I had seen better access to the Chetco than the Babyfoot Lake trail while perusing the maps before our trip a few years ago. I got outvoted on that trip and we took the 10 mile hike in. This time Ben was down for the three mile hike plus some new whitewater, here we near the parking area close to Vulcan Peak.
Box Canyon Creek, a tributary of the Chetco, had looked good on the maps and we gave it a go for Ben's birthday.
A welcome pit stop on the 15 mile shuttle on the way in, I'd consider camping at this location next time.
The Heesacker family, who I had learned the way of the river with when I was young, had done some access recon so we had a good idea what we were in for.
Dragging through a couple inches of snow was an easy way to start off the 2 mile road portion of the hike in.
2 miles in we left the road and began the 1 mile cross country portion of the hike. This was not easy going, but also all downhill and not that bad.
A pronounced mineral vein.
A lake on the way in. This meant we were nearing the end of our 1 mile off-trail portion of the hike.
Paddling across this lake was mostly just an excuse to take boats off the shoulders for a bit. There was camping potential here if a group were to get a late start on the hike in.
A few streams converged near the put in to create a floatable stream, some mank led to the first bedrock and first boxed canyon
The gorge lasted a short ways, was class IVish, and soon we were back into boulder gardens. A creek comes in on the left and the stream gets flat and an island with a log jam has the potential for a rocky camp. Things pick back up a short way below this first island, with a peak in difficulty at a steep boulder alley that appeared would be easiest to circumvent on the left, but we ended up ferrying back to the right to finish our portage which is where we wish we would have started from. Things went back to manageable below here, though more water was wished for.
Ben running a unique one at an island.
Typical day 1 action.
Night one at a bouldery island, I believe it was the third island below the short flat part above the log jam island (first island). We brought hammocks knowing it wasn't likely we would be sleeping on sandy beaches.
Water level day 1.
Water level day 2 from the same spot, clearly it had dropped overnight.
Astrals have great grip, but those stitches are just too exposed. The cost of the hike in.
We knew the drop in flows would make for a rough day two, but were hoping the box canyons in this lower section would channelize the water.
Ben cruising through a pinch point in one of the first stand out rapids of day 2.
Ben cruising through a pinch point in one of the first stand out rapids of day 2.
The going gets good on day 2, but we were feeling the drop in flow. The previous days flow would have been the perfect exploratory level for the part we ran this second day.
Scouting a rapid with a big undercut just under where Ben is standing.
There were plenty of fun rapids with a large dose of walled in sections. At healthy flows shore scouting options would be limited, but all the gorged in rapids above Nut Dust went when we were there. Mostly class IV, with a couple IV-V rapids.
Some straight forward fun.
Classic Kalmiopsis scene.
Into the nitty gritty.
We were reading and running with the occasional scout through one of the box canyons and paddled through a backed up hole with a pillow on the right. Not long below here the gorge veered right and we got out on the left to scout the biggest drop of the run.
Ben scouting "Nut Dust" part 1, I guess it makes sense that we found some boxed in rapids on a creek called Box Canyon Creek.
After lots of talk about options including various throw and go options, seal launching into the rapid, or just running the thing we opted for what turned out to be a not so bad portage high on the left. At higher flows the entrance may clean up and turn this into a fun rapid. Or make it more hazardous, only further exploration will tell.
A calm pool below the first part of Nut Dust. If I return with higher water I would see if it was possible to start the next part of the portage above this ledge on the right. At this level we were able to scramble into a couple small eddies on the left in the lead in to Nut Dust part 2 which begins just around the corner from the pool pictured below.
A nasty cave on river right had us walking the second part of Nut Dust, which otherwise would have been a nice boof.
Ben had a bag of trail mix on the trip, the best treat in the bag were large chocolate pieces. He was excited to find the last one left in the bag, but felt the taste was thrown off by the dust caking it from the crushed nuts in the bag. We felt this section of river was similar, its a good run, but the two part rapid we named "Nut Dust" gave it an odd flavor.
Having spent hours running gorged in class fun and negotiating a couple hazardous areas, we were satisfied when the creek started to open up below Nut Dust and we began to shift our attention to the landscape.
We hadn't reached the Chetco yet though, more whitewater and a log in the runout of a walled in class III brought our attention back to the water.
Box Canyon Creek still had a few surprises left.
We kept thinking the Chetco was the next ridge, but it actually kind of came out of nowhere after a mile or less of relaxing floating.
Eating lunch at the confluence with the Chetco River.
The flows were noticeably higher than the last time I had run the Chetco, moving us along quicker through the flat sections and the rapids were splashier.
15 miles of read and run class III-IV below the confluence and one bear encounter later we made camp at a calm spot on river left.
These shrubs had grown like this presumably due to the flooding of over 25,000 cfs (vs our 5,000 dropping to 2,500 cfs flows) the Chetco deals with each year.
More read and run whitewater the next day included some flat water, but it passed by at good clip. There is one rapid below the Tollman Ranch with a large hole in the center left part of the river that is easily missed on the left if you are paying attention. If not it has been punched through on the right side of the hole.
Rudimentary sketch of this rapid.
Eventually we came to the flattest stretch yet and turned a corner to see this bridge, which marks the standard wilderness Chetco trip take out. To make our shuttle easier we had chosen to continue another few miles through the section in Soggy Sneakers with Candycane and Conehead.
Some locals camping along the river warned us of the big rapids down there, We were impressed to find out later that one of them had inner-tubed Candycane before hiking to the road above Conehead.
Ben in the crux of Conehead on the section described in Soggy Sneakers
Some lazy floating below Conehead brought us to the take out at the confluence with the SF Chetco. We walked up the road to retrieve our scooter, hidden safely behind a poison oak bush. After Ben had retrieved that we fired it up and Ben set off on the 15 mile ride back to the car.
I began moving our gear from near the river to a shady pot on the SF Chetco and on my final trip heard my name being called, not good. The scooter had died about 1.5 miles into the shuttle and Ben had to push it back to the take out. He then set about offering locals the $40 I was pretty sure I had in my wallet at the top for a ride up there. Eventually he got a ride with one of the guys who had warned us about the big rapids on the lower section. He hunts in the area and was fine with the 2 hour round trip, but I imagine his patience was wearing a little thin when Ben's car wouldn't start once they had reached Vulcan Peak! After a few minutes of trying to jump start Ben's vehicle, they were about to turn back when the Pathfinder finally roared back to life.
Meanwhile I had taken a bath in the SF Chetco and settled down with the New York Times and every kayakers most commonly consumed beverage.
Ben really got the short end of the stick on this one, and on his birthday too.
We then drove the 5+ hours back to the Willamette Valley, careful not to turn the vehicle off when we stopped for provisions or fuel in fear of Ben's car not turning back on.
First you gotta know if its running. The Chetco itself seems to be misunderstood as of now. Most hardshell kayakers have been putting on with under 2,000 cfs on the gauge, while small inflatable craft generally shoot for under 1,000 cfs. My first trip we hiked in with about 3,000 cfs and felt flows were on the lower end of enjoyable for hardshell kayaks, and this time around we felt flows were at a friendly medium, maybe even low side of medium by the time we hit the Chetco. I'd certainly do the trip lower, especially in an inflatable, but would shoot for a minimum of 2,000 cfs if I returned in a hardshell.
Like I mentioned in the report, our day 1 flow was the minimum I would want for day 2 on Box Canyon Creek.
Below are the flows we had on our trip and which stream we were on at the time.
For a return trip I would look for the Chetco to peak near 10,000 cfs with no further precipitation in the forecast and head down as soon as possible after that, or higher and wait a couple days but of course this is one of the puzzle pieces still to be sussed out. The Chetco drops from these high levels quickly so without rain it should be at a medium flow by the time a paddler got to the main stem coming off Box Canyon Creek. And to further help ease high water concerns, both Ben and I noted the Chetco itself could handle plenty more water than we had without getting scary. We didn't share that sentiment about Box Canyon Creek though, that would be a bad one to be on with rising flows.
An example of the conditions I would be looking for are shown in the following hydrograph. In this scenario the Chetco hits 10,000 cfs with no rain for the next week. If I were to have run Box Canyon that week, the ideal scenario would have been to wake up on the 28th, see the Chetco had hit 10,000 cfs and drive down that night and car camp near the creek. Do shuttle and hike in the 29th, paddling for a few miles and camping part way down Box Canyon Creek. Then finish up Box Canyon Creek on the 30th, and a bit of the Chetco as flows continued to lower and pick a nice camp, then paddle the rest of the way to the take out on the 31st.
^This scenario isn't set in stone and is rare, so if you want to do the run, extrapolate conditions the best that you can and make good decisions. The Chetco gauge is the best way to guesstimate the kind of water you will have in there, but it is far from an exact correlation.
Map of the Box Canyon Creek trip, with the campsites Ben and I used marked.
Directions: Travel to Brookings and drive up North Bank Chetco River road for almost 16 miles to a bridge over the South Fork Chetco. Just before this bridge a dirt road heads down to the confluence with the Chetco and SF Chetco, the take out. Those in the know are leery of leaving vehicles here, so consider hiring Bearfoot Brad (1-707-457-3365) or hiding a dirt bike in the woods.
To get to the put in cross the bridge over the South Fork Chetco and turn right, follow this road a little over 15 miles to where it ends. There are only two junctions (staying on the main road each time), both of these right turns are marked by signs to Vulcan Peak. The last mile or so is narrow, exposed and a bit rough, but plenty passable for a Subaru driven by a prudent driver. You will know you are close to the end when you pass a patch of roadside Pitcher Plants.
From the end of the road hike 1.7 miles along the old road bed where you will reach a nose of land, at which point you leave the road and follow that ridge of land down to Box Canyon Creek.
Here are a couple maps of the hike in, note that on the hike there are a couple spurs that lead in the wrong direction.
* These maps may be a supplement to your own mapping research, but I would not recommend relying solely on these.*
Forest Service link with Directions to Vulcan Peak, including an alternate route than the one described on this blog, the Forest Service page sometimes has current conditions as well.
- You will top out over 3,700' on the shuttle so research the conditions before heading down there and be ready for snow zone conditions.
- I'd probably bring a chainsaw if I had one in case there was a downed tree the locals hadn't taken care of yet on the drive in.
- We drove down Thursday after work and camped in Gold Beach, hiked in and paddled to the third island camp Friday, paddled the rest of Box Canyon Creek and 15 Chetco miles Saturday. Finished the Chetco, ran shuttle and drove home Sunday.
- Low water is rough on the boat, but be cautious with healthy flows until the portage around Nut Dust part II is dialed in.
- It's tough to catch this one with the ideal combination of a good flow, on a weekend in the Spring with long days, and nice weather.
-While the majority of the rapids on this trip were not class V at the level Ben and I were there, you absolutely need to have a class V skillset/mindset to enjoy the run, especially if flows are up (when the run becomes true class V). Boxed in gorges, a wilderness setting and few data points lead to a dynamic situation where good judgement and self-reliance are a must. This is not a guidebook run, and should not be treated as such.