Thanks to Paul Futscher's excellent judgement with Eel watershed flows, we were treated
to a rare opportunity to run Tomki Creek on Monday 2/25/08, survive it and even enjoy it.
This was a first run on Tomki for all three of us - Paul, myself, and Matt Barnett, all
paddling IKs. We put in at 12:30 and had no time to waste with 17 miles to go.
Bill Tuthill's account of Tomki Creek (see California Creeks website) was apparently at a
higher flow, during a rain storm. Our experience yesterday was pleasantly exciting and
probably not as punishing. I would do it at the same flow again, or perhaps a few inches
higher. Its a tight range between dragging rubber near the putin and losing control
through the rapids below, with dense brush and tree growth in the creek seriously
compounding the hazards. So timing the flow is very critical, and will be addressed in
more detail later in this report.
Wasn't long after putin that we found ourselves ducking low willow branches and splitting
wide walls of grassy brush to get downstream. The creekbed was often broad and broken up
by sandbars, and the deepest water was often near the bank on either left or right.
Eventually the brush got thicker with thin gaps becoming long paths or tunnels, some that
ended badly and others with no end in sight. As expected, the best paths often had the
most current or gradient, which made every decision seem that much riskier - a dead end
in fast water would not be pretty. If I were to name any of the rapids on this run, my
first choice would have to be Blind Faith.
Many rapids were negotiable with the help of very active route-picking on our part - lots
of sharp turns from one channel to another through small openings in the brush and willow
branches. But about 4-5 miles down the creek became deep and rocky, and we were squeezed
down two quick drops through jumbled rock sieves and a couple van-sized boulders in the
main channel. I took the first drop on the right, got immersed between some rocks, and
had to get out and unwrap. I think Paul and Matt had better luck on the left side. At the
second drop, off-angle again, I just managed to scoot around the last boulder, thanks to
a friendly pillow right where I needed it. Pretty claustrophobic in there.
Expecting more of the same, or better or worse, we found the creekbed flattened and
spread out again, but now the flow had nearly doubled, and finding channels through the
brush was easier. At this point Tomki Creek was like a small river, and we paddled a few
miles of continuous Class II+ rapids through thin brush and warm sunshine.
Near its confluence with the Eel, Tomki entered another deep rocky section, longer than
than first, obscured not by walls of brush, but groves of tall alders scattered across
the creekbed. Finding routes here was more like back-country skiing than any kayaking
I've ever done before, and it was a thrill I will not soon forget. We peered down a long
tree-lined chute on river right, curving left into the void, descended and found
ourselves eddied on a ledge in the middle of a small shady forest, trees draped in lichen
and water all around.
Momentarily enchanted, we looked down, saw more action ahead and charged through another
series of chutes, picket fences, and boulder jams. When we got to the next pool, I
checked upstream on Matt before noticing we were on the verge of a wide ledge drop on
clean solid bedrock, holding waves with deep troughs and strong hydraulics. A quarter
mile later we entered the main Eel, high, pushy and frigid, about 8 miles above the
bridge at Hearst, where we arrived only 75 minutes later. The entire 17-mile run was
completed in 4 hours, and the shuttle in about half an hour.
Due to the extreme and unusual conditions on Tomki Creek, it is very difficult to
classify with a single Roman numeral. Reports of expert kayakers having trouble on this
run are not uncommon. Class IV creek experience is essential, groups of 3-4 paddlers
optimal, equipped with throw ropes, extra paddles, eye protection, and emergency
supplies. Similar to Mark West Creek, but longer, brushier, blinder, and far more remote,
but not as steep and fast. Beautiful upper Eel scenery.
Regarding optimal flows, Paul Futscher adds the following:
"Do not boat Tomki when there is a threat of rain or it is raining. Tomki's flow at
mile 2 can be as high as 10,000CFS during or immediately after a storm. Wait 24 hours
after a good rain (2-3") -- see put-in picture for a good flow.
A boatable level is 500cfs at mile 2. With Tomki put-in running 300CFS, Tomki mile 2
running 500-600CFS, and Tomki at the confluence running 1,000CFS, the Eel is likely to be
A fair estimate of Tomki is 3-5% of Ft. Seward 24 hours after a good rain."
The flow numbers that David gives for Tomke are visual estimates and not based on any
gauge information. Use your best judgement and examine the photos below. If
flows seem too high, there are other boating options in the area.