Middle Fork of the Stanislaus (Dardanelles)
|Stretch:||Backer Campground to Clarks Fork Bridge|
|Difficulty:||Class III+ or IV-V|
|Flows:||600-1,000 cfs inflow to Donnells. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||94 fpm (the last mile is 174 fpm)|
|Take-out:||Clarks Fork Road Bridge|
|Shuttle:||9 miles (10 minutes one way)|
|Season:||Spring and Summer from snowmelt|
|Written:||© 2009, 2015|
So, this run is advertised as class IV-V. Interesting. There were some wood portages, there were two gorges that would certainly kill you, there was another gorge that would be class IV-V if it weren't chalked full of log jams requiring a portage, there was 7 miles of high stress, tree around every corner class II to III-... oh, and there was the final 0.6 miles of class IV-V runnable whitewater. Take what you want from that. The portage gorges were very cool to see, however both are also mere feet from Highway 108 so you could drive, park, and walk to see them. The first gorge portage was long, probably close to a half mile due to the logs filling the mini-gorge below it. In all, I would say this run was a lot of work, with minimal payoff. It could be a fun class III day to boat to the highway 108 bridge, but a class IV-V boater will most certainly be bored doing the whole run. If you are a class IV-V boater, put in just above the good section and run it in conjunction with the Donnells run downstream. Although Dardanelles is roadside at all times (other than in the last mile where the goods are) with fisherman and their hooks being the greatest concern (with the log jams close behind), downstream awaits clean rapids, complete solitude, no roads, and fantastic views. Not that the views in Dardanelles are bad, they are good, better than the average kayak run, just not epic.
So in conclusion, I don't think I will be returning to do the whole run again. Perhaps if the wood below the first gorge cleans up, I will put in there and run the ensuing mini gorge in addition to the fun class III-IV before the second gorge portage, and then continue down to Clarks Fork Bridge, leaving plenty of time in the day to set shuttle for the real reason to drive to this area, the Donnells run.
Update 2015: Thanks to Will Boyer for providing some updates on the wood situation.
- Log Jam 1 (U). Early on we came to a log portage. Portaged on the right.
Ledge (III-). A nice rapid with a ledge to boof and then drive right for.
Jog Jam 2 (III+). A log jam on the right, we went around it to the left and rand the run-out.
- Jog Jam 3 (III). Logs on the right, there may have been a clean line in the left channel, I couldn't see. I went down the right channel working left to avoid wood. Scout right.
Starts to clean up some.
Mini Gorge (III). A fun mini gorge ends in a ledge.
- Portage (U). Unrunnable, scout this out prior to running the river. There are turnouts along the river right at the gorge, between Pigeon Flat (downstream) and Eureka Valley (Upstream) Campgrounds. Scout the eddy for this one, it is a big eddy, but you don't want to drift past it cause there are no more after it. Portage on the right. Update 2015 Apparently this section is now clear of wood... stout, but clear of wood.
Gorge Below (V or U). Some years you can run the gorge below the pinched off, wood filled section of the portage. Our year the rapids in the gorge had wood in them and ledge directly to another log jam that was impassible. It would be class V in there if it was wood free, class V and super sweet. We continued the portage along the road a quarter mile or maybe a little more. Just around the corner near the top there was a small ravine that led the 100 yards back down to the water. Update 2015 Apparently this section is now clear of wood... stout, but clear of wood.
- Column of the Giants Gorge One (III+). As you exit the Gorge below the portage you have a few fun rapids in a walled in setting. All read and run.
Column of the Giants Gorge Two (III+). A fun ledge is followed by another ledge and then some boogie.
Portage (U). A narrow gorge dead ends in several sieve piles. Scout from the road before. The end of the gorge is at the Highway 108 bridge in the town of Dardanelles. We portaged on the right.
This could also be an optional take-out if you don't want to do the class IV-V below.
Post Portage (V). This drop awaits just below the portage. It is not clean at all, rocks in bad places, and simply didn't look fun. Starts with a boof onto a rock, then around the corner there is a curved drop with rocks and sieves to acquaint yourself to. We crossed the bridge while portaging the gorge and continued downstream just below this drop.
- Ledge (III+). A nice ledge can be run center heading right. There are some other class III drops in this area as well, you can tell the nature is beginning to change.
Tree Dodge (IV). Near the end of the mile there is an easy enough lead in that brought us to a log jam that we worked left to avoid. It is a little sketchy and some groups may choose to portage.
Optional Donnells Put-in
- Log Jam 4 (U). Just downstream of Brightman Campground is a huge log jam. Portage on the right easily. If this log jam ever washed out, the river is screwed. There is a nice class III+ rapid just below. Update 2015 Apparently this log jam has washed out... and the river is not totally screwed. Go figure.
A short section leads to the steeps
The final 0.6 miles is one long rapid with a few distinctive sections. All that breaks them up are small eddies
Scout (IV+). The river makes a sudden and obvious charge for lower elevation. The first rapid deserves a scout, easiest on the right. We boofed the right side of the entrance ledge, then boofed the midstream rock landing between some other rocks, then beat our way through a few holes and then caught the eddy on the right.
Curler to Log Jam to Log Jam (V-). The most consequential of the rapids, this rapid begins with a large curler, hitting it low spits you into a small eddy on the right, hitting it wide on the left drops you into the next rapid, get right to avoid the log jam, easier of the two. The next step again you need to drive right to avoid the logs. This one is harder, there is a hole to punch through and the majority of the water goes into the logs, whatever you do, don't stay flip.
Junk (IV-). A junky rapid is only clean left of center... and even there it is only marginally clean.
Second to Last (IV). A long bolder garden is easy enough running right at the top and then making it up as you go.
Clarks Fork Bridge (IV to IV+). Boof the left, avoid the rock in the landing on the left, avoid the sieves on the right, head downstream and boof over the ledge below. Catch the eddy and take-out. Avoid the running the next drop blind. We portaged it when we ran through the Donnells section. It is a crack drop that didn't look clean. I would hate to swim it.
Take-out: 45 miles or so East of Sonora on Highway 108 take Clarks Fork Road and drive the mile or so to the bridge of the Middle Stanislaus. Or continue up another few miles to either Brightman campground or the bridge over the river to avoid the hard section.
Put-in: Continue east on Highway 108 until you get to Baker Campground. The entrance is actually off the road that leads to Kennedy Meadows, so look for the "Kennedy Meadows 1 mile" sign. There is parking just outside the campground.
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