Trip Report: Feather (North Fork "Cresta" - 1000cfs) - Sept. 24, 2005
Run: North Fork Feather (Cresta)
Difficulty: III+ to IV
Flow: 1000 cfs
I had my first experience on the Feather this weekend, with a nice run from the Cresta Dam down to the Cresta Power House. I had some trouble figuring out the best directions from San Francisco, so here's what appears to work best:
* 80 East across Bay Bridge from San Francisco toward Sacramento
* Highway 113/99 North from Davis to Yuba City. Alternately via I-5/99/70 through Sacramento.
* Highway 20 East from Yuba City to Marysville
* Highway 70 North from Marysville to Cresta Powerhouse
All in all, it's about 175 to 185 miles from San Francisco. The drive took about 3.5 hours with a short stop and no traffic to speak of. Highway 113 is a two lane highway in most places, but avoided a lot of traffic. Be careful of the speed limit since the Bold Brian ran afoul of our friends at the CHP in a 55mph zone.
I hit the Cresta Powerhouse takeout about 50 miles or so from Marysville. That day it had a "Special Events" sign and "Whitewater Parking" courtesy of American Whitewater since they were running shuttle that day. Otherwise it's the second PG&E power generation facility on the way up just after Poe Dam. Don't get it confused with Cresta Dam, which is the Cresta put-in.
The American Whitewater Shuttle helps a lot given the limited parking at Cresta Dam. Although the shuttle is only supposed to take 10-15 minutes, it was a busy day and it took us about an hour to get loaded and dropped off after a short stop at Shady Rest to drop off other paddlers for the class 2-3 section. The bus was standing room only - with some paddlers smelling fresher than others! The shuttle seemed to come about every 45 minutes or so on average, except of course when it's packed and takes longer to do the drop off. We missed a shuttle and so had almost 2 hours of waiting around and shuttle before getting in the water.
The put-in at Cresta Dam is pretty infamous. Many talk of it being a "class V" put-in, which translated means that it's a steep drop into the canyon below the dam and is near vertical in places. The path is narrow to non-existent with loose rocks and dirt, a challenge to stay on your feet with a 50lb kayak and all your gear. Don't bother if you don't have the right footwear. There were a couple of alternative routes down, one with ropes that had been setup which we didn't try. It's manageable, just gotta be very careful. I saw a snapped Werner paddle but no other injuries.
I always get way too nervous on new runs and this one wasn't an exception. I was stiff and out of my groove for the first mile or so, but soon got settled in. I hadn't been paddling in a few weeks, which didn't help.
In my humble opinion the run down to Shady Rest is a solid III+, of course County Rapid is a IV all day long. Much of the III+ is technical at 1000 cfs and really bony in places. Rolling is often not a great idea at all.
County Rapid (IV) is worth the scout for a first time, but the moves weren't too hard. The hole at the bottom was a bit sketchy but flushy at 1000 cfs if you rolled over. It would side surf you for a while otherwise. Check out Brian as he takes a line through the main event: Video 7MB
Some of the moves on the run are definitely "must make", especially at Table Rock (aka Cow Catcher aka Cave Rapid). This is one of those rapids where paddler stories abound about rescues and death - unfortunately they're true. The GCP forum has a report of one incident. There is a big undercut rock with a submerged cave that will suck you in if you swim and get close to it. Given the consequences this seemed like a class IV to me, although the moves themselves aren't really hard. There is a little ledge drop/chute right above it which could catch you unawares and a swim there might not be recoverable before you get taken into the main rapid. With some apprehension I sailed through - sometimes talking it up just makes it worse. There's always the balance between sharing the right amount of information vs. getting caught up in too much drama & speculation.
Brian & Bob on the Feather
The run below Shady Rest is pretty tame, except for a supposed class IV at the takeout. It has a relatively straightforward line on river right, but the rapid definitely has a risk of getting pinned if you roll or swim.
I'd definitely recommend the run for solid III+ paddlers, I don't think it's a good run to do your first class IV - just my opinion for what it's worth. I didn't see any novice paddlers on the upper part of the Cresta run, since I think it has earned some respect. I'll be back. It was worth the long drive.
View of the Feather River