The classic question seems to be this: What are the ingredients of a great class III/IV run? In my opinion, and anyone else who is intelligent enough to agree with me, the ingredients would include a decent gradient, breathtaking scenery, and good smooth strategically placed rocks for good boofing and splatting.
The Nugget-Powerhouse run has none of these. So why do so many people in the Southern Oregon region paddle it with such great frequency? Proximity and a year round season, that's why. I just answered my own question, and I hope I don't sound too much like Donald Rumsfeld, but it does have some other redeeming qualities, and I'll get to that in a little bit.
To put in for this run you have quite a few options. You can put in right below Raygold Dam if you want to surf the wave. The wave is on river right and is good at flows between 2000 and 3000 cfs. You can even put in above the dam if you want to take a 25 foot plunge. Nigel Tufnell, the lead singer and guitarist for Spinal Tap once said it's a thin line between clever and stupid. I'm not sure if running the dam would be clever or stupid. I haven't tried it yet, but it has been done.
The first half mile below the dam has some easier waves to surf if the wave at Raygold was too unruly. Unfortunately the lack of gradient kicks in immediately after these waves, giving you about half a mile of flat water Sooner or later, probably later rather than sooner, you will come to a couple small class II rapids, followed by a bigger class II rapid. I've heard it referred to as a class III rapid, and I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, but the real exaggeration is in its name: Bitterman Falls. I always thought that any rapid with the word "Falls" in the name should be at least a class IV with some sort of defined horizon line. Anyway, there are some decent waves in this one, but you have to eddy hop to catch either of them. This rapid and the next one are separated by about another half mile of flat water. The next one is called Lyman's Hole and is a good hole to surf for those looking for something easy. It is accessible from the highway on river right if you know where to go, and is good between 2000 and 4000 cfs. (To put in here or to park and play, drive from Gold Hill towards Sam's Valley about 2 miles. There will be a gravel road on the right side leading to the river). After some flat water and a small rapid created by a weir, the river will be divided by an island and after going left with most of the water you will come to Nugget, the first class III rapid on the run. Some people call it a class IV but I think that's a bit of an exaggeration since it seems kind of inconsequential. So let's call it a class III+. In any case it has a winding entrance, a steep drop with a hole on river right that will slow you down or deflect you, followed by a wider more retentive hole. This is Nugget hole home to the longest running whitewater rodeo in the United States. Although the Gold Hill locals make it look easy I've heard of some boaters from up north taking one look at the hole and declaring it a monster, only to get back in their car and leave with their tails between their legs. It is accessible from the shuttle road if you want to park and play.
Immediately following this rapid you can look forward to about a mile of - guess what? It rhymes with "fat daughter". It's wet and has no gradient ... Give up? That's right! Flat water!
Then comes the cheap thrill. The power house dam, about 5 feet tall, will give you something you haven't had in about a mile of paddling: a horizon line. You can easily run the dam at low to moderate flows (1000-3000 cfs) Use caution at higher flows. Immediately following the dam is Powerhouse Rapid The great thing about this rapid is there are so many different ways to run it. If you take the left route you can get a five-foot boof. This is actually one of the easier ways to run the rapid. The center route has the most juice and is generally considered to be class IV and the right route is considered class III.
This rapid is followed by some easy class II rapids and a few small waves before you reach take out.
Shuttle - To get to the take-out, take the Gold Hill exit from I-5. As soon as you cross the bridge going over the river and into town, there will be a river access on the left side of the road, or river right. To get to the put-in turn around and cross the river again, and then take the first left onto a small road that goes under a trestle. This road will parallel the river for a while. To find the park and play access for Nugget, take the dirt road before the road turns and crosses the railroad tracks. Otherwise, continue up the road for another couple miles, or however long you want to make the run.
Narrative and all photos copyright 2005. Contact Peter Gandesbery. This page was last updated October 7, 2005.