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North Fork St. Joe: Loop Creek to Avery

North_Fork.JPG

Tail end of No Sweat rapid @ 3'- June 2009

Flow Information:

There is a hand painted gauge on the piling of the hi-way bridge at the confluence of the North Fork and the main St. Joe at Avery. Minimum level is around 1 foot. As a rule of thumb, look for at least 4,000 CFS on the USGS St. Joe at Calder gauge for the North Fork to be running. Runs are possible as early as April depending if road is clear of snow. The season is usually done by mid June. At flows above 3' the run starts getting juicy, becoming more continuous in nature.

Run Description:

The North Fork, referred to locally as the Little Joe, can be run 10 miles from Loop Creek to the confluence with the main St. Joe at the town of Avery. The run is informally divided into two, 5-mile long sections: the upper from Loop Creek to Telichpah Campground (Squaw Creek Camp or North Fork Camp on older maps), and the lower from Telichpah to Avery. The majority of the whitewater and best scenery is found on the upper section.

The first major rapid on the upper section is Big Dick (Class III). It can be identified by a high bridge over a side canyon on river left where Big Dick Creek cascades in. Big Dick Creek is named after Big Dick, one of the early swiftwater boatman on the St. Joe who poled batueaus with passengers and cargo (including whiskey, beer and prostitues) between Avery and St. Maries in the early 1900's before the railroad was completed.

About two miles above Telichpah Campground is the stand out rapid on the run, No Sweat. It is a very long class III+ drop with the crux move on a 90 degree, right-hand bend. Just above Tellichpah Campground is another nice class III drop, Telichpah Rapid, that ends at the take out beach. Immedeately below Telichpah are a couple of small class II/III rapids, then a swiftwater cruise to Avery.

The North Fork is a great river for intermediate paddlers with class III skills. It is a mix of long sections of class II swift water with a few class III rapids. It has outstanding scenery, fun rapids and nice play opportunities. A North Fork run is a great way to kick off the paddling season, and is a good option when other creeks in the area are too high. Always be on the look out for new wood and scout carefully.

Logistics:

Exit Interstate 90, at Wallace, Idaho (visitor's center exit). Work your way south through town, up Placer Creek to Forest Service road 456. Take 456 (dirt) over Moon Pass (elevation 4,931'), and down the North Fork to Loop Creek (approximately 20 miles from Wallace). Hide your gear in the brush if you leave it unattended at Loop Creek while you shuttle. Boats have been stolen here.

Moon Pass generally doesn’t open until the last week of May or first week of June, depending on snow pack. Call Scheffy’s store in Avery (see link under Planning Tools) for current status. For early season runs, or for those coming from the South, best Access is from St. Maries, Idaho. It is 47 miles from St. Maries to Avery, all on good paved road.

To get to the Telichpah Campground access point, continue 5 miles down river from Loop Creek. You’ll know you’re there when you cross the second high bridge that spans a narrow spot in the canyon. Turn off to the right (west) immediately after the bridge, and continue down river about an eighth of a mile, and across another bridge to the campground. To road scout the run while setting your shuttle, cross to the West (river right) side of the North Fork at the Loop Creek Bridge, and take the “lower” road down to Telichpah.

The Avery take out is 10 miles below Loop Creek, and around 5 Miles below Telichpah. There is a take out spot at the garbage dumpsters just above the confluence, but if you use it don’t block access. Park just down the road. Note that all river frontage in the town of Avery is private property so don’t plan on taking out there. Gas, cold drinks and snacks are available in Avery, as well as rustic lodging. It is possible to do the entire shuttle for both sections on a mountain bike.

Recommended Reading:

Crowell, Sandra and David Asleson.

Up the Swiftwater:

A Pictorial History of the Colorful Upper St. Joe River Country. Museum of North Idaho Publications, 2003.

Egan, Timothy.

The Big Burn:

Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. Haughton Milflin Harcourt, 2009.

Hoffman, Todd.

"Locals Favorite: St. Joe Drainage."

American Whitewater Journal July/August (2006):12-15


Stream Stats:

Ave Gradient: 50 fpm
Max Gradient: 79 fpm
Distance: 10
Difficulty: III+
Consequences: III+
Min Level: 1'
Season: May - Jun

Planning Tools:

NOAA Snowtel Gauge - Lookout Pass NOAA River Flow Forcast - St Joe at Calder USGS Gauge - St Joe at Calder Gradient Chart - (by river mile) Gradient Chart - (comparative) Scheffy's Store and Motel Avery, Idaho

Key Places:


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North Fork St. Joe

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Video: "No Sweat" Rapid

Copyright Todd Hoffman 2009 - All Rights Reserved