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.
Put in Emile and I used: 44.6519, -122.3577