Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gold Creek

 Photos by Jeff Hartley and Jacob Cruser

Each time Opal creek is paddled, a creek is crossed during the hike in.  Someone often comments how it looks runnable, and there seems to be enough water in it to boat. Then people shift to the other side of the bridge and look in that direction. We see the logjam and someone says its probably woody and not worth it, everyone agrees and we continue on to run whatever section of Opal we are running that day. The last time I was there with Jean, we did the same thing but when we looked downstream, the logjam looked a lot smaller, and possible runnable if the level was high enough. The conversation then shifted to "maybe it would be worth checking this out".

            After running Opal Jean and I hiked back in with his dog to scout more of the creek. We hiked up about a hundred yards and saw some clean class III-IV drops and I decided it was worth hitting the maps and finding a way in there. The gradient didn't look unreasonable and the geology was good, so last Monday Jeff Hartley and I, a week after our Little Luckiamute adventure, were trying to decide where to go. The water was up and somehow we decided Gold creek would be a good way to spend his day off, and serve as an after class run for me (its only a mile long).
              I left Monmouth at 12:15, met Jeff in Salem, and we were at the gate by 2. We got geared up in the rain and started hiking in. At the bridge, we looked for a way out at the end, saw the level looked good, then continued on up the road looking for the road accessing Gold creek. We found it shortly and began our 1 mile hike up the abandoned road.  It gained significant elevation and made me legitimately tired. Having no food or water between us may have contributed to this. Eventually the road did a switch back and we ended up bush-wacking downhill for a bit. We dropped about a hundred feet until we hit another more abandoned road, almost non-existant.  We followed this for awhile and somewhere along this path I heard a large roar and was a bit nervous we would run into a Huge series of drops. Eventually the going got a bit tougher and I decided if much more of the creek was going to be making a noise like the one I heard, it would be wise to put-in now and make sure we had plenty of time so we didn't have another paddle out in the dark. We bush-wacked down and my boat got away from me at one point but by chance got stuck right before launching off a large cliff! We got down shortly after this and I was pleased with the water level and the steep boulder garden visible upstream.
                We put-on and ran a couple class III's, then eddied out right above a log jam. Below I could see...tree tops!  Jeff came down and we climbed onto the jam to see what was downstream.

    You can tell a logjam has been there for a long time when it has its own sediment deposit built up.                   This is what we saw.
The chasm may have been runnable without the wood, but wood there was so we started looking for a way to portage.  The pinnacles of rock gating off the way downstream reminded me of Thors' Hammer if you were to make it just a little less vertical.   I climbed up the river right pinnable about 60 ft, then lowered a rope down to Jeff and pulled them up after. The climb up was scary for me.  I scrambled up to about the point where the chances of serious injury outweighed the chances of things being ok if I lost grip before I was stupid enough to look down.  That was a mistake.  I looked up at the next section of climbing I had to do and I started thinking of what was going to happen if I didn't make that climb and who else I was going to effect if things didn't go well.  Somewhere during this thought process I decided it wasn't worth it and decided to head down and find another way.  The last move had been pretty committing and I didn't see a safe way to do it in reverse.   So going down was as bad of an idea as going up.  I really started to wish I was somewhere else, but eventually was able to do a sideways move and then climb to the top.  [looking back 8 years later, I now see this climb as a watershed moment for me.  I have been afraid of exposure ever since].   Once I was at the top I tossed my rope to Jeff and standing on a 4 foot wide piece of relatively stable ground atop a sixty foot drop one way, and a hundred foot drop behind me roped the boats up one at a time.

The run has been repeated since, and a longer but safer portage route was found up a hillside on river right. 
                On my way up the wall.  The place we roped our boats up from is as high as you can see.
Jeff repeated the climb with much less trauma.  We roped up one more section, then walked a short distance and lowered our boats back down to creek level.
                                       Jeff at the top of the pinnacle, with the creek in the background.         The slide that we put in below would have been ultra fun if yet another couple of logs had not been there.  The big drop we portaged is in the background.        We put in below here happy to be on the water.  From the portage route we had seen a tributary coming in from the right and realized we had put-in on the East fork and that was why this huge loss of gradient had occurred on a run that was supposed to be less than 200 fpm.  We were relieved to know the whole run would not be like this.  Just below here was a short horizon line around a corner.  Jeff hopped out to scout and he was looking for awhile so I hopped out too and looked a cool 8 foot drop with a bad log on the left side.  The move was only class IV, but a miss meant impalement, so we portaged to a weird seal launch and kept moving.

        Jeff below the first big portage.   The West fork came in just around the corner.
Below here was another short log portage, then a fun slide.  Then a drop that went around the corner.  I got out to scout and was at first excited about the lip of this sweet 12 footer, until I noticed the 3 logs in the landing :(  Portage number 4.

            This would be one of the best drops in the Little North Santiam drainage if it were wood free.Below here the logs effectively ruined the run.  It seemed every drop worth running had wood.  We made at least one sketchy ferry above a log in the middle of a class IV series of ledges, and there were a few good class IV slides and rapids, but just a lot of log portages.  Probably 8-12 in the mile long section. 
                           The bottom of the series of ledges with the hairy ferry.   The last couple hundred yards were the best.  Class IV ledges and slides that were just fun as could be. Soon we were at the last double drop and I got out to look and take a picture.  We both entered right and Jeff snaked to the left while I boofed the right of the second drop.    
After this Jeff climbed up the left wall and I clipped the boats to a rope as he roped his up from the bridge then I came up and assisted with my boat.

It's a bummer about the wood on this run, I'd run it regularly if it was clean.    The drops are all of high quality with plenty of bedrock, and class fun.  We have had some big storms between 2009 and now, maybe the run has cleaned up?  But maybe not.  Regardless, next time I hike over Gold Creek on my way to Opal I will know the answer to "I wonder what is upstream?"

  The Little North Santiam gage when we ran it on April 13th.


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