Feather, N. Fork, California, US
|Usual Difficulty||III+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||78 fpm|
The Belden Reach is the 8-mile portion of the North Fork of the Feather River in the Plumas National Forest between PG&E's Belden Dam and the confluence of the North Fork of the Feather River and the East Branch of the Feather River near Highway 70. Caribou Road follows the Belden Reach.
Prior to the construction of Belden Powerhouse in 1969, this was a popular kayaking stretch with dependable flows from the Caibou Powerhouse. Slalom races were regularly held on the river between Queen Lily Campground and NF Campground. (Charles Martin, 1974, Sierra Whitewater)
Since 1969 this section seldom sees high flows, so the river bed is overgrown, brushy and very narrow in many areas. During the CHIPS fire in 2012, many large trees were cut down across the river. These trees are hazards and most must be portaged. Be very careful in this reach, especially at higher flows.
Now, the Belden reach of the North Fork Feather River (sometimes referred to as the Caribou reach) is rarely run by whitewater boaters. This is not because of the quality of the run, but because it rarely has enough water in it to make it boatable. This section of the North Fork Feather clearly has the signs of a river that has been devoid of high flow events. Lake Almanor, and Canyon Dam which creates the Lake, never spills. Now, never might seems like an overstatement but in this case it is not. Somehow the division of Dam Safety allows the PG&E to operate the dam with a spillway elevation that is higher than the elevation of the town of Chester. Even in 1997, the biggest flood in recent memory, which not only cause most reservoirs in California to spill, it turned most of them into essentially wide spots in the river. Not this dam, PG&E did increase flows to about 2000 cfs, but that was it. Unfortunately that was not enough to remove the vegetation that had grown up in the channel.
During the FERC relicensing of this project, American Whitewater was able to negotiate flow studies for this reach and the upper, class V Seneca reach. What we found under the vegetation was a classic class III+ 9 mile long gem. The reach has the feel of a medium sized creek; fun rapids with powerful hydraulics, with some great surf waves thrown into the mix. After completing the flow study we got to work negotiating flows with PG&E. Finally, in 2004 we reached agreement with PG&E, resource agencies, Plumas County, and other NGO’s. This agreement includes recreation releases July through October.
Since 2004 the Settlement Agreement has been under review by the State Water Resources Control Board. The main issue in play here is, how to best cool down the water in the North Fork Feather River in order to restore what was once on of the best trout fisheries in California. We expect to se a draft of the SWRCB water quality certification sometime in the fall of 2012. It is our hope that we will see this certification process completed sometime in 2013 and hopefully flows to begin in 2014. In the mean time, American Whitewater will be working with the Forest Service and PG&E to reduce the amount of vegetation in the channel. Currently there are only 2 or three places where vegetation is a significant issue.
Returning flow to the North Fork Feather River has been a goal of American Whitewater for over a decade. Along with the flows already returned to the Rock Creek and Cresta reaches, the addition of the Belden and Seneca reaches with put us well down the river to see our goal realized.
Put in: Elevation is about 2860 feet above mean sea level. From Highway 70 take Caribou Road 8 miles to just below the Beldon forebay dam. In the area below the dam, dirt/gravel roads lead down along the river. There are many options for parking and launching.
Take out: Elevation above mean sea level is about 2270 feet at the confluence with the East Branch. There is plenty of parking on the side of Highway 70 just before it crosses the NF and heads up the East Branch. There is a low head dam 1/4 mile upstream of the confluence, so boaters my wish to take out along Caribou Road upstream of this low head dam.
Camping: The Caribou Corners, Gansner Bar, North Fork, and Queen Lilly campgrounds are next to or near the Belden Reach.
Dam and Powerhouse: The Belden Powerhouse was completed in 1969. It has a maximum capacity of 2410 cfs, with a head pressure of 770 vertical feet. It has a dependable capacity of 125 Megawatts and generates an average of 395.5 Gigawatts annually. The dam and forebay were completed in 1958. It is 400 feet across, but only 84 feet tall. The maximum volume of the reservoir is 2,477 acre-feet with a maximum surface area of 42 acres. There is a small powerhouse at the base of the dam to generate power from the mandatory minimum flows. Larger flows are released into a spillway from several radial gates. The dam and powerhouse operate under a federal license; #2105.
The Belden section is very pretty and also has a number of good surf waves with eddy access.
Be aware that there is a mining operation in this section; there is typically a cable that runs across the river.
Below the first bridge the river braids out. It is recommended that you scout this section beforehand to determine the best channel.
Bramble Class III + You can guess by the name that things get a bit brushy here. This has a committing entrance, not many eddies. The left side goes and has less brush, however, it could have bigger hydraulics at bigger flows.
Pumpkin Seed - Long rapid that shoots you out at the bottom.
Fish Weir- Be sure to scout this before your run. This can be a significant hazard at higher flows. This weir is planned for removal in 2013.
This is about the worst of it for vegetation. It all goes, but it is hard to tell before you run it and it is almost impossible to scout.
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