I think this is the best run I have done in Oregon. The adventurous nature had a lot to do with that, but its also a good whitewater run that is on the top of my list to return to.
Day 0: We are not linked in well with the community in the area, so spend weeks planning this trip, looking at satellite imagery we see there will be a lot of logs. I estimate we could have as many as 30 log portages on day 1, Ben claims they are all "shadow trees" and feels we will be able to float under most of them. We haven't done an overnighter on a run without first hand beta before in our hardshell kayaks so that plays a roll as well. Shuttle logistics are daunting, but a scouting trip shows us there is access off Peavine and Bear Camp roads, though snow is a concern and we will likely need to hike in 6 miles (all downhill on a paved road).
Day 1: We stay the night in Grants Pass at Priscilla's parents house, waking up early with Priscilla's family helping us out with shuttle. There is fresh snow on the drive to the put in (complete with bear tracks), but we still arrive at the river much earlier and with more energy than expected. The stream above the put in looks awful but consolidates right at the put in and we begin our trip with an enjoyable rapid.
Fun read and run class III-IV continues for a couple miles with some ledges mixed in and 1 log portage. We are blown away, Ben was totally right about being able to float under all of the logs that were visible in the imagery. They all appear to be deposited by high water and reside 5-10 feet above the stream, spanning the creek.
Photo: Priscilla Macy
We encounter a couple scouts and the creek becomes even more enjoyable, we begin to have hope this won't turn into a suffer fest.
There is one semi-strenuous portage around a gorge with a log jam, Ben's boat is dropped 20 feet off a cliff into the river. It has a dent, but no puncture. We eat lunch on the portage.
A tributary comes in from river left over a couple small waterfalls and the stream enters a mini-gorge via a fun rapid with a nice boof at the end. The next drop is a narrow 20 foot waterfall. We don't look for a portage route, but I doubt that option would be straight forward. The falls is tricky, but forgiving. We have a number of rolls and a swim (due only to botched rolls in the pool), but there were not dangerous features in the pool below so the stress level stays low.
More read and run continues broken up by a scout every now and then. We are beginning to have a lot of fun while at the same time realizing we have not made it as far as we had intended to by this point in the day and are glad we are prepared for 2 nights out. We startle a bear hanging out on the river left wall and Ben pitons his boat in a neat rapid and now he has dents on both ends :(
We know we still have a serious section of whitewater ahead of us with 3 waterfalls (seen on our google scout) so we proceed cautiously, not wanting to get boxed in above one of them. The first two falls turn out to be unique and fun with reasonable scouting options, though portaging would be tough. Both were in the 10 foot range. The gorge walls are daunting here, we are proceeding cautiously and do not find ourselves over-committed at any point during the trip.
The third falls is the one we are most concerned about as it appears to be the largest based on our mapping efforts. It ends up also having the trickiest logistics. We initially fear that we have got ourselves into a bad situation as the walls are vast and a portage route is not immediately obvious. I catch an eddy on river left to check out the situation there and the drop is V+. It has a twisting lead in before crashing into the left wall, it does have a nice landing pool though! I spot out a narrow portage route on the left and signal the rest of the group down. Two people almost blow the scouting eddy. The portage is short but has about 15 feet that is exposed, a slip would mean swimming over the drop. Luckily there are foot holds were we need them and soon we are all standing on a nice staging area from which we can complete the next part of the portage. We do a throw and go, which was pretty fun. The pool here is large and there is a nice launch pad for our boats. The large boil created by the falls also provides a soft landing.
Portaging "Prisoner Falls"
Named by the Knapp brothers who first descended this creek.
Named by the Knapp brothers who first descended this creek.
Prisoner Falls from below.
We float through the gorge below Prisoner Falls and before much time has passed we see a wall of pitcher plants on the left and take a moment to enjoy the moment. Just around the next bend the stream was backed up by a small log jam (runnable) where a nice camp presented itself on the left. We stopped here for the night, stashing our food on the other side of the river in case a bear got curious.
Day 2: It rains softly all night and we wake up to gear that is just wet enough that we don't relish the thought of sleeping in it another night. The level has also dropped a little so we plan to try to make it all the way to the take out today. We have 4.5 miles to go until we reach Silver Creek, then 7 miles after that before we reach the confluence with the Illinois, followed by another 7 miles on the Illinois. We feel it is possible to make the 19 miles to the take out, but given we only made it 4.5 miles yesterday that goal is by no means guaranteed.
We find the going easier down here, the big gorges let up for awhile and we have some easy floating mixed in with some committing class III-IV gorges where a log in the wrong spot could spell disaster. We are forced to deal with only one truly blind corner, which turns out to be benign. Below these committing gorges the easy floating is next broken up by a nasty landslide rapid that we partially portage on the left after a fun lead in. After this class V mess the stream eases off again, with some class I-II stretches ending in one final hurrah before the confluence with Silver Creek.
The last couple obstacles are a large log jam we portaged more easily than anticipated on the left and then ate lunch at the bottom of. After this portage are a couple lesser rapids leading into a tricky one right at the confluence that everyone aside from Ben portaged over the small ridge into Silver Creek.
Silver Creek provided 7 miles of quality whitewater, much of which was read and run, but there were also a few scouts. There were no rapids that did not get run and we were blown away with how enjoyable this stretch of stream was. I'd call it class IV with some "BC class IV" sprinkled throughout.
Just before Silver Creek enters the Illinois it flows through a final gorge. The entrance is a powerful ledge that everyone aside from Ben boofed center. He took the meat line through the gut on the right. A final set of enjoyable rapids continued through this gorge and we rejoiced as we passed under the foot bridge and into the mighty Illinois.
After a quick celebration we turned the engines back on and trucked down to the take out, loading up and making it past Powers on our drive home before it becomes dark.
The Team: Ben Mckenzie, Priscilla Macy, Jacob Cruser, Emile Elliott, Brandon Lake
happy trees and happy accidents from Difficult E on Vimeo.
Below are the flows we had on our trip down the NF of Silver Creek into Silver Creek into the Illinois.
(March 25-26, 2016)
We had a large storm roll through earlier in the week to supply our flows, we got on the run as the levels were on their way back down. If I went back I would shoot for similar flows, and while it could be paddled lower the NF would lose a fair bit of its quality. Higher would be just fine, but too high and the portage at Prisoner Falls would get marginalized.