Canyon Creek (South Yuba Tributary), Upper
|Stretch:||French Lake to Bowman Lake|
|Difficulty:||Class IV+(Several Portages) to V+|
|Distance:||4.0 miles (1 mile extra on lakes)|
|Flows:||80-200. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||(Lake to Lake) 292, 327, 153 fpm average|
|Shuttle:||~7 miles (All dirt road, need some clearance)|
|Season:||Whenever they release, not often|
|Featured in Video Twenty-Two.|
I have been dreaming of this creek for sooo long. When I first started boating, I remember going through boof’s photo archives (back when they had one) and dreamflows guidebook to gather every cool kayaking picture I could find in order to put together the coolest screensaver ever, one that I could stare at for hours and dream of rapids to one day run. As I look back at the folder of photos I put together those years ago I see no less then 6 photos of this creek. To add to it, Chris Shackleton has the photo of him dropping the nice slide on dreamflows homepage, staring at me, tempting me ever time I checked his site. Needless to say, when I got word that this year they were going to do a flow study, I was excited.
The first weekend the flow was to be 120, followed by 100, and 80 cfs the following two weekends. I was unable to get on it the first weekend but made plans to run it the following. Come Thursday night Corey called and said he would be able to go down for his third time of the week but only on Friday, so I quickly told my boss I would be absent the following day and packed my kayaking gear.
Within 10 miles of highway 20 you realize you are in for an amazingly beautiful run. The drive in was a little tedious, but paled in comparison to my Fordyce experience two weeks prior (a long story for another day). Once we got to the water we were treated with a nice boxed in gorge with fun class IV+ to warm up on. Then the goods began. Sure some of the rapids were well over my head, but to experience the place, even with some extra portages was well worth it.
Now, to discuss some people’s misgivings about the run. Some people have said only go to the run if you are in a fire it up mood for running exploratory lines down class V and V+, and that the run was mank, not quality, and over all not worth it. I disagree. Perhaps it is because some of these guys are class V+ boaters who get to see the high country every spring, but for a boater like myself who occasionally boats class V, I am not regularly treated to the scenery that Canyon Creek offered. Indeed, if you are not a class V+ boater, then you will be making 7-8 portages most likely. Even if you are a V+ boater you will still make up to 3-4 portages. I would suggest that you are at least an occasional class V paddler otherwise you will be walking nearly ever rapid other than in between easier mank. About the mank, indeed the sections that weren’t huge, tended to be a little shallow, but it was by no means worse then day one on Devil’s Canyon of the Middle Feather and no one will talk shit about that run. So perhaps it is simply because some of the better groups of paddlers tend to try their best to keep crowds off some of the runs, perhaps they really did just not enjoy it. All I know is that everyone I have talked to first hand, has loved the creek. Furthermore, I know that if this flow study ends up with an actual release schedule, I will be going back again, and that time I will run more of the rapids.
For the original write-up, see the dreamflows guidebook here: Dreamflows
Also, you can continue down to Bowman lake which adds another 0.6 miles or so, however apparently the beta is that there is one good rapid and one long portage, a picture of the portage can be seen here: Waterfalls West
Finally, there is also footage in "No Big Names III: Chasing the White Demon" which shows Ben Stooksberry anc company running most of the big drops that we portaged.
French Lake – So as I mention in the Put in directions, we hiked to the lake, then decided to paddle the 0.6 miles to the dam. The water is crystal clear, easily seeing 30-40 feet down to the bottom of the lake. The mountains are steep granite cliffs topped by large granite domes. Only the occasionally tree offers contrasts to the grey of the California granite. An absolutely beautiful place and paddling across the lake is a great way to soak it in a little more.
- Portage (V). The first rapid is runnable, but is junky and undercut. Most people choose to portage in order to get a bit more of a warm-up. Plus as I said it is junky and undercut so why start the day off like that?
Pinch (IV+). The next drop is immediately downstream and should be scouted before putting on. The river pinches down on the right and sieves out on the left. Enter center and push up onto the right side of the midstream rock to avoid being rejected into the right wall. If you swim, get to one of the 5 eddies in the next 200 feet or be ready to swim the following drop.
Portage Falls (V+). A rocky drop lands into a 90 degree turn, wall piton is very possible. To portage, eddy out in the one boat eddy behind the midstream bush on river right about 100 feet above the falls. Carry along the water on the 1 foot wide ledge on the granite wall. It has been run by many people, but for me and my group, was an easy to choice to walk.
Boof Falls (IV). A short straight away leads to a 7-8 foot drop. There is a sticky hole and pushes to the left wall. Boof it with a little right angle. You can scout it from the left. There is some run out from this that is class III+ ending in a small ledge.
To the Pool (IV). Below here there is a nice long rapid. Near the start the rapid drops over a small ledge, on the left is a rooster tail, on the right is a rock, pinch between the two. At the end there is a boof which I took on the right. The landing is shallow in the center, but as I said, the right gives a nice auto boof.
To Weir Lake (IV). After the lake you enter some trees and bend down a slide which has a piton rock at the bottom. Driving hard right allows you to miss it. Just below this is a nice 10 foot slide leading down to the first lake. Just follow the water.
- Weir Lake – Weir Lake really is a pond, not a lake. It is natural as opposed to the other lakes on the run which are dammed. The outlet is to the left and only about 200 feet from where the inlet is. If it is your first time, before entering the outlet, eddy out on the left just above the constriction in the few boat eddy. The first class V rapid of the next stretch is just below.
- S-Turn (V-). The end of Weir lake brings the first big rapid that most will run and the start to the goods. The river narrows within the bedrock, dropping right, then left, and then over a 8-10 foot tall ledge/slide to where you skip off a rock at the bottom and keep your head high and dry. Great fun!
Mank (IV-IV+). The next 0.2 miles are manky, enjoy and stay safe.
- 20’ Falls (Tree) (V+). In 2008 there was a tree on the left side. The normal line is to boof off the left side and skip off the left wall. This however is right where the tree is. Corey decided to boof the right of center line and land directly to the side of the tree. Apparently a few people in other groups the prior week decided to run down the manky slide on the right.
Double Drop (V). The river drops off to the left and drops 4-5 feet and then immediately drops 8-10 feet into a large hole that recirculates. Try to boof left to clear the hole and tow back. I plugged and was able to paddle out. Another didn’t get to the hole upright and swam, the boat stayed for about 5 minutes. Safety is easy to set from either shore. Easy scout on the right but that nearly locks you into running it, I think you can scout portage it easier on the left if so inclined. Don’t swim out of the pool below as it is the next rapid, though the pool is calm and ~100 feet long.
Big and Long (V+). If so inclined, portage easily on the left from the eddy just below the last drop. The drop starts with a turning 10 foot drop which then pinches off into a manky chute against the wall and with rocks abound.
Slide Left (V-). The river drops over a few holes on the right, just behind the large midstream boulder drive left and slide down the exit, boofing the ledge at the bottom.
Big Boy (V+). The river get a little manky and splits around an island, if you want to portage make sure you go right!!! Right at the lip there is a 2 boat eddy. There is a great view of the lake from the top, really amazing place. The rapid itself drops 8 feet over a tricky ledge then slides down to a 25 foot vertical drop. Some people plug the left side of the drop while others ride the right ramp onto the kicker that will shoot you out into the pool below.
Big Slide (V). This drop is the reason I came out to the run. Having always seen the photos of it on the front page of dreamflows I have dreamed of sliding down that granite. The week before I got out to the creek Taylor Cavin of Gutters of the Earth post a photos with the scenery surrounding the drop which only caused me even more to get out and do it myself. The drop has a rocky lead in which then starts sliding. The drop is 25 feet or so vertical and lands you into a big hole which everyone either stays on top of or goes deep and pops up 10 feet downriver. Just below this drop, the river pinches and ends in a boxed in, backed up, undercut hole. On the pinch stay left, straighten out and drive to the boof. Boof center with maybe a little left angle. One in our group dropped over it backwards and was able to fight their way out. This lands you in the lake below,
- Faucherie Lake – Another beautiful lake surrounded by granite with crystal clear water. The paddle across it could be twice as long and I wouldn’t complain, it is hard to complain when you are on one of the most beautiful 1-day paddling creeks in the state. Once you paddle to the spill way on the right (0.3 miles), I would recommend hoping out of your boat at the spill way. The spill way drops 2 feet onto a slab which extends a few feet. It is concrete that just stops your boat. Just hop out and carry down it, easy and safes boat life.
- Portage/Crack Drop (V-). After about 1/10 of a mile you get to a straight away that looks like the river drops off the face of the earth. There are eddies at the top, one is one-boat at the lip on the right. We hoped out and carried the first 2 drops of the triplet. They have been run and can be seen in No Big Names III but they are ugly and not worth it. A perfect eddy on the right allows you to put back in and run the 20 foot drop into a nice pool below. The drops looks a little ugly, but you just peel out of the eddy and right the right wall all the way down. The hole at the bottom was nothing at 100 cfs so grins were had by all.
Forest (I). The river drops into a forest which is very odd but strangely beautiful. We think that the stretch from the spill way through here is not a natural river bed as everything just seems man made or man influenced. Keep an eye out for wood, we walked around one log jam in 2008.
Portage Triple Drop (V+). We don’t know if this one has ever been run, many great boaters who make portages tremble with fear have walked it. Three drops with three big holes and three big undercuts can be seen from the sketchy walk on the right wall.
Big Manky (V+). A large rapid with several large drops and a few sieves and undercuts. Most people will walk this one, then they might see Taylor Cavin run it and think twice. However Taylor was not on the water with us and Corey spoke of running the middle upside down with such enthusiasm we all walked it our day on the left with ease.
Piton (V+). Another rapid which is most often portaged even by the great boaters. The entrance was tricky and leads to a slide which ends in a huge pointy piton. The line is so narrow to the right of the piton that we all walk with no deliberation.
- There are several class III-IV- rapids from here to the end.
Log Portage. After ducking or jumping several logs your luck runs out and you can beach yourself in the middle of the river, hop over the log and continue on.
Chutes (IV). A Great easy class IV rapid is formed by bedrock and has several ledges leading up to a small ledge. Good fun.
Junky Boof (IV+). One of the junkiest rapids on the run starts down the right side where you literally boof into a bush. You then boogie for a few feet before the drops steeps up again. Run down the center and boof the ledge. It wants to push you left into a small room of doom so boofing aiming right is advisable.
- Sawmill Lake (almost), Take-out
You can either approach the lakes from highway 20 (near lake Spaulding) or from highway 89 (near Truckee). We went in via 20 and found the road to be dirt and worst for the length of it. From Davis it took 2.5 hours to get to the turn off for take out (10 minutes from the actual take out). On the way home we decided to go via 89 to avoid dirt road driving. The way through Truckee is all paved other than once you are at the lakes. So, From davis, taking the Highway 20 way was shorter distance and about 30 minutes shorter time then the other way though much more annoying due to dirt, and may take even longer at the end of the day once it is getting dark. The highway 20 way was very pretty though driving up the South Fork of the Yuba and up Canyon Creek. Either way you go, in order to do the shuttle you will need a car with more clearance than a civic. An Outback, CRV, Element etc will do.
(Use Google maps and search Bowman Lake, Ca to get most of the way there) From highway 20 take Bowman Lake Road. Stay on the road, following the signs to Bowman Lake. Eventually you climb steeply up just below the dam. Once you crest the mountain, follow the lake near river level. Eventually you will come to a large T in the road with a sign pointing to Sawmill lake. Turn Right and follow. Soon you will come to a T with a sign pointing to the right towards Sawmill Lake. If you follow that road you have to paddle across the lake to get to take out. You can also go left at the T, which then leads you to another T which you stay left at. As the road begins to climb you can park on the shoulder on the right. The river is about 300 yards into the woods. Easy to walk down to the water to spot your take out.
If you come in from 89, 17 miles north of Truckee turn left on a well marked road towards Jackson Meadow Reservoir. Follow this 19 miles or so, cross the dam and continue. 100 yards after the road turns to dirt you will see a large road drop down to your left, this is the road to put-in. Continue on the road to the right to get to the T mentioned above where from this direction you will turn left towards Sawmill Lake.
From the Take out go back to the T. Turn right. Go a few miles of slow driving until you see a sign for Muir (or Mirror) lake and turn right. Continue this road, at one point the road splits for 20 feet around a small patch of trees, the road on the left is really bad, go around on the right. Once you drive up the hill, drive past a nice meadow on your right (maybe 4 mile from the Muir Lake Turn) you will then see a dirt road off to your right (maybe 100 yards past the nice meadow). Take this and drive the ¼ or so to the gate. Start your hike here. We hiked about 1 mile to the lake and then paddled the 0.6 miles across the lake to the dam instead of hiking the extra distance.
View Canyon Creek, Upper (South Yuba) in a larger map
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