Kayaking Sixth Water Creek

Marc Nelson drops into the gorge at Sixth Water Creek. Photo - Bryson White, utahoutside.com

Marc Nelson drops into the gorge at Sixth Water Creek. Photo – Bryson White, utahoutside.com

There is exactly one class V creek in Utah that runs everyday of the year (if you can get to it): Sixth Water Creek. It’s steep (dropping 250 feet per mile), short (less than a half-mile long), and usually has extremely low flows (30 cubic feet per second (cfs) on a good day – barely enough water to squeak a boat through it). But it’s an absolute gem and a great fix when you’re just dying to get on some water.

Sixth Water is the creek that was never meant to be. The stream is fed entirely by water pumped from Strawberry Reservoir through the 3.8-mile-long Strawberry Tunnel. Completed in 1912, the tunnel once funneled several hundred cfs through Sixth Water to serve residents and farms along the Wasatch Front. But with the completion of the Syar Tunnel in 1996, most of the water was pushed through another pipeline in an effort to mitigate the damage caused by high flows in Sixth Water. The creek still occasionally experiences high water (and when it does, oooh baby!) but for the most part be prepared to scrape your way along between the drops.

Paddling "Unborn Soul" in Sixth Water Creek. Photo - Bryson White, utahoutside.com

Paddling “Unborn Soul” in Sixth Water Creek. Photo – Bryson White, utahoutside.com

The entire run is visible from the road above it, which gives you plenty of opportunity to pick your lines before you commit. The run starts right at the outlet of Strawberry Tunnel in a small pool. As soon as you leave that pool, hang on for a wild ride. The first drop is a 50-foot long concrete slide that starts with a 10-foot vertical drop as you exit the pool. Immediately following the slide is another 10-12 foot drop and the falls just keep coming after that. The crux drop is “Unborn Soul,” a two-tiered 25-footer about halfway through the run. After Unborn Soul you’ll hit a few more 8-10 foot drops before reaching the only must-make move of the day immediately following an old rusty mine cart that’s been abandoned in the creek. You’ll want to get as far right as you can to avoid hitting the rocks piled up in the drop below the cart. One more drop after that and you’re ready for the sketchy hike back up to do it all over again.

Avoiding the rocks at "Mine Cart" in Sixth Water Creek. Photo - Bryson White, utahoutside.com

Avoiding the rocks at “Mine Cart” in Sixth Water Creek. Photo – Bryson White, utahoutside.com

Some would call Sixth Water a “low skill plop and drop.” I’m willing to accept that description as long as there’s a recognition that things can still go terribly wrong on this run. These are steep, rocky drops where anything is possible (including vertical pins and spine compressions from landing on rocks). Bring your A game. That being said, it’s a fairly straightforward run: just point your boat downhill and go for it.

This is a beautiful creek in a gorgeous canyon that’s been worth the drive every time I’ve gone down there. Now if we could just find a way to get a few scheduled releases with higher water and this thing could be the best whitewater in the state. Here’s a gnarly look at Sixth Water at 180 cfs in 2012:

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