Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gladiator Creek

 Photo: Adam Edwards

Gladiator Creek is my favorite run in Oregon's Coast Range.  It's been on ongoing project for me since my first year at Western Oregon University in 2008.  This was one of a group of three creeks in the Valsetz area of the Coast Range that laid the foundation for what boating means to me, through the challenges they presented both on and off the water.  Iv'e written about the different sections of Gladiator Creek a few times on this site, but this is the page that puts them all together.  Access is both straight forward and tricky, linked below is a story from the superstars of Oregon exploratory kayaking detailing the challenges they faced paddling the lower section for the first time in the early 2000's

**ownership has since changed and there is no longer a legal barrier to running this creek.**
Photo: Priscilla Macy

It's not a typical PNW creek.  The creekbed is sandstone, and seems like something you would find on the East Coast.  Also like the East Coast, flows can rise and fall quickly.  This means the best laid plans can be laid to waste if a storm you are counting on the night before drops too little or too much precipitation overnight.  For me, the rewards have been worth the consternation.  While the 7 waterfalls stand out as highlights, it's the numerous class fun rapids between them and unique setting that keep me coming back.

After many scouting trips, failures, and a few successes on the lower few miles of Gladiator creek, the biggest piece of the puzzle was placed when Ben Mckenzie, Emile Elliott and I paddled the middle section in 2015.  We got lucky with flows and had a great time, with the highlight being perfect levels for the first descents of the ultra clean Vesuvius Falls.  Then in October 2019, a decade after first seeing this creek on a map, Ben Mckenzie, Adam Edwards, Joseph Hatcher and I ran all three sections top to bottom over a two day period with Priscilla running shuttle for us.   After years of work, and many weekends agonizing over levels and access it had finally been put together top to bottom in one push.   With the information gained on these trips, I now feel comfortable going to Gladiator any given weekend the conditions line up, with the logistics as locked in as I could ask for.
And while it's not a run for anybody, now that access is sorted out and no legal barriers are present, despite the effort required everybody who has done it has been glad they did and have been up for returning.
 Photo: Dax Kirkwood

Looking back on the influence this creek has had on my thoughts and decisions over the years, I don't think any other stream has defined kayaking for me more than Gladiator has.  Each time I paddle the creek, I leave thinking there is not another stream in Oregon I feel more entwined with than this one.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

Below are links to descriptions for what you can find on each of the three sections of this creek.

This is the most adventurous section, and if you want to give the big drops a real look, plan on doing this section over two days.

MIDDLE  (3 miles)
This section is a contender for the best day of creek-boating you can get in Oregon.

LOWER  (4 miles)
While there are only 3 notable rapids, they are 3 of the more unique and enjoyable rapids in the state.

Lastly, the part I paddle most often, with the most bang for your buck.

This run begins part way through the Middle section (below Vesuvius Falls) and gives a good option for those not interested in Vesuvius Falls.  This is the section I'll do any given day, there is plenty of class fun whitewater without the commitment of what is found upstream.  It starts 1.5 miles above the Lower put in bridge.

FLOWS:  The gauge is located at the only place the creek runs along the highway, the creek is visible here through the vegetation if you are looking for it.  This proximity occurs just as you are entering a small town if coming from the east.   There is a guard-rail there, and if you park on the west side of the guard rail (across from the liquor store) you can walk back to the east 75 feet to where some yellow paint is splashed on one of the posts supporting the guard-rail, marking the point along the guard-rail closest to the gauge.  The gauge is just a few wooden shims with numbers on them, glued onto a rock.  It's behind a couple trees adjacent to that yellow paint and about 20 yards upstream of the small riverwide ledge/hole/wave (depending on flow) visible in the photo below.

The visual gauge on Gladiator Creek, and what you might be able to expect based on an approximate correlation to the flow in the Salmon River below Slick Rock Creek Gauge.

Data points

There is more information on each of the section pages about how flows pertain specifically to that section.  There is also more detail and the opportunity to nerd out on this other page where I keep notes on historic flows and jot further notes on levels.

ACCESS:   As of 2020 the private logging company who owns all the land the creek runs through allows walk in access.  Access is detailed on each individual page.

 I have stuck with the moniker given to the creek by, who were paddling the creek under the radar on the first descent of the lower section.  While the access situation is improving, and currently there is no red-tape or legal barriers to hiking in and paddling the creek, leaving the name off the internet seems like a good way to keep that status quo.  Along that same vein Iv'e always tried to keep a low profile when hiking into and paddling the creek, but smiling at anyone working back there and think that mentality will go a long way towards keeping access from being barred to future paddlers.  I have left enough information about how to access the different sections on their individual pages (linked above) and this one that someone who has the wherewithal necessary to paddle a creek like this will be able to sort it out just fine.  If after all that you think you have the logistics sorted, but end up failing at your attempt and leave this Rock un-turned, you could always give your luck another try at the nearby casino.

 Photo Emile Elliott

While there was a time that driving to the put in was allowed on weekends during hunting season, public vehicle access has since been barred.  This has come at the gain of the public being allowed to hike into the creek on nice gravel roads any day when the fire danger is not high, though I try to stick to the weekends to keep from getting in the way of daily operations or getting skunked if they are blocking the road.   I personally prefer the new situation to the old, given how uncommon it was for this creek to run at a good flow on a weekend during hunting season.  While the hiking is straight forward, the distance is not short (3-6 miles depending on the access point and section).  I typically use these, but a variety of carrying systems have been deployed, even the old shoulder.

Does smiling with a kayak strapped to your back count as a lie?
Photo: Dax Kirkwood



There are some rules to be followed if you plan to kayak this creek.

Follow this link to zoom in on the map and bullet points(zoomed to in second graphic).  The areas inside the green on the map are open to walk in access.  As of 2020 the Gladiator Creek watershed is entirely within the green area. You can double check the kiosk near the bottom gate before starting your hike for updates.

Sometimes they leave the gate open for logging traffic and contractors, even on the weekends. 

Be like Alicia, earn your turns and you too can smile knowing your toiling will go towards keeping access un-compromised for future paddlers.


Jason Rackley started the naming scheme on Gladiator Creek, I tried to stick to the theme he started.

Romulus and Remus: The first couple slides that start the upper run.  Romulus and Remus started Rome, which ended up being the naming theme for this upper section since gladiating occurred most famously in Rome and I ran out of applicable Gladiator terms.

Stout set of 4 drops:   Whoever runs them first can name them. 

Castrum RoadA castrum was a building, or plot of land, used by the Roman military as a fortified camp.

Triumfallades: A Roman Triumph was a huge parade sometimes given after a successful campaign that passed into the Pomerium (sacred part of Rome behind the walls).  The Triumfallades on Gladiator are a parade of big falls and cascades, passing through two pillars into a place that is as sacred a place as any to me. 

Pomerium: Meaning “behind the wall” in ancient Rome, it was a sacred open space located just past the Triumphal or Pomerium gates.  On Gladiator it is the space past the large bedrock pillars that the Triumfallades pass through, surrounded by massive rock walls and only accessible through the gate. 

The Skirmishes: A long section of continuous boulder gardens starting below the Pomerium and lasting to the middle bridge. The water was low for us during this section and while we only had one wood portage, there were plenty of other struggles navigating our loaded boats as we dodged wood, dealt with route finding, re-routing, rock-dodging, trying to stay studious about communication while keeping our eyes out for each other and downstream, along with pins, flips, traffic jamming, and deflections.


Vesuvius Falls: Mt Vesuvius was where the first battle of the third servile war (led by 3 Gladiators) happened, it is also the first notable obstacle on Middle Gladiator.  To get down the mountain the slave army had to use ingenuity to create ropes and ladders out of vines, it also takes creativity and involves ropes or a leap of faith to portage this falls.

Ludi: Games in general, and festivals involving games and parades.   These games could be private, public, or extraordinary, all things that are true of this parade of playful rapids that begin at the Rock Quarry access.

VenatorVenatores were skilled spearmen, usually pitted against carnivorous beasts.  The hole at this drop is of the carnivorous variety, then the whole paddle/spear metaphor seems to work.


Arena: Named by Jason Rackley and Pete Giordano, presumably because you can watch the show from the bridge.

Punisher:  Named by Jason Rackley and Pete Giordano, presumably because of the punishment this drop is capable of handing out, especially at high flows like they had.

Coliseum:  Named by Jason Rackley and Pete Giordano, presumably for the high cliffs overlooking the drop on river right.

This stream has been an ongoing project for me, and required many scouting missions and saw a number of failed attempts, these people each helped with a piece of the puzzle:  Rebecca Vogt, Sage Cruser, Tim Brink, Bruce (Ox) Reed, Pete Giordano, Jason Rackley, Rob Cruser, Dan Mccain, Ben Sigler (and his dogs), Bryan Carrington, Rick Cooley, Nate Merrill, Melissa Fowler, Rylie Coiteux, Jake Banta, Victor Repeto, Michael Freeman, Lucas Reitman, Willy Dinsdale, Ross George, Ben Mckenzie, Emile Elliot, Adam Edwards, and Joseph Hatcher.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

South Fork Rough and Ready Creek

4 miles (another 5.5 on mainstem Rough and Ready)
It's hard to give it a class rating, but I feel comfortable saying that to enjoy the run, a class V skill set (and judgement) along with the ability to react to the unexpected would be a good per-requisite.

Stream:  Emile Elliott grew up near Grants Pass, and whenever we talked about the area he always mentioned the whispers he had heard of a run in the area the Knapp brothers had considered their favorite run.   He knew was it was near Cave Junction, ran dry in the summer, and you hiked a long way (possibly 6 miles up from the bottom).  He was pretty sure it was one of the tributaries to Rough and Ready Creek, which meets those parameters.

At first glance I thought the run looked kind of lame.  Where you drive over it, it's spread out and gravelly.  The satellite imagery didn't get me fired up either.  Yann Crist-Evans began talking about it more often this year, so I looked at it again.  Making a mental stew from photos and reports Zach Collier has from trips into the drainage, the whispers of a great run from Emile, and Yann's enthusiasm, I got the motivation I needed to put in the logistical efforts to get a group in there.  An opportunity arose on a weekend we were headed down to visit Priscilla's parents in Grants Pass.

I was lobbying for an overnighter in the NF Smith or Chetco drainages since the conditions were uniquely shaping up for something like that, but only half the the group was up for it.  The other half were more interested in the Rough and Ready headwaters, which seemed like an odd choice to me given the forecast, but once Joseph dropped out (he was part of the contingent interested in the overnight option), the momentum swung heavily towards Rough and Ready.  Iv'e never been against low water if it's a run Iv'e never done before so long as the stream is floatable, and it's a place I want to see, thus I was quickly converted to the Rough and Ready idea.

Rough and Ready take out, the highway 199 bridge between Cave Junction and O'Brien.

Most of the information I could muster up from the internet was from the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek, but the mapwork I was doing made the South Fork look like the run I would have put money on the Knapps liking so much.  

Access to this area is tricky, which is why it is still the special place Zach Collier (who has boated more in the drainage than most) describes whenever he writes about the areaWhile the option to hike up the south fork from the bottom existed, I was in for a penny, in for a pound so wanted to go in from the top and see the whole stream.  This would increase the logistical difficulty, but in the end would mean less hiking and more boating.  The major obstacles going in from the top would be the uncertain snow situation, and a gate on the shuttle road protecting the drainage from Port Orford Root-Rot.  This gate is typically shut during the time of year the creek has enough water to float, increasing the length of the hike, and I didn't actually know where on the road it was.

Regardless of the extra challenges of accessing the creek from the top, the team was up for the challenge. 

Joseph Hatcher drove up the shuttle road after work a couple days before our trip, sending us coordinates for where exactly the gate was, and giving us a better sense of the length of the hike and snow situation.  I try not to let the challenge of carrying a kayak keep me from boating rivers I'd like to check out, and neither do the people who were planning to be on this trip, so the trigger was pulled.

 Going to places where others are not can be part of the appeal of kayaking. 

We hit snow on the road at about 4,000', the hiking on the road from there was easy.  Once we hit the cross country potion of the hike the going slowed.  Things started out brushy, opened up for awhile, then started descending steeply amungst boulders.    

It was actually a nice, warm day for January, in the 60's.  We ate a snack once we reached river-level and gazed downstream at the first couple logs we were going to need to negotiate.  We were putting in as high as seemed floatable in the drainage, and based on imagery recon were expecting 5-10 log portages in the first mile, which dropped 400 feet.  

After taking our time gearing up, we started our descent on what had correctly been anticipated as minimal flows.

We were happy to be able to dodge the first couple logs as we started getting into a rythym on what was quickly becoming a cool trip.  The run was uniform, similar to many of the creeks in the area. 

We were finding the creek to be mostly read and run, continuous boulder cascades with plenty of boofs.

There were a few nice ledges in that first mile that Priscilla (who was in an IK) hopped out to check before giving us the verbal.

One of them ended up having a log that we were able to railside, Ben spiced up the move with a hula-paddle around the neck/camera mug.

We were pleased to be finding that all the trees we had seen on satellite imagery were actually suspended 5-10 feet above the creek and non-factors for paddlers.  This has happened nearly every time I have done an obscure run in the Siskiyous, Ben calls these faux portages "shadow trees" and we were paddling under all of them.


In fact, in almost 10 miles of paddling we had only 1 wood portage, and even that would have probably been runnable with more water.  After the first steep mile, Ben noticed his boat was taking on a lot of water, we pulled over to drain and saw that his duct-tape patch had been scraped off enough to be letting water in.  We ate another snack while Ben spent some time adhering more duct tape on with a lighter.  

We were thankful it was a nice day or the patching would have likely been futile.

After half hour or so we were ready to get back to it.   While the gradient had eased, that was relative, this next mile dropped about 250' (about what you have through Gettin' Busy on the Little White Salmon).  

Despite the steep gradient, the river was manageable, and still nearly all read and run.

 It was remarkable how wherever the water was going, there was a way through.  It was an intuitive creek to read and run, though in a few places we did venture away from the main channel.

After another half mile to a mile, Ben's new patch had been scraped off by the constant boulder contact due to the low water level.  We now had just an hour and a half of daylight, and 2 miles before we reached the confluence with the NF of Rough and Ready, then another few miles on the mainstem.   Daylight concerns were beginning to enter the conversation.

 We ate another snack and pondered the forest of Port Orford Cedar while Ben worked on getting his boat patched up.

The whitewater continued

Ben's patch failed again awhile later, and while he thought about hiking out, decided instead to make a mad dash for the take out.  The nature of the creek was conducive to this, as at the flow we had if you just aimed for the deepest channel, that was typically the line so scouting hadn't been something we had needed to do since those ledges from the first mile.  After helping Priscilla unpin her IK, Ben took off on his own while I helped Priscilla re-attach a thigh strap that had come off in the pin.  

An IK has it's advantages on low water creeks, but something about the character of the run was making this a common occurrence.

The gradient had now eased off to the magic 200 fpm threshold and our downstream progress increased as we caught fewer eddies.  Bedrock rapids appeared every now and then, creating fun chutes and ledges.

Barrett, Priscilla and I did end up portaging one boulder pile that we later found out Ben had bombed through successfully.  Otherwise, it was more of the same, fun read and run, imagining how fantastic the run would be with more water.

Near the end of the run the creek started going around islands and was less awesome, but still had it's moments.

Finally we reached the confluence with the North Fork, with 45 minutes or so of daylight left.  After a quick surf we headed downstream, at more of a relaxed pace.  The assessment of the water level relative to the river bed had been promoted from "floatable" on the south fork to "low" after the confluence, we relaxed a bit knowing we would be making better time from here out.

Eventually we caught up to Ben, who was on shore draining his boat.  He had gotten a new crack that was about a foot long and would take more time to fix than we had left of daylight.  He would just paddle as far as he could as his boat took on water, then drain.  We were checking the watch and he was making it about 10 minutes between drains, his boat was filling up fast enough that it was bulging his spray skirt up.  

"What a beautiful, floating boat Barrett has.  Maybe he'd trade if I asked nice?" 
                                                      - Possibly what Ben was thinking

Fortunately the mainstem of Rough and Ready was III-III+ at this flow so he was able to make his way through.  Without the ability to boof he was having to channel his squirt boating skills.

 I initially wondered if he might enjoy the challenge, but his expressions indicated otherwise.

As the light was fading we reached the low-head dam, indicating we were most of the way through the main stem.  One last boat drain here before boofing the left side of the dam (deemed reasonable due to the low flow) before making the final push for the take out.

With more water, this hydraulic has proven fatal.  Use good judgement here, it's an easy portage.

 The creek was interesting in this lower section, in that it was on a wide flood plain and went between islands, the downstream view looked "off".  I don't really know how to explain it, but it was neat and if you paddle the stream I'm sure you'll understand.

It did get dark about 10 minutes before the take out, but the paddling was easy enough and without clouds there was enough ambient light to get where we needed to go. 

All but done, as the lights from vehicles crossing the take out bridge became visible.

We took out feeling like we had a nice adventure, and I saw why the Knapps would like it so much.  The South Fork is 3-4 miles of non-stop whitewater, everything goes where you think it would, and it's mostly read and run.  I don't think there is another creek I have done of that nature and quality. 

 On my list of creeks to return to, this one sits at the top (with the correct flows next time of course).

Flows:  Too low, I believe Jan 27 or 29th would have been good flows for SF Rough and Ready.  We had just under the "1" mark on the bridge.

Take out bridge on the morning of our trip.

Driving over Whiskey Creek during the shuttle, flows were similar in this creek to SF Rough and Ready.

Access:  Know the snow situation before you head to the Rough and Ready headwaters, unless you are hiking all the way up from the bottom, you will be driving to 3,000'-4,000'.

The take out is where highway 199 crosses Rough and Ready Creek 5 miles south of Cave Junction (42.092838, -123.683421).  This is also where the painted gage is.

To get to the put in, head further south on 199 to O'Brien and turn right onto Lone Mountain Rd.  If you are not looking at a map, stay on that road for 13 1/2 miles until you hit a gate.  If you are looking at a map, this road changes names and is called 5505/Lone Mountain/4402/Wimer, then at the very end just before the gate stay right on the better road onto 112.

Beyond the gate (42.013778, -123.836150), you will spend some time hiking on a road, then descend to the creek cross-country.  You'll want to make your own plan for how to do that.  Here is the route we took.

Click on the map to increase resolution.