Middle Fork of the American River (Tunnel Chute)
|Stretch:||Ralston Powerhouse to the old Greenwood Bridge|
|Difficulty:||Class IV+ (1 portage), harder at higher flows|
|Distance:||16.5 miles, 1 day|
|Flows:||800 - 1600 cfs. Current Dreamflows (est) gauge|
|Gradient:||23 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Ralston Power House outlet|
|Take-out:||McKeon Road at old Greenwood bridge site|
|Shuttle:||25 miles (~ 45 minutes)|
|Season:||Spring and Summer, from dam release|
|Featured in A Wet State's contribution to World Kayak's Video Guide|
For information on rafting the Middle Fork of the American please check out:
I guess I will start by talking about the positives of this run. The first five miles along with the last two have great rapids!!! However, I am not sure if these offset the nine miles in the middle which when not flat is only class I. I was told this run was worth doing once, so I did it once. And it was in the middle of the flat section that I decided I would make sure to not do it again. But I do agree, it is worth doing once or in a dry year when it will be one of the only rivers running in the summer months. Everything I have heard says this is runnable at higher water levels, but as Chuck Stanley says, if it is flowing above 1,500 cfs, why waste your time here.
I should point out for those who are considering running this run that the gradient is misleading. The sections with rapids are substantially more than 24 fpm, it is only because of the 9 miles of very flat water that the average gradient is so low. So with that said…
- Tunnel Chute (V). Roughly half a mile into this mile comes the first big test.
This rapid is easily scouted and portaged on the left. The chute starts roughly
seventy-five feet after a class III drop so be weary. The rapid was formed by
miners who blasted a tunnel into the granite wall in addition to a chute to
channel the river into the tunnel. The result is horribly unnatural rapid that
is a blast to run satisfying my long-lived dream of kayaking at the waterslides.
The chute is extremely turbulent and therefore can be a little difficult to
maneuver in. The left wall has water coming down from it and the water pushes
you on to the right wall. The chute ends in a large drop. The hole at the
bottom is grabby but flushes at most flows. Immediately after the rapid the river
flows into a two hundred foot long tunnel which is also an interesting experience.
- There is a class III rapid in this stretch that isn’t any harder than the others
except that it has a pour over rock that the main current goes into and creates
nasty hole, it is easiest if this isn’t your cup of tea to move left of it.
- Kanaka Falls AKA Cartwheel (IV). This rapid comes after two miles of class II-III
rapids. The rapid can be scouted and portaged on the left. The rapid has numerous
holes which need to be negotiated correctly in order to stay left of the
rocks/sieve waiting at the bottom on the right.
- Flat with a few class I and II rapids. The end of the flats comes at the end of a
very long pool (~1.5 miles) that has power lines coming down the left ridge at the
end of it.
- Upper Ruck-A-Chucky AKA Chunder (IV+). This rapid consists an eight-foot drop in
the middle channel. The right channel has numerous rocks and the left has sieves.
Shoot the drop between the two large mid-river boulders. It is best to be on the
right side of the shoot to avoid the immediately downstream rock on the left.
Also, I have been told there is a rock at the bottom of the drop, so boof the drop
in order to not find out if these rumors are true.
Ruck-A-Chucky (U). This is a nasty rapid which is only run on accident and nearly never more successful then partial paralysis if not death. Portage on the right, there is a trail that leads to a viewing platform, climb down to the river below the platform and put in above the last drop that is considered part of this rapid (AKA Cleavage), a fun six foot drop run in the middle of the river or right over a slide rock.
Lower Ruck-A-Chucky AKA Parallel Parking (IV). This rapid is just down stream from the last drop of “Ruck-A-Chucky.” The river has a middle channel that has a five to six footer which drops to the left of a midstream boulder. The drop is at a leftward angle and has a tendency to push you against the boulder. Immediately below the ensuing short pool is a class three section of the rapid. This section consists a hole and wave train. Run down the middle.
- Catapult (III). This rapid is not difficult unless unprepared. At the bottom, the
river narrows to the left of a boulder and has a boof rock midstream. If you don’t
have a head of steam and powerful last stroke, you may get caught in the backwash.
It is easy however to sneak to the left of it.
Take out: Take the Auburn Ravine-Foresthill exit off of I-80. Follow it towards the town of Foresthill. After about seven miles, take a right on Old Driver Flat Rd and follow it for a few miles down to the river. It is a bit rough at times but I have seen Civics negotiate it with a little care.
Put in: Get back onto the main road and follow it for another ten miles to Foresthill. Once in town, turn right on Mosquito Ridge Rd. Follow the sign to Oxbow Reservoir. After about ten miles there will be a right turn, one mile take a right for the rafters put in, there is a parking lot and ramp to the water on the right, directly below the power outlet.
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