Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mckenzie River: Headwaters

Photo: Dan Marmor                                                     Paddler: Lucas Rietmann


Stream: Start out at Clear Lake, get loosened up and exit the lake into the Mckenzie River when you are ready.  The first part of the run is fast and splashy III+, keep an eye out for wood, the stream can be a bit blind in the beginning.

As the river starts to consolidate, tread carefully.  Small ledges quickly build into a 5-10' ledge.  Scout your take out eddy before running this ledge, and possibly, portage.  The stream quickly accelerates below this ledge and after some offset hydraulics roosts off Sahalie Falls, an 80 foot waterfall.  Scout/portage Sahalie from either side. If you are thinking of running Sahalie your boat will need to end up on river right eventually, as most people who run Sahalie skip the lead-in and peal out of an eddy at the lip on river-right.

It is possible, and necessary to set good safety below Sahalie as the river quickly enters a class V rapid with wood.  Even with safety, things can go awry quickly.

Below the class V, more fast class IV with ledges mixed in moves quickly downstream.  It's a good idea to scope this part out from the trail on the left, there is a last chance eddy that you wouldn't know was your last chance until you were passed it before the Mckenzie goes off the next waterfall.  This is a 20 foot cascade that would be good fun if it were not for a log jam at its base. 

After portaging this cascade, walk down the trail a ways further on river left until you get to Koosah Falls, a 70 foot drop with another tricky lip into a pool that is friendlier than Sahalie's.  Safety is set by scrambling down a steep path on river left, which might take some poking around to find.

Koosah Falls
Photo: Emile Elliott

The pool below Koosah shallows out 100 feet from the base of the falls, then moves along into a class II rapid with a log jam at the bottom.  This log jam sometimes collects gear for boaters who have swam, it poses a minor hazard to boaters running Koosah.

Below the log jam is a short class III canyon with wood potential before the Mckenzie enters Carmen Reservoir and the take out.

Flows:  500 cfs is a good level to shoot for to do the waterfalls, and both have been run as high as the 700+ cfs range, and down to 400 cfs.  You can run the section (not the waterfalls) as low as 250 cfs in the summer if you are just looking for something new to do when not much else has water.

Access:  Head about 70 miles East of Eugene on Hwy 126 until you see signs for Sahalie and Koosah Falls.  You can scout the big ones out here and decide if you want to run them, and suss out some of the eddies that will need to be caught along the way.

To get to the take out, head back towards Eugene on 126 0.4 miles to NF-750.  Follow this road 0.7 miles (stay right at the fork) to the bridge over the Mckenzie River as it enters Carmen Reservoir, this is the take out.

To get to the put in return to Hwy 126 and head 1 mile back towards, then past Sahalie/Koosah and turn right onto NF-770. In half a mile you will find yourself next to Clear Lake, pull off at a wide spot and walk down to the reservoir to put on.

Original Write-up


Last weekend six of us calmed our nerves and fell off Koosah Falls on the Mckenzie River.  4 of six stayed in their boats.

Emile's friend Liz was out there for the day, and made this video.


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