Stream: Upper Opal is similar to the Classic run, but a little more serious and involves a hike instead of a walk to the put in. The full run begins in Jawbone Flats, though sometimes people get tired of carrying their boat and put in at Sawmill Falls/Cascadios Los Ninos.
It's worth making the push up to Jawbone at least once, if just to check out out the town. At the confluence of Battle Axe Creek and Opal Creek Proper (visible from Jawbone), the Little North Santiam River is formed and this is the beginning of the Upper Opal run. There is some easy floating up here as the stream carves through one of the most beautiful portions of Oregon. The whitewater quickly picks up and one seven foot horizon line (worth a look on your hike up) presents a fun slide.
Less than 1/4 mile after passing under a bridge, the horizon line at Sawmill Falls/Cascadios De Los Ninos presents itself. Most people scout on the left where there is an easy walking route if you wish to portage or do laps. At first glance this appears to be a straight forward falls, and at medium levels and up it is. However as levels drop you start to realize there are shallow spots all over the place on this falls so scout carefully. Far right and far left are the worst. The higher the level the less likely one is to land on a rock.
Alan Bergman right on target. If flows are much below 1,100 cfs, there is a real chance of landing on a rock (under the veil in the photo) here too. The boof flake marked by the orange arrow is good to go at all flows, though lining it up can be tricky so again, scout this drop thoroughly at all levels.
The whitewater picks up below Sawmill/Cascadios De Los Ninos though it never reaches true class V at the recommended levels. At high flows there may be a couple rapids you would be forced to run blind that the typical Opal Creek boater would rather portage, so I'd stick with between 700-2,000 cfs unless you know the run well.
Below Sawmill/Cascadios De Los Ninos there is some scenic floating. When things pick back up there will be some read and run and then a blind rapid with some large boulders that can be scouted and run on the left (second photo in this report).
The very next rapid is the nearly must-run Harvey Wallbanger. Eddy out along the left bank (entering the island on the right side will dictate running the rapid blind) and walk downstream to take a peak for wood.
Looking down into Harvey Wallbanger from the scout.
There are no big moves in Harvey Wallbanger, just stay right and keep your boat pointed downstream. There are two soft holes in the narrow bottom portion of the rapid, but I have never seen them give anyone trouble.
Jesse Shapiro lining up the two narrow holes.Photo: Lucas Rietmann
Most people catch an eddy on the left just below these two holes and before the exit move. For the exit move paddlers build up as much speed as can be mustered and ride a strong left stroke through a plucky hole into an alleyway. It is possible to set safety here on the left side. There is a large pool below in the event of a swim though for what it is worth, I have never seen anyone have trouble here.
Ross George pulls through.
At this point attentive boaters will notice road abutments high on the right and get ready for Coyle's Boil. The stream builds from class II-III along a river-right boulder bar, as it turns back to the right there is a steep III+ rapid leading right into Coyle's Boil (portaged more often than not). You must catch one of the eddies at the base of the III+ before going over the short drop that is Coyle's Boil. People generally catch the river right one, then ferry over to river left to portage.
Eric Adsit ferries from river right to river left just above Coyle's Boil, with the III+ rapid visible just upstream.
Photo: Priscilla Macy
The line at Coyle's Boil.
This one gets more runnable as levels increase above 1,000 cfs.Photo: Priscilla Macy
The portage is short and easy on the left. If you are the curious type, check out the mine shaft on river left. You can make your way some distance back there.
Photo: Lucas Rietmann
There is a ledge just below Coyle's Boil that looks like it has a sweet boof on the right, do not take that line as it lands on a rock with face-rearranging capabilities. Instead run center-right or center-left, it's worth a quick scout for the smoothest line if you don't have a guide.
A hundred yards of easy water lead to the final ledge. If levels are up I recommend scraping down the shallow right side of the ledge. If levels are lower check out the left side "Hypoxia Hole".
Take out in the pool below this ledge on the right and walk the road back up to the gate, or continue through Classic Opal. Ambitious boaters with an early start sometimes try for Total Opal (Jawbone through Salmon Falls) by tacking on Opal Gorge.
Flows: If you are showing yourself down this run without a guide for the first time my recommendation is 800-2,000 cfs in the Little North Santiam at Mehama.
5.3 on the Elkhorn Gauge is my low-end cutoff for Upper Opal.
Access: Take I5 to Salem and head East on Hwy 22. In about 22 miles turn left at a flashing yellow light onto N Fork Rd. In about 15 miles the road turns to gravel, and at 21 miles you will reach a gate where you leave the vehicles, a location that has a $5 fee to park. You will walk back to the this gate at the end of the day if you are only doing Upper Opal (this is rare, most people continue through Classic Opal).
If you are continuing through Classic Opal or Opal Gorge, refer to those pages for other take out options.
To get to the put in from the gate, carry your boat past the locked gate up the gravel road about 3 miles to Jawbone Flat along a nice gravel road. Put in wherever is clever in town, I usually choose to put in at the bridge over Battle Axe Creek.
Some people who tire of carrying their boat put in at Sawmill Falls/Cascadios De Los Ninos, which is an obvious feature about 2 miles into the hike.