Jesse Shapiro, Priscilla Macy and I ran the "Big Dog" section of the Collawash after the Clack fest and found that the run has changed a fair bit and is a good run. Possibly one of the better sections of whitewater in Oregon.
A young Newt at the put in.
The core beta for this run is captured well in both Soggy Sneakers and a trip report from Oregonkayaking. The report here is a 2014 perspective of the run complimentary to those descriptions, the biggest difference being the improved wood situation and the change to the Churn. The second large logjam is no longer a portage and there were only 2 mandatory portages on the whole run.
We paddled the 4 miles of class two before the whitewater section with only one quick log portage. The class two was a bit tedious, however the water kept moving and classic Oregon scenery kept it tolerable. The maps show an alternate approach that would drop a boater in just below the large logjam noted in the guidebooks. This approach would be faster, but require more effort.
* A map showing this approach is included at the end of this report.
Speaking of the mega logjam, the portage is a simple affair as the logs are large and sturdy enough that a nimble boater can do the whole portage without taking their boat off their shoulder until the final 15 yards in under 10 minutes. We started center and worked right, it was neat to see so many logs piled together in one place. We did feel the logjam might be smaller than it used to be when the original guidebook description was written.
It is still a large logjam,.
We put back in and paddled another hundred yards, then drug our boats across a grass covered island to the river left channel to avoid another short log portage. Other routes across the jam are available.
The grass was tall and my irrational side kept checking for the Compsognathus from Jurassic Park.
Shortly below here Dickey Creek came in on the left. The alternate access would be at about this point. Oregonkayaking.net describes this next section well as "eerie". The large, dead trees rising out of the water and slow current create this effect.
Shortly below the "sentinels" the river eases to the right and there is an obvious horizon line. This first class IV ends in a moving pool making for a fun and straight forward rapid.
The next horizon line is "Big Dog", a large class V rapid that is the first of the rapids in this stretch to have changed for the better. The log in the bottom left chute is no longer there, turning this into a good rapid. Running far left the whole way worked well, be sure to take a peak around the corner as there was wood present in the next drop adding slightly to the pucker factor. As the guides mention; scout left, portage right.
Priscilla's GoPro died after the first class IV
The Churn seems to have changed since the original descriptions. It starts off with a lead in and the ledge with a pin spot, below which we eddied out to scout the second part which was a challenging boulder rapid dropping 15 feet or so over 40 yards. I do not recognize the Oregonkayaking picture of the second part of the Churn, we believe a landslide has occurred; the resulting rapid is still good. Take care to mind the holes, the first one provided a solid rodeo for a member of our group. This section reminded me a lot of Upper Canyon Creek, OR.
Below here the gorge offered one more class IV rapid and the seriousness of the rapids eased slightly but everything is still really fun. However, don't let your guard down. The rapid pictured on Oregonkayaking described as being just above "The Cave" surfed another member of our group and caused a swim. This drop through the cave has a class V-ish feel. The large log jam described on the Oregonkayaking site in this section has been altered and we were able to paddle under it on the far left. "The Cave" itself was clear of wood and good to go, being mindful of the undercut left wall. A few more class IV rapids keep you entertained to the take out bridge.
By the time we reached the take out bridge we had forgotten the class two paddle at the top and were all smiles. Truly an enjoyable run for the adventurous boater.
Some more good news is the scouting and portaging is no longer as difficult as it used to be, the landslides must have settled as we felt moving around on the bank was not an issue.
We had 2200 cfs on the Clackamas at Three Lynx, but I think levels were a bit funky. The Oregonkayaking trip report was done at 2500 cfs at Three Lynx though there was more water in the Collawash on our trip. We noted the Hot Springs Fork was contributing very little water. Low flows would be trashy due to the landslide nature of the rapids.
Alternate access is shown on the map below. Whether a steep bushwhack down to the river is better than 4 1/2 miles of class 2 and a couple portages is a personal choice, but the option is there. Another ambitious option would be to run the final gorge on Elk Lake Creek (very fun) above the normal put in. The excitement from that should help the class two go by faster. Be sure to scout that gorge beforehand though, as the unportageable (at river level) ledge had wood in it in May 2014.