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By Stephen Wright

Last wednesday, I met-up with fellow team JK paddlers Darin McQuoid and Phil Boyer to run a long-time dewatered stretch of the North Yuba. We learned from the dam operator at the take-out that until October, this section hasn’t had a release like this since 1974! He also told us that it’s running through mid-December as they’re working on the power station where the water is returned to the riverbed through a 14′ diameter pipe. Wild! So what’s the run like?

This section is big water boulder rapids (800 cfs for us). It’s probably possible to put-in just below the huge bullards bar dam, but the road down is gated and we were asked not to jeopardize access by trespassing down it. SO, we drove downstream about a 1/2 mile until we found a "suitable" scramble to the river-bed. Unfortunately, it’s 1,200 vertical feet from the canyon rim to the river, and we took nearly fell down an extremely steep, thorn-infested gully that took us an hour an a half. Bruised and beaten, we put-on around noon. Looking at Google Earth, it looks like we ended-up about a mile and a half downstream of the dam, but we still had our hands full with 4 hours on the water (plus the 1.5 hour scramble!). There’s apparently a much easier put-in on river left a little farther downstream at the confluence of the middle and north forks of the Yuba.

The first mile was full of some REALLLY DISTURBING geology with some of the most sieved-out runnable rapids I’ve ever seen–during this time, Phil got surfed in a sticky hole and I got pressed into an upstream facing rock for a 15 second-head-up pin, the I wiggled out of. It’s kind of like a harder, more sievy 49-bridgeport on the S. Yuba, or a Lower Meadow with many more drops and some bigger rapids. There were definitely some really fun and unique moves to be made, but it seemed like every rock was undercut or full of tunnels. Fortunately, after the first mile, the riverbed spread out a bit and got to be a little less scary and more enjoyable. We made one portage in that top mile, around a steep rapid with a line that landed in a pool with no apparent exit (above the rocks).

Highlights in the last 3 miles were lots of quality boat-scoutable class 4+ rapids and a few big fellas. The most dramatic was a high-volume S-turn: the water fell about 6 vertical feet down a fast chute, hitting a huge boulder with a big pile on the upstream side. The left 1/3 of the flow went off the boulder and out through a horrible sieve, but most of the water went right around the boulder, stopping in a big pot-hole on the right wall before heading down another fast chute down to the left with about a 10 feet of gradient. I was a little nervous about the seam at the exit of the pot-hole surf into the final chute. After scouting we all decided that it would go, and that you’d end-up at the bottom regardless–but I was glad to watch Darin head-up to probe it. Darin aced the top move, braced his way into the pot hole eddy, the surfed is way out to the bottom chute and exited with ease. This made me feel a lot better about the pot hole–it didn’t give Darin any trouble. Phil and I headed back to our boats. Phil peeled out ahead of me and I gave him 30 seconds. Apparently he subbed-out hard on the first drop, and then again on the pot hole. Peeling-out I came down the first drop with my bow-up and in control. I was pushed into the pot hole eddy, and made the turn to exit into the final drop when the seam grabbed me and pulled me 5+ feet under and I ran the chute upright but DEEP. Rocketing-out of the bottom, I was stoked to be through that one!

Anyway, by the end of the day we were stoked to have enjoyed this run safely. We didn’t shoot too many photos, because we had heard that the run might take 5-7 hours. Hopefully I’ll get back in there in the next 2 weeks and shoot more. Enjoy these photos from Darin: He and Phil are on a plane to meet-up with Ben Stookesberry in Islamibad, Pakistan for an epic paddling mission.

Live from Reno, NV,
Stephen Wright

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