Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rock Creek Recon: C & K version

Photo: Keel Brightman

Ryan and Keel did a good job recounting our foray into the headwaters of Rock Creek in the Columbia Gorge for Canoe and Kayak magazine.  Apparently some of it is in the physical magazine for the June issue as well.

Is it all just a cheap thrill, or so-called adrenaline rush?  Does it have a deeper purpose and meaning? It feels deeper to me.  It gives me something to dream about when I'm stuck in the mundane moments of life.  Something to remember that took everything I had in me to accomplish.  A rich sense of camaraderie and friendship that lasts a lifetime.  This time we experienced it on Upper Rock Creek.

   ~Keel Brightman

Blog write up of the trip here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Little White Salmon River

Photo: Matt King


Stream: One of, if not the, quintessential class V backyard run in the world.  It can be paddled 365 days a year (about half those days is it flowing at it's prime), and has non-stop action the whole way with easy access and proximity to Hood River and Portland.

Most people's first trip down consists of following a guide down, if levels are below 3' you can figure it out yourself without undue consternation.  People building their skill set often ask how they know they are ready to run the Little White their first time.  The closest I can get to an answer is this:  When your boat does whatever you want it to, whenever you want it to, you are ready.  Another way of putting it is; you will know when you are ready.

The following beta relates to flows between 2.5'-3.5', the most common level for people who are stepping up to the Little White.  It gets run much higher, and the river does increase notably in difficulty. It also gets run down to about 1', but it's a different river at those levels.

The run starts with 1/4 mile of warm up before reaching Gettin' Busy, marked as of the last decade by a log jam that needs to be portaged left.  Gettin' Busy is a half mile long boulder garden.  This rapid is fast paced and many a first timer has exclaimed how surprised they are to be out of breath!  Kayaking is not often this cardiovascular.  The more you run the Little White, the more you learn to use the water instead of fight it.  While things come at you fast, typically the line is where the current is.  

Gettin' Busy ends is exceptional form at Boulder Sluice, one of the best drops on the run.  This 8' boof should be run off the peak of the launch pad at the lip or just to the left of it.  The first couple times I ran it my peripheral sensors were concerned I would hit the rock it the landing, but it's never happened to me.  While some people splat the rock, it is rare for someone in a creek boat to even touch it, let alone land or piton on it.

Boulder Sluice
                                                                                        Photo: Matt King

Downstream is some easier boogie before the river spreads out at Eye of the Needle, and stays that way to Island.  If you are showing yourself down this section is worth scouting, if you are following someone there is no need to have this part memorized.

At the Island, be ready to check out the rapid called Island.  Some years the rapid can be snuck to the right of island, but I have found it easier to portage left than bother with that.  The main line down the middle probably causes more problems for good boaters than any other rapid on the run, but the consequences are justified towards pain over hypoxia relative to other rapids on the run.

Downstream the boulders start to give way to ledges, the first few are read and run, eventually leading to Sacriledge.  Sacriledge is to be taken seriously, this story is not the only close call that cave has produced.  Tentative first timers should run far left, nose pointed downstream.  As you get more comfortable, a fun boof option in the middle may be more appealing.

Photo: Matt King

A short bit of boogie leads to Double Drop, which can be scouted right.  Beware sticky holes in the center of both ledges.  

Just downstream is one of the few inconsequential and named rapids on the Little White, Typewriter.  Drive center to right, a hydraulic breaking right to left at the bottom can take you for a fun ride (it doesn't hold boaters).

Some bouldery rapids continue downstream, leading to an island at Enchanted Forest.  Left of the island is a series of low angle slides (but has wood as of 2017), right is a bouldery rapid that can be read and run.

When the currents converge at the end of Enchanted Forest, get ready to eddy out and scout S-Turn.  This 10' waterfall offers a fun boof at the top, but demands much respect.  The second ledge is tricky, and the run out feeds under the downstream wall, there has been 1 fatality here.  Boaters often choose to run right-right to remove the thread of the cave.  

                Anna Herring taking the right-right line, this photo is taken from the roof of the cave.
Photo: Matt King

More read and run continue, the next named rapid is Backender.  This rapid has two short ledges, back to back.  The second one can flip boaters end over end, but is not sticky.

Some more boogie leads to Bowey's Hotel, where a busy lead in ends in a riverwide ledge.  The left side is sticky, the right side is easy.  If you are not following someone, and flows are low you can scout this one from the left.  You know you are there when there is yet another island, with a log extending into the right channel (circa 2018).

The next rapid downstream is Wishbone, a 20' waterfall.  If levels are 2.5' or above, the easiest line is about 6" off the left bank at the lip. If it is below 2.5' you will have to go center, but at those flows you can scout from the left just below Bowey's.  Or go center at any level if you want to feel the power of the Little White.  The right channel has been run, but it is not common.

                                                Lucas Glick, feeling the power.

Photo: Matt King

There is a big pool below Wishbone, the water exits into The Gorge/AKA The Squeezes.  This is worth a look from the left bank your first time down, if you look close you can see the horizon at Horseshoe downstream, the most common spot to cause trouble for boaters stepping up to the Little White. 

The Gorge can be entered right or left, then there are two holes to punch, center or center-left is where both flush best.  In the squirrelly water downstream, you must set up for Horseshoe.  Horseshoe should be run far right, but don't drive right too early.  If you go over in the right spot (the right side) with a strong right stroke the hydraulic is not hard to clear, if you do anything else, it is hard to clear.  This is a good place to be bold, and paddle aggressively.

Beatdown on the Little White Salmon from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

The next horizon line is Stovepipe, scout and portage left or right (left is less hassle if you portage).  There are two lines at medium flow, right or main.  The main line is clean down to about 2.7' when it starts landing on a shelf/pothole.  The right side offers a great boof at the top, with a run-out.  The right side closes off around 2.5'.

One short and easy rapid leads to Contemplation Canyon, a short section of flat water during which the upcoming Spirit Falls is often contemplated.  More class III-IV boogie continues until the river bends right and over Spirit Falls.  If levels are around 3' or less I like scouting/portaging left, but as levels rise a log jam downstream of the launch point can get hard to avoid for portagers.

The walk on the right side is starting to experience erosion with the influx of boaters running the Little White, and people hiking into Spirit for photos in recent years.

There have even been a handful of raft descents of Spirit Falls, Iv'e only heard of one where both paddlers stayed in the raft.  
Photo: Paul Thomson

Spirit is a powerful drop and should be taken seriously.  It can hand out scary beat-downs, and has broken more backs than any other waterfall I am aware of.  Then just below is Chaos, a powerful ledge that has also handed out a lot of beat-downs.  Despite the hazards, it's an incredible drop.  Scout, set safety, make good decisions.  For the easiest way to set safety at Chaos, portage right, the trail returns to the river just below Chaos.

                                          The right side of Chaos used to be considered extremely dangerous and paddlers tried to make a move to the left.  Now it's nearly 50/50 that people go for the right side line.  Safety can be set by portages on the right from where this photo is taken.
Photo: Matt King

Downstream are two channels, the left one ends in a log jam that has taken a life.  The right channel is easy.

Some class IV leads to the gauge and Master Blaster.  Master Blaster is typically run left through some hydraulics, the last one can mess with you.  There are some other lines center and right, the rapid can be scouted right.

Master Blaster is the end of the class V, and it's now acceptable to let your guard down a bit.  Everything except the dams is read and run class II-III with some fun eddies to catch.  There are three low head dams, if you go off the top of them pointed straight downstream you may piton, if you are not pointed downstream when you land the hydraulic may hold you.  If you have made it this far, you will have no trouble sorting them out.

Landing off the last dam, you will find yourself in Drano Reservoir and it's really time to celebrate!  It's about 300 yards of flat water down to where the cars are parked.

Flows:  There is not an online gauge, but if you are on Facebook you will have a pretty good idea what is going on out there.  It can be run nearly every day of the year, but most first time runs are done in April/May.

There is a gauge of the staff variety.  The friendliest first time flows are 3.0-3.5'.  A half foot in either direction of that is still in, and an additional half a foot past that is getting into the extreme's of what your typical boater will enjoy.  Another half foot beyond that in either direction and it's really not the Little White as the general kayaker population understands it anymore, but something else.

The definitive gauge is near the end of the run, just above Master Blaster on the left.  There is also a correlation gauge at the top of the run that is close to correct, enough so that you can at least have an idea of what you are getting into for the day.

The Little White is usually at the good first time flows of 3.0-3.5' in April/May.   By August, it is usually class IV.  The guys pushing the upper limits run it after heavy rains in the Winter and Spring.

Below are some videos from various flows.

At about 1.5'

Low Water Little White from Rogue Specimens on Vimeo.

At about 3'

Little white salmon from Difficult E on Vimeo.

At 5.4'

Access:  Bring some dollar bills for the bridge crossings.

The take out is just outside the gates for the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery (45.718726, -121.646259)

To get to the put in return to highway 14 and turn right (west).   0.6 miles later turn right onto Cook-Underwood Rd.  6.6 miles later you will cross over the bridge at the put in (45.779941, -121.628540).

One last video from Taylor Hazen.   It could be said the epicenter for the bro-brah culture in kayaking is Hood River and even more specifically the Little White Salmon River.  The humorous intro to this video nods to that.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Video from Worlds

Emile created this video from his trip down to Reno for the Squirt boat world championship.  Its a good one, take a look!

Worlds from Difficult E on Vimeo.