This write up is written by rafters and thus may not accurately reflect the run for kayaks. The runs for this data were done in 10-14 foot rafts, mainly plastic. Flows of 600-1500 CFS. Although it is possible to raft this section at many other flows, the focus on lines and obstacles to avoid are for the 800-1500 range. A small R2 I think would go well as low as 450 but that is speculation right now. The change is speed from 1200 to 1500 is a fair amount. Rafting at flows even higher, it would be good to maybe find new lines.
Since rapid rating are not always consistent, I am going to give some comparisons. Although I rate each rapid as I think it should be rated, it does not give an overall view of the hardness of the section. This is a seldom running section so chances are you have been on other runs around California. The Tiger Creek section on the North Mokelumne with a release flow of 700 CFS is similar is style. However this is a solid Class above that. Think of running the first and last rapid over and over again. It feels much like running the main gorge on Giant Gap, but less remote and half the miles or less. Much like Chamberlain but faster on the North Fork American but faster. For the most part you can stop and scout all the rapids. However if you swim one rapid that could quickly lead into swimming the next few.
As we do our runs, Slab Creek Dam is spilling and there is a path right to the water. Once the valve is finished, I am guessing put-in will be down river a bit more.
Just after passing the work site of the new pipe most of the river drops into a large hole. There is an easy way around the right. Maybe a good surf when it is hot.
A short pool with fast moving water leads into the first real rapid. Easy to scout of the right. From the top basically all the left side filters through rocks with small channels here and there. None look raftable even at 1500. The main channel or right side has a few places to enter depending on the flow.
Depending upon flows the way to enter changes. On the low end the only good way is far right off the bank around a little curly drop. Mid-level right off the center. More like 1200 you can enter even more left. As the river tends to pull hard to the right, the larger the flow the more you want to enter left to make the line.
At the bottom there is an explosion rock with the main surface flow leading right into the rock. The right side has a couple smaller holes and a funky ledge dropping off into a large undercut sieve rock. The exit line that is always open is left side of the main channel, boofing to the left side of a small dome rock dropping like 5 feet.
After the above rapid the river keeps moving down a few more little drops.
This rapid is fairly long and has two parts really. Ending anywhere but far left is not ideal. There is a bit of a pool at the top and it is easy to scout on the right. For the top part enter right. You will notice a large rock in the middle that comes to a bit of a point. From the right entry move to the center and get behind the large rock. (Maybe you could just start going down the left. Looks like the left is a funky ledge to drop off.) At lower flows it is boney behind this rock. The main flow goes down the right side through a slot hardly as wide as a raft at 700 but also the only way to really go. The current leads right and drops directly into a couple holes then tosses you off the center of the final horizon or further to the right side. Bottom right is a sweet ledge that drops onto a shallow rock and then passes into a wall that is super sieved out. Center has an explosion rock. In a real pinch there is a fine line between the two. The best option is to ferry left behind the large rock in the center of the rapid make your way off the rocky ledge in the center. Once off that ledge stay left out of the main flow pulling off the center. For the final horizon dive in behind the rock on the far left. Slide down into a lateral turn and punch the final hole.
Once you get past this rapid I feel the run really starts to flow. You now have an idea of the nature of the river and you rafted a couple of the junkiest rapids. You now get a better warm up and lead into the larger ones to come. A tall cascade drops off the left granite dome. I call the Mipha’s Vale. It is followed by a sweet little pillow move off a large rock in the center. For the next mile or so the river keeps moving. It is a bit of a pool drop style but you need to really work to eddy out and could just as easy get pulled into the next rapid.
Enter on the right and make your way down toward the center. At the top left looks good but tends to be misleading. It goes but never really the smooth way I would like it too.
Enter left off a 2-3 foot ledge and more toward the right fairly quick. Right around here is a fun surf at some flows or just a great stall at others. Keep going right and then use the big pillow to go back left. Keep working your way left as the river pulls right. The end is a final little ledge slide, center in smooth. (I took a quick look and I think you could also just enter left and stay on the left all the way down. Not really as fun.)
Short rapid that looks formed by rock slide from building the flume on the right. Leading into it stay right. In the center of the river is a lopsided horizon. Maybe a Boof Move. That shoots you off towards the left shore. From here pick one of three channels leading back right. The best setup for the next rapid is to ferry across to the right at the bottom of this rapid.
The whole right side at the top is a sieve. Seems all the rocks got blasted down to build the flume. Basically you would not swim at this point so little to no danger. What has happened is some of the rocks have rolled into the main channel and stayed there. When the river is on the higher end this makes for a fun ride. On the lower end rocks get in the way. There is mainly one large one right where all the water is funneling into. Spin around the left side of a rock at the top and head left. Get the pillow ride of the left bank and stay left to miss other rocks.
I am not mentioning all smaller rapids. However this one really feels like a separate rapid from everything else going on and might be harder than I think it is. It is made up of a few ledges. Make your way down right of center.
In the winter time when we were doing all these runs, this is where you get your first view of rays of sun. The river slows down and even has something like pools. Just before you hit those rays starts the next section of rapids.
This is something like 3 mellow meat-grinders in a row. It is long and you move in and out of the cold shadows and warm rays of light. The main feature is about half way down off the left bank moving about two-thirds across the river. This is a tall junky ledge that is easy to weave all the way around the right side of, however above it you will already be moving left so it is possible to see it too late and end up going over. By almost the end of the section you will find yourself far left just off a large granite dome rising from the water. A short pool follows this area.
This is kind of a longer rapid not too hard. At the top there is a bit of a hidden horizon in the middle. You can take this line even at really low flows, it is a cool short slide. I think there is a line to the left too. From the center line keep moving down the center of the rapid until the rocks in the center. Generally the river reads to go right. If you go right of those rocks there is a lame rock that grabs the raft and throws you off course. If you stay left there are also rocks but less sticky. The final hit at the bottom looks bigger but goes well even on the left side where it looks the biggest.
At this point you really start to get a pool drop feel on the river.
A few options here. From the top I like to charge the pillowing water in the center and boof over it. On the backside is a shallow rock so with lower flows or a heavy raft this might not be so good. I call this the Jump Move. If you make the jump, slowly make your way left by the end. If you miss the jump or just go right, the river tends to toss you at the right wall half way down the rapid. From here you fight to get over to the left by the end. There is also a line if you just charge left of the jump and ride down the left side. Just after the jump, on the left, is an odd ledge to be aware of. I have only taken that line once. Went okay. The end of the rapids goes right into a wall from the right bank making a 90 degree turn.
Steep but short rapid. Easy line starts in the center heading right. By the end you are almost on the right wall. At lower flows there tends to be rocks sticking out that can cause some solid jolts. This rapid got its name by a friend. She was upside down in the pool above from the last rapid. By the time she pulled her skirt thought she was saved by the other kayaker, she was at the lip of this one on the far right. Kim flushed through a crack in the rocks and swam the entire rapid.
This rapid has two parts. One long lead in runs up to the main drops. At the very top the horizon has a few options and my favorite in the beautiful tongue on the right side. This also sets you up nicely for all the rest of the rapid. From the tongue make your way over to the left before the start of the large horizon. At the higher flows this rapid is good wet fun. One big slide of white loads to the face. On the lower end of flows the top tends to be steeper and harder to get past the rocks through narrow slots.
Really deep looking pool here. Maybe some good cliff jumps on the right, but too cold in the winter though.
There are a few ways to do this one. The top is open all the way across the river. Just past that is a lateral that knocks hard to the right. Simple line is to start center and charge left missing the lateral then stay left till the final pillow on the left shore. The other option is to charge right and stay right down a creeky line. It does not look like it goes but it does. If you underestimate the power of the lateral you will end up right anyway. The sweet line is to punch the lateral at the sweet spot and fly off the massive pancake stack boof in the middle half way down the rapid.
Shortly up next is a river wide hole. The river is very wide here so it would take a lot of water to really be troublesome. The right side is always good to go. Looks like a sweet place to surf.
From here you have a few ripples and not much of note going on a quarter mile or so. This starts the final section of about a half dozen rapids. Four of the biggest rapids between the Dam and Bridge are in this gorge.
Small pool at the top here. Easy to scout from the right bank. The main channel entering this rapid drops down into a large undercut rock. (This rock has been dubbed Jackson-Rock from the movie: The Other Guys.) You can take this line. Screw it up and it makes for a nasty swim. My preferred line is to start most of the way left. There are a couple trees at the top in the middle. You can slip a raft between the foliage on the left and the small tree in the middle on the left. This leads down a creek slide setting you up very nicely for the rest of the rapid. From the left line, aim just right of the little bush in the middle of the river slipping just left of a large hole. Just after that, make your way right and run to end along the right wall. Most of the way down in the middle is a large pour-over into a meaty hole. The bottom left of this rapid has some sieved out rocks. You could float into them should you fall out. Just around the corner is a long large rapid. Eddy out on the left to boat scout.
This is a long rapid when you count the river wide ledge hole at the very end as part of the rapid. You can enter right or left. There are lines down both right and lefts sides. Some of the hazards are right in the middle. I like to go down the left side. About one-third of the way down there looks to be a massive hit leading into something. Really you can run this wave as it leads into more wave train. Going down about one more third there is a massive rock the middle the water leads pulls you into. Stay in control and stay left or right. Just after that rock make your way into the center for the final hit of the top. It calms down a bit here but still feels like that same rapid. The left bank has a bit of a pillow and curler coming off it. Go past that and be ready for the final drop.
A river wide hole. (This looks like the kind of spot that would become unrunnable before even 2,000 CFS.) From the right bank over half way out is the part that will pull you back in and eat you. There is a flake on the horizon left of center. If you hit it just right it is a nice boof. If your left tube was about 6 feet off the left bank, that is around the honey move. Anywhere left of that works too. With the shape of the rock, it is best to point left with a bit of angle. The hope here is even if you really messed up the left line it would still flush you. I would not hold that hope for the right.
This is a funny rapid. If it was located in the first couple miles, I would hardly note it however due to the river being pool drop here; it is its own rapid. This rapid reminds me of a rapid on Cherry Creek between Flat Rock Falls and Lumsden Falls. This rapid would be considered large if it was not between two massive rapids. Here, with the two rapids you just ran and the next one to come this feels little but it is still a significant rapid. There are two main channels in this one. The left looks to be most open and right, more like center, is less open looking. At the bottom there is an unseen is a nasty pin rock which is more in play at lower flows. Many years ago I pinned here with about 600 CFS. The other line to the right is less open looking but goes great and puts you in a pool above the next rapid.
Unlike most all the above this rapid is larger than it looks. I have stopped left to scout but could not get a good view. Scouting right you can get a great view of all the rapids, but it is a long walk. If you want to have a great set up once you do run this rapid, you need to eddy out rather high up. The first part of the rapid is a smooth wave train stay in the middle. Be ready to charge left. Most all the water feeds into a massive hole hit. With a heavy raft and the right flows this is an awesome hit. Most flows you cannot sneak right. Coming down the center charge left at the last moment and hit the very side of the hole. You will nearly hit the left bank but there is space. Many options exist from there. The smoothest line is to use the hole from the last hit, slowdown, and ferry glide back across right of center. From there charge again at the curling wave and boof just over the right side of the large hole here. Keep your speed so you do not get surfed by the next couple holes.
Just after the large hit half way down the center of the rapid, it gets bigger. The water pillows up a bit and falls over a ledge from the left bank most of the way across the river. The center is the meaty part and you can boof the ledge on the left then keep charging. At lower flows this leads right into a third hole that often stops and surfs the raft. You can also go right of the second hole. If you are not in control at this point, you get washed into trees but nothing bad really happens. After the first 3 holes the last couple could grab you but I think it would be an okay surf.
Shorty after the last rapid, almost part of it, is a river wide ledge. There is a really sweet boof on the far right side. Could be fun to surf in. Ryan from Ark Inflatables likes to put his massive Bunny Hood on and do this boof in his kayak.
The river gets deep, calm and narrow. Just around the river bend you can see the Mosquito Bridge. Leading into what might be your final rapid of the day. Just above this…
At the very top enter right of center and head left. The top left looks good but it is a dead end. Get right of center again. Slide down the small ledge holes but make sure to stay slow and toward the right. If you mess this one up, you can end up starting the next rapid poorly.
It is really easy to miss the take out under the bridge. Don’t do that. If you are going beyond the bridge, you are likely already at a higher skill level here. I have scouted this one, ran it, and scouted again. From the road when dropping a car is a good time to start scouting however, you may still scout from water level on river right. This rapid has a tight entrance when the water is low. At the lower levels, below like 800, I think you must enter center. In the center is a large pillow going right over that leads to chaos. Mostly with the range of flows I am using here the entrance is someplace to the right of this pillow. Different slots open and close as the water level changes.
I think at high flows there is a line far left at the top and I have scouted this out but not done it.
The next step is the most important. When you enter right, you want to move left just below the massive center pillow. This is hard to do because the river pulls right hard into a field of rocks and little channels. It pulls harder than it looks like it would. If you stay right, there is a nice looking ledge boof into a tow back and big surf. Lose control and the bridge says: See You See You.
Okay so get left. With flows over 900-1000 get all the way left. There is a small tree in the river with space for a raft just left of it. Just past that is a nasty looking slide into rocks. Really this line goes super well and sets you up nicely for the end. Keep a little left hand point on the slide. On the lower end or if you must go right of the tree but nearly brush it. Charge and point left. This is a big ledge and it kicks hard to the right. The river drops into the two holes just below. If you are past the large ledge in control and to the left, great. In the shadow of the bridge is the final bit. There is hole on the right just below the other. If you hit only this one and with speed that is fine. You can also slide onto the curling wave to the left and slide around the hole. If you can eddy out now, awesome. Likely you cannot so there is one more drop. The river funnels into a V with a sweet hit. You can use that to toss you into the eddy or smash into it and catch your ferry glide fast to eddy out. Take out eddy here is on the left.
From the Bridge down past Mother Lode Falls the river feels different. It is narrow and steep with large rocks in the river bed forming sieves all over however being on the surface it is not so bad. I have hiked down here with the river at 35 CFS. It looks nasty. Past the bridge you really have a calm as you keep sight of the bridge. I have only been past here 8 times at the time of writing this. Only half those times it was above 800 CFS. Around the corner it picks back up with a bunch of giants steps. It is like dancing with a Giant. Careful where you step!
First three ledges. Powerful and I could see getting stomped here quickly. Mainly stay center.
Final two ledge steps. Basically the same thing, but there is a bit of a break in the middle making this its own rapid.
Enter center and move left. There is a tall big rock on the center. Little bit of a channel left of it but I do not think it goes at most any flow. Just past that rock in the middle of the channel is an explosion rock just underwater. Maybe you could get left of it but the water is not moving that way. Right of that rock leads into the right wall. At lower flows there is a rock to crash into here, not for fun. Just past that is a lateral hole that feeds you into a calm bit of water on the left. This is the top of the next rapid.
That seemingly calm water on the left is really all feeding out a sieve down low. You can climb up on the rocks here and scout. Or ferry glide to the right and scout. At 35 CFS there is a wall here 6-8 feet tall. Seems more like a good place to boulder. Basically you are floating over a sieve. There is a line on the right which leads you into the middle. The final ledge is junky. I have found a cue in the middle, a rock just pointing out of the water. Charge from left to right at it. Just before hitting in turn hard left and line up with the slide. Going off most of this slow tends to catch the raft and turn you sideways. Sliding off ledges sideways is less than ideal.
This rapid must drop about 30 feet total. It has lots of sieves and a nasty nearly impassable hole half way down. There is a good beach to stop on the right while still in the pool. You can scout all the way down. To portage, for people not helping with the raft, there is a trail high on the right. I have never lined down the right side but I know people have. I have run this rapid at very low flows. At about 900 CFS the nasty hole looks better to run. I have not run it at that level. I did run this at 1,500 CFS as an R2. The hole stopped us for many seconds but we managed not to get pulled into the surf. I like to do a water level portage on the left side. Just as an R1 or R2. There is a ledge over there a few feet tall. Drop off that, stay right and then work your way over the rocks. Once you pass the main hole there are a few options. Raft the final drop or keep pulling the raft over the rocks; I have watched this done both ways. You can also line the final part. I have never seen or done this but it should work.
Description of the rapid - The top is a few small steps in the center. Just past that is the biggest single drop. I think the tallest part is 10 foot. The main channel is on the far right which is a good looking tongue slide with a very narrow set-up for the important part. If you get pushed right here it leads into a rock with a sieve and then into a hole that is all sieves on the right. Off the main fall left of center looks like a great creek slide with a set-up for the next part.
In the middle of the next drop are two holes on top of each other. The first hole is weak on the far left but to far left and you hit shallow rocks. The right side of this hole is steep and pulls back hard. Get past that wash and you are drifting into a hole that is basically river wide. Meaning any water not passing this hole is doing so by going through sieves and little gaps. This hole is weak on the right but the hole above stops you from that line. The left side is a big turning circle pulling back for a good 12 feet and feeding into the nastiest part. By the looks of it water does not exit the sieve on the right. It does look like it exits deep down on the sieve on the left.
All the water leaving on the surface feeds down river left of a rock in the center. It continues down into a wall of rock that is really an undercut. You might get lucky swimming here and body pin on the surface not underwater. The final drop goes into a seam and pops back up over a massive pillow driving hard right with water coming from other places on the left and below the seam drop over a large ledge. At the bottom of the ledge there is a hole but it feeds down river. The right bank is a large undercut but that is still out of the water till the much higher end of the flows.
To run the final drop, you start in an eddy just below the large hole to the left. Ferry glide across the undercut river left wall and get hard right. Boof into the seam of the pillow wall then you will get shot over or right of it.
There is one final rapid to end the gorge. It has a sweet squeeze move on the far left. I do not remember much else. Then there is a pool and a small ledge. Run that on the right.
*A note on geology* from here on the river changes dramatically from Mesozoic Granitic rock to Paleozoic Meta sedimentary rock (Calaveras Complex slate mostly). The previous rapid is firmly within the boundary zone It opens up and becomes much less steep. The character of the river changes dramatically and there are a few rapids of note. Once you made it this far, all the in-between is not particularly dangerous but it can be tricky. The river is wide and shallow with lots of growth in the river bed. A beautiful way to end a trip like this.
Kind of junky on the right but a super sweet boof in the middle drops you like 6 feet into a meltdown move. To hit the boof enter up high on the right. Stay right around the plants in the river. Line up with the horizon and boof with a left hand angle. You can also run more center and go left of the boof. Pick up speed because there is a hole at the end of the slide.
Once more the river drops a bit steeper over some shallow rocks. Top right can cause a wreck. Miss that rock and the crack in front of it. Down the center there are a couple shallow rocks making for a harsh swim.
This rapid kind of sucks. Often times you start this rapid blinded by the sun. If all the rapids before are like a hot rod ride, here is where the Ford breaks down. Take the line to the right. Pick your way down the infestation of shallow rocks like a poorly played instrument. Near the end is a tight move between the boulder and the shoulder. Squeezing down another line on the right.
This rapid does not look like too much, leading down to a sweeping turn to the right. This flushes into a large hole in the center of the river. Enter center and hug right as the river makes an S-turn. Pass right of the hole. At 600 CFS I had a great time surfing here. Most of the other passes it looks to crush. Many years ago with 1,500+ CFS we hit this and my R2 partner got hammered in a swim out. After the hole the river gets wide and rocky. There is a line down the right. However before you realize it you are already going left. There is a junky line down that way.
The River calms down now. On the right you might notice what looks like an old road. Back in the Gold Mining Days there was an establishment here to help the lonely prospectors spend time with ladies. For less gold than a bed Men would find a brief bit of romance down on the river bank.
Along this stretch there are a couple lateral waves to glide across. The Cayck”N”Hammer.
Small rapid with a wall on the right at the top and a rock splitting the channel. The right has a cool little slide. It ends with a small pillow off the left bank wall.
Just below the channel funnels into a small hole. Maybe a good surf. You are now just above the next take-out.
Most encouraged take out (By the powers that be): At some point you will notice the take out of Rock Creek on the right. The easy access is on the creek. There is a bush filled rapid here: Into the Woods. If you go the wrong way, you will miss take out. If you go the right way you can still blow past take out. Stay right and when the creek drops in turn hard and ferry glide over into the pool of the creek. When this because a run with regular releases, I am guessing a better beach will be developed at the top of this rapid.
If you plan to keep heading down river, there looks to be a good line all the way down the left side. The few times I have continued on, I started right and then had to cut hard to the left about half way down. There are trees and shallow boulders all over. The good thing is you can just get out and walk if needed. If taking out here, make sure to stay right.
Straight forward rapid with lots of splashy waves. The channel seems to be blasted out of the bedrock to form a constriction rapid. The character of this and the next major rapid are reminiscent of Tunnel Chute on the Middle Fork of the American River, but nowhere near as big. Basically there are 3 or 4 big splashy waves just T up and blast your way through.
The last rapid of note on the run. There are no major holes. This rapid seems to be blasted straight out of the bedrock. There are some funky slide and flake features formed by the slate. There is also a small channel on the left that can be fun but the entrance is pretty junky below 1000 cfs.
Driving Directions: With digital maps and smartphones directions seem less important. The points of access and are important. The Put-In is at Slab Creek Dam. From Placerville go up Carson into Apple Hill. Left onto North Canyon Road about 2 miles. Past the shape turn going over a creek the dam road is on the left. Take this gravel road all the way to the Crows Foot (the flat spot with Three different ways to go. Part here the gate to the left going down hill is the one you want. Walk down the steep road to the water edge.
Take outs: White Rock Powerhouse, this take out road is mostly on private property, and SMUD vehemently discourages its use. This is actually the best take out on the river, but the legal situation is...complicated.
There is a potential takeout on river right at the sandbar trail access which PG&E put in, but this sucks. The trail is steep and the parking area is halfway out of the canyon. This was designed as a “recreational access” as part of PG&E’s FERC license, however it was not designated as a boating access since PG&E doesn’t want boaters on Chili Bar Reservoir. This may or may not be legal to prevent boating on the lake, but that has not been challenged.
Take out number 1 - The Bridge: Take Mosquito Road out of Placerville. At one point you must turn left to stay on Mosquito. This parts winds all the way down to the bridge. From the river you will climb up the hill on river left under the bridge. There is a single parking spot here and a few more just up the way. Return back up the road. At the stop sign turn make a left now. This is Union Ridge Road follow it till you get to Carson Road and on to put-in.
Take-Out number 2 - Rock Creek: From Placerville take Highway 193 North towards Cool. Cross the river and start to climb back up. The first road to the left is Rock Creek Road, it is on a shape corner and a flat spot. This is a slow winding one lane road. A few miles up you will cross Rock Creek, it is the first large creek. After crossing make the second right. It is just up the road. Follow that gravel road down to a gate and park. It is about a half mile to the rivers bank. There is a picnic area and powerhouse down there. The hike out is all on a road making carrying a raft not so bad. Still it is steep. Two options to reach Put-in from here. Keep going along on Rock Creek Road until you get to Mosquito Road. Go down the hill and over the bridge. For the rest see above. Option two: backtrack all the way to Placerville and go up Carson Road. I think this is the faster way. *Note this gate will be open for the recreational releases in the Spring*
Take-Out number 3 - The New Trail: There is a new trail that goes up the hill river left just after white Rock Powerhouse. The big sand bar there is where to stop. This trail is maybe One mile uphill with switchbacks. With the raft on your heads walking single file there is space. It is to narrow to holds the sides and walk up. I have only walked the trail to check it out, I am not sure I would want to walk a raft out. Rock Creek is better. However you can get all the river section this way. The trailhead on the road is off Rock Creek Road. There are a couple little signs marked by the power company and a handicap parking spot. As of now the trail looks like a wide clear cut small road. On Rock Creek Road you will know you are near when you can see the Penstock for Whiterock. If you are coming from 193 you will get here well before reaching Rock Creek. There are sort of two more options: One would be crossing the reservoir and then somehow getting around the dam. Getting around the dam is not easy and to go this way you are breaking a few laws.
Take-out number 4 - Whiterock Powerhouse (discouraged/illegal): The last one is a road off Mosquito Road. It takes you to a gate. This gate claims to close but looking at it, I would say it has been a long time. One or more miles past that is the gate that is closed. There are signs saying not to pass the first gate. Even more saying not to drive past the second gate even if it is open. Should it be open you could still finish your trip and end up locked in. Trusting the other gate never gets locked you can park at the second gate. I would guess it is a full mile plus some from the river to the gate. All climbing up. It is all road driven on daily, access to the powerhouse. Should you use this option, take out of the river right the powerhouse. It is like 30 feet up a steep cliff with metal and blackberries.
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