North Fork of the Feather (Poe Canyon)
|Stretch:||Poe Dam to Poe Powerhouse|
|Difficulty:||Class IV+ to V (1 portage or V+) (much harder as flows go up)|
|Distance:||7.0 miles (or 3.0 miles)|
|Flows:||500-5,000 cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||62 fpm (section up to 120 fpm)|
|Put-in:||Near Pulga Maintenance Station|
|Shuttle:||~15 miles, 3 miles easy dirt, 35 minutes (or ~6 miles, 1 mile step dirt, 15 minutes for just the Canyon Run)|
|Season:||Dam release rarely|
|Featured in Video Twenty-Seven|
Finally, after years of heading to the upstream Cresta and Rock Creek releases, driving over Pulga Bridge high over the start of the Poe Canyon, yearning to one day see what lays beneath, this year thanks to some dam maintenance I have finally found out. Last week began a two month long window of boatable flows that will run until January 2010.
The first two days of the release were at 700 cfs or so but come Friday morning and my first day to be able to boat, my luck would have the flows drop to 550. the folks who ran the run the prior to days had said they wouldn’t want much less water than they had, but with Darin and Diane still on board we had a trip.
The river starts off with a mellow mile of mostly flat water with one nice warm up rapid. Once you cross beneath the Highway 70 Pulga Bridges, it gets game on quick. After a long and clean rapid, the river gets tight, constricted, sievy, steep, and pretty darn fun. A few short rapids lead to the first big rapid, I think most will portage the rapid however it is runnable. At 550 cfs the sieves were way too in play for my taste, apparently at 700 they filled in more and made the rapid easier. The AW flow study mentioned the portage was on the river right and required technical rock climbing. Diane and I portaged on the left and had an easy carry until the final 15 foot ledge required a throw-rope assisted down climb (really was more of a rope lowered). Luckily there was a knob of rock 10 feet from the ledge that had a grove at the base of it to retain the rope. With that, I lowered Diane down followed by the gear and finally myself. A flick of the wrist and the rope came back down to me.
A few more short rapids lead to the second big drop, Toboggan. Depending on the flows you can go right or left. At the low flow only the right went cleanly. The crux is to finish the final hole with a delayed boof pointing left. The hole feeds directly into a big undercut and then some sieves. At higher flows the hole feeds harder and the left channel begins to open up more. At low flows one in our group flipped in the hole and was washed towards sieves only to roll up in time to scrape over one. The river then gets significantly easier, turns more into a Tobin style of short drops in and around sieves. There is one rapid that is completely chocked off except a thin line on river left. I think this rapid may have been the portage that Stanley Holbek mentioned as a portage, I am not sure. Finally, you arrive at Patchin’s Passion which is the sickest rapid on the run. At high flows you have to portage, but at low flows it is just a smiles from ear to ear type of rapid. One more great rapid and you are done with Poe Canyon proper and arrive at Bardees Bar.
From that point the river is much easier, class III+ nature but rocky and still sievy. You can take out at Bardees Bar to lap the Canyon, for or the more timid you can put-in at Bardees Bar to run the easier rapids downstream. I would recommend feeling comfortable on Lobin before venturing down from Bardees Bar due to hazards of being upside down or swimming.
So for my overall impressions, the run was really fun. The nature of the rapids was steep and rocky. Seriously every rapid formed a pretty large horizon line. If it weren’t for Darin having done the run the day before we would have had to scout all the rapids in the canyon. The boulders are large and make the drops blind, this difficulty in boat scouting could end badly as so many channels lead to boulder piles or sieves. The good lines are usually cleaner and more free or sieves, though you still boat directly next to several. In one or two we were instructed to boof one way an drive one way and sure enough, we landed a foot away from a sieve that if you pointed right you would sieve out, and then had to avoid another sieve by driving harder after landing. Luckily those rapids were among the easiest and required only class IV skills. Also, my ratings are a little inflated due to the quantity of hazards, so keep that in mind. Anyways, it was fun. 550 is near the bottom of what would be runnable, several rapids were beginning to close out. I would have liked another 100 cfs for margin. Folks do run this run up to 5,000 cfs although I think I would get nervous with water over 1,000. Then again, I cry during sad movies and scary movies so maybe my cajones should not be the gauging stick.
Thanks to Darin McQuoid for his contribution of photos. The photos of his that are with obviously more water was with ~3,000 cfs.
- The first mile is nearly all flat water, but as the bridges come into view you get your warm-up rapid.
This Run Has Undercuts? (IV-). We ran down the left side of the rapid, a small double boof line to avoid the undercut in the middle of the river. Good practice for the hazard dodging to come.
Pulga Bridges pass overhead.
- First Rapid (IV+). At the low flows this rapid was more of a class IV than IV+, but I think as the water comes up, the moves will get more linked and more consequential. We entered right moving left to boof a curler. We then worked our way down to the right to boof the exit ledge. From this point down it is full on for the next half mile until you pass Toboggan.
Zig-Flip-Zag (IV+). A short pool leads to the first rapid of the walled in canyon. You want to drive hard right across the lip, hit the hole, make an about-turn, and drive back left to finish. If you don’t drive properly a hole at the top may flip you, you may find yourself in the middle of the river, rolling up only to find yourself perched on the cushion of the rock that splits the river either to the good side or to the sieved side. Luckily you will push yourself off the rock to finish down the left. Breathing deeply, both Darin who was waiting below and Diane who watched you disappear from the top of the rapid may ask you… “what happened to you?”
Cascade (IV to IV+). A small lead in brings you to a cascading drop. The river splits around a midriver rock. The cascade immediately to the left of it is the cleanest.
Four Doors (V+ or Portage). A manky lead in leads to a 90 degree right turn. 1/3rd of the water sieves out, 1/3rd ends up in a pin spot, and the other 1/3rd goes over a ledge. At 550 it looked sketchy, apparently at 700 the sieve fills in a bit and makes the rapid easier. I am still inclined to walk on the left. An easy carry leads to a 15 foot ledge. We did a throw-rope assisted repel down.
Sticky Wicket (IV+ to V-). Basically the run out of Four Doors, this rapid sticks in my mind of one of the more dangerous. The entrance was over an apparent sieve to grind a pyramid rock in the middle of the rapid. From there, land and power through the sticky hole at the bottom.
Toboggan (V- to V). At low flows only the right channel looks appetizing. A boulder dodging channel makes you feel like you are on a luge course. The crux is to delay boof the sliding hole at the end as it feeds hard into the right wall which is undercut and then feeds into some barely submerged sieves. At higher flows the hole pushes harder. The left channel is a slide into a vertical drop and apparently looked much cleaner at 700 when Darin and some of his friends ran that way.
You are only half a mile below the Pulga Bridges, luckily it gets easier and less dangerous now. You are now entering a mile long boulder field. I am sure there are more rapids that I took pictures of, but here are a few.
Crack Boof (IV). An easy lead in has committed you to running this boof, though you would have no idea it is clean unless you scouted it. Anyways, it was fun.
Undercut (III+). This is a small rapid below that had a horrid undercut that actually looked like a mouth with upstream edges on the outsides just gobbling up water. Luckily the rapid was only class III leading up to it.
The Worst Of It (IV+). The worst of the bolder field results in a sieve fest. Luckily at the lower flows there was a boof against the left wall. Boof this pointing left and driving left to avoid the sieves that will be all around you. From there, exit the drop over a ledge or two avoiding the easy to see sieves. The picture shows what by staying next to the wall avoids.
- Fun Long One (IV-). From above all these rapids look huge, from below they don’t. This one had a lot of moving around to avoid rocks and then ended in a sticky hole.
S-Turn or Boof (IV-). We took the right channel which was a fun and relatively easy S-Turn. On the left is a nice boof channel as well.
Patchin’s Passion (V). Sweet. Boof the center right channel landing, head to just left of center to avoid the hole on the right, then in the next few feet try to get right of center erroring right to drop over what at the time felt like a 15 foot but in reality is more of a 8 foot drop or so. I went through the seam and hardly got wet. So much fun. Just avoid the far left as there is a hungry cave. At higher flows this is a portage on the left. I think there may be a misnomer here, I think they may have been the optional portage described in Stanley and Holbek, either that or “Toboggan” is actually “Patchin’s Passion” and the “The Worst of It” was the portage they described. I am not sure.
Another S-Turn (IV). A fun rapid requiring a strong S-Turn to avoid sieves.
Fun Boof (III-). It was fun, so I thought I would add it.
Finale (IV+). The cleanest rapid on the run, this rapid just keeps going. I sort of remember heading down the right, then middle, the right of center. It was just big hole and a few rocks to dodge, few hazards that I remember, just big, busy, and long.
- Bardees Bar: is a potential Take-out you can use to lap the canyon or put-on if class V is not your cup of tea.
Continuous (III+ to IV-). The first mile has several good rapids. One at the start is long, starting as class III- and building up to class IV-.
Pool and Drop (III – to III). After the initial boulder jumbles subside you have a few pool and drop ledges that are all clean.
- Flat water starts and only a few class I-II rapids remain for the final 2-3 miles.
- Going Out With a Bang (IV). From the bridge this rapid looks inconsequential, at river level you come around the corner see sieves ahead of you, a large hole across the top of the rapid that pulls back from five feet downriver and a hole at the exit to gobble up unwary paddlers. It went fine, just surprised us all at its size in real life.
Take-out: Poe Powerhouse - Take Big Bend Road off of Highway 70 near the town of Yankee Hill. Follow it a mile or so up and down a hill. Look for the small road on your left labeled Bardees Bar. Take this road and follow it for a mile or two. You will come to an opening where the main road doubles back sharply to the right. Double back sharply and continue following until you cross the river and arrive at the Powerhouse. Bardees Bar – There are two ways to get to the midpoint. You can Take Bardees Bar like you are going to the Powerhouse, but at the sharp double back, go straight (I don’t think it is labeled) and follow to Bardees Bar. The other way is to continue on Highway 70 another few miles until you see the power lines cross the highway. There is a turnout there that has a dirt road leave it. One heads downriver one heads upriver, take the one that heads up-river. It is steep and 4-wheel drive is recommended for traction purposes, not off road purposes. This road takes about 10 minutes to ascend whereas the other way is about 20 minutes. Some people set the shuttle using Bardees Bar Road approach and only drive out of the short cut as it is on the way in and is easier on the brakes.
Put-in: Continue up East on 70 until you see Pulga Maintenance Station on your right. If you see the Poe Dam or Lobin/Tobin you have gone too far. At the station, turn around so you are heading west, after 100 feet take the small dirt road that leaves the highway. This leads 100 feet down to a parking lot and nice beach on the water.
View North Feather, Poe Canyon in a larger map
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