Monday, April 24, 2017

Middle Fork Eel River

Located in northeastern Mendocino County, the Middle Fork is the largest tributary of the Eel River. It drains the Yollo Bolly Mountains of Mendocino National Forest. This huge drainage flows mightily after rain storms but also flows a good bit of the spring due to snow melt.  The River Stops Here  by Ted Simon is a fascinating tale of water history and politics based on efforts to dam the Middle Fork of the Eel.

Typically paddlers will paddle the 32 mile Middle Fork of the Eel River from the Black Butte Ranger Station to the confluence of with the Main Fork Eel as an overnight trip. The first 24 miles is rated class II. The last 8 miles has rapids that range from class III to V depending upon the flow.  For information about the rapids and put in and take out logistics, check out Bill Tuthill's write up on the Middle Fork of the Eel River.  The New School Guide to Northern California Whitewater by Dan Menten is another good resource for the Middle Fork Eel and other stretches of the Eel.

My tale of a Middle Fork Eel Kayaking Trip - April 2011

Several years ago, we were visiting friends in Covelo and decided to paddle the Middle Fork of the Eel.  With a fast current of 3500 cfs and the option to pull-out at mile 26, we decided to do the run in a day.  The evening before our run, our friend offered to show us the river from the air in his Cessna. What a treat!!!

From the air, he pointed out highlights and landmarks of the river as well as insight into the wildlife that we might see.

Our day paddling the Middle Fork was spectacular. Lots of snow melt water kept us moving along in the flat stretches and made for boiling eddy lines. The rocky gorge was one of our favorite sections with fun wave trains.

The scenery was gorgeous with all the wildflowers and greenery of spring and intriguing with a few unexpected sights like this wrapped canoe.

We got to see lots of wildlife including several bears, a mamma bear and her 2 cubs, a coyote, wild pigs, wild horses, black-tailed deer, kestrels, and hawks. We couldn't believe how big some of the deer were. I enjoyed the common mergansers swimming in the class II rapids and was really excited to see a double-crested cormorant swimming and diving in a rapid.

Wild horses resting along the Middle Fork Eel River.
It was a long day on the water. One of the highlights of the paddle was the Class IV rapid that we encountered before taking out. The rapid is called Skinny Chutes.  It was anything but skinny at this flow. It looked very different from the photos that we saw on CA Creeks.

Skinny Chutes was definitely going to be a challenging rapid with moves to make and hazards to avoid.  We got out and scouted it. The middle looked down right nasty with  2 consecutive but slightly offset recirculating hydraulics.  This was DEFINITELY not the line to take.  Neither the left or right had a clear path but the left looked like the best route to take. Of course the left had 2 considerable hydraulics to be negotiated. The plan was to avoid the first and punch the second (most likely capsize, flush-out, and roll-up).

Of course, I capsized on the entrance drop into the rapid.  I rolled up and eddied out. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP - I felt my heart beating through my chest. The thought "I could get out here and portage," shot through my mind. I erased the thought and told myself to charge it. I ferried midway across but should have ferried further to the left. When I turned to head downstream, I was heading right at the top hole that I was planning to avoid. I didn't have time to avoid it and tried to drive through it.  It grabbed me and flipped me.

I rolled up and continued driving for my target rock on river left.  Somehow I got there and skirted the flush-out and roll up hydraulic.  Whew, a bumbling but successful run of the rapid.

After Skinny Chutes, we worked our way a down to Salt Creek and took out just above Coal Mine Falls.  The trip took us exactly the 6 hours that we had estimated. Just as we were pulling off our paddling clothes and enjoying a TOB, our friend's mom arrived to pick us up.

This was another GREAT day on the Eel River.

1 comment:

  1. Someone in the canoe didn't have a good day!