In late summer in a dry year, the level of Pine Flat Reservoir may drop to the point where a run from the PG&E Powerhouse below Kirch Flat into Pine Flat Lake is possible. It makes a nice class II river trip. Water is provided by the combination of PG&E powerhouse releases, and natural flow. The take-out at the mouth of Big Creek is at about 750 feet elevation, so ideally you will want the Pine Flat reservoir level to be 750 feet or lower. However, the run is still good even if you have to paddle some distance on the lake. Since the gradient is around 13 feet per mile, the approximate flatwater paddling distance from the start of the lake to Big Creek can be estimated. Information about the current reservoir level (elevation) can be found at the Army Corps webpage for Pine Flat.
Note that the inflow reported on the Army Corps site is very inaccurate because it is a calculation based on reservoir level. However, by averaging several hours you can get a reasonable estimate and tell if the powerhouse is running or not. The flow estimate provided by Dreamflows does this averaging for you. Due to the averaging effect, the Dreamflows graph shows a relatively gradual ramp-up and ramp-down of releases from the powerhouse. In fact, the ramp-up and ramp-down from the powerhouse are much more sudden than shown in the graph.
This is a wonderful easy river for kayaking and it is also suitable for open canoes, if you have experience. There is no road access to this run between the powerhouse and Big Creek, so you will have the canyon all to yourself. The rapids are long and frequently have holes or rocks or relatively strong hydraulics in them, making most of the drops Class II rather than Class I. The recommended put-in is just below the powerhouse . Below is a gentle area with a lot of rocks creating a good practice area for going in and out and around all the rocks. The first rapid lies just beyond. There is one very respectable class III drop about halfway through the run. Below that drop the gradient eases a bit more, though several more very nice rapids follow before the take-out at Big Creek . Personally, I think this is an excellent section for open canoes. Despite being in a lake bottom, it is quite pretty. It has an interesting variety of rapids and lots of good practice sections. The water is nice for swimming and there are great beaches for picnicking or camping.
You will probably hit silt somewhere before the take-out. Silt can be very interesting with sufficient gradient and flow. But it can also become very shallow. Where you will hit silt, and above the silt which rapids are uncovered, varies from year to year. Last year (2001), the silt started shortly below the Class III, so there were few good rapids below it. The silt created a few miles of very continuous and fast current, before it spread out just above the lake. This year (2002), the silt starts a mile lower down, and there are several very nice rapids below the Class III. However, the silt does not really start until the river channel has spread out quite a bit, which creates a problem. Whenever the river is against one bank or the other, there is plenty of depth. When the current crosses from one side to the other it becomes very shallow, and it is very difficult if not impossible to keep from grounding out. We pushed with our paddles, or used our hands, or sometimes just got out and walked. Some spots I sank in a bit, but other spots were very firm. Next year the river may have pushed the silt even further downstream ... or not.
Logistics: From Fresno, take Hwy 180 east to Trimmer Springs Road, then follow that to Trimmer. Continue east on Trimmer Springs Road. You could put in at Kirch Flat, but you would have only the flow at Rogers Crossing for the first 1/3 of a mile or so. The PG&E powerhouse is just downstream and there is decent parking at the powerhouse. There is also a spot for unloading and launching at the tailrace. The normal take-out is at Big Creek. Trimmer Marina is currently closed (Aug 2002), so taking out there is just as long a hike as at Big Creek, as well as a longer paddle on the silt.
Narrative and all photos copyright 2000 and 2003. Contact Paul Martzen. This page was last updated Nov 10, 2003.