||Little North Fork to Salmon Confluence
||class IV (3 class V rapids), harder at higher flows
||11.3 miles, 1 day
||rafts 1000 - 3000 cfs, kayaks 600 - 3000
||estimate 30% of the flow at Somes Bar
||70 fpm average, 100 fpm at times
||wide gravel bar above Little North Fork, 1980'
||on main Salmon near Forks of Salmon, 1190'
||11.3 miles (20 minutes) one-way
||USFS Klamath NF, AAA Northern California,
||spring, from snowmelt
||© 1996 Bill Tuthill,
Add this to the list of “what was Lars smoking?”
when he wrote the river description.
This is not a class III-IV run that suddenly becomes class IV-V at 1001 cfs.
It is a class IV run with easier class II-III sections,
2 class V- rapids, and 1 class V rapid.
There is no way the last two rapids could become class IV below 1000 cfs,
although perhaps the first one could.
Overall this run is more technical and requires more skill than
the main Cal Salmon run from Nordheimer to below Wooley Creek.
However, most folks think it is less exhilarating.
Clearcuts and mining debris are often visible, badly degrading scenery.
When the Nordheimer run is deemed too high,
this run makes an interesting but not entirely forgiving alternative.
Access note: the road from Etna to the Salmon is now entirely paved,
but goes over a 6000' pass, so the road along the South Fork Salmon
is probably still a better route coming from I-5.
- Put in at a gravel bar less than a mile upstream of the
Little North Fork confluence, where a dirt road leads down
to the river. Access at the Little North Fork is poor.
For the first three miles, expect primarily class II-III rapids
over boulder bars.
- The canyon closes in and some passages might deserve a scout.
- Devious, class V-, center island scout
A class IV drop leads to a blind entrance into a rock maze
where much of current goes right, although the correct routes
are far left or left of center. Two big drops are then
followed by a boulder maze runnable on the left. This rapid
is named from Holbek, who remembered it as being just below
the Little North Fork.
- Many enjoyable class III-IV drops with short pools between.
- Primarily class II-III rapids over boulder bars; a low gradient
builds your sense of impending doom, considering the 70 fpm average.
- Foreboding, class V-, scout right
A landslide on the right marks the start of a class V gorge.
(This rapid named after Holbek, who apparently dislikes landslides.)
This steep drop among large boulders can probably be run most easily
on the far right. Eddy out immediately below!
- The P-word, class V, scout right, possible left portage
This rapid is portaged more often than run. It starts with a
class IV drop on the left that turns the corner right and
out of sight thru some gigantic landslide boulders.
The standard route goes all the way left, pausing above an
entrapment chute, then all the way right around some smaller
rocks, and exits against the right wall. A “devious” sneak route
described by Holbek seems to have been eliminated by recent
geologic activity (1996).
- Several more class IV drops.
- Rapids ease; class II-III to the confluence.
- Confluence with the main Salmon. The town of Forks of Salmon,
with small general store serving ice cream, is nearby.
- Good take-out on the right with gravel bar and parking lot,
after about .5 mile of big but easy water.
The following story by Rocky Contos tells about his adventure
starting at the Little North Fork and ending on the Klamath.
Excerpted with permission.
27-29 December 1995: North Fork Salmon, Main Salmon, Klamath
This was a ~60 mile trip which started out my river kayak break. The
Cal Salmon and Klamath were classic runs which had enough water to run
at this time (3 weeks after a big storm), while most other creeks
were getting too low to boat. A couple days prior the flows on the
Salmon at Somes bar was 1200 cfs and the Klamath at Orleans was 5000
cfs. I drove up and camped at Weitchpec (confluence of the Trinity and
Klamath) the night of the 26th. That morning I looked around and threw
my bike in the bushes there with a backpack nearby containing my biking
clothes and gear. And then I took off for the put in. Roads follow
the Klamath, Salmon, and NF Salmon the entire way, thus the shuttle is
the same length as the run. The road along the Salmon is narrow in
many places, though paved. Reaching Forks of Salmon, I judged the flow
on the NF floatable and continued upstream. Ideally, if there were
enough water, I would start 20 or so miles up the NF. As I drove
upstream, several rocky, steep sections looked marginally boatable with
this flow, thus I decided to put in at the Little North Fork confluence
(11 miles from Forks of Salmon). This run, described by Lars Holbek,
is 70 fpm and 100 fpm in some places, and class III-IV at 600-1000 cfs
(IV-V at 1000-3000 cfs). The main Salmon is 31 fpm, 19 miles and rated
III-IV+ by Holbek up to 2000 cfs (V by Cassady/Calhoun). The Ikes
Falls run on the Klamath is about 8 fpm, 8 miles, and class IV by both
guidebook standards. After this section on the Klamath, which ends at
the town of Orleans, there is another 16 miles of class II-III to the
confluence with the Trinity at Weitchpec.
Loading up my boat for two nights on the river, I took off on the NF
Salmon about 11 am or noon. This run had clear cold water. I had no
gloves or pogies. The temperature of the air was about 50 and the
water was probably 45. It started raining as I began and continued all
day. My hands and wrists were soon numb and this made it difficult to
grasp the paddle effectively at times. At the flow I had, which was
probably 400-500 cfs, I thought the run was OK. It would have been
much better with at least double this flow. Many rapids were class
III-IV, with some tight maneuvers. I banged up the nose of the boat
several times, and the fiberglass patch soon had holes in it. Maybe
two-thirds of the way into the run there were some very challenging
class V passages. Because I wasn't having many problems with the other
parts, besides banging the nose of the boat, I ran all these. I ended
up side-scouting about 4-5 times, and boat scouting 6-8 times. Some of
these rapids were definitely class V. I wouldn't trust Lars rating of
III-IV for the low flows. My opinion is that the river would be much
more boatable and easier if the flow was >2 times greater, but I was
biased for a large, long, loaded Mirage. In the description Lars speaks of
a lower gorge section with lots of “debris” rapids in it.
I did not encounter such a place. Most of the river was similar. I made it
to Forks of Salmon about 3 pm.
Continuing on the main Salmon, I immediately felt much better with the
greater water level. The first few miles on the main Salmon are class
II-III, and then one comes to Bloomer's Falls. This is a really nice
rapid, and in my opinion class IV or IV+. It certainly isn't a II+
chute as Holbek states. Cassady/Calhoun give a much better description
of it. I found a large reversal awaits at the bottom of Bloomer Falls
that someone could easily get stuck in. The gorge after this is narrow
and wonderful. The water level was adequate and I was not scraping or
bumping into rocks at all. I continued another mile or two past Lewis
Creek Falls and camped on river right on a sandbar about 4-5 ft above
the river. There was some small structure (10 ft X 10 ft) up the side
on river right where I camped. It was locked, and I don't know what it
was for. The next morning I continued down and went through the
pleasurable rapids Airplane Turn (IV+), Cascade Falls (V), Achilles Heel
(IV+), Whirling Dervish (IV+), Last Chance (V-), Freight Train (V),
Butler Creek (IV), Double Hole (IV), and Marble (IV). Of these, I
side-scouted Cascade, Last Chance, Freight Train, and perhaps Achilles
Heel. The others could be boat scouted. Cascade Falls had a right
steep chute which looked quite possible, and a more gradual descent
down the main channel. I took the main channel. Last Chance/Freight
Train are very significant and should be looked at. Butler Creek was
just a long fast ride. The gorge is beautiful. There was one spot
somewhere before Marble with a cave on the left. I was intrigued with
this as a possible sheltered camping spot. Though I didn't check it
out, I wonder if anyone knew what it was like.
I was making good time and was at the Klamath confluence at 1 pm. I
considered paddling/portaging my boat up to Ishi Pishi Falls to run it
but decided it not worth the effort, especially seeing how strong the
current was as the confluence (here there is a class II+ rapid that I
played on briefly and took a cold dunking). I continued down through
the Ikes. Big Ike and Super Ike were class IV rapids and really had a
big water feel to them. The river was rising slightly as it was
raining all that day as well. The flow was probably 6000-8000 cfs. In
the Ikes section, I only expected about 3 rapids, and was surprised to
find 7-8 distinct class III-IV rapids. This was a very fun area. Just
below the seventh after some calmer water there was a teepee on river
right. I got out to explore. There was nobody around and it was
falling apart, but it still provided some protection from the rain.
A small vial correctly labeled Peppermint Oil was in it (which I
confirmed). I thought about camping there, but I dreaded the idea of
putting on my cold wet kayak gear the next morning, thus continued on
to Weitchpec. The current in the Klamath was strong and good time was
made. There are many class II-III rapids in the section from Orleans
to Weitchpec, which I was not expecting. It was a very fun stretch.
Bluff Creek rapid was about class III, but there were others of similar
magnitude that are not mentioned in the Cassady/Calhoun guidebook
description (about two just after Bluff Creek rapid). Bluff Creek itself
still did not have much water in it, though on the drive up to the put
in, it looked intriguing and like a fun continuous class V run if there
were enough water. I made it to Weitchpec by 4:30 pm and set up camp
on river right about 8 ft above river level on the sandbar near where a
washed out road goes down to the river.
It continued to rain lightly all night. In the morning I left my tent
there and went to get my bike and ride the shuttle. I figured the ride
would take 4-4.5 hrs and then driving back another 1.5 hours. I got
off later than I had hoped though (9:00 AM). It was a cold ride. As I
started I thought about moving the tent up higher, but didn't think the
water level had come up any and wasn't going to. It was still light
raining. As I crossed Bluff Creek 8 miles upstream I started worrying
more, since this little creek was now a fully runnable torrent of
water. I continued on. Past the town of Orleans about 4 miles, the
crankshaft froze up!! No bike - no shuttle. It must have rusted being
left in the rain for two days. The chain was getting some rust on it.
I was really bummed and cold. In soaking wet shorts and my paddle
jacket, I stood on the road and tried to hitch a ride up to Somes Bar.
A couple vehicles passed. Then one of them (a pickup) came back - a
couple from Texas who were sightseeing and normally don't pick up
hitchhikers. These wonderful people took me and my bike in the back of
their pickup, and all the way to my car!!! I was really happy about
that. They were on their way to I-5 and sightseeing anyways, so the
detour wasn't all that bad. I gave them some details of the
region/rapids and river as we drove up to my car. It took a while to
warm up in my car, but eventually it happened. When I returned to
Weitchpec, I was worried that the river had come up and started washing
things away. When I arrived at 2:30 pm or so, the water was about 1-2
inches above the bottom of the tent. Luckily, most of my stuff was in
the tent, and I quickly took it all to higher ground and then to my
car. The tent was like a big waterbed inside on the water!! I ended
up losing a tupperware with some dates/almonds in it but that's about it.
Beware of light rains adding up after a while. Another thing happened.
When I called my folks later that day, they informed me that the police
had come to my apartment in La Jolla looking for me. A ranger had
found my car at the NF Salmon and talking to people there, knew I had
taken off down the river the 27th. I suppose on the 28th he thought
I was washed away in the waters and searched my car to find my telephone
number, etc. Of course, I was OK and was doing a multiday trip on the
river. I guess that sort of thing is not very common, especially in
December. My Mom straightened it all out for me.
- Rocky Contos,
Map of Rivers