The Upper K is one of our standby fall runs in Califoregon. It features dependable flows year-round from J.C. Boyle Powerhouse and excellent class IV big water. Commercial outfits run trips through this canyon daily throughout the summer. I generally only bother with this run in September and October when there are no other options. In the spring, however, the dam often releases extra water, making this a very worthwhile pursuit.
Putting in at the powerhouse where commercial groups launch affords paddlers about five miles of warm-up with a handful of class II and one or two class III rapids. The river eventually winds down to Frain Ranch, where the Topsy Grade route reaches the river level. A half-mile downstream, the river constricts and drops out of sight into Caldera, a long, fast, powerful class IV+ rapid full of big waves. The first hundred feet of this rapid present the biggest challenge, with a couple big holes to avoid. Scouting the lower three quarters of the rapid is difficult and unnecessary. There are micro-eddies throughout the rapid that kayakers can catch if you're on your game, but it's much more fun to just bomb through the whole thing.
Caldera from the bottom at 2700 cfs
Below Caldera is a fun set of class III rapids that lead up to another horizon line: Satan's Gate. Here the river drops around a corner through another long rapid. The best line is right of center at the top, then read-and-run the rest of the way down through big waves. The short pool below is punctuated by the longest rapid: Hell's Corner.
Hell's Corner is almost twice as long as Caldera but less steep. The entrance deserves a scout if no one in the group knows the run. After the beginning, work to the middle as the river bends to the left and get back right around the short right bend. The river will then take a sharp left turn and go over the last part of the rapid known as Dragon's Tooth. Go left here or take the right boof over the tooth.
Langdon Adams dwarfed by Hells Corner about 2/3 through
The river eases up a bit below Hell's Corner, but the action is far from over. Several more rapids including Wells Fargo, Ambush, Snag Island, and Stateline Falls are peppered throughout the next several miles.
Rafts below Snag Island Left, the junkiest line on the river.
Below Stateline Falls is the take out on the left, where paddlers are reminded that there's still this whole shuttle thing to take care of. On my last trip down at high water, Darin had the shuttle totally figured out with an old motorcycle he had just bought. The shuttle goes much faster by motorcycle than by truck and mountain bikes move almost as quickly over the rocky, rutted terrain. If the shuttle road were improved, laps would certainly be in order for this run.
Jessie Coombs surfing towards the end of the run