All photos: Emile Elliot
Elkhorn is too woody upstream of Big Twelve Creek to be worth running in my opinion. From there down a few large rapids with wood still need to be negotiated before reaching the final canyon which has some nice boating and is described on Oregonkayaking. Crunch N' Munch requires some creative portaging when flows are up, Razorback is just downstream and should be run center/right, erring to the right. Getting to the creek is the largest obstacle to overcome. We have it on the list this summer to try and figure out access via Big Twelve Creek, it looked to have some clean drops on it. When we ran Elkhorn, we put in near the end of the road on the north side of the drainage (NF-201) and ran out of light shortly after exiting the final canyon section.
The access road is at about 4,000 feet and often snowed in, the following pictures are from tripcheck and these locations can be used to assess whether the road to Elkhorn will be drive-able. We had no issues with snow on the road when we did the run.
Day after we ran Elkhorn, similar to the day of.
The snow conditions where we put on Jan 19, 2015 around 3800 feet, near the end of NF-201 at the junction with a spur road. 44.8153, -122.2886
The hike in was steep and brushy, but doable. Dropping 1200 vertical feet, there was only need for a rope at one cliff band. Lucas part way down the hill.
Ben, motivated as always picked off one of the rapids the rest of us chose to walk.
Eventually we passed by Big Twelve Creek and the stream got a little larger, if we return it will be via this creek. At some point below this confluence we came to a rapid we had been on the lookout for, since we had heard Willy Dinsdale's story of having one of his top 3 worst swims in this rapid. We dubbed this rapid "Wet Willy", in light of that sans boat trip Willy took through this rapid when running the stream at higher flows with his brother Ben. Helmet Cam footage of that event can be seen at the end of the following video.
At the lower flows we had, the rapid was more manageable. Though most of the group still portaged.
The top ledge of Wet Willy.
Only Ben ran the sieve drop at the end of Wet Willy (11:20 in the video).
Below here be ready to get a little creative until you are below the "Potato Rapid". There are a few good rapids in this section, also many difficult rapids with large boulders and wood hazards. In this section Ben caught the scariest eddy I have seen caught in person, mere feet above where his channel went underground.
It wasn't all a wood fest, there were clean sections of Elkhorn below Wet Willy.
One of our favorites was a unique triple drop called Blind Luck. signaling the start of the Oregonkayaking section. Its hard to see around the corner after the first two drops, but it was clean when we were there. Scouting from the left is harder, but would offer a view of the third tier.
Emile enters Blind Luck
Emile enters Blind Luck
All of the portages on the run were low difficulty aside from Crunch N' Munch, though they add up after awhile. Below the Potato Rapid (read Oregonkayaking report) its read and run to the take out with a couple of wood hazards. As I mentioned earlier we ran out of light just below Potato Rock and ran a half mile of class IV in the dark before stashing the boats and walking to the road. Ben finished the run in the dark and the recovery team who came in the next weekend to retrieve the rest of the boats (Joe Kemper, Anna Herring, and Emile Elliot) was surprised he hadn't gotten stuck in one of the two log hazards below where the rest of us walked off.
The boats were patiently waiting right were we left them when the recovery team went in the next weekend to retrieve them. We have learned that when hiking out, it's best to ditch the boats near the creek. In the past we have tried to hike them out, only to ditch them in the dark part way through the hike and struggle to locate where we left them. It's much easier to find them if you leave them near the creek where landmarks are easier to come by.
We had 2,000 cfs which we felt was the minimal flow to be considered "in", though it has been run as low as 1,100 cfs. The Dinsdales had 4-5000 cfs and called that medium high. Does this mean 3000-4000 in the LNF@Mehama is medium? Maybe. If I go back I would shoot for 3000.
The section I would consider returning to.
If you enjoy this type of trip, try to figure out access via Big Twelve Creek. If you do not enjoy adventure, you will not enjoy this creek.
If you do the run, be ready for the unexpected, Elkhorn is full of surprises both good and bad
We even saw a unicorn!
At the end of the day Elkhorn is a tough day of boating, and a magical place.
Now most of the pictures were of the good stuff, so before deciding an Elkhorn trip is for you take a look at the following video Anna created highlighting the tedious portions of the trip.