This lower run is better than the upper section because it has a lot less junk, has more big drops and has many bigger drops. The run starts off with a 7' waterfall into a small pool.
From there, the river is tight and technical rock bashing. One must negociate dozens of rocky rapids that often have wood in them. Most of the drops are read and run, and generally the cleanest line is where the most water is flowing. After a mile or so you will see granite on the right bank, you will want to boat scout here, for this is the first large drop.
After the aforementioned drop, the run opens up into small slides and boofs.
Dead End Slide
After a few fun rapids, you will see a bus size rock on river left. This rock is the midway point of the run. Following the rock, the creek flattens out and the scenery is quite pretty. In 2008, there was one log portage and several log limbos, before the creek opened into the gorge section.
The Gorge section consists of several slides and small drops. The entire gorge can be scouted on river right. None of the drops are bigger then 5-7' but the entire section is boxed-in, so swimming would be bad and rescue would be tricky. Below the last drop of the Gorge, the current dies down and you can slowly paddle into the last eddy. This is a no-stress move, but don't miss the eddy. The drop that follows is big and can be scouted on the left or the right.
The Willow Gorge
The following drop has been dubbed Mike's Drop. Partly because a Mike got the first D, and another Mike sprained his ankle in the pot hole. If you run it on the right, you will slide 20-30+ feet and land in a large pot hole. Then you come rushing out of the pot hole, hitting a rooster tail, and slide into a small pool. The rock wall on the bottom right looks sketchy but generally is not in play. Other lines can be run on Mike's drop, but they are much more dangerous.
After Mike's drop there are 3-4 long slides that can be boat scouted. Once you hit the bottom slide, you will see a large rock in the middle of the creek. Beyond this rock is the horizon line of Devil's Slide. Devil's is the largest drop on the run, and consists of five distinct drops. It's hard to estimate the gradient of Devil’s slide, but over one hundred feet would not be an exaggeration. If you are not up to run the entire section, you can hike down on river left and seal launch into the last slide.
After Devil's Slide, there are a couple more read and run slides and then the creek flattens out again. Keep paddling until you come upon another granite gorge. This gorge is a Mandatory portage. If you've come this far, this gorge will look fairly easy, however what you can't see is that much of the creek flows under a boulder in the last drop. One boater got sucked into this sieve and was barely able to crawl out of his boat before his boat was completely sucked under the rock. It took multiple attempts, over several days, to retrieve the boat. The retrieval required two come-a-longs, and several broken ropes. The boat was folded and had a crack along the stern. Please walk this one.
A little ways after the portaged gorge, you will see Angel's Falls. This is a large slide into a pool. The slide is straight forward, just be sure to avoid the piton rock on the left. The landing zone is a small pool above an unrunnable rapid. Be sure to set safety, so that no boater gets washed into rapid that follows the slide.
There are several drops below Angel's Falls. Some runnable, some not so much. From Angel's Slide, there is a trial on river right that will take you back to your car, if you choose to portage the remaining drops.
Bleeding Pit Of Death
A trail follows this creek for the lower half of the section on the river left, though it is often high on the hill. Logs and log jams can be a problem anywhere in the run, so always be on the lookout. Take-out: Take highway 41 to the Oakhurst area and to the Bass Lake road. Go to Bass Lake and veer left to the east side of the lake. The highway crosses the creek within a mile or two. There is parking on the river right side near the bridge. There is also a lower road that gives access to the lake if you run the final waterfalls into the lake. Trails lead upstream on both sides of the creek. The river left trail is shown on maps, but the river right trail is more direct and has easier access to the Devil's Slide pools. Above the Devil's Slides there is a log crossing connecting the two trails. The river left side trail continues upstream. Put-in: Continue on the highway past the creek to Beasore Rd. Take Beasore to Chilkoot campground and hike the short ways down to the creek.
Google earth has fairly high resolution images of this area, so one can distinguish many of the bedrock sections. One can also see potential access points, but it is difficult to see where Chilkoot campground is.
Here is a video rundown of Lower Willow Creek. The flow was between 48-55 cfs. The video starts at the top of the run and sequentially takes you down the rapids.
More footage can be found here.
Other Information Sources:
Land Stewardship Council - PG&E lands proposals
A group of us visited Willow creek when it was running at 187 CFS. We hiked up to Angels Falls and checked out the last 4 drops. At this flow, I would rate the river at 5++. It may be boatable, but the margin for error is zero. I think the max flow for this run should be lowered. 200 cfs may not be possible for this creek.
Dan Hogg reports:
Another great Adventure with Evan and Daniel. No injuries, not counting sore thumb from previous weekend that I hit on a rock again, good paddling, good rapids, and great company capable of rescues. Evan says there were no swims on the lower run, but he's not counting the hike up-creek to run the final drop of upper run. He didn't swim, again, but I did. And since bad things run in series of three's, I should be done( at least for a while; final score...Dan-0, Willow creek-3).
The writeup is correct. There is less "junk" on this run and the rapids we ran were beautiful with some technical & tight lines. We had approx. 4 portages due to logs, and 4 due to potential bodily damage from gravity vs. rocks. Once we reached the "Devils Slide" area. Recongnizable by ; nudists, fence on river-left side w/easy trail, horizon line with only tree tops in the distance(biggest hint), continuous granite slide/rapids to last pool, with an eddy and view of Bass lake. Unfortunately, we didn't get to paddle too much after that. Each time we made it to the creek, we didn't get far w/o having another portage. Plus time/fatigue (at least for me) was becoming a factor. After Devil's Slide, there were two more big drops/slides. We scouted the first and after seeing logs/rocks in the last drop of three(once you did first drop, you were committed to run all three) we easily portaged. Once on the trail down( we knew from hikers that we were close to the road) we basically didn't stop till we reached the road, took a swim, and just I hiked down the rest of the way w/o kayak to save time/energy to get the car.
Without a doubt, the gem of this run is a 200-300 yard granite gorge with 25ft slide into and 8-9 more drops before smooth narrow deep chanel ending with our 2nd portage of the day due to big drop/slide with rocks, and tigers and bears, OH MY! Well, actually it was about a 40-50ft slide with drops mixed in for good measure! Evan and I were really thinking about this one, but you know what they say about "the longer you look at a rapid, the more time you'll spend in it when you run it". The deciding factor was lack of rescue points, which were about nil. So we hiked.
The scenery on this run is awesome. In a few tranquil areas, you felt like you were hours from civilization. The lightning and thunder as we were leaving for home was incredible as well.
As with most of my recent trips, I will be sore for a few more days and ready for more adventure real soon. Thanks again to Evan and Daniel for making this another successful run. Without them, my kayak would still be bobbing around behind the waterfall of Chilkoot Falls at the end of the upper run. What a way to start your day, a swim and tough boat rescue on the first drop!
Happy paddling all!
Not really sure what the maximum recommended flow might be in here. Getting the minimum is hard enough. You will have some additional water from Chilkoot creek in this lower section. Boatable flows tend to be in April and May but can occur in other months as well. See this table of Monthly mean flows; 1997-2006.
Historical data and other information can be found at USGS NF Willow gage #11242400. Madera Irrigation District maintains this flow gauge. MID diverts some water from NF Willow upstream near Soquel Meadow over to California Creek which drains eventually into the Fresno River for use by valley agriculture.
Since October of 2009, the CDEC has hosted the gauge data, so newer flow data is at CDEC-NFW.
Permits are not required for this reach.
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Toilet Sieve (No water)
Into the Pit
Granite Gorge # 6
Granite Gorge # 5
Granite Gorge # 4
Granite Gorge # 3
Granite Gorge # 2
Granite Gorge #1
Evan's run of First Falls
end of the Granite Gorge
The hike to the river
Horizon Line for Devil's Falls
2nd falls we walked around
Last drop of the Granite Gorge
The Granite Gorge Section
NF Willow near Bass Lake
Waterfall into Bass Lake
Devil's Slide at low water
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