Deer Creek (Ishi Creek)


Stretch: Lassen Plateau to Sacramento Valley
Difficulty: Upper run Class V (1-3 portages), Lower run class IV (one V)
Distance: 40 miles, 2 to 4 days
Flows: rafts (400) 600 - 1000, kayaks 600 - 1200, IK minimum 300
Gauge: measured downstream at Vina (DCV)
Gradient: Upper run 100 fpm, Lower run 65 fpm
Put-in: Potato Patch USFS campground, 3400'
Take-out: Leininger Road bridge, 210'
Shuttle: 65 miles, 1.5 hours each way
Maps: USFS Lassen NF, AAA Northern California, Topo upper, Topo lower.
Season: April to June, depending on snowpack
Agency: USFS, private
Notes: © 1997, 2014 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

“The wilderness journey down the Deer Creek canyon is one of the finest in California. Rarely can one experience a river of such high quality for such a long distance [35 miles until flatwater sets in].” --Lars Holbek
Boaters intimidated by the tough ratings for Upper Deer should consider the lower Ishi Falls run, which currently has only two rapids verging on class V. Some beautiful pictures of lower Deer Creek are now online here.

Upper Deer Creek

Deer Creek, Fishladder Falls run
class V, 3 portages
recommended flows: IK 300-500 cfs, R2 400-600 cfs

Put in at Potato Patch campground along highway 32. There is a fine higher water class IV run (with one portage around a waterfall) just upstream.

continuous class III with one IV halfway; watch for logs
highway 32 bridge, alternate put-in
continuous class III-IV rapids continue; watch for logs
Portage! Fishladder Falls, class VI, exit right
Recognition: at the end of a straight section, spray rises and the gorge deepens ahead. Be careful on the class III rapid above, and do not run the class IV lead-in. Moderate carry or line over bedrock to possible shortcuts employing the fish ladder.
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Lining down the falls Pulling boat out of the death-trap reversal
Squeeze or Hump, class IV+, scout right
Just below the portage you have a choice of a constricted chute on the left, or a wide chute into a big hump/fan rock on the right.
bridge, possible take-out (rapids tougher downstream)
class III-IV rapids continue; down log just below bridge (1996)
Mini Gorge, class IV
A fine interlude in a decorated lava canyon with fun rapids.
Big Boulder Bar, class V, scout right
It is hard to believe such a difficult rapid could be constructed where the river splits over moderately sized boulders; perhaps the lava rocks below that prevent erosion into class III. You can sneak the worst part of this rapid by carrying over rocks on the left.
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Good run of tricky first section But he fails to slalom around this rock!
Deer Creek CA Big Boulder Bar at a higher flow than in the sequence above, and from the other side of the creek.
Class III-IV boulder bar rapids for the next few miles, in a relatively open canyon.
fair campsite on left conveniently located for 2-day trips
Flipper, class V
Several routes possible, all involving curling waves.
overhead wire tram announces mandatory line or portage just ahead
line Treejam, class IV+ with tree, scout left
A large tree formerly blocked this rapid, but has gradually eroded into a small stump on the left near the end. It cannot be seen by boat scouting, but is usually avoidable if you know its location.
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Preparing to line around Treejam Scenic lava formations above Bandito Cañon
Bandito Cañon, scenic alert
The most interesting lava formations along Deer Creek are here. Totally excellent small camp on left.
Maxi Gorge, class V+
Begins with a class IV slalom left around large boulders, followed by a bony class IV drop into a small pool above a class V falls. Some current goes underneath a huge lava rock on the right, making it difficult to eddy right. In past years one could swim under that rock to set up safety, but this is no longer possible because of logs.
Log X, class V, scout either side (?)
Named for two crossed logs (1996) marking a potential grave site. The logs are gone and this falls is now runnable at low flows. If a logjam occurs again, the normal action is to portage on the right. Some people prefer to line their boats along steep rocks on the left, and actually the eddy on the left is easier to catch at most flows.
Kitchen Sink, class V, scout right?
Pass just to the right of a big rock, enter a constriction on the left, execute an S turn, and exit over a drop that is hard to see from above. Short recovery pool below in a deep amphitheater. In the course of this rapid, bedrock changes from lava to granite.
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Around the big rock Into a large reversal Climbing over the top
Blind Faith, class IV
Impossible to bank scout because of the amphitheater. The left side of the left falls goes into a keeper eddy, the right side of the falls is runnable, and the far right chute involves a squirrely S turn. (You'll have to take my word for it.)
Coffin Trough, class V, scout left
The drop on the left goes into a recirculating trough, which feeds rightward into some sharp drops towards the center. Hard to portage or line. A new route (as of 1997) on the right avoids the coffin.
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Down the narrow righthand chute Momentum carries Steve up onto a rock
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Past the trough, but paddling backwards! Tipping over and getting ready to swim
Stay Right and Flip, class V+, scout left or from island
A fairly steep chute on the right, moderately obstructed, leads to a monster hole near the bottom that surfs boats into the right wall. May be lined on the left quite easily.
Rapids ease to class III as Ponderosa Way approaches the right bank. Good campsites along the river.
Antepenultimate, class V-, scout left
Enter on the right, negotiate some drops, and prepare to go either side of a white mushroom formation.
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Entering on far river right To the right of the white mushroom
Penultimate, class V-, scout left
Your choice of routes: an obstructed route on the right leading over a symmetrical fan rock, or a more easily approachable route on the left leading towards a rock fence with narrow exit towards the right.
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Taking the obstructed route on river right
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Over top of the fan rock Near the bottom of Penultimate
Ultimate, class V-, scout left
A class III boulder garden leads to a steep drop into a deep hole, followed closely by another deep hole.
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In the boulder garden at the top of Ultimate Getting momentum above the deep hole
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Punching thru the reversal Fending off a pesky rock Hole is deeper than it looks!
Ponderosa Way bridge
To simplify your shuttle, continue by doing the Ishi Falls run.

Lower Deer Creek

Deer Creek, Ishi Falls run
class IV+ (one V), 0 portages
recommended flows: IK 300-600 cfs, R2 400-900 cfs

This put-in makes a good run for boaters running Deer Creek for the first time, but the shuttle over rough dirt roads is time-consuming.

Amazing Race, many class IVs
The creek bottom drops out; the gradient is 160 feet for a mile. Amazingly, there are no rapids more than class IV in difficulty, and most can be safely boat scouted. However, newly fallen trees might necessitate a portage.
Deer Creek CA Typical steep segment with submerged rocks
Gradient tapers off to only 80 feet/mile, and the rapids are primarily class III with a few easy IVs.
Good campsite on right bank across from a cliff spring.
Sulphur Creek enters on left, announcing the toughest section ahead. Private land, no camping. Class IV-V rapids for the next two miles.
Lava Dome, class IV+ or Unrunnable
The far left peters out, but left of center is a turbulent class IV+ falls, runnable at certain flows. Just to the right of that is a very tight S turn, which used to be passable, but has become basically rock-jammed. Afterwards come two easier rapids, Right-to-Left falls, then Ishi Falls itself.
Ishi Falls, class V- or V, scout left
Recognition: huge lava chunks block the river. A log formerly blocked the right channel, but was washed out during the 1997 flood. During the rains of 1998 the steep left falls became less runnable. The normal route now requires entering thru a narrow channel on the right, running a steep falls on river left, then working center to run a steep falls into a big hole. Milder drops continue around the corner before there is a good eddy. If you elect to portage, your task is a bit easier on the right bank.
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The steep falls on far left, pre-1998 At low flows the Padillac's nose buries!
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Old steep falls on the upper right, post-1998 Same drop as above, with more water
Double Drop, class IV+ to V-, left island scout
Hug the right side of a low boulder island, then turn sharp left at the base of the island to drop over a fun 2-stage falls. Beware: the base of this falls contains several large boulders, so portaging along the island be a wise choice at certain flows.
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Ferrying to river left after the first drop Not quite far enough over, Steve goes vertical!
Single Drop, class IV+, scout right
Formerly a fun (but sometimes sticky) 7 foot falls on river right. Recent boulder movement might have lessened the height somewhat. Note: swimmers might require extraction by throw rope, especially at higher flows.
Deer Creek CA Mike runs straight down Single Drop
First of three or four class IV rapids. In 2003 they were harder than Single Drop, due to aforementioned height reduction.
Student Body Left, class IV+, scout left
A steep boulder maze in which you work to the left, then exit by cutting back right across the river. Can cause carnage.
Mostly class III rapids. Somewhere in this section is a large camp with tent sites on a sandy bench above the river. Public land ends about where powerlines come into view.
Powerline Gorge, class IV
A powerline comes into view high overhead, announcing this series of sometimes tight class IV rapids.
Bench campsite next to a cliff on the right bank, not recommended for camping because it is on private land.
Final Gorge, class IV-
Several class III-IV rapids in a row.
Unusually beautiful rock formations and class II-III rapids. This is probably the most scenic section along the lower run.
Deer Creek CA Table Mountain in late afternoon
Gauging station on left bank
Deer Creek emerges into the Sacramento valley, so your main tasks are finding the correct braided channel and avoiding strainers. Too bad this is not the take-out.
19? Hazard! Diversion dam might have a nasty backwash at higher flows. Easy portage on the left.
Right bank take-out, preferably below Leininger Road bridge. Just downstream of the bridge, a narrow strip of land (1.7 acres) on river right is public land owned since 1956 by the California Department of Fish & Game, Tehama AP#079-040-02. There is also an easement (at least 50' wide on the south) for the road bridge. Sporadic vandalism has been reported at this take-out.

For a trip description and more pictures of Deer Creek, see the Oregon Kayaking website.


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