Thursday, November 4, 2010

Battle Axe Creek: Lite

Photo: Priscilla Macy


Stream: I have used both the put in described here and the lower put in described below. If you make it to the top, you do get some extra rapids that are fun.  However, the hike is longer and generally all uphill, while the lower trail is shorter with less uphill.  I personally don't feel the extra effort was justified by the additional rapids, and while I felt it was worth doing once I will use the lower put in for any future trips where the bang for buck ratio is higher. 

After the 3 mile hike to Jawbone (these work like a charm), shoulder your boat, cross over Battle Axe Creek and check flows. 

 Looking upstream from the bridge at the very minimum of runnable flows (not a "good" flow).
Note the snow, avoid this run if there is going to be snow on the ground.

The Battle Axe bridge in Jawbone is a good place to take a short break, check the level, and switch from wheels to shoulders (or dragging if you made the mistake of doing the run when there is snow on the ground!).

Keep hiking (route described in the info section) past the bridge to the faintly marked Whetstone trail and veer left.  This leads to the creek at the lower put in in less than a mile (downstream of S.O.B.). 

The creek consists of many 5-10+ foot bedrock rapids with logs sprinkled throughout.  You can expect a few easy log portages, but mostly they can be dodged.   

Even at very low flows there are some fun ledges.

This drop is the largest and means you are close to the end, it can be run left-of-center or right (I like left-of-center).

That's about all there is to say, no unusual hazards, no class V, just fun rapids with some logs.  If there wasn't a hike it would be done all the time.  If you didn't get an early enough start hike back out from Jawbone the way you came in, or continue to Cascadios de los Ninos/Sawmill Falls.  If you built in enough time to continue through Upper Opal, I would recommend that.  Or if you are really efficient you can paddle down to Three Pools or tack on Opal Proper.

                                              Battle Axe through Salmon Falls @ 1,100 cfs
Double this flow is better, but if you have Prijon or ZET plastic it can still be worth checking out at these flows if you want something new added to an Opal trip.

The Battle from Difficult E on Vimeo.

Flows:  2,000 cfs on the Little North Santiam gauge is minimum enjoyable.  All the rapids are well channelized.  3,000 cfs is a healthy medium and the upper limit has not been found.  In the Spring when there is a snowmelt component it can be run all the way down to 1,000 cfs if your kayak has strong plastic.

Looking at the ledge below the Battle Axe Bridge in Jawbone.

  • If the blue line is the only runnable line (like in this photo) you have low water.
  • If you could feasibly paddle the route indicated by the orange line, water is medium.
  • If the orange line looks like the better option because the blue line is scary, you might be in for an exciting day.

Perfect flows, but I wouldn't want much if any more on a first trip down. Snagged from this video of the last 1/4 mile of the creek.

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.  

Get your gear carrying devices out and head past the locked gate up the gravel road about 3 miles to Jawbone Flat along a nice gravel road.  Then cross over Battle Axe and continue upstream along the road next to Battle Axe until a trail heads off to the left (marked as Whetstone in 2017) that leads down to the put in a mile or two above Jawbone.  Or continue to the upper put in.

Notes: Do some research to make sure there isn't snow above Jawbone, hiking/paddling in the snow isn't a whole lot of fun, and might make for lower flows than expected if some of the water is locked up in its solid state.  TRIP CHECK is a good resource.

Trip Report

Battle Axe Creek: Lite

2010:  Nate checking in from the land of Funemployment.
I woke up Tuesday morning with tentative plans to go kayaking. Matt and I had planned to get up leisurely, check levels, and maybe tackle something close to Portland. I finally pulled myself out of bed around 8 o’clock and got on USGS to find that EVERYTHING was in. Overnight, the Little North Santiam @ Mehama had gone from somewhere just below 1000cfs all the way up to 2700... and rising. The first thing that came to mind was Battle Axe creek, a small trib high up in the Little North Santiam drainage. The creek is described on Oregonkayaking as having all the elements of a 'classic creekin run'. With amazing geology, great scenery, and lots of waterfalls, battle axe has been on the top of our list for a long time. However, there are two issues that keep this creek from being run all the time. 1. You need lots of water! At least 2500cfs in the LNS gauge. 2. Access is a bit of a nightmare. From the parking area where you begin your hike into the normal Lower Opal creek run, it is over 3 miles to reach Jaw Bone Flat, the take out for Battle Axe. From there, it is another two miles of hiking up the creek to 3369 trail crossing, which was the put-in used by the oregonkayaking crew a few years back. Needless to say, this creek is an all day affair.
Back to the story. Having woken up at 8, Matt and I were not able to get on the road until 9, which would seem to be far to late into the day to attempt such a time consuming mission. As I mentioned, this run has been on our radar for some time now, so much so that Matt had already devised a plan to get us into Jaw Bone with far less time and effort than the standard hike. At 11 am sharp, we rolled into the Opal Creek trail head and unloaded our boats, our gear, and the bike cart! Within a few minutes we had the two kayaks loaded onto the cart, along with all our gear, and we were peddling up the dirt road toward Jaw Bone. (this particular cart is rated up to 300lbs) We must of looked like some sort of circus act as we headed up the road, being that Matt was towing the cart on a single speed bike, every once in awhile I would have to jump off my bike and push from the back to ascend particularly steep sections. The cart did tip over once or twice, but it held up nicely and we rolled into Jaw Bone (the take out) within 30 minutes of leaving the car.
Here is where things started to go a little south. As we waited for Caitlin, who had come along to enjoy the beautiful day in the woods (did I mention we had gorgeous weather?), we started chatting with the live-in care-takers of JB. They were all very nice and we had a good time talking with them about their life style up in the woods, however, we did get one piece of bad advice, which we followed. They recommended that rather than follow the trail right up the creek, we should continue on the road, which would eventually meet back up with the trail and was not nearly as steep. We decided to go along with this plan thinking that we could continue to bike all the way to the put-in, rather than shouldering our boats. After tackling a few steep switch backs, we were making good time up the valley with the creek far below us slowly rising up to the meet the road.
After we had gone a considerable distance we found a substantial trail coming up from the creek and intersecting our road. After some discussion, we decided that we had made it to the crossing and our intended put-in... but the intersecting trail didn't seem to have any access towards the river and was actually trending back down towards JB. At this point, we decided to just drop into the creek through the woods and put on, our rationale being that if anything, we were above the put-in used by the Oregon Kayaking crew. As we put on, two drops were visible upstream, each about 10-15 ft tall. One had wood in the base, the other was clean. It would have been a terrible bush-wack to get above these drops with our boats, so we kept with the plan and put on. At this point we actually thought we might be dropping in above the nasty upper section described on oregonkayaking.
Within 100 yards we came to sizable ledge drop leading into another ledge that appeared to be pretty sticky. A quick scout revealed a fun twisting drop with a retentive hole near the bottom. The drop went well and was free of wood. We actually had no wood portages on our entire run. After a few more ledges we came to a big horizon line that was creating a truly amazing vista. The drop consisted of 3 ft. ledge that fed right into an 15-18 ft. water fall. This drop is called Battle ax falls and was run on the far right by the oregonkayaking crew due to wood in the center of the drop. The drop was clean as whistle on this particular day and the center line was the preferred choice. A sloping 5 ft slide into a flake! Great drop.
The only bummer about running Battle Ax falls was the realization that we had dropped into the creek too soon and had missed a significant amount of the gradient. Taking the lower grade road turned out to be a huge mistake and resulted in a longer walk and less paddling . If you do this run, just follow the normal trail right up next to the creek, it isn't very steep and is well maintained.
After this realization, we made the call to continue down to Cascada de los Ninos on the Little North Santiam to get some extra paddling in. We bombed down what remained of Battle Axe enjoying the numerous ledge drops and the final falls below the bridge at Jaw Bone before hitting the confluence. 10 minutes saw us at the lip of Cascada. Matt took a quick peak, which was pretty difficult to do given the high water and signaled me over the drop. He followed shortly after and we took off the river feeling a little bitter sweet about our experience on Battle Axe. Given the ease at which we had attained the creek, we didn't feel too dejected about the drops we missed, but it was still a bummer to have come so far to boat so little. We'll know next time. Despite our folly, a great day was had by all. The creek is excellent and I encourage everyone to get up there and see for themselves, just be sure to put on at the proper spot.
After ditching our boats, we walked back up to Jaw Bone to meet Caitlin, who had been so kind as to ride the bike trailer down the hill for us. After a few games of horse shoes and exploring the old mining village, we were on our way back down the hill. After a quick stop to load up the boats we arrived at my car and were on our way home.
Thanks go out to Caitlin for helping with the bike cart and to those who found this gem and made it known to the world.
Until next time.

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