San Joaquin, S. Fork - Bridge over Piute Creek to Florence Lake


San Joaquin, S. Fork, California, US

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Bridge over Piute Creek to Florence Lake

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 14 Miles
Avg. Gradient 100 fpm

Bridge over the South Fork near Take-out


Bridge over the South Fork near Take-out
Photo by Trevor Haagenson taken 06/15/04



River Description

The South Fork San Joaquin basin is an amazingly beautiful area that is worth visiting even if you don't kayak. To paddle this section either take the ferry across the reservoir or paddle your kayak, then hike 9 miles on good trail to Piute Creek (8050 ft elevation) or any point in between, launch onto the river and paddle 7 1/2 miles back to Florence lake (7328 ft. elevation).

The last 2.5 miles from Blayney Meadows to Florence is reported to be excellent class 4 & 5 and the best whitewater on this section of the south fork. From Piute Creek to Blayney is reported to be mostly class 2 with one portage around a gorge. Piute Creek itself is reported to be continuous class 4 & 5 in the 1/4 mile below the bridge to the SF confluence. See Trevor's trip report, posted below.

Driving Directions: From Fresno, take highway 168 to Huntington Lake,(1.5 - 2 hours), turn onto Kaiser Pass road to Florence reservoir, (60 minutes). Highway 168 is excellent and fast. Kaiser Pass road is narrow, windy and slow. Kaiser Pass road is also closed during the winter and tends to open in May or by memorial weekend. Call Sierra Nat. Forrest for road info. (559) 855-5360

Holbek and Stanley guidebook

The owners of the Muir Trail Ranch - provide a ferry service across Florence Reservoir every few hours during the day. The ranch, located at Blaney Meadows approximately 5 miles upstream from Florence offers lodging and meals with advance reservations only and during the peak season only for those staying a full week at a time.

On the way to Florence reservoir, Mono Hot Springs offers meals, lodging or camping and access to hot springs along the river.

Other options are available further down the hill at Huntington Lake and at Shaver Lake. Gasoline is available at Shaver Lake and at Huntington Lake.

Other Reaches in the area:
SF San Joaquin: Florence to Mono
Mono Creek below Vermillion
SuperDink!
Dinkey Creek: Cherry Bomb Falls
NF Kings above Wishon
Helms Creek

Trip Report: South Fork San Joaquin June 5th 2004, by Trevor Haagenson

The South Fork of the San Joaquin above Florence Lake is a spectacular High Sierra run. It makes an excellent day trip and as noted by Holbeck/Stanley has natural flow, runs every year and “is great, go do it!” We did the entire section from the Piute Creek Bridge to Florence Lake. This involved a total of about 5 miles of flat water, 8 miles of hiking, and 8 miles of whitewater. This is a big day by any standard. Another Highly Recommended option is to do only the last 2.5 miles of the South Fork. This section contains almost all the whitewater and some of the best scenery and is described under the section SHORT AND SWEET.

It should be noted that the Holbeck/Stanley book does an excellent job of describing the logistics of the trip. Additionally the times they give for the paddle across the lake, the hike to put-in on Piute Creek as well as the description they give for identifying the MANDATORY portage are all very accurate.

We started across the lake at about 9:00am on June 5th 2004. We arrived at the outlet to the South Fork at 9:45 and spent a few minuets resting and taking photos of the scenic and significant last drop. This drop and the portion of the river visible upstream provide an excellent place to judge the flow. We estimated about 1500cfs. (The calculated Natural River flow at Millerton was 4,300 cfs on this date. Ed.) I would guess that the last two and a half mile gorge would still be worth doing with half this much. Additionally it would be possible to do this run with much more water maybe 3000cfs although the gorge would probably be much more difficult. As it were the eddies were often small and right against the walls of the mini gorge. Our run through this section was greatly expedited by the fact we had hiked up and scouted much of this section the day before.

We commenced hiking at 10:10. The trail begins by crossing a footbridge to the North side of the river then continues up and away from the river for about a mile and a half. The trail then levels off and descends slightly to meet the river at the west side of Blarney Meadows at about mile 2.5 (this is before you reach the turn off onto the private land at Muir Trail Ranch). In the future I would put in here as described in the SHORT AND SWEET description below. We continued hiking past Blayney Meadow through meadows of wildflowers and ever-present mosquitoes. Above Blayney Meadows the trail joins the John Muir Trail and is mostly out of sight of the river until reaching the bridge on Piute Creek. This section of is very scenic with great views into the high country. We arrived at put in at 2:45 totally spent. Knowing we had about 8 miles of whitewater ahead we took a long break. It looked like there was some great boating further upstream on Piute Creek but we were too tired to check it out.

We put in on Piute Creek at 3:15 on a section of very busy continuous class IV-V. There were numerous river wide holes and no eddies. I immediately proceeded to roll four times splitting open my elbow through me dry top. After a non-stop quarter mile Piute Creek dumps into the relatively placid South Fork. The next few miles were characterized by low gradient riffles that did not require scouting. As warned by the guidebook we were on constant look out for the mini-gorge with the inviting class III lead-in. It can be identified by a sharp bend to the left and a granite mini gorge (I believe this was the first granite bed rock encountered on the run). Do not run the inviting lead-in drops or you will be forced to eddy directly above a ten footer into a death hole. We portaged on ledges fairly high on river right. It took about ten minuets. Following the portage is a short section of class II leading to Blayney Meadows.

We stopped about a half mile above the Meadows and searched for a hot spring on river left. After about half an hour of bush whacking we were unable to locate it and continued down stream. I am told it is quite nice if you can find it. The paddle through Blayney Meadows is very scenic. The river meanders though the meadow and we were often paddling right between trees. We passed over two or three barbed wire fences. I believe we had to get out of boats once when we followed a channel that lead into a logjam. This scenery is marred only by the buildings of the Muir Trail Ranch.

As you exit the meadow the gradient picks up and the fun really begins. The Last two and a half miles from here to the lake contain essentially all the good whitewater on the run. The river flows though a spectacular water carved granite mini-gorge set in a large glaciated valley. The river through this section is Continuous Class IV/V interspersed with a few distinct drops. The rapids are almost exclusively low angle bedrock affairs creating exceptionally sticky holes. I took one of the longest surfs of my life in a hole I was unsuccessful in punching. Many of the drops are boat scoutable but we had hiked along most of this section the day before which allowed us to make rapid progress. In one section we were fighting though a wave train while looking directly into the sun and we were nearly clotheslined by a one inch steel cable stretched across the river a chest height. We both rolled just in time to slip by unscathed. The last drop on the river is a spectacular low angle falls that passes under the footbridge and ends right in the lake. At about 12 feet tall it is the largest on the run and lots of fun. Finish by paddling back across the lake or hiking back up and doing it again!

SHORT AND SWEET:

The West end of Blayney Meadow at about Mile 2.5 would be an excellent place to put-in. If you put-in here you only have to hike between two and three miles. This took us about an hour and a half with a few short breaks. All the good whitewater between the Piute Creek Bridge and Florence Lake with the exception of the quarter mile on Piute Creek is in this last two and a half mile section. I believe that it would be more fun to do this section twice than to do the run as we did it and as described by Holbeck/Stanley. If you want to see the scenery upstream it would be more fun without a boat on your shoulder.

LOGISTICS:

Florence Lake is Located about 90 miles North-East of Fresno. From Highway 99 make your way to HWY 168 East toward Shaver Lake. Continue Past Shaver following the signs to Huntington Lake. From the North East Side of Huntington Lake drive over Kaiser Pass and Follow the signs to Florence Lake. Allow three hours from Fresno. While in the area check out Mono Hot Springs and the South Fork below Florence Lake (we had planned to do this section but SCE shut off the water the day before we got there).


StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2007-01-23 19:30:58

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