Middle Fork of the Smith River (Siskiyou Gorge)
|Stretch:||Start of Gorge to Patrick’s Creek|
|Difficulty:||Class IV+ (Class V at the higher flows I am sure)|
|Flows:||600-1200? Measured downstream. Current Dreamflows (Downstream est) gauge|
|Gradient:||58 fpm (seems steeper)|
|Put-in:||Start of the Gorge turn-out|
|Shuttle:||1 miles, 2 minutes|
|Season:||Winter Spring Fall (Natural)|
|Featured in Video Eighteen.|
Surprisingly there is little documentation of this run. The Stanley/Holbek book notes that upriver of the normal Middle Fork Smith Patrick’s Creek run there is a 1 mile long low class V run. CaCreeks mentions a class V gorge which can be avoided at the end of the class III/IV Upper Middle Fork Smith run, but no one has a write up of the gorge itself. So with the only info being that there are three rapids of consequence in the gorge we set off for our adventure.
You can put in at the beginning of the gorge (literally) but we decided to put in about 0.7 miles further upstream. This provided us a nice little warm up of class II water before the goods started. I thought we had a great flow, others in my group thought that a little more water would have made it perfect. We had 750 cfs on the gauge downstream, however at least 100 cfs of that comes from Patrick’s Creek at the take out. We estimated that the actual flow of the river was ~500 to 550 cfs. If there was 100 cfs less, some of the rapids would have become much harder as rocks would have closed out the passages. Too much more water and some of the holes would become scary.
The gorge itself is beautiful, shear wall for the length of the gorge, yet each rapid has at least one eddy at the lip from which you can boat scout or hop to land to scout. The walls are covered with green moss, a sign of how little light makes it down into the canyon. And although the road is never more than 50 feet above you, I can’t say I ever noticed it nor can I say it is a viably escape route if you find yourself over your head.
The gorge however is committing, once you are in, you are in. I am not going to saw that portaging is impossible because where there is a will there is a way, but it would be a major hassle and no doubt would involve climbing on moss covered cliffs above the rapids and then seal launching into the water after the rapid. Furthermore, there are only 3 rapids in the gorge… so why run it if you are going to portage.
I would recommend to everyone to scout the last rapid as the bottom is hidden from the top. Furthermore, the lines that appear clean from the top, almost all land on rocks or holes with rocks backing, or holes with rocks within.
With all that, I would fully endorse this run, everyone in our group had a blast, wished it were longer, and thought it was the best (and hardest) of the Triple Crown Gorges.
What is the Triple Crown you ask? The Triple Crown is the set of Siskiyou Gorge, Oregon Hole Gorge, and the South Fork Gorge. Do them all in a day and you get the Triple Crown. For us, this was the first run of a Triple Crown day and a great way to start the day.
Thanks to Diane Gaydos and Mike Ward for contributing photos.
- Gorge (IV). The first rapid is immediately at the put-in and is a nice narrow gorge which is easies enough. Just mind the left wall which has several messed up pockets and undercuts.
Creek (IV+). A hundred yards downstream from the entry gorge, a side creek comes in on the left. The side creek brings a significant amount of water in (and is impressive to look at). At the flows we encountered, we were able to run the lead in drops and eddy out just at the creek on the left. We could have hoped out, but Nick fired it up and we followed suit. The line was left of center through some holes, move left, and finish through the rather large exit hole. The right looked very rocky, maybe with more water it might be the line, in which case we would have been toast.
Undercut (IV+). The next drop could be scouted on either the right or left. There was a large midstream bolder directing the water right and into an undercut wall. You had to get on the cushion enough to sneak behind the undercut. Then move left to avoid being pushed into an eddy of doom and a few rocks.
Finale (V-). The final drop was by far the largest. The right side looked good but the top hole landed on some rocks just under the surface. We opted to enter left of center over a small hole with more teeth than it appeared to have had, then to the center over a pour over pinch drop which stood just about all of us up on tail. Settle down and exit this tier through a rock pinch. After about twenty feet the river drops over another cascade. The left has a rock backed by another rock, the right melts into a really bad pocket. The center ramped down into a piton rock. We found via our probe that if you hit the piton rock, at our flow you would skip over it. So we all hit it. At lower flows I have no idea what you would do. Great rapid though.
Take out: From Gasquet, drive a few miles to Patrick’s Creek Lodge on highway 199. We parked in the parking lot, but I am sure it is better to park across the street in the dirt area.
Put-in: Drive 1.7 miles upriver to a turnout with a dirt road leading down the 100 feet to the water. This gives you a warm up. Otherwise you can put in just on the other side of the gorge, 1 mile upriver of the Lodge in a small turnout on the right just after the road railing ends.
View Middle Smith, Siskiyou Gorge in a larger map
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