Friday, January 8, 2021

Indigo Creek

Photo: Zach Collier




BETA
8+ miles // IV-IV+ (P)




Stream: Indigo Creek is yet another high quality tributary of the Illinois River, entering from river right 3 miles above the take out at Oak Flat.  Many a boater have floated by on the Illinois, looked upstream and considered what lay up there.

The barrier to running this creek is logistical.   The access road "Bear Camp" goes up to an elevation of almost 4800', making it rare that there is water in the creek, yet no snow on the road.

After watching conditions for a few years, and passing up an opportunity or two in the middle of Winter (we were going to run the creek as an overnight trip), there was a unique opportunity late in the spring of 2020 after the snow had melted, in the form of a large, warm rainstorm.

Priscilla, Joseph and I added to the complex logistics by starting our trip off with a run down the Illinois, and meeting the other half of our group at the take out for the Illinois, setting shuttle and heading straight up for Indigo the next day.


Joseph Hatcher, Kory Kellum, and Dave Formolo at Collier Creek camp along the Illinois.

Aside from having a nice trip down the Illinois, we had the benefit of being able to check water levels on Indigo as we floated by, and walking up it a short way. 


It looked like enough water to us, but on the low side.  We continued to the take out, said good bye to the Illinois group, and hello to Ben Mckenzie and Yann Crist-evans, who would be joining us as part of the Indigo group.  

We camped at Oak Flat that night, amid a soft rain that we crossed our fingers would keep levels on Indigo from dropping much overnight.  The next morning we drove up towards the put in to meet Zach Collier high up on Bear Camp Road.  We were pleased with how the logistics were working out, given they had been put in to action 3 days before and there had been no cell contact since.  Zach had found the put in road to be un-gated on his drive up, so after stretching our legs we drove down to NF-2411 and began a descent into the Indigo drainage.  We were happy we hadn't been stopped by a gate, but these old Kalmiopsis roads are always hit or miss as far as their condition, and usually come with their own set of obstacles.  We were glad we had a chainsaw along, and Joseph was making good use of it clearing the path.  We would have had a long walk without one.

The end of the road, and the beginning of the hike.  We had all been prepared to get stopped early, and hike further so were in good spirits when we realized the hike would be less than a mile, rather than the potential for over 5 miles if the road had been impassible.


The walk in was pretty cushy for a 1,000 vertical foot cross-country descent, moving downhill at an easily walkable-able grade with stable footing through a recently burned area with minimal brush.Photo: Priscilla Macy


We were aiming for the confluence of the EF of Indigo Creek, and Breezy Creek as our put in.  The last 50' to the creek the hard shellers lowered our boats with a rope, though Zach found a different way down with his packraft that didn't need any rope.  We found ourselves at water level about 50 yards upstream of the Breezy confluence.Photo: Priscilla Macy




We had chosen the East Fork as our access to the drainage and were glad we did, but would probably choose a different route next time.   There are cross-country routes to the West Fork, or nearer the confluence of the EF/WF Indigo. 




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You can read about our trip down the East Fork of Indigo Creek here.

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*keep scrolling for Indigo Creek

Photo: Priscilla Macy



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Back to Indigo Creek.

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We woke up after a wonderful day of problem solving on the EF of Indigo Creek, and a nice night camping at the confluence of the EF/WF Indigo Creeks.  We started the day pleased that the water levels had not dropped much, but displeased to discover cracks in both Priscilla and my boats.



Fortunately, we had Ben Mckenzie with us, of the Mckenzie Method, the next evolution of the Waley Weld.  He was able to guide us through the finer points of the method, and we had patched our boats well enough to get us through this trip and a week in Cali using duct tape, a butane torch, and an awl Joseph has on his multi-tool.
We put on and the additional flow from the West Fork was immediately noticed.  Instead of bouncing down rapids, we were floating through them.  Pretty quickly the whitewater got fun and we found ourselves in a groove of read and run class III and IV rapids.



 The rapids were high quality, and our smiles were getting big.  The rapids were of a read and run nature with nice boofs, chutes and ramps weaving between vehicle sized boulders with good visibility, plenty of eddies and easy scouting when needed. 
Photo: Zach Collier



 Part of the reason Priscilla was excited about doing this trip was this creek is proposed as Wild and Scenic, so she wanted to get some photos to help with that campaign.  And while every corner provided a photo opportunity we were all having such a good time it was hard to take a moment to stop.  We would go 10-15 minutes while catching only an eddy or two and realized if we wanted some photos we were going to need to make a conscious effort to do so.

We took a short lunch break below this notable rapid, which we scouted and set safety for.
Photo: Zach Collier




Every now and then we would come to a larger, or blind rapid where one or more people would hop out for a look.  These all proved clean as well and provided more good fun, I'd expect a couple of them to become class V at higher levels.




What really stood out was the sustained, quality read and run.  By the time we were half way through, we knew this was a special trip and creek.



After a few miles the creek transitioned to a more open stream bed, and the gorge walls were left behind.  The rapids remained down here, though they were less frequent.  We enjoyed this section too, and eased in to the new pace.


There were a few campsite options now that we were beyond gorge walls, the best we saw was here:  42.49520480965567, -123.92883884785915

The most significant rapid was also in this stretch, formed by a landslide.  We were able to scout from the right, and most of us ran the rapid, while a couple portaged right.  There were a couple hazards and a tricky move.
Photo: Zach Collier




The rapids continued downstream, in a greener setting, and distances between rapid sets.



A couple miles above the take out, the creek eases to cobble-bars for a mile or so as it weaves through Indian Flat.  This let us know we were getting closer to the end of the trip, and we started chatting about the final obstacle we knew awaited us.  We knew this obstacle was there because there is a trail that accesses the last mile or so of the creek, and Zach had hiked in to where a bridge crosses over Indigo some time ago.  He had noted what was likely to be a portage, where a big landslide had dropped loads of boulders in a mess down at the creek.


Paddlers will know they are approaching the portage when the bridge visible in the photo below becomes visible.  The rapids above and under the bridge are runnable down to a moving pool.  


We then ran the first part of the landslide rapid into an un-welcoming eddy on the left, for a short teamwork portage.  I would recommend anyone running this creek to be patient and thorough from the point the bridge is in view, to below the portage.  Everything is manageable, but mistakes here would not be forgiven.


Below the landslide, fun boogie continues down to the final straight-away into the Illinois.
Photo: Zach Collier



A happy group at the confluence with the Illinois River, as Zach takes the last stroke of the trip on Indigo Creek.




Across from Indigo is a wall of pitcher plants, then a few miles of easy floating down to the take out at Oak Flat.


  
Flows:  We paddled Indigo Creek May 18-19 of 2020.   

I typically look for the Illinois at Kerby gage to be between 3-10k and stable or dropping for the Illinois tributaries to be at a good flow.  However there are times (like on our trip) where significant storms give water to the lower Illinois tributaries, but those storms don't make it past the mountains into the Illinois Valley where the gage is, and it reads low.  In the past you needed to rely on a good sense of the area, and see if the Chetco or Elk River had plenty of water to make a judgement call.

Fortunately for boaters, a new gage has gone in on the Illinois near Agness.  Currently it is only available on the northwest river forecast center map, but hopefully will be accessible in other formats in the future.  I'm looking forward to getting a good feel for that gage.


Looking upstream from the Illinois at Indigo Creek the day we paddled it. Note the rock with the circle around it.

This is that same rock zoomed in, note the "cup" in the middle of the rock, and that there is a trickle of water floating through it the day we did the creek.  I would definitely go back at the flow we had, though I'd want at least as much water as we had to put the effort in.  So if the riverbed doesn't change too much, you'd want to see water floating through the cup to make a trip into Indigo.  



The creek could definitely handle more water than we had, but I have no idea how much more before it became a class V run.



Access:  Access to a put in is difficult for Indigo Creek.  Options are abundant, but all spur off of Bear Camp road and require driving to 4800'.  Snow will typically be the largest barrier to running this creek in any given year.  

We started on the EF of Indigo, using NF-2411.027 to get close enough to go cross-country down to the confluence with Breezy Creek (42.54022150693661, -123.82644430527772).

If I were to do the run again, I would put in on the West Fork of Indigo, bushwhacking down from FS 2300.055    If I wanted to do another overnight, I would put in near Lazy Creek (42.55286705698742, -123.8562727687666).

If I wanted to do the mainstem as a day run, I would continue further down FS 2300.055 and put in closer to the confluence with the EF (42.51795927253282, -123.86370156281572), or maybe upstream off of this spur (42.53401209748882, -123.86334084891905).

The take out is fortunately very easy to find, at Oak Flat on the Illinois (42.516888209583165, -124.03946594559478).



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Story/Notes
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Priscilla, Zach and I reminisced about our trip down Indigo Creek on a podcast, you can listen to that here:  Rivertalk Podcast


Thursday, January 7, 2021

East Fork Indigo Creek




The EF of Indigo Creek was small, we knew that going in but had still hoped for more water than we had.  Oh well, we are pretty used to taking what the Siskiyou gives us, and were excited to be there with enough water to float our boats and headed downstream with smiles and optimism.  

            The creek at the beginning was nondescript with some wood issues from a recent fire.


While it is typically faster to simply portage a log jam like the one below, sometimes we can't help but try to open up a path and get to paddle through instead.


                                             Sometimes the small victories are the sweetest.

The stream eventually started to consolidate, with larger boulders and bedrock outcrops lining the bank. While wood was certainly present, we were spending more time in our boats than out, and starting to get hints of the beauty that lay downstream.

Photos: Zach Collier


While I was really enjoying being on the EF of Indigo Creek, I was having an internal dialogue with myself about water levels.  We often find ourselves paddling obscure runs at low flows.  The reason is I'd prefer to error on the side of low water than high, because it's easier to deal with hazards, catch eddies, and move around at water level when the flow is low.  I was wondering if that mentality had been too prudent lately, as we had run a few creeks that season that would have been more fun with better water levels and there hadn't been any reason why we needed low water.  


Here we were again, on a creek that seemed like it would have been enjoyable with double the flow, and I was feeling like I was going to need to re-evaluate my preference for low flows when we came to the crux of the EF of Indigo, and all those low water trips were validated in a one hundred yard stretch as the creek got serious in a hurry.


The crux of the EF Indigo Creek, and the reason I would not put in on this tributary again, is Indigo Montana, a walled in crack drop.  Here the creek is between high vertical walls, maybe there was a way around above the gorge, but I didn't see one.  The first drop was a nice 5' boof, but that boof fed into a boulder pile, under a log, then into a twisting crack with a recycle.  Initially, we were unsure what to do but ideas started to float and Joseph decided to get a closer look at that bottom crack to see if we could figure out something clever at water level.  He was able to jump most of the way across the creek and grapple out onto the other side (attached to a tether), and was able to get down to the crack to inspect.  It looked to him from his new location like our hopeful plan to walk across the log and seal launch into the crack would work.

Obviously, a plan like this does not work at what would be considered conventional kayak flows, making us grateful for the low water.

Photo: Zach Collier


First though, we had to get to where Joseph was.  And we would be able to paddle there, by way of a nice boof, before a person on shore hauled us up onto land.




Getting out of the water, then over to the launch point was a process, and the seal launch proved tricky. Ben went first, followed by Joseph and the two of them helped the rest of us through.  The third person had an exciting time in the crack, prompting Priscilla, Zach and I to instead attach ropes to our boats, throw them into the crack, then have Ben (who was holding the other side of the rope) pull them through.  Joseph and Yann then corralled them and placed them on shore.  After the gear was through that just left 3 people, so Zach, Priscilla and I each took our turn jumping into the crack holding onto a rope and swimming through to our gear on the other side.  Because of Indigo Montana, I would not return to EF Indigo, but I was so glad we did it this once, and what was waiting just below was one of the major reasons.

This Cave was immediately below Indigo Montana on Indigo Creek, and I haven't stumbled upon anything quite like it before.  Stalagtites and many colors .


Close up


The creek continued to stay narrow with gorge walls, we proceeded cautiously, hoping not to find anything as committing as the narrow drop upstream.  Fortunately only finding runnable rapids or readily solvable portage-puzzles.



The creek continued to be remarkable for some time, narrow and intimate.  We were doing a lot of looking around, while trying to maintain downstream progress.  We were glad we had planned the trip as an overnighter, so we did not have to rush through here too quickly.




The creek opened up after the gorge section, with views of an arch on a prominent ridge.


After a benign section of the creek, the whitewater picked back up into bouldery rapids for the last couple miles to the confluence with the WF of Indigo Creek.  Many of these were boat-scoutable, but plenty required getting on shore to take a look.  Many of the lines were tricky, and required thought.  This section required the most team-work, communication, and trust.  The whitewater was not classic, but was engaging.   The stand out moment was a boulder garden that ended in a slot with a rail-slide.  Everyone made it over except the last person, who flipped upstream about 3-4' onto their head, fortunately avoiding any rocks.  They were able to stay in their boat and roll up off a rock in a bad spot, but stayed calm and the team was able to extract them.  




The enjoyment in this stretch of whitewater was piecing the puzzle together and moving safely downstream, rather than the quality of the rapids.

A typical scene for us on the lower portion of EF Indigo, everybody patient in an eddy, waiting for beta to make it's way from the front of the group to the back.


By the time we reached the confluence with WF Indigo, we were ready to be there.  It had been a long and enjoyable day, but we were tired and ready to let go of the focus we had needed for the day.  When I had been looking for camping potential on maps in preparation for this trip, I had noted that at the confluence there looked to be a small bench of land on river-left.  It had looked like the only potential spot until much lower on the main stem of Indigo, so we were banking on that hunch being correct.  Fortunately, it was, and we had just enough flat area to make a comfortable camp with only a spattering of poison oak plants.


We were pretty happy with the day we had, boating through a pristine and captivating portion of the Siskiyou.  We noted that the West Fork contributed more water than the East Fork, and that we might have a nice flow tomorrow if levels didn't drop much overnight.




The next day we paddled the main stem of Indigo Creek, which was one of, if not the best paddling day of the year for Priscilla and I.  

You can read about that section here: Mainstem Indigo.




Monday, December 7, 2020

Mill Creek (Yamhill Drainage)






Beta
7 miles (or less) // Class III-IV





Stream:  This creek has been locked behind a Weyerhaeuser gate for many years.  When I went to college at Western Oregon (2008-2013) the creek would have access during hunting season, but that went awhile for awhile.  Now it's open and accessible anytime there is enough water to paddle it (only closed during fire season).  



Priscilla and I were interested in the run as it's only 30 minutes from Salem, and runs after most significant rain events.  I had run the full creek in college once with Anna Herring and Michael Freeman during hunting season, and hiked up a ways on my own a couple times when the gate was locked.  Though I didn't remember much, I did recall that there was a fun section near the top and a slow section in the middle before picking back up to class III near the bottom.




This creek is full of quality class III-III+ whitewater, ledgy with plenty of bedrock and some easier floating.  There are also 3 class IV rapids, one of which would be difficult to portage.  It reminded me of Butte Creek in Scotts Mills, but prettier.  There is always going to be wood in the creek, but our trips in the Fall of 2020 yielded only one portage.




We put in, turned the corner and were immediately upon a log jam.  We didn't want to portage so moved some wood on river right so we could scoot over.  This can be scouted before putting on.  We were wondering at this point if we were in for a long day, but it turned out to be only one of two spots where wood was a problem.  


Looking downstream at the first rapid below the put in bridge. 


Below the first corner was the first fun class III-III+ bedrock rapid, this led to a section of bedrock with a couple fun ledges.  This set the tone of the run, which consistently alternates between quality bedrock rapids and easier floating. 



The first significant rapid is WUB (Water Under the Bridge), the lead in to this rapid is currently signed with a small marker on river left, as shown here.  There are two short ledgy rapids between the marker and WUB.  This marker also indicates the easiest place to get out to start a portage.


WUB is easily scouted during the shuttle, and it's worth taking the time to do so. 


There is an eddy on the left that allows for a river level scout just above WUB.  The line is pretty obvious, and plenty of fun when the rapid is free from wood.


There is about a mile of easy floating below WUB before the second fun class IV, a set of small twisting ledges the guidebook calls "Triple Drop" that can be scouted from either bank.


Just downstream from Triple Drop, the creek pools up and turns left, entering a straight-away (seen in the next photo from below).  This straight away has a couple small ledges before it veers right and enters The Gorge, containing the final class IV.   The gorge is marked by another sign on river-right, the rock outcrop just below this sign creates an eddy on the right at the start of the straight-away. 


 It is possible to scout The Gorge from this eddy by walking 100 yards down the bank to the corner.  At flows below 2.5 small eddies exist downstream and allow for a shorter walk, but the higher the level the harder to stop.  Once past the straight away, the creek veers right and scouting becomes impractical. 

Past the point of no return in The Gorge.

I went down to a small eddy on the left our first time, and crawled out onto the bank. This eddy is not an option at 2.5 or higher, and committed us to running the rapid.  At those higher flows, scout from upstream on the right or from the road before putting on (scroll to the very bottom of this page to read how to scout The Gorge from the road during the shuttle).

Looking upstream at the straight-away lead in to The Gorge, from the last change eddy on the left.   At 2.5 or above this eddy is impractical to catch.


 From there I could see through the rapid and that it was clear of wood, so sent Priscilla through.  This would be a tricky one to portage from the eddy .  It is a flume style rapid, and awfully fun.  


Priscilla in the semi-committing rapid within The Gorge.


Below The Gorge was a stretch of easy floating that lasted for awhile.  We hunted for surf waves, took a lunch break and breathed in the scenery which was better than I am accustomed to on these logged streams.  If you want to put in below the class IV, you can put in along this stretch for a III-III+ day.  Instructions for how to do that are at the bottom of this page under "Notes".



We passed beneath another bridge and things picked back up.  The rapids down here were more open and high quality class III with some more ledges, slides and hydraulics.  Some of the rapids had fun slalom moves too.



A final bridge is passed and the creek enters another narrow bedrock section as the whitewater picks back up into a final class III just above the take out.


Priscilla makes The Twist.



If you do the run, be sure to scout your take out from Mill Creek Park while setting shuttle.  Downstream of the take out the creek goes into a class V rapid that has had wood problems in the past and is not easily portaged.





  
Flows:  There is a painted gauge on the highway 22 bridge.  "1.5" was a good first time flow.  You could paddle it a little lower, but I'd think it would start losing it's quality quickly below "1".  It can definitely be paddled higher.





For a guesstimate flow using the online SF Yamhill @ Willamina gauge:


  • About 8,000 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Jan 13, 2021 equated to "10" in Mill Creek ("high, class V").
  • About 2000 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Dec 26, 2020 equated to "2.5" in Mill Creek ("medium").
  • About 2500 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Dec 23, 2020 equated to "2" in Mill Creek ("chill level").
  • About 1750 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Jan 9, 2021 equated to "2" in Mill Creek ("Friendly medium").
  • About 1500 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Dec 17, 2020 equated to "2" in Mill Creek ("Not low").
  • About 1500 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Nov 20, 2020 equated to "1.5" in Mill Creek (friendly flow).
  • About 1000 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Dec 29, 2020 equated to "1" in Mill Creek (low runnable).
  • About 750 cfs in the SF Yamhill on Nov 26, 2020 equated to "0" in Mill Creek (too low).

The current guess is 2.5-3 would be extra medium.


Access:  First, I recommend making sure access is still open before heading to Mill Creek.  It was open for all of the 2020/2021 boating season outside of fire season.   This information can be tracked down from Weyerhaeuser using their hotline or on their website1-888-741-5403



 Take Highway 22 West out of Salem.  In a touch over 20 miles you cross over Mill Creek in Buell (Buell is marked on maps but has no notable buildings).  Check the gauge at the bridge, then drive upstream on Mill Creek Rd about 2.5 miles to Mill Creek Park, this is the take out (44.987987226941286, -123.42496411845802).  Walk over to the creek and scout your egress options, downstream is a class V gorge without good portage options.




To get to the put in (44.96639283038925, -123.54468676634407) continue upstream on Mill Creek Rd about 5-6 miles along the signed mainline (it does leave the creek for a bit) until you reach a bridge with the obvious, ledgy class IV WUB is visible ending below the bridge.  Scout WUB, and if it has wood scope out your exit from the river and portage options along the road.  From here, it is another 1.7 miles upstream to the bridge where Priscilla and I put in.  Or, there is another bridge less than half a mile above that one.



Notes:  To scout The Gorge during the shuttle, set your trip meter at the gate.  About 3.75 miles past the gate look for these two reflectors on the side of the road (the first one has 3 yellow dots).  




From the road reflectors you can see the tail water from The Gorge.  From about where the vehicles are in the photo above, schwack down through the brush to creek level to see the rapid.  44.965405930529144, -123.49591763882351

*I prefer to just scout from the creek.



If you want to put in below the class IV, you can do that and have a III-III+ trip.  To go that route, set your trip meter at the gate, drive upstream 1.8 miles and you will find yourself at a bridge crossing from river-left to river-right like seen below.  

Make a hard right onto MC 300 (rather than following the mainline like you would to get to the normal put in).  Either go a hundred yards and put in before the road veers away from the creek, or go almost 1 mile past the bridge on MC 300 to a sharper left turn with a pull out and what looks to be some barriers on the road.  This put in requires a bushwhack, but more paddling than if you put in 100 yards above the bridge (this is still below any class IV).


***The roads are active logging roads, so be cautious of large vehicles that you need to yield to.  Any accidents or altercations could jeopardize kayak access, so be on your best behavior.