Bear River (Dutch Flat)
|Stretch:||Dutch Flat Reservoir to Chicago Park Powerhouse|
|Difficulty:||Class III-IV (Class V danger)|
|Flows:||400-1000 cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||72 fpm average (120 for the first mile)|
|Put-in:||Dutch Flat Reservoir|
|Take-out:||Chicago Park Powerhouse|
|Shuttle:||~15 miles (20 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||? Dam release|
First off, Mom if you are reading this, stop. Ok, now to continue. The hardest class III-IV run I have ever done. If class III-IV rapids with class V consequences via logs, log jams, brush 10 feet in on each shore, brush walls, 120 feet per mile, zero eddies and absolutely continuous rapids, are your cup of tea, than you will love this run. However, if the thought of swimming, certainly losing your gear, and being faced with the prospect of being forced to swim up to a mile, through unavoidable strainer walls is not appealing, than this run is not for you.
Seriously though, this run is very serious, I would recommend just plainly not doing it. The only reason I am writing it up is to warn people. Of the 4 people on the water the day I ran it, we all agreed that a swim could very likely end up fatal. There are literally no eddies for the first mile or so, in that time are continuous class III-IV rapids, and no joke the river disappears into walls of shrubs. The cardinal rule of boating is to not go around blind corners, however with this run, once you push off at put-in you have committed yourself to running the next mile blind, resulting in no less than 20 blind corners in this stretch alone. Your stomach will drop and you will want to throw up when you come around a blind corner and see a wall shrubs with all the water driving into them, to boot there is a class III move just above it that you must line up through in order to hit one of the two 2 foot by 2 foot openings to duck into and hope to God that you don’t turn sideways in the jungle or worse yet flip, and the shrubs are some 10-20 feet deep. Very scary. Thankfully the one river wide log we came across was well below here but still nearly got us. A log in the top 2 miles would have been disastrous. And trust me, there was more than enough wood in the river to safely assume that each month would bring the likelihood that the wood has moved.
So, now to the few positives, the put-in drop was class IV to IV+ or so, and the run out was class III for a mile or two. After that the rapid petered off to class II for the entire length of the run. No joke, there was not a single foot of slack water. The scenery is perverse. It is amazingly beautiful to see the river hydraulically mined into oblivion, to see dead tree stumps littering the river, to see fifteen foot tall cobble cliffs lining the river; all very beautiful, and very sad.
So the negatives; by the end of the run, you will be forced into running no less than 100 blind corners, any of which could end badly if a log moves or if you are without your boat. I am usually an advocate of the anything is worth doing once, but I don’t agree with that for this run. I regret being there and will not go back. If you do want to go, please be a class V boater. Although the rapids are only class IV, it would only be a matter of time before a bad accident happened if class IV boaters boated it. Also, if you do choose to run it, you can with some effort climb up the left cliff and walk down it on a trail and lower back down to the water just below the first rapid. This will significantly lower the consequences of the first stretch. I put the max water at 1,000 cause 200 more from what we had our day (1,050) and the shrub tunnel would have been a death trap in our opinion. At lower water it would be slower and perhaps less dangerous.
So now with the warnings out of the way, it is story time. So I tried for four days to get on this run. The first day the water dropped out, the second day we got skunked with the plan-A shuttle road having a gate across it. The third day people weren’t able to boat, and this fourth day was the success.
While Chris and I stood at the put in, contemplating the rapid and brush before us, we both wished we had a probe. Then Brad Brewer and Stephan something or other walked up and granted us our wish. After seeing them clean their lines we were no closer to wanting to run the unknown. But we thought, “hey, I looked up the gradient on Google Earth, 20 feet per mile, how bad could it possibly be?” Well, when you somehow mistype the numbers into your calculator and you are off by 100 feet for a mile and 40 feet per mile over all, it can be bad. So with that in our minds we decide to turn around from the beginnings of our walking back to the car, and instead put on the river. A decision that both of us agreed at the end of the day was the wrong decision. In the end, Chris in his experience and wisdom turned to me and said, “I don’t think I have to point this out, but in my years of boating, I have learned that you can only boat a river like so many times before it catches up to you.” (or something to that effect). Anyways, I already knew that exact sentiment but thought I would share it with you. Little mistakes can carry big consequences and can reverberate throughout your group. My mistake of measuring the gradient incorrectly not only put me in harm’s way but also put my friend who trusted me in harms way. If anything would have happened, I would not be able to forgive myself.
- You put in within the rapid (the only rapid on the run… 5.5 miles long). You drive right to avoid two holes. Watch out of the trees on the right shored overhanging the river, you will take a branch to the face. Don’t go left as you end up in a room of doom eddy.
From there it is read and run for a bit. After a rowdy section or two, you will come around a corner and see the river go into bushes. We both went right of center in the spot where you can kind of see through the other side of the brush.
After that, the rapids become easier.
In a bit, you will come around a right corner (28 minutes or so into the run) and a tree will be across the river. At 1,000 cfs you could get over it on the far right. There was a micro “eddy” about 50 feet upriver on the right that allowed you to hop out quickly. I wasn’t able to get out quick enough, with my paddle already out of my hands, and now flipping, I pulled and had to drag myself and my boat up the shore after using a frantic clawing on the lose cobble bank to arrest my motion downstream towards the tree. I stop about 10 feet above it.
After another little bit you will come another large right corner, a large eddy will be on the left shore (this is about 4.5 miles into the run, ~35 minutes), you will see another nearly river wide log spanning the left and center along with a stump on the right. We were able to squeeze between the two. From here it was smooth sailing. Good luck.
Any of the photos that are good quality are © Chris Shackleton, 2008. The crappy quality are mine... I forgot to beg Diane's nicer camera off her and my video camera takes crappy still photos... oh well.
Take-out: To get to the take out, take the Secret Town exit off of Highway 80 maybe 3 miles east of Colfax. Get to the north side of 80 and turn right on Secret Town Rd. Travel about a quarter mile and turn left on the non-gated road. It is easy to miss, if you start seeing train tracks you have gone about a half mile to far. Continue on this road for about 3 miles and park just past the bridge.
Put-in: Get back to Highway 80, head east for a few miles and exit at the Dutch Flat exit. Head north on Ridge Road following the signs to Dutch Flat. After a mile or so, follow the signs to Dutch Flat by turning left on Sacramento St. Continue 1 mile to the town of Dutch Flat. Continue to the end of the road and turn right on Main Street. In the middle of the small town (quarter mile or less) you will see a post office, turn left on the small paved road just past it. There is no sign but this is Diggins Hill. Continue 2 miles or so to the dam. There is a trail on the closer side of the dam that leads down to the water.
View Bear River, Dutch Flat in a larger map
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