Friday, December 26, 2008

Upper Elk Creek (Klamath Drainage): IV

Sorry, there are no pictures yet for this write-up. It is strictly to provide some beta and rave about one of the most under-recognized creeks in Northern California. I first ran Elk Creek one day when nearby classic Clear Creek seemed a touch high. We took out just below the turnoff to the East Fork of Elk Creek and put in about a mile above Sulphur Springs campground by hiking up the trail on river-left. Then we learned we could have driven that far up. I was blown away by the quality of the run, with several miles of good gradient and mostly bedrock slides and ledges.

Recently, I went back in with a crew of five and we got the logistics dialed in. We put in even higher up and gained over a mile of fun class IV above the trailhead. The section above Sulphur Springs is characterized by long, low angle slides. It's slide after slide after slide. Some of them may have a fun boof somewhere in the middle, a blind corner, or perhaps a big hole at the bottom. Then there will be a good eddy to regroup above the next slide. It went on like this for miles!

Eventually, we came to a steeper, shorter slide on a sharp right turn and scouted. It was a clean drop with a good eddy at the bottom, but the next rapid was the most significant on the run and we all chose the easy portage along the bedrock shelf on the left. From there it was a short paddle down to the footbridge at Sulphur Springs where the character changed significantly.

Rapids on the lower section were shorter and several had significant ledge drops. Again, we boat-scouted our way down most of the run through quality class IV rapids. At the higher flow, there were several key class IV+ moves to avoid significant holes. About two miles below Sulphur Springs we came to a three-part rapid below a big slide and scouted with some creative clambering on the right bank. Other than the earlier portage above Sulphur Springs, this was the toughest rapid on the run verging on class V. It is somewhat complex and culmunates in a powerful 8-foot ledge, but it went just fine provided you were upright and paddling.

The last mile was back to class III boogey water until the take-out. Elk Creek is truly a gem of a run and I'm amazed it doesn't get more lip service for having so many clean, fun drops. This is a great place to get some training on creekboating.


From Hwy. 96 in Happy Camp, turn onto Elk Creek Road and cross the Klamath. After about 10-12 miles, there is a left turn for the East Fork of Elk Creek. Continue straight with the river on your left about 1/4 mile and keep your eyes peeled for a little double-track cutting off to the left. This public mining claim makes a great take-out.

To reach the put-in, continue upstream following signs for Sulphur Springs. Put in here if you don't want to deal with the portage or continue up the road another 1.5 miles to the trailhead. If you want to hike and add some miles (highly recommended with good water flows) you'll have to follow the trail to the creek, get in your boat, and ferry across to continue up the trail on creek-left. Hike as far as you have time for, it only seems to get better the further you go!

Elk Creek has no gage, but is very close to Indian Creek into the Klamath. Any correlation is very approximate. On our first trip in January of 2010, Indian Creek was flowing about 1000 cfs. This put Clear Creek on the high side of good and we found Elk Creek to carry about 250-300 cfs at Sulphur Springs. This was a good flow, but my recommended minimum. The main rapids were fun, the in-between was bony, and it overall made for a class III-IV day.

The second trip was in late October of 2010 during the first rainstorm of the season. Indian Creek must have soaked more water into the soil, because it only came up to 700 cfs. Meanwhile, Elk Creek was actually much higher than the previous trip, and we estimate flows of 450-500 cfs at Sulphur Springs. This was a more preferable flow as it padded out all the gravel bars and shallow slides. However, it also made every pool a bit flushy, created some stomping holes, and gave the whole run more of a class IV+ feel with a few tougher drops.

The portage above Sulphur Springs just looked manky and nasty at the lower flows. At higher water, it was quite clean but the turbulence cauldron of a landing zone scared us all away. Next time Elk Creek, Next time.

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