Pit River near Pit Falls


Stretch: Fall River Mills to Highway 299
Difficulty: Class IV+ (1 portage), harder at higher flows
Distance: 10 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts and kayaks 600 - 2000 cfs, IK minimum 500
Gauge: estimate after subtracting hydropower spikes (USGS site)
Gradient: 48 fpm average (70 fpm above Falls, 80 fpm below)
Put-in: Fall River Road bridge south of Fall River Mills, 3220'
Take-out: Route 299 bridge above Britton reservoir, 2740'
Shuttle: 8 miles (10 minutes) one-way way
Maps: USFS Shasta NF, AAA Northern California
Season: spring into summer, depending on snowpack
Agency: private, BLM
Photos: scanned by Kevin Lewis, klewis@snowcrest.net

This run hasn't been listed in a guidebook since Charles Martin included it in Sierra Whitewater, published in 1974. Charles Martin also described three easier downstream runs, now mostly dewatered by hydro diversions, but possible future summer runs depending on the outcome of FERC relicensing. In his 3rd edition (1998), Lars Holbek finally included a less hydro-impacted upstream run, also described in the Charles Martin book: the 24 river miles from Nubieber to Pittville, class V with several portages.

Rapids on this run are caused by relatively recent volcanic activity. Lava flows have formed natural dams, which the river has incised to create unusual and sometimes spectacular rapids. At high flows there is a mandatory portage at Pit Falls, a 30' vertical drop over a particularly large lava flow. At moderate flows such as the scheduled release, Pit Falls is runnable class V, with a class IV sneak route on the far right.

About .1 mile below the put-in bridge is a weir rapid. After that the river is flat until mile 2, where the gradient picks up to 70 fpm until the falls, and the river drops thru many lava dams. Photos on this page were taken with the flow around 5500 cfs.

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Brownwater rapid on the upper section
Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Steep rapid on the upper section

More normal rapids are encountered in the mile above the falls. At mile 4.9 make certain to exit on river right, well above Pit Falls.

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Scary view from the lip of Pit Falls

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Beautiful Pit Falls from the portage route

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Overgrown road makes for a strenuous portage
Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Lowering boats on a rope from the old bridge

Below the falls, gradient increases to 80 fpm until mile 7.1, where Pit #1 Powerhouse sluiceway comes in.

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Too busy to enjoy the good canyon scenery!

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Lava cliffs tower over a big long rapid

Pit River around Pit Falls CA

Very steep rapid in the lower section
Pit River around Pit Falls CA

More trees grow along the lower canyon

Below the powerhouse, good surfing waves abound with the increased flow, although the gradient is only 30 fpm to take-out.


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