Thursday, November 24, 2016

Champion Creek


Stream: Champion Creek is a tributary to Brice Creek (near Cottage Grove) that makes for a low-key adventure if you live in the area.

Put in below the run-out of Smith Falls (sieves to the extreme), walking down to creek level next to this cliff and stump.

There are many rapids on this run, with wood mixed in.  In 2016 we had 4 wood portages and 1 rapid portage.  There was more wood in play, but nothing out of the ordinary for a small Oregon stream.  The typical style was that of a handful of bouldery rapids, then a bedrock rapid.  I would rate one of the rapids near the end class V, the rest do not meet that classification.

Typical Champion Creek

There are plenty of blind corners, so frequent scouting for the next eddy and of course lines down to those eddies is commonplace.

In 2016 the wood situation was such that it was convenient to hop out at the halfway bridge and walk a couple hundred yards past a few log hazards.  Putting in above a short boulder garden followed by a 5-10' ledge with a nice boof on the left.


Hunter runs a pillowy ramp further down.

Just downstream of the above pictured rapid was an intimidating, but reasonably dealt with wood hazard.  Two in the group portaged, but wished they hadn't.


The whitewater continued below here, including the stand out rapid of the run.  This was a three part rapid in a gorge.  I would consider this gorge class V at the flows we had if all the drops are run.  There is a convenient option to portage along the road on river right if desired.

Ben runs the middle part of the rapid.

Not too far below this gorge rapid a large logjam was present in 2016.  It is easy to take out here, just above the lower bridge over Champion Creek.   It is also easy to continue through Lower Brice Creek.

Flows:  Flows the day we ran Champion Creek shown below.  We absolutely noticed the jump while we were paddling that day.  When we drove up in the morning both Brice and Champion were running at a low, but runnable flow.  By the time we hit Brice both had reached a level I would describe as "near swollen".

I only have the one data point, so take this recommendation with a grain of salt:  If I were to return I would look for the Row River abv Pitcher Creek gauge to read between 1,000-2,000 cfs if levels were stable or changing slowly.

Access:  Take I5 towards Cottage Grove.  Take exit 174, following Row River Rd/Shoreview Rd past Dorena Reservoir and Wildwood Falls.   The road you are driving on becomes "Brice Creek Rd" and about 23 miles after leaving I5 you will pass Cedar Creek Campground (shortly after crossing Brice Creek for the second time) which is the take out for Lower Brice and where I recommend taking out if you think you will have enough time to make it that far.

3.5 miles upstream from Cedar Creek campground, veer right onto Champion Creek Rd.  This road quickly crosses Champion Creek, where you can leave a vehicle if you are short on time.

To get to the put in continue upstream about 2 miles (crossing Champion again at 0.9 miles) until you see this cliff and stump, a point from which you can scramble down to the creek.

Just upstream of this cliff is a set of class V-VI rapids beginning with Smith Falls, I recommend not putting onto Champion Creek above the cliff pictured above.

click to enlarge

Trip Report

Ben had been talking about Champion Creek for a few weeks, and certainly had his eye on it before that.  I had some beta that Champion was "a short III-IV run in a gorge with wood".  I wanted to run Upper Quartzville or Boulder Creek, but Ben had decided he was going to run Brice even if he had to go by himself.  I was surprised he was so excited about the run, but understood the drive to see something new so Emile and I agreed to join him.

I gave him a call as we got close to Eugene and got excited when he started describing the run as class V with some steep and sliding cascades that "might go".  By the time we got to Eugene the group had grown to almost 10 people.

In the parking lot Ben showed me a picture on his phone he had found on the internet that made me wonder how far up this creek we were planning on going.

Arriving at the take out for Lower Brice, Ben declared the stream low but runnable.  Heading upstream we saw that Champion Creek did indeed look intriguing, if woody.  By the time we got to the put in, half the group had decided this wasn't a run for them.   There was a falls at the put in that looked fun, but had a log in it and a sieve filled run-out.  We scrambled to the creek below that set of class V-VI whitewater, putting in just downstream of a waterfall emerging from under a boulder.

The run turned out to be pretty enjoyable.  Far from classic, but a good day on the water.  Lots of scouts for the next eddy and enjoyable rapids scattered between boogie sections.  Less than 5 portages even.  We did one extended portage along the road, feeling silly as we passed by a couple hundred yards of stream we should have run.  Part way through this extended portage along the road we crossed the halfway bridge.  Putting back in a couple hundred yards later (skipping a few log issues in one swoop) we encountered a fun boulder garden followed by the best boof of the run.

Emile runs a rapid above the halfway bridge on Champion Creek.

More engaging stream puzzles continued, most horizons were one person checks for wood.  One stand out gorge had three moves separated by moving pools.  People ran the second and third moves, skipping the first.  The first move was the only whitewater on the run I would call Class V.

And finally we made the last portage at road level, returning to river level just below the lowest bridge over Champion Creek.  We paddled another 200' to the confluence with Brice, tired and looking forward to some full bladed paddling.

Levels had been rising all day, and by the time we hit Brice Creek we had plenty of water resulting in some large holes.

 Ben and Hunter both ran Lower Trestle.

 Pogo was easier at these flows than when I had been there with less water.

Cheesegrater had a nasty hole with a log in it at the bottom, getting left to avoid it was easier said than done.  No swims but one surf.

 "Fun" had a large hole, but it flushed right and was easily cleared with appropriate boating technique.
Hunter sails over the hydraulic.

Ben, Hunter and Emile took advantage of the rising levels to paddle through a culvert part way down the run on river left.

Laura's was more than any of us were interested in, so we took the easy walk on the right.

 It looked like it would be fun to "see what happened" when you hit the bottom tier, but it also looked like a deep swim would be the inevitable result, and colliding with wood a real possibility.

We reached the foot bridge a few minutes later.  Champion Creek is an odd one to sum up.  It wasn't a suffer fest, wasn't sketchy or scary, had plenty of rapids with easy scouting and portaging options; though nothing really stood out about the run that would compel me to go back. Yet it was a good day of creeking and I enjoyed it.  

I'd say if you live in the area and like this style of run, by all means check it out.  Especially in conjunction with Brice Creek. 

On the flip side if you don't like this style of run, or are not with an efficient/cohesive team, it will probably be frustrating and I'd recommend against it.  


Monday, November 14, 2016

Thomas: from the top

I met Emile at the standard Thomas Creek take out around 9:15 and followed him up into the woods to one of the bridges above Thomas Creek Falls.  We left my vehicle and headed upstream, dropping off the scooter at a bridge part way through the run in case the trip ran too long and the light too short.  After a quick deliberation we decided to do all 7.5 miles we were interested in exploring, instead of the shorter and guaranteed to finish before dark lower 3 miles.  It was a lot of new stream to get through in one day, especially since we figured there would be wood but we are used to this type of boating and felt good about moving quickly in the low volume stream.

The shuttle takes some time but we eventually make it to our desired location and get down to stream level around 10am.   There are many tributaries downstream and despite healthy flows in the standard section, up this high Thomas is barely floatable.

We get to it and are pleased when we reach the first horizon line before the first log portage.  It ended up being one of the better drops, a fun ten foot ledge.

More twists, a few turns and we are at the next bedrock horizon.  Still no portages.

After our third bedrock rapid we reach our first portage, a quick one on the left.  Then more twists, more turns, more rapids.

We portage one rapid that would go better with water, we figure we have gone more than 2 miles and it's not noon yet, giving us hope we will make it through all 7.5 miles before dark.  Another portage, then half hour of read and run.  We decided to take a lunch break at the next log portage or scout, reaching noon before finding either of those we stop at that time.  We eat burritos and look for mushrooms.

We continue downstream, more of the same with one more portage and a neat class IV bedrock gorge.  We reach a bridge marking three miles to the take out, a small tributary enters on the left via a friendly looking double drop.  We hike up and plop off that, heading downstream with a couple smiles, wondering if the wood will pick up as the gradient dissipates.  More intermediate whitewater; Thomas Creek is getting larger now, definitely standard "creek size" at this point.  We reach another bridge and encounter a long stretch of easy floating with a couple tunnels of brush, yet avoid having to get out of our boats.

We both are glad we put in so high up as it's looking like we will get through this lower 3 miles in less than an hour.  We are on the lookout for a rapid Pete Giordano had showed me a picture of a number of years ago, a ten footer and a boulder garden.  Would it be runnable?  A sediment laden tributary enters Thomas Creek, turning the clear stream brown and makes the whitewater slightly harder to read.  The price of paper, wood houses and a strong Oregon economy I suppose, I'm just glad to be in a place I don't have access to most of the year.

Eventually we reach an island and go right, we wished we would have gone left but don't have to get out of our boats.  Just below the island is a boulder garden leading to a blind right turn.  We hop out at the top of the boulder garden and scan for the next eddy, finding it on the bottom left, guarded by a pile of boulders in the center of the river with a thin, but low consequence line to the left.

Arriving in that eddy we see that downstream the creek pinches off between two boulders, it looks like there is a boiling eddy on the left before another significant rapid that heads off around a blind corner to the left.  Should we spend time walking down the hummocky left bank?  No, having made many decisions like this together over the years we feel confident the pinch will be manageable and the eddy reachable.

Regrouping in the eddy below the pinch I scout left, Emile right.  He signals there are a couple small eddies along the left after the rapid bends left, I am already out of my boat so walk down to the eddy he plans to catch.

The eddy is not as easy to catch as we had thought and he slips out of the first one, I reach for him but he wants to try for the next one, slipping out of that one (barely an eddy at all) I decide it's time to intervene and grab his nose.  I head back to my boat, we switch rolls and he spots me while I take my turn getting into the eddy.

Video showing the exit from the eddy below the pinch, then turning the corner to the next eddy above what is now known as Pumpkin Spice.

Below us the stream funnels down into a narrow alleyway and over a small horizon line, could this be the drop Pete told me about?  It is, and it's enticing.  Both of us are in exploratory mode though (focused on downstream progress and a bit tired) and neither wants to probe.  Optimistic yet unsure about the landing zone, we take the high route along river left, confident the rapid will get run the next time someone does this stretch.

It is more challenging getting in our boats and exiting the pool below than we had anticipated, we must be getting tired.  A boof below rewards our efforts.

The challenge of the last few hundred yards is gone and another type of challenge awaits, an island with wood.  We follow the channel with more water and are able to duck under a couple logs without getting out of our boats, next time I will go right (actually next time I forget and go left again).

Just downstream we reach our take out bridge, it feels somehow wrong finishing a 7.5 mile exploratory trip at 2:30, we didn't even get an early start.

We run shuttle, happy to satisfy our curiosity about what lay in the upper reaches of Thomas Creek.  We have lots of daylight left so Emile introduces me to mushroom collecting, which I learn is different than mushroom hunting.  We cherry pick, waiting until we see the distinct orange color of the type we are seeking from our vehicle, then scooping up as many as we can find in a 50' radius from the road.  By the end of the shuttle Emile claims he has enough for 4 pizza's, I don't like the taste or texture of mushrooms so he goes home with all 4 pizza's worth.

We take a look at Thomas Creek Falls on the way out.  Emile says "he will if I will", but having already run this particular drop before, we end up not having the fire to get back in our gear and a serious mindset.

I am back home before dinner, and plan to take the next day off from boating.  But by morning the drop we left un-run is calling to me, and I head back to Thomas with another group to place the last piece of the whitewater puzzle.  I think maybe some day I'd like to run the lower flat water portions of Thomas Creek through the farmland and down to the South Santiam, with the goal of having seen all that Thomas has to offer.

Flows for the day

At the Hwy 226 bridge over Thomas on the drive up.

Put in Emile and I used:   44.6519, -122.3577


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tutorial: Kayak Wheels

We have found these to have been pretty helpful for hiking into runs with a nice trail, or more convenient, a gravel or dirt road.  Having used these on a number of trips over the last couple years we have found them to not only function well, but hold up to abuse better than expected.  Given their usefulness and inquiries into how they are built, I have decided to do a tutorial.

The concept was first brought to my attention by Anna Herring, while her prototype didn't hold up to abuse, it was basically the same design we use now with a couple small changes courtesy of Emile Elliott.

Our first use for the new design was a seven mile hike into Thomas Creek, so we were putting some faith in their ability to hold up.

After another trip where Ben used a similar but different style that did not work (and the subsequent anguish is seen by the boater in red on that video) we settled in on the version Emile had come up with.  We did a couple more trips with them without mishap, and become confident they would hold up in the long run.  Not to mention we were very pleased with how much easier they made hiking.

So when do I decide to use the wheels?   When the hike is over two miles and the path is conducive to the use of the wheels.  In that setting I have been glad I used the wheels every time.

So that's the back story, here is the tutorial.


Material Needed (images at bottom of page)

  • Two lawnmower wheels.  They have 6" or 7" diameters usually.  Both sizes fit in the back of a Nomad.  Obviously 7" gives more clearance so we usually go with that.
  • 19" hollow aluminum tubing that fits inside the lawnmower wheels, this will serve as an axle.
  • 4 metal hitch pins
  • Metal Sleeve about 14" long (we have used copper but its users choice, the diameter will need to be such that it slides over the aluminum tubing with little excess diameter).
  • Paracord, about 10'
  • Duct tape
  • Total cost of these materials has not exceeded $25 for me

Tools Needed

  • Drill and bit capable of drilling through aluminum (Iv'e used cobalt but probably any bit will due)
  • Hack-saw for cutting the metal to size

Step 1)   Cut the aluminum axle to size.  I have used a 19" piece for my Nomads and Mambas. 
        TIP:  Too long and the tubing begins to sag in the middle, too short and the wheels rub the outside of  the boat when in use.

Step 2)   Drill a hole all the way through and just inside the end of the aluminum axle for the hitch pin.  

Step 3)  After inserting one of the pins into the hole you created, slide one of the lawn mower wheels on from the opposite side so that it is resting against the pin.  

Step 4)  Drill another hole just inside the wheel.  Then insert the next pin.
        TIP: give the wheel a touch of wiggle room and don't drill immediately against the wheel or it may bind.  Also don't drill too far away, about 1 or 2 cm is enough.

Step 5)  Repeat steps 2-4 on the other side of the tubing.

Step 6)  Remove the pins and wheel from one side of the axle. Cut the metal sleeve to size and slide over the aluminum tubing.  Then replace wheels and pins.
        TIP:  The length will depend on where you drilled the holes, you won't want the sleeve flush with the pins.

Step 7)  Cut two 3' lengths from your paracord (or whatever you have handy) and tie to the aluminum axle between the inner pins and the metal sleeve.  
       TIP:  At this point anything sticking in a odd direction or that feels a little off I will use the duct tape to put in its desired place.  I find the pins and paracord sometimes need attention.

At this point the wheels are complete, the next section is how to attach them to your boat.

Additional supplies needed
  • Three cam straps (Two 6', and one 4' is ideal)
  • 1 kayak paddle (This system is not as good for hand paddlers)
  • PFD with rescue harness (optional)

Step 1)  Use the paracord to attach the wheels to your boat using the rear grab handle.
   TIP:  Tie a knot such that you will be able to take it off without cutting.  Try to get it very tight and make sure the wheels are centered or your kayak will be lopsided during the hike.

Step 2)  Take two of the camstraps and attach them to the handles just behind your seat, as well as to the wheel axle.  6' straps seem to be about the perfect size.  Cinch the system tight.
   TIP:  Have them run inside the paracord or they are liable to be rubbed and damaged by the wheels. 

Step 3)  Lay your paddle down and use more paracord to attach it to the front grab handle like shown in the image below.
   TIP:  Double knot it.  This is the weakest part of the system.  I find I'd rather tie it too tight and cut the paracord at the put-in than tie it loose and have it come undone every 15 minutes.

Step 4)  Use the third cam-strap to attach the other side of your paddle to the kayaks center pillar.
  TIP:  Don't be TOO gentle, but also don't damage your paddle.

Step 5)  Make sure everything is on their tight, then lift the boat, slide the paddle through your rescue harness if you like and cruise on up to the put in.
    TIP: Wrap the cow-tail a couple times around the shaft if it's hanging too low.

Step 6)  After reaching the put in, slide the device behind your seat.  If space behind your seat is in short supply, you can remove the outer hitch pins and slide the wheels off.
   TIP:  I use the paracord to tie the wheels to one of the attachment loops in the back of my boat to keep from loosing them in the event of a swim.  Cam straps I put in a dry bag.

This may seem like a lot of steps, but (A) so is setting up a back pack system.  And (B), you will have no regrets three miles in when everyone else is crippled and you are actually feeling pretty good about this hike for once.  Once you have the process down the set up takes under 5 minutes.


Images of material needed

Lawnmower wheels.

Hollow aluminum tubing 

4 hitch pins

Metal Sleeve 
This one was an old broom handle.

Or prusik, or whatever thin rope/string you have lying around.

Duct tape

Tools Needed


Drill and bit capable of drilling through aluminum 
Cobalt works, you can probably use whatever you have lying around though.

Hack-saw for cutting the metal to size