About The Kern River
- The Dam Run - Slippery Rock BLM Launch Below Isabella Dam to Hobo Campground
The Dam Run, also known as the BLM Run, or the “first day of the Lower,” is one of a limited number of moderate class III whitewater runs on the Kern River.
The run is characterized by scenic low walled granite gorges, and swirly water. There are several places where boaters must be very wary of trees and brush in and along the river. This growth is due in part to the diversion of water from Lake Isabella in the Borel Canal to the Borel Powerplant. The flow on this run is normally about 600 cfs less than the total release from Lake Isabella.
Although the run is rated class III, it is not a good run for novice boaters unless they are accompanied by more experienced boaters. Two of the rapids on this run are rated class III+, as many boaters may flip in the swirly water, as in the rapids.
Some of the more difficult rapids include:
- Wallow Rock – The river runs into a mid-stream jumble of rocks. Scout or portage on the left.
- Dilly – A long rapid with a large hole on river left, near the end of the rapid. Most boater stay right, using a series of river right eddies to work their way down the rapid.
- Oscar’s Nightmare – A convoluted rapid that can be run several ways. Watch out for the large hole just below the entrance. The large island of rock in the rapid has a potentially dangerous sieve. There is private property on the left just before the rapid.
- The Lower - Miracle Hot Springs to Democrat Take-Out
When Upper Kern flows drop below 1000 cfs many boaters shift their attention to “The Lower.” This excellent 11 mile run has much to offer. With the exception of Royal Flush (V-VI), which is normally portaged, the major rapids are straightfoward, but exhilarating class IV. Kayaking playspots can be found throughout the run. Hobo Campground is just upstream of Miracle Hot Springs, and Sandy Flat Camground is about a mile upstream.
The Delonegha Boat Launch and River Access has been completed and provides an alternate take-out or put-in just downstream of the Delonegha bridge, and upstream of Surprise Rapid. The access point is approximately 7 miles downstream of the Hobo Rapid put-in and 4 miles upstream of the Democrat takeout. The day use area is accessible from both the east and west sides of Highway 178.
Some of the more difficult rapids include:
- White Maiden’s – Many boaters just shoot this one down the middle, but move left or right near the end to avoid a huge house rock in the center of the channel. Depending on the flow. and your level of expertise, there are many other variations. There is a significant ledge about 2/3 of the way down the rapid. Usually scouted or portaged on the left.
- Sundown Falls – This is a tricky rapid; in part because the outflow at the bottom of the drop kicks hard to the right, and also because the sloping rock that borders the main flow on the right is undercut and swimming paddlers have been recirculated in the hole. Can be scouted from the right or left.
- Powerful Possum – Move right behind a rock at the top of the rapid to avoid a hole on the left. If you get too close to the rock, you’ll get eddied out, or spun. At the bottom, move left to avoid the headwall on the runout at the bottom right. Scout, or carry, on the right.
- Royal Flush (Portage) – This rapid has many hidden hazards. There is an easy portage on river right. If you’re considering running it, read the Royal Flush near drowning story by Rocky Contos. Others have been trapped in this same spot. Some additional hazards include a spike of rock in the main ledge, and a nasty slot bordering an undercut boulder on river irght, just below the main ledge. Also note that the large square boulder at the end of the portage bridge sits atop other rocks and is a hidden sieve.
- Surprise – Like the guidebook says, ” a rock hides in the last of a series of standing waves.”
- Hari-Kari – The water pushes you left, and you want to go right. Awkward scout on the right or left.
- Horseshoe Falls – One of the best rapids on the run because of the number of “moves” that are possible. At higher flows the hole in the middle of the rapid becomes sizable. Difficult scout because of brush and trees.
- Pin Ball – Fun boulder garden for kayaks, sometimes causes problems for rafts.
- Kern Below Democrat (Cataracts of the Kern)
The Forest Service “discouraged” boating on the Kern Below Democrat Dam until 1995. Even so, the run now known as the Richbar Run was done from time to time by local boaters and visiting dignitaries such as Lars Holbeck.
Keith Beck, with boating partners Phil Martin and Glen Troness, began probing the Kern below Democrat in the early eighties, and around 1984 had done most of the Kern below Democrat, including the stretch below the KR1 powerhouse. Keith reports,
“None of us ran Quadruple Whatever. I used a Sabre (!!!!) for some of it, and a Rotobat (Pyranha) for some parts, and a glass CKS Needle for some.”
Keith also noted that communication was poor among boaters (no Internet!) and that others, including Mark Richey and Kevin Mokracek, were running some sections of the Kern below Democrat at about the same time.
Southern California Edison normally diverts 400+ cfs at Democrat Dam, usually reducing the flow on the Cadillacs, Richbar and Cataracts sections of the river. In the Fall of 1995, as a result the FERC relicensing of the KR1 powerhouse, the AWA initiated a whitewater flow study by WRC Environmental. In part the study was to evaluate desirable flow levels and to access the recreational potential of the stretch of river below Democrat. At the time of this study, the Forest Service reversed their position and said that as long as the usual Kern River boating permit is obtained, it is not illegal to boat on the Cataracts.
The WRC flow study concluded the following regarding flow levels on the stretch below Democrat Dam and upstream of the KR1 powerhouse. The figures specified are for actual flow, i.e. the release to the Lower less 400 cfs. The “Flow below Democrat Dam” can usually be obtained from the SCE Kern River flow phone at 1-877-537-6356.
- Low boatable (a minority of paddlers would be satisfied: 500-700 cfs
- Low Minimum (majority would be satisfied): 700-950 cfs.
- Optimum (essentially all satisfied): 950-1750 cfs
- High Minimum (majority satisfied): 1750-2350 cfs
- High Boatable (minority satisfied): 2350-3000 cfs
Coincident with the flow study and rediscovery of this “new” whitewater resource, kayaker Rocky Contos ran most of the rapids from Democrat Dam to the mouth of Kern Canyon. Rocky’s accounts of running the Cataracts thrilled everyone reading his rec.boats.paddle newsgroup postings. Some of the more exciting stories were included in an article about the Cataracts in the March-April, 1996.
Much has changed in kayaking since 1995, but the Kern Below Democrat remains a somewhat enigmatic and inscrutable section of river. The long boating season of 2004-2005 renewed interest in the Cataracts and in the Fall of 2005 Brett Valle (boof.com) got together with Eric Giddens (Olympic kayaker) and JD Batove (Bakersfield class V boater) and did a few runs on the KBD. You can read Brett’s impressions in his calrios blog.
- Cadillacs - Democrat Dam to Toilet Bowl Rapid
This section was deemed the “Cadillacs” because of the number of wrecked cars that have plunged into the streambed from the notorious curves of highway 178. The run starts below Democrat Dam and ends at Toilet Bowl rapid, a chilling class V+ rapid that looks particularly awesome to tired boaters headed home on highway 178.
- Richbar Run - Toilet Bowl to Nude Beach
In general the rapids on this reach are more demanding than similarly rated rapids on the Lower, upstream of Democrat Dam. More maneuvering is required and the lines are somewhat more technical, with more serious consequences for botched moves. There are more rocks in the flow. A good roll is a must. Some boaters put-in at a convenient turnout below Toilet Bowl, others bypass the most difficult whitewater by putting in below Lucas Creek Falls.
Several rapids should be scouted. The first major rapid, the Fin, is often carried. The second, Island Falls, is generally considered to be class IV on the far left and class V on the far right.There is a portage at Lucas Creek Falls. Watch out for cars!!
- The Cataracts - Nude Beach to Powerhouse KR1
This stretch is class V nirvana. If you’re a solid class V boater looking for some good late season boating, here it is! Most boaters just look at these rapids and have to run to the bushes. Triple Falls (aka Quadruple Whatever, Triple Drop, Triple Threat, Another Roadside Attraction) is particularly impressive.
- KR1 - Powerhouse KR1 to Mouth of the Canyon
More difficult class V’s and some carries — rarely done.
- Kern Below Rio Bravo: Rio Bravo Run - Mouth of the Canyon to Rancheria Road
This run has been essentially destroyed by the construction of Rio Bravo dam.
- Rancheria Road - Rancheria Road to Ming Lake
Class II except for one class III. At one point the river splits around an island. Watch out for brush and trees.
Dry Meadow Creek, Brush Creek & More
- Dry Meadow Creek
If you’ve done the Forks, you’ve probably gazed in awe at the beautifully sculptured granite potholes, slides, and waterfalls of Dry Meadow Creek.
Pick your superlative—amazing, awesome, incredible, aesthetic—it would be difficult to overstate the beauty of the “Edge of the World” section of this creek. First run by Gary Gunder and Brandon Prince on a chilly December day in 1995, this creek has become a “must do” for top boaters from around the country, and around the world.
This very steep creek should only be attempted by boaters with extensive creeking experience. One quarter mile section drops more than 1400 fpm! There are numerous “runnable” waterfalls in the 8 ft. to 22 ft. range, but two huge 40 to 50 ft. killer falls are found near the end of the run. Following their first descent, Gary and Brandon said that doing the run was like paddling off the “edge of the world.”
- Brush Creek
Limestone run, about a quarter mile downstream from the Johnsondale bridge. It is a “steep creek,” dropping 550 vertical feet in about 1.5 miles. If you enjoy steep, rocky drops and running waterfalls, it’s a classic.
The uppermost put-in for the run is at Rincon Camp. This can be reached by driving up Sherman Pass Road to the helicopter pad and then following the sign down to Rincon Camp. Many boaters prefer to park near the helicopter pad (don’t park on the pad) and then hike down to the creek. This bypasses the initial brushy segment of the run, and avoids the rough road down to the put-in. From Rincon Camp the run is about 1.5 miles long and drops about 550 feet. From the helicopter pad put-in its about 1.1 mile and drops 450 feet.
The super high quality segment from the helicopter pad put-in to the “S-turn drop” is commonly done without any carries. The S-turn drop is a 5-6 ft. drop that can be seen from Sherman Pass Road near the 4000 ft. sign. It follows the “combination drop” pictured left, and has a downward-sloped, fan shaped shelf forming the lip of the drop. After the S-turn, the creek dog-legs to the left.
Many boaters carry the section from the pool below the S-turn to where the trail (on river right) is near the creek again, at a rocky area. Below here are a variety of drops, including a vertical slot that some boaters run, but others avoid by sliding down a steep trough. After crossing under the bridge, but before the confluence with the Kern, is a tricky drop that should be scouted.
While this run is about as clean as a steep creek can get, people have broken boats, badly strained their backs, broken elbows and egos on this run; so scout frequently and know what you’re doing. If you choose not to run the biggest waterfall, the portage is not a simple walk around. There is an unofficial gage on the bridge at the parking lot take-out that boaters use for a reference. What a particular reading means varies a lot from boater to boater, but basically under 1 is very boney; 2 is low runnable; 5 is high; anything above 5 is very high. At any level things happen fast and good judgement and paddling skills are required.
- Little Kern
There are some wild stories about the first descent of this difficult Kern tributary
- South Fork Kern
The South Fork Kern was originally done by Royal Robbins, et. al.
- Monache Meadows to Kennedy Meadows Campground
The first five miles of this nearly 20 mile Southern Sierra wilderness run will lull you into thinking this run has no gradient. When you cross under the Pacific Crest Trail bridge at mile five get ready for a change of scenery, over the next four miles the gradient averages about 200 fpm! Bouldery rapids in a creekish streambed continue until you pass under the PCT a second time, about two miles from the takeout.
There are several potential portages on this IV-V run. The most difficult section is the most remote.
- Kennedy Meadows to Long Valley
Kennedy Meadows to Long Valley (Rocky Contos)
Sierra South operates under permits issued by: Sequoia National Forest, Klamath National Forest, and the National Park Service/Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Sierra South is an equal opportunity recreation service provider.
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