Bridge Creek

A three-mile Marathon, by James Bagley Jr.

California, Salmon River drainage
Class V, Gradient: 400-800 fpm, Pool-drop

Click here to watch the video trip report for this creek.


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Heard of it? Wanna try it? This report will attempt to inform you of what you are in for on a run down Bridge Creek, California.

Your day on Bridge Creek will start with a 20 mile shuttle ride over unimproved dirt roads where you ascend up to 4000 feet. Then you will be faced with a 2 mile "hike" (mostly, it's a sliding and falling experience) where you descend to 2,800 feet. Hopefully, you can do all this before 11 a.m. because it will take every minute of available daylight to complete your Bridge Creek adventure.

Jesse Coombs getting ready to put on after an exhausting hike.

The first thing you notice about Bridge Creek, looking upstream, is that it's really steep. The next thing you notice about the creek, looking downstream, is that it gets steeper. The last, and probably most important, thing you notice is that there is wood everywhere.

The first mile drops at roughly 200 fpm and is lovingly referred to as "the manky mile". I do not recall exactly how many pins, broaches, or portages were involved in descending through "the manky mile", but it must be done to get to "the shit" (the second mile).

Jesse finishes one of many portages in the 'Manky Mile'.

'The Shit' begins with a very obvious and notable increase in gradient as the creek steepens to something like 400 fpm. Your first real challenging drop is a long, narrow slide with an 8' falls where you narrowly avoid faceplanting a very large pair of trees approaching at 100 mph.

Be sure to catch the very first possible eddy because there's a waterfall just downstream, and after that some slides and another waterfall. This is all in the first 1/4 mile of "The Shit". Really good stuff, but you want to be on your game. Eddy's are small and things happen pretty fast.

Judd below the logs on the first drop and boofing the waterfall.

Judd, being the only one who had done the run, was providing Jesse some beta in a two boat eddy above a serious horizon line for two solid minutes. Then, Judd eddied out and disappeared.

I joined Jesse in the two-boat eddy and asked the obvious question "What's the beta?". Jesse replied: "Stay right." I gave him an odd a look as I could manage and peeled out, staying as far right as seemed appropriate... In the interest of saving time, we ran quite a few drops this way with varying degrees of success.

The author runs a slide.

I remember thinking at some point: "How could anything be any steeper than this?!?"

Then it happened.

We arrived at the final mile which drops at something absurd like 800 fpm.

Not only is the creek steeper, but it gets less continuous. This can mean only one thing, BIG drops, and all of them very runnable. Jesse and I made two portages in this section. One simply because we were tired and another because of a scary hydraulic called penalty box.

Chris Khorbulic runs a typical drop on Bridge Creek (taken on a later trip)

Ben Stookesberry runs Magnetic falls (taken on a later trip)

At the final falls we heaved a big sigh of relief, it was over, which was nice until Judd mentioned that we have 8 more miles of Wooly Creek to paddle and it was nearly 5 p.m.

Wooly Creek is completely different from Bridge Creek. This is a big water class IV+ run that is easily as difficult as the popular Cal-Salmon Nordheimer run. Oddly enough, Bridge Creek is best when Wooly is pretty high. There are a lot of really big holes on Wooly and each of us got worked over at some point. In hindsight, some of the rapids on Wooly deserve a brief scout.

When a large tributary came in on river left signifying the takeout we heaved another big sight of relief, it was really finally over, which was nice until Judd mentioned we had to ascend 200' to the road...

Anyone that said Bridge Creek was 'easy' was LYING to you. Although, my understanding is that most people run it at lower water, which would make the drops a bit easier. It's still a long and physically demanding trip. The fact that Judd has a 60% success rate of completing the run in a day might persuade you to believe that EASY is not an accurate description.


Bridge Creek beta - flows and access

Flows:
Estimating what the flow might be on Bridge Creek is total guesswork at best. It has been known to be runnable at between 4' and 7' on the Cal-Salmon gauge. A better tell-tale is to look at the confluence of Wooly Kr and the Salmon for a gravel bar. If the gravel bar is almost, but not quite, completely covered then go for it; flows should be medium-high. If there is no sign of the gravel bar whatsoever and you put-on anyways, then I have a letter for you to sign from a Mr. Will-and-Testament. As for how low Bridge Creek is runnable, I'll leave that exercise up to the ELF (extreme low flow) boaters.

Access:
Finding Bridge Creek on a map is pretty simple. Just follow Wooly Cr up from the Salmon until Bridge Cr comes in on the north side. Actually getting there is trickier.

The takeout:
You can set shuttle on the Salmon at Wooly Cr trail head (to avoid the 200' climb out of Wooly) or you can cross the bridge at the confluence and park near the end of the road. Realistically, anywhere you can get to the river around the confluence of Wooly will work as long as it isn't upstream on the Salmon.

The putin:
Head downstream from the Salmon-Wooly confluence and turn right on camp 3 road. This road turns to dirt at some point. Just follow signs that say camp 3 and wilderness trails. Also look for signs to Leter Buck trail head, this means you are still going the right way. When you cross Haypress Creek (not runnable) you are getting close. The road will end somewhere near Leter Buck trail head and your hike begins on an old road that goes off to your right (south?). This is all based on observations made from under a canopy in the back of a pickup while failing to find anything solid to hang on to other than Harvey (Judd's friendly but smelly dog). Meaning, THIS INFORMATION MAY NOT BE ACCURATE so bring a map. Or, even better, bring someone that's done it before.

Your hike will take you 1.2 miles down an old poor excuse for a road. Then you will find a newly created poor excuse for a trail on your left. Fall down this for another mile or so to the creek. If the trail seems to meander in unexpected directions and then disappear, you are lost. Retrace your footsteps and try to find the real "trail". I'm told that getting down to the creek anywhere except on the "trail" is not much fun.

Additional note from the authors second journey:

FYI, Bridge Creek is intimidating enough without swimming the first big drop so I highly recommend scouting this one. The rest of the day went fine, and we actually completed the run in record time (about 4 hours from putting on bridge to taking out of wooly). But, it was a bit stressful...