Bear Creek, California, US
|Usual Difficulty||V+ (for normal flows)|
|Max Gradient||400 fpm|
Bear Creek drains a high Alpine valley deep in the John Muir Wilderness and is overlooked by
spectacular 13000 foot peaks. The run is a formidable undertaking due to tough hike in at
altitude and the demanding paddling and portaging to complete the run. Technically an overnight
trip on Bear creek requires a Wilderness permit for which there is a quota (and a fee only if it
is reserved in advance). The creek cuts through classic Sierra granite terrain scattered with
groves of Pine and Aspen and presents many challenging rapids and portages, not to mention a very
significant amount of wood.
A shortish class IV warm up with one short portage leads quickly to the sight of rapidly increasing gradient, minimal eddies and continuous white water so get out to scout and set safety. This is the top of "The Big Lebowski", a 3/4 mile slide of substantial gradient and some significant consequences. Below this and without pause lies a large and stout rapid, so be sure to identify an exit point as most will portage river right.
Further hazard laden rapids quickly lead to the top of a mandatory portage river right around a spectacular cataract. A spirited seal launch immediately below this (and above the next waterfall) is required as the portage route now changes sides. The 20 foot vertical waterfall immediately below appears to have a shallow landing and has yet to be run. Further bushwacking allows the river to be regained once the gradient has become sane again.
Many smaller rapids, some clean, some mank, continue until another well concealed unrun waterfall is again reached as the river suddenly turns to the left. Further portaging river left leads to a good route into this new gorge. More good rapids lead to Twin Falls, where two slides drop into a scenic pool (an ideal camp site for the ascent and good place to leave overnight gear).
The nature of the creek changes subtly here and now long easy pools are interspersed by fierce mini-gorges, stout drops, and never ending wood portages. Many drops still remain unrun here, partially because they are wickidly stout, partially because some drops need different waterlevels to be safely runnable and partially because many are full of wood. Nearing the end of the run, some sections clear up and become more continuously runnable with some great slides.
The first descent was done in June 2007 by Culley Thomas, Macy Burnham, Amanda Maruich, Roman Nelson, Shawn Hartje and Ben Hawthorne, and it was paddled again several times in summer 2008
Other Information Sources:
Video by Hartje First Descent 6-3-2007
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