Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Mt. Hood's Shoulders: The Salmon River Gorge


Sometimes when you have your sights set on something big, it takes a few tries to get it done.  Such was the case for the Salmon River Gorge.  Prior to this spring, I'd hiked in and scouted Frustration twice without a boat at low flows and decided that it wouldn't be worth it.  This spring Conner and I tried to do the surgical strike (a.k.a. driving many hours, usually late at night, to get on a river, surf spot, etc. while conditions are right) but we got turned back.  On that particular occasion, Scott Baker hiked in with us, boats and all, only to find that the exit to frustration looked terrifying and impassible.  We hiked our boats back down, paddled some manky class 3, and went for a swim at the takeout before the long drive home.

Needless to say, I knew I had to be there when I heard from Scott that he had a crew for a mid-week mission.  I packed my gear and headed out at 4:30 AM to meet everyone at the take out; Nico Peha, Andy McMurray, Ryan Scott, Scotty, and a couple of Nico's friends that he cajoled into running shuttle for us.  The shuttle sucks, by the way, and unless you have a driver it's probably better to just hike up from the bottom.

After some nervous chatter and a quick hike, we found ourselves at split falls, the put-in.  You come around a corner, boof under a log, drive straight into a wall, then do a slow deep water boof off a 20 footer. Amazing warm up!

This sequence shows me, then Ryan, then Nico, then Andy. 

 After split, there's some manky stuff that we portaged, then a couple of really fun boofs including Little Niagra.  Then there's Vanishing Falls.  This one feels really intimidating, not least because you either run it or do a throw and go into a totally boxed in gorge with a 8-foot ledge that seems like it could hole you in perpetuity.  Scotty was feeling the right line on this one, which the guys in the Oregon Kayaking crew ran, but the rest of us thought he was crazy.  All the water basically falls 4 feet into a crack, then shoots out into the caved out landing zone and directly into a wall.  Scotty went for it anyway, and didn't make it look all that good, but came out upright and grinning.

 No room for a stroke... Scotty cracks it up.
I didn't like Scotty's line, and the middle looked pretty good, albeit quite shallow.  I think the middle was dry when the OK guys were in there, so that's probably why they went for the crack.  I got as much speed as I could muster and launched off the middle rock, landing with some much momentum that I did a mini wall ride at the bottom.

 Approaching Mach 10

After Vanishing, there's a must-boof boxed-in ledge in a ridiculously beautiful gorge.  That's one really striking thing about the SRG, there are all these epiphytes and ferns and flowers growing on the canyon walls that thrive on the mist from the various waterfalls.  Very fascinating habitat!

Ryan looks on as Scotty drops into the box.

Then there's Frustration.  This one has all the elements of hard exploratory-style boating; marginal but doable portage, with a cave and some ropework, huge runnable drops with major consequences, difficult/nonexistent safety options, and some damn good scenery.  Scotty ran the whole thing, getting up close and personal with a log in the first tier, but styling out the angle and scooting away from the wood nicely.  Nico and Andy ran the second and third tiers, while I seal launched above the last tier and Ryan walked and got video.  Good lines were had by all, but the most exciting line of the day went to Nico, when he dropped in a little bit to far left and subbed out underneath a log, but blasted through without issue. 

 Scotty goes for a no-portage decent of Frustration.
 And nails the log-avoidance line!
 Scotty giving the second tier everything he's got.

Nico dropping in, Ryan in the background above the undercut wall.

After Frustration there's still one more great drop, Niagra. With some backwards beta from Scotty, I ran this thing blind and botched the line, running far right into a crack and rolling at the bottom.  I thanked my kids-knee-pads turned elbow pads and eddied out, avoiding the plunge off Final.  Everyone else had great lines off this thing, one good boof after another.

Scotty being stylish again.  You can see the right part of Frustration in the background.

After all the excitement, you end up at Final and get to take a break, calm your nerves and celebrate the successful decent of some of the craziest drops around!  You can't celebrate for too long though, because Final needs to be dealt with somehow, and it can be a lengthy process.

 Contemplating the craziest quarter mile around.
 The rappel from the top.

Rappel from the bottom.

 We only had 4 harnesses, so I decided to give mine up and go for the jump.  Jacob had told me about a small ledge you could walk down to to jump into the middle of the falls, so I knew I could find a good spot.  Then again, Jacob told me the Metlako jump was good to go, and I scared the shit out of myself when I did it, and broke my helmet off on impact, so maybe I should think twice when taking advice from Jacob.  But I trust him with my life, so I went for it.  I was quite nervous, and had to count to three and force myself to go for it.  The fall was long, the landing was soft (softer than frustration), and I didn't hit a thing.  I'd do it again. 

 The Leap of Faith

The Salmon River Gorge is an epic place.  Even if you don't want to go boat it, get up there and take a look at the amazing waterfalls on foot, the hike is easy, the scenery is otherworldly, and it's damn close to Portland and the Gorge.   A perfect place to get Into the Outside!

 A parting shot.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Be Ready

Bomber gear just came out with a cool new ad.  Matt and I make split second appearances on a couple rapids in the Wallowa's.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


Last fall Emile Elliot, Anna Herring and myself began our hike out of a massive gorge in southern WA.  Last weekend, Emile, Liz and myself finished that hike.

The story can be read here.  The short of it is we abandoned our boats and spent 8 hours hiking through the woods before connecting with search and rescue.  On the third attempt to retrieve our boats we were successful.

Emile created this video highlighting the recovery, adding very fitting music.

I have to thank Liz for spotting the boats, without her I have no doubt Emile and I would have left empty handed.  As Emile said at one point, "our boats could be 300' to our left and we would never know" (they were).

   Enjoy our trials and tribulations.

Kayak recovery mission from Difficult E on Vimeo.