Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gold Creek

Each time Opal creek is paddled, a creek is crossed during the hike in. I know for me the conversation usually goes like this. We stop at the bridge and look upstream at the short waterfall. Someone 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 looks in that direction. We see the large logjam and someone says its probably really 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". Now from the few exploratory trips I have done, one thing I have learned is the one section of river you can see rarely gives a good indicator for the rest of the run, yet for some reason in my mind I use this shaded scouting technique.      
            After the run 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 very 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 a lot of elevation and made me legitimately tired. Having no food or water between us probably contributed to this. Eventually the road did a switch back and we ended up bush-wacking downhill for the second week in a row. We dropped about a hundred feet until we hit another very very abandoned road, almost non-existant. 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 putin now and make sure we had plenty of time so we didn't have another paddle out in the dark. We bushwacked down and my boat got away from me at one point but by chance got stuck right before launching off a large drop that may have left me with a broken boat! 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...mountain tops, this was a big drop. 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 twenty feet high in a place that would otherwise be straight bedrock.                   This is what we saw.
Actually we were able to see a huge slide that may have gone had there not been a huge logjam at the top or a huge log at the bottom, but I guess we will never know...
            This left us with portage options.  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, then spread it out to meet both walls, then only have enough room for 200 cfs to sneak through and drop fifty feet.  Maybe not a great example but thats what I saw.  The very unfriendly option to portage this was the sketchiest portage Jeff or I has ever attempted.  We had to climb this 60 ft wall, then lower a rope down, then hand over hand the boats up, while standing on a 4 foot wide piece of relatively stable ground atop a sixty foot drop one way, and a hundred foot drop behind you.  I had made up my mind if I lost grip of my boat as I was pulling it up I wasn't even going to try to stop it in fear of it pulling me over.  Any funny business and I was ready to let my boat crash to the bottom. 
               The climb up was scary for me.  I scrambled up to about the point where the chances of serious injury and death outweighed the chances of survival if I slipped before I was stupid enough to look down.  I have to admit I was scared a this point.  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 I died or got hurt and somewhere during this thought process I decided it wasn't worth it and decided to head down and find another way (though we hadn't seen any earlier).  This doesn't happen to me very often so the fact that it was happening was an alarm that I should probably make a smart choice.  It was at this point I recalled that I had just made a commiting swing.  The kind where if you don't do it all in one motion it won't work.  So going down just became as bad of an idea as going up. I might add someone who is good at rock climbing probably wouldn't have much trouble with this, but I am not.  
                                                                              On my way up the wall.  The place we roped our boats up from is as high as you can see.
  This is when I saw another way up the rock, so I climbed about 15 feet to my left and was able to scramble up the last twenty feet to the platform.  I threw the rope to Jeff way below as a small amount of relief set in and he clipped my boat in.  It was very difficult hauling my boat up, as it was spinning and the cockpit kept catching on the rock wall.  Eventually Jeff and I were at the top after one more rope point and we lowered our boats down to creek level.
    Jeff at the top of the rock wall and a hundred feet above the river. Yes it is one drop from where he is to the creek.         The slide that we put in below would have been sick if yet another couple of logs had not been there.  The big drop is in the background.        We put in below here happy to be on the water.  From the portage route we had seen a trib comming in from the right and realized we had put-in on the East fork and that was why this huge loss of gradient had occured 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 very cool 8 foot drop with a bad log on the left side.  The move was only hard class IV, but a miss meant impalement, so we portaged to a weird seal launch and kept moving.
        Jeff below the first big portage. (which took over half an hour, probably closer to an hour).  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 have been the best drop on the run below the confluence had it been 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.  Only a couple were easy, low stress.
                           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 sweet 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.
    Jeff on the take out bridge.
all photos by Jeff and Jacob
What sucks is this runs would be exceptional in my opinion without the wood if you put-in just  below the confluence.  The drops are all of very high quality with plenty of bedrock and some very good class IV-IV+ drops.  The only problem is every one of them is plugged with wood.  Its the kind of run if there was road access and no wood it would be run all the time.  But its not, so this run will most likely never be repeated, its just not worth it.  But now next time I hike over it I will know the answer to "I wonder what is upstream?"
                            The level when we ran it on April 13th.

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