Exploring the Smith River

by Zachary Collier

Last week, our guides had a break in their scheduled Rogue River trips, and we decided to grab some friends and explore the Smith River in Northern California. The Smith is the only undammed river system in California and is famous for its rocky geology and unbelievably clear water.

We ran the famous Oregon Hole Gorge first. This narrow canyon can be seen easily from Highway 199, so many a boater has stopped to take a look at its awesome rapids. We put-in just above the gorge and ran a couple of rapids to warm up before getting to the bigger drops.

The Entrance to Oregon Hole Gorge

The Entrance to Oregon Hole Gorge

We scouted the first big drop on the left bank and after careful inspection decided to run the far right side after the short entrance rapid. J.R. and Rob went down first in their kayaks and we soon followed. Our boat barely made it to the right side and we bounced our way down the final drop. Billy, Jeni, and Rabbit went next, and they had a beautiful line that seemed almost effortless!

Billy, Jeni, and Rabbit's Awesome Line in Oregon Hole Gorge

Billy, Jeni, and Rabbit's Awesome Line in Oregon Hole Gorge

Last was Ryan, who took a small cataraft down and it was fun to watch him run such a big rapid in such a small boat.

Ryan's Cataraft Buried in the First Big Drop

Ryan's Cataraft Buried in the First Big Drop

After running the first big rapid with great success, we were feeling pretty confident. It's great to be on the river with people you trust, and also find that you work well with the ones you just met. We scouted the next rapid, which was a tight channel that forced all the boats to run through a big hole. It was fun to watch everyone bury themselves in the hole and pop out smiling!

J.R. powering through the big hole

J.R. powering through the big hole

Celebrating after a big rapid in Oregon Hole Gorge

Celebrating after a big rapid in Oregon Hole Gorge

Finally, we ran Oregon Hole rapid. At higher water this rapid requires running through a ferocious hole, and at lower flows it's still a technical challenge. We did a fun move, which involved riding our raft up on a rock and then pivoting through a narrow channel.

Ryan running Oregon Hole Rapid

Ryan running Oregon Hole Rapid

We had such a great time in Oregon Hole Gorge that we decided to check out the nearby (and slightly more challenging) South Fork Gorge. Ryan and I decided to test out our new SOTAR inflatable kayaks, the ATV and the BMX. The ATV is a 10 1/2 foot boat designed to run the steep drops of the Chetco River and the BMX is a smaller IK we designed for kids to paddle on our Rogue River trips. Ryan liked the maneuverability of the BMX, and I liked the stability of the ATV.

Ryan paddling the BMX Kayak in the South Fork Gorge

Ryan paddling the BMX Kayak in the South Fork Gorge

Like the Oregon Hole Gorge, we started off with a few warm up rapids that gave us a sense of what was downstream. We soon came upon a big horizon line and pulled over to the left bank to scout. That first rapid was a good sized drop with a clean line on the right side.

Scouting the first big rapid in the South Fork of the Smith Gorge

Scouting the first big rapid in the South Fork of the Smith Gorge

The next rapid came soon after and was slightly more challenging. It had a fast entrance followed by a decision rock. Some of us went left, and others, right. J.R. and Rob ran a fun boof on the left side which was fun to watch.

J.R. in flight

J.R. in flight

We quickly came to another big rapid that required a hard move to the left side to negotiate a rocky drop. If you missed the move to the left you had to run the chunky center line. We each had varying levels of success, but everyone made it down with a smile.

Mike running a big rapid in the South Fork Gorge

Mike running a big rapid in the South Fork Gorge

Below there, the canyon walls got even tighter, and we entered a complicated rapid where the water boils up against a left wall and then flows through a big hole before sending you through a very tight channel. We scouted this one for a while, and then finally started running boats through one at a time. J.R. went first and caught air in his kayak at the entrance.

J.R. hitting another big boof

J.R. hitting another big boof

It took my inflatable kayak through a super tight channel on the right side so I avoided all the craziness. Jeni and Emma were rafting so they had to run the main channel and had a very clean line.

Jeni and Emma headed into a big drop

Jeni and Emma headed into a big drop

Mike was next taking a cataraft through this very technical line. He did a great job of avoiding the left wall, but didn't have enough momentum to power through the hole and flipped the cat. It was a nail-biter, and we were glad to know he was okay. Ryan followed in the small BMX kayak and flipped in the same place.

Mike flipping the cataraft

Mike flipping the cataraft

After all that excitement, we pulled over on the right bank to scout the final rapid of the gorge. It was a bit intimidating because the canyon walls are narrow and we were looking down on a good sized drop. We were happy to see that although the drop was big, it had a nice clean line down the center. We had a blast splashing through the clear water and powering over the big drop.

Mike running the last big drop in the South Fork Gorge

Mike running the last big drop in the South Fork Gorge

We floated through the remaining flat water of the South Fork Gorge marveling at the stunning scenery and crystal-clear water. We took out on a small beach under a bridge that had a huge rope swing, providing some good, clean fun at the end of the day. Carrying our boats up the trail, we celebrated another great day of exploring new rivers!

Author

Zachary Collier

Zach is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company and has led groups throughout the U.S. as well as Siberia, Bhutan, Nepal, Honduras, and Chile. His passion for wilderness shines through how he runs both his trips and his company. He's as confident on the oars as he is on the chess board, while he delivers a truly memorable experience in the most amazing places on the planet.

Connect with Zach:  Google+  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

Comments

Related Posts

Chetco River Expedition 2013

/ Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kayaking in the Magic Canyon of the Chetco River

We are proud to be home from the first commercial trip down the Chetco River in over a decade. Before the Biscuit Fire in 2002 Allen Wilson ran trips down the Chetco, and this spring NWRC was issued a permit to follow in his footsteps. Our trip started at the Babyfoot Lake Traihead on the eastern edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. We were all thankful that the Siskiyou Mountain Club had spent the past few years clearing this section of downed trees that had fallen after...

Chetco River Exploratory

/ Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stunning Upper Chetco waters

"The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth ... the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need -- if only we had the eyes to see." - Edward Abbey Last week we explored the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River, a little known entirely free-flowing river with its headwaters and almost half its watershed in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Our team was Zach Collier, Andy...