South Fork of the Smith River (South Fork Gorge)
|Stretch:||Craig's Flat to Bridge|
|Difficulty:||Class IV+ (Class V at the higher flows I am sure)|
|Flows:||600-2500? Measured downstream. Current Dreamflows (est) gauge|
|Gradient:||41 fpm average (71 fpm in the Gorge)|
|Put-in:||Craig's Flat (Maybe Craig's Beach, can't remember)|
|Take-out:||Bridge over South Fork|
|Shuttle:||1 miles, 5 minutes|
|Season:||Winter Spring Fall (Natural)|
|Written:||© 2008 & 2009|
|Featured in Video Eighteen.|
The two prior times I had made the drive to the Smith drainage, the South Fork was raging and I chickened out on running this gorge. This past trip however the water was 2,000 cfs, the high side of recommended but still a great flow. This gorge is interesting, the road is about 50 feet above you, but it is impossible to get up to it once in the gorge and nearly as equal impossible to road scout the gorge due to slopping moss to a 40 foot cliff down to the water. All the rapids are scoutable, however one or two would be challenging to portage. The gorge itself is only about a mile long and once you know the lines, the entire run can take as few as 15 minutes.
The gorge itself is beautiful. Shear walls encapsulate the gorge leaving you with a feeling of being isolated while still so close to civilization. At 2,000 cfs the river was on the "sort-of" pushy side and many undercut walls were in play. A number of the hydraulics were awe inspiring and luckily only one had to be run through. We all agreed that the rapids were easy enough as long as you stayed upright and on line, but that a flip would be less-than-fun in several of the rapids. Many of the rapids when down with regard to consequences felt class IV but with regard to consequences felt more like IV+. A swim at our level would have been an ordeal, the rapids are all close together and most of the eddies at the lips actually had quite a bit of current pulling you into the next rapid. I would bet that 50% of the swimmers would have to track down their boat after the gorge at that flow (unless of course their team was on top of their game).
To make matters worse for swimmers, the gorge gets hardly any light making it much colder than on the rim, enough so that the rocks never seem to lose their dew covering.
This is a great gorge which is harder than Oregon Hole but not as hard as Siskiyou Gorge (at least at the flows I have experience with). Great scenery and great whitewater will make this a must do each time I am in the area.
Somehow with three cameras on the trip, one was left in the hotel, another broke at put-in, and the last was out of batteries. We did however take alot of video, so see the link in the table above for better documentation. Thanks to Mike Ward for sharing his photos with me.
After my first trip down with 2,100 cfs I have since gone back with 1,500 cfs and an interesting thing happened. The day before we ran Oregon Hole Gorge with the least water I had run it with (1,800 cfs) and found that Oregon Hole was harder than it is with 500 more while South Fork Gorge got a lot easier with the 500 less. To the point where Oregon Hole was harder than the South fork Gorge. Just something to I found interesting.
- The first half a mile is a nice class III warm up.
Split One (IV). The river splits and tumbles down. We went down the left side and into the hole at the bottom. We boat scouted from an eddy on the left.
Split Two (IV-). A less steep split. Both sides went, but the right was easier. We boat scouted from the left.
Hole to Avoid (IV to IV+). There were harder lines to be had, but the easiest line was to move hard right to left across the top of the rapid to avoid the massive hole on the right half way down. From there it was smooth sailing. I have since gone back with less water (1,500 cfs) and found the left of center boof was the easiest line. This avoided any chance of getting sucked into the huge hole recirculating on the right shore.
Undercut in Play (IV+). A two tiered drop, the first was a large ramp with some weird hydraulics. You wanted to hit the right side of it. This fed straight into the second tier which was a pinch drop into a hole. There was a major undercut in play on the left so we hit the right edge of the hole. There was also an undercut on the right wall which had to be minded. Don't be upside down I guess. At lower flows, this rapid is probably the hardest. There is a large hole in the middle that can be boofed over on the left. From there avoid the undercuts at the bottom.
Finale (IV+). A three tiered drop finishes off the run with a huge bang... or rather a huge hole (at 2,000 cfs). The first tier was easiest to run by boofing the far right. The middle and left had a bad hole and flushed into a rocky area. The second tier we took down the right moving center. The final tier was a huge hole which could be taken on the far far left, but this flirted with a huge undercut wall, or into the meet on a seam on the right near the right wall. We took the right side and it worked out alright. A day later the flows dropped by 100 cfs and the hole's seam closed out and it was just a hole... and resulted in being a bit harder to get through, but it lets the group through.
Take out: Take 199 from 101 about 7 miles. You will see the confluence of the South and Middle Forks of the Smith on your left, look for South Fork Road a hundred yards later. The first bridge is over the Middle Fork and the Second is over the South Fork. There is parking before and after the bridge, the trail leads up to the parking before the bridge.
Put in: Continue up the South Fork Road (stay left after the bridge). Continue about ~2 Miles, until you get to Craig's Flat (maybe Craig's Beach, I cant remember). This is put in. A short trail leads down to the water.
View South Smith, Gorge in a larger map
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