Monday, June 5, 2017

Bilyeu Creek (Lower)

*A paddlers face has been disguised in this report by request.

Pronounced "Blue Creek", this small creek enters Thomas Creek at the Hannah Covered Bridge.  Talking to a local farmer, there are apparently still some people from the Bilyeu family living in the area.  There is also a Blue Creek that flows into Bilyeu Creek (the French spelling of that word).

It's been on my radar for awhile, and some other boaters have looked at it, Pete and Jason from Oregonkayaking had run it.   Like me, everyone familiar with the creek was a little apprehensive about being forced onto private property while scouting or portaging during a descent.

Creek level, with a grass seed field in the background.

It's March 2017 and the first week of daylight savings.  Priscilla and I are planning to take advantage of the light, good flows and sunny weather to do some laps on the Jordan Dam after work.  While at work I remember that driving by on our way to another creek earlier in the month Bilyeu looked like it had enough water to float.  With the Thomas Creek gauge at just over 2,000 cfs and dropping I think it might be a good flow for checking out some of Bilyeu Creek.  With the advances in satellite imagery available to the public, I am pretty confident the run won't be very difficult and wood issues look minimal.   We pick a bridge 1.5 miles above the confluence with Thomas Creek to start our trip from, and decide if it's too low or high we will still be able to divert to the last couple miles of Lower Thomas Creek.

The flows appear perfect and we drive up to the Bilyeu Creek Rd bridge and put in quickly, we are not doing anything illegal but still don't want to draw attention from locals.  Most of the time interactions are positive, but often enough the interaction between kayaker and muggle on not-commonly paddled streams is time consuming and unpleasant enough that we don't want to risk it today and get geared up at the take out, ready to jump out of the cars and into the creek in as little time as possible at the put in.

We are pulling our spraydecks on 40 minutes before sunset.  I think that is plenty of time to go 1.5 miles if we don't have a slew of wood portages, Priscilla is pretty sure we are going to be hiking out through a field in the dark.  I noted the day before it looked like there is currently about half an hour  buffer past sunset where enough light remains that it would be possible to paddle, so with some encouragement she leaves her concerns at the put in and we push off.


A month later I return with another guy to run the section Priscilla and I checked out, along with an additional 1.5 miles upstream.  Now it's getting dark around 8:30 so we are not as concerned with daylight, but plan on moving fast regardless.

Getting ready at the take out (Hannah Bridge).

Again we gear up at the take out, ready to make an inconspicuous put in.  We make note of the level at the put in, and ponder the installment of a foot gauge here some day.

Just below this put in are two log issues, we squeak by both.  We drift downstream, enjoying the small bedrock rapids that poke up here and there between the cruisy stuff.  Brush is present along both banks, and short bedrock walls pop up very now and then, giving the stream an intimate feel.

Typical Bilyeu Creek

Every now and then the brush closes in and impedes the downstream view.  Fortunately it never caused a problem and eddies were always available (however small some of them were) where we needed them.

There were two ledges in the first half of the run that stood out, both were worth a quick look as they had hazards if the line was missed.  The first one (Goulet) might be tough to look at if the flow was high.  We got out on the right and waded along the right bank to check it out.  There was an out-building from a nearby residence so we were sure to stay below the high water mark.  Right down the middle worked for us, just make sure not to get pushed into the overhangs on the right or left.

Right on line in Goulet.
Goulet is a French word for "bottleneck". When capitalized it is a guy who lives by a river constriction.
Both definitions work here.

A private bridge over the creek signals the other significant ledge.  We were able to stop easily above it, but the situation was not ideal for getting out of our boats.  I was able to grab an eddy under some limbs on the right and scouted.  Walking along the bank was easy and I was able to pick out the line.  If the flows were higher I might plan on just running the drop without a scout, the line is to

"Run the easy lead in center, then go off the horizon line just left of center with a right stroke.  Error to the left".

While easily avoided with the above beta, the right side of the river does push into a rock that would be painful to collide with.  If you are too far left you risk a piton.  It's easy to keep your nose up off the 5' ledge, but if you were to really whiff it appeared possible to get stuck in the left side of the hole which would not be enjoyable as it might be a bit of a pothole.  A class IV move, but missing the line would not feel class IV.

Moving downstream it was smooth sailing, lots of read n' run and while the whitewater was easy it moved along quickly and semi-blind corners kept our attention (again, there were eddies where we needed them).

The creek is pretty consistent in nature.  Looking downstream it is either busy class II-III between walls of vegetation or small bedrock horizon lines, and the occasional log to deal with (we had no wood portages on either trip).

We were having a good time and when we reached the bridge Priscilla and I had used as a put in a couple months before we relaxed and enjoyed the remaining 1.5 miles down to Thomas Creek.

Back to the trip with Priscilla

The parts I had scouted in the summer seemed like pretty easy bedrock on a brushy creek with a couple notable rapids sprinkled in the section above where we are putting on.

The first rapid below where Priscilla and I put in is a nice set of small bedrock ledges, then not far downstream another small bedrock ledge.  There are eddies where we want them, but the banks look unpleasantly brushy so we are hoping we don't have to portage anything.  The stream is boat-scoutable so far, with some fun class III/IV ledgey rapids and a couple plucky holes.  There is more bedrock than I had expected and we have a good time cruising through the splashy rapids.

A ledge just below where Priscilla and I put in on our first trip.

We slide over a log, then deliberate about another one just above a bridge from our boats before Priscilla decides it goes and slides over the middle, it ended up being more straight forward than it looked from above.
Burmester Creek comes in from the left shortly below another bridge and the stream opens up a bit.

Below the confluence on a later trip.

One notable hazard was a line across the creek right at head level downstream of here.  It's hard to see from above and clotheslined Matt on our second trip.

Half a mile and a few more small rapids later we float into Thomas Creek (being sure to drive right into the upstream eddy) and paddle up the eddy to the Hannah Covered Bridge where our car is waiting.  We had expected there to be some whitewater, but were surprised by the quantity and decide that as long as the run remains wood free we both hope to return.  The sun is still up at this point so we practice ferrying for half hour or so and have gear loaded just before darkness takes hold.

Floating in Thomas Creek, with Bilyeu entering just behind.


This is a fun, if oddball run, that I plan to return to given its proximity to my house in Albany. Take note though that with the brushy banks, wood presence and the couple more serious rapids it requires more of boaters than other class III-IV runs in the area like the Clackamas, Butte Creek or Molalla Rivers.

Also, while trespassing is not required to do this run, I implore any potential paddlers to be very aware that they are close to people's back yards and this is not the place to draw attention to oneself.  Gear up at the take out, put in quickly, and don't piss anyone off or infringe on their land.  

Difficulty:  III-IV  with wood potential and brushy banks.

Levels:  From the take out at the Hannah Bridge, walk to the confluence and look upstream.  This is a good barometer for flows.

Medium Flows
 7pm on March 16, 2017

Low, enjoyable flows.
7pm on May 17, 2017

A loose correlation to the gauge on Thomas Creek.

1,000 = Low, enjoyable.
2,000 = Medium
3,000 = High

Take Out:  Hannah Covered Bridge  44.7122, -122.7186
Put In:  Where E Bilyeu Creek Dr crosses Bilyeu Creek: 44.7041, -122.6669

The depicted on the map is 3.2 miles.


The further upstream you go on the creek, the more challenging the stream becomes until you get to a couple mile, 300 fpm stretch and above that a waterfall.  All of the access points are bridges, but the challenges on the water are substantial near the headwaters.

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