Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Middle Santiam Wilderness Run: Marathon on the Middle


Stream: Best done as an overnighter, this section flows through the Middle Santiam Wilderness Area and provides an overnight kayaking opportunity for intermediate to advanced boaters.  Though it is more commonly run in a (long) day, due mostly to the weather that accompanies adequate flow in the stream (raining and cold).  Most of the run is class II-IV, but there are two rapids that are rated class V.  Fortunately both of these can be avoided if so desired.

The first of these (The OK Corral) is just below the put in and can be scouted before putting on.

Jake Zwicke exits the O.K. Corral.
Photo: Scott Baker

If you don't like what you see, you can drive a little further and walk/paddle 1/4 mile down Lake Creek where it crosses under the road via a culvert.

After the OK Corral (a series of ledges leading into a 10-15' exit falls), scout the next tricky boulder garden on the right.  After this boulder garden it's lots of read and run class III-IV, look for a creek entering on the right about a mile down (Lake Creek) with a fun double drop you can hike up to if flows are high enough.  More read and run continues down to where an active landslide is creating a rapid (Geomorph) that can be scouted right.

  The run was done again on May 20, 2017, the level that day was 3.9'. The following video was from that day.

More read and run leads to Shedd Camp Shelter and Shelter Falls (the second class V).  Scout/portage left.

Scott Baker roosting Shelter Falls for his birthday.

  If you are doing this as an overnighter this is a good place to camp in the form of a wood shelter in the forest on river left.  This shelter opens up this trip to less desirable weather conditions.

Photo: Zach Urness

The whitewater eases below here for awhile, picking up significant flow from a number of tributaries, the largest being Pyramid Creek.  There are more camping options along this part of the stream in the form of boulder bars, decommissioned roads and open forest.

It takes a little while for the whitewater to build below here, but it eventually reaches class III before easing off again.  For the rest of the trip the stream alternates between easy floating and long stretches of fun class III-IV rapids.  Watch for wood, but don't be surprised if you don't ever need to get out of your boat.

There is a final barrage of good whitewater near the end before reaching a bridge and then the reservoir.  The ideal take out is this bridge (not easily accessible), but if you left your vehicle at Whitcomb Park you have 6 miles of flatwater in front of you.

While there is some good whitewater on this trip, there is also plenty of lazy floating.  Pretty standard for overnight boating opportunities in Oregon when I think about the Rogue or Deschutes, though the easy water on the Middle Santiam moves faster (until you hit the reservoir), maybe a better comparison would be the Metolius though the rapids on the Middle Santiam are better than what is found on that run.  Another big difference is you probably won't see anyone else in the Middle Santiam Wilderness Area.

Flows:  The Middle Santiam has a foot gauge, which is the official metric for the run.  The following graph shows the flow we had when we did the run, which was low end of enjoyable.   I'd shoot for  4 - 5' next time but it's so rare to get on this run I would settle for 3.5' again.  In 2017 other groups did the run at 3.8' and 3.9' and were happy with the run and that they used the upper put in (Sheep Creek bridge).

Minimal Flows

May 20, 2017 was the date this video was taken, at a low and enjoyable flow.

Inflow to Green Peter Reservoir at minimal flows for the Wilderness run.

Soggy Sneakers recommends subtracting the Quartzville flow from the Green Peter inflow to get the Middle Santiam Flow (not 100% accurate because of other small tributaries to the reservoir it's but close enough).  Using that calculation, 900 cfs was pretty minimal.  So I guess I'd say look for 1,000+ using that calculation.  2,000 cfs is my guess at medium.

Access:   The first thing to do is look at to see what the snow situation is in the area.  The US20 @ Santiam junction camera is a good place to start.  The shuttle road does not get plowed.

Put In: 44.466549, -122.147259

Take Out: 44.504228, -122.388528           No paddle out, least likely to be accessible 
Take Out 2: 44.469067, -122.439527
Take Out 3: 44.477798, -122.507539        Longest paddle out, most likely to be accessible

Take Out: Drive up the Quartzville access road 5.1 miles after turning off Hwy 20.  Turn right and drive over the Green Peter Dam.  After crossing the dam turn left and attempt to drive upstream 13.2 miles to a bridge over the Middle Santiam (stay on the main road and left at 5.1 and 6.5, then right at 7.1 after which you stay left along the reservoir).  If you are stopped short, there is another bridge at 9.3 miles over an arm of the reservoir that will save plenty of flat water paddling to justify the extra driving.
If you are stopped even short of that, return to and cross the dam and drive upstream on Quartzville Dr 6.1 miles to Whitcomb Creek Park.  This park has a boat ramp that is the conventional take out, but requires 6 miles of reservoir paddling. 

Put In:  Return to Hwy 20 and drive east about 24 miles to NF 2047/Sheep Creek Rd where you turn left.  Follow this road 8.7 miles to a bridge over the Middle Santiam (stay right at 0.3, left at 0.4, center/main at 2.3, right but not hard right at 3.6, then stay left just after, right at 5.9, 7.9 and 8.4).  The last few miles of the shuttle parallels the headwaters of the Middle Santiam

**If you don't like the look of the first gorge below the bridge (the O.K. Coral), continue 1/4 mile past the bridge over the Middle Santiam to a left turn that leads down to a bridge over Lake Creek in less than 1 mile (Lake Creek flows through a culvert here).  The 1/4 mile from this bridge to the confluence with the Middle Santiam can be walked or paddled depending on flows.

From the Put In:  Once you reach the bridge, walk 1/10th of a mile downstream on the road to scout the OK Corral from the ridge overlooking it.

Original Write-up

The Middle Santiam is known as Oregon's only Cascade wilderness run.  My attempts on the run have been thwarted for various reasons over the last few years so this time I was bound and determined to get in there.  No one I knew seemed stoked on the trip so I loaded up my car with overnight gear, SPOT device and a scooter for shuttle.  Lucky for me I got a call the evening before my trip from Lucas Glick who agreed to join me on the 20 some odd mile run if we could do it in a day as he wanted to get on the Clear Fork Cowlitz the day after.  I unloaded my overnight gear and scooter and agreed to meet early the next morning.

To avoid the hike in and add in some adventure we planned to run the section the Oregonkayaking crew had uncovered a few years ago.  This would add about 5 miles of exploratory kayaking to the run, but allowed us to put in at a bridge instead of doing a hike.  We made good time on the shuttle and found the put in without undue difficulty.

The first hundred yards of the creek are the most stacked and difficult to scout so we hiked up a ridge to get a view of this section.  Lines committed to memory, we got ready to get underway.

**If you don't like the look of this first gorge, continue just under 1 mile past the bridge over the Middle Santiam to the bridge over Lake Creek (flows out of a culvert).  The 1/4 mile from this bridge to the confluence with the Middle Santiam has some issues, but everything is portageable and there is even a fun surprise or two waiting in there. **

 I was geared up first and slid into the water.  The first ledge was class two, I revoked my initial decision to go right when I noticed some obnoxious branches and went for the janky middle chute instead where I promptly pinned.  I tried budging the boat for a minute before Lucas got there, we both tried for another minute but the boat didn't give an inch.  I pulled my skirt and stepped onto a dry rock to my left.  My boat stayed stuck for another minute before coming free.

Glad to get the carnage out of the way early we continued on downstream into the gorge.  The first couple ledges went smooth, then I portaged a weird drop that Lucas ran before we both dropped off the fun exit falls.

The "OK Corral",  It may be short, but it sure was exiting, yeeehaa!
Also a nod to the Oregonkayaking (OK) crew for pioneering this upper section and many other runs in the area.  Boating in Oregon wouldn't be the same without them!

Lucas about to exit the O.K. Corral via a nice 10-15' foot falls.

Below here was a tricky boulder garden that we both fumbled our way through.

He stiff arms the linebacker

 Picks the ball up off the turf

 Jukes the safety.

 And he is in for the score.

  The next couple miles were nice but we didn't have enough water to fully enjoy the rapids.  The area was super cool though!  There was a tantalizing double drop coming in from a creek on the right that would have been good with more flow.  The next major rapid I recall was created by a landslide coming in from the right.

Geomorphology in action.

There were more rapids in this section before we came to Shelter Falls.  This double drop is tough and I chose to portage.  Lucas cleaned up though!

Shelter Falls.

 Lucas seeks the shelter of the pool below.

The next stand out moment came when we were in cruise mode and  I caught a micro eddy just above a malevolent logjam and had to climb back upstream.  Second mistake of the day for me, I was not on top of my game.  We scouted and the jam turned out to be runnable in the middle.  Below here was a section that increased slowly in entertainment value before settling back to boulder bars.

I wish I remembered more but we were moving expeditiously.  If I did the run again I would take two days to appreciate the area.  I do recall an enjoyable class III-IV section with fun rapids that lasts for quiet awhile, ending near the reservoir.  We stopped twice to fish and eat some food.

We paddled about a mile on the lake before being picked up by a motorboat.  There is an alternate take out that would work better in the future.  That information can be found by scrolling to below the video.

After this we still had time so headed over to the Pure Hate gorge on Quartzville.  That however, is a story for another day.

Video from the Middle Santiam Wilderness run.

MSantiamWilderness from Jacob Cruser on Vimeo.

Lucas and I paddled the run on June 1, 2013

The South Santiam@Cascadia dropped from 1,000 - 800 cfs that day after two days without rain.

Quartzville dropped from 700 - 550 that day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


This is the stream that comes in just below Dougan Falls on the Washougal.  Less than a mile upstream of the confluence the stream branches into two forks, each quit small.  I ran the slides just upstream of the Washougal confluence with Theron Jourdan one wintery day.  If the stream from the forks down was free of wood it would be worth doing once or twice.  It was pretty clean looking last time I was up there at low water.  My dad may have done it once, or maybe he just scouted and told me about it.  Anyway, it could be an interesting section to do in conjunction with the Washougal Falls section.


This one is in a lot of PNW guide books and gets run all the time.  Here is a report of my dad and friends running all the guidebook sections in a day.

Sandy River in a Day

SF Yamhill

I took a couple friends down the run starting near the Spirit Mountain Casino, adjacent to HWY 18.  They both swam in the first 100 yards so hiked out through a field.  I ran the next five miles to get the vehicle since we had done a bike/hitchhike thing.  Mostly class 1, a couple of 2's maybe with some willows growing in the creek bed.  I have read about good play at high flows including some surfboarding.  I use this gauge, when its nearing 2000 I know the smaller creeks in the area are at a good level.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sunshine (Siletz)

This creek has a place on the "what else can I do" list for Corvallis area boaters.  It used to have an estimate on the WKCC levels page and runs when other streams in the area are high. I think we had about 7,000 cfs on the Siletz gauge.  We initially planned to do Rogers (a scout of Rogers took it off my list, it has dangerous wood and non-captivating rapids), but headed to Sunshine instead.  We accessed it from Valsetz rd.  If you are comfortable with wood its class III-IV, if not its more IV-IV+.  We didn't have many portages and had a good time.  There is one bedrock gorge and the shuttle is easy.  No swims in the group, but one log pin.  Ran with Anna Herring and Michael Freeman.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wiki # 11: Pure Joy Gorge on Quartzville

 I took out at the bridge upstream of the Pure Hate Gorge and put in at a spur road a couple miles upstream of that.  I didn't want to miss the ledge I had seen from google satellite imagery and ended up suffering through some devils club and log portaging before the ten foot ledge which was a fun boof into a pool.  Below here was about a mile of class III-IV boulder gardens with wood.

First ledge

There is a quarter mile long gorge that was the main event.  The walls soared overhead and my initial attempt to scout on the left was fruitless.  I relocated to river right and spent the next hour groveling up and down the cliff walls, happy as could be to find a way to scout the whole gorge.  The gorge was all good to go and classy aside from 3 logs which required attention.

 The first was in a narrow rapid that I portaged on the right (not without struggle), just below here was a fun and unique 10' broken ledge/slide.  This needed to be run in control as the outlet of this ran into a small rapid with a log which needed to be portaged.  Luckily the features lined up below the ledge/slide for me to be able to broach myself between a rock and the wall and exit onto the boulder bar in the center of the river.  From this point I was able to walk across the log to shore.

The next move was to get in my boat, paddle around the corner and boof over an exposed rock onto shore, from here I carried down to a pinch where two more logs blocked downstream progress.  These were also located in such a way I could utilize them in the portage, doing an airplane seal launch into a small, but boxed in hole off of one of the logs.

There was one more class III to exit the gorge and a log across flat water I had missed during my scout.  I was able to do an iguana move over the log and I was home free!  Below here were two more log portages and a quarter mile of class III slides leading to the take out bridge.  I jogged the shuttle and headed home, glad to have seen a new section of river with a neat gorge.

If seeing the gorge calls to you, I ran this when Upper Quartzville was at a good medium flow, and this section felt low but safe.  I would suggest shooting for 3000 cfs on the Quartzville gauge (for a winter run).

The name is a play on the Iceland/Greenland conundrum.  We found the Pure Hate Gorge downstream to be totally fun and an enjoyable place (at the right flow) while this Pure Joy Gorge is less than stellar.  However, like many obscure Oregon streams, this run would be enjoyable if free of wood.

Click on photo to enlarge