Sheep Creek (class II-VI) is rarely run because adquate flows are hard to catch, much of the run is obstructed by a willow thicket, and the canyon is extremely remote. With that said, for adventurous paddlers, it is a bucket list item not to be missed. This run is best suited for hard shell kayaks because at least 20 miles of the run involves stuffing your boat through thickets of willows growing in the streambed. A wider or softer boat would insure that you would be stuck that much more.
From a launch at the last road bridge there is an hour of moving water through willows. After the stone cabin on the right marked as James Place on GPS maps (nice camp), the gradient begins to pick up with small rapids in the willows. At mile 7 there is a sharp left bend marking the first class IV which is a narrow chute through the willows, from which you must move left in order to avoid the rocks bottom right. More class III's in the willows follow.
Around mile 9 Mary's Creek enters from the left, but you will not see it for the willows. This has been run (see the 1999 May-June issue of the AW Journal). To my knowledge no one has run it since then. There are many enjoyable open sections interspersed with willows for the next 10 miles.
There are many small camps, the best starting at mile ~12 on the right. One more class IV in the willows is split into two channels, and the right one ends under the cliff in the rocks. It is possible at lower flows to run the right channel and cut to the left one before the cliff. A class III drop follows.
The willows wax and wane until mile 17 or so, when the canyon narrows. At mile 20 an obvious horizon line will be the class V rapid called Gushy, aka the Slide. Scout and portage left. A left side line opens up at higher flows, the right side may go at lower flows. One of the largest camps is 1/4 mile downstream around the bend on the right.
About a mile downstream a long class III occurs in a narrow section of gorge, and then two steeper drops, the first of which has large rocks obstructing the view and can be run driving from center to left, and the second of which is best scouted from river right.
Soon after this point the canyon opens up and the willows take over again. After this batch of willows is another long scenic stretch of amazing canyon with class II rapids until you reach Redwall Rapid, class V. It has been run. The rapid appears after a left bend, where the river necks down against a sheer cliff on the left. Scout and portage right. There is a two boat eddy immediately above the horizon line on the right.
Below Redwall there are 5 more miles of mostly class II and III rapids. The willows return, and one class IV hides in the willows after a right bend. Climb up the tall rock on the right to scout. After this drop it is less than an hour of easy but scenic river to the Bruneau.
Once on the Bruneau it is 10 miles to the East Fork Confluence, another 10 miles to Fivemile rapid, 5 miles to Wild Burro and 5 miles from there to the takeout above a low head dam. It is possible to make all 30 miles in <5 hours at 1800cfs.
Previous Data from Pacific NW Rivers Study, Stan Allen, Idaho Coordinator
This is a minimal flow.
After a sharp left bend, a narrow channel accelerates downstream on the right and dumps into a rockpile and willows. Move left from that channel when possible.
Congested class V drop. May be runnable on the right at low flows, or on the left at high flows.
Congested boulder pile and sieve, eddy right to scout or portage. Follows left bend.
There's lots of lovely class II and III out there
This is a long series of class III and IV drops on the Bruneau. Read and run for skilled paddlers, rescue would be difficult if skills didn't suffice.
I ran Marys Creek with three others in 2005. To my knowledge, this was the third and last descent. Over all, the willows were as bad if not worse than Sheep Creek. They were so thick and sturdy in one area that it was literally impassable, necessitating a portage. And I'm sure, like the other runs out there (Clover, Shp, EF, WF), this stream bed has seen substantial growth since.
As far as the run itself, the canyon looks much like Sheep above the confluence. The gradient is steeper and sustained though giving it the potential to have some of the best whitewater in the basin. All runnable. However, besides the willows, it would take an unusually high runoff event to provide enough flow to realize its potential. What looks to be more than enough water at the put-in proves low and terribly boat abusive downstream. Not recommended.
We ran 31 miles of Sheep creek into the Bruneau on May 17-19, 2016, starting from the bridge at the White ranch, and continuing past James Place (on GPS, there's a stone cabin there). The major challenge of the run is the willows growing in the streambed, blocking visibility and making downstream progress laborious at times. Mary's Creek which is listed as the launch point does cut off several miles of willow-bashing, however it looks very small and may also be congested with willows. There are numerous class III and IV rapids in the willows which are difficult to scout, the first of which is at mile 7 after a sharp left bend.
There are two portages, the first at mile 20 (from the ranch) is a rapid called "Gushy" or the slide. It is an obvious biggie and an easy walk on the left. There is a class III and two IV's in the narrow gorge a couple miles below this drop, then the canyon opens up and the willows get thick again.
The next gorge section is mostly class II. The second portage is "Redwall" rapid at mile 26, after a left bend. Portage right. If you are gutsy enough to paddle to the very last eddy, the portage is easy, otherwise you will be hauling boats over small cliffs. The last eddy is small, however, so scout before committing to anything.
There is no gauge on Sheep Creek however you can estimate the flow by calculations. It runs when there are significant low snows melting. Subtract the West fork (Bruneau at Rowland NV) and 2x the Jarbidge flow (because the gauge is on one of two forks) from the Bruneau at Hotsprings flow. The remainder is ~60% Sheep creek and 40% East fork aka Clover Creek. Six hundred is a reasonable flow on Sheep. Sheep Creek and the EFB both run off earlier than the Jarbidge because they are lower elevation. Locals say that you can also run Sheep Creek on rainfall if the Bruneau is over 2500 on rain only.
Drive to Bruneau Idaho and hire a shuttle from there.
Scenic to beat all
Don't go lower than this
Sheer walled canyon
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