Feather, Middle Fork, California, US
|Usual Difficulty||V+ (for normal flows)|
|Mi. Feather At Milsap Bar|
|dream-054||500 - 1400 cfs||V+||-06h20m||1900 cfs (too high)|
Bald Rock Canyon is a legend in California whitewater history, and exaggerated stories of its challenges abound. Reading the first descent account in Holbeck and Stanleys "Best White Water in California" is enough to set any first time descenders nerves on edge. The dam builders have claimed the North Fork and the South Fork but the Middle Fork remains a wild river all the way down to Oroville Reservoir where the three forks of the Feather come together. The MF Feather was one of the charter rivers designated Wild and Scenic after the enactment of the policy .
In October of 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act pronounced,
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.The entire Middle Fork downstream from the confluence of its tributary streams one kilometer south of Beckwourth is protected under the act, broken down as: Wild — 32.9 miles; Scenic — 9.7 miles; Recreational — 35.0 miles; Total — 77.6 miles.
The Bald Rock Canyon run is a true classic with outstanding scenery and a nice mix of beautiful slides and drops through a Sierra granite landscape. Come prepared for tough rapids and/or grueling portages. Depending on your skills and the the pace you want to set this run can be done as a long day trip or an overnight. The run ends on the reservoir so you'll need to have a plan for what you'll do when you hit the flatwater. AW recently signed a Settlement Agreement for the Oroville Hydroelectric project that includes development of a formal shuttle service for whitewater paddlers.
Initially the run eases into the swing of things with moderate rapids and great scenery. Soon bedrock becomes more apparent, both in the stream and in the valley walls and rapids increase in difficulty and eventually the valley and river bed become one, forming a giant U shaped granite channel hundreds of feet deep with perfect bedrock ledge drops and green water. Giant midstream boulders announce the imminence of Atom Bomb Falls famous portage, and hard rapids continue to the lip. At moderate flows, the rock climbing gymnastics and rope work of the first descenders is unneeded and the ferry can be started on the right shore with ease, made easier these days by a root ball partially blocking on of the deadly syphons this rapid is famous for. Nevertheless, an inappropriately high flow would make this ferry once again death defying. An alternate line exists to run the first tier of Atom bomb by smearing a boof on the extreme left against the granite slabs but care should be taken before committing to this route. Once the opposite shore is attained, portaging is easy along flat bedrock shelfs to an overlook of the river now 40 feet below. This is the legendary Bald Rock campsite, home to both wild parties and nights of solitude and beauty surrounded by smooth white granite. A little team work allows boats to be lowered down ledges to water level. Difficult and congested class V rapids continue now, many of which pose extremely challenging route finding and occasional dead end syphons and sieves through giant round granite boulders and some portaging and creative route finding will be needed. A quite obvious river wide horizon line and dull roar announces something big, in this case Curtain Falls, a 30' clean river wide waterfall. The falls can be scouted easily to the left, a good position also for video and photography. The classic line is to follow "The question mark", a visible line in the smooth granite bedrock forming the lip of the drop that can be clearly seen through the crystal clear smooth flowing water, and which leads you faithfully over the gradual roll off of the huge ledge. Below a long low angled slide, Super Slide, accelerates water into a large sticky hole but this can be easily avoided by driving up onto the slabs on the far left. The large pool below this leads in to Three Doors, one of the largest rapids of the run which has a fierce hole halfway through which at some flows can be cheated on the left around a low angled slab. Sieves wait below for a beaten and unlucky swimmer so good safety needs to be set here, and the last drop forms another notoriously sticky hole against the right wall which could once be cheated left, but as of April 2007 the cheat is reported gone. This rapid is best portaged left against the cliff face rather than at water level. Soon after perhaps the largest rapid of the run, Four Deaths is reached. This rapid, named allegedly after Lars Holbeck claimed to see 4 separate places where you could die in it, is long and burly with shallow rock lurking in many places. It finishes with accelerating water down a low angle slab towards a remarkable tubing standing wave feature caused by a right side boulder and then ends abruptly with a large fearsome looking hole. Some people seal launch in on the right running only the second half of the rapid, others ferry right after scouting left and portage the whole affair. Eventually difficulties relent and rapids start to become boat scoutable IV+ affairs until the river suddenly drops into the lake. Wealthy boaters can choose a cush ride out by pre-hiring a boat and finding a willing shuttle bunny to meet them here. More resourceful ones will scam passing boaters for a ride out. Only the most zealous will contemplate the 12 mile paddle out to the first legal public takeout with road access. Locals may have other stealthier shuttle routes. Note also the afore mentioned AWA /PG&E shuttle service hopefully soon to be arranged to ease this problem.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|3.7||Atom Bomb Falls|
|5.4||Bald Rock Dome Trail|
|6.8||Fall River Confluence|
In 2018 we celebrate this Wild and Scenic River and work to protect more rivers as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of Wild and Scenic Rivers. Learn More.
Take Action: Call for a Hearing on Oroville Dam (CA)
April 27, 2017