Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rock Creek


Stream: This section of Rock Creek starts off with about a mile of class III-IV ending in a 7' ledge that would be challenging to portage (though a seal launch is possible).  Some easy whitewater leads to a right bend that drops into Heaven and Hell which can easily be scouted and portaged on the left.  Both drops neat scrutiny before a run, both have been run successfully numerous times.

The end of the portage will likely be the most exciting part of the run for people not running either of the two big rapids.  Here boaters slide down a fun chute and launch into the pool at the bottom, low stress and high fun.

                                                                 Rick Cooley picks up speed
                                                                       Photo: Matt King

More class III-IV continues down to a road bridge where Steep Creek Falls comes in from the right.  That drop was run a few times in the past, but sediment seems to have completely filled in the landing zone as of 2008.

Below this bridge the stream looses it's luster for a couple miles.  There is a small rapid here and there but mostly it's class II floating.  Higher levels move you through this section nicely, but if the level is low just consider it the price of admission and enjoy what scenery there is.

At the end of this long stretch the bedrock appears and there is a steeper class III rapid, do not enter this class III rapid without a game plan.  Just below it the river rushes over Three Swims Falls, not something you want to run without scouting.

There are a few small eddies on the left, catch whichever one you can and hop out quick so your buddies have somewhere to make their move.  This is not a place to push for "one more eddy".

There is a nice bench along the left side to scout and more likely portage.  This falls has a narrow line and has been run a number of times, but the unfriendly landing zone and proximity of a large boulder garden in the runout have most people shouldering along the left.  The boulder garden is worth a look, plenty of people put back in to run this fun part of the rapid.  Give the last hole some respect.  If you wish to portage the whole thing follow the bench under a small tributary falls and back to creek level.

Brandon Lake runs Three Swims Falls.

A post shared by Priscilla Macy (@missp_money) on

It is about 1 mile between Three Swims Falls and the take out bridge, with a few fun surprises including a long sliding rapid that is best run center/right or right.


Gage:  Rock Creek once had a gage that was available online from 2008-2013.  Currently only the gauge height can be ascertained, and even that must be done in person where Rock Creek flows under the Ryan Allen Rd bridge.

Here is a rough correlation showing the relationship between the gage height and cfs. 

 G.H                                    CFS

9.00    ..........    304
9.50    ..........    454
10.10   ..........    701
10.50   ..........    904
 10.80   ..........   1,050
 11.00   ..........   1,160
 11.50   ..........   1,490
 11.90   ..........   1,810

The EF Lewis @ Heisson can be used to estimate when Rock Creek will be in.  It's not a perfect correlation, but it's something. 1,000 cfs is minimum and correlates to about 500 cfs in Rock Creek.  Heaven and Hell is less intimidating at low flows, but the class II also loses it's punch.

2,000 cfs in the EF Lewis is a friendly medium and it can be run plenty higher.  Be cautious around Three Swims Falls at higher flows, the eddies are still there on the left but if you didn't know where you were they could be missed.

The foot gauge is under the Ryan Allen Rd bridge, 10' was a nice flow where the big drops were runnable class V, and the in-between was pleasant.  As levels drop Heaven and Hell becomes more appealing, but the stretch between Steep Creek and Three Swims starts to drag on.  If you do the run, help out the community and post the gauge height, date of the trip and a picture on the AW page.

The readings stop at 10.10, but this yard stick has been added to extend the gage.  The inches start at the 10.0' mark, so this part of the gage reads as inches + 10 feet. The top of the metal is at 22" or 11'10".

 There is also a rough gage on the right pylon of the bridge that extends the readings further if the metal portion is covered.

Access:  From the town of Stevenson (located on the North side of the Columbia River about 40 miles East of Portland), turn onto SW Rock Creek Dr and follow that to Ryan Allen Rd.  Follow Ryan Allen Road until you cross over Rock Creek.  Check the gauge height on the staff gauge here.

Then return along Ryan Allen Rd (SW) less than half a mile to Red Bluff Rd.  From this turn travel along Red Bluff Rd for 2.5 miles and turn right onto a spur road that leads down to the take out bridge.

To get to the put in, return to Red Bluff Rd and head upstream for 4.7 miles to the put in bridge (crossing Rock Creek at 3.2 miles). 

Original Write-up

Nick, Alex, and I ran Rock Creek(Stevenson) last weekend at low flows. EF Lewis at 900 and Clackamas at 3700. Nick was doing his first creek in a hardshell and his second time in a boat in almost 8 months. Alex was in the Aire which was leaking and we had to pump it four or five times on the trip but it was worth it. Nick hit a solid combat roll then worked his way out of a hole in the interesting section of class III bedrock that lead up to the first drop, an 8 foot ledge into a gorge. Alex and I cleaned it while Nick had his first swim when he hit his head on the right wall as he flipped. Next was Heaven and Hell, both drops looked good to go with the top one being a tough double boof, first away from the right wall, then a rock on the left. I ran this and came through fine. We scouted the main drop of Heaven and Hell for awhile before Alex and I decided to run it. Alex wanted to go first. He pitoned a bit into the left wall after the first drop but recovered in time to get far enough left to hit his line. He managed to stay in his boat and fight his way off the rock at the bottom to have a succesful run of his first class V drop! I went next and was a little worried about a second piton so I didn't hit the boof perfect but it worked fine and it was a super fun drop. Below here was a short manky class two stretch then the bridge. It had taken awhile to get to this point so we started making up time. We had heard that Three Swims falls sneaks up on you and is pretty close to the bridge so we where a little on edge but after a mile and a half we realized we had been mistaken and the boredom of low water rocky class two without extraordinary scenery set in. Eventually we made it to Three Swims and began the portage. I seal launched below the falls to tackle the final boulder garden. I had my only wobble of the day in the final hole which I dropped into with no speed and almost got stopped, but I made it through ok. Below here was one dangerous log that is hard to see before you are in the rapid, we all made the eddy on the right though at the right water level this may be a very interesting spot. The weird thing is there is no portage route. The walls are vertical, so the only way to do it was to swim to the log, get up on it, then pull our boats on and try and balance on the log or get in below and make an eddy on the right like Nick did. This spot would be awful at medium or medium low flows when the log is unrunnable still but the water is swifter upon getting back in the water or getting to the log. Be carefull next year because that log looks like its staying for awhile. Below here was one more fun slidey drop before the take out finally came into view. After this we headed to money drop to check that out. It was very big but very clean. I didn't realize what kind of a horizon line a seventy footer would make but its scary enough to make me certain I will never drop off something that big. We then checked out the upper falls and it looked better. At Money drop we saw one of the strangest things. Where the mudslide has been, the walls have become pretty vertical, and halfway up on a little ledge was a deer. It was stuck with a 20 foot drop to not vertical ground and no escape above him. We felt bad but there was nothing to do.

Well, for us it was a great day and I will be back next year when there is water in there again.


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