Monday, April 17, 2017

Outlet Creek Run on Eel River

Kicking off my series of blog posts about the Eel River with a post on the Outlet Creek Stretch of the Eel.  This is a 7 mile stretch on the main fork of the Eel River north of Willits, California.  It is just above the confluence with the Middle Fork.  Local's commonly refer to the run as "Outlet Creek" because the put in is at the confluence of the Eel and Outlet Creek.  For detailed information on the logistics for the Outlet Creek Run on the Eel, check out the description on CA Creeks written by local paddler Paul Futscher.
Whitewater Kayaking on Outlet Creek Stretch of Eel River. Photo by Jeff Laxier
"Outlet Creek" is a fun 7 mile class III stretch that runs during the rainy season.  Runnable flows on it vary from 500cfs to 20,000+ cfs.  These are estimated numbers because there is no actual gauge on this stretch.  Dreamflows calculates an estimated flow, but we don't ever really know what the flow is until we get there - kind of like surf forecasting.  Before going, we look at 3 different gauges, look at 3 different predictions, the flow over Van Arsdale Dam, and a couple of other secret sources.  When we get to the put in, there is a hand painted gauge on the 8 mile bridge.
Gauge on the 8 mile bridge. 
Because of the difficulty predicting the flow, Outlet Creek doesn't see a lot of boating traffic.  Don't be offended if you show up to kayak the Eel and the local boaters look at you like you are a rare wildlife sighting.
Terry making her way down Split Rock aka Trailer Rapid on the Eel River. Photo by Jeff Laxier
Wildlife that we see on this stretch varies by season.  When the water is clear in the late fall and early winter, we will see salmon migrating up river to spawn.
Salmon heading up the Eel River to spawn.
Once I saw a mountain lion walking on the old train tracks.  We have seen bobcats, river otters, muskrats, and lots of bear tracks.  Later in the spring, we see turtles sunning on the rocks.  Birds that we see include bald eagles, redtail hawks, peregrine falcons, kestrels, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, common mergansers, American dippers, black phoebes, green herons, violet green swallows, cliff swallows, acorn woodpeckers, and pileated woodpeckers.
Bald eagle looking for salmon on the Eel River.
A nice feature of the run is its relative short shuttle.  It is road side which allows for a variety of put in and take out options.  It is also offers good vantage points for photographing paddlers as they go down the Eel.  The challenge with photography is the lighting.  Check out Willits Photographer Chris Hansen's photo blog which from time to time includes kayakers on the Eel River.
Jeff Laxier kayaking on the Eel River.  Photo by Chris Hansen
The rapids are primarily pool and drop and there are a lot of them over the 7 mile stretch.
Jerry dropping into the tunnel rapid on the Eel River. 
The rapids change quite a bit depending on flow.  Approximately 7,000 cfs is the highest that I have run this stretch.  This is a fast ride.  At high flows, many of the smaller class II rapids are "washed out."  The Class III rapids tend to be big fast wave trains.  A few have meaty hydraulics lurking at the bottom that keep you on your toes.
Elliot blasting through a hydraulic on the Eel.
Most paddlers enjoy the run in the 1200-2200 cfs range.  Lots of lines are open for options in the rapids and there are some nice surf waves.
Jeff surfing my 2 Fun on a wave on the Eel.
At lower flows (500-1000 cfs), lots of eddies open up.  One of my favorite rapids is just above the first tunnel.  We call it "Tic Tac Toe" because there are so many fun eddies to catch through ferries and attainments.
Tic Tac Toe on the Eel River.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
A few of our videos have footage of the Eel River.  Check out LFK Sea River Surf 2015 and the Jackson Kayak Karma RG Promo Video.   And an oldie but goody - Eel River Whitewater Kayaking

I am surprised that we don't see more paddlers on this whitewater gem.  If you get a chance, it is definitely worth doing.

Graffiti on "The Wall."  We think it means have a nice day.

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