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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 the majority of water is piped into the Iron Canyon Reservoir, which is a fore bay for the PG&E Pit 5 powerhouse on the Pit River.

   Because of this diversion, the lower McCloud rarely has enough water to kayak, even in the spring. 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.

   To shorten the shuttle and keep things interesting, we hoped to put-in on 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.

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.

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.

   The boulder gardens would have been epic with flows of 800cfs, but we had far less then that, and it had less to do rock dodging, and too much to do with rock bouncing. Eventually we worked out way past Ah-di-na campground, the normal put-in. The gradient mellowed out, and character changed to class II for many miles. We hoped to push past the confluence with Squaw Valley Creek the first day, but wanted to camp in the last bit of sunlight too. Assuming we had not noticed the confluence, we choose a campsite and setup for the evening.

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

Dan gets into the zone.

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 Squaw Valley Creek 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.

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.

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

Dan having fun on one of the last good rapids.

Jerimy McNeely runs the same with a lot more water.

In the spring with flows around 1,200 it's considerably better.

Jim Pepin comes through a big hole.

Typical read and run...

The McCloud is a fantastic run with flows around 1,500cfs, but at 600 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 Squaw Valley Creek confluence. There are really just a handful of good rapids in the twenty plus miles on the river, which picks up at high flows. For class III-IV boaters looking for an overnight to get started on, I’d recommend this run if flows are above 800cfs. California Creeks does a great job describing the long shuttle too.

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