Monday, July 31, 2006
Buck Island Run, Cache Creek, kayaking class II, July 30, 2006
Swallows were zooming as we scouted Mother rapid from the Hwy 16 bridge.
After driving across the low water bridge we saw dozens of IK rental customers lined up waiting for the shuttle bus. We also saw 7 shuttle buses returning from Buck Island after dropping off the first load of IK boaters, so we were expecting to spend the day on a totally crowded river. The road is narrow most of the way, so vehicles passing in opposite directions often had a tough time. The dirt road to Buck Island was long, but the views were really great! We went up a nice little canyon, then ran the top of the ridge before dropping back down to Buck Island.
By the time we got there the first group of IK boaters was already downriver, so Buck Island was peaceful as we dressed and launched our boats. We kept looking for the next caravan of buses to arrive but we never saw it.
Warm water boating !!!! Some people pay big bucks to go to Mexico or Central America to boat in warm water rivers, but we have one right here in our own back yard. It was so nice to just boat in shorts and a windbreaker, no neoprene or drytops required.
I guess I'm slowly getting used to the SuperEgo kayak. When I'm aggressive about driving it around in the river I can start to trust how it will perform. Figuring out this little boat adds a bit of a challenge on a river that would otherwise be very easy for me.
Normally we run this section of river in winter as the last 3 miles of the 14 mi Wilderness Run at flows of 2,000 to 10,000 cfs. This section of canyon doesn't get much attention at the end of such a long day, but I do remember winter runs with nice class II/III whitewater and class IV strainers everywhere you look! At summer flows the river mellows out to nice class II whitewater. With the water down in the normal riverbed most of the trees and bushes are no longer in the water where they could create hazards. And we saw many neatly sawed stumps where the rafting companies had removed strainers that would threaten their summer customers.
Two merganzers rudely paddled out of an eddy right in front of me as I was running a rapid. They were as startled as I was as they jetted back into the eddy. Then I looked over my shoulder. I saw them paddle an incredible ascent up the rapid in a steep, fast section of river where I'm sure that nobody could have paddled a kayak.
There were loads of dragonflies zooming overhead throughout the day. We saw mobs of yellow swallowtail butterfiles, monarch butterflies and bumblebee-mimic moths on the white globular flower clusters of (unknown) plants growing along the shore. (Where is JimH our botanist when we need him?)
And we had the river almost totally to ourselves for most of the day. When we caught up to the tail end of the IK boater fleet, we decided to quickly stop for "first lunch." (Plans for "11ses," "second lunch" and "oneses" were later forgotten.) We didn't pass any rental boaters all day until after Mother rapid and didn't see any boaters coming behind us as we drove shuttle, so the second group waiting for buses in the morning must have been taken to the Bear Creek put-in.
KimF was doing stern squirts on eddy lines with the greatest of ease. I'll have to learn how to do those one of these days. We found lots of little playspots throughout the day. The big ledge below County Park #2 was not quite as good as it had been last week at a lower flow, but it did have a nice Crossfire playspot on river-left and the short-boat spot on river-right. The big wave below County Park #3 still looked really great, but the current was so fast that we couldn't even get onto the wave.
We portaged the low water bridge. At 825 cfs the river was less than a foot from the top of the bridge, so whenever the flows get this low in the winter it should be possible to access the west side of the canyon for mountain biking and hiking.
We all had good lines at Widowmaker rapid. This class II+ rapid is steep and twisty and turbulent and complex enough to provide a variety of challenges depending upon the line you take and the eddies that you catch.
Mother rapid was much more powerful than it had been last week at a lower flow. BruceH, CarolynD and I all ran right-right-right, while KimF eddied left before finishing right. With such an experienced group the river was just an easy, fun day in the (almost) wilderness. Nobody even flipped except of course KimF, who was rolling up after his stern squirts.
At the end of the day things got unexpectedly interesting. The 11 mi dirt road to Buck Island was a lot of hard driving to access 3 miles of really great, but not awesome river. Driving in to Buck Island was OK as long as you went slow enough on a few sections where the road was really torn up. But driving out was really tough because then we were climbing up the steep sections of torn up road. My little 2wd truck just barely made it out of there. I had to floor it and just hope that the truck didn't stall out, fishtail off the side of the road or vibrate itself to pieces on a few of the worst hills. 4wd trucks are really needed on this shuttle road!!
Then there was the big fire. Apparently after we started driving shuttle a fire got started in the canyon just upstream from takeout. When the shuttle vehicles were just about a mile from takeout the road was blocked and the FireDept lady said there would be a delay of a few hours or longer. So after all that brutal dirt road driving, we were forced to drive a giant loop back up Hwy 16 to Hwy 20, Interstate 5, Interstate 505 and back on Hwy 16, wait briefly at another roadblock, before getting a firetruck escort to finally get back to our take-out at Camp Haswell.
By the time we got back to Davis it had cooled down perfectly, so dinner on the patio at DosCoyotes was really nice. I'm sure the food was really great, but after such a long and interesting day almost anything would have seemed fine.
After spending consecutive weekends on "poor little Cache Creek" its really amazing how completely different the trips were. Tons of fun! Always something new to experience on and around the river!
I think the Buck Island Run goes into my category of once-per-year rivers. Definitely worth doing, but not very often. This year when we have good flows in the NF Cache Creek it is also accessible as part of a Wilderness Run overnight trip.
More about: Kayaking Trip Reports.
Tags: kayaking, whitewater, rivers, paddling.