Sunday, October 2, 2011

Part Three: Getting to the goods

"The river delights to lift us free, if we only dare to go.
Our true work is this voyage, this adventure." -Richard Bell

          Wallowa Wiki #1 really stood out on the maps because it's a deep granite canyon with lots of steep sections and has a road that more or less follows the creek way up into the mountains. If you think of the streams in the Wallowas as the spokes of a bike wheel, this is one of the few where the road gets past the rim. The easy access, great camping, and steepness was calling my name and so I started my exploration there, heading up to the creek several times over the course of spring and getting a sense of what flows we needed. When Jacob and I ended up there during our circumnavigation, flows were too high, but we definitely saw the promise, and we got a delicious taste when we knocked off Cherry Picker.
The highest water season in decades forced me to wait what seemed like an eternity for the water to drop, but finally the time came. It started out with some emails, trying to get some good boaters to make their way east. That's one thing that's been hard about moving to a small town in an area not known for kayaking: there aren't many kayakers, you've got to import them from elsewhere. Thanks to some good convincing by Jacob that I wasn't just crazy and the whitewater wouldn't just be a manky-woody-portage-fest, some folks expressed interest. With the groundwork done, and a solid idea that the flows were right, a small group finally came together. First, we knocked off the obvious treasure, Wiki 1.

The first time down the creek we had Chris Arnold, Ty Overeem, and me. We spent a lot of time hiking off the road and scrambling down, only to get a look at a few hundred yards of clean stream. We couldn't really tell how steep stuff was since we were looking from so high up, but some of it made the creek seem like one giant steep boulder garden. Once we noticed the abundance of single-boat eddies, we decided we might as well go for it and we put on. The put in, by the way, is really nice, some wooden steps lead from a campsite to a serene pool with a gravel beach, a stark difference from what lies just around the corner.

Ryan Scott contemplates the calm before the storm.
Heading around the corner from the campground, the creek immediately begins to tilt on edge and starts rolling on downhill. There are lots of nice little eddy moves and smaller boofs as the river gives you a chance to warm up and get acquainted. About a mile into the run, the first recommended scout shows up, pretty much at a blind right-hand corner. Again and as always, never run a blind corner! It's best to hop out at a landslide on the right and walk down to scout. This one really makes you turn back and forth a lot while dropping at a dizzying rate; we called it Tailspin. The photos only include the middle part of the rapid, it's nearly a quarter-mile long end to end. The most important move was a really nice cross-current boof to avoid a nasty log jam blocking half the river.

The Crux move in Tailspin
The Satisfaction of being post-crux: Jacob, Ty, and Ryan get it done in perfect formation.
Still Spinning.
Following Tailspin, the river eases off a bit, but there's no point on this whole run where you can relax. Constant boulder boofs and some wood avoidance keep you on your toes. At some point, there's another blind right corner with some house-sized boulders coming off of a landslide on river left. Stop early for this one, an eddy at the corner is deceptive and caught one of our paddlers off guard on our first decent, forcing him to run the corner.

Condemnation Corner
Once he knew he had missed the eddy, he turned and saw that he was headed straight for a river-wide log. Seeing no way out in his boat, he jumped ship and scrambled on to shore, sustaining some severe bruises but otherwise fine. By the time the rest of us ran down shore and made visual contact, he was standing up on a huge boulder and OK, much to our relief.

No good line.
Condemnation is best scouted and portaged on the left, but hopefully by the time this one comes in again, the wood will have disappeared. And after the portage- more bouldery goodness! There were a couple spots that required some tricky wood-avoidance, but this section was mostly clean as well and quite enjoyable.
Soon the walls start to rise, and the Last Delight Gorge emerges from the forest. You can see it coming from well upstream because there's a huge granite face on river right with nothing growing but stunted little bonsai trees. Once you see this wall, get out on the left to scout/portage the entrance drop, which had wood for us.
Once you get past the entrance, the deepest part of the gorge comes into view, and the substrate changes from boulders to bedrock.

Feeling Delighted! 
The gorge is short, less than a quarter mile, but it sure packs a punch. There's a diagonal hole at the top, then a moving pool into a killer boof. We saw this one when we were scouting before the run, standing on the rocks above like giddy school boys. I've heard from some locals that the boof ledge is the best place around to watch salmon jump. At about 8 feet, they can get above it, but most fish will have to make a few attempts and will enact their best aerial gymnastics.

Scouting the boof 
And downstream of the boof 
Jacob digs deep. 
Ty styling the main attraction.
 
Below the boof, there's a log jam that looks unrunnable, but can be snuck under on the left. There's a hole under the logs that you kinda blast through while ducking, but the move is quite manageable.

Getting ready for the logjam. 
Many logs, one line.
 
After the jam, there's a nice eddy on the left that we all stopped in, just above the last move of the run. The final move consists of a 90-degree turn against a wall that leads immediately to a speedy ski-jump style launch into or over a big hole. The hole took a couple of us for a ride over the two runs, but didn't hold on too tight and everyone fought till flushing.

Coming to the end.
 
At the take out, we all enjoyed a cold one, thanks to Oakland who dutifully guarded the cooler while we were on the river. I was really satisfied that this run turned out so well and the boys were far from disappointed. In fact, we all agreed that in terms of steep, bouldery goodness, this was the best whitewater any of us had done... too bad it's only in a few weeks a year.

Video with plenty of footage from the Lostine, as well as the Imnaha.

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