Eleven of us got off the Rogue on May 30 and were in Oregon with two vehicles, a trailer full of boats and wet gear, and 7 days before I had to fly to a conference in Stockholm. An idiot proof choice existed; boogie back or find good rivers in the general direction of Atlanta.
North Umpqua River, Boulder Flat to Gravel Bin.
The North Umpqua begins near Crater Lake and flows down the west slope of the Cascade Range. This is a 12 mile run dropping 40’/mile through a beautiful lush canyon featuring numerous fantastic rock formations and takes about 4 hours. It’s similar to a 3,000 cfs Ocoee, continuous numerous solid class III and one easy IV (Pin Ball) separated by short class II stretches. It was running 6.3′ (gauge on river left downstream of put-in) and if you are comfortable on the Ocoee or Tellico, it should present no insurmountable problems.
For those of you who collect rapids’ monikers, this section of the Umpqua houses Boulder Hole, Snag Rock, The Wall, Weeper, Dog Leg, Cardiac Arrest, Weird Weir, Toilet Bowl, Frogger One, Frogger Three, Roll Out, Eiffel Tower, Alligator, Pin Ball, Head Knocker Moe, Head Knocker Curly, and Silk’s Hole.
I unassed the Stinger in Head Knocker Curly. Rather than pulling me in, Tommy was paddling furiously and merely commented, “hang on.” Strange comment. Then I dropped into Silk’s Hole, pulling the Stinger in on top of me. This verified previous observations that my reconnected leg is good for a class III recirculation.
To get to the Umpqua, drive to I-5 in Oregon. About 110 miles north of Medford take the Highway 138 N exit through Roseburg about 32 miles to Gravel Bin (the takeout). Leave a car and continue about 12 more miles east to Boulder Flat.
The road parallels the river allowing for scouting. There are numerous campsites. There is a store and gas station about halfway between take-out and put-in. There is also a bed and breakfast with “gourmet” public dining just before the put-in. The Umpqua can also provide a 32 mile run between Boulder Flat and Cable Crossing (25 miles east of Roseburg).
Klamath River, Happy Camp to Ferry Point.
This is a 10 mile run dropping 15’/mile through a very interesting semi-arid volcanic California coastal mountain range canyon and takes about 3 hours. It has many flat stretches punctuated by easy class II rapids and a couple easy class III pour-overs. Kanaka Falls (AKA Rattlesnake) is the most notable because it feeds right into Mix Master Funnel and then into The Trench.
We did it at what appeared to be about 3,000 cfs and it would be suitable for anyone comfortable on the Upper Hooch. If I were in the area again, I would skip the Klamath and either do the Smith River (class III/IV), which joins the Klamath in redwood country near the coast, or Scott Creek (class IV), which intersects the Klamath east of Happy Camp.
It’s easy to get there if you’re already in Medford; otherwise, you’ll have to drive a couple of days from Atlanta. Just south of the California/Oregon border, take Highway 96 west from I-5 and drive 60 miles to Happy Camp. Factoid: you will be driving through the proposed 51st state of Jefferson.
Also, be extremely careful while driving and camping. This area is the home of Big Foot!! We didn’t see any, but Big Foot is an endangered species and it wouldn’t do to hit one.
Happy Camp used to be called Murder Bar. It has a population of ~500 (Chinese, Karok Indians, and rednecks), a very interesting cafe (which serves an outstanding dinner), and the only gas station for miles. The gas station is to the left on top of the hill as you enter the town and is unattended credit card-operated. The put-in is just across the bridge when leaving town. The take-out at Ferry Point is about 10 miles west of town and the road parallels the river. This is the most difficult section and there are numerous campsites.
Sacramento River, Canterra to Dunsmuir.
This is a remarkable 6 mile run dropping 100’/mile through an isolated beautiful lush California canyon and takes about 4 hours. It is continuous hard class III white water with at least 2 class IV boulder gardens. To the best of our knowledge, Kevin Miller accomplished the first descent in an open boat (Rodeo) and Tommy and I were the first to do it in a cataraft (Stinger).
The Canterra gauge read 4.05 (3.5 is considered minimum and anything over 5 would be huge). I only recommend running this stretch if you are comfortable on Section IV. It was one of the most fun rivers I have done and resembles Big Snowbird Creek with larger boulders and considerably higher flow (I guestimate around 500 cfs).
Tommy was forcibly ejected from the Stinger 4 times (I only swam twice). We were fortunate to encounter three local butt-boaters (Lathan, Ben and Jason), who knew where to stop and scout the two most significant boulder gardens. Without them, bank scouting would have been difficult because there is no clue that something really interesting looms in your future. If no locals are present, you need to catch every eddy and boat-scout, but eastern boaters should be good at this. The Sacramento offers two interesting features besides the constant action. First, is a railroad bridge with a gargantuan guardrail resembling The Twister at 6-Flags (put up after an accident in 1991 when herbicide laden tank cars derailed into the river). The second, Moss Spring Falls, is about a mile above town and below the last difficult boulder garden.
Tommy and I were boogying through class III boulders and suddenly encountered a river-wide horizon line, immediately behind which loomed a 40′ high waterfall. It filled the entire vista, cascading as a shimmering curtain of water over a fern and moss encrusted cliff. Of more immediate concern, we hadn’t seen how Kevin and locals had done it, they were out of sight, and the river completely disappeared, apparently running under the cliff. WTF, we just kept paddling in the main river left flow, did an easy little ledge, and found that the river makes a 90 degree right running parallel to the cliff. We paddled under, behind, and through the falls for several hundred feet and encountered the final bonus for male paddlers. Moss Spring Falls is where the local chickee poos gather to gambol in their string bikinis.
If you aren’t carrying too large of boats and your quadriceps has not been reattached surgically using an allograft, think seriously about putting in 4 miles higher and running The Box, which begins at the base of Siskiyou Dam. The Box is not as technical as the Canterra section but it traverses a spectacular box-canyon, includes several interesting drops, and presumably has not been done in a canoe.
Minimum level for the Box is ~4′ on the Canterra gauge. The put-in is about 300 vertical feet below the trail and must be negotiated by means of a fixed rope and one ladder. We figured it would take at least an hour to hump our stuff down so we passed. Navigation to access can be complex if y’all ain’t from around there. For the take-out (in Dunsmuir), take the first I-5 (southbound) Dunsmuir exit (just after the Mott Rd. exit) and follow the signs to Dunsmuir. Make a slight jog right on Dunsmuir Rd. and then another right at the sign indicating “Prospect Ave. fishing access.” The paved road will make a hard left and you should continue straight on the dirt road to the take-out. Lathan lives at this junction so look for his kayak and see if he’ll paddle with you (tell him you know The Hawk).
To reach the Canterra put-in, drive back to where you exited I-5 and take the frontage road north. Cross Mott Rd. (with its I-5 access) and cross the railroad tracks, at which point the road becomes one lane. Take a left onto Canterra Rd. at the first stop sign and continue to the end alongside the river. Canterra is a popular fishing access and has an outhouse. The gauge is just upstream of the dead end.
Even if you don’t plan on doing it, check out the Box. Go back to the stop sign and turn left. After crossing the tracks turn left onto S. Old Stage Road, cross the tracks again, then turn left onto Siskiyou Lake Blvd. towards the Mt. Shasta Golf Course. At the tennis courts turn left onto Barn Rd. and follow it to the dam. There is a large parking area above the dam with signs indicating “no boat access, punishable by law.” The trail to the put in is just behind the tee on river left. Follow it until you trip over the fixed rope and use it to descend. If you get to a massive rock-filled reentrant, you missed the rope and should look harder.
Truckee River, Floristan to Verdi
Time was running out, it was Sunday, we had just taken off the Sacramento River, and I had to catch a flight to Stockholm in a week, so we decided to do the Truckee near Reno. This is a 12 mile or so run paralleling I-80 eastbound through a not uninteresting dry Sierra Nevada canyon. It took about 3 hours when we paddled it at 6′ (about 3,000 cfs). Gradient is around 30’/mile, provides close to continuous class II punctuated with some straightforward class III rapids, and should be suitable for paddlers who are comfortable on the Nantahala.
Floristan to Verdi is the most challenging section, so don’t bother doing a lot of road scouting. Jaws represents the only rapid of consequence and requires a half-mile or so portage upstream from where you will be parked. It’s a long hard class III with serious hammer factor for those who happen to unass their boat. If you aren’t comfortable running a half-mile long stretch that resembles Broken Nose on the Ocoee, put in under the bridge where you parked and the bottom part of Jaws will provide sufficient amusement.
This section of the Truckee includes 3 mandatory portages around low head dams, the last of which is visible from I-80. A huge sign on river left marks the first portage and a short bushwhack leads to a road around the dam. For the uninitiated, this illustrates a classic low head backwash drowning machine. We watched a mansize log recirculating for the entire time we were there. The second portage is not signed but is obvious. It could be run on the right but was choked with debris (classic example of killer strainers). A sign also presages the final weir but is way upstream and does not indicate a viable portage. We hugged the river left bank, got out at a large finger just above the low head, and portaged a short distance to its base. Even nastier than the first, this one cannot be run.
In addition to Jaws, the Truckee has one more rapid with big holes, which we named Left Turn. Due to advancing age and fading memory, I don’t remember exactly where it is (either between the second and third or below the third weir).
If you need to get to the Truckee from northern California, you have two options. You can take I-5 south to Sacramento and then I-80 east over the mountains. We opted for the scenic route taking California 89 from Dunsmuir to California 44 in the middle of Lassen National Forest, then in Susanville we took US 395 until it intersected I-80 at Reno. This is a spectacular drive along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, can be done at high speed, has virtually no traffic, and was much shorter.
From Reno traveling westbound on I-80 take exit 2 (there is a casino complex) and turn right following the road north towards Verdi. Elk Park at the first bridge to the right is the take-out. For the put-in, follow I-80 west about 12 miles to the Floristan exit (in California). Loop around and cross the river under the freeway. There is an obvious parking area by a snow removal equipment shed.
by William C. Reeves (The Hawk)
From The Eddy Line, October 2002