American, Middle Fork, California, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-IV(V+) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||23 fpm|
|MIDDLE FK AMERICAN R NR OXBOW PH|
|cdec-OXB||700 - 3000 cfs||II-IV(V+)||01h48m||4877 cfs (too high)|
This is a popular summer and fall rafting river since it has dependable daily flows from Oxbow powerhouse. It is usually done in a day, but it also makes a nice overnight trip, giving time to explore the many interesting side canyons and relics from mining days.
Overnight camping permits are required, and as of June 2015, it is legal to camp year round.
Camping is permited in the following areas on the Middle Fork American:
· Volcano Creek to Big Snyder Gulch
· Gas Canyon to Browns Bar
Contact Auburn State Recreation Area Whitewater Recreation Office: (530) 823-4162
CA State Parks Gold Fields District Office: (916) 988-0205
Each summer runners competing in the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and Riders competing in The Tevis Cup cross the Middle Fork American River at Ruck-a-Chucky Campground (Drivers Flat Take-Out). To facilitate these events scheduled releases are typicaly earlier in the day and Drivers Flat Road may be closed.
For the dates of these events see the respective websites:
Western States 100 http://www.wser.org/
The Tevis Cup http://www.teviscup.org/
Two dangerous rapids stand out. Tunnel chute is a steep jagged man made channel leading to a calm float through a tunnel in the hillside. Ruck-a Chucky is a difficult portage around a big boulder jumble.
Other Information Sources:
CA Creekin' description.
Class V Love, by Mark White in the AW Journal Archives.
Video of river closing due to high water (5,666 cfs) from gate malfunction Aug. 5, 2004
All Outdoors report of high water from gate malfunction Aug. 5, 2004
All Outdoors Rafting video
Tunnel Chute video - raft
Rafting - R1- through Ruck a Chucky Falls- video
Book References: Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Martin, Penny, Gerald Meral
Oxbow Powerhouse is one of 5 powerhouses and 7 diversions in the Middle Fork American River Project, which is presently going through the relicensing process.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|2.1||Tunnel Chute Entrance from Upstream||N/A|
|2.1||Tunnel Chute Left Channel||5.3|
|2.1||Entrance to the Tunnel from Right Bank||N/A|
|5.0||Nine miles of Class I and II||II|
|13.5||Big Snyder Gulch||N/A|
|14.3||Chunder (a.k.a Upper Ruck-A-Chucky or Duck Soup)||IV|
|14.5||Ruck-A-Chucky Splendor from Downstream|
|14.7||Cleavage (Lower Ruck-A-Chucky)||IV|
|15.5||Class III-IV Rapids||III+|
|16.5||Best Raft Crew on the Middle Fork celebrates at the takeout.|
Put-in on the Middle Fork is just below the Oxbow Powerhouse penstock. This results in a cold wake-up call as the abruptness of this irregular rapid with swirly mid-40s August water slaps you in the face.
Fun rapid following a sweeping right hand bend
Waves lead into a 90 degree left bend.
Last Chance is a sticky hole you want to run clean. Just downstream is Tunnel Chute. Scout both Last Chance and Tunnel Chute on river right. There is a big eddy and obvious cobble stone beach. (private land please be respectful)
If you elect to portage Tunnel Chute, eddy out on river left immediately below Last Chance. Above 2000 cfs; according to Cassady, Cross, and Calhoun; its very difficult or impossible to put on below the chute just in front of the 90' long tunnel blasted by gold miners that gives the rapid its name.
Stay to the right to ride the chute, or go left if you choose to portage. Warning: Above 2000 cfs, it becomes very difficult to put back on after bypassing Tunnel Chute because the distance is short between the bottom of the rapid and 90' Rock Tunnel and at that level the water on the left bank is very turbulent at the bottom of the rock wall you need to descend to get to the river. (See pictures below.)
Rather gnarly Class IV - V. Most opt for the right side and ride the chute.
Tunnel Chute is a violent narrow steep chasm the entire river flows through. Immediately below the chute is a 90' long calm rock tunnel that gives the rapid its name. Blasted by gold miners, the chute leading to the tunnel has sharp sides that can damage rafts, kayaks, and people. River right is a vertical rock wall. River left is waterfall that runs the entire length of the chute. Swimming here may be just a quick flush down the center of the chute, but it easily could result in injuries if a swimmer is pounded against the rock wall on the right, or perhaps a deeper and longer experience if the swimmer gets caught in the holes at the bottom of the falls on river left.
At the bottom of the chute, the rapid becomes analagous to the "It's A Small World" Ride at DisneyWorld...or at least it seems that way after the adrenaline rush of the Chute. This picture gives some idea of the rock wall on the left bank, so if Tunnel Chute is portaged and you try to put back on below the chute prior to the tunnel, you can get an idea of the difficulty--especially when the water is above 2000 cfs and this water remains quite turbulent.
Emerging from the Tunnel, looking back through it at the left wall of Tunnel Chute.
Enter right and move left to the center of the river channel.
This is the beginning of the upper camping section
Also called Bus Crash, Lettuce Hole.
Kanaka is a fun rapid that western boaters say is similar to Sunderland's Chute on the Tuolumne; and eastern boaters say it's similar to but not as difficult as Insignificant on the Upper Gauley. Having run both, I'd say it's more like Sunderland's Chute. At the end of a pool, the river drops pretty steeply. Like Insignificant, there are a couple of big holes obstructing the channel, but they are nowhere near the same scale as that 5.0 behemoth. Unlike Insignificant, Kanaka is pretty much a short straight run once you are lined up and the reversals are evident from the top. Scout and portage on the left.
After Kanaka, the river changes in character and flattens out. From here until Chunder it's easy Class I and II in a spectacular forest green river canyon. Spattered throughout this section are active miner rigs with divers along the river bottom, geologic faults in the rock walls, and numerous places for side hikes, sunning beaches, and places to pick wild blackberries. Wildlife includes deer, eagles, hawks, ducks, and rattlesnakes, so be careful along the banks. Bear have been sited in the canyon, but are rare.
This is the end of the upper camping section
A rough dirt roads leads downstream from here to the Greenwood Bridge site and better roads out of the canyon. If your 4WD vehicle is up to it, and if the road is open, you can avoid portages at Chunder, Ruck-A-Chucky, and the next two miles of Class IV by taking out here.
Chunder is a straightforward Class IV ledge drop. However, 80 yards downstream of Chunder is Ruck-A-Chucky Falls--a 30' Class V+ to VI waterfall. The right side of Ruck-A-Chucky is a Boulder Sieve that is very fatal. If the crash into the boulders at the bottom doesn't kill you, the recirculating hole with the water crashing down on you will. Most rafts run Chunder and give paddlers the opportunity to walk-around. A swim here is easy as a pool separates Chunder from Ruck-A-Chucky, but urgent nonetheless. If you are not prepared to run Ruck-A-Chucky and you think that Chunder might give you trouble, PORTAGE on river right.
This picture shows the view looking downstream at the Ruck-A-Chucky Falls horizon line. WARNING: The right side is a Boulder Sieve Death Trap that has claimed lives, kayaks, and rafts. The 30' middle channel drop is Class V+ and runnable in a raft. The left side (not visible)is Class VI and should not be attempted. Please note, while the Middle Channel is now run regularly by raft guides from some companies, there are submerged boulders at the bottom of the drop and many severely undercut rocks. A swim here would be long, deep, and potentially highly injurious. Portage on River Right.
Beginning lower camping zone