North Fork Tilton River
Class IV, 136fpm, ~300cfs (1500cfs Tilton at Cinnebar)
November 1, 2001
Jason, Ben, Josh
Author: Jason Hummel
Josh somewhere in the midst of the North Fork Tilton.
Ben wanted to run the North Fork of the Tilton. We had no reason to argue. A new creek offers unexplored territory and that is what makes our hearts beat and our smiles big.
I had wanted to run the North Fork for a long time. Really, I guess we just hadnít gotten around to it. Now opportunity knocked and we never let the unexplored scare us from a genuine adventure. Every creek we have run we have done by ourselves and frankly, the challenge is invigorating. While most people prefer to follow, we prefer to lead. When I get to the car I am happy to be alive especially after a long and hard battle with the river.
This particular day wasnít as nice as it could be, but it wasnít an all out downpour either. I remember some drizzle and overcast.
The drive to the put-in gives you a clear view of the North Fork, which is at the bottom of a steep valley. When they logged this area, they forgot to leave some trees and so if you desire some scenic qualities you are on the wrong creek, although, what can be seen from above is a healthy helping of whitewater. Down a bit further you see where Tumble Creek flows into the North Fork. We promised ourselves that we would go and explore what this little creek had to offer. What we could see from our perch across the valley was a very intimidating boulder garden. Tumble is a very fitting name. This creek comes barreling down a mountain with a gradient of 300-500fpm. A closer look would unlock its secrets; first we had the North Fork to contend with.
At the put-in we dressed as fast as we could and then proceeded to warm back up. The best way was to get in the water. I saw a little stream that I wanted to go down. Jeff Bennettís book it recommends against it. We should have taken his word for it. After wading several hundred feet through the salmon berries and fallen logs we got to the river.
Jason running the little stream that should be avoided.
The first section goes fast though it is pretty easy, remaining that way until you reach the Tumble Creek junction. We pulled out on the left side above there to look at the rapid before Tumble. It wasn't much. We went down the center and eddied out behind a big boulder on the left. The bottom part of Tumble was so uninviting that we had to see what was above. We had sworn it off from the road but closer inspection led us to consider -- well, you know, actually, if, maybeÖ
Hiking up Tumble Creek was a pain, with an assortment of sticker bushes, devils club, fallen trees, and jack firs. Why we didnít stop, I donít know? Oh, Iíll just go around the corner and the next and so on. You know how it is. We were stubborn. Ben and I went the furthest up and what we saw was scary. We picked out a few lines and began to realize what Class V+ is all about. Running this creek would involve a deadly game of connect the drops. There were too many holes and sieves to contemplate. Ben took a photo, not exactly of what he wanted, but he had to settle for it. Going further wasnít an option. My dry suit had turned into a sauna and we wanted to get back on the river.
Anyone want to play connect the drops? Tumble Creek from our high point about 1/4 mile above the North Fork. Class V+?
Going down was just as fun as going up. Ben took a picture of Josh running the rapid below Tumble while I clawed my way back to my boat. Turns out I missed the junction by a few hundred feet. I damn near got crushed by an avalanche of rocks and by the time I was in my boat I was scratched, hot, and itching. As a result the next section worked me pretty good. I swear I hit every hole there was to hit, nothing was going good for me. In a manner of speaking, "I was getting worked."
Josh halfway down the first rapid below Tumble Creek.
The rapids after Tumble are fast and continuous. Combined they are much more difficult than the Lower Tilton. If you could line up all the rapids on the Lower Tilton into a 2.5 mile stretch youíd be close. The gradient of 136fpm speaks for itself.
Josh near the end of the second rapid.
After a mile or so the rapids let up briefly. Look for a sharp left turn with a huge logjam at its base. When we first saw it we pulled out on the right. The guidebook refers to a stump but what we saw was more than that. Most of the current feeds into the logjam. It would be foolish to go anywhere near it. After hiking down and looking at it we determined if we dragged our boats back upriver and crossed to the far left we could do it. Ben went first and pulled it off smoothly. I went next and hit it perfect. Joshís run was a bit rough, but he made it fine. Watch the branches on the left. They took me down the second time we ran it.
Jason running left of the logjam/stump/corner.
Just beyond the corner is a short but funky Class IV. Be on the lookout for diagonal holes. Below, there is a log that we limbo far right. From there it's nonstop Class III to the takeout at the bridge. One fun section kisses the left dirt wall and offers some nice big waves. Below, there is an excellent playspot along the right bank.
Josh at the end of the short but funky Class IV.
Because the run went so fast we re-parked the cars for seconds. I didnít have so much fun the first time down however, the second run down was a blast. It went fast. We didn't even eddy out. I imagine that it would have taken less than 20 minutes if we hadn't stopped near the bottom. The rapid with the logjam was much easier because we didnít have to cross the current. Still, I missed my line and banged a rock. Josh almost hit me as a result. Oh well. You canít be perfect every time.
Jason goes under at the playspot near the end.
Towards the bottom we played for awhile. We were getting cold by then so we headed down to the car. We were happy that everything went well and that we added another creek to our quiver. There we no portages and you can probably run it 3 to 10 times in a single day if one so desires.
Josh and Ben recently ran the North Fork and Lower Tilton in one day. The North Fork was a little low (1200cfs Tilton at Cinnebar) making it more difficult but the Lower Tilton was a blast as usual. 1500cfs would be a better minimum for combining the two.