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The Mystery of the Middle Fork -- Part I

xploring the Middle Fork of the Feather River -- Stories about hidden valleys, waterfalls, canyons and fishing are part of outdoor folklore. Most of these tales begin with “When I was a kid we went to this place” and continue on to describe some fantastic locale that you are sure no one else knows about. It’s your own version of Shangri La, without the people.

Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel by British author James Hilton and has become synonymous with any earthly paradise isolated from the outside world.

Isolation is the key here; it has to be a place that is so remote or hidden that it cannot be found by the casual observer.

The Mystery of the Missing Valley By Jim Broshears

Our little Shangri-La is theoretically located in the Middle Fork of the Feather River east of Oroville. I say theoretically because after three attempts, we have yet to find this mysterious yet intriguing spot. It is a product of the memories of a now 65-year-old-man who in his late teens or early 20’s was fishing a remote stretch of the river and came upon a hidden valley, complete with waterfall and meadow, in an unlikely stretch of steep and demanding territory. In all the years since, he has never revisited the site but the allure of that experience has maintained a special place in his memory and personal folklore.

Now over four decades later we are attempting to resolve this mystery once and for all. My friend Bruce had heard the story from his cousin Tuck and was immediately entranced by the prospect of locating this lost valley. He proposed that we take a trip to explore the area and try to find that special place.

The Mystery of the Missing Valley By Jim Broshears

Our first trip was purely exploratory. We stayed at a cabin at Little Grass Valley Reservoir and did a day trip with our wives down the Pacific Coast Trail to the bridge at Butte Bar where the trail crosses the Middle Fork. The PCT descends about 800 feet from the Middle Fork Trailhead near Onion Creek through a dense north facing forest. The bridge over the river was installed to accommodate hikers and equestrians when the PCT was rerouted many years ago.

The Mystery of the Missing Valley By Jim Broshears, Pacific Crest Trail

We took our next trip a couple of months later to really explore the river. What we actually discovered is just how difficult this was going to be. Anyone who has been to Middle Fork or rivers like it know the challenge of moving in this type of terrain. This canyon is steep and the river runs through a jumble of boulders that make travel slow and dangerous. In order to move up or down the river, you are forced to make frequent decisions whether to cross, swim or go up and over a ridge just to travel and few feet up or downstream. Some of these “up and overs” are treacherous and create nail-biting moments. You are constantly aware that a bad choice could be painful, or fatal, and that if you need help, it will be a long time in coming.

The Mystery of the Missing Valley By Jim Broshears, Fishing below Butte Bridge

There are places where you can move fairly quickly but they don’t last long before another decision must be made. Because this trip was in October, we knew that swimming would probably result in hypothermia and kept to the land, thus limiting our options. After hiking down the PCT, accessing the river below the bridge and traveling as far as we could go and still make it back in one day we managed to cover about 1/2 mile of river.

We quickly realized that we would not be able to cover much ground this time around and immediately began planning for our next attempt. The next time around we would be prepared to swim and possibly camp on the river. The next access downstream was at Stag Point with 4wd access nearly all the way to river. Could we make it all the way from Butte Bar to Stag Point?

See what happens next in Part #2 coming soon to

Jim Broshears was born and raised in Northern California and has enjoyed the great outdoors in the State of Jefferson for over 50 years. Jim worked as a firefighter for 35 years and currently owns and manages Trailhead Adventures, an outdoor outfitter store in Paradise CA. Helping others enjoy the beauty of our amazing area is his passion. Jim co-manages a blog, that is dedicated to providing information about hiking and backpacking gear, local adventures and tips on outdoor safety and survival.


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