Grindstone Creek near Willows


Stretch: end of 4WD Grindstone Road to Stony Creek confluence
Difficulty: Class III+ (one IV and one portage)
Distance: 12 miles, 1 day
Flows: kayaks 500 - 2500 cfs, IK minimum 300
Gauge: estimate 25% of inflow to Black Butte Reservoir (BLB)
Gradient: 45 fpm average, 75 fpm for 4 miles
Put-in: at end of Grindstone Road (perhaps with hiking), 1190'
Take-out: paved Road 306 between Elk Creek and Chrome, 650'
Shuttle: 20 miles (about 2 hours) one-way, 7 miles on 4WD dirt road
Maps: Mendocino NF, AAA Northern California
Season: winter, from recent rain
Agency: USFS, private
Notes: © 1996 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

If you love 4-wheelin' and don't mind a little class III-IV whitewater too, Grindstone Creek is the run for you! (Actually, Walt “Amos” Shipley reports making it down to put-in in January 1998 with a high-clearance 2WD pickup and mud chains.)

We ran Grindstone on 12 March 1996 and spent more time negotiating (it wouldn't be accurate to say driving!) the dirt road to put-in than we spent on the river. For this reason, I can't recommend this run to everyone, although the whitewater is very good and the scenery is interesting. People have reported spotting bears, and we saw many deer and a dead coyote. This is the creek that inspired Dick Schwind to write his classic guidebook, West Coast River Touring.

Flow information is available, kind of. Since Grindstone is a tributary of Stony Creek, look for Black Butte Reservoir inflow (BLB) on the CDEC website. Grindstone seems to contribute about 20-25% of this number.

Some corrections to Holbek's writeup: it's 12.4, not 11 miles, uphill on road FH7 (307) until the turnoff onto Grindstone Road (marked Long Point Ridge, although in 1998 this signpost was not visible until after the turn). This dirt road is hardest to negotiate near a hairpin turn where the road turns back upstream. Shortly before the final turnaround where a landslide blocks former Grindstone Road, there is a trail down to the river.

Brush is not a problem, so small rafts could easily run this river. The diversion dam above take-out is gone, but barbed wire crosses the creek shortly before one sees the take-out bridge. (The barbed wire was washed away by late January 1998.)

The rapids start off class II for a few miles, then become class III where the creek enters a gorge and the gradient steepens. About mile 4-5 a sharp left bend and a large eddy on the right announce the entrance to another gorge, which culminates in a class IV rapid (narrow slot on the left, undercut on the right). Around mile 6 is the portage that Holbek says occurs at mile 4. Recognition: boulder jumble on left, large rock below jutting above the horizon line, and a talus slope on the right bank. It is a class V-VI rapid, depending on flows, and depending on which rocks move where. Easy portage on the right down to the halfway point, which avoids the worst drop. Walt “Amos” Shipley reports on his solo run of this rapid:

The initial ledge drop/falls I took on extreme right, the only place without a strong reversal below. Then the river bottlenecked into a strong boiling flush on the far left (river right is bounded by a huge, flattish boulder). Here I screwed up my line (boiling water?) but was still able to stay right in the drop (mandatory, rock sieves on the left). I went over the drop sideways in my Freefall! The reversal there captured me pretty good. I was fighting to escape for nearly a minute? Eternity! I was able to surf to the extreme left side, grab some current with a blade, turned the boat out of the side surf, engaged the stern and shot out. I almost got backendered into the pour-over. Relieved, now all I had to do was negotiate the final drop of the three. Your description of this rapid sounds like you put-in here to run the final drop. The best line was down the middle, but rattled from my battle, I took “plan B” and bounced down rocks in a low flow sneak on extreme right. I know that flooding may have changed this rapid, but at the flow I had, it was IV+ to V-, even with my screw ups. I guess it should be rated V due to the rock strainers on river left in the middle drop.

Class II-III rapids continue for another miles or so, then taper off to class II as the canyon begins to open up. There is an active mudslide on the right bank (1996). From around mile 9 to take-out, your major task is to select the correct braided channel.

I forgot to say: sidestreams add considerably to the flow. Water probably not drinkable; purify to be sure.

To reach put-in, follow directions in the Holbek/Stanley book. A map of the Mendocino National Forest is highly recommended, because the turnoff from Alder Springs Road is hard to spot, even with Holbek's fine directions.


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