North Fork Smith – January 1, 2016
Having gone to bed by 9:30 on New Year’s Eve, we were plenty rested for our New Year’s Day NF Smith run. As we prepped and got ready, we awaited the arrival of Erik to pack up the Subaru and head to Gasquet, CA. After a challenging pack job to accommodate gear, two kayaks, raft with frame, P.G., four boaters and a shuttle driver, we were off. The sky was bluebird and the temp was steadily rising from a low of 45º F as we headed to Grant’s Pass to pick up the final member of our party.
We arrived at Barefoot Brad’s in Gasquet at 10:30, met up with our shuttle driver and began making our ascent up the FS road to the put-in. As we gained elevation, the snow covered more and more of the road but did not halt our progress as we plowed fresh tracks into the melting slush. We arrived at the put-in around 11:30 with smiles all around as the river called to us. After a lengthy set-up, we finally slid the boats into the NF Smith’s unbelievable clarity and pristine beauty beginning our 14 mile decent ending in Gasquet.
This being by far the lowest flow I had ever seen the NF, stoke levels were high as the excitement of the unknown manifested itself. Having done it several times at a foot higher, I knew to expect much rockier and shallow rapids with much tamer holes and slower current, this was certainly the case. We found out very quickly, the value of putting-on early or having sunglasses for this run on a clear day as the glare seems to stare directly into your eyes. The NF runs southwest carving its way to the ocean and reflects the sun upstream, adding a little extra spice to the run.
The main difference between this flow and the flows I had previously boated the NF at, was the line on Scout Rapid which is usually run on the right. At 9.5ft, a few options open up, however the best line seemed to be a right to left entry move behind the large top boulder using the slack water to ferry across above the main obstructing boulder and finishing the rapid on the left, up against the gorge wall. The right line was still available for a sporty raft or a kayak but a bit tricky. The following gorge rapid that is known to surpass the difficulty of Scout at certain flows, was very constricted but tame and slow with a pinch move on the left between the wall and the boulder in the middle which creates the turbulent feature at higher flows.
The rest of the run was shallow, busy read-n-run class III boulder gardens with the exception of Serpentine Slide which at higher flows connects the three sections of rapids into one mile long rapid. Although the gardens were distinguishable from one another, these pieces of the bigger picture stood out to make the most entertaining rapids on the run after Scout. Below Serpentine follows a succession of easier rapids coupled with the unrivaled beauty of the NF canyon and its famed Pitcher Plant population.
We reached the take-out at 199 around 4pm, celebrated a good trip, loaded the car and headed back home.