Monday, December 3, 2018

South Fork Chetco

Photo: Priscilla Macy

7.5 miles

Stream: This is a low elevation stream (take out is under 200') tucked into the southwest corner of Oregon.  Access is pretty reasonable and the significant whitewater is short.  The water in the Chetco drainage is renowned for clarity, but the Chetco Bar fire in 2017 left the area scarred and the water was chocolate brown while we were there (Nov 2018).

Cole Humphrey; the smoke was on the water.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

After a shuttle on logging roads (having the area cached on your phone makes navigation straight forward) and a short walk down a ridge-line to the put in things start off mellow.  We actually put in on West Coon Creek, and floated a couple hundred yards down to the SF Chetco itself.

Teamwork was used for the last 50 feet.
Photo: Yann Crist-Evans

The first few miles is mostly class II with the occasional class III or IV.  There were a number of logs just at surface level or above that were hard to see with the brown water camouflaging them.  We were able to get over or around all of them at our flow, but a couple might be portages with less water.

This one was easy to see from above and was avoidable to the left.
 Photo: Yann Crist-Evans

 The meat of the run is in the last 2.5 miles, with the most challenging rapid of the trip near top of the meat.  We scouted right, a few portaged right, the rest ran the multi-move rapid.  

Joseph Hatcher running "Potty Humor", the largest rapid of the trip.
Photo: Priscilla Macy

Downstream the whitewater continued through bedrock, and everything was scoutable.  There were enough quality rapids to warrant the trip.
 Photo: Priscilla Macy


Near the end things seemed to open up, before one last rapid with a boulder splitting the flow near the bottom presented itself.  The right side had a log (Nov 2018) that caused two swims, one was scary.  The rest of us cruised over it without even knowing it was there.  A route to the left of the boulder would have been the better option, in hindsight.

The log, just barely visible from below.
Photo: Yann Crist-Evans

It was a short distance from this last rapid to the take out bridge.
Yann, soaking in the remaining moments of the SF Chetco.
 Photo: Priscilla Macy
Flows:  The Chetco gauge is what paddlers currently use for this stream, its a ballpark gauge though.  This gauge peaked at 7,000 cfs while we were on the river.  I would consider this an ideal flow.  I have heard it has been run as low as 3,000 cfs.  You could also run it higher than what we had.

A couple shots from the take out bridge, for flow reference.

Access:  Get to Brookings, in the southwest corner of Oregon.  On the West side of the Hwy 101 bridge over the Chetco, take North Shore Road 16 miles upstream to a bridge over the SF Chetco.  This is the take out, parking abound (42.1876, -124.131).  Reports are this area attracts those who might feel your belongings should be theirs.  I personally have not been alarmed by any of the people I have met there.

To get to the put in we used (there are other options), return the way you came along North Bank Rd 5.5 miles and make a hairpin turn to the left (42.1356, -124.1752).  Follow the main road 7.2 miles before veering left.  Take this spur 2.5 miles to its terminus at a landing (42.146, -124.0529).  Walk down the ridge-line about 1/3 mile to West Coon Creek, which you float a short distance down to the SF Chetco.

*There are a number of take out options on the main Chetco itself that can be used to shorten the shuttle and allow for more miles of class I-II floating.  Leaving a car down there may be less risky as well.  The one that would shorten the shuttle the most would be Miller Bar (
42.1396, -124.1781).  This would add about 5 miles of lazy floating.

Click on image to expand


*This run proved to be a good backup option for us when our primary goal in the Smith drainage didn't pan out.  Lower Goose also would have been a good option.

*At the biggest rapid, one member of the team was nervous.  While scouting, skipping the morning bathroom stop became a mistake as it was happening now.  They ran to high ground away from the group to address this emergency, they were relieved that it had stopped raining finally and were able to get their drysuit off in time.  Unfortunately, after a successful waste drop, it began to roll towards them.  On the steep hill it proved challenging to dodge the rogue turd.  Wobbling about with their drysuit at their knees on loose scree they managed to win the battle and avoid a regrettable encounter.  After that, the rapid did not appear so daunting and in stark contrast to the battle on the hill, a clean drop of the rapid was made.

*The final rapid had a hidden log in it, to the right of a boulder splitting the routes between a left and right line below a short entrance.  However, it was not visible from the eddy we were boat scouting in above.  The probe made it over the log without issue, having not even seen it.  Another boater entered the current and I followed a bit behind.  As I approached the split I saw the second boater swimming, I did not know what had caused the swim but did bounce off something as I passed the rock.  I corralled his paddle in one hand, and held mine in the other as I went over a small ledge.  Resurfacing, I was pulled backwards into the hole and decided it was time to ditch his paddle.  The hole let me go without a fight, and we quickly corralled the swimmer and gear in the moving pool below.

Yann paddling the rapid with the log.  The log was propped against the mid-stream boulder.

Upstream, another boater had become pinned on the log in a desperate way, with the log acting as a seat-belt.  The paddler worked their way sideways and somehow got off the log, though their skirt came off and he was forced to swim as well.  It would have been a challenging place for a rescue, and gave us all food for thought.  The log had not been visible due to the brown water, even by the 6 people who had paddled over it successfully.  And the paddler was on their own once pinned due to the location.  Would we have seen the log from a shore scout?  Something for us who were there to think on. 

*We finished the run at 2pm, so while some of us ran shuttle, the rest of the group headed up to run the Chetco Gorge since it shares the same take out as the SF Chetco.  At 7,000 they reported the two main rapids, Candycane and Conehead, to both be big water class V and neither got run.  They said the rest of the run was fun and big class II-III wave trains, with Lake Creek style surf waves abound.  I have run the Chetco twice coming off the wilderness run at a bit over 2,000 cfs and both Candycane (IV) and Conehead (V) were run, while the rest of the run was a bit dull and class I-II.

 Nate Warren scouting Candycane
 Photo: Priscilla Macy

Conehead; 7,000 cfs
 Photo: Priscilla Macy

Conehead; 3,000 cfs
 Photo: Tyler Pohle

Conehead; ~500 cfs
 Photo: NW Rafting