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Lower McCloud

24 Miles, One or two days.
Put-in: 2,450’ Take-out: 1,050’ For a total gradient of 1,400’according to Google Earth.

McCloud River scenery.

Flowing south from Mount Shasta, the McCloud River is renowned for both scenery and fishing. With a natural base flow of over 700cfs, the McCloud could be the only year round multi-day run in California. The upper McCloud flows for seven miles until it is impounded in the McCloud Reservoir, where as much water as possible is moved into the Iron Canyon Reservoir, which is a forebay for the PG&E James B Black powerhouse on the Pit River, which went into service in 1965.

Because of this diversion, the lower McCloud rarely has enough water to kayak, even in the spring because PG&E likes to end the season with a low McCloud Reservoir. Curious of what the run contained, Dan Thurber, James Mitchell and myself decided to put in for two days on a “minimum” flow of 600cfs above Lake Shasta, with only a paltry 200cfs at the start.

To shorten the shuttle and keep things interesting, we hoped to put-in on Yét Atwam Creek (formerly Squaw Valley Creek), which through word of mouth was a good class IV run with two smaller waterfalls. Unfortunately the creek looked too low, and taking the second shortest shuttle option we went for the Ash Creek put in. Normally PG&E maintains the road to the McCloud Reservoir Dam, but not this year.

After finishing work at a ski area I thought I was done shoveling snow for the season….Dan and James get started, April 17, 2008.

Prospects of getting through the snow bank was looking bleak when we a local fisherman drove up in a Jeep, and after little begging, agreed to drive us to the put-in. Not wanting to waste his time, Dan and I got dropped off directly below the dam. Feeling sick, James wisely opted out of our adventure.

I sure hope we have everything we need….

Our initial flow was “30%”

Already getting into the afternoon, we set off with warm weather and cold water. They sure do release the water in style.

Tom Janey on return trip April 27th, 2019, 1,100cfs below the dam.

The first thing we noticed outside of the scenery was low flows. Most groups put-in lower down so tributaries raise the levels, but we didn’t have that option. Thankfully the boulder gardens all had routes, but we did do our fair share of gorilla boating. As tributaries trickled in, the water level slowly came up, although it was still low water at best.

Dan in a typical lower McCloud boulder bar drop, there are miles of these.

Ash Creek helped flows a bit more, but due to the nature of the river it wasn’t what I would call quality.

At high flows that's a whole different story. Eric Parker, April 27, 2015, ~1,500cfs into Shasta Reservoir.

Shannamar Dewey in the bottom half of the above pictured rapid.

The boulder gardens would have been epic with flows of 800cfs, but we had far less then that, and it was not exactly rock dodging; it was rock bouncing. Eventually we worked out way past Ah-di-na campground, an alternative put-in. The gradient mellowed out, and character changed to class II-III for many miles. We hoped to push past the confluence with Yét Atwam Creek (formerly Squaw Valley Creek) the first day, but wanted to camp in the last bit of sunlight too. There is one small patch of public land in this section of the McCloud River, and thankfully it's pretty easy to find; there is only one vehicle bridge over the Lower McCloud, and the public land is about a hundred yards downstream, on river left, immediatley downstream of Claireborne Creek on the left.

2019 Trip, public land with a nice bench for camping on.

Looking upstream, the McCloud contains miles and miles of rapids like this above the Yét Atwam Creek confluence.

Dan gets into the zone.

Yét Atwam Creek (formerly Squaw Valley Creek) is a major tributary of the McCloud River, and to our delight at the confluence the flow bumped up by a third. (At higher flows Yét Atwam can contribute half or more) The riverbed also starts to get occasional sections of bedrock, and a few beautiful mini gorges reminiscent of the South Fork Smith.

Dan enjoys one of the better rapids on the lower McCloud.

Nathan Oxford enjoys the same at a flow of ~680cfs below McCloud Reservoir on October 30th, 2022.

Scott Harding, note the change of water color due to collapsing glaciers on Mount Shasta as well as the burn scars. November 30th, 2022.

The scenery on the lower McCloud is really what it’s all about.

This is a typical rapid in the lower section of the McCloud.

The wildlife is abundant too, we saw eagles, osprey, and one bear drinking out of the river. Out of three trips I have seen bear twice on the McCloud.

Further into the run, rapids space out a lot more with one larger IV+ thrown into the mix, well described in California Creeks.

Shannamar Dewey in Tuna Creek "Falls", April 2015, ~1,500cfs.

Tuna Creek "Falls" in the spring with flows around 1,200.

Eventually rapids peter out into the occasional class II with long sections of flat water between rapids.

Dan Thurber having fun on one of the last good rapids, the Regean Years ~600cfs inflow to Shasta Lake.

Jerimy McNeely runs the same with a lot more water after a Yét Atwam trip.

Jim Pepin comes through a big hole.

Typical read and run...

The McCloud is a fantastic run with flows around 1,500cfs, but at 200 below McCloud Reservoir and 600 into Shasta Reservoir we were disappointed with the run. We hit rocks in every rapid minus two or three of the better ones. Without the diversion, the McCloud would be the perfect late summer two day event, but as it is, water comes into the run too late to justify slogging down to the Yét Atwam Creek confluence. At high flows, at least 600 below McCloud Reservoir it's a good run, and if tributaries are adding additional flow for 1,000+ by Shasta Lake, it's an absolute classic.. For class III-IV boaters looking for an overnight to get started on, I’d recommend this run if flows are above 600cfs at put in. California Creeks does a great job describing the long shuttle too.

Other relevant links:
American Whitewater
A Wet State

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