Pit #4 Run above Big Bend


Stretch: Ruling Creek campground to Pit #4 powerhouse
Difficulty: Class II then class IV, slightly easier above 400 cfs
Distance: 7.3 miles, 1 short day
Flows: rafts and kayaks 800 - 4000 cfs, IK minimum 380
Gauge: below put-in (CDEC PR4) or check Dreamflows
Gradient: 50 fpm average, steeper in second half
Put-in: Ruling Creek campground, 2385'
Take-out: PG&E access at Pit #4 powerhouse, 2020'
Shuttle: 7 miles on dirt road (25 minutes) one-way
Maps: AAA Northern California, Topo
Season: all year long, higher flows after rain
Agency: PG&E, BLM
Notes: © 2015 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo, Photos © 2015 Shaun Riedinger

This is a good run to add for variety when you are in the area for an October Pit #1 release (writeup here) and have an extra day after Pit #5 (writeup here). Scenery is good and rapids in the second half are interesting. At year-long base flows around 400 cfs, Pit #4 is a bit harder than Pit #5 because it has more brush and several more class IV rapids, however it's not as much fun because it has fewer class III rapids.

Charles Martin's 1974 guidebook covered this run, but at the flow they had, his description bears little resemblance to the river at base flows. In the intervening years an electric utility built a system of diversion dams, hence Carl Trost's famous quote: “The PG&E giveth and the PG&E taketh away.” During these years the Pit reaches could be run only after winter rain, as in Daniel Brasuell's writeup.

As part of FERC relicensing, PG&E was asked to keep more water in the river and divert less. Thanks American Whitewater activists! After retrofitting pipes and turbines, the Pit #5, #4, and #3 sections now have year-long flows around 400 cfs. This is not enough for rafts on Pit #4, but it is plenty for inflatable kayaks. Photos on this page were taken during the 2015 drought year at 390 cfs.

Put in at the far upstream end of Ruling Creek campground, with many fine tent sites, low fees, and vault toilets.
Gaging station on the right bank. Just downstream is an alternate put-in on a low bench near the end of a dirt side road.
First significant rapid, just above Malinda Gulch.
After a chalk cliff is visible at the top of a mountain on the left, the river bends right and Canyon Creek enters on the left. Whitewater gets interesting after this point, with class II-III rapids.
Rock Pile Ending, class IV-. This one ends with a pile o' rocks that is really not navigable at low flows. The sneak route on the right, also rock infested, is recommended instead.
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Paddling right into sneak route  Eric contemplates the pile o' rocks
A long class III rapids starts before a right bend and continues for another quarter mile in the straight-away below. The shuttle road might be visible if you look uphill on the right. Two lesser rapids then occur, each after a pool.
Blind and Steep, class IV. After Oak Flat on the right, Blackberry Creek enters on the right. The left bank is somewhat flat and open enough to scout if you want. Enter on the left, work center or right of center, and exit on the left.
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We started left of sunny grass clump  Switching off GoPro at the bottom
Steep rock garden, class III-IV. Deep Creek campground (abandoned?) is marked on maps.
Steep rock garden again, class III-IV. An old road from the campground nears river left below.
Left Rock Block, class IV, easier on right. Most of the flow goes left into the shade of tall trees. A traverse past big rocks over refracting waves is possible on the left, but a sneak route on the right gives you a straight shot towards the middle, where the run-out is much less difficult.
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Narrow grassy door to the right sneak  The runout from Left Rock Block
Sucker Right, class IV--. From the top it looks like most of the water goes right, but it ends badly in a weed-infested pile of rocks. For best results start far left, or in the middle channel moving left. We are not sure which channel to take at the rockpile ending.
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Take the left or middle channel here  Probably more boaters than any day ever!
Last Big One, class IV. The easiest route starts on the right thru some narrow slots, then traverses from a pool across the main flow to left of center, then ends right of center. A more difficult line is available on far left, joining the other route after the traverse.
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Easy slots on right past Umbrella plants  Intense whitewater after the traverse
The river splits around two islands. Take the center channel, because the left channel is blocked by large logs (2015) and the right channel is shallow.
PG&E access area with vault toilet and stair-step boat access, within hearing distance of Pit #4 powerhouse.

You might want to coordinate a Pit #3 run with this Pit #4 run, approaching either from above (Britton reservoir) or below (Pit #5). With one class III rapid, visible from the shuttle road, the Pit #3 run is similar to the upper half of Pit #4, but with a difficult carry down to put-in.

Shuttle Directions

To reach take-out, go past the Pit #5 put-in at Madesi access, descend slightly to cross the bridge on top of Pit #5 dam, then continue upstream 1.3 mile on a dirt road. Just past Pit #4 powerhouse, make a sharp right turn onto the “boater access” side road.

To reach put-in from there, continue on the dirt road 7 miles upstream and turn sharp right into Ruling Creek campground (the sign for which is actually past the turnoff).


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