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.