American, Middle Fork - 1) Tunnel Run: Oxbow Bend (Ralston Afterbay) to Drivers Flat Road


American, Middle Fork, California, US

Disclaimer

1) Tunnel Run: Oxbow Bend (Ralston Afterbay) to Drivers Flat Road

Usual Difficulty II-IV(V+) (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 23 fpm

Paddle High Five!


Paddle High Five!
Photo of Raft Successfully Running Tunnel Chute by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
MIDDLE FK AMERICAN R NR OXBOW PH
cdec-OXB 700 - 3000 cfs II-IV(V+) 02h28m 3565 cfs (too high)


River Description

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.

http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Article/view/articleid/32353/

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

 

FERC Information:   
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. 


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-06-29 21:39:31

Editors


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.1Panic AlleyIIIPutin Photo
1.5Carl's CrashIII
1.8Santa's MustacheN/A
2.0Last ChanceIIIPhoto
2.1Tunnel Chute Entrance from UpstreamN/APhoto
2.1Tunnel Chute Left Channel5.3Hazard Waterfall Photo
2.1Tunnel ChuteIV+Hazard Photo
2.1Entrance to the Tunnel from Right BankN/APhoto
2.1Sun ShaftsN/APhoto
2.3Soul TrainIII
3.5Volcano CreekN/A
4.0Orange WallN/A
4.5KanakaIVPhoto
5.0Nine miles of Class I and IIII
6.0Cash RockAccess
8.0Jump RockPhoto
13.5Big Snyder GulchN/A
14.2River AccessN/AAccess
14.3Chunder (a.k.a Upper Ruck-A-Chucky or Duck Soup)IVPortage Photo
14.5Ruck-A-Chucky Falls5.3Portage Hazard Waterfall Photo
14.5Ruck-A-Chucky FallsPortage Hazard Waterfall Photo
14.5Ruck-A-Chucky Falls5.3Portage Hazard Waterfall Photo
14.5Ruck-A-Chucky FallsPortage Hazard Waterfall Photo
14.5Ruck-A-Chucky Splendor from DownstreamPortage Hazard Waterfall Photo
14.7Cleavage (Lower Ruck-A-Chucky)IVPhoto
15.0Parallel ParkingIV
15.5Class III-IV RapidsIII+Photo
16.0Gas CanyonN/A
16.5Best Raft Crew on the Middle Fork celebrates at the takeout.Takeout Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Panic Alley (Class III, Mile 0.1)

Middle Fork American Put-In

Middle Fork American Put-In
Photo of Tributary Whitewater Tours Rafts putting on the Middle Fork by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Carl's Crash (Class III, Mile 1.5)

Fun rapid following a sweeping right hand bend



Santa's Mustache (Class N/A, Mile 1.8)

Waves lead into a 90 degree left bend.



Last Chance (Class III, Mile 2.0)

Last Chance before Tunnel Chute

Last Chance before Tunnel Chute
Photo of Last Chance Rapid by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Tunnel Chute Entrance from Upstream (Class N/A, Mile 2.1)

Approaching Tunnel Chute

Approaching Tunnel Chute
Photo of Class IV+ Tunnel Chute Rapid by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.)



Tunnel Chute Left Channel (Class 5.3, Mile 2.1)

Left Entrance to Tunnel Chute

Left Entrance to Tunnel Chute
Photo by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

Rather gnarly Class IV - V. Most opt for the right side and ride the chute.



Tunnel Chute (Class IV+, Mile 2.1)

Tunnel Chute

Tunnel Chute
Photo by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Entrance to the Tunnel from Right Bank (Class N/A, Mile 2.1)

Entrance to the Tunnel

Entrance to the Tunnel
Photo of Heading into the 90' Tunnel by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Sun Shafts (Class N/A, Mile 2.1)

Looking Back at Tunnel Chute emerging from the Tunnel

Looking Back at Tunnel Chute emerging from the Tunnel
Photo of Tunnel Chute Rapid by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs

Emerging from the Tunnel, looking back through it at the left wall of Tunnel Chute.



Soul Train (Class III, Mile 2.3)

Enter right and move left to the center of the river channel.



Volcano Creek (Class N/A, Mile 3.5)

This is the beginning of the upper camping section



Orange Wall (Class N/A, Mile 4.0)

Also called Bus Crash, Lettuce Hole.



Kanaka (Class IV, Mile 4.5)

Kanaka

Kanaka
Photo of Kanaka Rapid from Downstream by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Nine miles of Class I and II (Class II, Mile 5.0)

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.



Cash Rock
A very bad 4-wheel drive road used mainly by miners leads from the left bank to Volcanoville.

Jump Rock

More Dangerous than a Keeper Hole....

More Dangerous than a Keeper Hole....
Photo of Jump Rock on the middle section of the Middle Fork by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs


Big Snyder Gulch (Class N/A, Mile 13.5)

This is the end of the upper camping section



River Access (Class N/A, Mile 14.2)

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 (a.k.a Upper Ruck-A-Chucky or Duck Soup) (Class IV, Mile 14.3)

Chunder

Chunder
Photo of Chunder by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Ruck-A-Chucky Falls (Class 5.3, Mile 14.5)

Top of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls from Upstream

Top of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls from Upstream
Photo of View of the top of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

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.



Ruck-A-Chucky Falls

All Outdoors Guide Sasha guarding the Right Channel

All Outdoors Guide Sasha guarding the Right Channel
Photo of Guarding Right Channel of Ruck-A-Chucky by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

The right channel of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls is a boulder sieve death trap. But it's also a hazard for rafts. Most companies require their guides to push the rafts over the 30' drop. However, if a raft went over the right side, it would be a major project to extract the raft, and even then, in all liklihood the raft would be severely damaged. So there is a rope guarding the right channel, and when raft guides push the rafts over the falls, one of the guides mans the rope guard and tries to prevent the rafts from going down the right side by pushing the raft into the main current. Here, Sasha from All Outdoors Whitewater Rafting (see link on top right of this page) performs that function. Guides from some companies actually run the Middle Channel after they have unloaded their guests, but the Middle Channel is Class V+. The bottom of the falls are boiling and there are many submerged rock hazards. A swim here would be long, deep, and could easily result in a severe injury.

Ruck-A-Chucky Falls (Class 5.3, Mile 14.5)

Tributary Raft queing up to run Middle Channel

Tributary Raft queing up to run Middle Channel
Photo of Tempting the MF Gods by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs

Excellent view of all 3 channels at the Top of Ruck-A-Chucky while a Tributary Whitewater Tours guide (see link at top right of this page) sets up to run the Class V+ Middle Channel. To the left of the raft in the top of the photo is the entrance to the Class VI left channel characterized by being obstructed with huge boulders all the way down. The middle channel, that the raft is about to run, is relatively free of obstructions, but at the bottom are submerged boulders and severely undercut rocks. A swim here would be long, deep, and quite possibly injurious. On river right (foreground) is the entrance to the Boulder Sieve Death Trap that you must avoid at all costs.

Ruck-A-Chucky Falls

Left Channel of Ruck-A-Chucky

Left Channel of Ruck-A-Chucky
Photo of Left Channel of Ruck-A-Chucky by Matthew S, Urdan taken 08/01/02 @ 1100 cfs

At the top of the photo is a good view of the boulder choked left channel. Middle of the photo is an obstructed view of the middle channel, and at the bottom of the photo is the right channel--boulder sieve death trap. The Tributary raft at the bottom just successfully ran the Middle Channel.

Ruck-A-Chucky Splendor from Downstream

Ruck-A-Chucky Splendor

Ruck-A-Chucky Splendor
Photo of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls from Downstream by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

Looking upstream at Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, you can see the Boulder Sieve on river right, the turbulent main channel run by some raft-company guides--but not in kayaks--and the rocky left channel. There are many submerged rocks at the bottom of the falls and a swim here would be long and deep.

Cleavage (Lower Ruck-A-Chucky) (Class IV, Mile 14.7)

Bottom of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, heading straight into Class IV Cleavage

Bottom of Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, heading straight into Class IV Cleavage
Photo by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

Cleavage is a 6' drop only 20 feet from the bottom of Ruck-A-Chucky. Run the narrow chute right down the center and then move left. The right side of the photo shows the Cleavage Horizon Line from upstream.

Parallel Parking (Class IV, Mile 15.0)
In some ways very similar to Double Pencil Sharpener on the Upper Youghiogheny, but a little steeper and elongated. Enter the rapid as if you were parallel parking a car facing the left river bank, ride the slide and move right.

Class III-IV Rapids (Class III+, Mile 15.5)

Floating Towards the Take-Out

Floating Towards the Take-Out
Photo of Raft Mates Cooling off on the Middle Fork by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

A couple more Class IVs, including Driver's Ed, Catapult, and Shareen's Dream, and then easy Class II to the takeout. Here, raft mates float towards the takeout.

Gas Canyon (Class N/A, Mile 16.0)

Beginning lower camping zone



Best Raft Crew on the Middle Fork celebrates at the takeout.

Best Raft Crew on the Middle Fork American

Best Raft Crew on the Middle Fork American
Photo of All Outdoors Guide Sasha and her Crew by Matthew S. Urdan taken 08/02/02 @ 1100 cfs

This is the site of Greenwood Bridge, which was washed out when Hell Hole Dam gave way in 1964. Primitive campsite on the right. Driver's Flat Road leads out of the canyon.


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