River: Mattole River
Put in: Mattole Canyon Creek
Take out: Honeydew Bridge
Class: II with III
Distance: 17.5 Miles
Gauge: Mattole near Ettersburg
Flow: 375
Boat: Pyranha H2
Shuttle: 30+ minutes
Info: Ca Creekin’

Canoe running one of the class II rapids.

I feel like this run definitely requires some beta before trying it. There is very little word on the internet about the middle part of the Mattole and the description from Schwind no longer does it justice. It is very much in the wilderness and a part of Humboldt county where I would not recommend trying to tromp through someone’s property to find a road. The only information I could dig up was from Ca Creeks and they had very little to say beyond mentioning that there is a class III rapid.  When I asked a canoeing friend for some beta she told me it was class I with a class III that could be portaged.  Then another friend had a story about some boaters who approached the landslide at night and got stuck when trying to portage around it, eventually having a search team sent after them.

This Mattole run was an adventure but it should definitely not be passed up.  If you are planning on running it, go with someone who knows the area.  If I didn’t have a local friend I would never have been able to find my way through the maze of winding dirt roads with no street signs.  The Ettersburg bridge was a no go for put in and so he was able to lead us to a much better spot.  We put in with no trouble and we were on our way with two dogs with life jackets in a canoe with my husband, David, who is an experience whitewater canoer.  Along with us we had brought our inexperienced friends who had never paddled before.  Remember we were expecting class I.  I’m glad they’re still speaking to us.

When we realized we had left all our food at home (over two hours away) we decided to run the entire stretch in one day.  The shuttle was a long process and we didn’t end up on the water until nearly 3pm.  So my first warning is that this run needs to be broken into a two day paddle or started early.  I was tired by the end, but not sore or grumpy so it’s definitely doable as a one day run.

The first few rapids are class I and you pass a few houses on the way out before entering into the true wilderness.  We saw a bald eagle, a bear, many deer and ducks.  There were some class II- rapids sprinked in and they were lots of fun.  There were rapids constistently enough to keep me entertained.  Especially when I was expecting a boring float.  Around the midpoint, houses appear and and a road does come down to the river.  I have no knowledge of this road and how you would find it, and it has no name so honestly I would not recommend trying to drive down it.  Nor would I recommend getting out of your boat in this area.  After you pass the houses, there are a few sand bars that would make ideal camp spots.


The wrap rock on river left has been the undoing of a canoe.

At this point it was starting to get late and the rapids also got noticeable harder.  The flow was about 400 when we started and dropped throughout the day.  The later rapids included a solid class II boulder garden, a drop around a wrap rock that required a scout but ended up being pretty clean (though a friend’s canoe died here), and some other fun little II/II- rapids that were mostly wave trains.  Just as we were starting to feel tired and cold, we came up the “landslide.”  I expected something that had happened more recently, but it looks fairly old as the slopes above are mostly grown over now, but the river is now littered with boulders from the size of a keg to the size of a house.  The first rapid splits with a bouldery island in the middle.  I missed the right side although my buddy was signalling me to take it.  I didn’t even see the option.  The left side ended up required some snaking around boulder and some narrow chute like drops.  We got out here to scout the right side and saw that it was two wide clean class III drops.  My buddy Rito decided to go back and run those.  We scouted the rest of the run and we saw a sea of boulders.  There were some clear lines that looks like it wouldn’t be too hard, but then the river bent sharply to the left and we couldn’t see what the next moves were.

Start of the Class III... not so bad... yet...

Unloading the dogs and inexperienced boaters, we ran the class III.  One I passed my scouted line, I missed the swing over to the clear right and got pinned on a boulder.  I swam this rapid and ended up having to have my boat rescued.  Then I got back in to run the rest of it, which looked like a cleaner but still technical run.  I still missed it and swam again.  The final part of the rapid is more like a class II boulder garden with much lower gradient.  My boat ran it, but I didn’t.  I ended up with a broken tailbone from the ride through the class III section on my rear.  This section is an easy portage… if you are a dog.  But not so easy for people stumbling around the rocky and brushy steep bank.  I don’t even know how you would get a canoe through there.

There are two more class II rapids before the run eases back into class I for the next mile until you come right into Honeydew.  The take out is an obvious bridge.  I think our friends couldn’t wait to get out of the water and have a beer.

View Interactive Map on MapMyFitness.com

Directions to put in: (I hope I am remembering this right): From Eureka, take 101-S and exit Redway.  When you get to redway center, you will see a road to the right (before the store) that says it goes to Ettersburg.  Follow that through Briceland until you get to another split and follow the signs to Honeydew/Ettersburg.  Pass the school and then you will get to the bridge.  I’ve heard you can put in here, but it looks tricky.  For an easier sport, don’t cross the bridge, go right on a road before it, and follow it over another bridge to a fork.  Go left at the fork, cross a super scary looking bridge and then take a sharp left that goes down hill to the creek.  The creek runs right into the Mattole.

Directions to take out: From Ettersburg bridge, continue along the same road that came from Briceland and follow the windy narrow road all the way to the Honeydew store.  Looks short on a map, but it takes about 30 minutes.  Park near the bridge.  The take out is on the river right side of the bridge and is steep.  I also saw a baby rattlesnake there.  And poison oak.   I recommend leaving a vehicle there that is capable of taking all the boats and people (and dogs) back to put in.  Not a fun road to have to drive more that twice.