Monday, October 10, 2011

Imnaha River: Headwaters

Headwaters of the Imnaha
We finished the creek from part 3 in high spirits. Matt had a found a good one, but we still had plenty of energy and another mission planned for the next day. We spent some time driving around figuring out access and giving the flow one last check before getting after it that same evening.

It involved a pleasant hike through the Eagle Cap Wilderness, from the Lick Creek trailhead.

Access would involve a 4 mile hike in, with the first mile being uphill. We shouldered our light boats in the night before to the saddle signaling the downhill part of the hike. It turned out to be a bit longer than we had thought it would be, but that just made the next days portion a little easier. Matt and I arrived at the saddle about twenty minutes after dark. We headed back down the trail to find Ryan (who opted out of this trip), and headed back to our cars in the dark. We camped at the trail head excited about the next day. We said farewell to Ryan in the morning and hoped to meet up with him somewhere near the end of the run as he would be following another trail trying to intersect us at some point.
As Matt and I made it to the saddle, we were impressed by the view. It was hard to capture, but Matt did a good job with the picture that heads the "stream guide" page on this website. We took some time to eat and set up our carrying systems, then it was off down the backside of the trail.

Exiting the saddle and on our way into the valley.
We took a few breaks on the way down but made good time. As we approached river level the anticipation grew.

The put in was gorgeous, both upstream and downstream. It was a nice little meadow that made a nice campsite on a return trip.

 *It is possible to hike up from the bottom near Indian Crossing.  It's a mile longer, but the gradient is moderate and it removes the shuttle and in the end saves time.

We paddled a short bit of meadow with no wood till we came to the first granite outcropping.

It turned out to be a neat looking drop, there was a log in the runout creating a bit of a sieve and neither Matt or I wanted to start a trip of this nature off with a bad moment so we took the sidewalk style portage on the left.

Matt gives the "Snakepit" a look.

Boofing past the Snake Pit on a return trip.
1050 and 1150 on the old Imnaha gauge
Photo: Michael Freeman

We boogied some more class III-III+ down to the next bedrock outcropping. This one did not have the same smooth look to it and had wood in the runout. We regretfully shouldered out boats again, not knowing that this would be the last time we portaged a rapid on the trip.

The wood moved each of the next two times we ran the river.

Below here was a short bit of boogie before our dreams were fulfilled. We found gorge after gorge after gorge. A few of which required half hour scouts to see the whole thing since they were totally boxed in by vertical walls. It seemed that each gorge got slightly harder. All were incredibly fun, sometimes classic, sometimes unique, drops. I actually cannot recall many of the rapids because there were plenty of gorges, each with many rapids.

Matt scouts one of many.
After some time we arrived at our first class five gorge. This one required a long scout and a relocation of a small tree. Matt spent his time working out the first drop (the hardest), while I figured out the route through the rest of the gorge.The entrance that Matt scouted was unique and challenging, we ran a chute down the left, then worked to avoid a wall on the right and the left.   Matt lead into "The Leftorium" and we regrouped below the entrance.

Entrance to "The Leftorium"

This dropped us into the heart of the gorge.  I went by Matt who was eddied out. I called out "follow me, every drop goes on the right".  Not 3 moments later I was able to see the whole picture at this point and ran the first drop on the left :)  Matt wasn't thrown off and we had a good run.  The next drop locks you in completely and we finished as we started; left, left, left.  Improvisation certainly has a place.  Exiting the Leftorium was a short class III-IV respite before getting back into more gorges.

We exited this gorge only to float a short distance before a horizon line between high walls. This one we scouted on the right and had us smiling. It was a fun, non consequential looking rapid through two drops with a fluffy hole at the bottom. I tried to tuck and go deep through the bottom hole for fun, resulting in the only roll for either of us this day. On Matt's run, he resurfaced just as a salmon headed the other way took his shot at the rapid!

Myself launching into the rapid.

We had this short bit of flat water before we could see what looked to be another gorge section looming in the distance.

We scouted and ran a couple class four drops before we turned a corner where a logjam required a walk on the left.

Portaging over the boulders on the left, we lamented the nice looking boof the log jam had wedged itself into.  Looking downstream, we could see there was something large in the gorge. With the steepness and the spray from upstream I assumed it would be unrunnable.   Matt was scouting on the left and the crawl over the boulders looked energy consuming. After I could tell he was scouting the rapid and not a portage route, I looked around and saw a way to scout on the right that looked like easier walking so headed over there. The rapid was in fact class V, the first two holes were plucky and not pushing where we would want to be.   These were followed by a slightly marginal goal post move that landed on padded rocks. This lead into some more pushy looking water that lead into a boulder fence that was best run far left to avoid some sieves.

 After scouting for awhile I decided I would run it, Matt was certainly feeling the same. The portage on the left is doable, but it would take awhile lifting boats over the car sized boulders for a couple hundred yards. Once we committed, I went back for one more scout and saw what looked to be a way around the goal post move. I decided to take this, though it would require some finesse.  The route I took had me angling right through the first hole, using the momentum to get further right and over the second ledge-hole on the right.  This set me up to again land right, driving right to make it right of a large boulder separating my line from the goal post move. I turned the corner and dropped a ledge that landed me next to the goal post move, waiting for Matt to come through these posts.  Matt ran the whole thing right through the meat, and I rejoined him in the main flow after he cleared the goal posts.  Hot on Matt's tail we made the last couple moves, and let out a cheer as we floated through the class four tailings into an area with some eddies against the wall in the gorge below.

Looking back up at "Inclination Gorge" doesn't quit capture the story, but if you look close there is some gradient up there near the top.

Matt hopped out below this next rapid to take pictures and signal me through. I thought it was going to be an easy drop and we had some miscommunication, so I paddled into this small drop thinking it was a small class four with two ledges. However, I came over the first (and what turned out to be only) drop and had a moment of regret looking at a very backed up little whole.  Luckily after failing to clear it, I found (as had Matt) that while getting over the boil was not going to happen, the recycle exited through a friendly slot to the left.  We had a chuckle over that one.

Whoops, time for plan B.
Below here were more unique, fun class IV-V drops. We were surprised and elated. The run was everything we had wanted to find and more. I won't ruin all the surprises, but definitely don't just run stuff on this river without scouting. The last scout revealed a small ledge, then a big eddy on the right above this log jam (no longer there as of 2015).

The easy portage on the right lead to this view, a straight shot of flat water leading out of the final gorge and into the runout!

We both took advantage of the fun seal launch and soaked in the last 50 yards of canyon as we emerged grinning ear to ear.

There was about a mile or two of busy class II-III and no wood portages before we rounded a corner and saw the bridge and Ryan! It turns out he spent his day chasing Oakland around and never got a chance to get past the runout. We shared in a victory beverage and some food as we geared down, amazed at a quality section of river we had previously heard nothing about as far as paddling goes.

Some footage from the Imnaha and other Wallowa streams.

 We ran this section at 600 cfs, and about double that the next time according to my notes.  I thought both trips were good flows.



A return trip on June 11, 2013 was a friendly medium with flows fluctuating between 1050 and 1250 on the old Imnaha gauge.  This was higher than our first trip, but lower than our second trip.


1 comment:

Margie said...

the views are beautiful