Thursday, December 27, 2012

Little Luckiamute: In to town


Stream: This section has a write-up in the back of Soggy Sneakers but gets little attention.  It doesn't have the best whitewater, but it does have whitewater and is roadside.  I ran it a number of times while I was in college because it was close by and I could jog/scooter the shuttle between classes.  If you are a class V boater the drop below the take out might interest you.

I usually started at camp Tapawingo, but it is possible to start at the white gate at the take out for The Gorge section.  Below the Tapawingo bridge is a short bit of class I-II before the creek drops away through several steep and braided channels.  Sometimes the top had to be portaged.

Below here it's class III or IV depending on flow with some flatter parts.  Watch out for wood but there was never enough to bother me.  Before reaching a decommissioned park there is a steep rapid that is pretty intermediate at normal flows but on one high water trip it was not and the person I was paddling with took a heinous swim and lost their gear.  They were pretty shook up.  I'd rate the drop more IV+ that day with some real holes.

Below the park the creek eases off and it's splashy class III at high water and technical class II at low water until you pass under another bridge.  Below this bridge things build slowly back to class III-IV depending on flow and there are a couple ledges with solid holes at high flows.

Work right as you approach Falls City Falls, the eddies along the bank over there are plenty easy to catch but you wouldn't want to miss them and if you enter the lead in too far left you might not be able to stop above the Falls.  Fortunately it's easy to scout the take out before putting on from Falls City Falls park and I'd recommend doing that.

This is the end of the trip, but you won't be able to help but look for the line at Falls City Falls.  It's a pretty serious and messy drop, but if you decide to run it taking out at the foot bridge behind Fink's Market is easy.
Flows:  I take a look at Falls City Falls from the take out to gauge flows for the run, located here: 44.867172, -123.438568. 

Pat Welch has an online estimate, I usually look for 400-1,000 cfs for the Little Luckiamute to be in but have run it both higher and lower.  Iv'e paddled it a hair under 200 before.  If levels are rising I don't want to see that gauge above 500 or so though, in fact if levels are rising fast I usually avoid this stretch. This river doesn't get more fun, just more stressful at high water.  Rickreall or the main Luckiamute are better high water options that are nearby.

There are three rocks at the falls that can help you get an idea what kind of flows you have.  
-  If flows are going over the yellow (L) rock, you have enough water to paddle the river. 
-  If water is going over the blue (M) rock, you have good/medium flows.  
-  If water is going over the orange (H) rock, you have high water. 

Too Low

This was taken at a low, runnable flow. 
Photo: Adam Edwards


High water.  Iv'e put on at Camp Tapawingo twice at high water and it was stressful both times.  Priscilla had a life adjusting swim on one of those trips.  Using the lower put in makes this section more reasonable.  Watch out for some large holes in the half mile above Falls City Falls, and make sure you can stop above it.

I have not paddled the river this high.

Access:  Drive into Falls City Falls via Falls City rd, a short way past the High School and near the end of town is Fink's Market.  Pull in here to grab your food, water, beer, etc for the day.  Drive another 100 yards past Fink's and you will see a bridge, cross over the bridge and turn right. There is a small gravel parking area on the right in about 100 yards with some boulders and sometimes a port-toilet.  This is the take out, where you can assess flows and check out the eddy situation for taking out above Falls City Falls.

To get to the put in cross back over the bridge and immediately turn left, then veer left again in 1/4 mile.  The road becomes gravel, continue about 3 miles to a right turn into Camp Tapawingo/Black Rock Mt Bike area.  You will shortly cross the put in bridge where you will find ample parking.

* For a shorter/easier run once you hit gravel continue only 1.5 miles to what used to be a park on the right (but is blocked by boulders in 2018).  This can be used as a put in.

Original Write-up

Plan B: Falls City Falls

One of the first things I did upon arriving to college freshman year at Western Oregon University was to go check out the waterfall that was in the neighboring town of Falls City.  Driving there and asking locals to its locale I found it looking pretty marginal that day, but maybe at a different flow it would go?

I have returned to that falls many times since that first trip at all variety of flows.  I had never felt inspired to run it.

Last weekend my roommate Pat and I were trying to get to the Valley of the Giants, but got turned back by snow.  I figured we were driving right by Falls City Falls on the way back so might as well take another look at it.

I knew right away that it was runnable on this day, the flow was perfect and I had the feeling.  All I had was the IK, but sometimes I feel better in that thing anyway.  I scouted for half hour or so then had Pat drop me off half a mile upstream to warm up and remember how the IK handled.

Arriving at the falls I scouted for a few more minutes and then headed to my boat.

The line went exactly according to plan and can be viewed below.  I never thought I would run this drop and it was surreal to paddle towards it and then away from it.  Another personal boundary breached.

I think the online estimate was about 700 cfs and stable or dropping.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Silver Creek (Silverton)

This run was always on the back of my mind being close to school, but I had never gone for it thinking it was a big mission so as such it was on a large list near the bottom.  I may have been reading between lines that weren't there in the existing literature, but I was under any Winter trip to Silver Creek would be a fight against darkness.  Fresh off a different big mission and a sore hind quarters from a bad line off Cascada De Los Ninos Nate and I decided we were just fine with a moderate mission.  John Edwards thought that sounded like a good time too, Silver seemed the ticket and levels were there so went for it.

Kayaking was banned in the park at some point, but AW is in talks with State Parks to see if an agreement could be reached that would allow kayaking.  Stay tuned.  

We didn't see anyone else up there, maybe it was a weekday or something.  I don't recall.

The levels were not as high as we expected, more of a healthy-low.  The snow put us in a good mood as we walked and dragged our boats down the trail. 

 We may or may not have run Drake Falls, which may or may not be the funnest 20 footer around.  This drop no longer has wood in it.  Twin and Lower North were definitely wood riddled as of 2012.  

If you really want it there is a line.

Once we reached the confluence there was an easy slide or two before reaching Crag Falls.  We ran this on the right, the best line being as close to the tree as you are comfortable, too far to the right of the tree and you may find a chest level rock in the landing.

There was some tame water below here with some moderate scenery.  Eventually we caught the easy eddy on the left above Dobo Falls.  Dobo is a weird falls that saw three upright lines, but lets just say I’m glad the camera wasn't recording my descent.  

Nate gets it done.

Just below was a ledge we ran on the right with a more interesting looking line on the left.

Following that was a lengthy class two stretch before Dirty Falls that has a slide on the right that is smoother than it appears from the lip.

There was a bridge with a slide best run center left below here, then another extended class two float to Murrays Rapid.  This one had a sticky hole, and we were a bit lethargic after nodding off through the easy section and all snuck the hole either left or right.  

John takes a lefty on the right.

 This was the last drop and we were soon on the reservoir, with the take out on the far side.

Silver Creek may have a unique appeal:  John pointed out this would be a good run to take a newer boater.  Someone would need to be able to catch eddies and have some form of a roll, but there is a lot of good class two on the run to practice on with a variety of different types of the easy variety rapids, with a couple more interesting drops for the teacher to have fun on and introduce the newer boater to some of the more advanced techniques involved in kayaking (larger drops are easily portaged).  The most challenging moment would be Dirty falls where a wave hole guards the river right eddy.  A further up eddy can be caught before the lead in though.

3000 cfs on the Molalla seemed low and friendly, but the run would be floatable down to 2000-ish.  Also, while the run is 11 miles, we were on the water less than 4 hours.

I now use the Butte @ Monitor gauge for Silver Creek, I don't have it dialed but 400 cfs is a low runnable, and 1,000 is probably a filled in and padded med-high flow. 

It can also be run at flood level.


post script:  There is a clean 50 footer above the put in that gets run.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rock Creek: The Top Rock (Stevenson)

This run was a team effort, and such will be the spreading of information.

Other sites likely to have information on this run in the future:

Gorge Hits


Keel Brightman Photography

To avoid confusion when reading...

Italicized: Nate
Normal font: Jacob

We went with a Lord of the Rings theme for naming the creek.  The drops are in order of the Hobbits adventure and the drops correlate with their challenges.  If you are familiar with the story, you will have an idea how far along you are on the run by the names of the drops.

Rock Creek, WA

The creek has long been on the radar as a semi-classic class IV run in the CRG and the oft-hucked Money Drop. But until last year, no one had really explored the upper reaches of the drainage. Upper Rock descends through a canyon that rivals (and even outshines) the Salmon River which flows off the flanks of nearby Mt. Hood.

After our failed attempt last year, I was unsure if I was ever going to return to this section of river which as Nate mentions, outshines any other section of river in the area in terms of an all around challenge.  I had seen the committing nature of the run in the form of 4 failed attempts at gaining access, hours examining topo maps in finite detail, and an intimate experience with the canyon as we flanked its river left wall hundreds of feet above the stream for 8 hours last year.  I was very worried the lower gorge contained numerous massive waterfalls of a similar stature to the entrance falls that forced our hike out last year.  I did not think it was a good idea to commit to the run without scouting all of it by foot first. I knew others would eventually become interested as it is obvious on a map and the location was known to those who paid attention.  Hans is one such person who was paying attention and decided to do the leg work to puzzle together the lower gorge.  He did some scouting this summer and his report of 5 very clean 15-20 footers in the lower gorge made me reconsider and think this trip may actually be possible.  This in my mind was not enough to make me jump on the wagon and give the run a go however, as I was not sure the first falls could be portaged, and on our hike out I witnessed "a lot of white" between the first falls and the lower gorge.  The walls were massive and inescapable, I did not want to put my family and friends through another rescue, so told Hans I wasn't sold.  However, the fire had been lit and he assured me that he could repel us around anything we came across and that the section between where he had scouted and the initial falls would likely be brushy mank, but nothing too big.

Two weeks ago the levels aligned and we decided to go in.  We wasted time in the morning and after getting to the take out to set shuttle I knew there was not enough time to tackle the run today.  We briefly considered hiking in from the bottom, but made the wise choice to save it for another day, running the "boof to bliss, pin to panic" section of Rock Creek.

Fast forward to this week and the momentum had grown.  The research had been done, a crew consisting of the majority of exploratory boaters in the area had been assembled, and shuttle was taken care of.  This trip was happening today.  The seed had been sown, it was time to reap the consequences and rewards of our decision to commit.  There were two meeting times, first the raft group, then the Portland contingent would meet up about an hour later.  As the only person who knew access I needed to take the first group to the trailhead, then head back to collect the Portlandians.  There was the expected chaotic start from such a large group, but eventually we all arrived at the put in after a short 15 minute hike along a convenient berry picker trail that offers the only reasonable access to this run.

 Along the berry path/Descent into Middle Earth

The word about an unsolved puzzle right in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge had certainly spread over the last year. As it were, we ended up with a rather large contingent of paddlers. In addition to Matt, Jacob, and I, we also had Keel Brightman, Ryan Scott, Brett Barton, and Scotty Baker. Hans Hoomans and his friend Eric from Colorado also joined in on the fun in a 13 foot raft. 

There is a fun 12'er just above the put in that Emile and I had run last year (the only rapid we ran) that Ryan ran on this trip.  It was obvious to me from this drop that we had less water than last year, and I was happy about this as portaging would be easier and some of the drops more friendly.  I was starting to become worried at this point though as there was a lack of ernest amongst the group, eventually it was time to go and progress began to be made.


The story of this run would fill a small book, so I have wrote more of an expanded guidebook entry below to help those who want to go in and go big.  I'm sure the stories will emerge in writing and through word of mouth soon enough.

What you may want to know to attempt this run

Access:  Look at a map first, if your group can't figure out the shuttle this probably isn't the run for you.  To get you going on your map work, the take out is the highest bridge on Rock Creek near the PCT and Snag creek trail.  This part of the shuttle is mostly along Red Bluff road.  To get to the put in; go to the Upper Trout creek put in bridge, just after the bridge turn right.  After a period of time the road will turn left (there will be a gated road to the right) and start going uphill.  Follow this to the top of the ridge and turn left.  Within a quarter mile a barely visible trail will be on the right at a small pull-off.  Hopefully this spot will get marked sooner than later.  Follow this trail to the creek, it will peter out at points, but no one has gotten lost yet.

Snow Marker:  The elevation of this corner coincides with the elevation at the head of the gorge. 

You should arrive at a small class I-II creek bed with barely enough water to float.  Upstream is a 12'er, downstream are a number of log portages.  It is best to make haste through this section, as it is easier to save time here than later on.

As we were gearing up and about to put boat to water, I remember turning to Cruser and asking, "Is this a bad idea?" His response wasn't entirely what I was hoping for: "Um. Maybe. But it's happening." Needless to say, Jacob's epic hike out the previous winter had me on some pins and needles. 

Less than a mile into the run shallow, low angle slides will appear.  At this point be on alert for the first falls.  The creek will make a left then immediate right, making this right turn will result in a run over the falls.  An alert boater will find there are eddies where they need them.  The portage is easiest with rope on the right, but has been done on the left.  The landing itself is deep but had a barely visible log in the landing on this trip.  This was the first taste of the challenges to come.


A couple more views of Weathertop

Photo: Ryan Scott

 Below here a short ways is a class III slide and the next rapid is the first class V.  It looked portageable on the left, but don't be tricked into going very high or you will be cliffed out.  At low flows we boated/portaged our way at river level.

First notable rapid

Soon is the first big falls.  This is a three tiered monster.  The first drop is marginal, the second and third appear runnable.  We portaged high on the right, but this was not favorable.  After the portage we discovered roping the boats down the first falls on the right, then ferrying over to river left above the second falls would lead to a much simpler river level portage.  It also allows for a boater to scout the third drop from the lip.

I ended up doing a rappel down to the base of the last falls in this series while others lowered their boats down and proceeded to tackle the long hike around. After seeing this fall from the base, I estimated the drop is closer to 45 feet it height rather than the 60 foot drop we'd estimated from high up on the canyon walls. If you follow Jacob's portage directions above, you'll have ample opportunity to decide for your selves. 


The lip of the first (marginal) drop in Rivendell

The second and third (runnable) drops of Rivendell

Having already completed the gorge that had turned Jacob back the year prior, I was feeling pretty good at this point. We were making good time and the drops were all classic affairs (although we weren't firing). I remember taking a rather long break below the gorge and eating a bit of food while resting up for the next stage of our journey. Looking back on it, this was one moment where we really could have saved our selves some time down the line. We may have been lulled into a sense of complacency with regards to daylight seeing as we'd just completed what we expected to be the hardest portage. 

Below here is a pretty manky section that would be rocking and eddy-less with more water.  It starts with a 25' slide into a narrow sluiceway.  This turns the corner and enters some brush and pinny stuff, then some runnable boulder gardens with wood.

This section bogged us down as a group and reminded us that every part of this creek has bite, both on and off the water.

The hairy ferry
(probably best to run the rapid at higher flows or stay right to portage)

It's worth noting that there is an active landslide the pours into the creek from river right just below the 25' slide. We all portaged along the slide, however, Matt narrowly avoided serious injury when several dump trucks worth of rocks shifted under his feet and slid down into the creek. Portage with care!

Below here I think things were smooth for a bit with an easy slide at the base of a truly impressive river right wall.

Helms Deep

This was the heart of the gorge and my favorite spot on the run.  The river right wall is truly breathtaking.

After spending such an inordinate amount of time and energy making our way through the brushy mank upstream, it felt great to be running some rapids and making down stream progress. The wall that is featured in the photo above is really a sight to be seen! A sheer, slanted slab of rock that is easily 300 feet tall that shoots directly up from the creek. 

Below here a creek enters on the left, marking the lower gorge.  The next horizon line was supposed to be the first of the 20'ers. There was an eddy on the right above the first falls.  The first drop is a twisting 40'er that looks runnable, with a runout that feeds right into an abrupt 50'er.  The 50 looked deep from above, but Nate was collecting boats in the pool below and had his doubts.  To portage the two drops, we first roped them down on the right side of the first falls and scrambled through the woods to collect them.  This left us needing to get to the left for the second part, which led to a classic "scary ferry".  This required being propelled into the base of the first falls and paddling like mad to make it to the river left eddy.  Keel went last after pushing us, so wasn't able to get a push but still made the move.  Thanks Keel!  After this we pushed the boats off the second falls where Nate and Matt collected them, then did a moderately exposed traverse on river left.

This is right around the point when the trip took on a more desperate nature. With daylight burning fast we found ourselves standing at the lip of a second intimidating gorge. As we stood on the patio and looked over the edge of the first drop, we could tell that the portage around the gorge was going to take a good chunk of time and I think everyone was starting to feel the looming threat of a cold night out on one of the darkest days of the year. From this point on, we all adopted a very workman like mentality when it came to down stream progress. Looking out over the gorge and not knowing just have big the next horizon line will be was a feeling I'd not yet known in kayaking.

The Two Towers 

The scary ferry between Tower 1 and Tower 2

A few short slides led to the next horizon.  Matt and Nate had already scouted, and Nate said I shouldn't scout this one, just go with the water and tuck.  I was a bit skeptical, but with a twinkle in his eye Nate said "trust me" and got into his boat.  I followed and using that beta cleaned up on the funnest drop we ran that day.


The bottom set in Gondor was class V+ made worse by a raft stuck in the first drop.  Keel and Nate think this drop is the creme de leche of the run, and has the potential to become yet another signature drop in the Columbia Gorge.  It is a 25' pancake only drop, immediately (maybe time for a stroke) into another 25'er with a clean pool.

Minus Tiruth at the exit to Gondor
Photo: Tim Olsen
(Taken at summer flows)
The pool below.

 This is followed by some boulder gardens and wood before the next biggin' (Black Gate), a tough 40'er with a deep looking pool.  The faster portage is on the left, but looked exposed to us who portaged on the right.  Boats were also thrown here.

After reaching the start of the second gorge, the group had developed a pretty stringent guide for portaging around these large waterfalls. Almost every single drop on the top of the rock falls into giant basalt amphitheaters that require long, strenuous portages up and around. Imagine portaging Punchbowl Falls on eagle creek, from the lip, repeatedly.. without the aid of a trail! In order to speed up the process, the group would divide up into two groups when we hit a new horizon. 2/3 of the group would begin the long walk immediately sans boats, while the remaining 1/3 would hang tight. Once the 2/3 had made it to the bottom, the folks at the top would huck boats and paddles off to be corralled at the base of the falls. As the 2/3 drained boats, the 1/3 would complete the hike. This kept everything moving down river!
Black Gate
Photo: Ryan Scott

Following this was a fun section (Shelob's Layer) of boulder gardens with some wood.  Scotty led a charge through here to keep us on schedule.  My second favorite drop was in here.  This boulder garden saw us sneaking into a small channel on the right, then driving back center for a fun couple of moves.  A swimming portage on the left followed awhile later and we were nearing the end of the hard stuff.

    In Shelob's Layer

 This section ends with Doom, another ten foot log choked drop into a narrow landing that may go with more flow, but we were able to portage on both sides.


Below here its just a race against darkness, once you pass a green colored cliff on the left you have reached The Shire and the PCT bridge is just downstream.   It is possible to hike a mile on the PCT out to a road, but at this point you are only a mile of class II away from the end so if you have light you may as well take it easy and float to the vehicle bridge.

The Shire

Everything about the Top of the Rock grades out on an epic scale. Access requires a 2 hour one way shuttle which circumnavigates several nearby drainages.  The road to the put-in tops out above 3000 feet and is snowed in much of the year. The drops are large and the portages are taxing. Weather patterns have necessitated both attempts to have occurred right around the winter solstice  which dramatically decreases the amount of usable day light to complete the run (and you need every moment) An attempt on this creek should not be taken lightly! That being said, there are some classic drops in there and I personally look forward to watching folks start to pick em off. This trip was more of an exploratory mission to get the whole thing dialed in. As such, no one was really in the 'go big' mindset and we ended up leaving all the biggins un-run. I know that I can't wait to get back in there and maybe have a crack at one or two of the falls. Just be aware, if you do wreck yourself on Top of the Rock, egress out of the canyon won't really be much of an option. Go get em!

Video from Ryan Scott of CRG productions

Rock Creek, WA - Headwaters Canyon - (Top of the Rock) from CRG Whitewater on Vimeo.

   -Nate & Jacob


Gage:  Rock Creek once had a gage that was available online from 2008-2013.  Currently only the gauge height can be ascertained, and that must be done in person.

Here is a rough correlation showing the relationship between the gage height and cfs. 

 G.H                                    CFS

9.00    ..........    304
9.50    ..........    454
10.10   ..........    701
10.50   ..........    904
 10.80   ..........   1,050
 11.00   ..........   1,160
 11.50   ..........   1,490
 11.90   ..........   1,810

I believe the range is roughly 11'-12', with 11.5' being ideal.  Yet with only a couple data points that is guesswork at best.

  • The first time we tried this run on 10-30-2011, Rock Creek was raging at higher flows than the gauge could register (the online gauge did not read higher than 12' or just under 2,000 cfs). This was not a good first time flow, and a visual estimate of the flooding creek was in the 3,000+ cfs range at the gage site.  The EF Lewis standby gage was at over 4500 cfs.

  • The photos on this trip report were taken at about 11', or around 1,100 cfs on 10-8-2012.  This gage is far downstream on Rock Creek, we probably only had a couple hundred cfs max in the headwaters which was a low, runnable level.  The EF Lewis standby gage was at 2200 cfs.

The gage is found where Rock Creek flows under the Ryan Allen Rd bridge a short distance upstream of Stevenson.  45.6985, -121.9053

The readings stop at 10.10, but this meter stick has been added to extend the gage.  The inches start at the 10.00 mark, so this part of the gage reads as inches + 10 feet. The top of the metal is at 22" or 11'10" so a covered gage means high water.

There is also a rough gage on the right pylon of the bridge that extends the readings further if the metal portion is covered.

There are some nearby streams with online gages that can be used to guesstimate when The Top Rock will be flowing.

Here are some notes related to those gauges:

Ok flow with
     -      EF Lewis @ 4200 (dropping); Washougal @ 5800 (dropping); Wind @ 1800 (dropping)

Similar flow with    -     EF Lewis 4000 (peak); Washougal @ 4600 (peak); Wind @ 7.5/1600 (peak)


Bree:  The early challenges in Bree were not significant compared to what would come, but required gumption none-the-less.  It is tempting to stay here where things seem routine, but if the journey is to be successful a speedy departure is necessary.

Weathertop:  The next notable challenge on the journey, this one more significant than what was encountered in Bree.  Yet again, increased difficulty will be faced downstream.

Rivendell:  In the books, Rivendell is the first magical location the Hobbits find themselves.  Rivendell is full of waterfalls both in the book and on this creek.

Moria:  The location where the fellowship meets problems that slow them down for the first time.  We had a number of issues occur in this short stretch when paddling the river, including a frightening swim and some paddlers riding down a rockslide.

Helms Deep:  This is named for the large river-right wall found here, which is remeniscent of the large wall found in Helms Deep in the books.

The Two Towers:  There are the two towers that the second book is named for (the middle book of the trilogy).  Once these two waterfalls (symbolic of towers?) are passed, paddlers are about halfway through their own journey.  Both towers are antagonistic in the story, and both are unfriendly looking waterfalls. (Orthanc and Minas Morgul are the names in the book)

      Orthanc:  This is the tower of Isenguard, the less evil of the two towers in the book, and the more   runnable of the two on the stream.

     Minas Morgul:  The more evil of the two towers and the less runnable of the two waterfalls.  In the book the original name meant "tower of the rising moon", at this point in the trip daylight was starting to be a concern for us on the first successful descent.

Gondor (Minas Tirith): A set of three falls, the first is friendly. The bottom double tiered set (Minas Tirith) has an obvious but difficult line.  In the book Minas Tirith is a many tiered city defended by the "good guys".

Black Gate:  The Black Gate is one of the final obstacles to overcome in the story, and the largest.  This is the final waterfall paddlers must face on their trip through this canyon, and the largest.

Shelob's Layer:  In the book, Shelob's layer is a series of tunnels and narrow paths that the hobbits must travel through, an area that is the domain of a giant spider.  On the river there are many obstacles in this section coming in the form of boulder gardens.  These are not as challenging as the waterfalls upstream, but there are many and they can still have harsh consequences.  One of the portages on our trip required crawling through a small cave.

Doom: In the book the crack of magma within Mt Doom is where the One Ring needed to be delivered to destroy it.  Frodo struggles with his weakened mind to complete his duty.  Once this has been done, the journey is nearly complete and the major obstacles are behind them.  Now all that is required is the journey back to their home (The Shire). The final obstacle may not be as grandiose as the rest, but after such a tiring day a paddler may not have the volition to see to this final task.  Once this final hurdle has been negotiated (paddled or portaged), the home stretch awaits.

The Shire:  Once you see a small green cliff on the left the PCT trail is near.  You have now made it to safety and can relax.  You can hike out here or continue through the easy final mile.

Getting an early start:  5am in Cascade locks