Thursday, March 29, 2018

Part One: Starting with the Guidebook

~Words from Matt King

When I made my way out east, I knew there'd be lots of good outdoor activity to be had; skiing, hiking, fishing, ect. On the other hand, I was moving away from kayak central and had no idea if there'd be anything good to run. So I started with the guidebook, which pointed me straight to the lower end of of the Imnaha River. When flows started to rise in the spring, I knew the time had come! I scrounged up my kayaking gear from it's winter hiding spot and headed down the Dug Bar road into the canyon with a modest crew: Caitlin and Oakland the dog.
The Imnaha River drops from the east side of the Wallowas and parallels the Snake in Hells Canyon until the Sake takes a turn and the Imnaha cuts in. Needless to say, the canyon is impressive!
Dropping into Hells
When we got down to the last bridge over the Imnaha at Cow Creek, the river was raging, but still had eddies and some pools. I later looked at the gauge and saw that it was over 3300 cfs, which is a bit over floodstage. But it looked good to go, and I put on and left Catilin and Oak to hike the trail and do the camera work. The water was big and pushy, but there weren't any big holes you had to hit and no real class V's, just lots of really fun wave trains and even a few boofs. It was easy to hop out and scout on the trail most places too.
Big Water Goodness
The last mile or so has the hardest drops and is the only really continuous part, but it empties out into the Snake and is consumed by the flatwater. There's some really cool history at the confluence, with some terraces from a doomed hotel, and a huge bar that's perfect for a picnic.
Then there's the hike. While you could continue down the Snake to Heller Bar, the shuttle is heinous and makes the hike the best option, with a kayak at least. This run would be great in a raft, but you'd certainly want to float down. With minimal gear, the hike's really not that bad: 4.5 miles on pretty flat terrain, definitely worth the effort. The trail is also in great shape, albeit shrouded in poison ivy and a had quite a few ticks (we pulled 100 off Oak, then just stopped counting...).
The Imnaha proved to be a fantastic run and definitely one that's made annual list, but it only piqued my curiosity of what the headwaters looked like. But that's a story for another day..
Signing Off,
Matt "The Labrador" King

Elkhead Creek

This is a small stream near Sutherlin/Drain that flows out of Elkhead Valley.  It always caught my eye on the map because it goes through a small gorge, but low gradient and volume never put it high on my list.  After finishing a trip on the nearby Mosby Creek, we still had plenty of light so Priscilla and Pete Giordano were willing to check this one out before heading home.

We took out where Elkhead Rd Crossed the creek (43.5959, -123.1937), and put in where BLM rd 23-9-91 intersected with Elk Creek (43.5861, -123.172).

What stood out at the put in was the silence.  We were parked 20 yards from the creek and couldn't hear it, winding slowly through the end of Elkhead Valley.

We seal launched in and floated through a rare scene in Oregon, a flat spot without any sign of human influence.  The banks were grass, the trees were diverse and everything felt like it was where it belonged.  We hopped onto the bank for one quick walk around a fallen tree, and another couple minutes of floating had us making a turn as the telltale sound of whitewater was heard and the creek bent right and dropped out of sight.  We scouted, and eventually portaged this first rapid on the right along an elk path.  The rapid was likely runnable, but the flow was pushing pretty hard into two subsequent wood hazards.

Below this first rapid the creek cooked along quickly and more wood was present throughout the next 1/4 mile.  There were a couple blind corners that required wading through blackberry bushes to scout what ended up being class II and wood free sections.

About a 1/2 mile after putting on we reached the confluence we had been looking for (with Walker Creek) and the size of the creek bed increased notably and downstream visibility increased while stress decreased.  Just below the confluence was a sliding ledge before the creek eased off to class II+ with the occasional wood hazard as it wound around corners.  Mostly this part was pleasant floating, passing quickly by semi-scenic views with the occasional log to deal with, not much in the way of rapids.  Again, the area immediately next to the stream felt unmolested.

Photo: Pete Giordano

There was one island Pete and I went right of and had to make a portage, Pete signaled back to Priscilla to take the left channel and she avoided getting out of her boat.  To portage, Pete and I ducked under a log while wading through the creek, becoming partially submerged.  At this point the importance of closing my pee-zipper all the way was reinforced.

The river was splashy II-III from this island to the take out bridge.

This creek has a gauge, the day we ran it the flows felt good after we reached the confluence, but were a bit stressful before that.

Click to enlarge