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St. Joe River: Conrad Crossing to Bluff Creek

Tumbledown.JPG

Entrance to Tumbledown Falls rapid @ 5,500 cfs - June 2003

Flow Information:

Tumbledown can generally be run starting in early May, going into all the way into early July in good snow years. The character of the run varies considerably with flow. At levels above 5,000 CFS it is pushy, big water with tall crashing waves and big holes. At flows below 1,500 it becomes technical and creeky. Bare minimum runnable flow (ELF) is around 800 CFS. My favorite level is around 3,500. Peak runoff is usually around the last week of May.

Run Description:

The first four miles are straighforward, read and run class II and III, building up to the standout rapid on the run, Tumbledown Falls (class IV). Tumbledown Falls starts with a long train of large crashing waves on a sweeping left-hand bend, leading into an almost river-wide ledge hole on the right, where the canyon walls up and makes a dogleg to the left. The normal line is left of center down the wave train, then hard left to avoid the ledge hole. Immediately below the ledge hole is a deep, clear, emerald green pool that can become very boily at higher flows. Below Tumbledown there is one more standout class III/III+ rapid and lots of indistinct, read and run class II/III swiftwater.

Scout the entire section very carefully before your trip. Logs and sweepers are very common and seem to shift around unpredictably. Also remember that while there is a road the entire length of the run, it is still very remote country. The nearest medical facilities are at least an hour and half away. With a put in elevation of 3,300' air and water temperatures can be very low even late into the season. Dress appropriately. Paddlers should have strong intermediate skills for Tumbledown, it is not a beginner run. However, as flows drop the section becomes more forgiving. Do not underestimate the consequences of a swim on this run, boaters have died here.

Logistics:

The put in for Tumbledown is at the Conrad Crossing Forest Service Campground. The launch site is literally part of one of the campsites so please be extra considerate of campers and respect their privacy and space. There are a number of good put in locations upstream from Gold Creek that make it easy to extend the run. The best is Gold Creek Meadow, which has rudimentary boat trailer access. Putting in Below Conrad Crossing is difficult (but not impossible for kayaks) due to lack of parking and the high steep, rock jumble banks.

The traditional take out for kayakers is the downstream side of the Bluff Creek bridge, 7+/- miles down from Conrad Crossing. Rafters generally take out at the first picnic area downstream from Bluff Creek, which adds quite a bit of flat water, but has much easier access. Parking is very limited at Bluff Creek (one or two vehicles only) so be careful not to block other boaters or to interfere with traffic on the main river road or the Bluff Creek road.

Best access to Tumbledown is via St. Regis, Montana over Gold Creek Summit. Exit interstate 90 at St. Regis, drive west through town onto the frontage road for roughly 1-2 miles. Cross the bridge over I-90 and continue 30 miles south up Little Joe Creek (road 282) over Gold Creek Pass (seasonal) to the St. Joe (about 45 minutes). At the Joe turn right and head downstream until you reach Conrad Crossing. Bluff Creek is another 7 miles downriver.

Stream Stats:

Ave Gradient: 41 fpm
Max Gradient: 67 fpm
Difficulty: III+ / IV
Consequences: IV
Min Level: 800 ELF
Season: Apr - Jul

Planning Tools:

NOAA Snowtel Gauge - Hoodoo Basin NOAA River Flow Forcast - St Joe at Calder USGS Gauge - St Joe at Calder Gradient Chart - (comparative)

Key Places:


View

Tumbledown Run

in a larger map.



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


Copyright Todd Hoffman 2009 - All Rights Reserved