Bridge Creek is the most talked about kayak run in
California area. Oregon
Kayaking has a video
of Bridge Creek.
I was curious if Bridge Creek would hold up to all
hype about the
epic put-in, manky mank and big clean drops, all combining into
amazingly long day that has caused more then a few hike outs. To rehash
some information, the run entails a 2.5 mile hike in, 1.5 which is flat
and 1 mile that drops around 2,000 feet. This is followed by a three
mile run down Bridge Creek that alternates between 400fpm and as high
as 800fpm in one section. This is followed by nine miles of class IV-V
big water notorious for causing swims. All these details and statistics
are from outside sources, so don’t quote me on it!
I woke up Thursday morning wondering how exactly I had managed to get
to the put-in for an 11 mile wilderness run.
The hike-in for Bridge Creek is everything
be. The downhill was about as steep as I had imagined it to be, lots of
controlled sliding and some uncontrolled sliding down steep slopes.
Somehow I had pictured it as 200-300 yards of steep downhill, not a
full mile of downhill sliding and hiking as it really is. By the time
we hit river level at 11 Tristan and I had been on the trail almost two
hours, surprising to both of us by how long it took.
Somehow Bridge Creek has an ability to attract abnormally large groups
of kayakers, with six being normal from all reports. The previous week
a group of seven had six swims, something that was definitely on my
mind with poor swimming ability due to previous shoulder injury. We
managed to have a normal Shasta or Ashland sized paddling group, just
Tristan Ragsdale and myself. Upon seeing the water Tristan declared it
to be on the low end of medium, which I was happy to see. From the
start the run is steep, rocky, and contains it’s fair share
of mank and wood. Eventually we came to a cleaner section and I was
just following Tristan down and was surprised as we ran a 50 yard
sliding lead into a 10’-15’ waterfall, followed by
a clean 20’ waterfall, some of the larger stuff I have run
blind but amazingly clean and fun. This fun double drop came shortly
after the two aforementioned drops.
Ragsdale running a double drop
More mank was the norm for a short bit, then we
this epic slide
that has a great boof at the bottom. Hands down one of the highest
quality, exciting drops I have ever run. Ear to ear grin on landing the
boof. You gain so much momentum on the 20’ slide before the
boof you go flying off and land past the tree.
author getting his boof on.
is so much on this run my memory
is vague, the next sizeable drop
was this beautiful waterfall.
required landing with a good river
right angle to avoid a mandatory
log jam portage directly down stream. Tristan Ragsdale sets the angle
The portage below the waterfall was a second
throw and go
portage, more fun then your average portage. Sometime below this we
portaged a drop that Tristan thought was “Penalty
Box”. Penalty Box is a rapid notorious for giving a
combination of beat downs and life changing experiences due to
it’s borderline terminal retentiveness at certain flows.
Before doing the run I had already made up my mind to portage the drop,
wanting to save my shoulder from any beat downs, and myself from life
Mank filled the middle of the run, with lots of broaches and each of us
suffering brief vertical pins that we were able to work out of. We got
out to scout a sliding drop that had a funky recirculating eddy on the
right, and while we started at it for a while Tristan threw a log in.
The first log flushed through, and I didn’t think the rapid
looked that bad. One more log was thrown in and got stuck in the
depression, but for some reason it didn’t bother me and
Tristan set safety and took pictures while I ran the drop.
here is to come down the middle driving hard, and a little bit left
with a big boof at the end.
felt like I made the move but was
still fully submerged when I hit
the water. Note the large depression on river right. I'm in there
I resurfaced in the depressed eddy, swirled around perfectly to try and
paddle out and did so, but didn’t get very close to making it
Thanks to Tristan for the great safety on this
one, he got
the rope to
me perfectly while I was in my boat, and I bailed out and was pulled up
the slope of slippery rock. My boat proceeded to wash in circles
through the eddy, along with the small log we threw in several minutes
before I ran it. Eventually my boat came within reachable distance and
I grabbed it. I was standing on the rocks with my boat 90% out of the
water and was working on getting it drained when all the sudden surge
hit the boat and it started to slide back in. Because I was below the
whirlpool I held on and swam a thankfully smooth slide with the boat
and shoved it into a downstream eddy. Huge overall idiot move on my
We took a refreshing lunch break, followed by
large dose of
ibprofen and we were on the water again. Just a short ways below this
slide I was following Tristan a little too far behind and he went
around a corner in a small mini gorge and I followed. It was only a 4
ledge, and I noted a sweet boof on the right while I went down the
middle. Next thing I knew I was upside down and getting pummeled by
water and up against a wall. I tucked up for a while trying to save the
shoulder, then tried a painful roll and didn’t get too far on
it because I was still getting worked on the wall. Running out of
breath I had the cursed thought of “am I going to
swim?”. One more roll got me up, and I was relieved to see I
was flushing downstream and away from my own beat down in the Penalty
In a short amount of time we were above the last drop on Bridge Creek.
The last drop is a sweet 15’ slide into a 15’
waterfall, very clean and fun. This picture does it no justice.
Ragsdale kayaking the last
waterfall on Bridge Creek.
Tristan and I were equally glad to be on Wooley
off the mank
sections of Bridge Creek. Bridge Creek took us a lot longer than
expected, partly because of my situation and multiple portages. Overall
kayaking Bridge Creek took just under four hours with a lunch break
included. Now we only had nine miles of class IV-V read and run big
water creeking left. I was feeling pretty good at this point and stoked
to be in deep water. The first four miles flew by filled with class III
rock garden rapids stacked on top of each other. The Wooley Camp
Association cabin marked the turning point in Wooley Creek, as the
first gorge lies just downstream. I had done the lower
section of Wooley Creek
Jon Vengley two years before, and thought the larger rapids were in the
bottom gorge. I thought wrong, and was surprised at the size of the
rapids on Wooley Creek, and started getting tired quickly. At one point
I was rolling in almost every rapid, and just barely rolling at that.
Eventually we got to familiar territory from our previous trip, and I
was able to suck it up for three more large rapids. I think being in my
boat at the bottom of “Fat Lady Sings” was one of
the most relieving feelings I have ever had on the river. From there on
out it was class III paddling into the Salmon, then a short paddle to
Brannon Bar river access. This is where Tristan blew me away and did a
full eighteen-mile uphill shuttle on a mountain bike after a full day
kayaking Bridge and Wooley Creek. What a savage!
Creek is one of the greatest kayaking
adventures in Northern
California, but also one I don’t think I would do more then
once or twice a year. Shuttle was surprisingly simple considering the
roads going everywhere. Take the Forest Service road that is a left
turn just a short ways up Salmon River Road from Somes Bar. Follow the
signs to and past Camp Three Campsite. When you pass Camp Three
continue on to following signs to Black Mountain Trailhead, and
eventually take a left fork and you’ll be right at
“Let-er-Buck” trailhead. This is the second picture
on the page, the road is only 200 yards long before it dead ends. The
hike starts here on the road directly downhill from the trailhead, hike
to your right on the decommissioned road and follow it for about a mile
and a half before you drop down the steep trail to the river. Better
then all directions is having a friend who has done this run before, it
would be an impressive achievement to complete the run in one day
without an experienced person.