View downstream from the shuttle bridge into a 20-ft deep pool
The water in this creek is the clearest I have ever seen and the lushly vegetated canyon is breath-taking. The few views we did get were all too obscured for us to appreciate the seriousness of the rapids that lay below. After about two and a half miles, we finally reached a pack bridge over the creek where we could put in. Now we got to paddle. The first rapid was a fast wake-up call to the power of the river. The high flow pushed us all around as it constricted through a 7-foot wide slot. Gabe probed just about every rapid and we soon reached a long class II stretch wrapping around a blind corner. We all crammed into an eddy just above where the lead-in became a big class IV rapid.
Scouting from the middle of the first big rapid
I probed the drop, then took video of Adam 1 styling the rapid. Just afterward, my camera announced the battery was empty and shut itself down. I’m quite disappointed in myself for not charging the battery, because the photography conditions that day were ideal for my little point-and-shoot. We continued down through a couple more pushy class IV+ boulder gardens. The typical rapid involved making some ferry to dodge a sieve/undercut, bracing through some big laterals, and punching a massive hole somewhere in the middle. At this flow, it would be raftable by a solid team, but I wouldn’t want to be on the river with them to help portage.
Soon enough, we came up to another big rapid I’d call class V. We all opted for a partial portage along the right side then ran a little sneak slot around a hole and scraped over a shallow ledge. I tried scraping over said ledge upside down pressed against my back deck, and fortunately had elbow pads on, so I didn’t suffer any injuries. Thanks Mike! A little further downstream, Gabe started to get antsy with our slow scouting. He hopped out for a quick peek at the next horizon line, and gave verbal directions to the rest of us. “You can either boof the rock in the middle, or go right of the rock. But don’t go too far right because there’s a tree dipping into the river.” I was out of my boat scouting at this point, and Adam 1 was peeling out to probe. As he pulled out, he mentioned that he wasn’t sure which rock to boof, but wanted nothing to do with the tree, so he took his best guess.
The hole that ate Adam, taken on a later trip when the boof was good
He guessed right, but the boof wasn’t there. Adam got stopped immediately and began side-surfing. He gave a valiant effort, but the hole had no exit. He swam before I could get a rope to him and Gabe gave chase. Gabe took the tongue between the hole and the log and disappeared downstream. I went back up to my boat and Adam 2 and I composed ourselves and headed downstream. In the pool below, we still saw no sign of our friends. I got out to scout the next drop and found a sieved out right sided and a pushy left line with a nasty hole at the bottom. Adam 2 led this time and I followed close behind. After I cleared the hole, I saw Adam 2 out of his boat clinging to rocks with his boat and paddle both bouncing down the rapid. I made sure he was ok and took off after his gear.
Now we had two swimmers gear all over the river. The boat eddied itself out and I caught the paddle just above another horizon line. In the midst of all this, I had passed Gabe and Adam 1 and was now the furthest downstream. After a few minutes, we were all reunited minus one paddle. Gabe pulled out his break-down and we scouted the next rapid: a messy class V we all portaged. We got back into the read-and-run flow with Gabe out front. I seem to remember flipping a lot after the swims but always flushed and rolled up. After another half mile of class III-IV+ pool drop rapids, we came to an 8-foot ledge with an upstream horseshoe shape and a mean hole in the middle. Sneak lines existed on both sides, but after seeing one run, Adam 1 decided to hike out. This rapid marks the last spot where a hike out is reasonable. Both Adams were exhausted from their swims and decided to call it a day. I was getting tired, but still felt good about my paddling, so Gabe and I continued down.
The horseshoe ledge: your last chance to hike out
This is where the canyon really gorged up. We came to several big horizon lines that couldn’t be scouted. One rapid was marginally scoutable and just above the shuttle bridge. This one was a steep, uniform ledge with two massive holes and no sneak line. After sweating a little bit, Gabe and I worked upstream, got a little speed, and powered through both big hits without much trouble. The un-scoutable, un-portageable class IV gorge continued for about a half-mile before we eddied out for the mandatory portage. At this flow, the eddy above the portage was really only big enough for one boat at a time, but spacing wasn’t an issue with our reduced party size.
The last drop of the portage. If you're still concious going over this, you'll have to get out of your boat and rip off your life jacket to flush below the 20-foot boil line.
We made the portage and got to do a sweet seal launch into the pool below. After the next little rapid, Gabe announced we were pretty much done. We boogied through a couple more class IV drops and about a quarter mile later, we arrived at the biggest horizon line of the day. “Oh shit,” said Gabe, “I forgot about this one.”
The best scout you can get of the final mandatory class V
I could see that the river dropped out of sight, and somewhere downstream, about 50 feet below us and 200 yards later, it pooled up again. What lay in the middle was a mystery. The canyon walls made this drop completely unportageable and mostly unscoutable. Fortunately, a recent landslide had changed the rapid. The rapid wasn’t any easier, but there were some rocks to park on and at least stand up on. I found a tree that was leaning into the river and climbed up it a little ways to peer into the rapid below. All I could see was a steep rocky lead-in moving into a series of ledges, but had no idea where to go. It looked like there might have been a sneak line on the far left, so we paddled down there and caught a little micro-eddy above the first ledge. Gabe told me how stupid the left line looked up close and made a hero ferry across the river to the other wall. He gave me a quick grin, shrugged, and peeled out.
A picture of the mandatory class V finale taken from the road on a later trip. Note the kayak for scale just below the big ledge we eddied out above.
Clear Creek doesn’t have a gauge, but it lies one drainage over from Indian Creek. When we ran Clear Creek, the Indian Creek gauge at Happy Camp was reading 930 cfs. Clear Creek typically carries a little more water, but the two levels are pretty closely correlated. At this flow, Clear Creek is definitely a class V run. Only three of the rapids are class V, but the last one is mandatory/unscoutable and with the committing nature of the gorge, this is no place for a class IV boater like me. Clear Creek was within my ability level, but beyond my comfort zone. I am eager to see the run again, with a charged camera battery and a little less water. I’ve heard rumors of a 14-mile class III-IV wilderness run upstream of the gorge that you hike into from the other side, so that just may be my next big destination. Until then, I need to get in better shape.