North Fork of the Stanislaus (Hell's Kitchen)
|Stretch:||Camp Wolfeboro to Ramsey’s Meadow|
|Difficulty:||Class V to V+|
|Distance:||5.3 miles (+5.2 mi of Ramsey’s)|
|Flows:||250-750 cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||152 fpm average (Last 2.3 miles are 214 fpm)|
|Put-in:||Confluence of Highland Creek and North Fork Stanislaus|
|Take-out:||Through Ramsey’s Run at Sourgrass Bridge|
|Shuttle:||41 Miles (2.2 miles on Dirt Road, plus a 30 minute hike)|
|Season:||Summer and Fall from dam release|
|Featured in Video Fifty.|
So, I think it would be fair to put this run somewhere between the two takes in the S/H book, somewhere between classic and horrible, but certainly neither. Hell’s Kitchen was originally described as the section from Camp Wolfeboro (A boy Scout Camp that I spent my summers at as a kid, which is kinda cool to re-experience) to the Sourgrass Bridge 11 miles downriver. Since then however, it has become far more commonplace to do a single day decent of just the lower half, starting at Ramsey’s meadow. So, I am breaking the two runs up in this description.
Hell’s Kitchen has phenomenal scenery. It is essentially the whole reason to do that run, that and the perfect 20 footer called Mini Curtain. Perhaps if you are seriously considering running the really huge class V+ drops and lower your portage count by 3 (still have another 3 that day due to sieves) it would seem entertaining, but regardless, there are a few very long portages in addition to the short hike into the run. It makes for a very tiring, scenic float with only a handful of rapids (10 or so that standout) less than class V+. Surprisingly to me, with my portage count, I found Hell’s Kitchen much easier than Ramsey’s below.
Be aware, if it is your first time in there, you will need to scout a lot. There are several rapids which start easy and then commit you to large boulder cascades or worse, dead ends where the river goes underground. To make matters worse, at 400 cfs and above there are some large holes that must be avoided in order to avoid beat downs. We wondered into 20 feet above the lead in to Mini Curtain that resulted in one swim and one near swim. Luckily my gear eddied itself out before the 20 footer that would be very difficult to portage (bordering impossible)-Thanks Rok for collecting my gear and ushering it to the eddy.
As far as difficulty goes, besides the few mandatory portages and the handful of class V+, the run was mostly class IV/IV+ with maybe five or six class V (at 400 cfs, some would be much harder with 600 cfs) with sections of class II/III in between. Though, as I said, Ramsey’s was harder as it had many more rapids that felt class V at 400 cfs. This puts Hell’s (w/ the extra portages) as comparable to Cherry Creek in my mind (Ramsey’s for reference would be a notch harder than Cherry Creek). So in conclusion, will I rush back? No. Not for Hell’s. The work to fun for a non-class V+ boater just isn’t worth it for the scenery and the few good rapids (several of the class V are hang on and dodge rock affairs). I will sooner return for Ramsey’s. However, will I ever return? Yes. The scenery was that nice, and of course, how often do you get to do a High Sierra run in the fall when nothing else is running? Trick question… Hell’s is the only option for that.
- Sneak Left (IV). The first horizon needs to be snuck in the small left channel. The center is hideous…
- Possible Portage Around Sieves (IV). There is a small rapid that is totally sieved out at low water. Walk on the left.
- Sieve Portage (V then U). A three tiered drop that begins on a right turn in the river. At higher water you can run the first two tiers before catching the on the left and portaging the must portage exit. At 400 cfs the two entry drops were very marginally and we all walked.
Slides and Ledges (V). A series of slides (we snuck on the far left) and then ledges (we ran on the right) are boat scoutable but pack some holes if you wonder off course.
- Island (IV+). The left channel is ok at higher flow. At 400 cfs we ran the right channel which had a drop into a strong refraction hole followed by another strong hole just below. There was an eddy at the lip on the left for us to scout from.
- First Gorge Portage (U). The entry, middle, and top of the exit are completely unrunnable. Get out on the left just above the first rapid. Climb up and traverse a granite slab (very exposed but saves time). Then continue working across the hill side. The last drop has been run via seal launching in mid-rapid but this is solid class V+. Most just continue further and seal launch in below the drop.
The Crack (V+). Most will portage on the island in the center of the river. There is a channel on the right that has been run, boofing the entry which then drops into a sticky walled in hole which contains a sieve at low water. The walk is super easy. Seal launch from the island and immediately ferry to the right to get out above Quadruple Boof for a scout/portage. This is the 2nd named rapid.
Quadruple Boof (V+). Wow this thing looks worse than in video… Massive drops, a crack, two potholes, and enormous holes. The walk is easy on the right, followed by a seal launch slide back down to the water. This is the 3rd named rapid.
S-Turn (V). OK, so the rapid itself is not class V, maybe V-… but it is 20 feet above Portage #24. Even at 400 cfs the time between the two drops was small. This prompted me to walk. Darin ran right and got pushed into the pocket eddy. Rok got plastered against the exit wall. At low water it goes easier. At high water the holes are fierce. An easy walk on the left (or scout) allows for safety or an early start to portaging #24.
Portage #24 (V+). If 20 foot falls onto slabs of rock with caves in play are your thing, enjoy. Otherwise, it is a very easy walk on the left.
- Camp. We camped 100 yards below Portage #24 on the right. Nice flat spot with plenty of wood and a nice “chimney” for the fire.
A few more slides lead you into the Mini Curtain gorge…
“Last Time We Went Left” (IV+). You can see that Mini Curtain is at the end of your straightaway. This rapid has two tiers. Rok went right and it looked like it went ok. As I peal out to follow Darin mentions that last time they went far left due to a big hole. I shrug him off. I then swim out of the bottom hole. I finally flush and grab the cliff face just in time to see Darin initiate a beating, luckily he flushes after a few ends. Also luckily, my gear eddies out above the next rapid, which is the lead in to the unportagable Mini Curtain. So… go far left.
- Mini Curtain (V). Scout left above the lead in. This rapid would be very very hard to portage. The entry is best run far right along the shore. The main falls is run as far left as you can get. Just below the 20 foot falls is a 5 foot weir that causes swims so be careful. 0.5 rapids below is another potential portage so be on your game getting to shore.
Potential Portage (V+). Below Mini Curtain, go left around the first hole. Then eddy out and portage on the left. The rapid leads down to a large center rock where all the water smashes into it before deflecting into a large hole/pocket combo on the right.
Junky Rapid (V). We started center and work left around a rock jumble. It looks bad and rocky but went alright. Just follow the water down from there.
- The Fun Crack Drop (V). So sick. A small boof leads to a crack where the water refracts at a 90 degree angle into the right wall. We all boofed the crap out of the left side pointing left and melted deep into the seam. There are a few holes in the run out.
- Possible Portage (V+). Just after a junky rapid that we snuck far far right (amongst rocks) we eddied out and took the long portage on the right. There are two lead in drops which could bring you to the lip for a shorter but scarier portage on the left. If you find yourself above this 15 foot junky falls with massive hole, you can portage 10 feet on the left and seal launch into the bottom hole. It has been run, but it is gross looking.
- Ramsey’s Meadow: You come to a pond, this is the top of Ramsey’s Meadow. The next 1.4 miles of the run is flat right up to the entry of the Ramsey’s gorge. Somewhere in this flat section is where the Ramsey’s section starts. The write-up will continue there for the Mile-By-Mile.
Put-in: Heading south on Highway 49, go East on Highway 49 just a few miles North of Angels Camp. Follow Highway 49 for 39 miles. Out of nowhere is a right turn on the dirt road for Camp Wolfeboro. You will likely miss it your first time. You know you missed it when 100 yards later you see a sign for Skyline Rd on the left. Use this road to U-turn and return to the correct road. The road down to the river is 2.2 miles of dirt that a civic will likely not make. A Highlander is more than enough though. Once at the camp, part to the right just before the gate. Paddle a 100 yards of flat water and then begin hiking down the left side of the river all the way to Highland Creek. The hike is 0.8 miles but takes 30-40 minutes total due to dropping off trail 250 feet elevation. Highland Creek enters on the left and delivers the majority of the flow to the North Fork of the Stanislaus.
Take-out: See the Ramsey’s description…
View North Stanislaus, Hell's Kitchen / Ramsey's in a larger map
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