The next morning rolled around and as the group assembled and began loading boats, the rain continued to come down in sheets around Portland. Dan Rubado, Emile Elliot, Ryan Cole, Jacob, and myself all piled into Dan's new VW Sportwagon (45 mpg!) and headed east. After meeting up with Joe Stumpfel, John Edwards, and Matt Horton in Hood River, we beat feet up past the normal LK takeout to inspect Canyon Creek. With no eddies in sight and thick brush lining the banks, we decided that Canyon Creek was far too high to run with any regard for safety. It was the Little Klickitat today and it was juicy. (1300cfs? - The gauge was doing funky things when we put-on the creek) We quickly rallied back to the takeout, met up with some other paddlers from Hood River, and set shuttle.
The group, which had now ballooned out to nearly 20 people, opted to break up into smaller platoons to better handle the high water and the potential scarcity of large eddies. Sticking with the crew from Portland, we geared up and were just about to put-on the creek when another boater came into view walking up river. The conversation was brief but it I did catch the words "Swim", "Lost Gear", "No Eddies", and "Unscoutable". He was gone in a flash and everyone was left just a little less confident than they had been a moment earlier. This is where Ryan Cole stepped up in a big way. Having run the creek several times before, he offered to lead the run and delivered excellent beta throughout the day.
As soon as the boats hit the water, the true nature of the creek reveled itself. The creek, which was in the bushes, was colored a murky brown (probably had a lot to do with the copious amounts of cow dung in the surrounding area. yum) After floating for only a few minutes, we found ourselves rounding a bend and floating into the first big rapid of the day. Ryan had warned us to stay as far right as possible to avoid being swept into a nasty crack in the middle of the river. At this flow, there was no viable eddy above this drop and it snuck up quick! We all made the move to the right without difficulties and were able to catch a small eddy downstream and regroup. (I believe that the group we encountered hiking off the creek ran into trouble when they attempted to run the far left side of this drop.)From this point on, the creek never really let up. Big rapids were separated by fast moving boogie water. There were times when we would travel over a mile without seeing an available eddy to slow down.
A short distance below the initial drop, we came to the single most technical drop on the creek. This long boulder garden was scoutable on the left and had several pushy lines to chose from. After discussing the different options, Dan and I decided we had seen enough and returned to our boats to probe the center line. We pealed out and ran the lead-in without any problems. The next part is a little fuzzy in my memory: it all happened in the span of 3-5 seconds. After boofing over a rock near the top of the drop, I attempted to take a left stroke when agonizing pain shot through my shoulder and I realized that I couldn't move my left arm. I had somehow dislocated my left shoulder (not really sure how, but I didn't throw any brace) and was fast approaching the crux of the drop. After nearly rolling over in shock, I was able to reset my shoulder using a paddling motion and finish the drop upright, but in considerable pain. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten the shoulder back in so easily.
After catching an eddy and watching the rest of the crew come though, we took a break and discussed to option of me hiking off the creek. Several folks volunteered to help me with the hike out, but at this point, Skip's words from the night before were resounding in my head: "When was the last time you went boating and things didn't turn into a show?" After resting for a good twenty minutes, I decided that I was going to keep paddling. The shoulder hurt, but my range of motion wasn't being hindered and I felt I could continue on without putting the group (or myself for that matter) at risk.
We got back on the creek and started bombing downriver. The next two drops came up in quick secession. The first we scouted from the right. It featured a nasty boulder pile in the middle but was fairly clean down the right bank, with only minor hole punching required.
The second drop (we refereed to this one as the slide) was scoutable on the left but required committing to the rapid and catching a last chance eddy. It looks scary, but I promise, there is a large eddy on the left! You just can't see it from above. Faith! The drop itself featured a giant slide that feeds into a horrible looking hydraulic. This thing was massive! Fortunately, there was a narrow brown tongue that just missed the worst of the hole. We all attempted to ride this tongue with varying results. Matt Horton even got some rodeo action in on this beast. I could only watch from afar as he whipped off cart-wheels and loops at warp speed before calmly surfing out of the hole towards to center of the river. Well done!
It wasn't far down stream from the slide that we came upon the largest vertical drop on the LK. The falls is very wide and features a plethora of possible lines. Be careful when approaching this drop, it would be very easy to get swept into the falls when boat scouting. Ryan was able to recognize the drop 50 yards upstream and we still had some trouble stopping to scout. The drop is marked by a heavily wooded island that splits to river right down the middle. The easier scout is on the left and requires that you run down the left channel. If you run right of the island (like we did) expect to have some trouble stopping above the horizon line). Everyone had clean lines off the falls, which wasn't a gimmie on this day. If you failed to get your bow up, the uniform hole at the bottom promised to smack you around for awhile.
After the falls, the creek kept boogieing, but everything from this point on was easy to scout from within your boat. There were a few ledges towards the end of the run that could hand out a whipping if you weren't on your toes, but for the most part, the creek just rushes down stream. Right down the middle. Somewhere between the falls and the takeout, the sun actually made an appearance and I think we all took a minute to sit back and appreciate the unique area. Being local to the Willamette Valley, it is certainly a stark change to venture over in the central region of the state. Wide open rolling hills as far as the eye can see! As we arrived at the takeout, we met back up with the group that had put-on before us and there was a general feeling of success. Having knocked off such a rarely run creek at such an abnormally high level left everyone feeling pretty stoked on the day. I'll certainly be back the next time levels spike! Despite my shoulder injury, I still classify the LK mission under "Not at a complete circus", which is an upgrade over recent weeks. Thanks again to Ryan for sitting shotgun on this roller coaster. And Jacob for offering to hikeout with me when I injured my shoulder. Until next time. Nate