We had heard about how beautiful this run was many times before, but never had the opportunity to experience it for ourselves. Having just run Box Canyon, the upper Applegate, and Carberry Creek for the first times, we decided another new run was in order if the flows were right. We called Bearfoot Brad (THE shuttle driver) and found that the latest gage reading that morning was 9.9 (a relatively low flow) but was expected to come up some with the recent rain. He was ready and willing to ride in with us and do the shuttle, so off we went!
Arriving at the put-in, the river looked anything but low. Brad assured us that there was no more snow in the NF drainage so that the rain wouldn’t bring the flow up too much. Besides, his gage rock at the put-in had another 2 feet to go before it was too high. No problem! Heading down river, we found a lively river with mostly Class II+ rapids and lots of waterfalls. Some substantial side creeks added quite a bit to what seemed to be a relatively high flow.
According to the books, the geology in this drainage makes for poor soils such that the trees grow very slowly and never reach the great size in other coastal forests, creating a “pygmy” forest that has never been logged. It has been burned by forest fires, though. It is also one of the few places that you can find the carnivorous pitcher plants. These little “martians” are really weird looking. They tend to grow in clumps or clusters around wet areas. In some places they are really thick.
The river runs through several distinct gorges. The upper gorges were pretty challenging, read-and-run Class IV. We stopped to scout a couple of rapids where there was a horizon line or there didn’t appear to be any route through the boulders from river level. The lower gorges were less intense, with big Class III wave trains. Before long we were at the confluence with the Middle Fork Smith and could read the gage on the pipes. Yikes! It had come up from 9.9 feet to about 11.7 feet. Oh well, we had a great trip and know that we will be back for more in the future.
Update – May 2011
After our lodge-to-lodge trip on the Rogue, we decided to see if the North Smith was still running since we did have a fair amount of rain on the trip. A quick look at dreamflows showed that the flow had indeed come up, but was it enough? A call to Bearfoot Brad confirmed that the flow had come up and the gage at the pipes was now at 9.1 feet. Would that be enough for our group of catarafts and a raft? After much deliberation, a boat arrangement that put everyone on cats, and a suggestion by our friend Will who has run this river many times that we should be able to make it down at the current level, we decided to go for it.
At this lower level, the first few rapids are pretty shallow. There were still some good-sized side creeks that added water as we went down. The harder rapids in the upper gorges were still Class IV, a little less pushy than at the higher water, but much tighter, often only a bit over a boat-width between the rocks. The waterfalls were still beautiful.
There is a really neat spot around 2/3 of the way down where the river has sculpted a bit of an alcove and a waterfall forms a thin veil of water over the entrance. We took turns getting in the alcove, and the best pictures were from inside the alcove, looking out.
Everyone enjoyed the river at this level (around 9 feet) and agreed that it definitely was a good decision to head for the Smith!