Upper Bear has been about as elusive as any run has been for me. I had my eyes on it for at least 7 years before I finally got over there at a runnable level. It is a premium micro-creek for the Class IV boater, and will even provide amusement for the expert due to several clean slides along its upper stretch. Every run you do has something unique about it, and for me Upper Bear's thing was Holly Bush berries. All over the place. If the run ever re-clogs with wood, these and the briars will not be your friend.
The run begins among several back yards. It is not wide. Don't judge the flow by the takeout. At the put-in, it's just the largest tributary. The slides begin immediately. The first one is pretty easy and may be bony. After a few other small slides, you come to a 5' drop followed by a two part slide with a cable across the pool. It's a hoot but watch for the cable. It helps to have a someone hold it up for you. After a while, you'll see a nice bridge over the creek. Under this is a fairly narrow and clean slide that'll provide some sluice action. You pick up small tribs in here. Further on you'll come to a clear cut on your right that ends at the biggest slide. The water slings from one bank to the other until it pours over. We entered left to avoid the bank on the right at the bottom. After this slide, the character abruptly changes to a few boulder garden rapids. One class IV will stand out and is easily scouted or walked if desired.
Numerous tributaries increase the flow on the bottom part of the run. The action slows around the Suicide shuttle bridge. You can take out here, but its only 15 minutes or less to the 176 bridge. If you have the energy, combining this with the run down to the canyon would be a full day.
As of late 2008, there are about 6-8 logs to contend with, but they can all be limbo'ed or otherwise avoided at low water. None of them are in bad spots and the creek seems to have been cut out by some good Samaritan.
Check out the Hilarious Trip Report from a high water day in early 2010.
Originally submitted by Laura Brinkley with help from Bill Thornton around 2001:
This is a surprisingly good run but is only worth doing if it is totally flooded everywhere else. It is hard enough to catch the normal Bear Creek run, let alone the upper part. At the put-in the creek is maybe 10-15' feet wide and it stays that way for a lot of the run.
The first real rapid we come up on looked schweet. We were all ready to run it. When you get down to the bottom drop, the lovely land owners have run a cable across it. Another grunt portage. Apparently, this also is unposted private property. We portaged on river right with a land owner screaming at us across the river. This was the smallest of the three slides. This can certainly be run.
The next rapid was a huge slide. Probably 100-150' long and shallow. Enter in the center and ride it. The river left wall looked undercut. Huge fast slide, it was schweeet. About half way down it breaks right.
The next big slide was steeper and perhaps runnable (it is), it was also probably in the range of 100-150'. It is more of a sliding lead-in to a 30' steep falls. We had already started carrying boats around it and no one was interested in carrying back to run it. Towards the bottom it looked like the wall on river right was undercut. There is a very nice half mile class 4 gorge below the last falls. For anyone who needs to hike out there is a dirt road at the last slide which eventually ends up around 35.
Upper Bear currently harbors more portages around strainers than I can count. Portages are through thick gear gouging briars and holly. My hands are still cut up, I couldn't imagine what it would be like in the summer with everything grown up. At some times I was throwing my boat ahead of me to mash down the briars. The creek being so narrow there are places where it is just wide enough to get through because the bushes were growing out from the banks. Eddies were in these bushes which means hold on to that branch or root. If you have the patience for all the portages (make sure you wear pants) 11" is a good level. Everything else was flooded and we didn't have many options. I talked to the land owners a good bit at the third slide, very nice people. They had owned that land for over 15 years and had never seen a kayaker on it, I am guessing that it is not run often. No one in our group had been on it before.
Shorter shuttles exist but they are complex and I don't know the road names.
Some key quotes from a high water January 24, 2010 run :
It was the "Burly" Bear, for sure. I don't know what the level was when we put on, but a check of the gauge around 11:00 showed it to already be at one foot and rising. It continued to rain for the next 2 hours until we put on around 1:00. My best guess is it was somewhere between 2.5 and 3 feet.
Some of the soundbites from the day:
Dalton: "It's class 3."
Dalton: "You want it to be high. It's not running if it isn't high."
Rett: "MarkD is very comfortable on this run." (No offense MarkD, but most 4-5 boaters around the state know that if your write up says you like it, then they will too.)
Willerson: "My head's all fuckered up, now."
Alex: "That rapid sucked my helmet off." (It literally did.)
Rett: "Well, Mason, you could let it heal up without stiches, but the scar is going to be a lot bigger." (Needless to say, the day ended with Dr. Blake stitching up Mason's chin on the tailgate of his truck.)
Dalton: "This is what you get when you underestimate class 3."
Alex: "Well, Burke's boat was already cracked, so it was probably the least valuable thing he had with him." (Be on the lookout for an orange/yellow Nomad.)
The three big slides were HUGE and super fast. Everything in between was a blur. But Dalton was "droppin it like it's hot" and the rest of us were just following closely (maybe a little too close) behind. Anyhow, all's well that ends well.
I've never seen so much water on Lookout Mountain. Everything was flooding. Johnnies must have hit close to 2 feet itself. If you get out on Johnnies today or tomorrow, be on the lookout for any boulders that may have shifted and new wood.
"It's only class V when your upside down" Dalton
My jaws are sore today because I flat wore out a piece of juicy fruit!