Friday, December 13, 2019

North Fork Fall Creek (Eugene)

1.3 miles (we did 3 miles) 

Stream: A tiny, woody stream near Eugene.  From a bridge about 3.5 miles upstream of the Fall Creek confluence, to about 1.5 miles above Fall Creek, the North Fork is a mess of downed trees.  There were a few bedrock slides to pick off and some boulder smashing but mostly just carrying boats down the middle of the creek over, around, under, and through logs.  It took Ben and I 4 hours to go the 2 miles.

About 1.5 miles above the Falls Creek confluence the North Fork of Falls Creek picks up a bit of volume from a tributary and there are a handful of wood portages from there down.  There are also a couple runnable ten foot waterfalls and some other class III and IV bedrock rapids.   

Once on Fall Creek it's 1.5 miles of fast moving class I-II down to the take out bridge.  If the reservoir is low, there are a couple bonus class III's. 

Flows:  Ben and I were there January 22, 2019.  This was an ideal flow for rock boats. The last 1.5 miles could have handled more water, but the upper reaches would have been sketchy.  Below are a couple gauges in the area.

We had 5.5'-6' on the Fall Creek above North Fork gauge


Our Put in:   43.9883, -122.5971

Better put in:  43.9864, -122.6262

Take out:  43.9727, -122.6607

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Gladiator Creek: Upper

Gladiator Creek: Upper
3 miles (+3 miles on Middle, and another 4 on the lower section)
300-400 fpm.

The uppermost section of this creek was the last to be run.  We had done the lower and middle a couple times, but the logistics of doing the upper had only resulted in a single failed attempt and a couple aborted trips.  Because of the length, I thought it might need to be done over the course of two days on the first go.  Having water levels and weather that produce two boatable days in acceptable weather conditions in this drainage are not easy to come by, especially when it has to be on a weekend.  It's especially tough because you need a group willing to commit to an early start, but you don't ever know if there will be the right amount of water until you wake up in the morning.  Then factor in the 2700' elevation of the road to drive to the trailhead and the window gets very short, often only the first storm or two of the season even give the semblence of a chance to attempt this upper run in most years.  The ingredients finally came together in October of 2019 when I got on the run with Joseph Hatcher, Ben Mckenzie, and Adam Edwards.  Priscilla was giving a talk in Eugene that night on women in the outdoors, but was willing to drive our shuttle.  Something that is appreciated and helps a lot on kayaking trips, especially so on a run like this that has many other logistical hurdles. 

On our way to a moon prance, beneath the cover of October skies.

The hike in for this Upper run is different than the Middle or Lower, it's about a 45 minute drive for the shuttle, then 4-5 miles of mostly downhill hiking on gravel roads (the roads are gated so no driving, but walk-in access is allowed).

When there is enough water for this section of the creek to run, the weather that brought it isn't usually inviting.

There are two bridges near the put in.  If you put in at the one that is further upstream, the hike is shorter, but you will have to paddle through a swamp/forest.  We just hiked the extra half mile to the second one and were glad we did.

Walking a perfectly good road to a creek, sigh.  Really though it's appreciated they even let us walk in. 

The first few minutes are pretty flat with some trees to dodge, the river then turns left and the first horizon-line becomes visible, created by Romulus and Remus.  These are back to back slides ending in a pool with an eddy on the left between the two.  We scouted Romulus on the right, and Remus on the left.  Both were clean and while we scouted Romulus for awhile, I sent everyone down Remus on verbal beta.


Downstream are a couple of small ledges, in 2019 there was a large and recent clear-cut on river right beginning shortly below the put in and ending a couple hundred yards downstream of Remus that had leaked a bunch of logs into the creek.  We were able to snake around most of these, but did have to sneak a ledge below Remus and portage a small jam just downstream.   Below this portage the creek cleaned up.

A few of the logs from the clear-cut are visible in the background of this photo.

Below the quick wood portage we floated through about 1/4 mile of class II with a couple small rapids before a gradual right turn obscured a big horizon downstream (if you are paddling along the left bank you will see the horizon sooner).  If you plan on paddling this section of creek, make note of this part.  Just above the horizon is a small, but good eddy on the left, hidden from view from above by the 2' ledge seen in the photo below.  It is best to catch this eddy one at a time.   We were taking the proper precautions, going slow and not over-committing.  Because of this we had no trouble catching the eddy and getting out above this drop despite the 100 yards of busy water above it.  If I had not known the drop was coming from a summer-time scout, it might have been a scramble to get to shore above it.

Looking upstream from the eddy that needs to be caught above the horizon.

Nobody ran this large 4 tiered drop on our trip, though Adam and Ben were considering it seriously.  If it wasn't our first time down the creek, I imagine one or both of them would have gone for it.  The final drop has a pool that is deep enough to land in, but I would not trust the depth to a plug.  I'll leave the naming to whoever runs it first.

The first two drops, of four.  Taken from shore next to the must catch eddy.

We found the portage Priscilla had sorted out last summer on the left intuitive, but brushy.  It involved a short traverse starting 20' above the creek, then descending back through a gully to creek level just below the waterfall in the photo above, and just above where the left wall turned to bare rock.  We used ropes for the last little bit of the descent back to the creek. 

Below here was another cruisy section of easy floating with the occasional small ledge.  But don't let your guard down, the biggest whitewater on this creek and one of the largest sets in the Pacific Northwest are 1/2 mile downstream.

Enjoying the calm between the storms.

Yet more class III floating ends abruptly in the Triumfallades, a set of falls and cascades leading right through and into the Pomerium, a walled in section of the creek that would require some honey badgering to descend through.  We got out on the right where the decommissioned and overgrown Castrum Road reaches the creek.  We were only just able to make out this important road marking the place to scout the Triumfallades, which comes just after a class II rapid with a wall on the right.  Tread carefully here as the Triumfallades are not something you would want to stumble into blind. 

 The photo below is taken from a last chance eddy above the Triumfallades on the right adjacent to Castrum Road (note the rock and horizon downstream).

We walked our boats up what is left of Castrum Road and dropped them at a flat spot adjacent to the rock in the photo above, where we rested for awhile.  We were protected from the rain and wind by some tall trees, with enough flat ground to lay down and cook some food.   We unloaded our boats, ate some snacks, and marveled at the large mushrooms before setting out to give the Triumfallades a look.

Big as a baby-head.

Looking up at the top half of the Triumfallades, from the Pomerium Gate.

Looking down at the Pomerium Gate in the summer.

Looking back up from inside the Pomerium.

Looking down into the Pomerium with water, there is video in the story section at the bottom of the page.

After surging into the Pomerium, one last 70' near-vertical cascade finishes off the Triumfallades.  To scout this drop when there is water in the creek would require a drone or technical ropework.  Or the full commitment route of paddling the rowdy 3rd Triumfallade into the Pomerium, then scouting the final 70' Triumfallade from the lip, fully committed for a scout that would only show you so much.  Setting safety is not realistic without a big production, and a successful descent of this drop would require channeling some Ferraro/Mcavoy magic.  None of us were even entertaining the idea of venturing into the Pomerium.  We would choose to make the longest portage of the trip when we returned tomorrow.

Big Drops make for big horizons.
The video game line I saw during a summer scout was center-left, about where the pelican box in the photo is, and hitting the left side of a large rooster just beyond the lip before catching a couple lucky bounces into the 5-10' deep pool.
 Summertime Photos from Priscilla

To portage around The Pomerium, we walked out of the trees where we had rested, crossed a washout and continued along Castrum Road.  Following it side-hill until it overlooked a gap in the bedrock down through a clear-cut gully just past and to the right of the grouping of trees in the middle of the photo.

The clear-cut had a lot of slash that made for rough going so we lowered our boats on ropes.  Looking around, we were thankful this gap in the cliffs existed.   I'm not sure how long it took to get down to creek level again, probably 30-60 minutes and with the ropes and 4 people it was not strenuous though it was important to mind your step. 

Looking down into the clear cut we descended for the portage around The Pomerium.  It would not make sense to try to get back to the creek before this point.

We returned to the creek a short ways into The Skirmishes, a long section of continuous boulder gardens.  The level had notably dropped since the previous day so we knew we would have some battling to do to get down to the Middle Bridge.  While the The Skirmishes would have been good fun at the right flow, there was a lot of rock and it was difficult to find deep bladed routes through the rapids.  There were a few wood issues, one portage and some creativity around a couple others were required.  This section was all read and run and I look forward to returning at medium flows.

Rock dodging and limb smashing through The Skirmishes.

The wood sometimes forced us into oddball channels, and despite The Skirmishes being less intimidating than the large drops on the creek, were the only rapids to produce any flips on our trip.   We were all relieved to reach the Middle bridge, knowing we were in familiar territory and were about to leave the boulders gardens behind.  I took a moment for an internal smile upon reaching the middle bridge, knowing we had just placed the last piece of the Gladiator puzzle, one I had begun a decade before.

External smiles elsewhere on the creek.
Photo: Adam Edwards

While reaching the Middle Bridge meant we had dealt with all the unknown we were going to be handling on this trip, we still needed to continue through the fun, yet not without challenge middle and lower sections (the alternate option is a 6 mile hike out).  Since Ben, Adam and I all knew the rest of the creek and had run everything below this bridge, we felt good about making efficient time and knowing where the challenges were.  That didn't mean Vesuvius Falls would let us off without some problem-solving, the water was lower than we had previously done the run and at least I knew I was planning to figure out a way not to run it.

 Ben paddling the lead in to Vesuvius, with Adam on the right in the final eddy for scouting/portaging.

 We were pretty sure with how much the level had dropped overnight, everyone was going to want to walk Vesuvius to avoid a hit, and this ended up being the case.  Since we had time on our side we elected to have Adam set up a repel around the drop down to a shallow shelf (I would not trust a repel at high flows) instead of doing a throw and go.

The rest of the day was a hoot, even though I know there is a lot of fun stuff down below Vesuvius, I always get a pleasant surprise from a rapid or two I have forgotten about since the last trip. 

Photo: Dax Kirkwood

We made good time downstream, scouting a couple times but no portages or flips.  We were having a good time sorting out what was left to be sorted on the Middle and Lower sections, doing our best to find the smoothest and most fun lines.

 Adam finds the smooth, while Joseph begins to wish he had not followed Ben and I into the jank line.

Winding down.

Once below Colosseum, the run-out can be tedious at low water like we had.  It's a price I am always willing to pay to paddle this creek, but I also enjoy looking around at all the cool structures people have built along the creek and make a game of trying to pick the channels with the least amount of wood and try to see if we can get to the bottom with at least one person not having to get out of their boat before the take out.

Trying to minimize time out of the boat with teamwork and channel-roulette.

Wrapping up a memorable trip with Ben Mckenzie, Adam Edwards, and Joseph Hatcher.

For some ramblings about why the names were given to the rapids, check out the bottom of the main Gladiator directory.

Flows:  Refer to the Gladiator gage page or main page for gauge details.  To most people I would not advocate putting in the effort for this upper section if flows were low, and would instead recommend for them to hike in from the bottom for one of the other sections, saving the upper section for prime levels. 

Our first time paddling this upper section was October 19-20, 2019
The gauge was at 3 in the morning and flows were dropping throughout the day, this first day was a good flow throughout.  You could have gone higher too.  The second day was enough to paddle on, but low.  Under 2 by the time we took out.

Here is a photo from the Upper put-in bridge the day we were there.

Access:  You will want to do your homework before attempting to paddle the upper section of this creek. and bring a good paper map, or better yet a map cached onto your phone when actually attempting the creek.

The current road situation allowed us to drive within 5 miles of the put in before reaching a gate, reaching this gate took a little under an hour in the car from the take out.  The hike was mostly flat or downhill after the initial climb up the hunting trail.  The access road gets up to 2700', so factor in the snow situation.

Memorable moments from the trip

Our first successful trip down the upper section went smoothly, Joseph even wrote me afterwords joking that the trip felt "scripted", since we already knew so much about access, all the major rapids, how to get around them, etc.  I chalked the success up to so much legwork before this trip happened,  on top of years of poking around in there, Priscilla and I had taken a trip up there the Summer before so everything was fresh in my mind.

That said, there were a few memorable moments.

Right out of the gate after leaving the car, we hiked about 200' feet up a hunting trail along a ridge to save an additional mile of road hiking.  The wind was howling through there and when a gust would come up we had to stop and brace ourselves to keep from being kicked off the edge of the thin ridge-line.  There were some pretty exposed parts and I was happy to get to the top.  Upon reaching the top I found out Ben had done this short ascent with his backpack system rigged, which caused his kayak to act as a sail strapped to his back.  I was impressed he reached the top without mishap (with a little help from Joseph).


The first slide has two tiers.  The first we scouted for awhile and it took consideration and palaver to come up with a plan.   By the time we all got to the eddy at the bottom, I had already checked out the second slide to make sure it was clear of wood.  Since it was so clean I wanted to send everyone down blind.  Since you can only run something blind once, and in this age of GoPro it's even more rare to run something truly blind, an exploratory trip like this offered a unique opportunity to do so.   When I relayed to Adam I wanted to send him off without beta other than where to enter he seemed a touch skeptical, but the team was all smiles and pleased with the outcome when I joined them in the pool below a couple minutes later :)

The Pomerium is a remarkable place, Iv'e been there a couple times in the summer and standing on the Pomerium gates with water surging through below was a powerful moment for me.  If standing there had been the only rewarding moment of the trip, the effort would have been worth it to me.  Luckily it was just one of the redeemable factors of Upper Gladiator.

The Armory, the 1-2 miles of boulder gardens and wood dodging below The Pomerium, was pretty rocky on this trip as flows had dropped significantly overnight.  For the most part this read and run section went smooth, but wood forced us into weird channels at times and loads of bugger-rocks were causing strive.  There were two downstream power-flips onto rocks resulting from the edges of heavy boats flipping their captains headlong downstream onto whatever boulders were waiting there for them.  Despite these flips being mildly worrisome at the time, the events had become humorous by the time we were reflecting on them while eating dinner at the Fort Hill Diner later on that evening.

Loaded boats make for sensitive edges, we all went through a learning curve on this bouldery section.

I had always known Vesuvius would take some creativity to portage, and has been the main reason I don't run this creek all the time (my waterfall days are behind me).  We considered doing a throw and go, but I just didn't feel like doing it so took Adam up on his offer to set up a rappel.  He agreed to lower everyone down then do the only true rappel himself.  The plan was to drop into the water, blow a whistle to stop the lowering of the rope from above, then the repel-ee would do a pull up on the rope and release the carabiner attaching them to the rope.  As I dropped over the edge I looked down and the water where we would be landing was moving faster than I had hoped when we were coming up with the plan, I was concerned about releasing against the pull of the water.  I opened my mouth to object to the plan, but the rest of the team was having none of that ;)  I trust them so set my own concerns aside and focused on the task at hand.  While dangling about halfway down the cliff I saw I would be dropping into a shallow section of the pool where I would be able to stand, relieving any final reservations I had about the plan.  The rappel was the right call for this trip, but I hope to throw and go next time.

The lower section of the run starts off with Arena, it's about 15' tall so creates a horizon, but probably has the most favorable fun:hazard ratio on the whole creek.  In the past we have always hiked in from the bottom, so people can scout this drop on the way up since you can see it from the lower bridge.  Having come in from the top and having never run the creek before, Joseph had not seen this drop so we were able to treat him to a blind run of my favorite rapid on the creek.

The end of the the lower run passes through a rural-residential area, with many houses near the creek.  When we saw the first inflated pool toys littering the creek we joked some people must have gotten ambitious and beat us to the punch running the creek on their pool toys, when we saw the second, then a third and fourth we realized because this was the first big rain of the year people who had left them along the bank during the Summer had lost them to the rising water.  They were all still inflated so maybe some kids downstream ended up with some river-booty when the flow receded the next week.

Since this trip Iv'e realized how "on my mind" Gladiator has been for the last 10 years.  Paddling and exploring the area I consider my backyard with a boat has been guiding a significant portion of my thoughts and decisions over that whole period of time, with no place having more of a pull on my mind than Gladiator Creek.  Completing the full run so smoothly has left me pretty satisfied with the path paddling has taken me on.  While chasing Gladiator Creek and others like it I graduated college, began a career, married Priscilla and more or less became the person I wanted to be at this point in life.  Doing this trip shortly after turning 30 years old feels like a chapter has closed for me, opening space to think about new goals and paths to take going forward.

Approaching a take out bridge, finishing out a life chapter.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

SF Tuolumne: Ascension Gorge


Stream: We ran this stream because we were looking for an adventure on our way south to Granite Creek.   The stream starts out flowing slowly past the put in at Carlon Station.  Class II with some wood to dodge makes up the first mile and a half of easy floating.  At the end of this stretch the river turns left and enters a small class III bedrock rapid.  This leads to a gentle 10' slide, and signals the beginning of the adventure.  The gorge downstream gets stout quick, but everything can be scouted and portaged at the levels we ran the river.  

The first big rapid we portaged right, it was a compelling rapid that I have mixed feelings about not running.  The second big rapid looks like it's going to be a great drop, but lands on boulders and may be the only mandatory portage on the run.  We walked around on the left.

A large pool separates this drop from the beginning of a stout 1/4th of a mile of hard class V bouldery rapids (with some bedrock mixed in) that we portaged with some effort at river level. 

 We started portaging on the left, before moving back right after running this ledge. 

From there we portaged another boulder rapid down to another bedrock ledge.  Below this bedrock ledge was another tenth of a mile of bouldery rapids.  Some we walked, the easier stuff we paddled.  This section ended in a ten foot falls that would have only been accessible from the right bank (we were on the left at that point).  The left side went into a backed up hole so we portaged again, which would have been tricky with more water.   Just around the corner was a beautiful set of class IV bedrock ramps, the last of which was our favorite rapid of the day.

After a short return to boulders, was a large rapid that we scouted right.  I gave it a go, while Priscilla walked on the right.

Downstream the stoutness faded.  There were a couple scouts for wood, but mostly numerous read and run class IV rapids, some bedrock and mostly boulders.  One bear. 

Eventually the stream eases into class II-III, with views of Ascension Mountain off to the right.  Near the end the stream makes a left bend, sending the Mountain into the rear-view mirror and a final flat stretch with some wood marks the home stretch to the Hwy 120 take out bridge.  We walked past the log-pile visible from the take out bridge along the left bank right up to the road. 

There is good camping further down along the South Fork, so after biking shuttle we set up shop and got ready to head further south the next day.

Flows:  We paddled the SF Tuolumne June 25, 2019

Access:  About 14 miles East of Groveland on Hwy 120, you will cross over the SF Tuolumne at Rainbow Falls.  This is the take out for a different section of the SF Tuolumne described here.  To get to the take out for this upper run, continue East on Hwy 120 to a bridge 6.2 miles past Rainbow Falls.  37.820810, -119.918863  The creek is flat and woody here, but is not indicative of what you will find upstream.

From this upper bridge, continue yet further on Hwy 120, for 3.1 more miles before turning left onto Evergreen Rd towards Carlon Falls.  1 mile down this road is a bridge over the SF Tuolumne, we parked at the day use area on the downstream river-left side of the bridge.   37.814590, -119.862915

Click on the map to increase resolution.