(all photos by Matt King unless labelled otherwise)
Elk Creek turned out to be a great run with a multitude of fun bedrock rapids that are loads of fun. There are three significant rapids(if you put in below rail jam), ranging from unique to intimidating, that need to be dealt with in there own way. The first can be easily walked, but is the least challenging. The other two present unique challenges with respect to scouting, portaging, or running. Getting past these three (Boggis, Bunce, and Bean) are the key to a successful trip. We had low water, making this a low stress affair. I imagine that with more water, there would be some concerns with Bunce and Bean that I will address in this report.
Pete sent out the call to do some exploring in the Kalama drainage. I had a feeling as to what we might be up to as my dad had sent me these two enticing pics the year before on a trip to the Kalama.
taken from 200 ft above
He had said it looked like some good drops, tiny creek, probably bad access, the usual recipe for an exploratory run. So anyway, I tell Pete I am in, Matt says he is in. We leave Portland around 830 and drive north. Everything goes smoothly. We locate a takeout and head to the bridge where my dad took those pictures. The bridge is about 200 feet up from the creek and there are no guardrails, a little creepy at first but pretty neat. We decide there is enough water and the creek looks enticing. After driving around on some logging roads we find a good access point right at the confluence of a few streams that create a runnable channel right off the bat. Its not often on these kind of runs you can drive right to put in and take out.
We put on and bash down some bouldery stuff for a couple hundred yards, with some promising signs of bedrock. The creek builds into class three and then we rounded a corner to find a boxed in horizon line just below. Everyone makes their way down to where they can get a peek at the drop (scouting is much less stressful when you can walk right down the middle of the creek). The drop is a little under ten feet tall, with a log in the main line on the right. The log looks slidable, with the left side dropping into a friendly (at this level) pocket with a picket fence of wood blocking the exit, and the right leading to an unobstructed path downstream, with the majority of the water sliding off the log to the left. We moved some wood around and made the drop runnable. Matt and Pete go first and get pushed left, but are able to pull themselves over the guard logs at end. I used what I had gleaned from their runs and am able to get right after a fun slide down the log.
Pete runs "Rail Jam"The run really came into its own below here, where many clean bedrock drops started to stack up. Everything was in the class III-IV range with maybe a IV+ or two. The next notable horizon had the entrance blocked with wood. We waited while some strong winds rearranged the wood, though it resulted in making the drop even more unrunnable - oh well. Just below our only wood portage was another sweet drop. We seal launched in and flew off the sweet auto boof on the right.
Pete drops "Mr. Fox", it's fantastic!Shortly after this fun drop another horizon presented itself. This one was a bit odd, but also fun. The line was to stay right and attempt to land in the green water, though much of the current folded left into the wall.
Here I am finishing "Boggis". Much of the stream was lined with bedrock like this.
Eventually you come to a drop that is easy to tell from above is more significant than the rest. At this level, this drop was the only one to present a true class five challenge. Caution should be taken around this drop as the canyon becomes formidable and while it is easy to scout and move about on the right, the seal launch (only reasonable portage option) is on the left and would be difficult to access with more water. A portage through the woods would be challenging as the walls rise high above river level. Pete did the seal launch and Matt decided to give it a go. I didn't really buy that the lead in would allow me to be where I wanted at the lip so I appreciated Matt going first as he was pretty sold. He ended up drifting to the right off the lip, but did a good job of keeping his body off the wall and only dragging his paddle.
I decided that I didn't want to deal with the wall, so from where I am standing in the picture above (just above Matt on river right), I got into my boat and pushed off hard to the left. The momentum put me right where I wanted to be and I came away upright as well.
The exit to this pool lead into a boulder pile where we all dealt with an undercut boulder, but at higher water you could easily go right. We kept waiting for a logjam, or nasty rapid that would cause the run have an undesireable work/reward ratio, but were pleasantly surprised by the continued high whitewater. Everything was seemed class IV-IV+ in difficulty. One drop that stood out was a six-foot ledge with a cross-current boof on far left, or delayed boof into the hole in the middle. This drop was the beginning of the home stretch and lead into more entertaining bedrock drops.
Before long we encountered a tricky ledge with a backed up hole on the left which flushed right and required missing a bit of a log hazard (Bean). This one was hard to scout so be wary. Matt and Pete had success scampering down on the right, but even getting out of their boats presented a challenge, so while this was an obstacle that could be overcome, a trip at high water might present a problem at this location. Getting as far right as the current would take you worked for us.
Next up was a deceptive double drop with an undercut in the first part on the left that is not visible while scouting (I dubbed it The Rat). Below here was a a series of fun bedrock ledges and chutes continuing to the bridge. There is one final boulder pile as the creek enters the Kalama River.
Pete and I in the Kalama looking back at the Elk creek bridge
and the final boulder jumble. If you look really close you can see two hunters standing on the bridge. Its really tall!
While I briefly described most of the larger drops, there are many more high-quality ledges and rapids that are worth the trip.
All in all, we had a good trip. It's one I would repeat anytime the chance presented itself. How a run this good got overlooked for so long was surprising to me at the time. Years later, and it has still only been repeated once that I know of. With Weyerhaeuser getting more strict about access to this area, the chance to do this run may have passed. I can only be glad Pete brought me along and I got to paddle this stream while it was available.
EF Lewis was at 800-ish, but I'm not sure how helpful this is. If it does correlate, you would want at least 1000 cfs for a repeat trip. SF Toutle was at 3000. That may actually correlate.
Thanks for making it happen Pete!
View Elk Creek in a larger map>
I am still figuring out this embedding process for google maps, but this should work. It is possible to double click on the map and it will zoom in and out if you are interested in figuring out access. You can click on the bubbles for more information. Remember the gates are only open during hunting season.
The naming of the rapids for those interested.
-Rail Jam- skateboarders have rail-jams, you might get jammed if you slide too far on this rail...
-Mr. Fox~ Its a fantastic rapid
-Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are the villains in the Roald Dahl story that Mr. Fox must deal with in his quest for the goods.
-The Rat- He is the sneaky character in the story. Like that sneaky undercut that tried to lure us in.
*no drop was left un-run, save for the wood portage.