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South Branch of the Middle Fork Feather - lower V

   To do the lower half of the South Branch, one must first run the incredible upper half. Doing the lower half of the South Branch requires setting shuttle from Milsap Bar, which considerably adds to the work ratio, it's a rough dirt road. After years of only doing the upper section I knew it was time to do the lower half. 

   I felt like a rockstar, flying into Sacramento from a business meeting, running home and grabbing my gear and headed out to an alpine start for the upper section, putting in at five pm. Good thing we knew the run and had a small group, I was jointed just by Jonas Grunwald and it didn't take us too long to route the fun section. Our plan was to meet up with three paddlers visiting from Austria who put on earlier in the day, and we were glad to unite with them at the apex of the hike out, and spent a nice night car camping.

   In the morning we didn't get a particularly early start, but were not too worried as we'd heard the new portage route didn't take too long. Too long is of course a relative term while hiking on steep, slippery, poison oak infested hillsides. Arriving at the water just after nine, we ferried across to river left and began our hike. While the traditional portage was once on river right, recent exploration revealed a portage on the left that shaved one to two hours off the original. The portage logistics are both simple and complex. Easy to follow if you know the route, or a constant state of uncertainty if none in the group do. None in our group did, but I had good verbal beta.

   We climbed for fifty to a hundred yards and started the traverse. Game trails exist for short amount of times, but in general it's a cross country traverse, going up or down as necessary to work around cliff bands. Tired from the steepness we took a refreshing break where a small amount of water flows down the hillside, knowing this to be roughly halfway through the traverse section. On we continued, eventually choosing what seemed to be the largest gully as our return route. It took us considerable time to scramble down the steep ravine, but we were able to keep our boats on our shoulders as promised, and were glad to be at river level, even if it did take longer than an hour. 

   Our group split up during the portage, something I'm not a big fan of, but after a short wait we reunited at the river, with the Austrians dropping down a bit sooner than we had, running two rapids and gaining a portage. 

   Below the massive seven falls, the first bit of the lower South Branch is incredibly reminiscent of the upper, super clean bedrock slides and falls with the occasional boulder garden. 

Just below the portage Jonas stomps good one.


Different angle, same drop. Time makes my memory hazy, so sorry on the forgotten name, one of the Austrians fires away.


Some nondescript boogie led us to a scout for the next drop, which contains a popular swimming hole at higher flows. Our flow was low and it was no problem.


Jonas enters the same beautiful slide.


   At our low flow we found the river to be pleasant read and run or boat scout able rapids between the larger drops. There are really only a handful of larger drops on the lower South Branch, but they are unique enough to make it worthwhile. 

The Headless Horseman


Jonas nailing the tough boof.


   Below the headless horseman we made a quick portage, which is an easy boat-passing affair on the left, unless you have high flows which require an up and over poison oak trek. Below the portage the character of the river changed. Bedrock was gone and the river was full of chunky boulder gardens, one of which most of us portaged after witnessing our probe take a brief pin.

We found an old boat after our second portage, and managed to pull it from the river. Who knows how long this boat has been in here (or if it went over Seven Falls) but it's a clear demonstration of the rivers power.


   The chunky boulder gardens continue for a ways before the river makes one more transition, into two chunky slides, at the bottom of which lies Milsap Campground and the take out. Is the lower South Branch worth doing? Absolutely. Will I do it every time I do the South Branch? No, not because of the portage but because of the extended shuttle (vs river miles gained).

Check the upper South Branch write-up for more info on logistics.

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