Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wiki #12: South Fork Grays

The scouting trip for this run was a lot more eventful than kayaking the stream, and just as fun!  My dad has been to a few Opera's over the last few years and convinced me to join him for one. We drove up to Seattle for the weekend and while I appreciated the talent of the performers in the Cinderella performance, decided Opera is probably not for me.  On the way back we decided to take a detour and check out access to a creek I had been looking at on the maps just before we crossed back into Oregon.

Finding the put in bridge was easy enough, but we tried for the shorter shuttle route on the way out which weaves through a maze of logging roads.  There were still drifts of snow on the roads and while the Honda Element is a great car, its AWD system is terrible!!  It was designed such that when a wheel starts slipping, all the power goes to that wheel and stops sending power to the other wheels.  This was ridiculous in the snow as whenever a wheel lost traction we stopped moving while the wheel without traction spun endlessly and the ones with traction sat idle.  We spent more than an hour digging ourselves out of a couple different location, but it was a sunny day so quit enjoyable.  The crux maneuver was a washed out section of road near the end where a high speed wall ride was required to avoid falling into the washout.

We were happy to get the vehicle out that day and I at least look back fondly on that trip (you would have to ask my dad his opinion).

This year I had a number of opportunities to get on this creek, but it wasn't until the last significant rains of the year where it all came together.

The paddlers on this trip were Aaron Leiberman, Ben Mckenzie, Emile Elliot, Willy Dinsdale and myself.  However, the rafters who were willing to change plans to help out with shuttle were an integral part of this smooth trip.  Thanks Dan, Scott, Alec and Robert!


The trip went smooth and is certainly one I will return to.  It offers a couple of incentives that make it appealing.

   1- The run it flows into is a good run (Grays), but people often pass up that run because it is short and a little out of the way/on the outskirts of people's radar.  Because the guidebook run is short, the two runs can be merged easily.

   2- It tends to flow when other creeks are dropping out.  So if I was a day late to Hagen or Copper, I could then head to this stream.

   3- The put in is at a bridge and the take out is roadside, a plus for most boaters.


Below the bridge were a few minutes of class two to warm up on before a rock outcropping creates the first rapid.   Most of the water from this drop falls 9' into the wall on the left side creating a hazard.  We all boofed right, landing close to the wall.

The boof is beautiful, but a mistake could result in a wicked beating.
(or a cracked boat as we found out on the second descent).
 "Step Mother"
About to scrub the wall.

The next rapid comes up shortly and goes better than it may look.  Only a couple rapids downstream is a boulder garden that has had a tricky log in it thus far.  These are the "Step Sisters".

The "First Step Sister"
Willy sweeps up top.

The "Second Step Sister"

Things start rolling along after the Step Sisters.  The presence of wood and other hazards along with the blindness of some of the rapids necessitated prudent scouting the first time down, though everything was run.

I nearly face planted a rock in this rapid, apparently my fairy godmother was watching out for me.
 "Fairy Godmother"
Ben reminisces on his good line through Fairy Godmother while Aaron sets safety.

This triple drop was unexpected and one of the stand out rapids of the run.
Emile dancing his way through the Ballroom.

This ten foot drop is a blast and the second to last rapid.
"Stroke to Midnight."
Willy strokes to midnight

The last rapid is just around the corner.  There is a thin line to the right, if you slip through you can paddle happily ever after to the take out on the class II runout. However, if you miss the line you will be testing out the proportions of the slot on the left.  It is yet to be determined if a kayak is sized to fit.

Glass Slipper

Emile's edit of our first time down.

After Glass slipper, there is a 2 mile, class II runout. Keep your guard up until you pass a small, but Malevolent rapid where wood has been present on our trips.  As you near the end, Blaney creek comes in from the right at the same time as the South Fork consolidates one last time into an easy gorge a couple hundred yards above the confluence with the Grays. Either paddle across the Grays to take out or continue downstream on the Grays for some quality river running.


There is no perfect gauges for this run.  There will be a little stabbing in the dark for attempts at this run.

From the few times Iv'e been up there, here are some nearby gauges and my guess at what flows to look for.  Listed in order of gauge aptitude.

250 was a healthy flow on Nov 27, 2018
A little over 300 looked runnable but full.
A group went in  1/19/2020 at 350 cfs on this gage and it was runnable, but low enough they had to portage some rapids. 

Naselle gauge.
The first two times I ran the SF Grays, this was the only gauge I was aware of in the area.  The first time we had 950 cfs, most of us felt this was a good flow.  We returned the next year at about 1500 cfs on the Naselle gauge and flows were similar, but a touch lower.
The 1/19/2020 team had 1200 cfs on this gage.

Grays gauge
A bit over 3,000 cfs on the  Nov 4, 2018 looked like a full, juicy flow.
5,000 cfs and dropping was also healthy runnable, but a little lower.
The 1/19/2020 team had around 2,000 cfs on this gage.

There are now gates on the Grays shuttle road, so in order to do the Grays you gotta add on the SF unless the gate is open and you are comfortable tresspassing.  So leave a car either at the 101 bridge, or a little ways up Fossil Creek road where it gets close to the river.  Or even at the covered bridge a few more flat miles downstream 46.3548, -123.5812.

To get to the put in travel along Hwy 4 back East to the town of Skamokawa. Just on the East side of the bridge in town over the flat river, take East Valley Rd.  Follow East Valley Rd 1.3 miles before hanging a left onto Middle Valley Rd.  Stay on this road, in 2.6 miles it will make a sharp right turn and become Oatfield road.  There might be some signs about the road ending (it doesn't).

When the road turns to gravel, restart your odometer.  Stay on the main gravel logging road, at all junctions the main road goes more uphill than the spurs so stay going uphill on the main road and you will be good until you hit the ridge.  3.4 miles after leaving the pavement stay left as you top out at the ridgeline.  1/4 mile later turn right onto a smaller road and wind your way downhill for 2 miles to the put in bridge.  46.3604, -123.4261


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