Pit #5 Run near Big Bend


Stretch: Pit #5 dam to Iron Canyon powerhouse
Difficulty: Class IV (with short portage), harder at higher flows
Distance: 10 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts and kayaks 800 - 4000 cfs, IK minimum 380
Gauge: at Big Bend (CDEC PRB) and check AW site for release dates
Gradient: 56 fpm average, upper half 80 fpm
Put-in: PG&E Madesi access below Pit #5 Dam, 2000'
Take-out: PG&E access at Iron Canyon powerhouse, 1440'
Shuttle: 8.9 miles (23 minutes) one-way
Maps: AAA Northern California, Topo
Season: all year long, with scheduled fall releases
Agency: PG&E, private, BLM
Notes: © 2015 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo, Photos © 2014 Jeff Wasielewski

In a self-bailing inflatable kayak (IK) this may be the best class IV run in California. Unlike the Tuolumne, the shuttle is quick and the take-out is easy. Unlike the North Fork American, Pit #5 is runnable every day of the year with nearly constant flow, even after hydropower diversion. Its steep boulder drops and forested hillsides are scenic if not spectacular. After a brushy rapid and a short portage, you are rewarded with 4 miles of constant class III-IV boogie water, a hot springs for your lunch stop, then 4 miles of easier water to take-out. If you prefer, you can run laps on the first 4 miles, missing the hot springs.

Most whitewater boaters (kayakers and rafters) will probably want to wait for scheduled releases (1200-1500 cfs) in August and September. Thanks American Whitewater activists! Existing flow information says 500 cfs is too low, which is untrue for IKs, but below 500 cfs, slots are too narrow for rafts, and pin spots are prevalent.

Photos on this page are screen captures from GoPro video taken at 380 to 400 cfs. Additional writeups and photos are available on the AW website and at A Wet State.

Put in at Madesi River access with paved parking and vault toilet. Just upstream of a fishing and viewing platform is a narrow put-in spot. You can find several campsites away from the river near a large parking area.
African Queen, brushy class III-IV, has at least four braided channels, with the center channel being the traditional route, pruned in 2015.
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Taking the center channel  Just before the pinch-down
Class II rapid before a right bend. Eddy out on the left and get ready to portage the next drop.
Sneak Peek, class V. If you portage the first drop starting with a flat rock on river left, thru a gap in the boulders, then drop into an eddy behind a large rock, the remainder of this rapid is class IV+. The top drop is runnable by entering left, moving sharp right, then left again towards the re-entry eddy shown in the portage picture.
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Eddy above the portage rock  Re-entry below the portage rock
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First guard rock, probably go right  Second guard rock, most likely go right
Split Decision. At low flows the best route is down steps on the far right, then crossing into the left channel behind a large rock, or soon after. At higher flows you can go either way, hence the name.
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On right above Split Decision  Big hole at end of Left OK
Left OK, class III. After a straight section with many fun rapids, the river bends left. At the entry this rapid looks like the next one, where you might not want to go left.
Upper Ledge, class III+. Rocks and a vegetated island obscure the ledge lurking at the bottom of this rapid. The easiest route is to find the right channel, get forced left by rocks, then and ferry right for a clean drop avoiding the rooster-tail.
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At the lip of Upper Ledge  Boat in Upper Ledge from below
Spin City, the lower ledge. Not as high, so a good place to surf.
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Boat not spinning at lower ledge  Take the left channel after Spin City
Upper Spillway, class IV, one of the steepest drops on this run. The spillway from Tunnel Reservoir enters unobtrusively on the left (no concrete is visible, it looks like a landslide).
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Short respite beforehand  Upper Spillway from a scout rock
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Steepest part is near the end  Upper Spillway from below
Lower Spillway, class III, milder but long rocky drop, left of an island that appears at higher flows.
Cut Right of Hump, class IV. The river turns sharp right into a steep drop. Below the cut, a large and steep boulder field suddenly appears.
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Hump is after a right turn  Boat in it, just left of orange blade
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Significant drops continue  Cut Right of Hump from below
Scenic alert, Kinner Falls on the right bank. Just below is Kinner Rapid, class III. The best low water route is far left. A long straight-away with fun rapids follows.
Powerline, class IV. The rapid begins at a left bend, going mostly left of an island. After a short lull the rapid drop steeply thru large boulders, with a deep water channel on far left. Power lines are overhead below.
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Near the end of Powerline  Powerline rapid from below
A few houses appear on the left bank. Then the river splits around an island, with most water going left.
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House near river above a rapid  Left of the island narrows down
Bridge Rapid, class IV-. A steep boulder-infested drop within sight of the Big Bend bridge.
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Bridge Rapid is long  Big hole at end of Bridge Rapid
Public river access on the right bank.
Bad Alder, class III+. Starts quietly at a right bend, then picks up speed as most water drops steeply into the right channel. At low flows you must slalom around rocks in the middle to avoid the overhanging alder trees on the right bank. At high flows half the water goes into overhanging branches, but it is easier to stay left because rocks are covered.
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Stay left of overhanging alder trees  Locals say just left of rock with tree
Hot Springs Rapid, class III+. Starts at an island where the right channel turns left and drops steeply as it joins more flow. A very long slalom follows with some brush among large boulders. At low flows, a good option is to start right, perhaps just left of a tree growing out of a rock, then work left.
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Rapid ends at hot springs  Undeveloped area of hot springs
Big Bend hot springs pour out of the left wall. Private resort above. Below the hot springs is a steep rapid moving right, followed by a small drop, then a long rapid called Osprey in the AW writeup.
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Rapid between the hot springs  Kosk Creek lower rapid
Wide gravel bar along a minor rapid, with hot springs on the left hillside. This is a good lunch stop, because only class II-III rapids remain.
Kosk Creek enters on the right. Beforehand is a significant rapid below the gravel bar hot springs, and another significant rapid immediately below Kosk Creek.
Power line overhead. One of the bigger rapids on the lower run ends here. Fun rapids continue all the way to take-out, spaced further apart.
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Rapid ending at power line  Curved tree grows in scenic cliff
PG&E access area with vault toilet and gravel boat ramp, across from James B. Black Powerhouse, whose water comes from the McCloud river via Iron Canyon reservoir. Locked gate access to the Pit #5 Powerhouse .5 mile downstream.

You might want to coordinate a Pit #5 run with scheduled releases on the Pit #1 run. Description with photos on this webpage.

Shuttle Directions

To reach the lower take-out, go east on Highway 299 from Redding. Drive 3.3 miles past the small town of Montgomery Creek, and just after a long left curve, turn left onto Big Bend Road. After 13.4 miles on this road, turn left on Pit 5 Powerhouse Road. Continue down this paved road, steep at times, about 4.5 miles. Near the river bridge is a dirt road descending to a large parking area with gravel boat ramp at the downstream end.

To reach put-in, return to Big Bend Road. Turn left and go downhill 1.8 miles to the town of Big Bend. At the edge of town, turn right onto Hagen Flat Road. (The intermediate access is straight ahead thru town, across the bridge, then left.) Continue 2.7 miles on Hagen Flat Road, which turns to dirt after Tunnel Reservoir. At the sign for Madesi river access, turn left onto a good dirt road and descend to parking areas and developed put-in.


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