Big Bend is the last run on the North Fork Feather before the river settles into Oroville Reservoir, formed behind the nation's highest dam. The run includes a dramatic drop over Big Bend Dam.
The run was first pioneered by Albert Romvari during an extreme drought around 1980 when Oroville Reservoir was at a low elevation and nothing else was flowing. Albert learned of a planned release from Poe Powerhouse of about 3000 cfs and assembled a crew to explore this section of the North Fork Feather that is normally buried under the flatwater of the reservoir.
The good news on this run is that flows from the Poe Powerhouse feed this run almost every day of the year. The bad news is that the run is short to nonexistent in most years. This is because when Oroville Reservoir is at full pool, a reservoir elevation of 900 feet, it backs up all the way to the Poe Powerhouse. In fact, this run is generally not considered to be viable until Lake Oroville elevation drops below 750 feet. This run is at its best in the driest years. In the late summer and fall of dry years Big Bend often has flows of 3000 cfs!
The run starts at the Poe Powerhouse and after padding for about five minutes across the Poe Afterbay, you come to the Big Bend Dam. The interesting thing about the Big Bend run is that you pass by, and over, layers of human development as you descend down into the Oroville Reservoir. First off, you chuck yourself off of the Big Bend Dam, built in 1911, the dam and powerhouse was the first project in what would become the Stairway of Power. Eventually, this dam and the powerhouse downstream was abandoned by PG&E when Oroville Dam was built.
Saying that this run starts off with a bang would be a gross understatement. It has been said that running Big Bend Dam is like running a 40 foot water fall, without having to run a 40 foot waterfall. Initially Big Bend Dam was portaged but then Reg Lake made the first descent sliding down the side off the main chute. Steve Rock later followed with the first descent of the main chute that is the standard run today. There are also a number of fun class 3 to 3+ drops and, as of 2014, several new drops have started to appear when the lake is at an elevation level of 700 feet or less. As you continue down the canyon, remnants of the Great Western railroad begin to appear. Tunnels, retaining walls, all flooded by Oroville Dam. Gold Rush era mining trails also become visible. Best of all is that there is still an amazing river down in the canyon. It is an incredible irony that it takes a drought to bring this river back to life.
Once you reach Oroville Reservoir it's a two or 3 hour paddle out on your own power. Since 2008 however, a shuttle service is available to Lime Saddle Marina. American Whitewater signed a Settlement Agreement for the Oroville Hydroelectric Project that included provisions for this boating shuttle service.
The terms of the service are:
• Available during business hours only.
• First 3 hrs. portal to portal $280.00 flat rate
• After 3 hrs. $75.00 per hour
• Maximum 8 people, no minimum.
• Price remains the same from 1-8 people.
• Reservations only; payment made in advance.
For Reservations call Lime Saddle Marina at 530-877-2883
Terms of this service were negotiated between State Parks and the Marina concessionaire.
Other Information Sources:Lake Oroville State Park Visitor Center phone - 530-538-2219A Wet State has a nice write up and photos of Big Bend Dam.Kayaking video showing Big Bend dam and one other rapid.
Some people just come here to run the dam spillway. The hike back up is said to be difficult or awkward.
LarryH posted on Boof.com , "be just a little bit carefull...it is very shallow and you pull some Gs at the bottom! many years ago my buddy landed kind of sideways.. on a brace, and his elbow got busted up really bad. we spent most of the night in the oroville hospital while he was getting worked on."
Before the construction of Oroville dam in 1961, this diversion dam sent water through a tunnel to a powerhouse at Las Plumas at the downstream end of the Big Bend.
This is the first major rapid below Big Bend Dam. It contains several nice surf waves mid rapid.
This is a large hole that is nearly river wide. The right line is relatively straight forward but if you miss it you are looking for a serious beat down in the hole.
Rapid immediately below Box Car
This rapid has many large waves and some holes at diferent water levels. At big flows, waves are Grand Canyon style.
The flat water starts about here when the reservoir elevation is 750 feet.
The mouth of French Creek appears on river left. Flat water starts just below here when the reservoir elevation is about 725 feet.
Flat water starts here when the reservoir is at 700 feet.
A new rapid that appears when the lake is below 680 feet
Flat water starts here when the reservoir elevation is 675 feet.
The mouth of a small tributary appears on river left. Elevation of the river bed is about 625 feet at this spot.
Flat water starts here when the reservoir is 650 feet.
Paddle up in this side channel to get to a take-out.
Flow for this run comes from the Poe Powerhouse at the put-in. There is no gage. However, the powerhouse runs most every afternoon. Flows will typically range from 1000 to 2800 cfs.
Oroville reservoir elevation needs to be less than 750 feet for this run to have enough river distance to be worthwhile.Here is additional information on Oroville, including inflows and outflows. Keep in mind that the inflows include the Middle Fork and South Fork Feather. It also includes pump back from below the reservior which can greatly distort the inflow readings.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Turn left at Bardees Bar Rd and follow
this road to the Poe Powerhouse
Poe powerhouse elevation is about 900 feet. Take out: Once the river meets the reservoir you have a few of hours of flat water paddling before you can get to road access. At mile 11 from the put-in, you reach a large arm of the lake going off to the right (north). This is the West Branch arm. Paddle into this arm.
The usual option is to keep paddling to the right, into the Dark Canyon arm. The Dark Canyon boat launch is about a mile up this arm. This access can be gated but is supposed to be open on weekends. Call the State Park to make sure the gate is left open for you. If the gate is locked the walk from the reservoir to the gate is said to be between a half mile and one mile.
If you use the boat shuttle service from Lime Saddle Marina then you will probably just park at that marina. Call Lime Saddle Marina at 530-877-2883 reservations and details.
Oroville Reservoir Access Road
Surprise Rapid #2
Surprise Rapid #1
NF Feather Uncovered
Surfing Big Bend
Box Car Rapid
AW at work
Meat Grinder on Steriods
Surveying Big Bend Dam
Lance Petrack-Zunich at Put-in
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In California, American Whitewater is working with Pacific Gas & Electric and the managing agencies, including USFS and BLM, to provide the following scheduled releases for the Mokelumne, North Fork Feather & the PIT River. Please note that each release has been and is subject to circumstances on the ground regarding COVID 19. All parties keeping in mind the current California State Order as well as local County Health Guidelines.
Earlier this year, two spillways at Oroville Dam on the Feather River in California became severely compromised, prompting the evacuation of approximately 188,000 people. The impact of the failure of these spillways continues to have a significant impact on the river and downstream communities. Those who live downstream of Oroville Dam–along with citizens across the country who live in the shadow of high-hazard hydropower dams–deserve to understand what happened, the full impacts, and what is being done about it. American Whitewater is joining with others to call for a Congressional hearing into these issues and ensure that the public has a voice in the process. Learn more about how you can help our efforts…
On June 30, 2011, PG&E dropped the flow on the Poe Reach of the North Fork Feather River in California from ~2,000 cfs to a mere 114 cfs, leaving egg masses laid by the Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog high and dry. American Whitewater and partner California Sportfishing Protection Alliance called upon the State Water Resources Control Board, FERC and PG&E to prevent this from happening again. An investigation has been initiated.
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