North Fork of the Feather (Big Bend Run)
|Stretch:||Big Bend Run|
|Difficulty:||Class III+ (IV+)|
|Take-out:||Dark Canyon Road|
|Featured in Video Seventeen.|
A year after going to the North Feather to do just the Big Bend Dam, I went back to knock off the whole run. I figured, as the level is currently 703 feet, it was the perfect time to get on this run to take advantage of the shorter paddle out. (To check lake level, go here)
Some statistics and stuff; the record low was 645 feet above sea level which occurred in 1977, the maximum elevation is 900 feet. Lake Oroville dam stands 770 feet high and is 6,920 feet long at the top. This is impressive when you note that Hoover Dam is only 1,244 feet wide. Finally, one of the drivers of the water level’s volatility is that the lake water is used to flush the salt water out of the Sacramento – San Joaquin delta when the salinity gets to high.
So anyways, this time we had a little more water, this also made me realize lapping the dam is even more difficult that we found out last time as attaining to an eddy on the shore can be difficult. The first time we ferried from the other side of the river, that may be the best course of action still. With some will, lapping it can be done still. So continuing, I found this run to be much more fun that I anticipated. The rapids were in greater quantity and were harder than I expected. Despite the class III+ rating there is one rapid in there that do to length, hole size, and move count I would consider more of a IV. Furthermore, the discussion on boof warned of a 2-3 hour paddle out even at this low lake level. Instead we found that the paddle out was 3.75 miles (at 703 feet) and instead took just about an hour (none of us actually had a watch, but it certainly couldn’t of been 2 hours, we put on at 10:30, scouted the falls, took our time, ate lunch, and were off the river, loaded up and driving away at 2:30).
As of 2008 there is a lake shuttle service offered for $175 for up to 8 people. See the American Whitewater write-up for the information. With the lake elevation at 703 feet, it was very border line whether the paddle was ok to do. It was tiring and tedious and was almost long enough to let us forget the fun we had on the river itself. Word has it that people don’t even bother thinking about this run if the lake is above 750 feet elevation. I can totally see this as being true. I think ever foot of lake elevation would add 100 yards of paddling. Around mile 5 on the run, you get to the silted section that has long been underwater and creates a very wide and shallow river bed. There are no rapids and the gradient is only noticeable by the sand rubbing under your boat as you slowly drift over it. Indeed it is not a “paddle out,” but it is the fun part of the river. This shallow stuff continues for about 3 miles or so before you hit the log jam and the real paddle out begins.
In conclusions, if the lake were to drop to 675 or 650 I would have no hesitation of doing the paddle again, perhaps even in a play boat as the paddle out wouldn’t be that bad. At 700 feet I would consider doing it again in a year or two, but only with a creek boat. At 750 I would get 8 friends together to split the $175 shuttle fee, take playboats, and enjoy beers while getting shuttled across the lake.
- Big Bend Dam (IV+). As I say in my Big Bend Dam write-up, this dam really isn’t that hard, just line up straight and it is easy. However If you were to drop over it sideways and flip, it would be most painful. It also turns out to be a lot bigger in person but is worth running for anyone with class III skills. Also, it is 0.6 miles below the put-in and has a nice beach on the left right at the dam to scout from.
Just Below (III). Just below the dam the river splits around a rocky island. I went right and it was fun, busy hole dodging. Diane went left and from below looked to be straight forward with a few rocks to avoid.
There is some nice class II+ in this section.
- Holy Moly (III). The first significant horizon line can be seen from some distance away. There is an eddy on the right shore to scout from if needed. The rapid is long and has an entrance hole and a few large downriver holes. We went right of center the hole way.
Box Car (IV-). In my mind this rapid is similar to Chamberlain Falls on the North Fork of the American. The rapid isn’t hard as long as you don’t get recirculated back into the hole. Once upon a time, there was an actual train box car just downriver of the hole adding significant danger to the rapid. Now the line is clear. Shoot right of center down the tongue. There is a very large river wide hole starting just left of the line that could pull you in if you don’t get enough right. To add to it, on the left shore just above the drop is some metal trusses.
- Long One (III). A very fun long rapid had large waves and a few large holes. It was read and runnable so all the holes were avoided. Great rapid.
Rocky Right Bend (III-). There was a short right bend that had a rocky drop on the bend. The far left looks juicy and is a bit so. The middle is rocky, from below you can see a sneak cutting right across the top below the first large rock.
- Large Hole (III-). After the river makes the obvious and dramatic turn west, this rapid appears. The lead is in easy class II and then the river gets steeper. The right side goes over a small pour-over with a hole that you wouldn’t expect. To boot, it also had a large toe back. I would highly recommend not going anywhere near it and instead staying on the left side of the drop.
Longest and Biggest (IV). This is a very long rapid with an absolute man eater hole at the top. The hole kind of sneaks up on you and can be avoided on the right just after a few entry waves. Below this the rapid continues and holes and rocks must be avoided. This is a very fun rapid and great way to end the day. Not too far below this you begin seeing sand dunes and the silted in section of the paddle out beings.
- You are at the point that the lake is usually covering, the river bed is completely silted over, and there is only enough gradient to keep the water moving.
- At 703 feet lake elevation, there was 3.75 miles of actual lake paddling.
- You arrive at the Dark Canyon Boat Ramp. If the water is higher it can add up to an extra mile or so of paddling to get to the boat ramp.
Take-out: About 14 miles past CA-149, take a right on Big Bend Road. Take an immediate left to stay on this road. After no more than a mile, there is a street coming in on your right (at a hair point turn), turn right onto Dark Canyon Road. Follow this a few miles down to the water.
Put in: Return to Big Bend road and turn right. After a short distance the road forks, stay right on Big Bend Road. Stay on this for another 0.4 miles. Turn left on Bardees Bar Road and follow for 1.4 miles. The road then makes an abrupt turn back upon itself, follow this (it is easy to see). After another 2.9 miles you arrive at the powerhouse, park somewhere where your car won’t be in the way.
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