Carson River East Fork
Starting in pine forest and ending in the high desert, with frequent glimpses of distant snow-covered peaks, offering several hotsprings near midpoint, and containing many fun rapids, this is one of the finest novice runs in California. Its mild class II+ rating can be deceptive however, because the water is swift and cold, the rocks sharp and abrasive, and the bedrock banks sometimes undercut. Flows are highest in the morning, so consider the peaks when deciding if it is too low or too high to run.
After the flood of 1997 the class III rapids above Hangman's Bridge became more class II-like. It is best to avoid crowds and put in at one of the many roadside turnouts south of the bridge, rather than at the bridge. Note that there are no sanitary facilities above Hangman's Bridge, so overnight camping and parking is not permitted alongside highway 89/4. The further up the highway you go, the more the rapids approach class III. The Cassady/Calhoun guidebook describes this upper run in detail, with its 65 fpm gradient and continuous class III rapids. Intermediate boaters usually like to start way upstream for some morning excitement.
Along Markleeville Creek between town and put-in is a nice USFS campground that is often filled on Friday nights. The other side of put-in, Carson River Resort rents cabins and campsites; see www.carsonriverresort.com for pictures and reservations.
Upper upper, thanks to Chris R. If you are willing to carry boats 8 miles from Antelope pack station (above the town of Walker CA) there is a 15-18 mile run on the upper upper. It is mostly class I to III, with downed trees and one class V drop (or portage) in the upper half, and some IV rapids in the lower half. Watch for barbed wire. The lower half still resembles the West Walker before the 1997 flood. You can access the lower half with a 5 mile walk down from Heenan Lake. Due to carry, even the lower half is infrequently run, but 1000 cfs on the Markleeville gauge is deemed a good flow, giving you about 100 cfs after the carry from Heenan Lake.
Trip report from Trent Pierce, May 2019. “A friend and I attempted the Lower Upper Upper section this weekend, hiking in at Heenan Lake with our packrafts. We had around 1400 cfs on the Markleeville gauge. At this water level, we found it to be very continuous Class III with most eddies partially blocked by willows and containing many dangerous strainers, some in blind corners. The first Class IV drop was almost entirely filled with wood, with only a thin line runnable, and fed into more continuous Class III with even more strainers. After a spill and a time-consuming boat retrieval, we hiked out after the first Class IV. Scouting the roadside section from Highway 4 to Hangman’s Bridge revealed several more river-wide strainers in swift-moving current. Overall, I would recommend folks stay away from these upper sections unless they have lower water and are prepared to do a lot of scouting and portaging around wood.”
To reach put-in, drive south on highway 89/4 to Markleeville, and continue about a mile past town to Hangman's Bridge, where there is an outhouse. You can find better put-in spots upstream between the highway and river. Even on Friday nights, campsites are often available at a USFS campground down a dirt road before the bridge. Shuttles are readily available by inquiring at stores in Markleeville.
To reach take-out, drive north to highway 88, turn right, and descend into Nevada. You can take a shortcut by turning right on Centerville Lane, and left across a bridge before Dresslerville, although going all the way to Minden and turning right on highway 395 thru Gardnerville works too. On 395 just past the Lahonton Fish Hatchery, turn right onto a dirt road where the highway starts climbing a hill. The BLM parking lot is uphill at the end of the dirt road. Vandalism has been reported often in the past.
Good shuttle service has been available in Markleeville or Minden NV. Family Mountain Shuttle Service (Mindy and Paul Washam, 775-392-1903) has been providing reliable shuttle service for many years. Great Basin Sports in Minden is willing to do shuttles; the woman to contact is Pat Fried at 775-450-3446. The Markleeville General Store has recommended River Rat Shuttle Service: call Laura at 775-901-6492. Due to vandalism in the past, it is preferable to leave your vehicle at take-out only for a short time, not overnight.
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Map of Rivers