The South Fork of the Yuba River
( Hwy 49 Bridge to Bridgeport )

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In April 2003 we took our annual California Spring Break trip, which ended up spanning five major river basins: The American, The Yuba, The Sacramento, The Trinity, and the Salmon.
We paddled a wide variety of rivers and creeks, met some great folks, and had a great time. At the end of the trip we had: Two broken boats, one broken paddle, and two swims out of burly hydraulics.
This time around I was accompanied by: Pete Giordano (Portland), Dan 'The Man' Coyle (Corvallis), Josh Knapp and Gabe Flock (Eugene).

The Stanley/Holbeck guidebook calls this section of the South Fork Yuba 'Superb' and I couldn't agree more. This run has just about every kind of rapid imaginable: Long, complex boulder gardens, vertical ledges with sublime boofs, and several twenty to thirty foot long slides. Of course, the scenery is as excellent as the whitewater: The river careens down through an awe-inspiring white granite canyon that invites further exploration, if only there wasn't such an intriguing roar around every corner..

Of course, what I didn't know was that the boat gremlins had infested my Gradient during the night, and I started paying the price just downstream of the put-in...

Once we got below the portage I noticed that I was very loose in my boat. After flailing down a couple of drops I got out and was dismayed to see that my back-band had broken. After a little work I managed to sort of semi-fix it with a Spectra prussik from my pin kit. I got back in my boat, ran another drop, still feeling very loose in my boat and not totally in control.

All the way to the take-out I kept fiddling with my backbrace, thinking that was the problem. I would tighten down my backbrace to an unbelievably high tension, then hop in my boat, and flail down a drop, loose as hell in my boat and not knowing why.. I had some pretty exciting lines, flopping and flailing down stuff, barely in control!

Of course, everyone thought it was pretty funny when we got to the take out and my bulkhead bolt fell out on the ground when I was emptying my boat. This meant my footbraces had slid all the way forward, causing me to be very loose in my boat, and all along I thought it was the backband.. Thinking back, I can hardly believe that both devices chose to fail at the exact same time, yet I still had a great day on the river.

The SF Yuba is just that good.

Pete Giordano (foreground) and Josh Knapp cruise down through the twisty warm-up drops below the put-in

Less than a mile downstream from the put-in is the first of two recommended portages. Here the river drops twenty feet though a horrible-looking bouldery mess of frothing white death. Needless to say, we opted for the easy portage on the left, and even Dan and Josh (both card-carrying members of Team Gnar-Gnar) didn't even give this one a second glance.

Immediately downstream of the first portage is a rapid known as 'Mr Squiggly'. This aptly-named drop gives a deceptively wild ride through a series of steep, offset hydraulics. The goal here is to avoid the large, round boulder on the left side, which much of the water piles into.

Pete Giordano watches as Dan Coyle gets ready to boof at the top of 'Mr. Squiggly', the drop immediately downstream of the class six cascade.

Downstream of Mr. Squiggly were more fun drops, until the walls started rising out of the water and we arrived at a definite horizon line between vertical walls. I was able to get out on the left side and peer down into what turned out to be a sweet ledge drop. This ledge has a powerful hydraulic recirculating along the wall, but luckily there was a nice boof off of the middle boulder..

Pete styles the first big ledge-drop.

Josh Knapp airs it out on yet another ledge downstream. All of the current was going left below this drop, so a midair turn was required.

Just downstream is another ledge.. with another sweet boof platform..

Dan Coyle gets a huge boof downstream..

Near the middle of the run the river tightens up and squeezes through a gorge section that has some interesting drops and an altogether different feel from the wide-open canyon sections above and below..

Gabe lines up on a drop in the middle gorge.

Soon the riverbed started consolidating and the first in a series of slides appeared. This section had several excellent rapids on it, all of which were punctuated by large holes. After the slides tapered off we were treated to another large horizon line, which proved to be a long, complex drop with a stomping hole at the bottom, pictured below.

Josh disappears into a stompin' hole at the bottom of one of the larger rapids while Pete watches from above and Gabe waits upstream.

Sweet canyon scenery downstream...

Near the end of the run is a long, boulder-choked drop that is often portaged. This rapid deserves careful contemplation, because it is one of the few places on this run that undercuts and pin spots abound. Dan was the only one who actually considered running this mess, but after long deliberation of the final double drop he shouldered his boat with the rest of us. My private observations of the aeration in the final holes led me to believe that subsurface rocks might threaten anyone attempting this drop.

Dan and Gabe contemplate the final drops on the recommended portage from a boulder in the middle of the river. If you look carefully you can see Pete emptying his boat at the top of the rapid where we got out to scout.

The SF ..WHAT?
Many of you may be wondering where this river is located. The South Fork of the Yuba flows through a wild and rugged chunk of the Sierras about 50 miles Northeast of Yuba City. It is about a 9 hour drive from Portland, depending on how good your radar detector is.

We drove down I5 and then turned east on Highway 20, (where the 'I5' symbol is on the map) and headed east up to the river from there..

The NF of the Yuba's approximate location, courtesy of 'Yahoo.'

Flows: The photos on this report were taken in April of 2003 at 450 cfs on the SF Yuba Internet Gauge.