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Big Kimshew Creek V+

    Perhaps the most notorious commonly run creek in California, Big Kimshew Creek flows out of the Northern Sierras into the West Branch Feather River near the town of Paradise outside of Chico. Plagued by a short season and tricky shuttle roads, Big Kimshew Creek is as well known for both denying access to traveling kayakers and its big waterfalls. As of 2012 access to Big Kimshew is gone, because both the road to the put-in and take-out are gated courtesy Sierra Pacific. Give them a email to let them know what a shame this is: sierra@spi-ind.com.

 Big Kimshew at its finest.

   This was to be my third attempt at Big Kimshew, snow and/or gates stopping us on the previous attempts. The window in Kimshew can be short, most years it only has flows for a few weeks after the roads clear of snow, and often the flow winder is even shorter. This year, however, we knew we were in luck. Taylor Robertson had worked his connections and found out that not only were the gates open, but the road was plowed due to active logging operations. Not only did we have guaranteed flows and access, but the ideal trip leader for a day on Big Kimshew, Taylor is renown as the “Mayer of Kimshew” with over six runs in just one season, and years of experience no one knows the lines better. 

Having this and other members experience on the creek was key, because of a leisurely start and rolling deep with a group of ten people, we knew that downstream movement would the tone for the day. 

Right off we had to figure out a decent shuttle option, how to get ten people, boats and gear to the put in? One large Ford pickup, courtesy Devin Knight.

   The shuttle on Kimshew can be complicated, but this was Taylor’s third Kimshew mission of the week and Ben's second day in a row, so we were set. The shuttle starts off as Reston Road, and then follow “200R” until the only spot on the drive Big Kimshew is visible from.

Jesse Coombs can’t help but smile at the first glance of the goods.

   Parking at the overlook, we quickly unleaded and headed fifty yards further down the road to a steep game trail that led to the lip of the island portage, cutting off a mile of “boogie water” and shortening the day to six miles. Boogie water on Kimshew is better than most runs, and after a few slides and boulder gardens we scrambled into an eddy above the first twenty footer. The entrance is a little dubious, requiring a move up over a barely covered sieve, an then finishing right.

Jesse Coombs

Scott Ligare

Typical boogie water on Big Kimshew Creek below the 20 footer, in some ways this is the toughest section due to mank factor.


  Soon enough after the waterfall were scouting “LJ’s” a tricky tight slot into several sticky holes, where Taylor styled through, Ben pulled a quick roll and I surfed one of the holes for too long before working my way out and running the rest of the drop. Whew, I was awake after this one! 

Scott Ligare in the entrance of LJs

A shallow landing at the bottom of LJs makes a swim very dangerous...driving left isn't too hard as long as you're in your kayak.

Ben York exits left at LJs.

   After LJs it was a blur of lines, I just tried to stay as close to Taylor’s lead as possible, and after countless clean slides and boulder gardens were arrived at Kimshew Falls. Kimshew Falls is a beautiful forty foot cascade leading into a gorge with several mandatory slides and falls in the twenty foot range. It has a big recovery pool, but is not a place to swim…not that anywhere on Kimshew is.

Jesse Coombs

Taylor Robertson runs Kimshew Falls.

Chris, Taylor and Jesse below Kimshew Falls and above the bedrock section.

Jonas Grunwald in the bedrock section.

Below Kimshew Falls the next quarter mile is unbelievable, bedrock slide and waterfall back to back until triple drop.

Pedro Oliva, "Chicken f-cker" slide above Triple Drop.

   Triple Drop is well known as the most commonly portaged rapid on Big Kimshew Creek, and is a massive slide dropping over several tiers and then into the wall, making a hard left turn and creating an inescapable eddy on the right. Ben and Chris gave it a good scout before deciding to run it.

This slide is steeper and longer than it looks. Ben Stookesberry makes it look too easy.

From the top I could tell that Chris liked it, and I’m sure Ben’s smooth line didn’t hurt.

Chris Korbulic giving ‘er one last look.

Chris Korbulic at the top of Triple Drop.

Not getting as far right in the entrance as Ben, Chris ended up in the eddy on the right. Thankfully Devin had set safety before hand and was there to help Chris out of the eddy.

Good safety, Devin Knight helping Chris Korbulic.

Looking back up and evaluating his line.

   While the rest of the group finished portaging Tripe Drop, we paddled with speed down through several narrow sticky slot drop holes and a few great slides that are between Triple Drop and Frenchys. 

Jesse Coombs, typical Big Kimshew read and run.

Devin Knight enjoying some scenery…

   The lead in to Frenchy’s 40 is every bit as large as the above drop, and although only a class IV move, it’s right at the lip of a tricky forty footer, making it a common portage.

   We all portaged around the lead in, and a few of us chose to run the waterfall while most portaged. Frenchy’s 40 is a tricky drop, the wall is only ten to fifteen feet from the landing, and while it’s temping to go left, doing so involves a auto boof flake into green water, a hit taken yesterday that Ben described as one of his worst….ever. 

Jonas Grunwald charges over Frency's Forty.

Taylor Robertson leading the charge over Frenchys.

Devin Knight hitting the ideal line on the forty footer.

   Watching Taylor, Devin and Jesse style Frenchys, I decided I was motivated and seal launched in from river left, ferried across and locked in. Following Devin’s advice, I left the eddy high up and came down just left of center, pulling up my right knee about halfway down the drop, plugged in deep to the soft pillow and resurfaced upright with a huge grin.

Thomas Moore enjoying some nice Big Kimshew scenery.

   Even though the waterfall seems like the end of the run, several significant drops lie below it, including one portage around a very sticky hole that has been run. The scenery on Big Kimshew Creek is amazingly diverse, from pure California scoured granite to West Virginia dense forest overhanging the river, it seemed to have it all. Eventually we came around a corner and eddied out with our takeout bridge in site, a site for sore eyes and muscles. The last drop on Kimshew is as classic as the rest of the run, a nice fifteen to twenty foot falls, boofed melting into a fold.

Devin Knight finishing up a great day on Big Kimshew

Chris Gabrielli, afternoon light & delight.

   On the whole Big Kimshew is a classic for class V boaters, but expect to walk away tired and quite possibly sore from taking a few hits, we had three swims, two broken paddles and one broken boat with ten people on the water. Shuttle logistics are tough to explain. Take out: Get on the Skyway in Paradise headed East. Near the edge of town, at a stoplight, make a right turn on Coutolenc Road. Follow Coutolenc Road for .5 miles until an unsigned right turn onto Jordan Hill Road (dirt). There is a "Road not County Maintained" sign. Follow the rough dirt road downhill until you see Whiskey Flat Bridge. Park where appropriate. From Whiskey flat bridge backtrack to Skyline and make a right hand turn. Proceed ~10 miles to Sterling City and make a right on Reston Road (unsigned) towards Menlo Park (signed). Pass Menlo Park and stay to the left when the road forks. Continue on Reston Road but stay right on "R Line"  when Reston Road turns to the left. Follow R Line for several miles until you see a sign for “200R”. Make a right turn on 200R and follow it until the obvious overlook. Park in the next wide area to put in at the Island Portage, or continue up to where the road meets the river.

 The flow window is short, and it generally flows during the peak of snow melt in May.  In most years look for the flow at Whiskey Flat Bridge to be 500-700.

Things change: As of 2012 there are two gates on the road to put-in, as well as one on the road to the West Branch Feather and Big Kimshew Creek confluence. Thas means no access until the situation improves.

Tomass Marnics finishes a beauty on the Secret Stash.

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