Monday, October 24, 2016

Thomas Creek: Pumpkin Patch

Each October hunting season rolls around and access to Thomas Creek is allowed.  Like a pumpkin patch you can go in just a short way and get a worthwhile reward, but if you want the biggest and the best you gotta go just a little further.


Stream: Walk down the short nose of land and put on to a Thomas Creek that has noticeably less water than where you left the take out vehicle.  A short warm up ends at an island, while most of the water goes right I suggest taking the left channel.  Immediately after the channels merge back together the whitewater gets rolling in the form of manky (if you are not on line) class IV whitewater that can and should be scouted.  There is an eddy on the left before the creek turns right and pinches down to half its size between a couple boulders.   It is important you catch an eddy right or left just below this pinch to scout the rest of the rapid, which makes a bend to the left and over "Pumpkin Spice".

Pumpkin Spice has a narrow hallway leading to a ten foot ramp that must be run right (without hitting the right wall) to avoid an atomic piton middle and left.  The line is straight forward, but don't mess it up.  Scout/portage the lead in and Pumpkin Spice on the left, safety can be thoroughly set below.

                                                   Ross George enjoying this seasonal treat.

A nice boof and a short bit of easy water lead to another island that is best run in the right channel (ducking a couple logs at the top in 2016).  Shortly below this island is a bridge, then some easy floating through some island and boulder bar style rapids before the whitewater builds again as the creek approaches and then passes under another bridge.  This second bridge signals that you are VERY close to Thomas Creek Falls, separated by only two short class III-IV rapids.  There are small eddies just above the plunge, that should be caught one boater at a time.   If you are feeling cautious or the water is high you can chose to walk down to the falls from this bridge along the road and then down a short trail.

The line on the 30-40' Thomas Creek falls is obvious along the right side and away from the log in the center.  The lead in is straight forward, the landing soft and the pool friendly.  The log is intimidating and would likely be disastrous to collide with.  Boaters around here typically assume if there is a runnable drop in the area it was likely run back in the day by Eric Brown or Dan Coyle.  Yet not knowing for sure, this drop did not see a descent for many years (the log was cited as the concern).  In 2010 Matt King demonstrated to our generation of boaters that the line is manageable for skilled paddlers.  Since his run, numerous others have followed.

                                                    Kory Kellum staring down the barrel. 

Thomas Creek Falls can be portaged via a thrown and go from the lip on river-right, or a sloppy up and around route on the same side.

Patrick Beville sans boat

Below the falls are a couple more III-IV rapids in a gorge before the stream flattens out for awhile.  Somewhere amongst these boulder bars you enter the Standard Stretch, and about 4 miles of beautiful and classic class III-IV whitewater later the take out.

Vaclav out front

Flows: We had ~1,000 cfs and dropping slow.  I'd guess 900-1500 cfs is a reasonable range on the USGS Guage @ Scio (and it's probably ok if the gauge is reading a bit higher so long as the flow is dropping).    If levels are lower you can still put in at and run the falls (down to 400 or so cfs).

Access: The take out is located less than 15 miles East of Scio, OR.  Take Hwy 226 to Thomas Creek Dr, following until it turns to gravel which is where the gate is.  If it is Cascade Deer or Elk hunting season, the gate has historically been open (call this number to be sure 888-741-5403).  If not, it will be closed and your only option is to find access through the Santiam State Forest via the Rock Creek drainage out of Mill City or hike a long way.

Assuming the gate is open, continue along Thomas Creek Drive 2.2 miles (past the Sheriff's posse) and make a right turn down to the take out bridge.

To get to the put in return to Thomas Creek drive and continue the way you were going 3.8 miles (stay right at 2 and 2.9 miles) where you will meet up with a more heavily travelled road, merge right.  2.9 miles past this merge (stay straight at 1 mile, drive through a yellow gate shortly after, then pass the road leading down to Thomas Creek Falls at 1.8 miles) you will cross over Thomas Creek, there will be notably less water than at the take out. Stay left on the road along the creek, 3/4 of a mile past this bridge you will reach another bridge over a tributary with an obvious parking area.  Walk down the nose of land to the creek to put in.

A mileage map starting at the take out.
It is worth cache-ing this area on your phone before leaving reception and using the GPS if you have that function.
click to enlarge

Notes:   My friend Jarred voiced concern about the right wall below the falls appearing undercut on a trip he took to Thomas, and thus chose to portage the falls.  I have been there at low flows and it was not an issue.  At the flow the pictures for this page were taken we had about 1,000 cfs and the wall proved to still be a benign obstacle.  Anything that flowed towards it was stopped short of the wall by the water rebounding off the wall short of collision, and subsequently pushed quickly downstream into the pool.  We were even comfortable jumping off the falls and swimming past the wall.  The clips below were put together to showcase how the wall can be...

A) avoided
B) a non-issue if you are pushed toward it

That said, analyze the situation for yourself when you are there.  Especially if the flows are up.

Trip Report

The day before Emile and I had checked out Thomas Creek from the top, exploring 7.5 miles of stream I knew nothing about aside from what I had seen on maps and a tantalizing picture Pete Giordano had sent me.

It was a fun day of adventure, though we had portaged the rapid Pete sent the photo of.

The next day a group of boaters wanted to go to Thomas so we planned on giving the rapid a better look before continuing through the falls and Standard Stretch.

A couple boaters in the group were uncomfortable putting on this high so planned to meet us at a bridge above Thomas Creek Falls.  We walked down to Thomas Creek near a confluence and quickly worked our way down to where the whitewater picked up.  The scouting and safety setting took some time, but eventually Priscilla decided to go first.  We felt that because she was in an IK on this trip it gave her more margin for error with the padding those craft provide.  She ended up getting spun at the lip and dropping over backwards but came out upright and unscathed.

Ross went next with a perfect line, with Kory and I following not long after.

  It took us a little while to get down to the bridge to meet the rest of the team who were pretty worried it had taken us 1.5 hours to run that section.  They decided that since it was now 2pm and it would be dark by 7pm they were not comfortable continuing on for fear of running out of light, we wished them well and continued on downstream.

There was a section of easy floating before the whitewater picked back up as we reached another bridge.  This signaled we were near the falls so we proceeded cautiously down the next couple of short rapids.   We caught the eddy on the right above the falls one at a time and set about scouting or portaging Thomas Creek Falls.

Kory went first, followed by Nick, Ross and myself.  The others chose to save this one for another day.

Nick hopped in the IK for this one.

We continued on through the classic Standard Stretch, having a blast and arriving back in Albany before the sun faded.   Aside from Ross getting lost on the shuttle the day went very smoothly.


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