referred to as the South Branch, the South Branch of the Middle Fork of
the Feather River is one of California’s best waterfall runs,
yet remains a seldom kayaked river. Until recently that is. As of the
2010 season this run has (rightfully so) become exceptionally popular.
The South Branch has garnered attention is several kayaking videos, but
legend of the portage and a short, hard to predict season has made the
South Branch fly under the radar compared to other greats like the East
Although it was once considered a two day run, recent years have
changed the perception of the South Branch. There are several options
to running this gem:
1. The Top Half - run the first six miles and hike out at Seven
2. Overnight - do the whole run but in two days
a) Carry overnight gear and camp on the island at Seven Falls.
b) Hike out at Seven Falls and car camp, leaving your gear at the river.
3. The whole enchilada - If you know the run it's possible to just do
it all in one day.
Flowing from a pristine
watershed high up in the North Sierras, the
South Branch flows into the Middle Feather at the legendary Milsap Bar.
Milsap Bar is legendary for its status as the put-in for Bald
, take-out for
Devil’s Canyon, Little North Fork of the Middle Fork, and
South Branch. That’s right, all in one (somewhat) convenient
location. Unfortunately Milsap Bar is also known for an incredible
diversity of rednecks, tweekers, and all round crazy people.
Couldn’t ask for a better crew; Taylor
, Devin Knight, Ryan
Knight and Ben Coleman at the first significant horizon line.
Well versed in the ways of the South Branch, Devin and Taylor led the
boat scouting charge for the first two miles of boulder gardens, until
we slowed the pace down to take photographs of one of the most
beautiful sections of river I have ever seen.
Ryan on the first of the larger bedrock drops.
Ryan on the same, it really starts to drop off the face of the earth
There were just a few small boulder gardens before it turned into pure
Devin boofing into the largest mandatory rapid on the South Branch.
It's hard to scout this rapid, you want to finish dead center at the
bottom to avoid a shallow landing on the left and a rock wall on the
right, but the three move lead in and curler at the lip make it tough
to line up.
Jonas Grunwald lines up the bottom half.
The next part of the river is beyond my abilities to articulate.
Perfection manifested in granite and water, I will let the pictures do
the talking, and it's just a whisper of how good it is.
Dane Jackson and Nick Troutman
Josh Bechtel freewheeling
Taylor in the fun ledges below the 20-20 combo.
Ledges to 15-15, Laura Farrell
Devin and I probed a sweet boof to boof line on this rapid that used to
be a portage.
One of those that goes better than it looks...Nick Troutman
Just how stacked this run is, Ryan on the run out of the above drop
with the next horizon line just downstream.
Taylor; aforementioned horizon line.
Devin on the same drop, with another horizon line just downstream.
I thought I had seen runs drop off the face of the earth before, but
nothing compares to the South Branch, over six hundred feet in a
Thankfully some of it goes quite nicely, Eric Jackson making a
above 99 Problems.
Ryan Knight, same drop different angle.
up is a portage around a forty foot
waterfall with a tricky
entrance, and the majority of flow landing on a rock shelf protruding
from the right bank. Devin had the first and only descent of this
falls for many years, but it's been run quite a bit in the last few
years. With some carnage. We all portaged on the left.
Returning for a two day run on the South Branch, Ryan and Devin were
both fired up about the portage, and ran it for the second and third
descent, at which point I guess it should be considered an optional
Ryan Knight, the second descent.
Devin Knight, running a new line for the third descent.
Taylor on yet another good slide, this one will take you to china.
taking paddlers to china, the
river plunges over a hundred and
fifty foot waterfall with a large rock shelf halfway down, so returning
from china in style is mandatory. At high flows this is the crux move
of the run. We portaged down the right and seal launched into the base,
psyched for the grand finale.
Mandatory portage, this spot leaves paddlers awestruck.
The grand finale on the South Branch Feather is a perfectly clean fifty
five footer. I always assumed it was a really a slide, but in reality
it free falls for thirty feet before reconnecting at the bottom.
Perfect way to end the perfect day, Matt Thomas on the final.
Below the grand finale is
an island in the middle of the river. This
island is the camping site for a two day run on the South Branch, and
one of the most scenic camp sites in the world. Just below the island
the river continues to plunge off Seven Falls, and there is a steep
trail on river right leading up the slope to eventual road access.
Leon Turnbull has excellent directions to the
Branch at his informative Waterfalls
West write-up of Seven Falls
This is the preferred access to the South Branch, but most of the time
if the South Branch is high enough to run, the road is snowed in.
Alternate access is possible through Milsap Bar road, but it adds
another hour of driving on rough dirt road.
Flows can be tough to predict for the South
Running it in mid
April, we had 1200cfs at Milsap
, and everyone thought levels
were perfect. As the season goes on, the South Branch contributes less
and less, and by May 1500 at Milsap is considered minimum for the South
Branch. In 2009 people have run it in April at 1200 and 1500 and
reported both to be low. I ran it at 2700 and 2900 in April, with
perfect flows. Run at flows up to 3,800 at Milsap in 2010 I believe the
gauge is less of a correlation than once believed, and it's up to the
paddler to make the call at put-in.
Maps market to the Take Out.
is just up the road where the bridge crosses...it's obvious.
Can't get enough? Continue on to the lower