It seems like whenever somebody inquires about the quality of a particular river the answer ends up with some type of qualifier. "Cherry Creek is a great run with challenging whitewater and a good season, but ... the shuttle road sucks." "Giant Gap is an incredible run but ... then you have the last 6 miles." My only gripe about the upper Applegate River is that it does not flow nearly often enough. In an average year you can expect about ten days of winter rain fed paddling and about a month and a half of spring snowmelt paddling. I won't go into one of those discussions of how relevant the word "average" is these days, since discussions about weather can be rather boring. The only way you can make discussions about weather more interesting is to talk about the topless weather channel. But I don't see how you could possibly do that in a river description. My cable package includes a couple hundred cable channels, but no topless weather channel. I can watch reruns of game shows, but no topless weather girls! Life is unfair.
The upper Applegate is a great run if you want fun continuous class III. There are few if any rapids that are harder than class III on this river, but I give it a class III+ rating for its continuousness. There are two options for putting in. You can put in 3 miles up the road from the take out, immediately after the bridge crosses back to the river right side of the river. This is right below a nasty undercut rapid that is usually portaged. Or you can put in 2 miles farther upstream right below a waterfall. The waterfall is runnable but from what I hear the landing is not as clean as it might look. And it actually doesn't look that great anyway. This upper section is a bit more brushy and boney than the lower 3 miles. The portage rapid doesn't look like much other than just a bunch of water slamming into an undercut. When I say "a bunch" I mean like 95 percent. In my opinion it is best to put in at the 3 mile mark and avoid the portage since this is where the river has the best whitewater. Since the run goes fast plan on doing laps if you have at least a decent amount of time.
Once on the water you will discover an onslaught of class II and III rapids and a few good features, but not a lot of eddy service. One of the better defined rapids occurs about 1/2 mile into the run, just below a long and relatively straight wave train type rapid. I have heard this rapid referred to as "S-Turn". As Dan Thurber pointed out, there are too many rapids with unimaginative names. Too many "Devil's Drop" and "Island Rapid" and worst of all "Double Drop". So I'm thinking this one should be called Topless Weathergirl. There are many ways to run this rapid. The easy way to penetrate Topless Weathergirl is to start right and then go left at the bottom, but any way you choose to slide through should be full of passion Although much of the river is continuous bolder garden there are also plenty of bedrock ledge type rapids, such as Topless Weather Girl and the next couple of drops immediately after About 1 mile past Topless Weathergirl there is a definite horizon line. There is a tongue that lies somewhere near the center, or center right depending on the flow. If you miss it you could end up in a rather wide ledge hole. At high waters you could call it Hydraulics On Crack. At moderate flows perhaps it should be called Hydraulics On Valium since it doesn't pose much threat, and at low flows it looks scary but turns out to be no problem at all The action continues for another 3/4 mile or so
The last rapid lies right under the bridge at or near the take out. From upstream it looks like a big horizon line with big hydraulics, but it turns out to be a big tongue with some bouncy waves. If you have a half-way decent roll you should paddle this river. The scenery is good, the whitewater is fun and continuous but not too threatening If you want a class III run don't waste your youth, get out and paddle this run when you have the chance.
I would say that this run is better at higher flows than lower flows, but my experience has always been in the medium ranges, around 600-1200 cfs. If there is some magical extreme flow that I should know about, let me know.
On the Gazetteer atlas the Upper Applegate is referred to as the "Middle" Applegate. I do not honor this appellation because there is no North, South, East or West Applegate, so how could there be a "Middle" Applegate?
To get to the river from I-5 from the South go to Phoenix and get on Hwy 99 going North. Take South Stage Rd. through Jacksonville as it turns into Hwy 238. From North you can get off in Medford and take 238 (Jacksonville Hwy) directly. Follow Hwy 238 to the town of Ruch and turn left onto Applegate Rd. Follow this up past the dam until the road terminates in a "T". Take a left to the end of the lake, about 1/3 mile, for the take out at the Seattle Bar day use area on Applegate Lake.
To get to the put-in follow the road up a few hundred feet and take the first right, which will cross the river to the river left side. Right next to this bridge is an alternate take out that chops off a quarter mile or so of river or lake paddling depending on the level of the lake. Follow this road up either 2 and 1/2 miles for the first put in as described earlier, or an extra 2 miles to lengthen the run. An added bonus to this river is that there is plenty of free camping nearby.
Narrative copyright 2008. Contact Peter Gandesbery. This page was last updated May 17, 2008.