Brandy Creek above Whiskeytown reservoir
Brandy Creek drains the north face of Shasta Bally into Whiskeytown Lake. The watershed is small, so runnable flows are rare. The section described begins 2 miles upstream from the Brandy Creek picnic area, and drops 720 feet for an overall gradient of 360 feet per mile. The first descent was done in 1992 by Mark Twitchell and Richard Uhlman, after extensive mountain bike scouting. The threat of vertically pinning or wrapping in the steep rocky creek, makes it a run best suited to current generation inflatable kayaks with thigh straps and foot braces, outfitted for expedition boating.
The first 0.5 miles drops 240 feet, giving boaters a 480 foot per mile stretch to warm up on. After this start, the run begins to get serious, the lower two miles is where the big waterfalls await. With its high gradient and small streambed, the difficulty of the run is significantly increased by small increases in flow. Despite its gradient, the entire stretch is boatable with no portages. If you're contemplating a run, consider carefully scouting both the upper and lower falls sections before committing, this run is very physically demanding and at higher flows the pace is furious. As always, your safety depends on your own judgment, as well as your boating skills.
Even the put in at Brandy Creek is exciting. Instead of putting on the creek at the pool at the end of the road, boaters must forego this opportunity, unless they are ready to contend with a large tree. One must drag their boat about 30 yards downstream onto a flat river rock. Once in your boat, you must execute an upstream ferry move across the stream to avoid a wrap rock lurking below.
The real action begins with Twist and Shout, class III-IV, a twisting narrow slot against the left wall. When resting in the eddy below one can hear boaters bitching and moaning, after being bounced from rock to rock, hence the name, from the same eddy, boaters can see a horizon line, below which, the creek cannot be seen. This marks the top of Staircase, the first of the major waterfalls. Staircase consists of two six foot sliding drops separated by a short pool. At high water the falls can be run on the far left. Taking the main channel on the right forces contention with an unfriendly hydraulic at the base of the second drop. This double falls is class III+ at low water, improving to class V- at higher flows. Just downstream is Crack in the Rock, a class V eight foot twisting drop through a 5 foot wide slot that develops a substantial reversal at high flows and tries to slam boaters into the left wall at low flows, pick your poison. Immediately (25 feet) downstream is American Express. This eight foot class IV vertical creek wide ledge was named after an early run with commentary by Jim Pepin was captured on video. A boulder strewn entrance leads to Toilet Bowl, a class IV-V, six foot twisting drop against the left wall into a large hole. Hopefully this one goes well because just downstream is a big class V drop. Against the Wall is a seventeen foot sliding falls. Fortunately, Against the Wall has been fairly user friendly. From here to the Sheep Camp bridge the creek is a comparatively mellow stretch of continuous steep class IV+ boulder dodging with some big holes to add spice. Have fun and avoid wrapping your boat on the Pin Rock, class IV, try the left to right move here if you're feeling lucky or you can play it safe and stay to the left.
The Sheep Camp bridge offers a place to relax, recuperate, or take out if you find your excitement threshold already exceeded. Just remember that this is the last reasonable spot to get out of the creek before the big falls downstream. If you cannot run the falls, there is a portage route, but the trail is steep, narrow, and laced with poison oak.
After the bridge, the rapids become more powerful. Obstacle Course is a steep class IV stretch of holes and tight slots with an abundance of opportunities for trouble. Below this the creek relaxes for a bit before Screaming Left Turn, class V, starts with a slalom entrance that brings boaters to a five foot ledge, below which is a series of three offset holes that spit boats toward the right wall. After a series of class III drops, a right hand eddy can be caught above Split Falls, (once in this eddy, you are committed to all three falls, so think carefully before dropping in). This marks the beginning of the three falls section, the high point of the run. Split Falls, class V, the highest falls on the run, begins with a four foot drop into a slot where a 140 degree left turn brings one to the brink of a fourteen foot waterfall. Successfully taking the plunge leads to the pool above Scarface, the toughest of the bunch. This is a good place to gather your nerve, before facing what lies downstream.
Scarface, a class V+ brute, has an overall drop of about twenty feet with a complicated boulder choked entrance. Successfully threading the needle brings a boater into position for the final eight foot drop, where the entire creek is funneled into a 7 foot wide slot. High water turns this slot into a churning cauldron. This rapid got named after providing Armand Vine with a dynamic facial on a 1993 run. This drop (at high water) often has about a 66% attrition rate. Fortunately, most of the carnage occurs below the final drop.
The next drop deserves special recognition, On an early trip Kevin Lewis asked Mark Twitchell what was downstream from Scarface. Mark replied confidently, “nothing much now.” The group headed downstream, as they rounded a left hand bend, they came upon a horizon line that turned out to be a serious drop. This eight foot class V waterfall has a complex entrance, the current tries, often successfully, to push boats into a boulder garden, just above the drop. The falls drop into a submarine hole. Boaters have been known to completely disappear in this hole before being spit out doing cartwheels, end for end flips, vertical nose stands, and, well you get the point. After being munched in this hole, Kevin indicated to Mark that he'd felt he was sandbagged. The name stuck. Sandbag Falls , like Scarface, just upstream, tends to humble more than its share of challengers.
Below the 3 falls section, the creek mellows a bit. The gradient is still steep, with sharp drops and many boulders constricting the channels. Typical of this section is Rocky Road, class IV. It begins with a 45 degree left turn into an obstructed chute, followed by a sharp right turn that gives the boater the chance to negotiate the final section of boulder choked altitude loss. The last of the major drops is the Zoom Flume , a class IV-V. A 4 foot drop followed by a sharp right turn leads to a 6 foot drop backed by a powerful hole. At the base of the drop on the right, the water piles onto a rock jutting out from shore that creates a large pillow. If boaters don't make the right to left move, they get pushed into a crease on the right, if they survive the hole, they will get pushed onto the rock. This rapid has been relatively user friendly, (it just looks awful), but don't take it lightly. It has swallowed paddles and sent boaters cartwheeling on occasion.
To reach the take-out, catch an eddy while fighting with trees for position on the right side just above the bridge at the Brandy Creek picnic area. This is a convenient take out if you are willing to forgo another quarter mile of class III-IV and float down to the lake. The float isn't bad but the carry back to the picnic area reduces the appeal of this last stretch.
Map of Rivers