North Fork Feather River – Rock Creek, Tobin, Lobin
Photos courtesy of Justin Smith
Twenty years from now when I look back on my time boating in California and throughout the world, the North Fork of the Feather River – and the Feather Festival, in particular – will surely be one of my most important, fondest memories. Spending an entire weekend with your closest friends on the river; dirt-bagging it out the back of someone’s pickup, Subaru, or Sprinter van; over-packed campsites spilling onto one another; sharing drinks with the entire California paddling community, most of whom you’ve never meant yet seem like old friends; a party worth talking about for the rest of the year; and of course, some truly incredible whitewater.
For me, Feather Fest has the added significance of being my proving grounds for harder whitewater. Not only did I run my first class IV there on the Lobin section, I also entered the realm of class V on the Tobin section two years later. There are few experiences that compare to stepping up a class in kayaking – knowing the potential consequences; knowing your skill and desire to push yourself; trusting your mentors to guide you into, and through, the unknown – it leaves a lasting impression. These experiences were doubly impressed upon me by the North Fork Feather and, therefore, I look forward to the festival the entire year.
2014 did not disappoint.
Rock Creek – III
Between the Rock Creek diversion dam and the start of the class V boulder garden that is Tobin lies a solid stretch of class III that serves as a great intro to creeking for the aspiring boater. Linda’s (Lisa’s?) Ledge, a 3-4 foot boof gives many class III boaters their first experience with a river-wide horizon line. Carl’s Kitchen introduces some of the consequences of harder whitewater with a shallow drop through boulders where the entire left side dead-ends; a flip here is not recommended. A handful of other rapids keep the run interesting throughout and will be a proper challenge for any class III boater who is accustomed to the South Fork American.
Lobin – IV
The bottom of Tobin leads into the classic class IV section, Lobin. This section is a playground for those prepared for it and an intimidating, frightening maze of boulders for those who aren’t. Even though it’s class IV, this is not a section to be taken lightly. For most of the run the river bed is composed of a pile of boulders that have been worn into contorted, organic shapes; too well suited for pinning solid objects. All that said, Lobin holds an almost sentimental place in my heart being my first class IV. I could spend all day running laps on this section; which is exactly what Miles and I did all of Saturday during the festival.
Tobin – V
Not that I am an expert on California class V whitewater, but it’s not difficult to see this is a classic. There’s not much I can say about Tobin that hasn’t already been described by the numerous kayaking blogs and youtube videos, so instead I’ll be vague. Take all of the characteristics of Lobin and amplify them by a factor of two or three. The drops taller, closer together, pushier, more consequential, and more fun. As a boater still new to class V, this is my definition of a no-swim run; I don’t want to imagine what being out of your boat would be like.
This section is characterized by it’s maze-like structure. At any given point there may be 5-10 doorways you could take, many ending in sieves. Large boulders choke the river and obscure your down river view for the entire stretch, necessitating a complete knowledge of the line or a guide to follow (I practice the latter option religiously). Even though you are a stone’s through from the highway at all times, you can feel distinctly isolated.