The Cottonwood

medium water level on
the Cottonwood The Cottonwood river is just north of Quesnel, which is about 100 km south of Prince George if that means more to you. Where the river passes under the highway at the put in and take out it's dead flat, which has lured more than one foolhardy person into trying to tube it, fully equipped with jeans and beer.

At low water, it's a technical class III+ to IV, and at higher water levels it gets pretty serious. There's one mandatory portage, which is easy to make at low water and hard to make at high water. There's no gauge on the river, so local knowledge is essential to tell you what the water level is like. It's runnable in the summer when there's been some rain to get the water level up, and in the spring if it's not too high. In contrast to many Cariboo rivers it's pretty warm, since the water has been winding through cow pastures before it gets to the canyon (yum).

Cottonwood Here's me almost splatting up against a rock. (Note the solid air brace.) As I said, the Diablo doesn't normally do this kind of thing, but this drop was squirting even the Freefalls in the group. See, the reason you want to be in control is that this drop comes right after it.
This was actually a semi-epic trip. The water level was a little higher than what we'd run it at before, and just through bad luck everyone but me got some kind of thumping. After the portage, you have to seal launch in and run two small drops and then a third one farther down. There's no way to set up safety for this rapid unless you climb way up the cliff, so we just sent our strongest paddler first.

Gary got flipped in the first drop so that he was forced to take the wrong channel through the second drop, which resulted in him hitting the rock wall at the bottom so hard we heard the thump from where we were standing. He then got smeared against the headwall for a while before rolling up for the second time. Who wants to go next?

Kelly went next and didn't have any problems until he decided to go ahead and run the third drop to make some room for the next person. The last time we were here, if you went left you ended up pushed up against the headwall, but the right side was a good line. Unfortunately for Kelly, the right side wasn't such a good route at this week's water level.

Duncan and I were still standing on the scout point when our attention was attracted by flashes of yellow in the distance. Apparently a cartwheeling Corsica S. With the increase in volume since last time, a terrifically sticky hole had formed there. Periodically the yellow would go away and we would see a paddle blade fanning back and forth. Then the yellow ends would start turning again. After longer than I think I would have lasted we saw Kelly swimming out, which was okay because it was flat below there. That was two paddlers chewed up.

Leo and I had perfectly clean runs, but the group was still jinxed. Duncan got stuck going last and wouldn't you know it, he flipped in the same place Gary did and was heading for the left channel. Luckily, he managed to grab a rock and claw his way back up so he could get over to the right.

I think that was the last time I got to run the Cottonwood, which is too bad. The whole incident convinced us that we really need a gauge on that river, because none of us wanted to run it any higher than that.

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