Stream: This part of the Little Luckiamute has too much wood for me to recommend paddling and the whitewater isn't very good in the upper parts so the beta will be sparse. If you are looking for worthwhile trips on the Little Luckiamute check out The Gorge section or the Into Town section.
It's possible this upper section will clean up some day and who knows, maybe with more water it would be enjoyable to connect with The Gorge. I'll let you read the original write-up below and decide that for yourself.
Access: The take out is the same as The Gorge.
To get to the put in return to Falls City and from the bridge in town head up Valsetz rd 9.3 miles to the pass at the intersection with Fanno Peak rd (yellow gate on the right). Hike in on Fanno Peak rd for awhile, choosing your own route for where to descend to the creek. Obviously you will need to do some map work of your own, the roads and bushwhacking scenario are constantly changing.
The map below shows two put in options, the one further downstream has been used as an alternate access to the gorge and only has 1/4 mile or so of janky rapids before the good stuff. If it's hunting season you can come in on Black Rock rd, but if you are doing that I would suggest you just run The Gorge. I'd recommend you do some of your own map recon before heading out there.
Flows: I am not sure, we had 200 on the estimate which was too low.
The Little Luckiamute flows through the small town of falls city about twenty minutes from Western Oregon University. I was interested in checking it out mainly for this reason. I ran the lower sections of the creek and began doing research on google Earth and waterfall sites to get an idea for what might be in the upper section and how to access it. After this I decided it was time to head over there and check out the access scenario. I soon found out this run, along with every other run I have looked at of this nature in the coast range is gated far away from any put-in locations for sections of substantial gradient. It was back to the map searching, which I spent plenty of time doing. I eventually decided that the best option would be to drive up Valsetz road and hike in 4 miles along Fanno Peak rd along logging roads to a bridge over the creek. On April 3rd Nate Merrill and I decided to give this approach a shot.
I had left my GPS back in Gresham for the weekend and unfortunately for myself and Nate I decided I could use a map to get in to the put-in since I had driven around there before and figured I could find the put-in road again. Due to a semi-stressful/late start we were dropped off and started hiking around 1:30 (way too late) on the wrong road. We spent the next four hours hiking with boats on our backs trying to find our way to the river. At this point we decided even if we got to the river there was no way we were making through 3 miles of 200+ fpm river with a 2 mile class 2 paddle out, so we ditched the boats and decided to come back two days later. We hiked back out and luckily caught a ride once back to Valsetz, saving a trip in the dark 5 miles back to our car.
We came back Sunday April 5th with the addition of Jeff Hartley to get our boats, and if we were up to it, run the river. Due to some unusual circumstances we were able to drive to within 2 miles of the put-in before we hit a patch of snow, had we gotten an earlier start we may have been able to backtrack to another road and drive very close to, if not all the way to the put-in. Thank you to Gary Merrill for being so willing to help out with this mission even though he would not be boating. It was here that Nate made the wise choice not to risk being late to work at 8 and decided not to join us on this mission. Jeff and I geared up and started our 2 mile trek to the river. -all pictures taken by Jeff Hartley (except this one which was taken by Gary Merrill)
We hiked to a point where we decided to bush wack down to the river. It was here where once again Gary showed his great value to the trip by scouting out routes through the woods for us. With the help of the two Merrills we eventually reached another logging road where they decided to head back home and Jeff and I committed to running the river. We spent another 45 minutes reaching the "river" by way of crashing through a regrowth forest with lots of underbrush down a steep slope. The "river" turned out to more resemble a low volume creek. The last hundred yards to the creek were through a forest of Devils club (pride of the Northwest), before we waded across the creek, drank some water, and got ready to give this thing a shot.
The first mile was more of a battle than a kayaking trip. Jeff showed a fearless boat scouting technique that kept us moving along. I was happy that he was there because I would have been out scouting a lot of the first mile, but he was confident crashing down some very steep boulder mank. Most of the larger drops fell 10 feet through a pile of beach ball sized boulders. There was one scary moment within the first five minutes where Jeff thought there was a route that wasn't there and got pinned sideways on a rock with all the water funneling behind him under a root wad. It was not a good moment, and I was pretty concerned as I exited my boat and ran down to him. It was not looking like he was going to be able to hold his position for long. I ended up being able to get to him before the current decided his fate and all we ended up loosing from the ordeal was small piece of outfitting (from my boat oddly enough).
He shaked it off like a champ and we returned our attention to downstream progress. The most difficult part of these upper rapids was the water was low enough that each line had rocks throwing our bow off-line, which made them challenging when otherwise they may have been more straight forward. I feel like I learned a lot about boat control on this trip.
One of the earlier rapids There were a number of note-worthy rapids and had there been water and no wood, probably fun ones. A telling scene occurred as I came down the far right side of a steep boulder jumble to avoid wood on the left, but got my paddle pinned between a tree branch and the bottom as I ducked said branch. I let go because I felt the tension in my paddle and I still don't have confidence that my seven2 paddle is able to deal with much stress. To keep from getting flushed downstream I reached up and grabbed a branch hanging down to stop myself mid-current, then spun around and pulled myself branch to branch to get back to my paddle. Right around the corner was an ugly rapid that almost pinned Jeff that I portaged, then this mess. This was one of a number of times we looked downstream and saw this view. There is heavy logging in the area and a lot of those downed logs had found there way into the creek.It was shortly below here that we came to a series of large boulder jumbles in a row, along with some tributaries that signaled the upcoming waterfall of the run. We started seeing bedrock poke up around the walls over the next 1/4 mile and every time I was sure the falls must be coming. Eventually it did. We scouted a sliding 15 footer that had a log across the top, which meant a portage for us. Next was a 6 foot ledge, wondering if this would be the only real clean drop of the run, we lowered down a wall and ran it.
The six foot ledge. I got out on the right just below this ledge to take a look around the corner. Jeff wanted to keep boat scouting as it was clear we were running out of light. I insisted on taking a look, the long sliding rapid just below was blocked by a log halfway down. After that it turned right into a narrow alleyway and exited via a 30' falls (a falls later ran and dubbed Osmosis Falls). We just didn't have the time to contemplate the drop today so began a portage on the right where before too long we found a place to rope ourselves down after some bushwacking and ended up at the base of a towering cliff wall.
It was here that we encountered our next clean rapid. It was a small class two, but it was so nice to have a drop that held its water instead of bashing down a boxing match of water and rock. Below here were some fun rapids and it started feeling like a real river. There actually were a couple good quality class four drops in here. A few hundred yards later we came around a corner in a close to vertical gorge and were confronted with a large horizon line. I voiced my opinion that this better be runnable or we are screwed... It wasn't. This drop fell 40 feet onto a rock shelf, then launched itself the next fifteen feet into an undercut wall and inescapable eddy on the left... uh oh. Luckily the low water we had been bashing down for the last few hours allowed us to work our way down the river right face of the falls then jump 15 feet into a shallow, narrow eddy right next to the falls. I went first since I had a drysuit so I could wait and collect the boats. As I was climbing down I realized there was yet another horizon line downstream followed by a drop with a logjam in it. The jump was a technical one and I brought my feet up as soon as I landed so I didn't go deep like I have done jumping into my pool off my roof before, then swam to a shallow shelf and waited. Jeff threw his off which luckily landed upright and didn't get pulled into the undercut, I collected it and he was kind enough to lower mine on a rope. He jumped in next and he mentioned afterwards that is one of the eeriest jumps he had ever done, I couldn't have agreed more. We have both jumped off 50+ foot cliffs but the location of that fifteen foot jump and what it meant was just a little unnatural. Jeff mugging for the camera at the top of the 40 footer As he was getting ready I cruised down to the next horizon line, which I dubbed little Lucky, because we were very lucky this was a small and runnable 20 footer(and the name I had nicknamed the river on all my google earth maps, short for Luckiamute), because at this point I knew we were going to run out of light, it was just a matter of how far downstream we could make it before that happened... Myself dropping Little Lucky. Both of us had successful lines, we then had a quick river level portage below here, and then it was game time. Jeff probed a small slide, and we began our race against time. The first 1/4 mile was fun class 4 stuff, then it dropped to class 2 and I knew we had about two miles to go and the sun was going away fast. Very quickly the sun disappeared and it was luckily a full moon or we probably would have been staying the night in there. With the tiny bit of sun that remains at 8 oclock this time of year, and help from the moon, we raced downstream. We were making really good time but we couldn't see anything but the white from the waves, so we had to guess where the rocks were based off what the water was doing. This got scary when the logs started piling up, but we wanted to stay in our boats as much as possible to preserve what little light was left. There was one class 3 drop lit by the moon, then shortly below here we lost anything resembling real light.
Have you ever been told you can see stars better if you don't look right at them? And you can't see them sometimes if you look right at them? I modified this technique to get downstream, treating the white-caps like the stars. The log concern only grew as we went downstream, no longer obstructing every other rapid but still present. We knew we must be getting close, but we determined hiking out was not going to be our choice given how many people get lost in the Oregon Coast Range. I remember one moment I was bashing my way through some invisible rocks, when all of a sudden I started flying downstream, I had come to a class two slide and not realized it. That was interesting to say the least, big time reverse vertigo.
We eventually came to a large log pile, and kind of rolled the dice. When we made it passed that one we pulled over to have a short discussion. We drank some water and discussed staying the night. We both felt the take out was going to be right around the corner, but if the wood continued to get worse we would not be able to justify paddling. We decided to not camp right there and paddle just a few more corners. This was the right choice as within the next two bends we paddled under the bridge marking the take out. It was an exceptional feeling to be done with the run after all we had gone through. From boulder bashing to big portages around gorges, to paddling just under an hour in the dark, we had survived what for me was the greatest kayaking adventure I have been on. I don't know if the feeling is fleeting, but as of today I felt like it was an experience that will change who I am to some degree.