Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thirty years between swims; as told by Stephen Cameron

I swam last week on the Ohanepecosh. “Big deal,” you may be thinking. Everybody swims sometimes, especially if they're running hard stuff. But this was significant, it's been about thirty years since I'd surrendered to the river gods, pulled and ejected. Besides, it was me. O.K., the whole truth. I did actually swim about ten years ago in the surf when a wave walloped me with a direct hit. That doesn't count, does it? After all, it wasn't on a river. And...well...there was that time in 1991... Sure I swam, but my skirt blew that time too. I can't be faulted for that, no, I certainly can't. “I wuz framed...” 1991. That was, as Andy Corra put it, a gruesome day. We were driving from Seattle to run Tumwater. There was an inch of slush on the road and just before the pass, a car, driving way too fast, roared by. A minute later, we came across the head-on collision. A crowd, doing absolutely nothing, was gathering. Then someone uttered those dreaded words, “Stephen, you're a medical student, you can help.” Yes I was, but barely. I was an early third year, just out of my two years of classroom study; my field experience was minimal. Nothing to do but plunge in, all eyes upon me. The passenger, a woman, was alive. But screaming so hysterically I couldn't even get her to unlock her door. No wonder, I suppose – the driver, her boyfriend I think – looked rather life-less. So we hauled him out and into the slush, unclear if CPR would help (by the way, in major trauma, it doesn't). I hesitated, hoping he wasn't HIV+, before placing my lips on his bloody pale lips (front teeth knocked out by the steering wheel) and doing a couple of rescue breaths, then compressions. I must say the chest compressions worked splendidly, circulating blood through the body just like we'd been told it would. How did I know? With each compression, blood squirted out of his ears. A basilar skull fracture. Game over. After that little horror show, no one felt much like paddling. Plus, it was cold, gray and drizzly. A hot chocolate sort of day. But – you know how it goes – we'd already done most of the drive, we'd always wanted to do Tumwater, we were a solid group of paddlers, things would work out, etc., etc. Then we got to one of the last big drops, which I thought was boat scout-able even though everyone else thought not and were up on the bank. Anyway, it was the usual sad, sad story; I dropped into a hole, got worked, then sort of fell out of my submerged boat. Popped skirt. Swim – not fun. Mortality Awareness Day, we called it. * * * 2010, the Ohanepecosh. A very fun weekend with Ryan Cole, Dan Dellwo, Nate Pfeiffer, Chris Arnold, Jenna Watson, Scott Brigdam and Roman Androsov. A great group. The run on Saturday was going well, except for Nate losing his headcam early on. Then Ryan got cocky and decided to attempt a freewheel off a six foot drop. Attempt being the operative word. The landing was – shall we say – wonky, and he dislocated his shoulder in the curtain. Luckily for him, he'd dislocated it a couple times before; it was nice and limber and basically went back in by itself. Right after that we came to Elbow Room, which we decided to portage farther upstream than usual. It was steep, the thin route cutting sharply up to the left above an underhung cliff. Roman led, with me a few feet behind him, just to his right. Suddenly, his boat peels off his shoulder. As it careened away, I pressed myself hard against the cliff as to not get knocked off. I was relieved when the boat hit bottom, but then heard someone yell, “Roman, he fell! Roman fell!” Jesus Christ! I only saw the boat fall. That was a twenty foot vertical fall onto rocks! I down-climbed as fast as possible, expecting a real nightmare, a mangled mess. But he was standing up, looking clear-eyed, moving all extremities, unhurt. He could remember his name, converse, everything. It was un-friggin' believable. How was that possible? He'd slipped, the boat had jolted and pulled him backwards off the slope. Backwards! Twenty feet! Somehow, God knows how, he did something close to a full flip and was cushioned by the boat, or...or...we don't really know. Neither does he. But – I'm serious here – none of us had ever seen such a miraculous close call. I asked if he'd re-create it, but he politely declined. And then we're down to Petrified, the last major rapid. Ryan and Chris and Dan nail it, it didn't look too bad. Trouble was, I didn't really see the line in my minds' eye, a little part of me thinking, “It's not bad, it'll work out fine, it usually does, I'm good enough to wing it, if they can breeze through so can I...” Anyways...more sadness. I get pushed too far right and drop, with history's most feeble boof, into the meat of the big top hole. Forty worthless seconds spent trying to claw out exhaust me, and I call it and pull. I flounder under the froth for another twenty seconds (I swear it was sixty), then flush down through the next two ledge holes. One brilliant little side-line: My foam-core Werner remained in the hole, terminally recirculating. Chris, on the left side, immediately “saw” the solution, tied a stick to his throw rope and threw it upstream of the paddle. Just as it plunged into the hole and underneath the paddle, he masterfully lassoed that little doggy like a professional rangler and reeled it in on the first try. Then next day, Nick from Seattle makes the same mistake I did, at the same hole, but windowshades, dislocating his shoulder for real. Sitting on a rock shelf, we put it back in fairly quickly. There was a kind of luck again, because there happened to be a raft right there that took him down to the take-out. What have I learned? Make sure you see the line. Don't fall off cliffs. Don't drive too fast in snow. Don't kiss dead strangers. And the last thing? Swimming Sucks! ~Stephen

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Ohane

 -Story by Nate Merrill

Since I made it back to the great north west from a winter in Crested Butte, the Ohanepacosh has been at the top of my list. Two weeks ago, Dan, Jacob, and myself headed up to knock off the PNW classic. Jacob had done the run once before, but it was the first time down for Dan and I. With flows looking to be on the upper end and a sunny day in the forecast, we agreed to meet in Jantzen Beach at 8 AM to begin the long haul up towards Mt. Rainier. Somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication and upon arrival at the rendezvous, I learned that Jacob and Dan were rafting together and I was going to be the only kayaker on the water that day. After some funny interactions in the grocery store, we loaded up Dan’s raft into my car, strapped the kayak and the bike onto the roof and we were on our way north. 3 hours later, we were standing at the secret camp put-in starring at river that was moving like a freight-train. I think it was this point when Jacob turned to me and asked “Hey, you see that big hole over there along the right wall?” to which I replied, “yeah, it looks pretty sticky.” Jacob smiled at my response and stated “on my first trip down, that hole was a shallow auto-boof and today it looks like it could pound the bejesus out of you.” The river was high. I don’t think I realized how high it was until much later in the trip. Note: the Cowlitz was reading about 2,000 cfs.

 After a quick discussion and a scout of the drops just downstream, we all decided to give her a go, despite the high water. I’d like to mention that Jacob and Dan were very respectful of my initial hesitance to commit to the run. Both offered to drive elsewhere in the drainage to catch other creeks and even offered to allow me to guide the raft R3 style if I wasn’t feeling comfortable with being the only guy in a kayak. In the end, we decided that we would take our time, setting safety at every drop, and work our way down the run in a methodical fashion. I busted out the bike shuttle in about 30 minutes and we were on the river before 2pm. Note: the bike shuttle is stupid easy for this one. The river starts off with a series of narrow ledges. The second of which is the drop noted on oregonkayaking to possess a dangerous crack/cave combo on river left. Each ledge was clean and the boofs were some of the best I’ve ever seen. Pretty soon we approached the first recommended scout on the run. It is worthwhile to note that after the initial ledges, the river mellows for about half a mile. Just when you least expect a major drop to be around the corner, hop out of your boat to scout this wood chocked 7 foot pour over. I portaged on river left while Jacob and Dan fired up the thin line with ease.

  From here, we entered a series of complex boulder gardens separated by moving pools. I have a feeling that some of these boulder gardens were actually made easier by the flow that we had. I think the extra water opened more lines and covered up a few rocks that might have thrown someone off line. The holes were big but avoidable for the most part. Clean lines were had by all. Before long, we go out to scout Triple Drop. This class V drop starts with a log jam, which is doable, but leads into a romping stomping terminal hole and is followed by two more giant pour over style hydraulics. I portaged the drop outright while Dan and Jacob walked the tricky log jam/hole combo at the top and ran the second and third holes. The last of these holes is backed up by a giant boulder that gives the hydraulic a retentive nature. Lines existed on both the right and left side of the drop, but anything in between would lead to a long and nasty beating.


This is where things started to blend together a bit. There was a lot of eddy hoping and boat scouting through some amazing boulder gardens. The crux of this section consisted of a really funky ledge drop with a tall curler right at the lip. The ledge was narrow and dropped into a slot that looked turbulent, but was flushing nicely. I ran the drop first while Dan and Jacob set safety. The goal for this drop was to boof off the curler at the lip and have enough speed and a strong enough stroke to gap out over the pour over and land in the slot below. AKA. Paddle really hard and try to boof 5 feet downstream. The line actually worked very well for both me in my kayak, as wells as the raft. And the photos of both runs turned out great.

  Next up was an 8 foot ledge that we didn’t scout, but probably should have. Jacob likened this drop to boulder sluice on the little white. Being in the wrong place at the lip or missing a stroke would probably result in a beat down. Below this ledge, you have about 75 feet to hit an eddy and begin your portage around Elbow Room. This drop is nasty and the portage isn’t much better. Dan opted for a seal launch in the raft, which nearly resulted in his head knocking a rock, while Jacob did the 45 foot cliff jump into the walled out gorge below the rapid. I wasn’t feeling the jump and spent about 25 minutes roping my boat and then myself down the cliff side to a small ledge at river level where I was able to get into my kayak. After a few more smaller rapids the walls began to rise up even higher on either side of the canyon and we entered the crux section of the Ohanepacosh. It was at this point when I realized just how high the water was. I was standing at the lip of a falls that I had studied intently via photographs, yet I could hardly recognize the drop nor the class V rapids below. All of the photos that I had seen of this section were no help at the water level we had. Everything looked completely different and a lot harder. Dan and Jacob opted to gut the falls and had a great line. Somehow Jacob got bucked from his seat in the raft and landed in Dan’s lap. Apparently, this was a theme for the majority of the trip…. But you would have to ask Jacob or Dan about that. I opted to take a line that was more technical, but if performed correctly would allow me to avoid the meat of the falls and maybe even keep my head dry. I ran the lead-in (a series of 3 small pour overs) on far river right before catching an eddy at the lip of the big drop behind a midstream boulder. From here I surfed a wave, which was created by the boulder I was behind, over to the river left side of the maw and drove hard onto a flake. The result was an autoboof that kept me high, dry, and well away from the powerful hydraulic at the bottom of the falls. Although the line sounds convoluted (and it was) I’d do it again in a heartbeat. So fun and I didn’t get worked!

  You can see the small series of pour overs I came down on river right and the eddy I caught (just below the raft) Dan and Jacob gut the falls. I surfed over and boofed off the flake river left of the raft. After the adrenaline of the falls, I was content to walk the last rapid on the Ohanepacosh. It looked good to go, but a blown line would mean a beat down and I was starting to feel tired from the long day. Of course, Dan and Jacob, steped up to the plate and fired off the drop with style. A photo is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking on this one. I would like to note that this is the section that is often photographed in trip reports and guide books. I suggest comparing the photo here to the photo in Bennet’s book. The comparison gives a good indication to the amount of water that was in there on our trip.


After Jacob and Dan had completed their run, we boogied down to La Wis Wis campground and began our long drive home. As I was getting out of my boat it dawned on me that I had just completed my favorite run thus far in my kayaking career. The rundown: easy shuttle, amazing whitewater, pristine old growth forest, crystal clear pools, steep granitic canyons, and lush steam side vegetation. All this coupled together with the adrenaline of a high water descent has certainly left an impression on me and I can’t think of any run I enjoy more. I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Milk Creek/ Zigzag River

On my way back and forth from school to my parents house, I often take the route through Molalla. There is a creek I had crossed over before in the town of Colton that had been catching my eye.  There are a couple small ledges next to the road and it seemed like a small, but paddle-able creek.  On one particular trip I stopped to check it out since it appeared to be running. I poked around, then gave Shane Conrad a call and we decided to check it out the next day. I didn't expect much, but it was something new to us so off we went.

When we showed up there were a couple local kids there on bikes who showed us a path to scout some of the "waterfalls" they knew about. They turned out to be a couple of three to four foot ledges, but they seemed interesting enough, so we put onto Canyon creek, which shortly confluenced with Milk creek. Right at the confluence was a fun class three drop consisting of a few bedrock ledge/slides. Below here was some class two and a log or two that were easily dodged. Soon, the bedrock reappeared on the side of the stream and we were scouting the biggest drop of the run the kids had referred to as the "Hult Road drop". It was straight forward anywhere you wanted to go off, but the left looked the most fun.  Shane went first, and discovered it was pretty hard to get as far left as we wanted over the shallow bedrock since we had scouted on the right and we both ended up missing out on the boof.

There was also the option for a log grind in the middle I hoped to do on our second lap, but logistical issues had us heading home after one. Below here was a fun section of class 2-3 bedrock drops with one long low angle slide. Eventually this section tapered away into gravel bars with some wood. There was one log around a blind corner I was able to get over and Shane able to walk, but for the most part it was a clean creek-bed. It wasn't much further to our takeout at Dooghe Rd. It turned out to be a fun little adventure that I may come back to if I happen to be passing through and short on time though I would certainly not set aside an entire day for it.

It is conducive to a trip on your own since the shuttle is easy and the whitewater friendly. Flows for us were 1500 on the Molalla gauge, but 2000 would be a good thing to shoot for, and the run may actually be pretty enjoyable if flows were much over 3,000 cfs.

 We took out where Dooghe road crosses Milk Creek, and put in where Hwy 211 crosses Canyon creek. My dad and his friend Rodd returned a year or two later and put in further up 211 a ways (near S Grays road) and took out lower.  This added a couple more ledges up top and some class I-II down lower.

The run on Milk Creek
click to enlarge

Milk Creek and the Zigzag River from Jacob Cruser on Vimeo.

The next day my dad and I ran the Zigzag River. People ask me what my favorite river is sometimes, and I usually just say "any river I haven't done yet".  Though every time they ask, the Zigzag pops into my head for a moment.  Its not a challenging run, in fact, none of the drops are even class four on their own. I just always seem to enjoy myself on this one though. The run is continuous, so your attention is required from beginning to take-out, yet it's easy enough that there is no concern and I often get into a meditative type state.

We call the rapid "26 moves" that starts just below the put in, and goes around a few corners before ending near Camp Creek.  We call it this because there are about 26 small moves, and it is highway 26 that moves you to the put in and take out. We don't have any names for the rapids below,  and I don't run it often enough anymore to have it memorized so mostly we just keep asking "is this the island with the wood?"

 The rapids below the road 21 bridge are a half class harder than those above, and have some hydraulics in them. My dad and I had an enjoyable run, and were surprised when there were no mandatory wood portages! Not common for the Zigzag.


NOrTh Boulder


Stream:  The information is documented here in case AmericanWhitewater or another entity gets interested in making access more reasonable for boaters.

The run begins shallow and builds to pretty continuous slides and boulders on bedrock.  At low flows it is scrapy, at high flows its tough to stop.  The main concern in the first part of the run is a fifteen foot falls.  Sliding bedrock flows right into the drop which is shallow on the left and the cascade on the right has always had wood.  Standard practice is to portage down the center of the falls, but this is tricky even at low flow.  Once below here there are a multitude of rapids, with lots of wood present.  Many boulder rapids, but also a bunch of bedrock rapids.  Much of it can be boat scouted, but plenty of rapids require a look from shore.  Aside from one falls near the beginning, none of the drop are over 10 feet.   After a 2-3 miles a notable waterfall enters from the right, this signals the end of the tough whitewater.

As the run eases off it's about 5 miles of read and run to the take out at a decommissioned structure.  There will probably be a portage or two in this section for wood.

You can hike out about a mile and up 1,000 feet along a road or continue into the lower gorge and the take out at a park.  This lower gorge is class III-IV but has had wood problems from years of being dewatered.

Flows: The Stream has a similar flow window as this stream.  300 cfs is rock boat style.  800-1,000 would be ideal but class V and I'd be worried about being able to stop above wood hazards and a falls near the beginning.

Access:  I can't be sure what the best way in there is, but it might be obvious for those who do their research.

Here is a video from long ago.
~500 cfs

Original Write-up

I found this trip report from a long time ago, and thought it was worth preserving here.

The trip was a grueling one, with lots of hiking both before and after. We had both had our eyes on this run for awhile now, but various issues had kept us, along with most others, out of this unique area of whitewater goodness. However, the time had come, so when we got a heads up from the meatball master that this area had water, we changed plans in a hurry and prepared for our new voyage. With almost ten miles of kayaking, and the first part being continuous class V- with wood and small eddies, we really had our work cut out for us. In the end the trip was a great success, even though our boats and gear got a little sandy. Here is the tale of our adventure...

There was some confusion as to which road we should start hiking on. We wanted to be sure because hiking in on the wrong road would naturally lead to the wrong place and end our day. For the second or third trip in a row, neither of us had brought a map, so figuring this out for certain was not possible. However, I was 90% percent positive the original road we were on was the right one. This was correct, and we began the long, steep uphill hike to the put-in. We passed a few people who were concerned we were going to put in on the wrong creek, but we assured them we knew what we were doing and arrived at the put in after a few breaks, with the sour apple tasting clovers (wood sorrel) adding some flavor to our hike. We arrived at the put in and took our time getting ready and eating a bit.
The first mile was fun, with many fun class III-IV slides and ledge drops with some intermittent wood. I believe we portaged twice in this section. There was one boulder garden that looked like it should be ended on the left, I sent Sledge over, then followed and was surprised to be dropping right next to a log! Luckily we both gave ourselves the correct boat angle and went by.  After some more fun boating, we arrived at the biggest drop of the day. It was obviously very shallow, but Sledge decided to buck up and run it anyway. I portaged and set safety, as well as climbed into the landing zone and shoved my paddle into the middle of it where the left blade was touching bottom and the entire right blade was still out of the water. Sledge was not deterred, and paddled off, had his bow drop, pitoned fairly hard, then rolled up in time to evade some logs below.

  My last thought before dropping into this one was "well, modern boat technology should protect me when I piton." Never a good sign, but turns out I was right! -Sledge

We looked at the bow of his boat and it was completely caved in! For the rest of the trip, the concave would catch the many rocks instead of bouncing off, adding a factor of difficulty on what is a rocky run.
Below the big drop, we entered a less open area of stream. The rapids started out as complex boulder gardens with wood bumping the difficulty up. We made it through the first wave of boulder gardens without incident. The first major bedrock formation drop was unique. The stream funneled down and the left side rode up on the wall smoothly, while the right side dropped into a vortex. The drop was about 15 ft wide at the top. At the end, the two sides converged to a few feet wide and dropped another five feet in a slide, then flew out into the pool with an eddy on the left above an ugly boulder pile. We both drove up on the left wall and dropped into the vortex with good lines, it was a fun drop! I wish we had gotten pictures or video, but you will just have to see it for yourself.

Plenty of bedrock in the gorge.
I portaged the first part of the next boulder pile, while Sledge once again stepped up to slay the ugly. He had a good line, and I hit a sweet airplane boof in the part I ran. Below here were many more boulder gardens leading to the next major bedrock drop. This one would be fairly straight forward, however there is now a large log in the right side. We thought, no big deal, we will just run left off a ledge that landed on a shelf that looked like a good transition. However, we neglected to scout the deceptive lead in. Sledge went first and got pushed into the right channel. He rode up on the log and flipped over in the air, landing elbow first, getting a huge contusion through his elbow pad! He then had his paddle pin to the wall and started getting surfed in a hole. He hand rolled in the hole with the log looming above and below. He actually used the log to push off for some momentum to surf his way out of the hole!
I had no desire to make the same mistake, so re scouted the lead in, which upon further inspection, looked as if it would be next to impossible to get into the left channel, we were not very happy with ourselves for making a mistake of this nature. We were sure to take more care the rest of the trip. I seal launched below the lead in, look the left line and the six foot transition to bedrock was a lot smoother even than we had imagined. We dealt with some more wood below here, then a really juicy drop that flushed into a log, but we were both able to crash the holes and drive up on the last one to get left.

In the heart of the gorge.
Below here were a plethora of boulder gardens separated by some bedrock drops. We were having lots of fun, but were beginning to wonder when it would end. We had to be careful as we were starting to get tired and the drops continued to be challenging. There were a few blind corners and drops made blind by wood blocking downstream view. Eventually we came to a signature drop. It was the only truly clean gimme drop of the run. It was fun with a boof on the right, followed by another boof on the right with a pillow.

Signature drop
Below here we thought the gorge would end soon, but it kept coming for awhile. Eventually we saw the waterfall that marked the end of the gorge. It was a relief, we scouted this one, then cruised down below. In the next little drop was an evil log poking up that we had to brace to get under. I got the brace, but I felt my shoulder start to pop out of place! I held the brace for awhile without pressure, but I had to get up because of a sieve just below. I finessed myself upright, luckily my shoulder didn't come out all the way. It was slightly painful, but the rest of my body was feeling it a lot more than my shoulder at this point. Below here we had a few miles of class 3, with plenty of bedrock slides and a couple sweet ledges to spice things up. We only had one or two portages once we left the gorge. Eventually we reached our take out after a long long time running class two. We had a long hike out but chose the right road to hike out on, making it easier for us. We were both very satisfied to reach the car after 7 1/2 hours! We ate some tasty goat meat and headed home after a wonderful adventure.

~300 cfs

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Little White is still over 3 ft as of July 1st!