Thursday, June 21, 2012

Four Decades of First Decents: A Return to Roosevelt, Washington

If you asked me last year if I'd ever return to Roosevelt to kayak, I would have told you no way, never, not going to happen.  Not that the far-east gorge isn't beautiful or anything, but after our last epic out that way, I swore it off for boating.  

Never say never, as they say, and when Jacob and I got the word this spring from John Whaley about a creek with a 30 footer, a bunch of bedrock, and the right flow, we knew we had to head back, especially since someone else had already done the homework.  It sounded like exactly what we had hoped to find in Jupiter Canyon, so we jumped on the opportunity and planned to meet up with John the next day.  The mission:  Rock Creek.

Now, neither of us had ever met John, but we certainly knew his name from his days with the Oregon Kayaking crew and knew he was had great exploratory credentials, including at least one first decent in every decade from 1980-2010, so this one would make it his fourth decade with a first decent.  I hope Jacob and I get there some day! It was Pete Giordano who got us all connected after John asked him if he knew anyone who would be willing to get after a questionable first decent with a big hike starting on a tiny tributary of a tiny creek that goes into a small creek with only a couple hundred CFS.  Pete didn't hesitate to give John our info, knowing that we're masochistically addicted to hikes and portage-fests.

We met up with John on the banks of the Columbia, set shuttle and got things rolling.  On the drive up to the put in, we passed lots of ominous no trespassing signs describing the various punishments that would be levied onto anyone entering private land.  John had some extra marines stickers for exactly this reason, and we slapped a couple on the car, hedging our bets against the crazy landowners.  All went well getting up to the put-in though, with only a few crazy snow crossings in the subi, and we got to hiking.

 This sign warning us about entering logging land wasn't very intimidating after what we had seen on the way up.

The hike was pretty easy, somewhere around 4 miles, pretty flat, with some nice snow to drag on at times.  John had looked at everything on his mountain bike, so he took us right where we needed to go and we started out final decent to the river before noon.

 The last push down to river level.

While we where hiking down, we got excited about some bedrock in a tiny tributary that ended in a waterfall.  On the other hand, the brush covering the creek and only about 30-40 cfs reminded us of Jupiter Canyon and we knew we'd be bashing brush all day.  Luckily, we'd already perfected the brush tuck, so we could make good progress while practicing our waterfall technique.

 Bedrock on the trib, with the creek buried in brush.

Not long after we put on, we came to the first bit of bedrock, two back-to-back slides that were quite fun.  Already we'd found some stuff that was better than anything in Jupiter.

John having a blast.

We worked our way further downstream until we got to a tight gorge at our first confluence. John had seen this on his scouting and named it Pine-in-the-Ass, after the huge tree blocking most of the falls.  John portages from upstream, I portages at river level, and Jacob portages the first part on river right, then slid down the bottom.  With more water and less log, this one could be pretty fun.


After the confluence, with the welcome addition of more water, we bashed through more brush until we reached a significant horizon line.  We all eddied out and took a look, with big smiles on our faces when we looked at the squeaky clean waterfall.  It wasn't 30 feet by any means, but it made for a fun drop, and we all launched off with a hoot.  Just seeing the smile on John's face at the bottom of this drop made everything worthwhile.

John's 30 Footer

After the waterfall, we had several more miles of water, but nothing too exciting.  A couple good drops and innumerable portages, and John and I were both fighting cracks the whole way.  We kept up the pace, as we where worried about light and didn't want it to get dark on us.  The take-out came into sight right as it was getting dark, and we celebrated with beers and donuts before heading up to get the car, which we knew we'd have to hike to despite the best efforts with Jacobs civic in the snow.

All and all, it was a great trip in an absolutely stunning canyon and an awesome group, and it made a great counter-point to the Jupiter Canyon debacle.  That being said, I doubt any of us will return to this one.  Thanks much to John for finding this one and giving us the call, hopefully we'll find exploratory missions for decades to come! 

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