These thoughts kept Matt and myself driving East as the Creeks we passed kept having less and less water. "Ok, if sundance ditch has less than thirty cfs when we cross over we head back". "What?, its dry? Lets keep going anyway". This was the continual conversation we were having as Matt and I headed towards Pine Creek on the Washington side of the Columbia across from Arlington. We continued on to the put in, passing the most surreal, fantastic view I have ever seen.
We were surprised to see plenty of water for the creek (150-200 cfs). We were stoked and with water as well as a name like Jupiter canyon who wouldn't be? We tried seeing into the canyon for clues as to what we would find, but were turned back. We decided to just put on and if it was full of waterfalls and too steep we would just hike back to the car. To save light we decided to not set bike shuttle and just hitch at the end of the trip. We decided to check the mileage on the trip and guessed five miles by the GPS. I believe it was at this point Matt said "I'll be happy if we make it back to this car by midnight".
We put on at 1:00 and immediately ducked a fence. We then started weaving through brush that never gets cleared out by high water because there is no high water. After a short bit we came to the first section of rapids. These were class three affairs that were super manky and involved sketchy moves around Junipers and brush. We started scouting and running them, until we realized we would make better progress hiking through the cow fields. We decided to hike until we saw worthwhile whitewater in order to make downstream progress. About a half mile later it looked like the creek was runnable. We started running some manky boulder piles with more brush before coming to our first horizon line. We got out to scout and were stoked to find a really sweet Class five boulder Garden with a double rainbow across the sky :)
(only one rainbow in this photo, sorry Paul Vasquez)
Matt dug the line and went first. The trick was to not get knocked off line by the boulders in the lead in, boof a 4 foot drop angling right and paddle to avoid a sieve all the water was pushing hard into. Then you could turn the corner and hit a sweet but challenging double boof that I was sure would be manky but with the correct boof strokes turned out very clean. We both had identical, textbook lines before eddying out before the next big drop.
(myself boofing the second part of the only rapid we ran)This one did turn out to be to manky and we walked it, myself on river right, Matt on river left. We kept walking hoping to find runnable water, but it was all really manky and filled with brush. This portage turned into a mile long hike. Luckily the terrain was the easiest portaging I have ever done.
After hiking for about half an hour, we began to see small gorge walls creep up. We hoped this would mean the bedrock we were hoping for was starting. Matt scouted and said it was a no go, so I kept walking. Matt crossed over to my side and eventually caught up to me during a water break/scout I was having. The ground we were walking on was very odd. It obviously did not see water very often, so was very saturated, lapping it all up. This produced a clay that was sticky and squishy. So our feet would sink into it, then stick to our shoes, making our feet pounds heavier. This was a minor annoyance for me, but when Matt caught up to me, he told me how he barely made it out of the canyon because he was sinking knee deep into this stuff and sliding backwards. He would have to lift his feet out with his hands every step because it was gripping his feet like quicksand!
With that behind us we began hiking another large distance to where the creek became flat, this was a good sign as it was the end of the first gradient section and marked the halfway point. The bad news was it was 3:30 and we had an hour of daylight left...
We put on, ducked another fence, made our way through some sketchy juniper gardens. dealt with some more clas II-III boulder stuff, and came to the second section of gradient. It was unrunnable from the get-go, with steep boulder gardens going through a Juniper Forest. We got excited at one point when we saw some bedrock and a sweet looking III-IV slide, but that had wood blocking the exit. We began a more difficult portage and found ourselves high above the creek looking downstream at large gorge walls. We discussed our plan with only 20 minutes of daylight left, by the time we had our backpack/dragging systems rigged, we had 10 minutes of light left. So we cracked a beer each and watched the sun set, enjoying the moment.
(Enjoying the last of the light, at least the moon is out)The hike out was pleasant, I was really enjoying myself. The moon gave just enough light to see, the ground was soft so we dragged our boats. The air was also warm and still, this combined with only one short bit of rain, we were really having a great time. We took breaks when we felt like it, sucking it all in. We could hear the John Day dam even though it was miles away. We could see I84, so close, yet so unachievable at the moment. We hiked many miles this way as our perception was toyed with. We almost hike around a "deep, forboding canyon" That turned out to be a small ditch. This same play on our sight happened many times, but each time we took the risk and we would be able to pass through the canyon, always turning out much easier than we had anticipated. Eventually we reached a bluff looking out over the Columbia and took it in once again. We plotted our route down to HWY 14 and began down a chute, hoping we wouldn't get cliffed out during our 1,000 foot descent to the road. We got lucky and before we knew it we were stashing the boats and sticking out our thumbs. We started walking towards the town of Moona (as shown on the GPS), which turned out to be a futuristic, invisible city, so we kept walking. Trying to catch a ride to Roosevelt, 7 miles down the road. After 3 miles we came to a car on the side of the road that had hit a deer. The man let us use our phones to call the people who needed to be called. We left him to wait for a tow truck and kept trudging down the road towards Roosevelt. It was somewhere in here I stopped having fun, we were both getting very sore, our legs were hurting and we had a long way to go. We kept going though and eventually we were there. The only problem is we still had 7 very steep uphill miles to the car...
We knocked on the first door we saw that had lights on, including Christmas lights, they must be in the Christmas spirit right? Wrong. We walked down the street to the final house on the block, also with Christmas lights. This was our last chance on getting a ride so Matt really turned on the charm, scoring us a ride! I honestly don't know if I had it in me to walk the rest of the way. I may have curled up in my drysuit under a bush if this man hadn't been willing to give us a ride. Back to the car, dry clothes, collect the boats and we are on our way home! After a food stop we cross to Oregon and I am out faster than you can say "Pine Creek was not a futuristic creek worthy of exploration". However, I loved the adventure while learning lots, and treasure the memory already.
I just went over the stats after finishing writing this blog post.
max gradient 390 fpm
miles kayaked: less than 1
miles portaged: > 2
miles walked total: 10 1/2
miles walked with kayaks: 3 1/2
hours spent outside after dark: 4 1/2
drops ran: 1
Trips like this only fuel my fire to seek out new canyons and streams.
sights like this are why.