North Fork of the American River (Chamberlain Falls)
|Stretch:||Class IV for entrapment hazards|
|Difficulty:||5 miles, 1 short day|
|Distance:||5 miles, 1 short day|
|Flows:||400 – 3200+ cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Put-in:||Iowa Hill Road Bridge (1:15 hrs from Davis)|
|Take-out:||Yankee Jim Road at Shirttail Canyon bridge|
|Shuttle:||12 miles (40 minutes) partly dirt road|
|Season:||Winter from rain, Spring from snowmelt|
|Written:||© 2004 & 2013|
|Featured in Video Two, Four, and Seven.|
2013 Note: So, it has been some 9 years since I first wrote this write-up... I have been told that this write-up will scare folks away from the run, so I thought I would put a few disclaimers in. In 2004 when I first ran this section, it was my first class IV run. That, in addition to that fact that I went in with another asipiring class IV boater who had never done the run made the run very challenging and intimidating. These days, I find the run to be a classic class III+/IV- (at low flows, cept for Bogus) to IV (at flows greater than 900) run that I take folks down as their first step up from class III all the time. The canyon is beautiful, the rapids busy but not overly imtimidating, and the action short but sweet, makes this run a great river for all those looking to expand their horizons past the South Fork American.
This is one of the most spectacular scenic runs for being so close to civilization. In addition, its rapids are negotiable by any intermediate/advanced boater with a reliable roll. That is the key to this run, a reliable roll. There lay many hazards underwater as many stories of swimmers getting momentarily caught by sieves or fences. Fortunately the most dangerous of which was washed out by the ’97 floods. The rapids themselves are fairly easy to negotiate. For most, “Bogus Thunder” and “Staircase” are the most challenging. For a person’s first time down the river it would probably be good to take a look at the first class IV, “Slaughters Sluice,” as it continues right up to Chamberlain falls. A swim in the Sluice could make for an interesting swim in the falls. In addition, scouting on a number of the other class IVs are recommended.
- Slaughters Sluice (III-IV+). Around the first bend from the put in is the first
rapid. Scout on left. Enter the rapid with left momentum from the right side and
go around the large house rock in the middle of the river. Shoot the rest of the
holes there are eddies immediately on the left in case they are needed, there are
also some rather large in steam eddies to assist in rescues. At low water (600-800),
after the entrance, the river constricts and the shoot is blocked. Enter with a
head of steam and boof over this poor over rock.
Chamberlain Falls (IV). At flows up to 1600 you can scout this drop on the left, after that the current is a bit swift and the eddy may be difficult to catch. The run is to the right of the rock in the middle of the river. Entering the drop with a little angel will allow you to land on top of the pile and skip over the hole. The first time I ran this. I scouted and ran left, it wasn’t until a week or two later that I was told how big of a mistake that was. I was lucky and didn’t get worked, but many better men have.
- Tongue and Groove (IV-). Like every rapid from this point on, “Tongue and Groove”
is a boulder bar with good and bad routes. At higher water levels a boof can be done
at the top of the left channel. However, at lower levels (~1000) there is a pin rock
beneath it. Therefore, it may be a good idea to scout from the left bank before the
rapid. In this case, a center shoot is possible.
Zig-Zag (IV-). A boulder bar with a zigzag move, center, right, and then left.
- Achilles’ Heel (IV-). This rapid is a simple boulder slalom named after the rock
outcropping on the side of the mountain, just downstream on the right.
Bogus Thunder (IV+). In my mind, this is the most important rapid to scout on this run. The river drops over a ledge that is runnable on far right or left. The right side is only runnable at high water and is more risky then the left side. The run on the left is the common route at low and high water. To run the left, eddy out after the first hole on the left, behind the house rock. Move around the eddy to get a straight shot on the final drop. Caution: Stay away from the middle, there is a nasty corral that I would not want to swim or kayak through.
© Ryan Kramer
- Grand Slalom (IV-). Large boulders create a maze, eddy hop or scout to find a good
Staircase (IV+). This rapid should be scouted. Scouting is possible on the right, although a little difficult. There are four sections to this rapid, a mistake in the first two could create a bad situation for a swimmer in the third drop. The first section is a lead in. The second is the hole at the bottom of the lead in which can be run anywhere. The third section is usually run on the right, the middle can be a viscious hole at higher flows. And the exit drop is really sticky in the middle, and is run on the far right or far left.
- The river is class II for the two miles to the take out where a class III rapid awaits
at the confluence of the Shirttail Canyon Creek and the North Fork.
Side hike upstream of take-out.
Take out: Take Weimer Cross Road exit off of Highway 80 going to Truckee. Turn left on Canyon Way and follow for two miles. After the “Foresthill 13” sign turn right on Yankee Jim Road. Follow for four miles down to the river. Access is best on the far side of the bridge.
Put in: Take Canyon Way until it parallels Highway 80. Look for Iowa Hill Road, turn right and follow to the river. Access is after the bridge at the campsite parking lot.
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