Pit, California, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-IV (varies with level)|
|Pit Above Pit 1 Powerhouse|
|dream-035||600 - 3000 cfs||III-IV||02h30m||~ 401 cfs (too low)|
This section of the Pit River is in a deep canyon through a volcanic plateau. On top of the Modoc Plateau the River meanders through pastoral countryside. At Fall River Mills, the Pit is joined by Fall River and then starts cutting a canyon. Over seven miles, the river cuts to the bottom of the plateau and exits onto another lower basin. The Pit has a basalt riverbed which is unique in California but common in eastern Oregon.
The Pit 1 bypass reach is a great class IV+ run that has fall weekend releases, thanks to American Whitewater. Flows are normally diverted around this section for hydropower but during scheduled weekends in the fall, flows are restored to the river providing a great recreational resource for the community (check the weekend forecast at the link above for projected flows).
When you put in at the PG&E river access facility at the bridge in Fall River Mills, you will have 1.8 miles of flatwater down to where the whitewater begins. This section provides a very nice flatwater paddling opportunity full of wildlife and great scenery. This flatwater paddle should take you about 20 minutes to get to the whitewater. The old access at Big Eddy Estates crossed a private easement and is no longer allowed.
The flat water section ends abruptly at Big Eddy Estates. A wide volcanic band blocks the river and is covered with bushes and trees. A series of narrow channels flow downhill through the trees on far river right. The next 3 rapids are the steepest of the whole run, excluding Pit Falls. These rapids should be scouted as they have tricky moves that can't be seen from above. At flows of 800 and 1100 cfs there are plenty of eddies. After the Big 3, the gradient eases and rapids open up enough for boat scouting everything else, exluding Pit Falls.
When the river begins to widen and approach a large right hand bend, exit the river on the right. At moderate flows walk in the shallows to a portage at the right edge of the falls. You can also climb a short steep bank to an old roadbed to get great views of the falls. You can continue walking along the roadbed to the old steel bridge. There is also a fairly easy portage on river left, between a "fish ladder" channel and the main falls. The Falls tend to be run at 3 locations: a slide on the right, the "Fish Ladder" on the left, and at some flows down high narrow chute left of center.
Past Pit Falls enjoy a series of easy drops called "the lefts" all on left hand bends with the normal routes to the left as well. Below this is the Longest Rapid of the Run. Although not as steep as the Big 3, it is steep enough and extends for 4/10s of a mile. Easier yet very busy rapids continue past the end of the canyon and to the take out.
On Highway 299, between the put in and take out, there is a designated scenic overlook parking area with a good view of the Pit Falls. There are also a series of turnouts west of the overlook that provide views of the lower rapids.
Continue east on 299E to the turn off for the Pit #1 powerhouse. Turn right here if you wish to take out at the campground. Boaters can also continue down into the class 2, Pit River Campground to Lake Briton section and take out at the highway bridge over the river.
We have been notified by the Shasta County Department of Transportation that the Pit River Bridge, just outside the town of Fall River Mills, will be closed indefinitely due to safety concerns. This will impact access to the put-in for the release this weekend and in the future. The recommended shuttle route, through the town of McArthur, will add about 11 miles to the shuttle.
Directions when the Fall River Mills Bridge is Open.
From the campground drive 1.4 miles to 299, turn right and climb the grade toward Fall River Mills. Hang a right in the middle of Fall River Mills (This is a small community and finding the river is easy). Follow the road across the bridge and turn right into the new river access site constructed by PG&E as a condition of the new hydropower license. Unfortunately, parking is somewhat limited and there is no room for trailer parking, so be sure to link up with other boaters to reduce your parking footprint.
The old put-in used by whitewater boaters at "Big Eddy Estates" is no longer allowed as of 2012.
Pit River Campground has 8 regular sites and one group site. Each site has a concrete picnic table and a fire ring. Regular sites are $8 per site per night and the group camp site is $12 per night. Sites are first come first served and there are no reservations. There are 2 pit toilets. There is no drinkable water supplied at the campground, so bring plenty. There is a clear spring a few hundred yards downstream at a Lions Club picnic area. The campground host is very helpful.
Three Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata) grows thick around the campsites. The stems are often used for basket making and it has edible berries. It looks very similar to Poison Oak as they are both in the sumac family. Some Poison Oak also grows in the area, so study them carefully to see the difference. Many people have allergic reactions to Poison Oak, but but most people will not have any problems with Three Leaf Sumac.
There is no shortage of gas stations, groceries, restaurants and such in the area. Fall River Mills has a gas station, large grocery store, several resteraunts, a single screen movie theater, auto parts store and other amenities. Nearby Burney has several reasonably priced gas stations, a Safeway market, auto repair shops, etc..
PITFALLS ON THE PIT
Actually it is Pit Falls on the Pit #1 Bypass Reach of the Pit River, east of Burney, California (north of Lassen National Park). This is a rare opportunity for you to push your boat (minus you, preferably) over a 20 foot waterfall, collect it at the bottom, and lower it another 10 feet over the second part of the drop. More on this later…
The Pit#1 Bypass Reach is normally dewatered by PG&E operations, but due to the efforts of American Whitewater (AW), water is restored to this reach in October. We decided to sample this reported Class IV- run with one portage at Pit Falls. We, being Lacey and I in our small cats and our friend John form Ashland in his slightly larger cat. We met up at the BLM Pit River campground, which also serves as the take-out for this run and the put-in for a short Class II stretch downstream.
Luckily for us, Dave Steindorf of AW was camped there as well and intended to run his raft down on Saturday. Since he is a veteran of this run in both rafts and kayaks, we were fortunate to have him lead us down this stretch for our first time. One access point currently is at the bridge just south of Fall River Mills and involves a portageable weir and 3 miles of flatwater. We put in at the Big Eddy Estates [no longer an option], avoiding the flatwater ahead of the good stuff. All of us were on our best behavior as this put-in is on a private easement. There was a sign there indicating that for 2010 this arrangement could change. AW has been working with PG&E to provide an alternate access point, but to date, there is none. [Access at Big Eddy Estates is no longer allowed. Launch at the bridge in Fall River Mills instead. ed. 2012]
The whole run is relatively unique in that the rapids are formed where volcanic ledges have been cut by the river. Also, having only minimal flows most of the year allows lots of vegetation to grow in the channel. The upper two miles or so (above Pit Falls) is very interesting Class III+ to IV whitewater, weaving through a variety of reed-lined channels and over sharp (literally) ledges. It was great having Dave in the lead as he seemed to know which channels were clear, something that was NOT obvious from the river. Some of the other choices ended in steep boulder-choked drops that would have been nearly impassable or had trees across them. Not a place you wanted to end up accidentally.
Pit Falls is magnificent. A river wide volcanic ledge where the river has cut many channels over this 30 foot drop. Choose the wrong one and you’re toast. We opted to portage along the right, pushing the boats over a 20 foot slide into a shallow pool at the bottom. Sounds easy, right? WRONG. Getting the boats to the slide involves sliding them over and through the reeds along the bank. In several places there are DEEP channels that have been cut and lead to nasty places on the falls. We used the boats to “ladder” across a particularly bad channel just to reach the point where we could shove the boats out into the current for the slide. A mis-step here and you would go down the WRONG side of the slide and be seriously injured or killed. We managed to get the raft and one cat down the right side of the slide, while the other two cats decided (on their own) to run the wrong side. As is often the case, the empty boats made it fine. If people had been on them, the outcome could have been disasterous. Yes, the slide has been run by kayakers and paddle boats, but the prudent thing to do is portage. We then lowered the boats over the last 10 foot ledge to the main river below. Expert kayakers are routinely running the 20 foot slide on river right and a harder 30 foot plunge to the left.
Below the falls, are a few more miles of good Class III-III+ whitewater with multiple drops on left-hand bends, where the run is usually to the left as well. Except now there is a tree across the left channel in one of them…Take out at the BLM park below the Pit #1 Powerhouse channel. It is best to use the far right channel at the last drop to drop into the eddy. Too far left and you may get swept downstream into the Class II section for another hours river time. The class II section retains some of the “flavor” of the upper section in a user friendly environment. It is much more pool and drop with lots of flatwater. A few channels to choose from and an easy take-out at the Highway 299 bridge.
Overall, this run is very fun, with the portage at the falls being a bit sketchy. It is probably better suited to skilled kayakers than rafters. Dave and his raft got stuck quite a few times, but the cats had better runs as they were much lighter and more maneuverable. Our small, narrow cats were an advantage as there are several “chutes” to negotiate where wider boats have more difficulty. John’s wider cat perched on several rocks that we were able to slip between with our narrower boats. This is definitely a Class IV- run; fun and technically challenging. If you are not ready for the Chamberlain Falls run on the NF American or the Lumsden run on the Tuolumne, then you may not be ready for this one. The Falls are a thrill to be sure and beautiful to view.
Keep posted on what is happening on the Pit and when the releases will occur in 2010 by checking in on the American Whitewater website. This is a great organization and the main reason why we now have recreational releases on the Pit, NF Feather, NF Mokelumne, etc. Become a member and support a worthwhile cause!
Pit #1 project is FERC Project # 2687, and received a new license in 2003. Use the FERC search page to find documents related to this project. Enter P-2687 as the document number.
USFWS request to cancel flushing flows. pdf
AW response, defending flows. PDF
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|-1.9||PG&E Access Area||N/A|
|0.0||Big Eddy Estates||N/A|
|0.3||Mary Go Round and Entrance||III+|
|2.6||Approach to Pit Falls||III|
|2.7||Pit River Falls: Right Side Slide||IV|
|2.7||Pit Falls: Center Chute||V|
|2.7||Pit Falls: Left Side - Fish Ladder||IV+|
|3.6||Quarter Mile Rapid||IV|
|4.9||Powerhouse Outlet Channel||N/A|
PG&E has built a parking area with pit toilets on the hill above the river just dowstream of the Fall River confluence. Parking spots are limited and there is no room for trailers.
A nice trail leads down to a low weir across the river. It is easy to launch above this weir into a flat pond area. There is gap in the weir on river right that should have a reasonable route. It could have obstacles in it, so always double check. The weir itself is very low and could be scraped over at various points, but, trees and bushes grow all across the river below the weir on shallow ledges. Most of the width is obstructed.
The maintained trail ends at the weir but a rough use trail wanders over low rocks and through trees to access the open flat water below the trees.
Kayakers could easily carry past the weir on the trail, but groups carrying rafts would have a more difficult time.
This was a common put in for many years, but as of 2012 access here is no longer allowed. This marks the end of the flatwater and the beginning of the whitewater.
The flat water ends at Big Eddy Estates. The river channel widens and is blocked by a giant, green, bushy and tree filled plug. Water probably filters through the whole width, but there are some narrow open chutes on far river right.
Paddle to the right side of the river, where the main flow heads into the bushes. Head down the obvious chute, eddy out on the left, and move into the next chute to the left. This one is overhanging and more narrow, but it opens up a bit after curving left. The channel opens wider above a small blocky ledge.
Small boulders form a river wide ledge. There are multiple lines over it, but it might be sticky in spots. There are good eddies above it. A cheat chute on far left, to the left of a tree offers a more gradual descent.
This is a two part rapid with a tricky end. There is a fairly steep but open lead in to a big eddy on the right. The lower drop must be run on the far left because of a sticky ledge guarding the center and right. However a strong curling diagonal wave guards the left and must be punched. This diagonal often typewriters boats all the way across into the rocks on river right where a strong eddy can feed them back into the ledge hole. It caused more problems at 1100 cfs than at 800 cfs.
A series of steep, bouldery rapids lead down towards a large bedrock ledge across the river. The ledge forms an island in the iddle with very shallow flows on the left and the main route on the right. The right side route twists around sharply to the right, then curves quickly back to the left over a steep ledge. The easiest route appears to follow the outside of the curve.
A long straight, but congested rapid with multiple slalom routes ends with even greater congestion. A line of boulders create holes and boof opportunities across the entire width except for the far right. An upstream line of boulders guards the right side and prevents a straight approach.
A common line is to enter center or left, then when it opens up head down the center. At 800 cfs many people could cut to the right at the bottom between the two lines of boulders to run the clean exit. At 1100 cfs the right cut is much harder and most people charged through the bottom boulders where ever they ended up.
A small spring runs into the river on the left near the end of a large pool. Boaters can paddle up to it to drink and refill water bottles.
Two class 3 slalom rapids on a gradual left turn signal the approach to Pit River Falls. The downstream view is dominated by a very prominent cliff rising to the skyline.
The river spreads out wide above the falls, while many bushy island hide the approaches. There is easy portage and scouting options on both right and left sides. The right side is more generally used as it is closer and more people boat the right side slide than the left side routes.
The river spreads out and green islands hide the top of the falls. There is a scouting and portage route at water level on the right edge of the falls. A steep clean slide is often run on the right side, as well.
On the left side of the falls there is also a scouting and portaging route.
This center chute is often run but not successfully at all levels. At 800 cfs one day several boaters ran it. At 1100 cfs the next day only two boaters attempted it, as both got pummeled in the base and swam. Thankfully they were quickly ejected towards shore when they did swim.
The so called Fish Ladder, breaks the descent into several smaller waterfalls in a small channel. The landings are tricky on several of the drops. The very bottom drops are portaged if the flow is not high enough. The entrance to the left side channel is separated from the main falls by a large island. The channel curves around the island and ends up back near the base of the main falls.
It is also possible to portage or scout the falls across the island.
A nearly river wide horizon line waits at the end of a fast class 3 section. You can boof the rock in the middle but it all goes.
This rapid is less steep than the first 3 but it is steep enough and it goes for almost a half mile. Boaters will need constant manuvering, hole dodging and boofing for the entire distance. At 800 cfs it did not feel like a big deal and felt broken up into separate sections. At 1100 cfs it felt serious and was one continuous rapid. A swim could be long and I was thankful for a good combat roll in a small hole about 1/3 of the way down.
This rapid has a straight run down the left through a clean wave train. A wave near the bottom is known for a decent surf and indeed a kayaker was riding it as I went by.
Easier but often very busy rapids continue steadily to the take out.
The outlet channel comes in on river right. It is a straight channel and so provides an interesting view of the powerhouse and the penstocks above it. During release weekends there won't generally be any flow out the channel.
This rapid has a semi-clean route down a rocky bar on the left side and then it curves to the left down a second level. Unfortunately the take out boat ramp is hidden in a side channel lagoon back to the right. You can't run the clean part of the rapid unless you want to continue downstream.
To get to the take out, kayakers scrape and bash down the right edge of the rapid into calm water. They can then paddle upstream into the lagoon. Rafts can try the same but will hang up even more and will likely end up walking the raft through the shallows.
More commonly, rafters enter a tiny side channel that feeds the lagoon and drag their rafts a shorter but still awkward distance into the lagoon.