Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Upper Klamath: IV

Jesse getting set for another day in the office

The Upper K is one of our standby fall runs in Califoregon. It features dependable flows year-round from J.C. Boyle Powerhouse and excellent class IV big water. Commercial outfits run trips through this canyon daily throughout the summer. I generally only bother with this run in September and October when there are no other options. In the spring, however, the dam often releases extra water, making this a very worthwhile pursuit.
Darin McQuoid surrounded by the UK's typical splashy brownwater
Access is the biggest crux of this run. Commercial trips run their shuttle on paved highways the entire way, but have to hire a driver as it requires a three-hour drive each way. Boaters often reach the take-out before their shuttle rigs here. Private groups usually use the Topsy Grade route, which is only about 7 miles of the roughest road I've ever driven. 4wd trucks regularly get stuck in the mud-holes here and good clearance is absolutely mandatory.
Darin firing up his motorcycle, which is probably the fastest shuttle rig

Putting in at the powerhouse where commercial groups launch affords paddlers about five miles of warm-up with a handful of class II and one or two class III rapids. The river eventually winds down to Frain Ranch, where the Topsy Grade route reaches the river level. A half-mile downstream, the river constricts and drops out of sight into Caldera, a long, fast, powerful class IV+ rapid full of big waves. The first hundred feet of this rapid present the biggest challenge, with a couple big holes to avoid. Scouting the lower three quarters of the rapid is difficult and unnecessary. There are micro-eddies throughout the rapid that kayakers can catch if you're on your game, but it's much more fun to just bomb through the whole thing.

Caldera from the bottom at 2700 cfs

Below Caldera is a fun set of class III rapids that lead up to another horizon line: Satan's Gate. Here the river drops around a corner through another long rapid. The best line is right of center at the top, then read-and-run the rest of the way down through big waves. The short pool below is punctuated by the longest rapid: Hell's Corner.

Hell's Corner is almost twice as long as Caldera but less steep. The entrance deserves a scout if no one in the group knows the run. After the beginning, work to the middle as the river bends to the left and get back right around the short right bend. The river will then take a sharp left turn and go over the last part of the rapid known as Dragon's Tooth. Go left here or take the right boof over the tooth.

Langdon Adams dwarfed by Hells Corner about 2/3 through

The river eases up a bit below Hell's Corner, but the action is far from over. Several more rapids including Wells Fargo, Ambush, Snag Island, and Stateline Falls are peppered throughout the next several miles.

Rafts below Snag Island Left, the junkiest line on the river.

Below Stateline Falls is the take out on the left, where paddlers are reminded that there's still this whole shuttle thing to take care of. On my last trip down at high water, Darin had the shuttle totally figured out with an old motorcycle he had just bought. The shuttle goes much faster by motorcycle than by truck and mountain bikes move almost as quickly over the rocky, rutted terrain. If the shuttle road were improved, laps would certainly be in order for this run.

Jessie Coombs surfing towards the end of the run

NF Molalla, III/IV

"Dan, I just discovered an incredible gem close to my house. It's 3 miles of 200 fpm clean class IV/IV+. It runs suprisingly often too and almost never gets run. I guarantee this is the first you've heard of it."

The e-mail from Ryan Morgan definitely intrigued me. I was already on my way through the Portland area and a paddling detour sounded like fun.
"Of course there's a downside..." Strangely enough, this was the deal-maker for me: the four-mile uphill hike in. Ever since I got the backpack system for carrying my kayak, I've been dying to use it. So one Thursday morning, I got up early and rallied up to meet Ryan and follow him to the take-out.

I was in the process of moving a load of furniture and treasured junk to my parent's house, so my car made a very stylish, yet impractical shuttle rig.
We ran a short shuttle to the trailhead, rigged up our pack systems, and started walking. My system worked amazingly well after I made a few adjustments on the trail. Ryan had a lower-profile homemade system that also got the job done, although he was in a little pain by the time we reached the put-in.
The run started out with tight, shallow boulder gardens with a fair share of mank throughout. After a few hundred yards, we arrived at a horizon line. This was the first portage that would certainly go at higher water, but the channel spread out too much for us to safely scrape down. The portage was very quick and painless and we were back to bouncing through rocks again before we knew it.
The first half-mile was a little junky with two such portages but would clean up nicely with more water. Eventually we reached the slides section of the run which started off with a portage around a slide into an undercut. After that one, we didn't have to get out of our boats again for the rest of the run. The gradient continued with countless fast slides and a handful of fun ledges and boulder gardens.
After about three miles of the good stuff, the gradient tapered off to the 100 fpm range, which was pretty low considering our volume of just a couple hundred cfs. We boogied down through a long class II/III paddle-out to the take out where Ryan's car awaited.
At our flows, we took a little over two hours to complete the run with no scouting and only a couple portages. At higher flows, Ryan took the same time with lots of scouting. At high water, the run could possibly be completed in under an hour. The hike in is certainly the most difficult part of it all.

The big downside to this run is access (duh).  Right now the run requires a four-mile hike in and special permission from land owners, which Ryan was able to coordinate for us.  Right now WKCC is working on getting permission to cross property and possibly even open the gate during the paddling season.  If we can get this worked out, this will quickly become a very popular run.  The road is in great shape and continues up the river for another five miles, all of which is runnable whitewater.  Do whatever you can to support the opening of this run, and please be respectful of landowners.