Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Modelo Especial Blows!

I just got back from a walk. You know, an evening stroll. Since I don't have a dog to make exercise, I like to give my liver a little work out on my walks. I'm not in complete support of our state's open container laws, but they have a place. Still, I figure if you're discreet, there's no problem. So when I go for a walk, I generally return with a 5-pack. Sometimes only a 3-pack if the store is far enough away. This was one of those nights.

However, I didn't want to return home with any beer! I couldn't exactly polish a whole 6-pack, so I decided to buy individual cans. At the local Circle K, I saw some towering 24oz cans and quickly picked up a couple. Well, one of those was a Modelo Especial. This was my first time drinking one of these beers, and I can assure you it was the least satisfying beer-drinking experience of my life. Modelo Especial Blows!

Now just for a moment, ignore the last two paragraphs. Imagine you haven't tasted the beer and you're oblivious to my conclusions. As you see the can on the shelf, you are captivated by several features and draw your conclusions: 1) the can is emblazoned with golden lions and wheat on ribbons, and shit like that: must be foreign. 2) The can has some them spainish words on it: must be foreign. 3) You can't see the words: Bud, Busch, Miller, or Milwaukee anywhere: must be foreign. 4) big red letters read "Imported Beer": must be foreign.

Now I realize in retrospect that just because something isn't American, doesn't mean it isn't a total piece of shit. Just look my shirt that has an overwhelming paisley design despite a manufacture date in the last 32 years. Or look no further than the white lion-crested can at your local convenience store. According to the can and menus at Mexican restaurants across the country (not to mention my assumptions listed above), this beer comes from non-America. Yet it tastes as terrible as anything we've ever been able to concoct.

I'm not saying this is the worst tasting beer I've had. I can't authoritatively judge the flavor since I'd already been walking (had a few) by the time I picked up this can.

This stuff is the epitome of piss-beer. Kyle once asked me the difference between <insert piss-beer brand here> and having sex in a canoe? They're both fucking close to water.

I'd go on to rant some more about how terrible this beer is, but I don't want to waste any more of our time. The bottom line is this: my expectations were for a beer that carried at least a little bit of flavor, not a watered-down corona. I feel disappointed and betrayed. What flavor of Kettle Chips does this beer go with? Lay's, ya inbred sonofabitch!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Wild and Scenic Illinois River, Class III-IV

Ah, the Illinois. This is a personal favorite and instant classic. This river was my inauguration to running serious whitewater and a river I continue to enjoy exploring further, sharing with friends, and getting away from it all. I'll go out on a limb here and claim the Illinois is the most remote overnight rafting trip in the lower 48. For 33 miles, the river carves a steep canyon through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area in southwestern Oregon before meeting with the Rogue. The "river trail" is high up on the north rim and only comes down to water level once. The only way to see this canyon is from a boat. There are no roads, no houses, no damn jet boats, no hikers and, because the flow window is so narrow, usually no other boaters.

Planning a trip on the Illinois presents its fair share of challenges. The main obstacle is the flow. The Illinois watershed is coastal and low elevation, so it doesn't retain snow for a long runoff season. The entire area is characterized impervious bedrock, clay-rich soil, and minimal vegetation. The result is a river that responds very quickly to rain events. Flows have been known to spike from less than a thousand cfs to a raging 20 grand in as little as a day. Since the snowpack is non-existent, boaters must rely on rain, and because the system is so sensitive, it has to be just the right storm. Many boaters feel privileged to run the Illinois once every couple of years, but while going to college in Ashland, it has been an easy weekend getaway for Will and I. Will is getting to be the authoritative source on the run for anyone wanting beta or just a trip to tag along on. He's run it at a huge range of flows and just finished his 11th trip in less than three years. So far I've run the Illinois seven times: twice in a raft, twice in my creekboat, and now three times in a playboat. Here's what I've seen.

With the exception of one drop, all the class IV rapids on the Illinois are located in two distinct gorges. The first gorge starts with some big and fun class III rapids that lead into a few class IV's, including York Creek Rapid. The second gorge is the most difficult with a gradient of 70 feet per mile. This second gorge starts with Fawn Falls, Green Wall, and Little Green Wall in the first mile. The actions keeps up for another couple miles full of class III rapids and a few class IV's. Once past Collier Creek below the second gorge, boaters are in the clear and enjoy the best scenery on the trip. The bottom 9 miles are much flatter with only three class III rapids but the lack of whitewater is hugely overshadowed by the majesty of the canyon and its tributaries.

The run begins at Miami Bar, which recently had some work done and is a decent put-in area. The first couple miles are slow with a handful of class II riffles. Keep your eyes open for a major tributary coming in on the right through some willows. Just below this landmark, the first gorge begins. The gorge starts with a long, more continuous class II section with a few holes to avoid. Just below this set of rapids the river drops around a blind corner, but don't worry: it's just a fun class III. At high water (above 3000 cfs) this rapid and the next one blend together into a massive wave train. After another couple fun class III rapids comes a more difficult rapid that is recognizable by a large exposed rock on the bottom left and a thick soil exposure on the right bank. After this drop, the river widens out over a cobbly shoal. The clearest path is down the right side. Shortly downstream is York Creek Rapid.

Some boaters call York Creek a class IV+. I think that's a bit generous, but the rapid still deserves respect and requires a strong move. At flows over 3000, a sneak line starts to open up on the right side, but the main line is along the left bank. The rapid makes a sweeping S-turn with three distinct drops. The first is over boulders as you move from the middle of the river into the left channel. Just below comes the second drop with a powerful hole on the left and a turbulent tongue on the right. This middle drop and the lower one should both be run on the right.

A flat section follows York Creek and leads to one of the steeper rapids on the run. This drop is a fast slide over rocks that pushes into the left wall. Run the right side with a right angle and expect to bump a rock or two. The slide feeds directly into Clear Creek Rapid. Of all the rapids on the Illinois, Clear Creek has given me the most trouble. I swim out of the hole on the bottom right every other time I run it. There's actually a sneak on the far right side that I've seen taken, but the main line is starting right and moving to the center to avoid all the holes. If you're where you need to be, the current takes you right through. If not, you may be in for a pounding. I should know!

Clear Creek marks the end of the first gorge. The next few miles are relatively slow down to Pine Flat Rapid. Again, the book overrates this drop. There's a nasty wave-hole on the right that could easily flip a raft, but boaters are by no means obligated to run it. Kayakers may even enjoy surfing the hole. At medium flows (1500) there is eddy service to the hole from behind the midstream rock outcropping. At higher water, you've got to hike up the right bank to the eddy right next to the wave. Pine Flat Campground is one of the best places to stay the night, just below the rapid on the left. The bench could hold hundreds of campers. Downstream from here, the trip only gets better. The next 8 miles has a few good camps such as Klondike Creek on the left and lots of class II/III with one class IV thrown in. At low water, this rapid has a huge hole in the middle, more holes on the left, and a tight sneak down the right that's hidden by big boulders. At higher water, these big boulders are covered and the whole thing is a highway littered with huge crashing waves. The whitewater goes back to class II/III until South Bend.

South Bend is an important landmark, and an easy one to recognize: A creek come in on river left, there is a unique pink boulder bigger than my house on the right bank, the river takes a sharp right turn, an there's a small beach camp on the right. This is the last camp before the class V climax: Green Wall. If you continue downstream, keep your head up at the next swiftwater right-hand bend: you're entering Fawn Falls. At low-medium flows, take the far left airplane turn slot. Kayakers can take any slot they want, including a really cool line that slides along a slanted boulder in the middle. At higher water, the right side of the main drop is preferable. Lines on the left can work, but you'll want to scout first. Or just get stuffed.

At the bottom of the next pool is Green Wall. For your first time down, it's best to pull over above the rapid and hike down. Veteran rafters and kayakers often opt to run the lead in and eddy out on the left above the crux, which saves about 15 minutes of round trip hiking. I don't even want to try to describe this rapid in depth. Scout it for yourself. If you miss the scouting eddy, run left on the first drop and work back right as soon as possible. If you swim, swim left. If you can't swim, good luck.

Below Green Wall, the real fun starts. Little Green Wall is about 1/2 mile down and is pretty much unscoutable. Run right at low-medium flows and left at high water. Either way, move back to the middle at the end of the rapid: there's a wrap rock on the right and weird shit going on against the left wall. Fairly continuous class III rapids persist for almost 3 more miles down to Collier Creek. Some of them deserve a scout. The two biggest drops after LGW come after a flatter section with a major growth of Alder trees on the right bank. The first is un-named, the second is Submarine Hole. Submarine Hole is actually responsible for claiming my raft-flip virginity back in '05. At low-medium flows, this is a very pleasant cruise with a gorgeous canyon and exciting whitewater to keep you on your toes. At high water, don't expect to catch any eddies and run in tight order: a swim could be disastrous if you don't have good safety. If you're comfortable with this type of whitewater, there are some amazing on-the-fly surf waves, but consequences are very real.

When you see Collier Creek entering the river, it's time to crack a beer. There's an elevated campsite up on left bank about 100 yards below the creek. From here down, it's a relaxing float. During our highest water trip in the Fall of '07, the flow rose over 5000 the day we were down on this section and it was still a piece of cake. The gorges down here are breathtaking and the rapids are few. At high water, it took just over an hour to make it from Collier Creek to the take-out.

Just below the double waterfalls, one of the biggest standing waves on the river comes out at high flows. Run it, it's fun! The other rapid worth mentioning is the last class III. Just before Horsetail Creek comes in on the left is a steep drop with a massive wave train at high flows and lots of holes at lower water. Horsetails Creek has a great camp suitable for large parties just upstream of the creek. If you can get down this low on the second-to-last day, you might be able to run Lobster Creek on your drive home! Clean up after yourself, don't feed the wildlife, and enjoy the Illinois River!


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

North Santiam River: Dead Cow Wave

Last Sunday (Oct. 14) I met up with some folks from The Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club (WKCC) for a paddling session near town. With the current flows on the N. Santiam between 2500 and 3000 at Mehama, a great little surf wave is in. Unfortunately, most of the riverfront property is privately owned, so we couldn't just drive to the spot. Rather, we had about 7 miles of flatwater paddling altogether to get to the wave and paddle down to the next river access point. These guys were well-prepared though, and brought a barbeque, lots of food, and sunshine. We had 15 people altogether and took turns riding the wave and enjoying the picnic. The wave was worth the effort and I got a chance to try out several different boats. The downside of paddling different boats is that you find yourself wanting a new kayak. I would share some pictures, but I still don't have a camera since Pentax won't honor their warranty. I'll just have to get a new one and do some more boating!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Trinity River, Burnt Ranch Gorge: Class V

I've probably spent more time scouting this run online than any other stretch of river. I've been reading about "The Ranch" since I was in high school. There are plenty of excellent write-ups out there on Oregon Rafting, California Creekin', Jefferson State Creeking, and Caliproduct, as well as a write-up in the Holbek/Stanley guidebook. From talking to some 30 paddlers who've been down there, I've only really heard two perspectives about the run.

  1. "Burnt Ranch Gorge is a super fun run with lots of good rapids and fun play waves." -This is about how I'd describe the NF Smith or the Illinois.
  2. "Burnt Ranch Gorge is F*&king terrifying, and I'm never going back unless I'm with a super solid team and conditions are optimal." –Plenty of good class V boaters have expressed this sentiment.

These polar opposite attitudes from boaters I consider much more talented and experienced than myself made me extremely nervous about the run. My conclusion: both are true. The gorge is loaded with fun rapids. If you're confident enough to run this in a playboat, you'll be rewarded by lots of awesome waves. At the same time, the rapids are only fun when you nail you line, and if you don't, there are consequences. All rapids have a recovery pool below them, but if you swim at one of the upper or middle falls, you need a fast rescue to not swim another class V rapid. There are plenty of big holes you must run and sieves, siphons, caves and undercuts to keep you on edge. I loved the run and hope to go back.

Granted, we had a strong team and pretty ideal flows of 1300 on the Burnt Ranch Gauge. I was in my kayak and Will and Kerri were paddling a 12' raft. None of had been down there before, so we scouted lots of rapids. I would have been comfortable boat-scouting almost everything, but I didn't want to accidently drop into the falls section.

Will and Kerri in Tight Squeeze

The crux of the run is the falls section: three steep class V rapids spaced closely together. At 1200 CFS, the upper falls is the scariest, the second is the biggest, and the third is the hardest. The first falls has a long class IV lead-in to the main ledge, where the river divides around a couple house-sized boulders. About 30% of the water was going into the right channel that dumped into a sieve/cave thing that would be really bad to swim through. The left channel is the best option with most of the water going over a fast slide with hardly any hole at the bottom to worry about. Personally, I thought the showerhead looked fun: an 8-foot tall low volume slide between the two big boulders. I was unsure about the landing depth so I tried to boof but penciled in, got backendered, and sucked into the hole. I couldn't roll up or hang on long enough so I swam. Fortunately, I managed to grab my boat and paddle and stood up on a submerged rock at the base of the drop, so I self-rescued and was able to paddle to shore before the second falls.

Getting my boat drained out, we went to scout number 2. Number 2 is the shortest and steepest. There are three drops with each being taller than the first. The final drop divides around a big boulder and drops 10 feet. I made the tough move and cruised through the fast and easy left channel. The raft blew their angle and got sucked to the right side, where they ran a bigger hole. Neither hole is really a major concern, as the raft punched through backwards.

The third falls is another long rapid with three drops. The whole right side is junky and sieved out, so the only option is to barrel down the left. The first drop is an insignificant boof, flowing into a big lateral hole with a deep seem, which in turn feeds into the last drop. The last drop has a river-wide hole that is biggest on the left. Unfortunately, that's the only place to run it. I peeled out and tried to get as much momentum as possible. The seam pushed me farther left than I'd have liked and I drilled into the farthest left part of the hole and got flipped and pushed up against the wall. I was relieved to be clear of the hole but as I tried to roll my boat kept hitting the wall. I went to my offside and came right up, but was stuck in a pocket between the big hole and the wall. With a little work, I was able to paddle out of the eddy just in time to watch the raft run the bottom drop backward and still clear the hole.

Below the third falls we started boat scouting more. The undercut in Table Rock was plenty easy to avoid at our flows. One of the bigger class IV+ rapids came shortly after Table Rock where we both got extended surfs in a short but wide and ledgey hole at Hennessy Falls.

After another half dozen class IV rapids, we arrived at Gray's Falls, another class V. It's not a hard rapid but has a pretty nasty hole that would be hard to escape from and a funky move off a pillow to avoid it. I ran almost the whole thing upside down and still had a clean line.

The real whitewater was done, but we had the hardest part of the run ahead of us: a two-mile flatwater paddle out with a stiff upstream wind. It took us 4.5 hours to get from Cedar Flat to Gray's Falls, and another hour to make it to the take-out. From there it took me 45 minutes to hitch a ride. I could probably have biked the shuttle faster, but the road is windy with big trucks going fast, and I didn't want to get taken out. All told, the trip took us just over 18 hours. We left Ashland at 5 a.m. and didn't get back until 11 at night. Next time I'll camp and get two days of paddling in, but to see this amazing run for the first time with such great water levels, weather, and people, it was well worth all the trouble.

Friday, May 18, 2007

N.F. Rogue, Mill Creek Falls Section: IV+

Sorry, no pictures of this run. You can thank the Pentax Warranty Department for that, since they've had my camera for about a month now. This run is another southern Oregon creeking classic, except the access leaves much to be desired. The put-in is at the base of Mill Creek Falls, where the Creek dumps straight into the river from a cliff 180 feet above you. Upstream, the Rogue drops that same distance in less than half a mile. The Forest Service calls this the Avenue of the Giant Boulders, boaters call it f*cking steep. It has been run by a few people, but offers lots of opportunities to go of a waterfall onto rocks, vertically pin, swim, and disappear forever in a sieve, undercut, pothole, or siphon. Anyhow, the gradient tapers off below Mill Creek Falls to about 180 fpm. The put-in is spectacular: the spray from the waterfall provides year-round moisture for plants on the river bank so the last part of the hike in (after descending a 100-foot high cliff) is like wading through a rainforest understory to reach the river. It reminds me of footage I've seen of hike-in is Columbia and Costa Rica.

The first mile doesn't have any recovery pools, but there are enough eddies to boat-scout almost everything. It's typical cascades creeking, with boulder-strewn channels and lots of boofs to hit and pitons to avoid. This section was super fun when I didn't flip. I don't know that I'd feel the same if I had. After about four class IV+ rapids (it's hard to count when they aren't very distinct), we got out to scout one. Good thing we did, too, because there was a river-wide strainer not visible from the top. Needless to say, we portaged. Below that drop were two more good class IV+ drops with fun boofs to be had by all. Otherwise, the river mellowed out to class III+ read-and-run. Peter and I made good time down to the powerhouse, where our flow increased by about 200%. All of a sudden, we weren't creeking anymore. The boulder gardens turned into pushy class III rapids with big holes and fewer rocks. Fast, fun wave trains continued down to where the river flows into Lost Creek Reservoir. With how high the lake was, we had a short paddle to where the hike out began. Though it's fairly short, Mill Creek is a sweet run. I think it's much better than Natural Bridge, however I've only seen that at low water.

Pros: this run has a spectacular put in and a beautiful canyon with sheer 200 foot cliffs in the box canyon and lush vegetation. The rapids are a lot of fun, with a steep first mile full of boofs and technical moves. It also gives you the best of both worlds, as the powerhouse gives everything a big-water feel. The run is lots of fun and closer to town than anything else. It's a step up from Natural Bridge and probably easier than the middle or south forks of the Rogue. Water quality is also exceptional. For those with much bigger balls than I, you can run the continuous waterfall section upstream of the put-in.

Bummers: Access. The run is between the NF Reservoir and the powerhouse, so flows are typically diverted. American Whitewater has been working on recreational releases on weekends in the summer, but there is still no gauge, so you have to just drive up and check it out, with Natural Bridge as a backup plan. Also, the put-in and take-out both suck. Both parking areas are about 300 vertical feet above the river, which means a fun hike with your boat on your shoulder. The put-in is a little tough to find, but there is a steep trail winding down the cliffs near some of the viewpoints looking at the waterfall. Just follow the trail to the base of the cliffs and find your way to Mill Creek Falls; it should be pretty obvious. The take-out is as bad or worse. Fortunately, there is a road, but it's still a grueling hike without a backpack system for the kayak. Your other option to avoid the hike is to paddle across the lake for a couple miles to a place with road access, probably near the bridge over the reservoir. The most attractive and least likely possibility, is to befriend someone with a jet boat and have them meet you at the take-out with a cooler full of beer and a boatload of bikini-clad young women. And maybe even a wakeboard, if that's your thing. Good luck.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Upper Clear Creek, Klamath Drainage: IV+/V

This run deserves an awful lot more attention than it gets. Maybe it's because of the one-mile hike in or the nastiness of the mandatory portage. Maybe it's because it's so far from population centers and doesn't have any granite, which makes California boating so good. Whatever the reason, it isn't good enough to not run Upper Clear Creek. The run itself is fairly short (3.5 miles), but with a gradient of around 165 fpm, there's plenty of action. And if you prefer to just bomb through stuff, you could either do laps or continue on to the mellow lower run (class II/III) to cool down.

A view of the gorge from the shuttle bridge

Gabe lining up for a boof early in the run

The name Clear Creek suits the water quality, which is almost as transparent as a swimming pool. You can see the riverbed clearly throughout the run, even in pools that are 25-feet deep. The volume of the "creek", however, is bigger than many rivers out there. Clear Creek doesn't have a gauge, but is closely correlated to Indian Creek at Happy Camp, the next drainage over. In general, Clear Creek carries slightly more water, but locals just refer to the Indian Creek gauge. At 600 cfs, the run is a bit more creeky with lots of boofs and more sieves than keeper holes. At 900 cfs, some smoking holes develop in many rapids, a few of the pools flush out, and it gets pretty pushy in general, but almost all the sieves cover up and the run gets softer. Running Clear Creek at high water is like taking all the hero lines on the Cal-Salmon at 5.5 feet.

As of spring, 2007, the road was gated about a mile upstream of the take-out. The hike in from here takes about 45 minutes and is well worth the effort. Plus, it means you can walk your entire shuttle.

Cyrus on a sketchy part of the hike in.

The put-in is at the first pack bridge you come to, about a mile beyond the trailhead. After about a quarter-mile of class II-III warm up, the first section of real rapids begins. The first rapid has a long class II lead-in with a scouting eddy on the left just above a class IV boulder jumble.

Gabe and Adam scouting halfway through the first rapid

The next rapid has a massive hole on the left that 90% of the water goes into. The right side features a fun sneak line with two boof moves.

Cyrus runs the top slot while Glenn looks on.

The next (third) drop deserves a scout from the left bank. The best line is right at all flows, but at low water a hole at the bottom gets nasty.

Glenn just above the third rapid

The fourth is the hardest and final rapid in the first gorge. At high water, this one is class V, with three big holes to punch through and undercuts all along the left wall to avoid. At lower flows, all the holes mellow out and the last drop is an auto-boof with a narrow landing. A partial portage is very manageable along the right bank.

Cyrus dropping in to the second hole, dodging undercuts

The run cools down for a bit here. You'll see outhouses at the trailhead high up on the right bank and be happy to see some class II-III water. The next major rapid has a big log on the right side, scouting eddy on the left, and a sweet boof in the middle. At 600 cfs, boof in the middle. At 900, a tongue forms between the center hole and the log.

Cyrus hitting the boof

The next drop has a nasty hole on the bottom left and can be scouted on the right. About 100 yards downstream is the ugliest "runnable" rapid on the run. The lead-in is a sweet looking rapid, then it drains into a river-wide sieve. At high water, it's navible, but at lower flows, your choices are to break you ankles, break your paddle, break your face, or, my personal favorite: portage!!!!

Which slot would you like to get broken in?

The next mile below this is mostly class III with a couple minor scoutable horizon lines. Eventually, you'll reach The Frowner, a river-wide upstream U-shaped ledge with an ugly hydraulic and easy sneaks on each side.

Cyrus sneaking left at The Frowner

When you get to this point, consider your situation a little bit. This is the last chance to hike out, and the walk is pretty easy back up to the road. Downstream, the river enters the unportageable gorge. The scenery from here on down is the highlight of the trip and the rapids are much cleaner than up above, but at high flows, some huge holes develop and nothing's scoutable.

One of many river-wide foam piles on Clear Creek

Once you pass under the bridge, keep good spacing. Soon you'll pass a big tributary on the left, from which you can see the horizon line of the mandatory portage. It's the kind of drop where your chances of survival are better without a life jacket, as the only way to escape the hole at the bottom is by flushing deep and clawing along the bottom. Portage on the right, catch the eddy one boat at a time.

The portage: I wouldn't be surprised if there are some

trees/dead animals swirling around down there.....

Gabe seal launching below the portage

The next horizon line is the last one, but it's quite a finale. The last rapid on the run is 100 yards long, unportageable, and mostly unscoutable. You can get a good view of it from the road before you put on, otherwise, this is the best scout you'll get:

Fortunately, it all goes (eventually). The general run is left, right over the big ledge, left, then center. The big ledge gets a big hole on the left side that's a good 8' boof below 800 cfs. On to the take out.

Light at the end of the gorge


My car was almost small enough to squeeze underneath it.....

Take out: Iif you plan on doing the lower run as well, park a car along Hwy. 96 where it crosses over Clear Creek (six miles downstream of Happy Camp). Otherwise, drive another mile upstream on the highway and turn off onto Clear Creek Road at Wingate Bar. A sign for Slippery View River Access marks the takeout of the upper run, put-in for the lower run. Hike down and scope out the take out, because it's hard to recognize. Also drop off your victory beers here so they get nice and cool.

The fruits of good planning

As you continue upstream, you may want to stop about 300 yards above Slippery View and scramble down to scout the last rapid. It's unportageable, mostly unscoutable, and the biggest rapid on the run, so it's good to have some idea what you're getting yourself into. Continue up the road 2.5 miles to the Clear Creek Trailhead where you begin the hike-in. Once your reach a pack bridge across the creek, start looking for a good seal-launch spot.

Monday, April 16, 2007

South Fork of the Salmon, California: Class IV+

The Cal-Salmon area has a huge variety of rafting and kayaking runs. Upstream from the popular commercial runs on the main fork, the South Fork offers a steeper, more creeky style of whitewater. The gorge run described here is simply referred to as the South Fork. Downstream is a class III run known as the Methodist Creek run, named after the creek at the put-in. The South Fork is generally considered a step up from the Nordheimer Run on the Salmon and rated class IV+ to V depending on the source. At low flows, the run is good class IV, but nothing is really class V. With more water, everything gets pushier and some of the rapids develop some major holes. Duh.

Blue skies at the put-in for the South Fork

The run starts out with a great warm-up of class II riffles for a couple miles. The scenery through here improves as the river approaches the gorge.

The mellow first half of the run.

The South Fork has a great tempo to the run. The beginning has a great warm-up grading from class two up to a few class III chutes and then a great class IV drop. The class IV is a long boulder garden that leads into horseshoe-shaped ledge pictured below. The middle is a nasty hole but has great boofs on either side

Peter below the first class IV

Here the run calms down again for a half-mile or so until a short twisty class IV that deserves a scout if you don't know the run well.

Above: Shaun in the entrance to a short class IV. Below: Michael finishing the same rapid

The action continues for quite a while from here with too many class IV drops and good boofs to count. Another rapid to be aware of is The Sieve. It's a fairly easy rapid, but consequences have been fatal in the past. On a recent trip, one paddler missed the move and had to eddy out just above the sieve. We spent about 20 minutes carefully getting him and his boat through the 6-foot portage. In the photos it looks pretty innocent, but there are enough stories to make a lot of boaters walk this one.

Chris corrals Peter's boat and Peter holds Adam's boat while Adam scrambles around the sieve, which looks harmless from all angles: until you're stuck inside it.

Action continues with boat-scoutable rapids until you get to Disneyland. Disneyland has got to be one of the most fun rapids out there. It can be intimidating from the scout (I know class V boaters who've always walked it) but is fairly easy once you get the hang of it. It's the only rapid I know where the more defensive you are with pry strokes and draw strokes, the better your run will be. The trick is to just go with the flow and ride the pillows around all the nasty spots and through the tight run-out.

Working the first pillow in Disneyland

Damon in the run-out of Disneyland.

After Disneyland comes a fun boulder garden that's a great one to practice boat scouting and hand signals in. The run ends with the final gorge, containing three rapids. The first is the infamous hole from the Oregon Kayaking write-up. The hole has been pretty benign every time I've seen it, so we just paddle hard down the right side. I tried the left boof once and it was one of the worst lines I've ever had.

The very last rapid has some nasty holes in it, but there is typically a fun and easy sneak line around the right side.

Peter finishing off a great day on the South Salmon

The run is fairly short (5 miles) and packs a lot of good rapids into the short distance. Some people shorten it further by hiking in to alternative put-ins and do laps.

The take-out is at Matthews Creek Campground, a free campground maintained by the Forest Service. It's right along the South Fork Road between Forks of Salmon and Cecilville. To reach the put-in, just drive upstream and look for a road dropping off to the right. Some people put in at Cecilville, but that only adds to the class II warm-up. Bike shuttles on this run are highly recommended due to the paved road with minimal traffic and great fresh air.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Our Clear Creek Epic

On March 25, Gabe talked me and two other guys (Adam and Adam) into running Upper Clear Creek. Thankfully, we got an early start, because the water was up and we needed all the time we could get. After driving the 2 hours to Happy Camp, California, we left the arid, brown Klamath River canyon and headed up into the Clear Creek drainage. The overcast skies were starting to burn off because, after all, this is California, where it’s always sunny and 70 degrees. After getting dressed and leaving a car at the take-out, we were shut down one mile into the shuttle drive. The road was gated shut and a tree was down just beyond the gate. After a quick group meeting, we all got ready for the hike in. Hiking along the road, we got a few views of what kind of whitewater awaited us.

View downstream from the shuttle bridge into a 20-ft deep pool

The water in this creek is the clearest I have ever seen and the lushly vegetated canyon is breath-taking. The few views we did get were all too obscured for us to appreciate the seriousness of the rapids that lay below. After about two and a half miles, we finally reached a pack bridge over the creek where we could put in. Now we got to paddle. The first rapid was a fast wake-up call to the power of the river. The high flow pushed us all around as it constricted through a 7-foot wide slot. Gabe probed just about every rapid and we soon reached a long class II stretch wrapping around a blind corner. We all crammed into an eddy just above where the lead-in became a big class IV rapid.

Scouting from the middle of the first big rapid

Scouting took a while as we couldn’t see any particularly clean lines through a series of major holes. Gabe and Adam 1 opted for a 6-foot boof into a hole backed up by a rock, while Adam 2 and I chose to peel out, ferry in front of a nasty undercut, then punch through two ledge holes. Gabe dropping in

The next rapid had 90% of the water going into an ugly hole, and had a super fun sneak route on the right. The short, steep double drop featured a 7-foot sliding boof to dodge a hole followed by a super-clean 4 foot ledge boof.

I probed the drop, then took video of Adam 1 styling the rapid. Just afterward, my camera announced the battery was empty and shut itself down. I’m quite disappointed in myself for not charging the battery, because the photography conditions that day were ideal for my little point-and-shoot. We continued down through a couple more pushy class IV+ boulder gardens. The typical rapid involved making some ferry to dodge a sieve/undercut, bracing through some big laterals, and punching a massive hole somewhere in the middle. At this flow, it would be raftable by a solid team, but I wouldn’t want to be on the river with them to help portage.

Soon enough, we came up to another big rapid I’d call class V. We all opted for a partial portage along the right side then ran a little sneak slot around a hole and scraped over a shallow ledge. I tried scraping over said ledge upside down pressed against my back deck, and fortunately had elbow pads on, so I didn’t suffer any injuries. Thanks Mike! A little further downstream, Gabe started to get antsy with our slow scouting. He hopped out for a quick peek at the next horizon line, and gave verbal directions to the rest of us. “You can either boof the rock in the middle, or go right of the rock. But don’t go too far right because there’s a tree dipping into the river.” I was out of my boat scouting at this point, and Adam 1 was peeling out to probe. As he pulled out, he mentioned that he wasn’t sure which rock to boof, but wanted nothing to do with the tree, so he took his best guess.

The hole that ate Adam, taken on a later trip when the boof was good

He guessed right, but the boof wasn’t there. Adam got stopped immediately and began side-surfing. He gave a valiant effort, but the hole had no exit. He swam before I could get a rope to him and Gabe gave chase. Gabe took the tongue between the hole and the log and disappeared downstream. I went back up to my boat and Adam 2 and I composed ourselves and headed downstream. In the pool below, we still saw no sign of our friends. I got out to scout the next drop and found a sieved out right sided and a pushy left line with a nasty hole at the bottom. Adam 2 led this time and I followed close behind. After I cleared the hole, I saw Adam 2 out of his boat clinging to rocks with his boat and paddle both bouncing down the rapid. I made sure he was ok and took off after his gear.

Now we had two swimmers gear all over the river. The boat eddied itself out and I caught the paddle just above another horizon line. In the midst of all this, I had passed Gabe and Adam 1 and was now the furthest downstream. After a few minutes, we were all reunited minus one paddle. Gabe pulled out his break-down and we scouted the next rapid: a messy class V we all portaged. We got back into the read-and-run flow with Gabe out front. I seem to remember flipping a lot after the swims but always flushed and rolled up. After another half mile of class III-IV+ pool drop rapids, we came to an 8-foot ledge with an upstream horseshoe shape and a mean hole in the middle. Sneak lines existed on both sides, but after seeing one run, Adam 1 decided to hike out. This rapid marks the last spot where a hike out is reasonable. Both Adams were exhausted from their swims and decided to call it a day. I was getting tired, but still felt good about my paddling, so Gabe and I continued down.

The horseshoe ledge: your last chance to hike out

This is where the canyon really gorged up. We came to several big horizon lines that couldn’t be scouted. One rapid was marginally scoutable and just above the shuttle bridge. This one was a steep, uniform ledge with two massive holes and no sneak line. After sweating a little bit, Gabe and I worked upstream, got a little speed, and powered through both big hits without much trouble. The un-scoutable, un-portageable class IV gorge continued for about a half-mile before we eddied out for the mandatory portage. At this flow, the eddy above the portage was really only big enough for one boat at a time, but spacing wasn’t an issue with our reduced party size.

The last drop of the portage. If you're still concious going over this, you'll have to get out of your boat and rip off your life jacket to flush below the 20-foot boil line.

We made the portage and got to do a sweet seal launch into the pool below. After the next little rapid, Gabe announced we were pretty much done. We boogied through a couple more class IV drops and about a quarter mile later, we arrived at the biggest horizon line of the day. “Oh shit,” said Gabe, “I forgot about this one.”

The best scout you can get of the final mandatory class V

I could see that the river dropped out of sight, and somewhere downstream, about 50 feet below us and 200 yards later, it pooled up again. What lay in the middle was a mystery. The canyon walls made this drop completely unportageable and mostly unscoutable. Fortunately, a recent landslide had changed the rapid. The rapid wasn’t any easier, but there were some rocks to park on and at least stand up on. I found a tree that was leaning into the river and climbed up it a little ways to peer into the rapid below. All I could see was a steep rocky lead-in moving into a series of ledges, but had no idea where to go. It looked like there might have been a sneak line on the far left, so we paddled down there and caught a little micro-eddy above the first ledge. Gabe told me how stupid the left line looked up close and made a hero ferry across the river to the other wall. He gave me a quick grin, shrugged, and peeled out.

A picture of the mandatory class V finale taken from the road on a later trip. Note the kayak for scale just below the big ledge we eddied out above.

He shot through the first ledge without any problem, but then I lost sight of him until he was in the pool below, right side up. With no other options, I went to follow his line. Halfway through the ferry, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I turned my bow downstream and had time for one stroke before being swept over the edge. I dropped right into a deep seam in a powerful hole and promptly flipped. I snapped a quick roll before the next ledge, and again had time for one stroke before the next hole flipped me. One more roll and I found myself getting shoved into the wall, flipping again. My next few roll attempts were futile as I continued to get pushed against the wall. I took a hand off my paddle and grabbed the rocks to try to roll up. As I got upright again, the current grabbed my paddle and I lost my grip. I dropped into the third major hole without speed, angle, orientation, or a paddle. My hands only worked so well and I flipped again. I popped off a hand roll and got a big breath just before I was swept into the final wave-hole. By now, I was exhausted. Had I only kept my paddle, I wouldn’t be swimming at this point. I grabbed my boat and swam to shore while Gabe grabbed my paddle for me. Below this, we really were done. Good thing, too. I was now exhausted from my swim and my total of 10 or more rolls in the course of the day. We hiked up to the truck where the Adams were waiting in their street clothes.

Clear Creek doesn’t have a gauge, but it lies one drainage over from Indian Creek. When we ran Clear Creek, the Indian Creek gauge at Happy Camp was reading 930 cfs. Clear Creek typically carries a little more water, but the two levels are pretty closely correlated. At this flow, Clear Creek is definitely a class V run. Only three of the rapids are class V, but the last one is mandatory/unscoutable and with the committing nature of the gorge, this is no place for a class IV boater like me. Clear Creek was within my ability level, but beyond my comfort zone. I am eager to see the run again, with a charged camera battery and a little less water. I’ve heard rumors of a 14-mile class III-IV wilderness run upstream of the gorge that you hike into from the other side, so that just may be my next big destination. Until then, I need to get in better shape.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Scott River, IV/V-

This is my first blog post. Hmmmmmmm. I'll just pretend like it's not, then I can avoid all the introduction bullshit.
On Thursday, March 22, I got out of class at 10 am. By class I mean my math final. I had just bombed a test, Kyle had lost a paycheck, and Will, well, I'm sure Will could find something to be bummed about. Anyway, at least some of us needed some hydrogeous therapy, a.k.a., boating. The Scott River was running around 1150 at Fort Jones, so we missioned down there for they day.
The river seemed lower than we'd seen it before, or maybe I'm just getting more confident with my own paddling. I did step up and take my playboat down this time through.

Will and Kyle at the put-in

Kyle hadn't been on this run before and I wasn't totally sure on his skill level, so I we ran everything "blue angel" style with me leading. The first couple miles were all pretty fun long class III rapids with a couple class IV's. We didn't scout anything until we got to Whitehouse.

Above: Tombstone Rapid. Below, a fun ledge just below Tombstone

After scouting the line at Whitehouse, Kyle and I jumped in our boats. We both got a little lost in the lead-in, but I was able to find a good place to drop in and skirted the big hole with enough speed to punch the second ledge hole. Kyle got turned around in the top drop and ran the second ledge backwards with no speed. It stopped him and he threw a few cartwheels before flushing upsided down. Will styled his line in the raft and bounced on through.

Kyle and I scouting Whitehouse

Here are videos of Will, Kyle, and Myself running Whitehouse

Next up we scouted Tompkins Creek Rapid, a long class IV+ boulder garden. At this flow, there were lots of options and it would have been fun to run wide open, except for the undercut on the bottom left. Previously, we'd always gone far left and cut to the center above the undercut. Today, I picked out a line right through the middle, while Will made some impressive ferries to get far right and dropped through a cool slot just wide enough for his boat.

Kyle and I in the middle of Tompkins

We took out just below Tompkins today since we got a late start. We got to run one more small ledge with a fun boof before getting off the water.

The Scott is definately one of my favorite runs. It's close enough to town to do in a day after class and is loaded with fun class III/IV rapids. It's got a big water feel and no major horizon lines, but a few rapids that are still intimidating. We ran it at 1150 cfs at Fort Jones and I consider 1000 the low end of the range. I've run it up to 2200 and it just gets bigger and faster. Some of the rapids, like Tombstone, Schuler's Gulch, and Whitehouse really clean out as the water rises, while other sections turn from class II to class IV+.