We knew we needed knock out the drive north as early as possible if we hoped to get on the water the same day. We woke up early at our campsite in Three Rivers CA, packed up quickly, and hit the road. It took us almost six hours to reach the small town of Downieville and when we did, we found ourselves in the middle of the Downieville Classic. The Downieville Classic is huge mountain biking festival that completely takes over the small town for five days. With many streets in town closed for the festival, it took us several failed attempts and eventually going the wrong way on a one-way street to finally set shuttle and find our way up to the put-in for Lavezzola Creek.
We put-in on Lavezzola Creek in the late afternoon confident in the fact that we had heard this was the easier of the creeks in the area and the whole run was only about four miles. The creek seems to be at a great level, not super high, but fast and very padded out. When we reached the first bigger rapid, Terran probed a meaty line down the right and came through unscathed, but I was unable to see the line so I hopped out for a scout. My strained left shoulder had been getting progressively worse for the last five days, so I was seeking the most conservative lines I could find. I climbed out on the right to attempt a scout (mistake) and John and Leigh climbed out on the left. I couldn’t see much from my vantage point on the steep right bank, but John motioned to me that there was a line down the left that looked good. I returned to my boat and ran the left line John had recommended eddying out at the bottom.
From the eddy below the rapid I saw Leigh get stopped instantly by the hole above the main drop. She took a short beating, swam, and was roped to shore by a picture perfect rope toss from John. While John was helping Leigh out of the water, her boat was taking off down stream in a hurry. I peeled out and gave chase, catching up to the fleeing boat, but unable to stop it before the next rapid. I followed the boat over a double drop on the left side of the river. The rapid was bigger than I expected and had I known how big it was I probably wouldn’t have run it blind, with a strained shoulder, and no one else around. When I resurfaced from the bottom hole I found myself in a little pocket against the river left cliff. Tangled up with Leigh’s boat, I flipped against the wall, but luckily the current washed me out of the pocket so I was able to roll up, but not without a lot of pain in my shoulder. Another stroke of luck was that Leigh’s boat stayed trapped in the pocket at the bottom of the rapid until John and Terran arrived. With a little rope work, the three of us were able to rescue the boat and get it to shore a little ways below the rapid. Leigh made a steep scramble back to river level and the group proceeded downstream, none the worse for wear, but with significantly less time left before sundown.
Unfortunately another flip downstream caused Leigh’s paddle to be knocked out of her hands and it never resurfaced. We knew it was pinned underwater somewhere in the rapid, but after searching for it for a while, we realized that if we were going to make it out of the gorge before dark, we needed to start making downstream progress. Leigh began her hike out of the gorge on an old mining road while Terran, John, and I made our way downstream. Running most rapids without scouting, we continued downstream as quickly as possible, the result was a lot more bracing and a lot more pain in my shoulder. When we finally made it to the take-out I was relieved to have made it without another flip, especially because another delay might have cost us the remaining daylight.
When I awoke the next morning my shoulder felt worse than ever. I hadn’t actually dislocated it, but it was strained to the point that I couldn’t try to ignore it any longer. I realized that the only way to keep it from getting worse and not put myself in a bad situation on the side of a creek somewhere was to stop boating and let it rest. Reluctantly I accepted my situation and told the rest of the group that they had a shuttle bunny for the rest of the trip. Over the next few days I ran shuttle for the group as they paddled Lavezzola Creek, Pauley Creek, and sections of the Yuba with various other groups of boaters who showed up in the area. I spent my days relaxing at cafes in Downieville and at take-outs by the side of the river. We spent out nights enjoying beers around the campfire at our campsite at the put-in for Lavezzola Creek.
On our last day in Downieville we decided that we would make one more attempt to find Leigh’s lost paddle. She had hiked into Lavezzola Creek looking for it and thought she knew where it was pinned, but it wasn’t something she could recover safely by herself. We all hiked into the rapid where it had been originally lost, skeptical at best that it would still be there. However, the water had also dropped significantly and true to Leigh’s hunch, we could see a small sliver of the blade of her paddle visible where it was pinned against a boulder. We set up an anchor on a tree upstream and belayed John down into the rapid to retrieve the paddle. The recovery was almost flawless and we were all quite amazed that the paddle had been there the whole time. Other than a few small rub marks, the paddle was in perfect condition and we were in high spirits as we hiked out back out of the gorge.
Lavezzola and Pauley Creeks share some of the easiest logistics of any two runs anywhere. They share the same take-out on the Downie River, the same shuttle road, and the put-ins are a mere 200 yards apart. In addition, there is great free camping right at the Lavezzola put-in and good food at the many small restaurants and cafes in the town of Downieville. I had been told about how these creeks (combined with a number of other runs in the area) made logistics very easy for paddlers, but until I saw it I didn’t fully appreciate how great Downieville really is! I would have much rather been kayaking the whole time, but in retrospect it was a relaxing way to spend the last few days of my trip before John and I made the brutal drive back across the country. Downieville will certainly remain on my list for future trips to California and I look forward to returning with healthy shoulder.
Until Next Time...