Thursday, November 30, 2017

WF Cow Creek

Photo: Priscilla Macy / along the lower run


Stream: A brushy class II-IV stream only half an hour off I-5 near Glendale.  There are some quality rapids, unique scenery, and the shuttle is straight forward.  It's no classic, but its worth doing.  If you use the put in we did, you will get a bonus canyon that includes Dothan Falls.  

                                Priscilla Macy running Dothan Falls

From Dothan falls to the lower put in (at a bridge), the stream is brushy class II-III.  The stretch below the bridge is a more mature stream-bed with higher quality class III/IV, less brush and more to look at.  Everything was easily scout-able and portage-able at the low flows we had.

Flows:  From our scout in 2016, I think 1,000 cfs or just under is perfect.  Our flow was low, it was plenty of water to float but because the character is more river-esque than creek-like, the rapids were not quality at low water.  By the end of the day when we ran shuttle, flows looked ideal.  We had missed the bubble by a few hours.

Access:  From Riddle or Glendale, get on Cow Creek Rd and follow it 15-20 miles to the confluence with the WF Cow Creek.  Follow the WF Rd as it parallels WF Cow 3.8 miles and turn left on a road that leads to the take out bridge.  To get to the put in we used return to NF-25 and continue upstream 6.3 miles (crossing another put in option at a bridge at 4.5 miles) and veer right. 1.1 miles later stay left. 2.8 miles later you will reach a rock quarry which marks the put in.

If you would like to add more class II-III you can put in higher, or take out lower.

Notes:  If the flows are good, the water quality will be bad.


Trip Report

The WF of Cow Creek has been on our list for a couple years.  It stands out on maps despite the low gradient, due to narrow sections and satellite imagery showing plenty of bouldery rapids between longer stretches of little action.  We had driven along it a couple times heading in and out of the SF Coquille drainage.  Last year we drove along the headwaters on our way to Woodenrock Creek and because the road follows much of it we were able to scout enough to put it on the "lets do it someday" list.

We were heading from Albany down to Grants Pass for Thanksgiving, and this creek happens to be a pretty convenient option along that route.  Oddly enough, the week before the trip we got one last piece of inspiration from Sam Box, who sent us a couple intriguing photos his friends had taken at Dothan Falls during the summer.

Mmmmm, bedrock.

As the time grew closer to head South, the lack of rain in the Rogue Valley had us losing motivation for WF Cow.  It looked like it would be too low, so we made plans to head to The Gem on the SF Coquille instead.  On the drive down, we saw levels had started to rise.  We had a cutoff of 2k for The Gem, so when we stopped for gas in Roseburg and checked to see that the SF Coquille had hit that mark with no signs of slowing we decided to divert back to WF Cow, since they share a headwaters ridge we hoped WF Cow would continue to rise as well (it had been too low that morning).

We left I5 near Glendale and started paralleling Cow Creek, which was very low. However as we turned off onto the WF road, the further up the drainage we drove, the more water there seemed to be.  We had high hopes we would be able to float the creek, reaching our take out we decided it was going to be low but we could get down it and still have an enjoyable day.

Our planned take out, and a scene we ended up seeing plenty more of on the WF of Cow Creek.
 Photo: Priscilla Macy

We dropped off our motorized bike to do the 9 mile shuttle at the end of the day along with some snacks and headed to the put in.  We had not remembered where the gate was from our scouting trip (it had been open that day), but were pleased to find the spot we wanted to put in was below the gate anyway.

We find odd-ball runs usually have at least some sort of logistical challenge to reach the put-in, this was a stark exception to the rule.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

There was a brush island that required using the correct channel, and some class II-III before the walls rose briefly and the creek veered right.  Priscilla hopped out to scout and grab a photo of this fun one.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

Just around the corner was Dothan Falls, the most anticipated rapid of the trip.  We were not sure it would be runnable as from the road it appeared to drop into the left wall, and the photos Sam's friend had taken only showed the lip.

A quick scout revealed a nice flake that allowed us to avoid the left wall.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

The creek eased off considerably below Dothan Falls, and there was much brush to deal with.  It was all passable, and  kept us engaged through the 2 miles of class II that followed down to a bridge (42.8469, -123.7525).  After that, occasional rapids and abundant brush carried us another 2 miles down to another bridge (42.8297, -123.7185) we had passed over during the shuttle which we felt might be a higher "bang for your buck" put-in option on a return trip.

One of the rapids between the bridges, a welcome break from the brush-bashing.

A short way below the mainline bridge passed over during the shuttle, and about 5 miles into the trip we stopped for a lunch break.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

I had heard from Yann Crist-Evans that the section below the bridge was a nice class IV high water option.

 Not too far below the mainline bridge, the stream started to mature.  The creek entered a beautiful canyon section, the brush eased up and the whitewater started to get better.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

Large boulders started to make it tough to see downstream, we hopped out a couple times to scout out the best route.  While only class III-IV, there were places that were better to be than others.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

This ended up being the best part of the run, and would be a hoot at the right flow.  At low flows the rapids were not filled in, and while we had plenty of water to float, the character of the stream was more river-like and needs the boulders to be covered to bring the rapids to life.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

The scenery is unique, and worth taking in.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

About 2 miles before our take out, Priscilla remembered that she had not left the keys for the bike lock at the take out, they were in fact back at the put in.  After trying to think up any other option, we resigned to stopping at this point and walking the 7 miles back to our vehicle.  Given it was Thanksgiving (we were planning to celebrate the holiday Saturday), we didn't see anyone else the whole time we were in the Cow Creek drainage.  The walk back up to the vehicle wasn't as big a bummer as we were anticipating, which we completed and returned to collect our things well before dark.  During our walk, we again noticed that the stream had more water the higher we went.  And when we reached our vehicle it was obvious the heavy showers throughout the day had brought the stream up, and we had missed the bubble by only a few hours.  Oh well, the whitewater might not have been as good at the low flow but it was still a neat canyon worth checking out.