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Big Creek
Tributary to the South Merced

There are many Big Creeks in California, especially in the southern half of the Sierra Nevada. We don't have any of them on our to-do list this weekend, and head out to North Fork Willow Creek, a tributary of the San Joaquin. Arriving in the afternoon we spend time scouting and enjoying the area before camping near a tributary on some always appreciated National Forest land. In the morning we look at the creek again and it's just too high. May 25th, 2017 and all the rivers in California are full to the brim. The quest is to find something that isn't too high.

Camping near North Fork Willow Creek.

Chilkoot Creek

Typical of the Sierra Nevada there are not many immediate options; we try driving up Besore Road to Granite Creek but are turned around by too much snow, so we put our heads together and decide that Big Creek into the South Merced might be low enough to run, and is close enough to do today. We leave a vehicle at the South Merced put-in, which happens to make a nice take-out for Big Creek. We drove back up and across the golf course, to find that the road seems to be permanently gated. It's about two miles of moderate gradient uphill to the put-in. Hopefully the flows will be good.

You can just see Trevor Tanhoff on the left as we reach Big Creek, which seems to have ~200cfs in it. We hike down river left to put in below a few logs across the creek.

We don't make much progress before hopping out to scout. It's been years since people have run this little creek and we're concerned about wood.

Just a short ways downstream we hop out to scout "The Gorge" and decide with the two of us it would be wise to portage the low-head dam rapid.

Trevor Tanhoff lining up the first falls of the gorge.

Rather than going high and around the nasty little hydraulic, we're able to pass boats across and ledge and seal launch back in to run the final series.

We're out on the right to scout just downstream as the drops are very blind, but thankfully cleaner than they look from above. Trevor Tanhoff runs the last gem of Big Creek.

We were not sure what to expect downstream of the gorge as the reports were opposed, some say it's best to hike back to put-in where (we wish) our car was, or it's well worth continuing downstream. With no car at put-in it's an easy choice to continue downstream and the first few boulder gardens are pretty good. Then they are not so good, and continue to not be so good all the way down to the confluence with the South Merced.

Rocks and wood often in the wrong places.

Bashing through the mank that doesn't want to end leaves us rather unimpressed. While "The Gorge" is a nice novelty, we both agree that the run really isn't worth it with the current logistical hassle of hiking in. If the put-in road was open, would it be worth it to "park and huck" the gorge? Maybe if you're in the area, yet even then not worth going out of the way to experience more than once.

Click the image to go to Google Maps for the shuttle.

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