Stream: This is a benchmark run in the Willamette Valley. Once a true classic, a landslide into Day of Judgement (the largest rapid of the run and one of the best in Oregon) rendered that drop a mess and changed the dynamic of the run.
The run is still good, but feels like more of an adventure run than a classic. The first two miles after the boulder-bar beginning are steep and can easily take twice as long as the lower 5 miles. Reading and running is not a good technique on the Upper section. If it's your first time, my recommendation would be to catch all the eddies and scout all the rapids until you are past Black Creek.
Below the bridge at the put in, boulder bar floating eases you into the day. There is some wood to dodge, and the last few times Iv'e done the run Iv'e done one easy portage up here. As the river consolidates (you can use a scrambling put in here to avoid the boulder floating at the beginning), the first rapid is quickly reached. A bouldery lead in turns into bedrock at Chocolate Chips, scout right before entering the small boulder garden.
Downstream is another boulder garden leading into Chicken Little, which has some small scouting eddies on the left. This rapid can collect wood. It is easiest to scout left, but a partial portage on the right into a sneak line is what I have done when wood blocks the main line. Eddies are not always generous on this run, so take a good look for them before committing to any moves.
After Chicken Little, getright against a wall to scout the next straight-away that ends in an eddy on the left that should be caught before the river disappears into some boulders. Scout from this eddy, and most likely make a strong ferry back to the right to the line you picked out.
More good rapids continue downstream, even though they can be read and run, I recommend scouting everything on this run your first time down.
1-2 rapids later there has been a logjam extending from the left bank, with one log reaching all the way to the right bank. There is a last chance eddy above it on the right, with a bugger rock to mind. Sometimes we have been able to sneak by or over the log, sometimes we have to portage.
Good rapids continue below the portage, including this great boof.
The boof is an important marker, because just downstream is Demon Seed, a rapid that looks like it may be read-and-run, but is actually a portage for most people. Demon Seed looks like a mini-BZ Falls, but flows under the right wall. Of the people I have seen run this drop, most go under the right wall, but have always flushed quickly. I don't fancy the thought of being under the wall so have always made the quick portage on the right.
The whitewater opens up downstream, becoming read and run for awhile. This changes when the stream bends right at a small gravel bar with the road visible downstream, high on the right. Scout Terminator from this gravel bar. Terminator deserves respect and safety is a good idea. There is a sieve on river left that is mostly, but not entirely out of play. The pocket on the right is more in play, though good safety can be set here. An ideal line threads between the rock in the center that divides the flow and that right pocket.
Just downstream is a big ledge, before the river drops around a room-sized rock and enters Day of Judgement. Day of Judgement was once considered one of the best rapids in Oregon, but a landslide that occurred before I ever ran the creek changed the rapid forever. My first time down, the Dinsdales and I ran a sneak channel to the left of the big rock. Iv'e chosen to take the sloppy portage on the right each time since. The middle line has been run, with poor results. Day of Judgement does change every year, and we keep hoping some day it will return to a worthwhile rapid. Portaging on the right is better than the left, but still requires concentration as it's on a steep scree-field.
The boulder garden downstream ends in a rapid that looks heinous from above, with logs sticking up vertically but actually is pretty easy compared to most of the rapids encountered so far. Every time I have run the creek, driving left of the logs has been hunky-dory, though I do like to boat scout from a tricky eddy on the right just before the horizon to make sure things haven't changed.
A rapid or two are between here and Black Creek, which enters down a tumbling cascade on the right, which must be forded to scout the next ledge. The line on this ledge changes with water levels, so it's worth a look.
Just around the corner it looks like there is a big wood hazard, but as of 2019 it is safe to read and run through the right channel to an eddy on the right, from which you can see there is a clean line in the middle.
Fun class IV continues as you enter the Lower section.
Flows: 300-700 on Pat Welches estimate is good for a first time go if flows are not rising.
Access: Take I-5 to Highway 20 and head east. After passing through the town of Sweet Home it's about 16 miles to the bridge over Canyon Creek at the take out. 44.396770, -122.447861
A gravel road takes off to the right just after the bridge and heads up to the put in. There are 3 put in options, located at these mileages past the turn off from Highway 20:
4.9 miles (44.361064, -122.382634): A steep trail leads down to the creek here at the bridge over Black Gate. This is considered the lower put in and skips the two miles of challenging creek boating above. It is a great intermediate run by itself, and is a nice intro to creeking sort of run.
6.6 miles (44.341517, -122.365220): If you want to get right into it, you can schwack down to the creek from one of the pull-outs either 100 yards upstream or downstream of this point.
7.1 miles (44.333839, -122.361907): Turn right and the road quickly leads to a bridge. This is the put in I like best. It gives you about 15-20 minutes of open floating through boulder bars before the first rapid. I have always had exactly one easy wood portage when I have put in up at this bridge.
- Move Quick, this is a 7 mile run. And the upper two miles are not conducive to boat scouting.
- Just downstream of the normal take out, Canyon Creek enters the South Santiam within the confines of the Hobbit Gorge.
If you have done the run before, and know you are with a group who can make good time, and you have enough daylight...Consider taking out at Cascadia State Park, 2 miles below the normal take out so that you can float through this gorge. If you have the time, you won't regret it.
Our first time down,
As told by Andrew Bradley
Nate, Jacob and I had been talking about what we should do for this up coming weekend. Flows in the Portland area were not looking super promising so Nate and I packed up shop and headed to Corvallis for the weekend. Saturday morning flows were looking great on Canyon Creek. There is a general consensus that the creek gets pushy over 500 cfs so we were anxious about what it would feel like. The gauge showed ~600, but Rick had run the creek at 650 on the gauge and said this felt higher. We surmised the estimated gauge is different based on a rising vs. falling stream (we had a falling level).
Our main concerns with the creek at this level was new wood from the ice storm that had come through the North West Region the previous week and the rumors of abundant undercuts due to the unstable geology. Rick and Dan lead us to a put in just above Chocolate Chips that avoids the mile of wood and flat water above, its exciting starting the day off with a class five! The rapid starts off with a small boulder garden that progresses into a series of small ledges where the water is eventually funneled into 7ft wide crack. The first 3 boaters flipped, and the last 3 stayed dry. Moving into the next series of rapids is a pushy technical boulder garden that is leading into Chicken Little. This rapid looks ugly but go's pretty smooth; there is one massive old growth that looks like it has been stuck in the rapid for a while but is easily avoidable. It can be portaged.
After finishing the crux part of the drop the river is split into two channels for about 200yards. Both channels are currently clear of wood. As the channels regroup the creek rips into a technical boulder garden that is quite long and fun. The last horizon needs to be run on the right (easier said than done). At this level a couple of us were able to cut right from the left channel which worked, but is not the preferred line. The left half of the river pours into a nasty sieve with a root wad stuck in the middle.
Next up was a ledge drop that was reminicent of sacriledge on the the little white. Big hole and all. A few more boulder gardens and a flume found us scouting Stuff Sack, more commonly known as Demon Seed. Three people ran stuff sack on this day. This drop has a very clear line and a very clear undercut pocket on the right. Terminator is the next significant rapid followed by Day of Judgement, both of which you can scout from the road as you drive up to do the upper section. Terminator, which is known for the nasty sieve on river left, is cleaner than I had imagined, but still possesses significant consequences for a blown line. Both the aforementioned seive and pocket on the right side complicate things. There is a sneak on the left for Day of Judgment at the flows we had that starts off very manky and ends in a clean 8ft ledge.
It is common for boaters to just run this lower section (class IV), however the first ledge of the lower section held a swimmer for about a minute on this day, so be sure you have a solid boof before attempting the run, especially at this level. Watch out for Osprey after the first mile or so of flat water, it would be easy to mistakenly enter this rapid. Dry out in the brush on the right to scout, if you see large boulders downstream it might already be too late, get into the right channel and paddle hard. The run over all is generally clean and definitely worth doing.
Keep an eye out for Constrictor as well, a small/narrow 3' drop at the end of a class II straight away with a vicious hole that is typically portaged on the right.
A special thanks to Dan Rubado and Rick Cooley for showing us the lines, we would have been in the dark without you guys (literally).
Canyon Creek, OR from Andrew Bradley on Vimeo.