Friday, May 13, 2022


Photos: Joe Kemper


Stream:  This run is remarkable in many ways.  It is a great combo of excellent, fun whitewater without excessive hazards in a pristine setting.  It is done either done by hiking up from the bottom, or at the end of Bridge Creek.  The hike up option makes this a run of classic quality in my view, with an adventurous feel, a combination I enjoy.   The hike begins at the Wooley Creek Trailhead, and is about 6.5 miles to the fork in the trail where you want to begin your descent to the river.  The trail will most often be out of sight of the river, but does offer shorter access points above both the first and second gorge sections with a short scramble to the river. The standard hike is to continue on the trail until it forks for the first time.  Take the right-hand fork towards the river and after a few hundred yards you will come to a fence across the trail marking the start of private property.  There is no clear trail to the river but it is a short and easy downhill walk to the river along the fence-line. 


The hike also has the highest concentration of ticks I have ever seen.  The last time I hiked the trail I wore long pants tucked into my socks and we checked frequently for the bugs.  Eventually we were able to spot them on the grasses lining the trail and avoided any latching on.  There is also poison oak, and usually some small trees down across the trail.  The trail winds up many tributaries, so progress feels slow, and while there are a few short uphill climbs, the gradient isn't significant after the first mile.  Having said all that, it is totally worth the trail obstacles to paddle this phenomenal run.




Resting at the put in.

The run is characterized by short steep rapids in a pool drop setting (at least at lower levels).  The majority of the rapids can be boat scouted effectively, and a quick bank scout at moments to check for wood, which is infrequent. The lines are straightforward enough that rarely will it be necessary for a group bank scout.


After the hike in, there is a short warm up before getting to the rapids.  They start nice and gradual, and before you know it you are in a wonderful rhythm of class IV-IV+ read and run bouldery rapids at low/medium flows.  

Or as I have heard, a more intimidating onslaught of large holes at juicier flows.  

Part of the beauty of this run is that aside from its aesthetic beauty, the whitewater is all manageable and can be sorted out without prior knowledge if you match the water level to your skill-set, and willing to deal with obstacles as they arise.

At the flows I was there, eddies were abundant, and most everything was read-and-run, but keep an eye out for wood which is sometimes in play.   One noteworthy rapid occurs at 8:15 in the video below.  There is an innocuous lead in to a flat-top shelf rock dividing the flow.  At low levels the apparent center line leads to a manky drop with several small sieves to avoid.  The left line, while blind, is much cleaner. Thankfully, sieves are few on the run. 


When you see the walls rising dramatically, you will be approaching the final gorge section, which contains the largest of the rapids. In 2022, there was a river wide log jam immediately below one of the first rapids in the final gorge, but with easy portage options. The gorge contains the only longer rapids on the run and serves up some excellent boofs. At moderate flows plentiful eddies exist still for scouting.  If you made it this far without difficulties there shouldn’t be anything to worry about, but egress from within the gorge would be difficult at best. 


I do recall scouting the final rapid, "Fat Lady", and as a result that was one of the few rapids we got a picture of.

Below Fat Lady, things ease off.  You can either cruse to the confluence with the Salmon, or if you want one last bit of excitement, you can walk your boat up to paddle Steinecker Falls, which enters visibly on the left in the runout.

I look back on Wooley as one of the more enjoyable days of boating Iv'e had.  

Flows:  I ran it with a group a bit under 2,000 cfs on the Somes Bar gauge back on March 20ish, 2013.  I thought that was a fun level, without much bite.  I'd probably shoot for 2,000 cfs again if I went back.  I have read that 3,500 is pushy and full of holes, plenty runnable, but more class V.  1,500 cfs is considered the minimum, but people still seem to enjoy it when they run it lower than that.



Here is a video from a group at about 1400 cfs.  

April 17, 2022

Access:  The take out and start point are easy enough to find, at the Wooley Creek trailhead (41.376093, -123.431889), 3.5 miles upstream from the turn off from Highway 96.  River access exists immediately across the highway from the trailhead on the Cal-Salmon (which is also used as a takeout for the Butler section of the Cal-Salmon). If you reach a bridge over the Salmon, you are just upstream of the trailhead, but can see the Wooley confluence.


The Cal-Salmon River (that Wooley flows into) is about 45 miles south of Happy Camp on highway 96 (which follows the Klamath River).


Back in 2013 I had convinced myself that my Nomad 8.5 paddled better with weight in the back of the boat.  So for this trip I cut some foam out of the back bulk head, and inserted a grapefruit sized rock I found at the take out for the Butler Run.  I carried it like that the whole hike, only to show up to the put in a discover it was a cobbled bar, and I could have just found a suitable rock there and saved the weight on the hike.  Now that they make boats that fit tall people, I don't feel the need to add extra weight to the back of my boat.

Nose lift courtesy of the rock in the rear.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

South Fork San Juaquin: Blayney Meadows to Florence Reservoir

Story: We were on another June California trip, looking for another class IV trip in the High Sierra's.  Granite Creek had been just what we were looking for a couple years prior, and we hoped for more of the same.

We worked our down through the Sierra's, checking out mountain biking options in the Tahoe area (and later Bass Lake), paddling South Silver and tubing on the Silver Fork American.   We worked from a hotel in Placerville for a week and while doing some research, decided the South Fork San Joaquin above Florence Reservoir might be just the ticket at the level I presumed it would be running at. After picking up a permit in Auberry, we made the long drive back into the Sierra's.  On the descent to the reservoir at the take out, we realized one of us could have some fun biking down the road rather than riding in the passenger seat, and as it turns out on a road as slow as the one into Florence Lake, Priscilla was significantly faster on the bike than I was driving and she often found herself waiting for me.

The night before our trip we camped in Jackass Meadows, just downstream of the Florence Lake dam.  After setting up camp, an older couple came by to let us know about a bear in the meadow on the other side of the campground.  They offered to take us over in their truck for a look.

After watching the bear for awhile we headed back to our spot, finished our dinner, then brought our bike over to the dome next to the dam holding back Florence Reservoir.  We each took a turn peddling/hiking our bike to the top and cruising back down, which ended up being a real hoot for us.

The reservoir wasn't releasing, so we did some swimming in the river below it before settling in for the evening.

The next morning we set out on the 2.5 mile jaunt across the reservoir.

We took one short break on the way over for a snack and water, and I slithered into the only shade I could find.

As we started gearing up, some dark clouds showed up on the horizon.  Afternoon thunderstorms are not unusual in the Sierra's during the summer, so we anticipated a wet afternoon.

We were trying out a new hiking technique, where we took micro-breaks every hundred yards or so.  I was surprised that we were still able to make good time, and weren't getting into that zone of just pushing through pain, which made the first part of the hike more enjoyable.  

Eventually the weather caught us, and we found shelter behind a tree.  We used the painters tarp that we use for ground protection for our tent to keep the rain off, and tried to stay rational about the probability of being hit by the lightning that was right on top of us, cracking off loud thunder.

After 20-30 minutes or so, we got tired of sitting under the tarp, so moved to another area and just set up the tent.  We stayed in there for about another hour, and considered staying there for the night.  We had more time than we needed for this trip, so were not motivated to put drysuits on and hike in the thunderstorm.

Eventually the storm subsided, and we got on our way.  The issue now was, for a reason I do not know, the storm had caused the mosquitoes to come out in a big way.  We were no longer taking the many micro-breaks, as the mosquitoes were in full force, and even a stop of a few seconds would result in 1-2 dozen mosquitoes on us.  We both had long sleeves on, but the layers weren't thick enough to keep the mosquitoes from getting our blood.

So instead we powered through, trying to find places to stop that had less mosquitoes, but it never happened so we were just deciding whether the pain of the pack was worse, or the bugs.

On the trail.

On the last downhill into Blayney Meadows, Priscilla took a step and something in her knee popped.  She was now in real pain, and possibly injured.  Sound decision making was getting a little tough with the suffering under the packs, and constant mosquitoe nuisance.  Our plan had been to paddle some of the river today, but decided it wasn't worth pushing Priscilla's knee and after the trail reached a long meadow section with even worse mosquitoes, we backtracked to a forested area and got some smoke in the air to keep the bugs at bay.

Camp for the night.

The next morning, Priscilla's knee was still hurting, so we decided not to paddle and instead set out for a hot springs I had read about upstream.  

We left the gear behind, and set about the 1.5 miles of easy walking upstream on a path, before reaching the area of the Muir Ranch and hot spring, but we were taking it slow to keep Priscilla's knee from getting worse.  The ranch was closed for Covid, but had a pit toilet near the trail that we were happy to see.  There were also some streams to fill water bottles from, and the the mosquitoe situation had become much more favorable.

After skirting around the Ranch we began working out where to cross the SF San Joaquin, as the hot springs was on the other side of the river.  We saw two guys who appeared to be getting camp broken down from the day before, so headed upstream to stay out of their way.  After Priscilla found a route and we had crossed, she told me she overheard the guys saying the river had far too much water for a crossing.  She has been told many times in her life that if a guy can't do it, she certainly can't.  And while she has a long resume of proving them wrong, it still made me happy to see her get another small victory in that vein after the discouragement from her knee pain.

I had read the location of the springs were not obvious or marked, so we ambled about through the woods until we stumbled across a meadow, and trodden grass leading to a hot pool.

When we returned we took a more direct route, and upon getting back to the ranch side of the river noticed there was a wire set up across the river to hold onto while wading, which would make the crossing easier.  While returning to our tent, we decided to move our camp to an island in the river, so scoped out the best place to access the river while walking back.

After some shuffling and repacking, the boats were on our back again and we made the 1/4 mi trek to the rivers edge and floated a short bit to a spot that met our visions for camp. 

 We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon/evening watching fish, willing the water level to drop, and cloud staring.  There was a convergence of opposing weather systems right over head, but no rain ever came.  It was an enjoyable and memorable evening.

The next morning we packed our gear into our kayaks and paddled off downstream on a water level that had indeed dropped enough overnight to put us in an optimistic mood.

Stream: After a short float through Blayney Meadows, the first notable rapid comes up quick and we took a scout on the left.  This was probably my favorite rapid on the run, and was exactly the style of whitewater we enjoy from the High Sierra's.

Downstream were a couple more small ledges before a good bit of read and run class III-IV boulder gardens (at this flow).  The obstacle that stood out most was a cable across the river that required a duck.  I find obstacles like that some of the more challenging to process, something about approaching a suspended cable while on a river really messes with my depth perception.  Fortunately there was room to get under, so no heads rolled.

The walls started to rise and we got out to scout again.  At the bottom was a rock with a pillow pushing water to the right into what appeared to be a nasty spot, so we made a move to avoid it left.  After getting to the bottom we realized the hazard wasn't as bad as we had perceived it to be from above.

We scouted the next rapid from the bottom left of the pool visible in the photo above.  The rapid appeared fun, but a log complicated the line enough that we chose to portage up and over some boulders on the left.

There were some more nice rapids below.

More paddling downstream and we took a lunch break in some shade at a spot I had marked for a potential camp site had we been paddling on day one.

Downstream of here the river was in what I'd call an open gorge, with short, straight forward rapids, good visibility and a neat feel.

Coming from Oregon where the ground is covered in dirt and soil, the bare rock of the Sierra's is something that always captivates me.

This lasted until the last rapid, which we chose to walk, just upstream of a bridge.

We both went for a jump from the bridge.

From this bridge, it is possible to walk back up to the main trail, and return to Blayney Meadows for another round.  This is what our original plan had been, but with Priscilla's knee was out of the question at this point.  There is even a campsite nearby.  Instead we floated off downstream, a lowish reservoir allowed us to float further into the reservoir than anticipated, and we even got a little bouldering in.

Eventually the current disappeared and we were on the flat water paddle back across the lake.  We really enjoyed our time here, despite the pain.  For a couple people who enjoy the Sierra's, but don't have much interest in class V anymore, this was exactly what we were looking for.  We had just the right water level to keep stress levels low, but the enjoyment level up.  If you are looking for class V, either add water, hike higher, or both.

Flows:  We paddled the river May 31, 2021.  There was a gauge at the bridge near the end of the run, but I haven't been able to locate an online reading.  This was an ideal flow for us, when it was at it's most friendly without being what we consider bony.  I'd reckon most High Sierra boaters would consider this level low.  We considered the run IV(V) at this level, and scouting/portaging was straight forward, with plenty of pools.  People who have run it at medium or high flows say it is a continuous run, and sounds like more of a class V experience.

The day we were there water levels were pretty much even with one of the brackets holding the pipe in place.

Our trip, May 31, 2021
We had a diurnal of 140-200 in the MF San Juaquin NR Mammoth, just over 50 cfs in the NF Kings @ Meadowbrook, and 300-350 in the Merced at Happy Isles,  

Another group ran this section June 5th, 2004 at higher levels.
My research correlated their flow to about 800-950 in the Merced at Happy Isles.  And possibly 125-200 in the NF Kings @ Meadowbrook, or maybe 300ish in the MF San Juaquin NR Mammoth.

Access:   From the boat ramp: 37.276174624649464, -118.97421251781233, paddle across Florence Reservoir.  Then hike 2.5 miles up to Blayney Meadows.  There is more upstream, if you are looking for more adventure.  

There is even a ferry service if you don't want to paddle across the lake, but it was closed for COVID when we were there.

  • Our plan had been to day one hike up to Blayney with overnight gear, paddle down to a campsite in the gorge.  Then the second day leave our gear at camp, finish the paddle to the bridge, hike back up to Blayney and paddle back to camp with an unloaded boat.  Then the third day either head back up for another lap, or just paddle out from camp with our gear, across the reservoir and back to our vehicles. 

  • However, we ended up happy taking it casually and just hiked on day one, then wandering around the meadow without boats on day 2, then paddling the run back to our cars on day 3.


Thursday, March 17, 2022

Celestial Falls

 ~250 cfs

Location of White River Falls state park (near Tygh Valley, OR)

  45.243147099692266, -121.09675731985882

Stream:  Celestial Falls, located on the White River in central Oregon, is one of the cleanest waterfalls in the pacific northwest.  I would describe it's height as a "soft" 50'er.  It is typically run as a park and huck, but has also been accessed from 4 miles upstream at the Hwy 216 bridge.

To get into the pool above Celestial requires a seal launch, and isn't really a gimme (mind the river-left wall).  In some ways, it is more tricky than running the drop.  If the banks are icy, this is even more difficult.  Most people avoid paddling the drop in icy conditions.  I mention this because boaters accustomed to the paddling conditions west of the Cascades are sometimes surprised by the conditions east of the Cascades during the winter paddling season.

The exit to the pool Celestial lands in is a small ledge that can be sticky at some flows, especially river-left.  Most people take out here on the left, and follow the trail back up to the parking area.  Those who paddle further down will find that in 1/5 mile there is another shorter, less clean waterfall that is less frequently run.  Then below that falls, it's 2 miles of class II-III down to the Deschutes, where there are other take out options.

This video provides a good tool for scoping out the area before going there in person. .

Access: Accessing the falls through the park is not allowed, so kayakers usually paddle the drop in the off-season when there is no host.  Alternately, it is legal to paddle from upstream, portage the top drop below the high water mark (in the riverbed), then paddle Celestial falls.   However, that is easier said than done, and last time I was there the park host did not concede that point, though the sheriff did.  

Here is how the rule is stated on the park website.

So it's probably best just to paddle the drop during the off-season when the host is not around.  Historically the host has been present from April 1- Oct 31  Be wary that neighbors have been known to take issue with kayaking too, so keeping a low profile is good practice.

Scouting is easy, just follow the trail in the park.  There is no rule against having a boat on your roof, so a pre-run scout is just fine, but might put you on the hosts radar if they are there.

Flows:  A new real-time gage has made getting the flows right easier (historically it was just an estimate).  I'll add data to this page as I can, below is what I have so far.  It shows the date, the water level, and a picture/video if available.  Best I can gather is 300-700 cfs is ideal, with plenty of wiggle room in either direction. People have run it both lower, and higher.


White River Below Tygh Valley:


May 8, 2021


March 16, 2021


March 2, 2021


March 12, 2022


April 8, 2022


April 17, 2022


Feb 7, 2021


Aug 13, 2022