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The Mystery of the Middle Fork, Part IV

Jim Broshears, author badge,

his trip was to be the final chapter in the saga that began three years ago but is actually over 20 years in the making. As Bruce, Tuck and I journeyed back to the Middle Fork of the Feather River we made many new discoveries, uncovered new mysteries and learned more about this wild and scenic place. What we did not do was find the missing meadow. What started as a mystery has become a quest!

We got here because of a story, and not just any story. A story starts with the teller and in our case it could not have been better told. When Tuck tells a story you can picture yourself in another place and time. You are inspired and intrigued and you want to be able to live up to the moment that has been created in your mind. You are convinced that you will be a better person if you at least try. Nothing we have done so far has convinced me otherwise. Even if we never find the destination that we have so imbedded in our imagination, we have been truly enriched by the journey.

Sunrise over Little Grass Valley Reservoir, Jim Broshears

«Sunrise over Little Grass Valley Reservoir

I would liken our experiences in the canyon to an extreme sport. Like most extreme sports it takes skill, courage, determination and a certain amount of foolish optimism. Exploring a canyon as rugged and remote as the Feather, if anything goes wrong the consequences can be severe.

On this particular trip we were able to cover new ground and try some new methods but in the end, the canyon withheld its mystery.

The Wild and Scenic portion of the Middle Fork is 77.6 miles of some the most difficult terrain in the Sierra Nevada Mtns. The fastest way to travel is by kayak, and that requires a very experienced paddler ready to take on class V+ water with no room for error. Rescue from this area is a daunting task and might require days of effort to complete.

 Middle Fork of the Feather River, Jim Broshears

Here is a little overview of our form of travel and its inherent difficulties. The average speed on foot is about 1 mile in three hours, then you ultimately need to return or commit to long stretches of river between access points. That means that to cover a mile of river on an out and back takes about 6 hours. Kayaks have the advantage of speed. What takes two days on foot only takes hours in a boat.

For every 100 feet easily gained will be another 100 feet that takes 15 to 20 minutes to travel. We have been using a combination of rock hopping, climbing up and over ridges and swimming to move along the river. You can expect some bumps and bruises along the way and hope it isn’t worse than that.

Fishing the Middle Fork at Dejonah Creek, Jim Broshears
«Fishing the Middle Fork at Dejonah Creek

Before this trip we had scouted maps and Google Earth. Bruce found a map with an old 4wd road that paralleled the river upstream from Stag point to Dogwood Creek. If we could travel along even a remnant of a road we could bypass water we had already traveled and move directly into new territory. The day started out with some promise as we traversed the hillside upstream from Stag Creek. Our hopes were quickly dashed as the trail faded into the steep brushy slope and returned to its normal treacherous ways. We retreated to the river only to find ourselves exactly where we were on our last trip. The 4wd road seemed to be a figment of some mapmaker’s imagination in country too steep to possibly hold a road.

 Middle Fork of the Feather River, Jim Broshears

Coming to the same conclusion as before, we agreed that travel would have to be in and along the river. After a bit of fishing, we decided to move upstream by swimming and rock hopping. Bruce and I abandoned all of our gear to travel light and fast and left Tuck to fish and await our return. This form of travel is a whole body experience combining rock climbing, swimming and a lot of power leg work. Rock hopping is a physical expression of harmony and movement, until you fall, then it just hurts. We covered about a mile total before facing a long series of swims. At that point we realized that our intended destination was out of reach on this day and returned to meet up with Tuck. This video shows three of the four skills required, rock hopping, swimming and crossing the river. Not included is an up and over hike.

After much discussion we concluded the following. The only way to completely cover the ground between the PCT and Stag Point was by swimming or boat. The travel needs to be one-way with a shuttle and full commitment to the journey. Our next trip will be a well scouted float and swim using my two person inflatable kayak. We will need the water level to be just right, enough water to float without constantly bumping rocks but without Class IV rapids. This trip will require some portaging and the use of ropes to belay the boat through waterfalls and rapids. It allows us to bring additional gear including wetsuits and flippers and the ability to camp if required. We will haul the boat down the PCT and then float downstream 5 miles to an awaiting vehicle at Stag Point.

 Middle Fork of the Feather River, Jim Broshears

The rest of this trip was great. Fishing was excellent and we enjoyed some pan sized trout at our campsite at Stag Point. Before heading home we checked out Cleghorn Bar on a gnarly 3 mile road to an Off Highway Vehicle campground and very walkable stretch of the Middle Fork.

I realize now that this story does not necessarily have a final chapter. Even if we find the missing meadow, the story goes on, possibly as the first chapter of someone’s new adventure.

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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