North Fork of the Kaweah (Lower)
|Stretch:||Yucca Creek to Kaweah|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to V-|
|Flows:||350-600? cfs (1.7’ to +2.5’). Current Dreamflows est gauge|
|Gradient:||146 fpm for 2.3 miles then 87 fpm for 4 miles|
|Take-out:||Bridge in Kaweah on North Fork Drive|
|Shuttle:||7 miles (20 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Winter from rain, Spring from snowmelt|
|Featured in Video Twenty-Eight|
A few months ago, Darin and I went to Three Rivers for a week of boating. Due to a Hospital Rock induced trio of cracks that the Upper North Kaweah turned into a very large hole, the trip ended after just two days. The following week I ended up at a wedding in nearby Hanford and returned with my brother to get on the Gateway run. Flash forward 2 months, as a cold spell hits Sacramento in the middle of May, I begin talk to friends who suggest going South will ensure warm weather and perfect water… at least the water part was right.
Anyways, we had a good time. I think this run is comparable the Upper North Fork in difficulty. Unlike the Upper though, this run does not have the bed rock drops that make the Upper so great. Also unlike the Upper, the Lower does not have a hike and the in between rapids are really fun. I am not sure which I liked more, both had their perks. Luckily, most people won’t have to choose, if the water is 2.0 or above, most will choose to do the Lower, if it is 1.7 or below most will get on the Lower. Only in the middle few inches is their much debate when both runs are still doable. Personally, 1.95’ (400 on dreamflows gauge) for the Lower felt just a smidge under perfect, I think 2.1 would have been just enough to cover some of the rocks without making anything too pushy. At our flow, I thought the run was mostly class IV with a few rapids that were IV+ and could bump up to easy V- if the flows were a little higher. I have been told though at 2.4 it has much more of a class V feel to it and can certainly believe it. One final thought, did I mention that this run has a perfectly clean and runnable ~25 foot falls? Well it does.
Also, be prepared to catch some small eddies and to read and run many of the rapids. Several of the longer ones sneak up on you and before you know it you are running it. It is not the place to be
- A fun class IV or two provide a warm up before the first large rapid.
Portage #1 (IV+). Three channels. Far left is dinky and provides a sneak. Center was a fun clean line that you want to drive right down the final ramp to avoid the pocket hole in the middle. Far right looked ok though may be harder to avoid the hole.
Slide (III-). Just below is a fun double slide. Too bad the rock isn’t smoother.
Accelerator (IV+ to V-). This one really sneaks up on you. Diane caught the one “eddy” near the lip forcing Ian to probe the line for us as he went on by. We started center and drove right away from the sieves. Some hydraulics push you back left towards them. Once on the second ramp it is all smooth sailing. At higher flows I am not sure if this would become easier or harder.
Right Side Leap (III+). The far right line is the easiest. Ian and I ventured down the center and each found a weird rock at the lip causing some humorous flailing through the air. The left/center side lands in a pin apparently, guess we should have read Bill’s write-up better prior to running the river.
- Cherry Falls (V-). This drop is fun! Catch an eddy on the left once you notice the large and unmistakable horizon. Enter left of the hole 20 feet above the drop and drop down the seam. Great fun. The two of us that ran it our day had our paddles taken from us and only one of us (not me) nailed the hand roll. I also lost an elbow guard which sucks since it was a replacement for one that was stolen and was only 1 month old!
Twisted Sister (IV+ to V-). Just at the end of the pool is a large rapid that should be scouted on the right. A large ledge with large holes leads to a pinch and over a hole. There was 2 spots in this rapid that looked a little dangerous. We decided to bang down the entrance no the right and then work left at the bottom.
Reach in and Find the Surprise (IV to IV+). Great name! Again, should have read better. Or learned our lessons. Instead each one of us boof straight off the left of center tongue and landed straight on rocks. Left angle moving across diagonally is nice a clean. From there, run the good size hole exit and dodge a few rocks.
Diagonal (IV+). Sweet Drop. Start right, move left across the entrance and then move back right behind the large boulder (hole).
Hole in the Wall (IV to IV+). A fun class III+ lead in lulls you to complacency as you bend sharply right and the river drops into a good size hole with a large pocket on the right. since it is around the corner the first you might know that your buddy is having problems is as you round the corner and he looks up the slot, making eye contact, it is a sweet moment shared between to boating buddies. You then drive further left and find that the boof on the left lands just feet in front of a rock that you will then piton. Try to boof center, hope your buddy isn’t in the landing.
- The rapids get easier, and now are class III-IV.
Chutes and Ladders (IV). A fun double drop, punch the hole and hug the right wall as you slide down into the hole below. Smiles all around.
- Paradise Beach use to be a nice take-out, but the BLM didn’t have enough funding to keep it clean so now you have to keep on boating.
There are a few more fun drop in the class III to IV- range, then the run gets nasty and lame. Dodge trees, be ever aware that logs due block some of the channels, and stay safe. Also, at mile 5.8 or so there is a couple foot tall diversion dam. The ranch here is very unfriendly. Do not step on the land, do not make a bunch of noise, just paddle past and hope that you don’t hear gunshots (which apparently has happened).
Take-out: East of Visalia on Highway 198, just as you get to the Three Rivers, turn left on North Fork Drive. Follow this 7 miles to the bridge over the North Fork Kaweah in the small community of Kaweah. There are no parking signs everywhere. About a quarter of a mile down river the signs ceased so we parked there though we actually took out at the bridge. There is another option which involves taking out on closed BLM land and hiking 1.3 miles upriver to where the car is parked as well. This makes the run short and sweet and without the pain in the but paddle out. I am not sure the exact logistics of that plan though so we just put up with the paddle out mank.
Put-in: Drive 7 miles further up the North Fork Drive. At mile 6 the river makes a Y, stay left and pass through the gate. Follow this down into the park (no entrance fee) and park near the water. This is also the take-out for the Upper.
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