River left Put-in on the UMC.
It is also arguably the
only un-dammed river in the Sierra Nevada. Not
that any other river isn't dammed, but that the Cosumnes only has minor
dams near Rancho Murieta. Perhaps it deserves a "least dammed river of
the Sierras designation". It is also one of the smallest watersheds of
the Sierra, with an estimated total length of eighty miles.
Because of it's short length and low elevation headwaters, the Cosumnes
has a water schedule of it's own, and for many years lacking a gauge,
the Upper Middle Fork was rarely run, with downstream reaches seeing
more recreational use.
Over the last few years forays by local paddlers,
headed Jared Nocetti, have redefined the UMC. This exploration has been
augmented by a new online
gauge at Mt Akum
, a few miles
below take-out. Once given a V+ rating when 800cfs was believed to be
the ideal flow, trips have now been made with flows as low as 170cfs. I
consider ideal flows to be 300-400, which mellows the run out to nice
hard class V run. If desperate I'll go as low as 275 and when looking
for something spicy, up to 500. I'd imagine it's everything of V+ at
800cfs. Everything has been run, but I always make at least four
I joined up with Thomas Moore, Taylor
Ben Wartburg for my first trip down the UMC. The shuttle was short in
length, but time consuming due to an unmaintained road and many turns -
more details on that later. The run requires a short hike in on what
has become a decent trail.
2010 Update: The hike on river right is only five minutes and the river
above the old put-in offers several more good rapids. Stay on your toes
for the second one which contains a sticky hole at higher flows.
Scotty enjoys a nice slide above the archaic put-in.
Thomas Moore, Ben
Wartburg and Darin McQuoid @ 275cfs.
Granite abounds as gradient drops away, and if a group member knows the
run there is no need to scout several fun rapids. Stephen Wright on an
early slide @ 275cfs.
The first portage comes up
is very dicey if it's early in
the season, the rock stays damp and slick. It was once the largest
rapid of the run, but a log moved out of the drop and put the mean
pothole on river left in play. In 2010 a group put-on not knowing the
run, and ran the lead in to Tony Hawk, which we usually portage. A
paddler flipped, missed a roll and vanished in Tony Hawk, never to be
Hawk "a friend forever" -
Below Tony Hawk a short pool leads to another portage around some mank
that has been run at higher flows. This portage requires more friction
climbing, and while it doesn't look too bad, Thomas Moore is standing
above a small sieve. This one always gets my heart going.
Gradient continues at a steady pace.
The next two move drop has more bark than bite, although it is possible
to get stuck in a toilet bowl eddy in the bottom, it's also possible to
work you way back out. Ben Wartburg making the first move on the wall
Thomas Moore drops the second tier @ 325cfs.
The same from below, Stephen Wright @ 275cfs.
Next up is an oh so sweet boof formed by a singular rock whose essence
is quite hard to capture. Stephen Wright .
Daniel Brasell on the same.
Several steep technical drops link together, keeping the paddler busy
until bedrock appears. Looking back upstream, it all goes quite nicely.
It's about to get really good - Taylor Cavin, Ben Wartburg, Thomas
It's really good. Taylor Cavin enjoying some of the finest on the UMC @
Phil Boyer boofs away.
Thomas Moore and Ben Wartburg below the boof @ 275cfs. This rapid
continues around the corner, and you want to be sure to run down the
right side and eddy out for a portage. (Portage no more in 2011)
The portage is one of the
reasons to do the UMC with lower flows,
because at high water you either need to run the drop or perform an
exposed high route portage. At normal flows you can seal launch in and
ferry across the bottom of the drop, landing in the pool above a
personal favorite. In late 2010 high water changed this rapid above
Skate Park and it's no longer a portage. Skate Park is a rapid of my
intimidating, but with very little consequence, and no two runs are
ever the same. The line is marked by a rib of rock that stays visible
under several inches of water.
Thomas Moore stays dry in Skate Park @ 325cfs.
It's common to run Skate Park and not get your head wet on the entry
move, but occasionally people hit the seam and sub out for twenty feet.
Jonas Grunwald at 450cfs.
Ben Wartburg punching the bottom hydraulic @ 275cfs.
Skate Park = Super fun = big smiles = Thomas Moore.
One last look...
Below is another quick portage around a mank pile that has been run,
then several fun boulder gardens leading into Lars Holbek's drop. It's
worth a quick scout to get a feeling for what the water is doing at the
A delayed boof is ideal because the landing isn't too deep. Taylor
Cavin pulls the trigger @ 275cfs.
We were all surprised at how much spicier Lars Holbeks was at 325 cfs.
Canyon walls peel away and the gradient tapers off below Lars Holbeks
As Tony Hawk faded into the past, motivated kayakers moved a log to
open a previous portage, Lukas Leibsch runs "Brace for your Face"
The author "brace for your face" @ 275cfs.
One last big rapid marks the end of the steep section of the Upper
Middle Cosumnes. This drop goes a lot better than it looks, but is
friendlier at higher flows than vice versa.
Taylor Cavin runs the transition rapid - 275 cfs.
John McConville from above at 275cfs.
The river character changes completely, the granite is gone and
read-n-run boulder gardens fill the river until "V-Slide".
"V-Slide" is a bedrock (but not granite) slide that drops into a large
hole, notorious for making anyone stuck in it swim. From what I have
heard if she has you, she doesn't let go.
Taylor Cavin looks very focused on the entrance move.
You need to land with your bow to the right as Taylor shows us.
This shot of Taylor Cavin in the eddy shows the boil and backwash of
More fast moving boulder gardens continue until "Blue Angel Slide' a
rapid more reminiscent of the Roadside
California. At high flows the Blue Angel Slide links right into
Cheesegrater, an aptly named slide.
Taylor Cavin gets his grating on.
Once past cheesegrater the
river is more fun read and run, with one
rapid hiding a notorious undercut rock on the left, where thankfully
what goes in comes back out. As take out approaches the gradient
continues to slack, and quartz rocks appear like icebergs which in turn
make the water glow an iridescent green. This sight would make the run
worth doing, let alone the miles of quality rapids.
shuttle logistics from
While the UMC does have a hike in and its fair share of portages, I
find it to be a classic where the thought returning brings a smile to
my face. I'd consider 275 cfs an ideal first time flow, while 325 makes
the top notably more pushy, the run out gets quite splashy and
Missouri Flat Exit, right off the
off-ramp. Follow for several
miles until you T into a left turn on Pleasant Valley Road. Continue
until a stop sign and right turn on Bucks Bar Road. Stay on Bucks Bar
until another stop sign and right turn on Akum Road, which you stay on
passing over the Middle Cosumnes (alternative take out) eventually
making a left turn on Fairplay Road. Climb up Fairplay Road until a
left turn on Perry Creek road, which you will only spend a few miles on
until a right turn onto Slug Gulch Road. Stay on Slug Gulch road until
there is a private road sign on the left for Vineyard View road. Don't
take Vineyard View, but this unmarked road (Rocky Ridge) on the left. Google
Maps Marker for Take-Out.
This unmaintained road
leads to the river, when in doubt stay to the
right on the most used road, until a gated road comes in from the
right. Park here and walk past the gate to the river, the owner is
friendly to boaters and you should scout your take out location. Years
ago this run required high clearance 4wd, but as of 2010 it's possible
in a Subaru provided you leave your boats up top to cut down on weight.
To put in: As of 2010 things have changed, the
left are not friendly, so a longer shuttle is required to return to
river right. Backtrack to the four way stop at Bucks Bar Road. Now turn
right onto Grizzly Flat Road and follow until a right turn on Caldor
Road. Follow Caldor Road for quite a ways, staying right at the Y.
Forest Road 9N60 crosses Caldor road, but the sign on the right is
missing, so watch for a sign on the left, but turn right on 9N60.
Follow to the gate (open 2010). Park above the gate if you don't want
to drive through any brush, and hike an extra five minutes or drive
through a little brush to park by Dog Town Creek. Hike across the creek
and over the small ridge (maybe five minutes) to the Upper Middle
There are two optional take out routes: a lower take out so the road
could be done without needing high clearance vehicles, but it requires
an extra six miles of paddling through what is
One can also access the upper take out via river right on Rocky Bar
Road, but it's rough 4WD conditions (it will bottom out your standard
4WD pickup) and it takes about as long as just driving around to the