Thursday, April 20, 2017

Williamson River: Kirk, OR



Stream: The Williamson River exits the Klamath Marsh within view of the put in bridge with a tannin color that is unique for Oregon. 

Photo: Priscilla Macy

 The first hundred yards are bouncy class III+ before braiding around an island (right channel was clear in 2017).  The water pools in the braided channel, slowly gliding over what is marsh for most of the year(s).  While the beer colored water is too dark to see more than an inch or two into, dipping a paddle you can often feel the grass hiding just out of sight, and in places the tips of grass blades are visible dancing beneath the surface.  

Photo: Priscilla Macy

About the time you might start to wonder if you could have mistakenly put in on the wrong stream, boulders start poking up through the grass and along the banks. 

Pleasant floating
Photo: Priscilla Macy

After a couple riffles the whitewater begins at a class III-IV rapid that bends to the left.  For the next two miles the river incises into a formation of Basaltic Andesite from the Winema Volcanic Field.  The first horizon line is at a set of ledges the locals call Root Beer Falls.  We always found landing zones deep enough to boof into on the run, but there are many shallow spots in the landings too so scout thoroughly.  

                                                           The larger tier of Root Beer Falls.
There are rocks at surface level and just below in some spots, not only on this drop but throughout the run.  The line shown below worked well for this ledge.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

More fun rapids exist below Root Beer Falls. All the rapids are easy to scout (and I'd recommend taking a look at them all your first time down) from shore and there are large pools above and below many of the rapids that collect foam, bubbles and any potential free-floating gear.

Photo: Priscilla Macy

When you make it to the fun ramp pictured below you have reached the beginning of The Brewery, a set of four horizon lines separated by pools providing a whitewater finale for the run. These drops are more involved than anything else on the run.  Most paddlers doing the run will be interested in one or two, possibly even a third.  However if you are knocking down all 4 in a day you are probably a heavy hitter. 

 The fun ramp marking the entrance to The Brewery.
It's easy to walk up for laps on this one, and it has the most favorable fun:stress ratio of any drop on the run
Photo: Priscilla Macy

The rest of The Brewery is a step up from what has been seen earlier on in the trip.  Long pools separate these hazardous, complex rapids.  Be sure to scout thoroughly and make good decisions.  Scouting is still easy on these rapids, portaging a little more challenging but always an available option.  Three of the four I can confirm have been run, a 20' falls with a questionable pool depth is the exception.

Cheers to all the probes out there
*A few feet to the left of Emile off the horizon line ended up being the preferred route*

A few easy read and run sliding rapids below The Brewery deliver you to a beautiful high desert landscape with moving flat water and excellent camping potential.  This area is established in the climbing community.  Crack a root beer and celebrate your journey through the Williamson Gorge, once you pass the last riverside cliff you are either...

A) Done.  If you figured out access via the arterial roads its just a short walk up to where vehicles can be left.

B) Almost Done.  If you chose the less complicated shuttle route, there is about 1 mile of flatwater between the last cliff wall and Williamson Campground. 

Photo: Priscilla Macy

Flows:  This section of river only flows in healthy snow years when the Klamath Marsh Fills up.  When that happens it can run for a week to a month.  We found 400 cfs in the Williamson above Klamath Agency to be a nice flow, with plenty of room to go higher.  A group ran it later in the week at 360 cfs and found the flows similar and enjoyable. 
Access:  If you like logistics to be straight forward, take out in the day use area at Williamson Campground (42.6591, -121.8535) and put in where Kirk Rd crosses the Williamson River at the outlet to the Klamath Marsh (42.7407, -121.8341).  Most of the shuttle is done along Hwy 97.

If you are handy with a map and navigating unmarked roads, there are ways to cut out most of the flat water at the beginning and ending of the trip using arterial dirt roads on both sides of the river.

Click to enlarge, feel free to download


Trip Report

The Williamson has an intriguing description in the back of Soggy Sneakers, mentioning a run filled with unrunnable waterfalls and technical portages.  The description was from the 90s so I had some hope maybe those waterfalls would no longer be considered unrunnable.  Add to the obscurity of the river the issue that it rarely has enough water to paddle and I have reached over a decade of boating in Oregon and never checked it out.

Ben's birthday was coming up this Spring and he said he wanted to do a suffer-fest.  I liked the idea and tried thinking up a few ideas.  Last year we had done Box Canyon Creek (into the Chetco), so I didn't want to let him down this year with a run-of-the mill slog.

We considered going back into Gladiator Creek, but as the weekend approached the level was looking like it would be on the low side for that one.

I scrolled through the gauges on Pat Welches site and took note that the Williamson had water.  I mentioned it to the group and kept looking for other options.  However, the more I thought about it the more the Williamson seemed like a great option.  Of the last 10 years, the Williamson had only seen runnable flows during 4 of them and it was currently holding at what I thought would be a perfect first time flow of 400 cfs.  That was enough for Priscilla to be excited, a conference with Ben and rumors of this being a run Ben Stookesberry had once done before sold him, and Emile was down for whatever Ben wanted to do since it was his birthday... so all of a sudden it looked like we were headed to the Williamson.

We were in Eugene a bit past 7 but didn't leave until about 8am.  We arrived at the take out by 10:30 with a couple stops along the way including a couple level check.  Levels looked perfect so we stashed the shuttle bike and headed up to the Klamath Marsh.

With the favorable start time and a sunset near 8PM we were in no hurry, making sure Ben got a birthday rock as is tradition.

Photo: Priscilla Macy

We were pretty excited about the tannin color of the water spilling out of the marsh at the put in, something I had never seen in Oregon before.  We slid into the water at the ultra-convenient put in and bounced down a hundred yards of III+ before the stream settled down at an island (we went right) and eased into moving flatwater.

Splashy water below the put in bridge, the gauge is located 20 yards downstream of that corner.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

This section was intriguing as it is usually grassland, so in a kayak you are floating in shallow water over beds of grass that are just below the surface and occasionally visible through the dark water.

Easy floating early on
Photo: Priscilla Macy

About the time we started to tire of the flat water boulders started appearing along the banks, eventually transitioning to bedrock banks and cliff walls.  After a couple class II rapids we stopped at a place Ben wanted to try and do some bouldering.  There were a lot of options, at the best one we ended up scaring a Goose out of a nest.  We felt bad, so after taking a couple photos headed downstream sheepishly.  Hoping we didn't scare the bird from returning to her eggs.

Photo: Ben Mckenzie

Not far downstream the rapids began, we were unsure what to expect and had our expectations set low.  After paddling a fun class III-IV rapid and another small ledge we figured we had probably got our fun in for the day and got ready for some portaging.  Just downstream was the first horizon line, which turned out to be what the locals call Root Beer Falls.  We felt like we had lucked out when we found a runnable line off the first 5 foot tier center-right, then were sure we had used up all our luck when we were also able to paddle the second, slightly larger tier of the falls. 

 Second tier of Root beer Falls.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

More whitewater continued downstream.  After a handful of fun rapids we found ourselves splashing around in foam wondering aloud whether this might not turn out to be such a bad run after all.

 Jacob Cruser
Ben Mckenzie                                                                 Emile Elliott 

Priscilla Macy

  At the other end of this foam pool we ate lunch while Ben tried some more bouldering. 
Photo: Priscilla Macy

Not long after finishing lunch we came to what turned out to be our favorite rapid, a fast ramp between two rooster tales at the entrance to The Brewery.  It was fun enough that we did a few laps, Emile and Ben even gave it a go backwards.

Priscilla, back for another round.

The next few horizon lines were the toughest of the run, of the 4 drops making up The Brewery; Priscilla, Emile and I ran 2 of them, Ben ran 3.  There was a 20' waterfall with a questionable pool depth that we all passed on.

Ben, birthday boofing

Below here were a couple read and run class III slides before we found ourselves gliding through a gorgeous high desert scene that would be a pretty incredible place to camp.  Before long the current disappeared and we had about half an hour of flat water paddling before reaching a bridge with a small rapid underneath.  Another 5-10 minutes and we reached the Williamson Campground, pretty excited about the quality of this adventure!

I motor-biked the shuttle while the gang fished for mussels.  A scenic stop at the Spring River and some neckin' occurred before a quick dinner at the Chalet in Chemult (more enjoyable than the reviews would indicate).

We had 400 cfs, which is a good flow and I would absolutely go back at that level.  I'd also love to see it with more water.  If I saw it was flowing around 500-600 cfs it would probably be one of those drop all other plans and head to the Williamson deals because of how rarely it sees that kind of water.

We ran the Williamson on April 15, 2017
The Williamson Gauge was showing a steady flow of about 400 cfs that day.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Euchre Creek

Ben Mckenzie, Emile Elliott and I ran Euchre Creek January 23, 2017 with the Siletz gauge just under 4,000 cfs and dropping slowly.

The put in was roadside and there was a short warm up before a steep and bouldery three part rapid that we portage, though it had a line.

 Putting back in there was a fun ramp along the left wall, before entering a bouldery rapid leading up to an island that looked like it was worth a scout.

The island had a tricky, but doable line on the left, or a sneak channel on the right with pin potential.  This island rapid reminded me of the rapid called Island on the Little White Salmon River.

Below this island we were able to boat scout about a mile of class IV rapids, mostly bouldery but a couple ledges too, down to Euchre Falls (which is easily scouted on the shuttle, just upstream of the take out).  This 10 foot tall ramp could be run just about anywhere, we chose center-right.

The take out bridge was a couple hundred yards below Euchre Falls.

click photo to enlarge

                                                                   click photo to enlarge

After the first class V rapid, the rest of the run is IV-IV+.  I wish I would have run this creek when I first heard about it from Rick Cooley back in college.  I would have certainly run it a number of times on days when I only had a couple of classes.  The run is short (1.5 miles) and shuttle is easy. I jogged it when our scooter malfunctioned (again).