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McCloud River "Upper"

The McCloud River flows off the southern side of Mt Shasta, and after dropping over two large waterfalls it flows through a beautiful class II-III+ run before being impounded in McCloud Reservoir. Springs supply year round flows in the McCloud, and the water is crystal clear and just above freezing.

Early morning fog at the McCloud Reservoir.

I had done the McCloud years ago as a beginning boater, and swore never to return due to boulder bar rapids and the cold water. I always knew I would have to go back and get photographs at some time though, and as December arrived without any precipitation, I started motivating to get on the McCloud. 

I really enjoyed the run this time, I think having a drysuit and pogies made a large difference over my previous wetsuit experience. The first time we put on at Fowler Falls, and scraped down over a mile of rocky rapids before Little Springs came into the river. The falls is fun to run, but the section below is miserable at low flows.

Shannamar Dewey at Fowler Falls.

 This time we drove as far downstream as possible and hiked another half mile or so to right above Little Springs, an ideal put in for base flows that eliminates all the scraping endured on our previous trip. The class IV rapid is above Little Springs, so even when water is up a class III boater could put in here and enjoy the McCloud.

Flows are still a little low but acceptable for another half mile, until Big Springs pours in doubling the flow in good fashion. 

Nick runs the rapid at the base of Big Springs.

Normally this run is done mid summer, so the heat offsets the cold water. December wasn’t the same story, but it gave us scenery bonuses.

   Right below Big Springs is one of the best rapids on the run, a long II+ rapid that stacks up to class III because it’s about two hundred yards long and fun. The general character of the run is very continuous class II with moving water in between. Nothing in particular stood out to me, but the river keeps you moving at a good pace downstream, dodging rocks and hopefully taking time to look up and enjoy the scenery.

James Mitchell splashing it up on the McCloud River.

   Eventually after many miles of twists and turns the McCloud goes under a bridge and mellows out, flowing through the Hearst Estate, my largest motivation to return and get some pictures. Paddling through this fairy tale scenery has to be done at least once. Usually any sign of civilization on the river is a detraction from the scenery, but they know how to do it right.

This little one is my personal favorite.

Paddling three miles of flat water isn’t my idea of fun, but thanks to low lake levels the length of flat water paddling was significantly shortened.

The McCloud really is a scenic wonderland, and while the rapids aren’t particularly challenging, the current keeps you moving downstream and the views make it worthwhile as a novelty that I would recommend as a “must do once” kind of run. Bill Tuthill's CaCreeks also has a great write-up with shuttle directions. While in the area, the rarely run Upper and Middle McCloud Falls are worth checking out for viewing pleasure.

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