This lower section of the Clavey River is beautiful and pristine, and much steeper + more congested than the upper section. Although no individual rapids are singularly huge or overly notable, this section contains a sh*tload of good class 5 (and some 5+) drops stacked one after another. Although most of the river is pool -drop character, many of the pools are short, and long boulder-hopping type sections are also prevalent.
Below the (now closed) bridge which marks the end of the upper section, the pace continues gradually. The first rapid is directly next to a huge slab of rock, which makes a good campsite. The rapid is a bit of a pinch drop into a flushing chute, which goes much better than it looks. If you feel like walking it -know that the next 8 miles contain numerous class 5 drops which will be more continuous, taller, stouter, and often more technical or junky.
After the campsite rapid, gradient eases for a mile or two, offering numerous fun class 4+ stuff. The next bigger section is in a short gorge, featuring a series of maybe 5 ledges which are mostly boat scoutable. The gorge exits into a long, fun, and occasionally junky boulder garden (class 5). Somewhere in this section was an 8 foot boof on the right, which will smash your ass on a bad rock if you don't boof in the proper place.
After some more boat scouting and boulder junk (class 4ish), you'll come to a horizon line that is one of the taller on the run. This ~15 foot boulder pourover is best run in the center of the river, eddying out at the top behind some bushes, and taking a delayed boof with nose pointing back left. The runout is good down the middle (class 5).
Easier boulder hopping once again continues for about a mile, until the Hunter's Bend gorge -which is probably the most fun section of the run. Big white granite boulders clog the riverbed, and the bottom of the canyon is quite gorged up in several parts -making scouts/portaging difficult. This section is quite stacked, featuring 10-15 nice class 5 rapids (some 5+), mostly consisting of boulder choked cascades and slides with a few badly placed rocks. One junkier drop, directly at the apex of Hunter's bend, is commonly portaged.
The river lets up about a mile after the actual Hunter's Bend, and another campsite exists on river right (marked by a tree with a tire hanging on it). Some fun splashy class 4+ rapids (with a few more badly placed rocks) can be found right below. After about 1-2 miles, and maybe 10 not-too-difficult (but fun) rapids, the river calms for a bit and then you will come to a longer boulder rapid set in some red rocks (the first notable red rocks you'll see). Eye your line carefully. It can be boat scouted, but there are several sieves in play, and the drop has some bad pin spots + wood. From above, the rapid appears long but relatively low-angle, and its hazards are not quickly apparent from river level.
A short class 2 reprieve leads to the next fun bit. About 5 tall rapids (once again with techy rock-avoidance moves) will keep you entertained for a while, and mostly go down the right (class 5).
The pace again slackens, and some really shitty willows are encountered. Watch out for wood stuck in the bushes! When the river steepens again, the right-side canyon wall will be marked by a tall red-rock landslide (red rock rapid). This section is constantly changing due to rockfall, and often portaged after the first drop. You'll actually have to climb through a cool sieve to scout. The line is a big double boof thing at the top, and then most folks bang down some left-side sneaks to get out on the left and walk the steepest junk.
Below the red rock rapid, gradient continues at a steady pace to the confluence of the Tuolumne. 5-10 class 5's are sprinkled in with numerous easier ledges and boulder junk. One notable drop is a pinch with a double-hole/undercut combo cutting hard left, which has been referred to as "midget street fighter". It can be easily snuck or portaged on the right. The drop immediately below is a great slide, which you'll want to drive hard left on.
The final major rapid is a 2-3 tiered cascade, which many folks have swam in on Tuolumne overnight trips. It is easy to scout or walk, and the line will be apparent. A great boof is just below, and then some final runnout boulders into the Tuoulumne. At this point you'll have about 12 miles of paddle out to enjoy, hopefully at higher-than-summer flows.
Put in: The road to the put in bridge is reported to be very long and hard to find. Additionally, in the early season it appears common to have fallen trees across the road. Many boaters simply paddle the upper section first, camp at the lower bridge or just paddle both upper and lower sections in one long day.
Take out: The Clavey River joins the wild and scenic Tuolumne at Clavey Falls. Boaters must continue downstream on the Tuolumne River to take out at Ward's Ferry Road.
Camping options are reported to be very limited along the lower Clavey.
Other Information Sources:Boof.com forumClavey River Watershed PlanClavey River information from Friends of the RiverFred Norquist trip report from 2009A Guide to the Best Whitewater in the State of CA, Holbek and Stanley, 1988
This is the approximate location of the USGS streamgauge that was operational from 1959 to 1995.
The road to the lower bridge is now closed for good, and the only real option for this run is to put on at the Cottonwood Road bridge (upper section put in) for a 2-day. Although similar in mileage, the upper section will take significantly less time than the lower: about 2-4 hrs for the upper and a full day for the lower + paddle out on the T.
Flows for the upper section should feel somewhat low when you put on. If it feels high or padded out, then the lower will likely be too stout. There is a notable overhung rock on river left, in the eddy at the bottom of the rapid under the bridge at the upper put-in. We had water levels 1-2 feet below the overhang, and I would consider it medium-low flow. I would probably not put on if the overhang is underwater or very close to it.
There is a brilliant campsite at the end of the upper run, on a huge slab of rock on river left, about 1/8 of a mile below the now closed bridge. In addition to being a very comfortable slab, the rock contains numerous indigenous grind holes, clustered in one location. There is another campsite about 4 miles into the lower run, on river right, marked by a tire hanging on a tree. Getting there will require passing about 20 of the best class 5 rapids, and I would not consider it to be a quick 4 miles.
I ran this section last weekend 5/20-21/2017. It is much more challenging than the upper. Also, there is a three-mile hike to the put in due to a road closer. And the road to the lower takeout/ Putin is closed. Winter storms were hard on the road infrastructure in this area.
Check out this google earth screencast for more information on this advanced run. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJdisSBnX5w&feature=youtu.be
Optimum flows for both upper and lower sections are reported to be around 500 to 900 cfs at the upper put in. Three miles downstream, Reed Creek will add another 150 to 300 cfs. So optimum flows at the lower run should be around 750 to 1200 cfs.
There are no functioning gauges on the Clavey at present so there is no way to know for sure what the flows are without going and looking at the River. Once at the river there is no way to know exactly what cfs you are looking at either, so use good judgement about whether the river seems high or low.
One way of estimating run off season flows of the Clavey at the confluence is to find the daily inflow to New Don Pedro, subtract the flow of the Tuolumne at Meral's Pool then multiply by 6/10. (Inflow to Don Pedro) - (Merals Pool)]*(0.6)= Clavey at confluence. (formula is courtesy Clavey Coalition Noah)
Dreamflows estimates flow during late spring and summer based on historical relationships between Clavey and other nearby gauges.
There were two historical gauges on the Clavey River, plus a gauge on Reed Creek.
This gauge was operational from 1959 to 1995 and was located close to the put in at the lower bridge at an elevation of 2,374.08 feet above sea level. If there is still a staff gauge visible on the river you can estimate the flow in cfs from the historical readings.
The Peak Streamflow page also shows both gauge heights and cfs. That data is copied below.
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Lower Clavey, Steve Wallace
Lower Clavey, Tim Hagan
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