Merced - 6) Briceburg to Bagby


Merced, California, US

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6) Briceburg to Bagby

Usual Difficulty IV (for normal flows)
Length 17 Miles
Avg. Gradient 20 fpm

Quarter Mile Rapid


Quarter Mile Rapid
Photo of Quarter Mile Rapid by kmccall taken 06/18/11 @ 8500 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
MERCED RIVER NEAR BRICEBURG
cdec-MBB 400 - 8000 cfs IV 01h15m 4605 cfs (running)


River Description

This section of the Merced is usually done as a continuation of the upstream 5) Redbud to Briceburg section. However, if continuing all the way to Bagby, the logistics get very different.  Instead of a fine highway along the whole length, there is only a dusty gravel road for part of the ways below Briceburg.  There is a long and big Quarter Mile Rapid, followed immediately by a big portage at North Fork Falls.  Then there are easy rapids leading into flat water paddling on Lake McClure.  Shuttle requires driving up highway 140 into Mariposa, then down highway 49 to Bagby Recreation Area on Lake McLure. 

BRICEBURG TO RAILROAD FLAT, the end of road access from upstream
This section is very different from the Merced River upstream of this point. It still has continuous road access, but on a dirt road along the river right side. The banks are steeper with more short rocky faces, the channel is narrower, and the rapids more pool-and-drop style than the long continuous boulder fields upstream. It stays more enjoyably paddle-able at the lowest flows.

The first mile and a half or so are relatively flat, with only a couple of constrictions and/or turns forming easy (class 2+/-?) rapids. Around this point, you can see some large metal plates in the right(road) bank; on the road, there may be some large metal plates visible depending upon how much dirt is around. This is the siphon/pump station that provides the town of Mariposa with its municipal water supply, and also the site and reason for the flow gauge "below Briceburg." There is a good beach here at low/moderate flows.

Below this point, the river starts to accelerate until it reaches a couple of class 3 rapids close to McCabe Flat. If not careful, the first of two class 4 rapids, "Split Rock", can sneak up on the unwary. At low/moderate flows, this shouldn't be a problem as the route is pretty much straight down the middle in the tongue. At moderate/higher flows, some scary holes can form, and this rapid becomes essentially one with the next rapid, a somewhat harder (at most flows) rapid called "Corner Pocket" for very good reason.

Warning - at moderate to high flows, Split Rock and Corner Pocket can run together into one large and scary complex rapid. Scouting thouroughly before deciding to run this is strongly recommended, given the rocky nature of the rapids and the eddy trap at the bottom.

Corner Pocket can be scouted and portaged at the campground on river right, McCabe Flat. It is a rocky angular pore-over several feet tall, at the bottom of a rocky lead-in. If one enters or gets pushed too far to the left, you end up in the Corner Pocket at the bottom, river left. The first time I saw this feature, I watched six kayaks follow into this like lemmings. All six ended up swimming out, with the boats tumbling in the pocket for later retrieval. The current below the pore-over splits, and the left flow goes up against a flat wall that forms a very strong recirculating eddy. Bank access on this side is not as easy as it could be, and like everything else along this reach, infested with poison oak.

Below this point, flat paddling is occasionally broken up by short class 2-3 rapids of no real notability. After 2 1/2 more miles, take out at the end of the driveable road at Railroad Flat campsite.

RAILROAD FLAT TO HWY 49 AT BAGBY
There is no road access from this point to the take out at Bagby, where the river crosses under a bridge on Hwy 49 north of Mariposa. The old railroad bed turns into a foot and mountain bike trail along the river right side. Take out at Bagby has changed hands in the past couple of years, may have been purchased by state or fed. park mgt. ageny. The precise status is unknown (other than it is available and can be used) at this time to the author; I intend to make another run down this way in the near future, and will then be able to pass on the most current info.

The first mile or two below Railroad Flat is enjoyable and acenic, if not particularly challenging. The prime feature of this section is a rapid called "Quarter Mile." Actualy feeling more like a half mile, it is a tighter channel with continuous pool and drop features that can be boat scouted along the way, eddy hopped and dropped with continuous amusement at low to moderate flows. At higher flows, this could prove to be a significant and ugly trap.

300 yards past the end of Quarter Mile is an impassible Class 6 called North Fork Falls, where the North Fork of the Merced joins the Main Merced. There are several very large flat and blocky boulders that much of the river flows UNDERNEATH! If there is even the slightest chance of missing this mandatory portage, don't!

At North Fork Falls, there is a pipe skid rig up the right side for rafter use. This is a short portage if one continues down lessening Class 2/3 rapids, and ending at the upper end of Lake McClure if the lake is full, and continuing to Bagby if the lake is low. The alternative for kayakers is to portage the 3(?) miles back up to Railroad Flat. Quarter Mile rapid is fun enough that I have endured this portage more than once and not for the last time.

National Wild & Scenic River 
The Merced is part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system.   The included sections are from the headwaters of the main fork all the way to elevation 867 feet which is the high water mark of Lake McLure.  The entire South Fork Merced is also included. Merced Irrigation District is currently promoting congressional action to remove a portion of the Merced River from the National Wild & Scenic system so that they may enlarge their reservoir. 
See House Bill H.R. 869

 

Other Information Sources
Cacreeks.com
BLM Merced page.
Merced River Watershed Portal
Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Martin, Penny
Bagby Recreation Area
Merced Irrigation District
CDEC: McClure Reservoir data
 


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-02-25 01:14:24

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-95.0BriceburgN/APutin Photo
-91.6Split RockIVPhoto
-91.5Corner PocketIVPhoto
-85.0Quarter MileIVPhoto
-84.5North Fork FallsVIPortage Hazard Photo
-84.3Proposed Max Reservoir ElevationN/AHazard
-84.2FERC boundary line for Merced ProjectN/APhoto
-83.7Reservoir Max Elevation at presentN/A
-80.2Bagby Recreation Area - Shepard's PointN/ATakeout
-75.0Elevation 800 feetN/A
-72.0Elevation 700 feetN/A
-68.6Elevation 600 feetN/A

Rapid Descriptions

Briceburg (Class N/A, Mile -95.0)

Briceburg Bridge

Briceburg Bridge
Photo by Dave Steindorf taken 05/16/12

There is a big parking area with toilets. Carry boats over bedrock to the river. There is a BLM visitor center in the old Briceburg buildings. The bridge is just downstream and makes an obvious landmark.



Split Rock (Class IV, Mile -91.6)

Split Rock Rapid

Split Rock Rapid
Photo taken 05/12/12 @ 2300 cfs

Split Rock can sneak up on the unwary. At low/moderate flows, this shouldn't be a problem as the route is pretty much straight down the middle in the tongue. At moderate/higher flows, some scary holes can form, and this rapid becomes essentially one with the next rapid, a somewhat harder (at most flows) rapid called "Corner Pocket" for very good reason.



Corner Pocket (Class IV, Mile -91.5)

Corner Pocket

Corner Pocket
Photo by Dave Steindorf taken 05/12/12 @ 2300 cfs

Corner Pocket can be scouted and portaged at the campground on river right, McCabe Flat. It is a rocky angular pore-over several feet tall, at the bottom of a rocky lead-in. If one enters or gets pushed too far to the left, you end up in the Corner Pocket at the bottom, river left. The first time I saw this feature, I watched six kayaks follow into this like lemmings. All six ended up swimming out, with the boats tumbling in the pocket for later retrieval. The current below the pore-over splits, and the left flow goes up against a flat wall that forms a very strong recirculating eddy. Bank access on this side is not as easy as it could be, and like everything else along this reach, infested with poison oak.

It is common to take out at the campground immediately below Corner Pocket.



Quarter Mile (Class IV, Mile -85.0)

1/4 Mile Rapid Top

1/4 Mile Rapid Top
Photo by Dave Steindorf taken 05/16/12 @ 2300 cfs

Quarter Mile Rapid has a tighter channel with continuous pool and drop features that can be boat scouted along the way, eddy hopped and dropped with continuous amusement at low to moderate flows. The actual length of the rapid is about 1/2 mile. At higher flows, the drops blend together and there is the great danger of being swept into North Fork Falls.



North Fork Falls (Class VI, Mile -84.5)

North Fork Falls

North Fork Falls
Photo taken 05/12/12 @ 2300 cfs

Mandatory Portage on River Right:
300 yards past the end of Quarter Mile is an impassible Class 6 called North Fork Falls.  The North Fork of the Merced joins the Main Merced just below. At the base of the falls, there are several very large flat and blocky boulders.  Much of the river flows UNDERNEATH these BOULDERS!  If there is even the slightest chance of missing this mandatory portage, don't boat the rapids above it!

At North Fork Falls, there is a pipe skid rig up the right side for rafter use.



Proposed Max Reservoir Elevation (Class N/A, Mile -84.3)

House Bill HR 869, submitted in 2011 will amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to allow filling McClure Reservoir to an elevation of 877 feet.  This will extend the reservoir into the Wild section and past the FERC project boundary.



FERC boundary line for Merced Project (Class N/A, Mile -84.2)

In Danger

In Danger
Photo taken 05/12/12 @ 2300 cfs

The FERC boundary for McClure reservoir is a short ways past NF Falls and upstream of the reservoir full pool elevation.   River elevation at this line is approximately 876 feet.



Reservoir Max Elevation at present (Class N/A, Mile -83.7)

The maximum elevation of the reservoir is 867 feet.   If the reservoir is full, flat water will back up to this point on the river.   The river is declared Wild down to this point in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act amendment:  Public Law No: 102-432 enacted on 9/29/1992



Bagby Recreation Area - Shepard's Point (Class N/A, Mile -80.2)

Bagby Recreation Area is operated by Merced Irrigation District.  There is a $7 per vehicle day use fee. 



Elevation 800 feet (Class N/A, Mile -75.0)

River will reach this far when the reservoir is down to 800 feet in elevation.



Elevation 700 feet (Class N/A, Mile -72.0)

The river will reach this far if the reservoir is at 700 feet elevation.



Elevation 600 feet (Class N/A, Mile -68.6)

During times of drought, the reservoir can drop very low.  If it drops to 600 feet, the river change to reservoir here.




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