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Return of the Raft: Chrome Creek to Major Moore's

Updated: Jan 22

Upper North Fork Smith Headwaters


Everybody was taking wagers; how far downstream would we find the run away raft? We speculated on the likelihood of finding it stuffed under a log jam and needing hours of pulleys and ropes to extract it. We brough a saw. We wondered if it actually had made it all the way to the ocean. We worried about the food in the T zipper thwarts, would the raft be torn to shreds by bears foraging for Cliff bars? We were so sure that we would find it in the first quarter mile. Given what we had seen of brush and log jams in the two miles we had boated upstream, there was no way it could have gone more than a mile. Come to find out, we were wildly wrong.



We picked up Dave from his house in Gasquet at 5 am and once again headed up the Winchuck on road 1107, but this time we needed to bushwhack two miles further downstream than our original put in, to pick up the hardshell kayaks we had left at Chrome Creek. At the junction of 270 and 276, we steered right and drove as far into the brush tunnel as we could, then began getting dressed for the adventure as daylight broke. I packed my Six Moon Designs tyvek ground cloth around my IK like a burrito to protect it from puncture. Josh brought tyvek painters suites to protect our drysuites.



We walked down the 276 to the end, where there was a nice landing. Then we butt slid and brush surfed our way down through the huckleberry belt until we found the river. We had popped out about a quarter mile above the confluence, which was great because there was some risk of getting cliffed out downstream, to our right, where at Chrome Creek there is a formidable rock face guarding access on river right.



Jeremiah had a genius idea. In order to hike in fewer items, he went to Sawyer and arranged for his break down double bladed kayak paddle to convert into a T grip raft paddle! There was some tape involved. This is probably the first (and last) time anyone will ever need this conversion. He would be paddling the SOTAR Stealth IK, and if we found the raft, the plan was to roll the IK and convert back to R2 mode to finish out the trip.



Chris was able to get Kokopelli to overnight him a new packraft, which at the last minute he did not end up taking. Joshua Blue lent him a lighter weight one which seemed like a better option because it would fit rolled up into the raft better. Both of them had lost all of their favorite lightweight overnight gear in the raft the week before. Jeremiah borrowed his son's cell phone and fanny pack for the NF Headwaters adventure x2. Child lock remaining turned on.




The put in location 1/4 mile upstream of Chrome did mean that we would have to scrape our way down through our least favorite part of the upper two miles, the brushy rapids with the river wide log where we had lost the raft at high water. Honestly, I had some anxiety around doing that segment again. It looked insanely different with less water. I can't imagine trying to make the 2 miles above Chrome with as little water as we had today, it would need somewhere between our two flows to be feasible. Even then, why bother? Last week we had 4 gnarly portages in two miles. It would make more sense for future trips to put in at Chrome creek.



We portaged the "lost raft rapid" log, which was debatably more in play at low water than it had been at high water. This turned out to be the only log portage of our second try at the Upper NF Smith. This was the first rapid before Chrome Cr came in, pictured here above the log. Yikes.



Confluence



Josh and Kelcy retrieved their hardshells from the ridge at the confluence. We re grouped and all six craft got on the water together at the confluence. Two hard shells, a Kokopelli pack raft, a Cronin Ugly Ducky, an NRS IK, and the SOTAR Stealth, which is somewhere in between an IK and a pack raft.



Chrome Cr to Major Moore's

Chrome Creek Confluence Rapid. Chris paddles a Kokopelli packraft he borrowed. His first time in the boat.



The North Fork rushes through Alders and Willows and then with the addition of double the flow from Chrome creek entering on the left, all the water goes into a mid stream boulder. Not my favorite rapid. It gets a one out of ten yelp review.



Class II fun boogie water, it feels like a nice flow for the small craft. It's great to actually paddle!



The first calm stretch where...we found my paddle from last week! It was perched up about 4 feet above us on a flat rock. One pogie still attached and the other up on shore a few feet away. We took it as a good sign that the raft must be close by as well. I had thought it was gone forever.



We ran a few more class II then paddled through a beautiful steaming sunny spot with the characteristic North Fork teal colored water. We saw a big black bear stalking for fish carcasses along the bank. The bear tore off and climbed a tree when he spotted us in our brightly colored boats, his hind legs did that cartoon thing where they pedaled in the air without purchase for a few seconds.



A fun wave train led to the confluence with Baldface Creek, with nice camping downstream at Sourdough. At this point, we started to worry that we had somehow missed the raft. Maybe it was behind a gravel bar or rock somewhere in a back eddy? We started stopping and walking around on gravel bars. Since my paddle had been about 4 feet off the water, we looked up a lot too. Nothing.



Class II riffles after Baldface Cr, south facing and full sun! A wide canyon with huge trees and broad riparian zone.



Some mid stream boulders appear before we find the Class IV rapid of the run, State Line Rapid. We were keeping an eye out for this and everyone was hoping to scout it.



The river bends to the left and the outside of the bend, river right, is populated with bent over Alders. River left has some large boulders against the shore and there are some good spots to eddy out for scouting before the bend. We pulled over before the lead in, pictured here.



From the top we could see two prominent horizon lines and a long rapid with many gneiss boulders. The left side generally looked sievey.



We scouted the top drop and then ran down the right hand slot and ferried over to set safety on river left. The right slot had a 3 ft vertical drop landing in a small hole. The far right side was steeper and I boofed right to avoid shallow rocks in the landing. Well ok I did the IK version of a boof, which is more of a flop and brace. We got out and scouted the lower half from the safety eddy. The middle portion of the rapid has lots of busy rock dodging, it would be a nasty place to swim. Lots of butt sharks.






The bottom drop at State Line has a route to the right and a center flake slide, we took both. Left looked yucky with sieves and wood. Portage was possible on the left.





After State Line one of the most fun rapids was a clean narrow channel through giant boulders. This one must be "California Rapid," class III.



There were a few fun class II boulder drops and then the scenery changed to Peridotite and erosional Serpentine soils. The canyon opened up and the rapids became characterized by gravel bars and braided channels with willows growing on islands. The last mile of the run was very similar in character to the first mile below Major Moore's with consistent gradient and fun small waves.



We had pretty much given up hope of finding the lost raft when we encountered a wide rapid with willow choked islands in the middle less than a mile above Major Moore's. I saw something round in the bushes on the right! I've never seen Chris so happy.



We also found desiccated pitcher plants hung up in the bushes as well as another salmon carcass. A natural Gandalf pipe presented itself.



The first raft descent of the Upper NF Smith Headwaters....was done largely by a ghostboat! The spot we recovered the raft was most of the way through the run. These guys were stoked to paddle out the last mile with all of their gear intact. The raft literally did not even have a scratch on it.



Takeout

The momentum of our success nearly carried us through onto the Major Moore's to Margies run, it was only 1:30 when we pulled up! It would have been epic to complete the entire 22 miles in one day. However the reality of December boating is that its dark out at 5pm, so we decided to stay the night in a luxurious cabin instead. The R2 partners exploded the contents of the thwarts and dry bags and found that despite the 5 mile ghost boat and the weeklong backcounty stay, all of the ger was pretty dry! This time, I had strapped my Six Moon Designs pack to the IK with the drybag inside it. It functioned as a backrest too.




Chris had mentioned several times that he had some really great snacks in the lost raft, so it was time to break those out. We had paddle blade charcuterie at Major Moore's. The avocado also survived the entire week without rotting somehow. We ate that too.



I walked over to Sylvia's house to check in and see if we could still use the Rockland Cabin. Her and Larry were happy to have us and we even got a full tour of the place. The springs behind the property feed the water supply intake and a turbine and they generate electricity right there. The Darlingtonia like the springs as well. Sylvia explained how when they bought the place, the hydro electric wasn't working because all the wooden supports for the pipes had burned up.


Private Off Grid cabin on North Fork of Smith River



We got cozy with the wood stove. We admired the custom stone countertops and shower. The place is beautiful! Sylvia gave us the OK to share her info with boaters who would like to stay there. Although on VRBO the cabin is listed as room for two, we fit 6 people overnight no problem with our camping gear we had brought just in case we needed to spend another night out in the woods recovering the raft. They have satellite wifi which means voice calls cut in and out, but texting and email work great and if you would like to stay there you should feel free to contact her. Sylviacrandall@gmail. com (530) 604-7625.




Kelcy made a entry in the guest book to follow up on the entry Aaron had made last week.




We just had to do the sexy Croc photo shoot, these puppies were primo during our night out in the canyon last week. Jeremiah and I both wore them while around camp tending the fire. They look better on Kelcy though.



Flow Summary


The first attempted run was at 20,000 and dropping super fast on the Jed Smith gage, which because it is so far downstream is only marginally correlative. The pipe at the NF was around 16ft. Our boat recovery run a week later was about 4,000 on Jed Smith and dropping super slow/ just under 9ft on the NF pipe. I had said at one point that we wanted half as much water, and I think we roughly got that for the boat recovery mission. Likely a bit less than half. In person, it looked like about 4 vertical feet less of water in the constricted headwater areas. I would say the section with all the wood and brush above Chrome creek is not navigable at the 8-9 ft range on the pipe gage. It is also not fun. I am recommending for folks looking to paddle the Upper NF Smith Headwaters to put in at Chrome Cr between 9 ft and 12ft on the pipe...which is what would be considered a moderate flow for the normal (Major Moore's to Margie's) NF run.


The Go Pro Footage


The go Pro was off when we lost the boat. It decided it would like to document the run at high water though, so it decided to turn itself on. Chris then got about 40 minutes of footage, the second half of which was under water...meaning the raft was upside down. I edited out the worst of the 360 spins for watchability and here is the footy from the one and only Ghost Boat raft descent of the Upper North Fork Smith Headwaters from Chrome to somewhere above State Line Rapid. I do have to say, I think this boat had great lines.



Access


Both of our trips utilized access from the 270/276 junction. There are two possible access points upstream of there, which I can't say would be a good idea based on the number of logs and brush in the river. We noticed a significant sag in the roadside brush tunnel on the second trip. Sections we had driven just a week earlier seemed to have filled in and closed out. I am guessing we can attribute this to a night of snow that occurred. It likely weighed down the brush. The route we took topped out elevation at 2489 feet, which is high enough to snow in during coastal cold winter storm events.


Another possibility that looks worth researching into is Hardtack creek. When we boated by, I could see the ridgeline breaking daylight at what looked like lower elevation than our route. It nears NF Smith almost directly across from and downstream of Chrome Cr. I have no idea if the road is in good shape or nor.


Shuttle



Dave Gasteneau (707) 954-5528 is your go to shuttle contact for the area. If he can't find you a driver, then you will need to have a friend come in with you. It is roughly two hours from Gasquet to any potential hike in location for this run. Paddlers should plan to boat out from Major Moore's to Margies the day after the upper. During months of longer daylight hours, it would be entirely possible to make it from Chrome Cr to Margies, somewhere in the 22 mile range, in a single day. However, those unaccustomed to off trail hiking in or who do not get an early start will find themselves running out of daylight or stamina for a such a long day. Dave took pity on Jeremiah's car and washed it. Ya'll should plan to pay extra for wash and detail services, it was a one- off. I personally think he was competing with Tom, who dried our clothes from the week before.



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4 Comments


That Boat should teach an R Zero class

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Wow Nicole, that trip report was a riveting story. I scruinized every photo and hung on every word. You should send it off to a paddling magazine. It's amazing, I loved it.

And the footage that the Ghost Boat took is uncanny. Thanks.

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Annette Boettner
Annette Boettner
Dec 24, 2023

Yay Chris! Baruch HaShem! What a good story! Glad it had a good ending. Loved the ghost drift, thanks for the edit! Beautiful scenery!

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Derek Olds
Derek Olds
Dec 16, 2023

Another good write-up. I find I am enjoying your writing and narrative style more each time you post.

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