Thursday, May 26, 2011

Clear Creek and the art of speed portaging

After a weekend of guiding I set off on my way back to Monmouth.  It had been raining and I had my boat so i decided to check out a creek that I always crossed over on my way to and from Estacada.  I stopped at the take out bridge and took a look at levels, low, but definitely enough to float.  The one log I saw upstream didn't discourage me much, I was sure there would be a couple more just like it to negotiate before the day was out.  I dropped my gear off at the start of the hike and drove back down near the take out to start the shuttle.

The gate where I was to start my hike.

I changed and started the 3 mile hike/jog to the logging road where my gear was.  I figured I would arrive by six.  It was a nice day for the most part and the rain had shut off for my shuttle aside from one brief hail flurry.

Arriving at the logging road I set up my carry system to test it out and started the 1+ mile hike into a place I believed was going to deliver me just below the confluence of two forks.  After the logging road section, I took my pack off and started the schwack through the woods.  It started out steep and I used the rope once.  At one point my boat took off without my consent and yanked me straight down the side of the hill!  A stick jammed into my thigh, bringing me to an abrupt halt and my boat stalled on a tree.  Below it wasn't too long until the angle of the slope cooled off, allowing for a pleasant hike through the woods.  I used rope again for the last 50 feet to the creek.  I saw some logs but was pleased with my good fortune to have put in just below a log jam I would have needed to portage.  Little did I know at the time, I could have put in anywhere along this 1.5 mile section and I would have been just below a logjam I needed to portage.

The last pitch I used a rope for.

I took 3 strokes, dodged a log, turned the corner and came to another logjam without eddies.  I grabbed some grass on the side of the creek and walked the creekbed till it was easy to get out, then off into the woods.

My first 3 strokes.

Three more consecutive jams and I began to worry about light.  From here out I put my "dealing" skills to use and was making reasonable time for what I was doing.  The creek required perpetual decision making about which channel to take, or whether or not a log could be boofed or needed to be walked around.

Typical scene on upper Clear Creek.

There was one rapid that could be considered almost fun, a bedrock conveyer-belt class two that was 20 yards long with a class two slide lead in.  Aside from that it was just dealing with logs. For those driving by who take a peak or are running the lower section, the small class two above the bridge was the most challenging rapid of the day not produced by a logjam :(

I made it to the end before dark, then jogged the mile to retrieve my car.  Rest assured, I will never be back, but at least I know what is there!

Not too dark when I got out of there...

But this was the scene when I returned after getting my car. 

An aside:  I suspect the logjams were 75% anthropogenic, the logs were often cut and most of them had pink tape next to them, leading me to believe they were placed there.


Friday, May 20, 2011

North Siouxon

5.2 miles

Stream: This runs requires carrying your boat in some fashion for a couple hours.  You can mix and match some bushwhacking with trail hiking, or just trail hike the whole 4-5 miles.  Fortunately, the hiking is superb and the trail does not have long, steep uphill grades. 

The put in most people will use is at the base of Black Hole Falls, a large falls that has been looked at with the intention of running a few times, but always passed on.  It's got a tricky lead in, and it's a big drop.  It reminded Adam Edwards a bit of Tomata II on the Alseseca. 

Photo: Emile Elliott

There used to be a sign for the falls on the trail, but last time we were up there it was just the posts, fortunately the trails makes an obvious split here so it would be hard to miss if you're looking for it.  There is more quality whitewater above the falls, mostly of the sliding and ledge variety so if you want to carry your boat some more and portage around Black Hole that's an option too.

                      John Edwards above Black Hole Falls, at 650 cfs (below what are recommended flows).
Photo: Emile Elliott

The run is consistently fun class IV whitewater.  The forest is stunning and paddling the stream is an incredible way to see what the PNW landscape looked like before people modified it.  There is wonderful variety in the whitewater, and while most of it is read and run, don't paddle into anything you can't see the bottom of.  

In particular, watch out for a blind rapid with an old growth log duck, and then Solar Flare, a ledge with a narrow hole on the right that flushes better at high water than low.  It was named Solar Flare due to a member of our party on my third run down having his first swim in 11 years when he was unable to surf out at low water because of how narrow the hole was (Solar Flares occur every eleven years as well). 

Below Solar Flare the run transitions to class IV gorges separated by easier floating.  Wood is present, but not overbearing.  

  There is one big gorge (Event Horizon) part way down that has been portaged to date on the right. An eddy on river-right just below a sloping 5' ledge needs to be caught to portage Event Horizon.  The eddy below the aforementioned ledge is in the foreground in the following photo.  

                                               The first of two V+ drops making up Event Horizon.

After scouting Event Horizon, most people will choose to portage.  To do this walk uphill perpendicular to the stream until you hit the trail (this takes some time/effort).  Once on the trail walk downstream a hundred or two hundred yards.  Passing a stand of Devil's Club, there is a nose of land with old growth trees and ferns lining the way back down to the river just below this notable tributary falls.

Downstream are more intermittent gorges with a couple fun ledges mixed in.

Eventually the stream eases off and becomes gravelly, it is time to start paying close attention.  You will eventually see an unstable, and messy right wall consisting of dirt, debris and a small creek entering with a large wall rising up on the left as the river makes a hard turn to the left.  You need to eddy out on the right above this small creek to scout Smokin' Aces, a 1/4 mile series of class IV-V boulder gardens that serve as a finale.  

The messy right wall and creek, by the time you get to where the paddlers in this photo are, you are committed to the rapid.
                                                                 Photo: Nate Merrill

Two large holes along the big left wall start things off.
Photo: Nate Merrill

Any of the boulder gardens in Smokin' Aces can be portaged on the right, but it's not easy.  Walking off to the road and down to the take out starting above the tributary creek is possible, but not enjoyable.  The first segment of Smoking Aces' is the most challenging, below they drop down to V- until the take out at the bridge.

                                              The crux of Smokin' Aces on our first time down.  
                                                               photo: Matt King

 Wood is present throughout the run, but hasn't ever really been a problem other than maybe a quick portage or two.

                                             Matt King finishes up the NF of Siouxon Creek.

Flows:  Best I can tell from a few trips, you want to shoot for between about 900 and 2,000 cfs on the Canyon Creek gauge.

1,500 cfs on April 17, 2011 was choice.  To run Black Hole you likely want 2,000 cfs or more.

Access:  Some of the roads are gated.  They have never been shut when we were up there though.

Take out access
(click to enlarge)

Put in access, includes a 2.5 mile hike after a short bushwhack.
(click to enlarge)

Here is a trip when we used a different access point in order to drop in a mile above Black Hole Falls.

More photos

Checking out North Siouxon Creek.

It was the weekend of the NWCC and the flows were high enough that the Canyon Creek portion of the race was cancelled.  It seemed like a good opportunity to check out a promising, but obscure stream in the area.

North Siouxon had plenty of potential given its geology and proximity to other high quality runs.  I had spent time researching the access situation, and despite being void of information I had high hopes for it.  We camped at the take out anticipating a big day to come.  We started early to deal with any unforeseen access issues, but found access to be reasonable and where we thought it would be, via some logging roads leading to a short, but semi-taxing 1/2 mile bush whack down to the creek.

We reached the creek and liked what we saw.  Bedrock and plenty of water.  We said good bye to the ground support team and paddled off into the unknown.  Early on a nice gorge with quality class four rapids set the tone.  We scouted a couple times for wood before getting into the swing of things.  The creek would exit a gorge and go through a short gravel section, before returning to another gorge.  Wood was present, but not intrusive.

We were floating though an easier gravel section when we encountered the tallest drop yet as the creek appeared to enter another gorge section downstream via a hard right blind turn.  The drop below us was a nice 7 foot slide into a diagonal hole.  Matt went first, and caught a low eddy, but signaled me that it was important to catch the upper eddy on the right.  I did so and we scouted the next gorge.  Immediately after the right hand turn the creek roared over an impressive section of whitewater containing two V+ rapids that had wood in them (the wood is gone in 2018, but the rapid gorge is still unrun).  The first of two drops in the gorge was the only one we spent time scouting and decided it would likely go once the wood flushes.   We set out on an extended portage of the entire gorge on the right where a trail helped our cause, the return to the river was the only tricky part.  We didn't need any ropes, but a "non-experienced portager" might have trouble picking the path of least resistance.   There is a waterfall coming in on the left that makes for a good mark for where to return to river-level.

Runout on the rapid at the tributary waterfall.

More gorges and classy class four rapids followed.  The next drop I remember was a five foot pour-over into a hole.  We both came through upright and stoked on the fun drop.  The next major landmark is the most important to remember for a repeat run.  There is a large rock wall on the left that comes straight to the river.  The right side of the river is a small, active erosional zone with mud and debris taking up the 30 foot high river right bank.  There was a log parallel to the current that was in a tricky spot and eddies are small and soft here.  If you have made it this far you probably won't have any problems, but it's worth paying attention.   Not knowing the situation beforehand Matt had some trouble as the probe and needed to scramble into an eddy on river-left next to the wall after running out of eddies on the right.

From there he hiked back upstream and ferried across where I helped him into shore just above the start of the next rapid.  The next time we did the run we got out earlier next to the log and didn't have any troubles, though attention was still required. Aggressive boaters can still catch the eddy on river right just before the stream drops through some large boulders.  From shore you can see the beginning of Smoking' Aces, which is a series of class V boulder gardens ending at the take out bridge.  The first two are the hardest, then they ease a bit with a finale just above the bridge.

Matt cleans up on the crux of "Smokin' Aces".

Matt on the right side of the final rapid, a center to left move also works. 


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wiki Creek #2

We set out into the Columbia gorge searching for some new stuff.  We got foiled by access to one, so settled on one I had scouted last summer.

Pete and Nate getting ready for the hike in.
 It involves a 1,000 ft descent (I'm not making this up) descent to the creek.  This took a lot of work and involved lowering the boats off a sixty foot waterfall at one point.

It was a pretty cool spot...

We arrived at a tributary, and put on.  We pulled ourselves downstream to a confluence and bashed down some more till we got to the first drop.  It was a nice 12 foot slide.
Dropping the first 12' slide
(photo Pete Giordano)
 Not far downstream the creek entered another tight gorge that had a long slide with some ledges in the slide.
Pete about to drop in.
 Around the corner was a tricky 6 foot drop that hit the right wall before going over another small ledge.  Nate and I both ran this one.  Downstream shortly was the best drop of the run.  It had a sweet sloping boof into a narrow crack before going over a 4 foot ledge.  Pete fired off a line I was a bit skeptical of until I saw him absolutely grease it.  Nate and I followed and it was a total blast.
Pete puts a little Spring in his step and flies into "Son of Steve"
(Photo: Nate Merrill)

  Below here the quality dropped off, but had some small slides and ledges with painfully water depleted boulder gardens separating them.  There is a 30' rock wall on the left at one point on a sharp right turn.  Just below here was another fun slide that went better than it looked. Below here were a couple more ledge drops, but mostly boulder gardens that did not have the water they needed.

Soon we entered the home stretch in the final gorge like section.  There were two separate short double drops through bedrock formations.  The second one signals the upcoming sketchy point.  The creek turns left and there is a small eddy on the right (not sure what this will look like at high flows).  Do not miss as the logs downstream are a death trap.  A quick portage puts you above Swimming Horse Falls, the final drop on the run.  A fantastic 15' drop that would have been better with more water and a soft landing.  Still fun.

I get on board with the final boof at Swimming Horse Falls.
(Photo: Nate Merrill)

  Below Swimming Horse we did a not so hard portage around a log jam before the last hundred feet of class two before the confluence with a much larger creek.  From here, it is a two mile I-II float down to a bridge and the take out.

We had painfully low water (EF Lewis at 1200), but this might be a nice creek to return to when all other runs have too much water. This would also make the flat section after the confluence go very quickly.  Watch out for wood though.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Nohorn Creek



Stream: The run starts off with a nice 10'er at the put in.  From this point until Cookie Monster there is loads of quality class III-IV whitewater in a small and intimate streambed.  Hugh Creek adds some water when it enters from the right and the creek seems to get even better for awhile. 


About 2 miles downstream of Hugh Creek is Cookie Monster, just after a gradual 180 degree turn in the river to the right.  The horizon line is obvious, and while there is a good eddy on the left, it can be partially blocked by wood so stay frosty.   Cookie Monster is easier at low water, at high water a large hole forms. 

Cookie Monster.

 In the next mile below Cookie Monster are a couple ledges that are taller than what has been typical for the creek.  The first is easiest far right.  The second should be scouted from the bridge on the drive up to locate the best landing zone, center-ish.  Downstream it's boogie to the Hot Springs Fork of the Collowash confluence, and then in a 1/4 mile of easy floating you will be able to see the horizon line for the finale at Pegleg Falls.   Pegleg is an off-vertical 15' drop into a forgiving pool with many line choices, a good way to finish a good run.  

This is a high mountain Oregon stream, so keep an eye out for wood.  There are usually some portages, and some wood dodging, but historically the wood has not kept the run from being worth doing.

Since you are so close, instead of gearing down, consider driving downstream less than 1/4 mile to the bridge over Blister Creek.  There is a beautiful 30' park and huck visible just upstream of the bridge.

Flows:  Clackamas at Three Lynx at 5,000 cfs is considered medium.  3,000 is a low, but still worth doing flow.  I haven't heard of anyone taking a trip up there and having too much water yet.

Access:  Take out at Pegleg Falls (44.9572, -122.1619), or continue through the Hot Springs Fork of the Collowash as far as you have time for.  

From Estacada, take Hwy 224 SE up the Clackamas River for 29 miles (passing the Ripplebrook Ranger Station at 24.5 miles).  At the 29 mile mark turn right onto NF-63 where you will quickly cross the Clackamas and less than a mile later the Collowash.  Following the Collowash upstream for 3.5 miles past the turn off Hwy 224, and turn right onto NF-70/Bagby Rd.  In 5.5 miles is Pegleg Falls, which is no longer operational.  However, you can still park at the gate and walk down into what used to be the campground to confirm you are at the right spot by looking upstream (you will see Pegleg).

To get to the put in, continue upstream on the same road 3.9 miles (stay right at 1.8 and 3.5 mi).  Looking down into the creek you should be able to see a log jam, put in below it, which is just above the first ten foot drop (44.9352, -122.2117).

Notes:  You can read about pioneering this creek over at

Trip Report

We headed up to Nohorn creek yesterday (May 8, 2011).  It was low but still a good time at 3,000 cfs on the Clackamas @ Three Lynx gauge.

 We used the upper put in that Pete Giordano found last year.  The snow situation meant the last mile of the road was not drivable, but also that we could drag our boats.  This upper put in added a small slide and a nice ten foot boof.  Followed by a short log jam portage and some other splashy rapids.  I would choose this upper put in for any trip to Nohorn.

The rest of the run is well documented over at

Once Hugh creek come in on the right the creek enters a fun mini gorge section with good quality III-IV rapids.  There are some in-between sections that were a bit dull at this level, but at normal levels these would move right along and the classic Oregon scenery helps pass the time as usual.

 We kept thinking every horizon was Cookie Monster.  But it was pretty obvious when we got there.  We snuck into an eddy at the lip on the left.  Though catching an eddy higher up might be a good idea if there is more water in the stream.

 Nate and Luke point out the issues with the rapid.

The low water meant the big hole that usually dominates the left side of Cookie Monster wasn't in play.  A couple of us ran it, but it had enough going on that most took the portage route on the left.
 The six foot ledge has a log in it now.  Luke went for the rail slide which was pretty sweet, with more water I would suggest running middle or right.

Be sure to take a look at the ledge visible from the bridge on the drive up.  It should be run center, but the shallow lead in makes it difficult to fall into the deep part in the center.  We wanted to take out at Pegleg, so continued on the short distance to this beautiful and forgiving 15' falls.  Lap one we all went for the plug on the left, trying to maximize downtime.  The falls is easy to lap and there are many line choices so there was no reason to pack up in a hurry.

Luke, round 2.

 Luke picks out another route.

Our trip in fast forward.

To get to the upper put in.  Go towards these coordinate points (can copy paste these into google maps).  44.931235489969055,-122.2170639038086

If you are looking at the creek (should be the first good view you get since crossing Hugh Creek) and see a short bedrock slide with a tree spanning the creek right over the slide.  
Put in there, just above the slide to save yourself some mank upstream.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Via Jeff Compton

Christy Creek has now been rafted.

It was epic.  I rafted in the puma with josh.  Dan and I fired up Rhinosex.  Josh and I flipped in Balls. 1.75 feet on the gauge.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Christy Creek

(photo: Nate Merrill)

If you enjoy Canyon Creek Oregon, this is another run in the Willamette Valley that you might be into. 

You have two choices when running the creek, put in at the top where there is easy bridge access, or hike in for the bottom couple of miles.  Putting up at the top makes this a full day mission, while putting in for the bottom two miles amplifies the bang for your buck and is done more often.

The upper section is full of steep boulder gardens with a sprinkling of wood.  These can be scouted and portaged at river level.  There is a flat section, before the largest boulder garden on the run.  Most everyone will walk this massive cataract created by a landslide.  You can stay close to the bank or go high on the right for the portage.

Just below the landslide cataract is the put in for the lower section.  While the upper Section has a bridge at the put in, the lower put in requires about half hour of descent through the woods.

Teamwork on the hike in.
(photo: Nate Merrill)

This run has a lot more going on than I was expecting.  The first mile started class III-IV and ramped up to a sprinkling of class five boulder gardens.  Some clean, some not.  We did portage a couple drops, but ran many good ones as well.  There was plenty of shore scouting in this section as boat scouting was not the best choice.

The character continued this way until we arrived at a large boulder garden on on a sharp left bend after a busy straight away.  We had been moving pretty slow so I didn't give this one a thorough scout and started right into the portage when I heard there was a large midstream sieve that was hard to see from our vantage point.  However, Aaron Loft ran the whole thing and made it look totally manageable.  Most of the rest of us did the easy portage through the woods on the left and put in above the last boof, which I thought was the funnest stroke of the day.

100 yards below here was Rhinosex, which does not look good to go at all.  Though it is runnable, the lead in drop is ultra hectic, and being upside down over the second drop has had dire consequences in the past.

To portage, I would recommend following the shelf on the left until it gets sketchy, then lower the boats down.  Jeff easily did the fifteen foot repel with a munter knot to collect our boats, but everyone else traversed farther left, then walked down a log to the shelf Jeff was on.  *On a return trip, we just kept walking until we got back to creek level.  It was a little longer of a distance, but easier.

Below here are a couple of boulder gardens, one of them trashy. Then comes a sharp left bend with an eddy below on the left, just below an overhanging log spanning the river.  The next boulder garden leads into Balls Falls.  Be careful here, it is worth scouting out your eddy on river left before entering the sharp left turn.

I scout while Jeff and Andy help people across the deep current over to the viewing platform. At high water this drop is hard to scout thoroughly.
(photo: Nate Merrill)

Balls falls isn't as gleeful as I had anticipated.  The transition is kind of abrupt and wants to shoot you left. Its totally good to go, but not the auto-launch pad I had expected and requires focus.  The lower tiers are the main concern.  There is a sticky hole leading immediately into a large ledge with two channels.  You will probably end up going right.  If you do this, drive at the midstream boulder getting as close as you can, take a big right stroke and have lots of left angle.  Then prepare to make contact with a submerged shelf.  Or you can take the left channel which is harder to get to and has its own issues.  We had 7 people who all ran balls falls. 5 of them had trouble, 4 of them collided with said submerged shelf.  One was backwards and was immediately ejected from their boat.  The one who had the cleanest line still cut his knuckles and took a shot to his right arm.  I had caught the eddy above the final two pitches and decided enough carnage had been had, so Nate Merrill and I took the sloppy portage on the right after running the initial 25 foot drop.

Nate Merrill running the first tier of Balls Falls.

The first drop was entertaining for me, as I had not made up my mind about the line I would take.  Jeff and I were going to catch an eddy on the right to take another look and scout a portage line.  The lead in drop pushed Jeff hard left though, and he couldn't make the eddy and the last thing I saw was a flurry of stroked with him sideways.  I charged down behind and dropped the falls as well to make sure someone was there with him in case things had not gone well.  It turns out he had the best line of all of us, and was able to make the left line.  This put us in a good position to set up safety in different spots and Jeff made his second boat recovery of the day when more trouble ensued.

The next drop had a sticky-ish hole at the end we all made it through, but safety would be prudent.  One more short class III and we were out scouting Snake Bite.  I would suggest scouting initially on the right.  Most of us scouted on the left, but this left the last person to portage in a bad spot as it was slick getting into the boats without a spotter and falling meant a trip into the powerful hole at the bottom of the slide.

Three of us decided to run the drop.  Myself and Aaron took the left line, which was a fun twisty slide with a critical stroke at the bottom to get through the large hole.  Nate Pfiefer ran the right side and hit the seam where the hole flushed at the bottom.  Both sides went, you will have to choose which looks better to you.

Below here were two more class five boulder gardens.  Jeff and Aaron stepped up to the last challenging drop, while the rest of us portaged on the right.  I won't describe this section, as boaters need to look at every drop and scout every eddy themselves.  Below the last big boulder garden was a series of slides that would create large, uniform holes at higher levels.  We stayed generally right, then back to center for the last one.  Below here things cooled down and we had about a mile of runout to the miracle mile.

We splashed through the last hundred yards of bigger water and caught eddies on the left at the bridge.  Spent but ecstatic about the great day of boating.

We had 3.65 on NFMF @westfir.  I don't know the area levels as well as some people, but I would go back if this gauge was between 3.5 and 4. 

The bridge gauge was just over a foot.

Thanks to Nate Pfiefer for doing the legwork on this one earlier this year and providing the motivation to get myself out of bed and down to Eugene.

The first time I did this run it took much of the day, the second time we moved quick and went car to bridge in 3.5 hours.  Plan on scouting a lot your first time down.

Take out (same as Miracle Mile): 43.8799, -122.3854
Lower Put In:  43.9114, -122.367
Upper Put In:  43.9223, -122.312

Map with directions to get you where you need to go.  However, the NF 637 rd has been decommissioned so extra hiking is needed.  The yellow route in the second graphic shows the way I'd go in the future.

Green is the old route, yellow the new.  The pink represents off-trail woods hiking to another road, then the yellow dash is the bushwhack down the side of the canyon.