We ran Mill Creek on the fourth day of our Spring 2002 California Creekin' trip. Day one had been Jenny Creek, day two and three Deer Creek, and we planned to spend the following two days on Mill. I had conferred with Bill Tuthill, the webmaster of California Creekin', so we knew that Mill would be running. Bill said that Deer usually only runs a few weeks out of year, but that Mill gets much more of a snowmelt event and usually has more water. Considering that we had had between 300-400 cfs on Deer, we knew Mill would be at an excellent flow!
After taking off of Deer Creek we drove north to figure out the shuttle for Mill Creek. Our original plan was to hide some equipment on Ponderosa Way, (a long dirt road that snakes across the uppermost stretches of Deer and Mill Creek) However, we ended up on the 'bad' part of Ponderosa Way, and ended up having to drive across a creek and do some other kind of sketchy driving up a road of very poor quality. Finally we got oriented and dumped our gear, and then figured out a back way on paved roads to avoid the creek-crossing/sketchy bit and we headed back down in to the Sacramento Valley. After an hour or so, we arrived in Los Molinos, a sleepy little town that Mill Creek flows through. I was a little worried about leaving my car for a couple of days next to highway 99, so we talked a local businessman into letting us leave my car in his parking lot (very cool of him..)
The drive back to the put-in for Mill took over an hour, much of which was on Pondersosa way. This section of Ponderosa was very narrow, with some steep sections and huge drop-offs on one side. Finally, well after dark, we arrived at the put-in. Of course, we immediately grabbed the flashlights and jogged out to the bridge to check the flow, and we were not disappointed! At first it seemed high because the water was chalky, but later we found out that is volcanic ash from Mount Lassen. Either way, we had more water than in Deer, and we estimated the flow at around 400-500 cfs. We crashed out in the van that night, psyched to be paddling what was reputed to be a harder version of Deer Creek.
The next morning we rose early, and started packing our boats for an overnighter. Once again I packed two days worth of my old tried-and-true Chips Ahoy! and Powerbars, while John lugged out his enormous cooler and began sorting through an impressive array of assorted fresh fruits and cheeses, various drinks, bagels, a wide assortment of crackers and breads, and a Pumpkin pie.
Finally we were ready and we lugged our gear-laden boats down to the
creek. The difference in flows was immediately apparent, and I decided we
were going to have a very good time! There were lots of fun surf waves, a
couple of holes, and a couple of small rapids right away to warm up on.
That said, there is very little real warm-up on Mill Creek. About a quarter mile downstream was the first blind drop, which turned out to be fun, narrow drop into a hole. Below here was a long boulder garden with some big holes, and then the creek started rolling along and we had our hands full with one sweet drop after another. We were moving very fast, boat-scouting almost everything, and generally having a great time!
This is what Mill was like for the first few miles: One steep boulder garden after another, with short, moving pools in between. Here John emerges from one fun drop and gets ready for another..
At one point I pulled into an eddy with Jesse and he said breathlessly: "This may be the best run I have ever done!" Of course, I had to temper my agreement with the fact that the Clear Fork and Little White are of course better, but Mill was definitely an outstanding run. I don't really know how fast we were moving, but we estimated between two and four miles an hour. Somewhere along the way we briefly discussed the possibility of completing the run in one day, but we didn't plan on doing so, as we had thirty miles to paddle with heavy boats.
Jesse, in the midst of another sweet boulder garden downstream. The vast majority of rapids on Mill were long, clean boulder gardens with large holes and fun lines.
Jesse runs the nasty boulder sieve drop for a second time, while John stands by with a rope. Just below him the flow crashes into (and through) the large boulder fence visible in the photo.
Below the sieve were more tough drops, and Jesse probed them all. He had been paddling very strongly the whole trip, and today was no exception.
Jesse probes a drop the guides refer to as 'Kitchen Sink' due to it's deep, powerful hydraulic which is backed up by boulders just downstream.
I hiked back upstream and spent way too long looking deep into that hole, psyching myself out. Finally I joined John in the easy portage on the left, leaving that drop for another day...
Jesse probes a big drop in one of the gorges.
That's me, upside down, getting hammered against a submerged boulder while John looks on.
This one hurt.
John, in the middle of one of the very narrow gorges on Mill
Creek. These narrow sections were great fun, but you had to be careful about getting your
paddle wedged in some of the drops in there..
John, scouting the top part of Dead Man's Narrows
Jesse probes the drop below the Narrows
Later John told us what happened. He had been pushed into the overhanging/undercut left wall (see photo above) when he came down, and the current had wedged him under there. He had been unable to free himself, so he pulled and his boat popped free just as he came out of it. We were a little worried because John had taken such a big hit and one of his legs was a little messed up, but he soon shook it off and we headed off down the creek.
At this point we had made a conscious decision to run the creek in one day. We estimated we had about five or six miles to go, and the sun was just starting to drop over the horizon. We sprinted off into the unknown as darkness fell...
John, barely visible in the middle of the creek, races against the darkness. We had about four miles to go at this point..
After few more corners we reached the highway 99 bridge. We were all pretty tired, especially because our boats had been fully loaded with gear for an overnighter! We had paddled thirty miles in about ten hours, which was a pretty good rate considering the overall difficulty of the whitewater.
Of course, our trip wasn't over yet! While John and Jesse waited at the bridge, I jogged a half mile into town to where we had left the car. From there we drove north into Red Bluff, where we considered getting a hotel room. After an unpleasant encounter with another sleazy hotel owner we decided to head for the mountains and try to get to the van. The drive back up into the mountains was exhausting, and I was having difficulty staying awake. By the time we got back to the van it was very late, and we decided to drive up out of the canyon in order to get a head start on the next day's driving. Jesse soon left us far behind, careening up the narrow, precipitous road in his westfalia van like he was being chased by the devil himself, reaching the top a good ten minutes before John and I.
We crashed out for the night on the canyon rim, and the next
day we headed north-west, into the Trinity drainage. We still
had three days of paddling left, and there were still plenty
of adventure left on this trip. Our plan for the following day
was the Upper South Fork of the Trinity (Klondike Mine Run),
but that's another story..