a cave at the bottom that awaits a bad line. We all chose to walk and had lunch below the drop. This is the point of the trip where I start welling with happiness, eating my sandwich and taking it all in.
We Seal launched back into the river and ran another few miles of great rapids before it began to taper off and open up into class II-III rapids until take out. It had been two years and a lot of river miles since the last time I had run the Middle Feather, but it never fails to amaze me just as much as the first time down it.
At take-out, Eddy and I went down to look at levels on the South Branch of the Feather and levels looked low but possibly runable. When I sent Seth Dow a message asking if he wanted to give it a try, he replied, “give me a call. I’ve got some ‘ideas’”.
When Seth says that he has some ‘ideas’, its time to get excited. Seth is a methodical math teacher/charging kayaker, and when he gets motivated, all you have to do is say yes. I called him back and he told me that the Yuba Gap was in, but high, and that we should run 49 to Bridgeport the next day and discuss our options.
I headed down there the next day and we ran a lap on the South Yuba in the increasingly hot weather. We bombed down, not catching eddies and enjoying the 7-mile classic class IV-V section of river. At take-out, we started asking around for beta on the Yuba Gap and found out that it is possible to run the first gorge and hike out from there, before getting into the bigger gorges downstream. We hatched a plan to go in the next day, a lean, mean two-man team.
The Yuba Gap is a notorious class V+ run on the South Fork of the Yuba River. I had heard stories of swims, broken gear and awesome big rapids. We got to put-in. The level was high. I was nervous. We put-in for the first gorge and both got flipped in the first big rapid; not inspiring confidence. At the end of the gorge we both felt a little shakey and decided to leave our boats and hike down stream to check out the big gorges that lay below us. After a half-mile bush whack we found ourselves peering down into a steep, deep granite gorge. What we saw first was the hourglass, a huge multi-move slide that had us intimidated. We decided to hike out, discussing maybe going to different river. That night Seth got another call.
Chris Korbulic got into town and was looking for a crew to go into Yuba Gap with. After talking about it, we decided to go back in there and give it another shot, this time with a third team member, and one who had been in there before. We bombed through the first gorge in the morning, knowing the lines from the previous day and were pleasantly surprised to find the level lower and way less pushy. We got down to the Hourglass and after a scout, everyone ran it and had good lines. We continued at a good pace, scouting, portaging and running huge rapid after huge rapid. The character of the run changes as the paddler goes through locked in gorges and then into steep, sievy boulder gardens mixed with some super quality slides and drops. 6 hours after putting in, Chris boat scouted us down through the last bit of class V, and we meandered down to the take out near the tiny town of Washington, California.
Two weeks straight of California spring boating has me worn out, but with the snow melting fast, there is no time to waste before getting back out there. Rest today, and then its time to get back out there and take my knocks. Cali season may be short this year, but it sure is sweet.