plans were made for the
weekend, but with bad weather and dropping
flows motivation disappeared despite my best efforts to get people on
the water. Except a group of Eugene boaters who gave me a call while in
route to Bald Rock at 10:30 on a rainy Saturday morning. I lost
motivation thinking about a late start, rising flows, portaging Atom
Bomb in the rain and the fact that none in the group had done Bald Rock
before. Kurt Sable and I had been talking about running Bald Rock on
Monday, and with a forecast of 70 degrees and sunshine it was a lot
easier to turn down Saturdays rain mission.
Kurt Sable and I met up in Chico at 8:00 and headed out
Oroville to a
take-out I can’t even come close to remembering where it was.
Take-out options aren’t great for Bald Rock, one requires a
10+ mile paddle out to Bidwell Bar Bridge, the second is a three mile
paddle out followed by a very steep half mile scramble to a road, then
a mile of hiking on a road with a slight incline. Option three is the
best if possible, have a friend with a boat, or pay someone at the
marina to pick you up at a set time. Although not paddling out would
take away from the full on “mission” style aspect
of Bald Rock, I wouldn't complain. Kurt and I went for option two, but
it has some setbacks of its own. This take-out lies out at the end of a
myriad of dirt roads, and once had a land owner who was very friendly
to boaters but has since passed on. The current owners are not friendly
towards boaters, but are also rarely there so we risked it.
Milsap bar is a kayaking epicenter, serving as the
Rock, take-out for Devil’s Canyon of the Middle Fork, Little
North Fork Feather and South Branch Feather. Milsap is also the epic
center for crazy back wood folks, and vehicular break-ins are
appallingly common. In light of this Kurt opted to hire a local shuttle
driver to take care of shuttle services down to Milsap Bar for us.
The Middle Fork Feather has a few constants;
granite rapids, and wild inaccuracies of the Milsap
. The riverbed at Milsap is
wide and full of moderate sized boulders that shift every season,
changing flow relations on the stick gauge and making the online gauge
inaccurate. When the guidebook was written, 6.7’ was roughly
1,500cfs. Kurt and I put in at 6.9’ and 850 on the online
gauge. Right away we were surprised by how juicy and filled in
everything was. His previous high run was at 7’1”
and flows seemed very similar. I know if it was 850 in there I
wouldn’t ever go in over 1000. Years later I stand corrected,
the run was very fun at 1,100 in 2013. I can't say whether that is due
to gauge or comfort level changes.
The river is fairly open below Milsap bar and we
pleasant class II and III warm up rapids, and about a mile into the run
these quickly increased to class IV and V rapids. After being surprised
at how large an early rapid was we scouted this drop because at certain
flows the hole can be hard to avoid.
Kurt Sable leading the way into Bald Rock Canyon.
this rapid we did a
quick portage around a constricted bedrock
rapid and ran several boulder gardens and then low angle bedrock
slides. The low angles slides were great fun if you knew where you
wanted to go, but a lot of them resembled low head dams with wide,
uniform recirculating holes that would be unpleasant to wander into.
Robertson, Jason Craig and
Stephen Wright in the slides.
at the end of these slides
we came upon a massive horizon line
filled with gigantic boulders.
The rapid above Atom Bomb Falls.
Rok Sribar runs the last rapid before the Atom Bomb portage.
ran this one on
the right of three doors and then caught an eddy on
the right to begin our portage. High flows make the rocks in Atom Bomb
move every few years, and it has changed a lot since the first descent.
We were able to pass boats and climb down to the eddy for the ferry, no
rope work needed. This was the moment I had been fearing the most all
trip, the dreaded “death ferry”. Paddling across I
found it wasn’t too bad, granted you are riding a thin line
between the 10’ ledge in front of you and sieve mess behind,
but all the same if you are capable of doing Bald Rock you
won’t find it too hard. Just don’t blow this ferry,
or the chances are it will all be over. What used to be a sketchy eddy
above a sieve at the end of the ferry is now a nice friendly eddy
that’s easy to get out in.
Kurt getting started on the second part of the portage around Atom Bomb.
Atom Bomb is nestled in a gigantic granite gorge and one of the most
beautiful places I have ever been. Kurt and I relaxed, ate lunch and
wandered around checking out the scenery after getting our boats to the
end of the portage.
Big rocks are all over Atom Bomb.
This is looking back upstream at the final of three drops that compose
Atom Bomb Falls, and if you are thinking about it, these are the clean
I had imagined
Atom Bomb to be the climax of the run, but in
reality I found it’s really just the end of the warm up.
everything is IV-V, but downstream gradient picks up into long somewhat
continuous boulder gardens requiring expert eddy hopping above massive
sieves or holes. Knowing the lines or scouting is key in here,
aggressive boat scouting may be temping but it would be very easy to
end up in a sieve. Eventually at the end of one of the many boulder
gardens we caught an eddy at the lip of a huge horizon line, the famous
Curtain Falls. Curtain Falls is an amazing sight, not many rivers drop
straight over river wide thirty footers.
There are a couple different lines that can be run on Curtain, but the
standard is driving right off a nice somewhat auto boofing flake. (It
doesn’t land you too flat though.) I initially looked at a
long green tongue down the middle into the heart of the chaos at the
bottom of the falls, but Kurt mentioned occasional carnage on this line
and described the standard line that is always carnage free if run
correctly. I hopped in my boat and paddled out to an eddy beneath a
rock in the middle of the river. I hoped to exit the eddy on the left,
charging right across the left sliding water on lip, getting to the
right and straightening out at the end. Exiting the eddy I knew I had
underestimated the flow pushing left, and too soon I was on the sliding
entrance driving hard right and barely making my initially planned line
down the tongue, plugging and resurfacing downstream.
Here is Kurt Sable demonstrating the ideal line on Curtain Falls in
Bald Rock Canyon.
It’s absurdly beautiful down here, and speaking of beauty
this is Kurt styling Curtain Falls.
Curtain Falls viewed from high on river right.
Not even fifty yards below Curtain Falls is Super Slide, a ten foot low
angle slide into a gigantic hole. The standard line is driving far left
or right to avoid the hole.
Kurt breezes down the left line of super slide.
Jason Craig runs right.
was feeling fired up
after Curtain Falls and decided to plug the big
hole down the middle. I eddy hopped as high upstream as possible and
gathered as much speed as I could, driving all the way into the heart
of the hole, right where the two laterals met. I submerged, felt my
boat stall a second and resurfaced on the other side of the pile with a
big grin on my face.
above Three Doors.
Taylor Robertson in mix of three doors.
Only another fifty yards downstream we were out on
scouting a massive, rapid named "Three Doors". The move was punching a
lateral and moving left across a jet of water that pushed to the right,
sliding a rock shelf on the left and avoiding an interesting looking
hole, finally landing in an eddy and scouting the second half of a
rapid. I was feeling good after the previous two rapids and probed down
this one, but started off with too much left angle and when I hit the
lateral my bow quickly deflected me to the left putting me in a side
surf. I knew the lateral released off to the right, so I
wasn’t too worried about getting out, but I also knew
flushing out the right would make it very hard to get left again. I
surfed my way out and started driving left to get onto the shallow rock
slide, barely got on the right edge of it and slowly slide down it and
because of the right slope, back over to the right at the bottom of the
rock ledge and into the funky hole. Thankfully the funky hole let me
through unscathed, but I had already missed the eddy on the left.
Downstream was some class IV and then a gigantic hole that used to have
a sneak on the left. I hoped it was still there and caught the slack
water right above left side of the hole. Dropping left over a four foot
ledge I hoped to see a nice ramp to get past the hole, but instead
found a ledge hole which instantly rear endered me back into the
massive hole. I tucked up awaiting a beat down, and my waiting was not
in vain. I felt water ripping me all over, threw a quick roll and found
myself so deep in the trough that I could barely see, proceeded to
continue my beat down with many ends and another roll, window-shaded
again in the chaos and considered the possibility of swimming.
Eventually I found paddle purchase again, rolled up and got a breath
and prepared to swim. Chaos grabbed me once again and I was upside
down, getting pulled all over, but I decided to hang on just a little
longer, and a few seconds later I felt the turbulent water slow down as
I flushed out of the hole, glad to be in my boat and breathing.
After doing a little research I found that this
one blown ear drum and several heinous beat downs. Generally people
don’t get stuck in it, but it’s a roll of the dice
and some of us are just lucky. Kurt flew through it with no problems
and we quickly made our way downstream to portage “Four
Deaths”, a rapid that didn’t look nice at all with
the healthy flows. The bottom hole never really looks good, but flushes
well. The main hazards can be avoided by doing a partial portage on the
left and seal launching in.
Will Pruett, Four
Deaths and canyon views.
More large horizon lines continued for the next mile
with one more portaged mixed in, until eventually we could look back
upstream and see Bald Rock Dome, and the rapids eased to IV and easy Vs
again. Kurt and I enjoyed the scenery, making good time down to Lake
At Lake Oroville quite a view waits, Feather Falls. Feather Falls is a
massive waterfall on Fall River, which loses all its gradient over this
seven hundred foot waterfall.
The view of Feather Falls while getting ready to paddle out.
and I had high hopes
of catching a boat ride out, and after half a
mile of lake paddling we saw one in the distance and put the heat on,
only to see the boat turn around and head off when we were within a
quarter mile. We put out heads to the grind stone and finished the
paddle out, eventually making it to a small creek that marked the end
of the paddle out and beginning of our uphill slog.
Four portages, uncountable rapids and one amazing
found us back at
my truck with dusk starting to set in. Bald Rock Canyon is a beautiful
place with fantastic scenery and good whitewater. I thought Bald Rock
very comparable to Golden Gate in hardness, although Bald Rock seemed
to have more large holes and sieves, Golden Gate seemed a bit more
continuous in overall character. It may not have the highest gradient
out there, but Bald Rock makes the most of it with its pool drop
nature, you can’t see the bottom of the majority of rapids.
downside to Bald Rock is the long shuttle on a rough dirt road, and
ever changing take out situation. Wether you paddle three miles to the
hard to find
mile hike out, paddle all eleven miles across the lake, or hire a boat.
None are easy. Every time I do this run I have to look back and thank
Kurt Sable for taking me down my first time.
Rock Take Out on Google Maps
For a little tidbit of history, Bald Rock Canyon is the only reason the
Middle Feather is still wild and scenic. Railroad
proposed a route through the Middle Fork but were denied by Bald Rock
The shuttle and an excellent story of the first descent is in The Best
Whitewater in California, a must own if you’re paddling in