Kelsey Creek is a small tributary of the Scott River. It begins in the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area and is just a few miles away from Canyon Creek. I’d been looking at it for a while, remembering a hike years ago that had a few glimpses of bedrock. Kelsey is a lot like Wooley, you start hiking right at the take-out. With a low flow of 850cfs on the Scott River I knew it would be low, but figured that would be good for a first descent that probably had lots of wood. When I arrived the flow looked quite low but fairly doable, hopefully like Kidder at low water, annoying between bedrock rapids but still good in the actual rapids at low water.
So I geared up, optimistic about the snow on the ground letting me drag my boat like a sled and not leave plastic all over. The hike starts off with a quick climb and then levels out on an ancient mining flume. Unfortunately I was not able to drag my boat much as the snow was spotty. Once I got to the end of the old flume there was a great view of what was hopefully one of many bedrock rapids.
The hike continued on, and quickly starting with some elevation gain. I pushed on maybe another mile gaining a lot of elevation. I had planned to put in at mile two, where the trail goes near the river in a little bedrock section. While hiking around mile 1.5 I noticed it got close to the creek, and the creek looked horrible. Wood and mank everywhere, I hiked further without my boat to confirm multiple logjams per drop, and decided to put in below the most congested lumber drops. I roped my boat down the creek and followed it down the slippery slope that was covered with mud and snow. Looking upstream from my put-in.
At water level it looked really low while I geared up. Once “on the water” it was indeed really low, I was generally getting stuck in each rapid and having to push over rocks. I wasn’t surprised to find that within a few minutes on the water I was portaging some logs. This section of the run is hands down the lowest quality run I have ever paddled, I was absolutely hating it, and more water would just make the log jams more dangerous. The norm.
I think this section is steep, just super continuous and log filled. Eventually while portaging a logjam a tributary came in, doubling the flow, hurray!
The pace picked up after this as there was enough water to at least bounce down the junk, and less wood. Eventually I came up on a horizon line, which proved to be the first fun rapid of the day.
This rapid is indeed, about half a mile from the take out, I had just hiked and paddled a useless mile. Right after this rapid is the fun waterfall that is visible from the trail. It has a great eddy on the right to scout from.
It’s kind of a funky drop, dropping 5’ in a 10’ slide and then free falling about 10’ more into a little pocket with a strong boil line on the left wall.
At the bottom of the sliding section most of the water goes under an overhanging wall on the right. I threw a log off to see how sticky it was, and the log just went deep and resurfaced about 12’ downstream. I didn’t think it looked too sticky, and it has a nice recovery pool so I hopped back in my boat. I lined up at the top driving left and sliding some damp rock to avoid the overhang. It was a surprisingly fast drop, and after the slide I plugged down the middle, as I resurfaced I felt the stern of my boat start to get sucked back in, motivating me to paddle forward out of the backwash. Thankfully it wasn’t too strong and I was able to paddle away, and then got a picture from below.
What would be up next, a quality bedrock gorge or back to mank? One junky rapid and a quick log portage led to a large horizon line. The water squeezed in-between two huge rocks about 4’ apart and disappeared, from above it looked like a 20-30 drop. I scrambled out of my boat hoping it would be a clean 20-30’ fall, but upon scouting was disappointed with this.
Well it drops 20-25’ overall, but it also goes under a rock and into the wall before turning. It might go at much higher flows allowing some kind of a left angled boof, but it was a portage at low flows. The portage options weren’t too good, continue along high on the bank and then slide down a steep muddy slope to the river, missing a good rapid, or portage right next to the rapid on rocks that were still covered with ice from the previous night. Not wanting to miss a good rapid after so few, I inched my way down the rocks using a large downed tree for help. Water was splashing on the seal launch spot at the bottom, and I hurried to get in my boat before too much water did. About to step into my boat I realized I had pulled an idiot move and left my paddle at the very top. Getting my paddle and on the water, this rapid was just around the corner and a fun one, would of course be better with more water.
Directly after that fun rapid was one more good one. For reference the bottom drop is about 5' wide and 4' tall.
Paddling around the corner from the last rapid with a torn skirt from one of the last few rapids, I was glad the take-out was right there. I’ll probably never do this run again. I think this was a first descent, but could very well not be. This isn't the run I pictured earlier either, although it might suck similarly. If you abused both yourself and your boat on this run first, let me know.
How to get there. From I5 Take Highway 3 South to Fort Jones. Turn right onto Scott River Road and proceed for 17 miles. Turn left immediatly after crossing the Scott River, stay right on the dirt road and the trailhead is within 1 mile. Proceed hiking.