Middle Fork of the Rogue ( Middle Fork Gorge )
By Nick Sinderson

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It's Friday night and my cell phone is by my side; I'm waiting for the call.

"Are you boating tomorrow?"
"Is this or that running?"
"We're going here; do you want to go?"

Of course I live for these calls but they drive my sweetheart to distraction and by the tenth call I'm obliged to turn it off until the movie is over. It's springtime and everything is running. The choices for Southern Oregon paddlers this weekend are the Scott River, the Cal Salmon, The Natural Bridge section of the Rogue or the Box Canyon of the Sacramento.

I'm thinking about the Scott River, but just before I put the phone to sleep in comes one more call; it's Josh, ringleader of the locally famous swim team..

"Hey Nick, let's paddle the Middle Fork of the Rogue tomorrow. I did it with Tim and Jud last weekend and regardless of what Soggy Sneakers says it's all class four, maybe some on the four-plus side and one easy class five but it's all scoutable and portagable."

Now I'm no class five boater. It's doubtful if I have the skills and I lack that undefinable 'something' class five paddlers have that us lesser boaters stand in awe of. Josh knows this and I trust Josh so it's a go tomorrow at 11:00.

Once on the river we encountered about three quarters of a mile of class one and two gravel bar rapids and then the gradient picked up and boulders filled the channel. For the next mile and a quarter the river ran though a complex maze, providing lots of eddy-hopping and wild rides down narrow chutes and boofs in the two to six foot range.

Josh in the midst of the boulder gardens above the gorge

About halfway down this boof-o-rama Red Blanket Creek drops down a hundred foot waterfall on the right just upstream with confluence with the Middle Fork. We scouted often as routes are complex and narrow. At the end of this section is the gorge and as Soggy Sneakers puts it "there is no mistaking it.." We caught an eddy on the right, which is critical because the first rapid in the gorge is no longer is no longer class four but a sieved-out undercut nightmare. We made a partial portage on the right... The gorge is beyond words, it made me glad to be a boater. If you can take your eyes off it I recommend looking back upstream where you eddied out. Man that's some gradient!

After the run-out from the first rapid the water is calm for a couple hundred yards a good time to take in the scenery. Soon another horizon line presents itself (the class five) catch a eddy on the left one boater at a time. You can easily scout the whole rapid from here but don't stop if you walk just a bit further you'll see where the South Fork cascades down it's own gorge to more than double the flow right in the middle of the drop.

Looking downstream into
the easy class five
in the Middle Fork Gorge

Looking upstream into
the easy class five
in the Middle Fork Gorge

I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow account of this rapid; if you find yourself here you'll see what to do. I will say there is a way to avoid the toughest moves by ferrying over to the right, running a few small drops, walking down a narrow basalt ledge and doing a class five seal launch into the maelstrom. (if that counts as a portage then this rapid is portagable..)

Me? I'd say that it's not so you class four people come prepared to run something a little bigger. Josh still says it's '5 minus'. Again the water is calm after this for a couple hundred yards before the last one. Eddy out on the right. I'm sorry but I didn't look at this one we both did a partial portage on the right down to last drop on the rapid and ran a tight elbow smashing slot on the far right. After this you are out of the gorge. Take a look back; unbelievable!

The rest of the run is class 2-3 for about 3 miles. Do just as Soggy Sneakers says when you get to the lake: paddle down the south fork arm for a quarter mile when you reach the north fork arm paddle up and on your left in a couple hundred yards before a small creek is the take-out.

At the take-out, be ready for the longest third of a mile hike I have ever known..

Access and Flows:

The take-out for this run is the same as the Mill Creek Falls run on the North Fork. About four miles below Prospect on Mill Creek Drive look for a trail with some 8x8's pounded into the ground and park there. To reach the put-in back track up Mill Creek Drive until you get to Prospect/Butte falls road make a right. Go 3.7 miles up, the river will be on your right. You'll see a dirt road leading down to the river where you can park.

Directly below the turn-off on the river is a gauge. On the day these photos were taken the gauge read 1.5, about minimum for a fun time in my opinion. Please take note this creek doesn't run often it takes some serious snow melt or rain or both to happen but don't fret, there is plenty of good year-long boating on the North Fork. That said, if you're here in the spring it's worth a look.