Wednesday, March 28, 2007

North Fork Clackamas

During this last winter break I got an e-mail from Tim Brink with a proposition to run the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas. It would be the toughest thing I had run, but I felt up to the challenge. But by the time the day to run it came around the river had dropped too low. The worst part is this creek would normally run any time it rains, but they have diverted water from Harriet lake to the Three Lynx power station. Effectively ruling this run out except for very high water days. His next plan was to do a first raft decent of the North Fork Clackamas. His rafting partner was to be Dave Sacquety. They had met a week or two before on Opal creek, this was to be there first time doing an entire river as a team. I was going to be along simply to video/photo there accomplishment and help with the portaging. We drove up to the put in road expecting to have to carry our boats about a half mile. When we got to the final road to the put-in Tim decided that he could make it and we made it down the old logging road that most people carry down. I would not suggest this since the road is very narrow and slopes the wrong way, along with a small berm and some stumps at the beggining that require negotiation. We arrived at the put in that was right on the creek very relieved that we did not have to start the day lugging the raft down the road.
The put in

At the put in the creek is class two, building up to class 4 and 4+ within 3/4 of a mile. There was one or two easy log portages in the class two section and one log that we went over. The rapids in this section are quite steep, but at the level we had the rafts would just wedge themselves between a couple of boulders at the top of a rapid, find the route, tell me where to enter then scoot over the logs into the current and down the rapids. The majority of the rapids in the beggining started with two entrance options, then funnelled down into a 3-4 foot ledge with a hole. At the lower levels we had the rapids were very technical, with flipping being out of the question.

Typical rapid

Eventually we entered a gorge that began and ended with ledges of about 5 feet. After this we were on the look out for the portage of the 50' waterfall. We missed the normal take out for the portage and ended up lugging our boats 100' feet up the side of the hill and down an overgrown logging road, then down another hundred feet only for me to realize I left my paddle at the top, requiring another two-hundred vertical foot round trip for me. Overall the portage took a little over an hour of gruelling work. It was the hardest portage I have done, but it felt good at the end. We then scouted the class five falls at the end of the portage, which was my first class five and the reason the rafters were here. It was a 20' sliding falls, it started as a five foot drop into a twisting hole that slid quickly down to the final ten foot drop. In reality it was one big drop, but I felt like breaking it down.
Me at the bottom of "Stairway To Heaven"
Me scouting the falls

The raft went first while I took video. They went over the final drop sideways but pulled it out nicely. I went next and did fine, but I went deep in the final drop and had to roll, the first of the day for me. After this the rapids cooled off for a short period but picked up again shortly with some very fun rapids.

Dave ended up doing an R-1 decent of this rapid after the raft started to take off while they were scouting. This is a good indicator of how low the run was. In Jason Rackley's report , the rock to my left has about 2-3 feet of water going over it.

One rapid in partcular stood out. This rapid is called storm drain, and I had planned on portaging it before we put on. When we got there I didn't even realize this was that rapid. The raft ran first and had there only real mishap of the day. Upon landing they got pushed left and into an arated eddy with wood blocking the downstream end. They eventually paddled out, then I boofed right with no problems. We then ran a couple of very cool, longer rapids. After a while came the class two runout. This wasn't very fun for me, but the raft was having a much more difficult time. It was taking about 10 min. for them to get down every rapid. It was in here that I did a 2' seal launch into a class two rapid and had my second and final roll of the day, I was lucky I didn't smack my head. After forever we made it to the lake and paddled the final 1/4 mile of flatwater. Overall it was a great run that I will be back to, but I doubt it will ever be run again in a raft.

Tim and Dave paddle the final bit of lake to the take-out


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