So on October 23rd I had the pleasure of joining some blokes on a trip down the splendorous Pit River.
Holy. Flying. Fuck.
That river is LIQUID MADNESS. So I did my research, bragged to my friends, strutted my pride and prepared for the trip. Pit River makes its home near Redding outside of some small, Hills-Have-Eyes town by the name of Burney and Something-something Mill Town Something (Feather River Mill? Feather Mill? Freaking what the hell was the name of that town Mill?). Anyways, beautiful area. It’s entirely volcanic and the fall colors paired with the haggard crust of ancient lava really makes for an atmosphere of adventure, magic, an possible doom.
At some ungodly hour in the morning, 3 AM, I start my journey. I told Matthew I’d be there at 8:00 sharp, and Redding is quite a drive from the sleepy hills of Cool. I make it half way out of Cool before I realize I forgot my wetsuit. So a quick trip back and I’m on my way officially this time. Lots of dubstep to keep me awake. The drive up was typical… I always laugh at the “Hooker Creek” exit in Redding. Turn on 299. Drive to nowhere. Gorgeous drive. Fog clings to the changing trees and aspens shiver in the early morning light.
Steve the Jeep is perched high on a hill of 299 when I see it in the distance: the powerhouse. It’s quite a structure; looks like something straight out of a Tim Burton flick and I am STOKED to see it! Massive pipes slither down the hillside and feed this creepy building. Find the gang, let’s get rolling.
Morning booze, breakfast burrito, suit up, gear up, shuttle and go.
It’s GO from the start. A quaint put in instantly changes to a willow-choked maze of death packed with fallen trees and hazards out the wazoo. The routes are plentiful but not all go through and those that do are narrow and offer little wiggle room should we make a mistake. This is not the river to be on if you have a problem with being smacked in the face by trees. I yell to the crew: “I feel like this is the Indiana Jones ride! Except there’s no souvenir cup at the end and there’s definitely no safety features!”
PG&E, being the assholes that they are, cage this river as often as possible, allowing for only 4 controlled flows a year (so I’ve heard… correct me if I’m wrong). Naturally, when the water is gone for that long things start to grow in place of the Beast. So there’s a shit ton of shit in the river and even more of a shit ton of tree hazards and freakin spiders that want to fall on you from every goddamn tree branch and clack their disgusting fangs in your face while their soulless eyes look at you: “hey there lady, what’s up? Ima lay eggs in your stomach now.” BAH!!! SO MANY FREAKIN SPIDERS.
A small tongue shoots us out of the choke and our next challenge awaits. Years ago as the lava settled it left jagged ledges that the water tried to conquer with little success. One ledge forces the river sharp right where it pummels into a massive boulder, creating a vicious keeper hole, and then it bends again sharp left. Our ballsy kayakers brave the rapid, but the raft crew decides it’s not worth the risk of wrapping on that boulder. So we portage over the ledge.
No time to gain our bearing. A savage tongue with boulders is just below our portage. It’s an easy run, but if you’re not paying attention I could see there being problems. Basically, I’m trying to say, if you do swim on any part of this river… you’re gonna hate your life.
Onward. Lots of boulder choked, bouncy rapids and plenty of dodging. Our guide is BOMBER. This jackass knows his stuff (he learned from IRIE… best of the best!). He’s calling commands left and right and has complete control of his boat and crew. It’s BEAUTIFUL. I tried to guess his lines and commands and found myself completely wrong every time. Humbling to say the least! Kudos sir! You are a skilled raftman!
So sadly, so much happened at once that I can’t quite remember everything. Let me tell you though, don’t expect a break, and be prepared to think on your toes. The river is swamped with boaters, anxious to ride the rare flows, so, as expected, shit happens. A horizon line approaches. A gnar boulder garden on a decent gradient is in front of us. We see a boat wrapped directly center. Put on the brakes! It takes them a good chunk of time to free themselves. They had to evac the boat and set up all sorts of crazy lines and shiz. Our safety kayak signals it’s good to go. Right before we leave I watch an IK eat it and swim… lovely motivation. Sharp S-Turn, dodge the wrap rock, CHARGE!!!
Repeat this multiple times.
The river begins to widen and the slopes of the hills show evidence of rock slides and the gorgeous chaos of nature. Jagged lava rocks plunge outward here and there like stray teeth and the hill tops sport bizarre rock formations, warts of the earth. This continues for a while until the river grows oddly calm, but hidden by a jungle of grasses and thick bushes AND FREAKIN SPIDERS. We eddy right.
We clamber up a near vertical slope to reach a trail. We brush poison oak and stickers against our bare flesh and cut fingers on sharp slate. A beast roars just out of sight. It’s roar is fierce, ferocious, a monster of old! Before us looms Pit Falls. Spanning a large girth, Pit Falls is a massive lava dam, beaten by the river. The rocks are extremely unforgiving and a swim here would spell almost certain death; if not death, disfiguring injuries. There are numerous lines to choose from that depend on your craft, skill, and balls. I read somewhere that there are 5 lines to take ranging from Class IV+ to Class V+. The ballsiest line being the 30 foot plunge from off center left (if you’re upstream, looking down). The water sprays out so fast that I guess you could say it has a bit of a slide at first. Either way… it’s a freakin waterfall. There’s the fish ladder, a chute and a series of smaller drops to the right; and there’s a 20 foot raft slide with an autoboof rock half way down.
Kayakers dot the landscape like gnomes in a cheap ass trailer park, their boats as bright as wild flowers sticking dumbly in contrast to the camouflage of nature. Mmm… you smell that? I smell my brothers. They stink. Each takes his or her turn down the falls and repeats. It’s awesome. Talk as cocky as you want and strut your stuff, I love to watch your passion and skills.
Now it’s our turn…
Mk… that awesome guide went a little wonky on us here. He puts the entire crew, three grown men and himself, on one side and me by myself. Right off the bat I can’t paddle to their level… they destroy me. We just barely miss the line we want (I’m assuming cause I was only one person paddling on my side) and crash down the falls so that our bow hits the autoboof rock on only half the boat, the other half dips down. Impact blows. Totally killed the moment for me. And next thing you know I’m smashed on a rock on shore, right next to the safety crew.
“WHY AM I NOT SWIMMING?!?!”
“Jesus!!! You’re on land!”
It’s hard to beat a waterfall. It’s totally the orgasm of a trip. After that you’re just beating a dead horse, thinking its a pinata but you’re not getting any candy. You get an A for effort but it’s JUST NOT THE SAME. But it’s still fun.
So there’s a lot more boulders and a lot more chokes and lot more freakin spiders and both our kayakers swim. We eddy and scout some things, we run some things backwards, our bomber guide regains his bomber name. I think I remember hearing that there were two more Class IV rapids after the falls.
At one point the river bends right over a small ledge. A massive tree covers the span of the river but we don’t notice it until it’s too late. We have to charge. We have to find a way through. Fortunately, there’s a boner-obvious way through, but did I notice that? No. I’m freaking out over the tree (hey, cut me some slack, I’ve been stuck in one before haha I mean on the river. That’d be just pathetic if I got stuck in a tree on land……… I have). So we bounce off a rock and I lose my balance and roll out. The bloke sitting next to me grabs my arm jut before I’m completely out of the boat and saves me, but at a cost. We lose control of the boat and take the line backwards. A huge motherfucking hole swallows us whole and I almost roll out again. Yeah, at this point I have enough adrenaline pumping through my blood. That was the final Class IV rapid.
Smooth sailing from here. Moderate whitewater but no mankillers follow from this point forward. Look for takeout after you see a footbridge across the river. Kiss the ground if you feel like it.
So our kayakers swam…
That’s right boys, drink your booty beers. Mmm… foot raunch.
Bonus: I5; it has bugs. I’m pretty sure I committed genocide to the insect kingdom that day.
So of course my favorite part is the part where I eat shit. I’m in the blue helmet and the black shorty. Laughs ensue. Pause it just right and all you’ll see is my feet and ass. Haha
Video courtesy of Matt! Thanks dude! Awesome vid!