Friday, July 11, 2014

Meadow Camp - Deschutes River, OR (6.28.14)

Although I've been paddling in Oregon for some years now, I don't make many trips east of the Cascades and consequently I've not done much paddling around Bend. In fact, the only runs that I have done over there are the Lava Island stretch (on the Deschutes), and the Crooked, which is awesome but rarely at a good flow. One run that I have been wanting to do for awhile now is Meadow Camp, which is also on the Deschutes. It actually begins right where the Lava Island run ends, with good/reliable flows May through August, making it a great summer run when everything else is dried up. Perhaps one of the reasons it's eluded me for so long is that summer is when I transition over to mountain biking and boating becomes secondary. Whatever the case, I was pretty much looking for any excuse to finally head over and do it, so when the Meadow Camp Race was announced I decided to make it happen. In the end I was able to wrangle up Roman, Matt and Alex, with only Roman having done it before.

The day of the race we met-up just outside Eugene, consolidated cars and drove ~2.5 hours east, toward the event. Even though I knew that the run basically starts just a few miles upstream of Bend and actually ends in town, I was still taken aback by the location of both the put-in (at Rim River Park) and the take-out (just above the Bill Healy Bridge), since both river access points are hidden within a suburban labyrinth. Make sure you bring a map and/or GPS and know where you are supposed to go, since it's quite easy to get lost -- trust me...

Putting on at Rim River Park, we floated past a sign that warned us of dangerous falls and impending doom just downstream… I jest a little, but it’s actually good to warn the folks who made have put-in at Meadow Camp (a few miles upstream) and only intended to paddle some mellow flat water. Just downstream of the sign we reached the first drop of the run, “Playtime”. Since only Roman had done the run before, we decided to jump out and take a look, from river-left. What we found was a pretty straightforward rapid, with the run-out flowing quickly toward and over a rather large horizon line downstream. After verifying with Roman that there was good eddy service between the two drops, we hiked backed up to our boats and prepared to drop in. After a short entrance, Playtime held some juiced-up hydraulics that did their best to catch me off guard. Luckily, I was able to make my way through without too much trouble, before eddying out partway down the rapid on river left. From this eddy, it was read-n-run water leading into the final ledge of Playtime, with a boof on the left and a small wave hole down the center. Ahead in the distance / below the ledge, I could see that Roman had gotten dumped and was mid-roll. With that in mind, I made sure to chose my line wisely, opting for the easier middle pathway, which I came through without issue. It should be noted that below the final ledge in Playtime, the right side of the river diverts into a canal system -- although it’s not flowing hard into it, it could be quite hazardous if you found yourself out of your boat and unaware of it.

Fun hydraulics in Playtime

Taking the conservative center line at the bottom of Playtime.
Note the dam canal inlet downstream on the right, marking the start of Dammit.

Once the four of us were regrouped in the river-left eddy below Playtime, we got out to scout the biggest drop of the run, “Dammit”. If you’ve not done this run before, it’s probably worth a quick scout, as there are a few moves to make to ensure a smooth run through. The first is a 4’ ledge that is best boofed off one of the platforms toward the center of the river. From there, the river blasts down toward the next move, at “The Pipe”. There was a nice eddy on river-left just above The Pipe to better setup for the move, but you had to be deliberate about catching it our you’d blow right past. The Pipe is just that, a pipe that shoots a jet of water back into the river (at head level), from the canal. I knew from reading the various write-ups that you wanted to drive into the blast of water with some momentum and right angle, to avoid getting push/sucked into the recirculating eddy on river-left. The run-out below The Pipe flowed through a small canyon and appeared to be a relatively chill read-n-run affair. Each of the individual moves in Dammit looked pretty straightforward, but it was certainly a case of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Another notable feature of this rapid was the many people lining the banks, who were obviously here for the Meadow Camp Race, and I knew they would be hungry for some carnage, I just wanted to make sure it wasn't mine.

While we were out scouting, the race actually began, which meant we would need to be careful to not get in the way of any of the racers, who were being sent down one at a time with a delay in between them. I let the others know that I wanted to get some photos of the drop and a few of the racers...oh, and them of course. With that, they hiked back up to their boats, while I unpacked my camera gear and got ready for a small photo shoot. My perch ended up being a nice location for taking in the show. Although I could have setup somewhere else for more creative shots, it allowed me a view of the entire rapid. As the racers cruised past, I shot many photos, but I also studied how folks were lining up the individual moves. Of course, since the racers were going for a good race time, none of them were eddying out above The Pipe, which I had planned to do. Before long, Roman, Alex and Matt came down, all with good lines off the first ledge and eddying out above The Pipe. After watching Roman and Matt grease the line at The Pipe and float through the boogie water below, I hiked up for my turn.

Marlow Stanton, one of the first racers to enter Dammit

Jake Zywicke carries speed into The Pipe

Kevin Collins, going ol' school at Dammit

Roman takes the left side of the boof ledge at the top of Dammit

Alex goes for the right side

Roman drives right at The Pipe

Matt follows suit

Matt in the run-out below Dammit

Once I got in my boat and slid into the eddy, it became apparent that the line I had picked out, for the top ledge, was not obvious from above and at water level. Luckily, all I had to do was wait for another racer to come down and see where they entered! After watching him (or her) go over, I peeled out and set my trajectory. As I approached the lip and prepared to take a stroke, I saw the line of a throw-rope shoot from river-left to river-right, just downstream. A little bit distracted, I was only able to get in a halfhearted attempt at a boof, but was able to land fairly flat and in control. Now looking downstream at the rope stretched across the river, I drove for the eddy where one side of the rope was being held up for me to duck underneath. I'm probably not in a position to complain too much, since this was a race and I wasn’t a participant, but at the same time, I’m not sure this was the best place to rope someone across the river… Oh well, chalk it up to a little extra excitement/challenge.

Entering Dammit

Hmm... That wasn't there during the scout!

Now in the eddy above The Pipe (with Alex), we waited for another racer to speed past before we dropped in. As I had planned, and the eddy allowed for, I peeled out and set right angle, just a few feet off the end of the pipe. As I blasted through, the current grabbed my boat and pushed me to the left, which I had expected. Skimming the edge of the recirculating eddy, I got pushed up onto the large rock on the outside corner and had to throw in a deep brace to prevent a flip in the squirrelly current, which got some cheers from the crowd. Just below, I met up with the rest of my crew, who were anxious to head downstream to find some more action.

Making the move at The Pipe

Below Dammit was more boogie water, with some fun eddy catching and boulder dodging. Before long the river made a hard turn to the right and dropped out of sight. Roman let us know that we had reached “Amazing” and that it was a pretty straightforward rapid, but to stay away from hard river-left. Since it seemed reasonable to run it sight unseen, we dropped in like lemmings and decided to take it as it came. It was pretty easy to read-n-run, but there were a couple of small ledge holes toward the bottom that provided some excitement and deep bracing. I pretty much ran this one right down the middle, and although it went fine, there might be some smoother line choices. At the bottom we found the finish line to the race, where we decided to hang out for a bit and watch a few racers come through.

A boater gets a face shot in the middle of Amazing

Finishing up the crux of Amazing

Roman watches as Michael Freeman crosses the finish line, during the Meadow Camp Race

About ¼ mile or so below Amazing, wood started to dot the river, creating a slack water slalom. Knowing that this was Mario Land, we made our way toward the right side of the river, which is supposedly where the standard entrance was. After confirming with Roman that the rapid didn't really need to be scouted, I headed down in front of the others so that I could take photos from down below. Sure enough, it ended up being a pretty low-key rapid, that was a bit trashy in spots. If I had to give it a rating, I’d say it’s a class III affair. From the bottom I clambered onto a rock and broke out my camera gear. Unfortunately I was now shooting into the sun, so the photos are a little washed out.

Alex in the middle of Mario Land

Roman plays slalom in Mario Land

After about a half mile of shallow slack water, we reached the final rapid of the run, "100 Percent". Since we knew there was a large hole toward the bottom on river-right, we decided to give it a scout, which was easy to do by hiking down the Deschutes River Trail, conveniently located on that side. Just as the other write-ups had described, there was a decent sized hole, which could be avoided by going left, or boofed on the right. If you choose the latter option, you want to make your boof count, since there is supposedly a underwater rock that would be unpleasant if you were upside down; furthermore, there was also an overhung rock just below the hole, which looked like it could dish out a headshot, even if you were upright but out of control. After we had picked out our lines, we hiked back up to run the rapid.

With better lighting from above, the others would run the rapid while I took photos form the top of 100%. All three of them entered the drop down the tongue and through a couple of small diagonal/offset holes. From there, both Roman and Alex drove left of the bottom hole, while Matt went for a more centered approach, clipping the left side of the hole and busting through without too much effort. Once they had all finished up, I packed up my gear so that I could take my turn. While doing so, a large flotilla of brightly colored boats came through without slowing down. Almost all of them went for the left side entrance boof (of the right channel), which looked like a more entertaining way to enter the rapid -- I mean come on, who doesn't like a good boof?!

Roman enters 100%

Alex lines up the bottom half of 100%

Matt, about to clip the left side of the 100% hole.
Note the overhung rock, just below on the right.

Bobby Brown enters center

Anna Herring opts for the entrance boof

Since the entire left side of the river just above 100% is ankle deep, I had to hike my boat upstream a ways to be able to make it over to the entrance boof -- I actually braced my boat against a midstream rock, where the water was only a few inches deep. From this position I was able to make it to the ledge, but just barely. After landing from the boof, I immediately crashed into the offset hydraulics, which created whiteout conditions and forced me to throw down a few braces. Once through the entrance holes, I drove to the left to avoid the larger bottom hole, which ended up being a much easier move than anticipated. Past the hole, the rapid petered out into the slack water below, where I once again joined back up with the others.

Between 100% and the take-out was a scrappy ledge, fallowed by ~1/2 mile of flat water. From the water's edge, it was just a short hike up to the parking area, where a shuttle van was ready to take us to the top for another lap, courteous of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe! For our second lap, we really didn't stop and I didn't take any photos (shocking, I know). At this pace, the whole run took under a half-hour, and felt much shorter because of it. Consulting one of my map programs I found that the run was a tad over 2 miles, shorter than I had thought it was. It's always fun to blast down a run once you know where the lines are -- this run was no exception!

It was great to finally get on Meadow Camp, especially with the beautiful weather! I would say that I enjoyed this stretch more than the Lava Island run, but it's worth noting that I've only done that one at about 1/2 the flow. Certainly as a bang for your buck, this run offers it, with a relatively minimal amount of flat water combined with easy/in-town river access. The rapids themselves are super fun, providing a more juiced up feel than we typically deal with on the west side of the Oregon Cascades, where low-volume steep creeking is more the rule. It may be lack of experience with these high desert runs, but the water feels a bit more chaotic with water & features that are a bit harder to read -- I certainly found myself bracing more than usual.

As for flow, we had ~1,850cfs. Unfortunately, they had scaled back the release from Wickiup Reservoir by a couple hundred cfs from the day before. Supposedly, Meadow Camp only gets better with more water (>2K), so I'm certainly looking forward to getting on it with a bit more juice.

I must say, the boaters in Bend are very fortunate to have this run right out their doorstep and have it all summer long. Living in Eugene, we have to drive about an hour before we reach the closet class IV run. Actually, the only real class IV summer run we have is the Concussion Run on the Middle Santiam River, and even that isn't as good or as long. I'll certainly be making more runs down Meadow Camp, especially if I happen to be in Bend when its running.

Some footage from our run(s) down Meadow Camp:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Alsea Falls Trail System, OR (Opening Day, 6.22.2014)

Oregon certainly has a lot of mountain biking areas to choose from, and you can now add another high quality series of trails to the list – Alsea Falls! I first heard about this area during its early stages, from one of my good buddies and key figures in its development, Eric Emerson. Eric, along with the rest of the Alsea Falls Trail Builders (Team Dirt - IMBA chapter) were hard at work establishing the first phase – currently, 6 miles of trail (of a planned 20+). Although there were a few existing mixed-use trails that would be revitalized, they were mostly working from scratch, drawing on their previous trail building experience and vision to guide them. The work started in late 2013 ( in coordination with the BLM), and between then and now there have been many trail build days, all of which I unfortunately missed. For the record, I blame my absence on one of my other great passions, whitewater kayaking, which was in prime season.

Fast forward a few months, when I received a Facebook invite from Eric to attend the opening day for the Alsea Falls MTB trail system (phase 1). The event would have shuttle support as well as food and Team Dirt merchandise for sale, with the proceeds from this fundraiser going right back into trail building/advocacy! Feeling a little guilty about not getting my hands dirty building trails, I paid for my shuttle pass (which was a bargain) and volunteered my photography services for the event. With the opening day scheduled for June 22nd, a Sunday, I decided to get in a road ride at Crater Lake on Saturday, which was also having an event – a vehicle free day on East Rim Drive! If you own a bike and are in the area during this event, drop everything and do it, you won’t be disappointed. Here is a trip report I did from the vehicle free day in 2013.

Still a little tired from my Crater Lake road ride, I didn’t get as early of a start as I would have liked, so I wouldn’t be catching the first shuttle ride of the day. By the time I got to Alsea Falls (about an hour drive from Eugene) it was around 10:30am, and by the time I was ready to ride it was nearly 11am. At the check-in table I was greeted by Amanda, Eric’s fiancĂ©e, who is also a friend of mine. After signing the waiver and putting on my name tag, I found Eric and gave him a big bro-hug, before loading up in the back of the box truck, which would be taking me and my bike to the top of the hill. After we had stuffed 15 to 20 of us in the back, the driver fired up the engine and we rolled out. Luckily the road is paved so it wasn’t too unpleasant, even with the few bumps along the way. As we made our way up the hill, I studied the trail map that I had grabbed from the check-in table. At this point in the trail area's life, it appeared that we would have two main avenues to get back down to the bottom; 1) “High Baller” into “Springboard”, or 2) “Bailout” into “Dutchman”. Since the former was the new / mountain bike specific trails, I wanted to hit those first!

One by one we unloaded from the back of the truck and made any final adjustments before dropping into High Baller. Since I was planning to take photos, I tried to jump out ahead and set up before the others came through. I had brought plenty of lenses to play with and the weight in my pack certainly reflected that. The first part of the trail was quite narrow with lots of twists and turns, and even a few roots to deal with. Before long I pulled over at what I thought would be a good spot and broke out the camera gear. By the time I was setup most of the riders had ridden past, but I did get a few of the riders near the back, which included a tandem --- how cool is that?!

A typical root crossing near the start of High Baller

Givin' chase

Jim Collins on the top part of High Baller

Jon Robson settles into a groove


After everyone had cruised by, I loaded back up and headed down the trail, which continued its narrow/techie character for a bit. Eventually the trail widened and entered a flowy section, complete with high banked turns to rail around. Of course I had to stop at a few of these to set up for more photos, and luckily I had some time before the next truckload of riders started coming down. Knowing that it would be a little bit, I decided to try some off-camera flash, which I had never done before, at least for action photography. Although flash only adds a fourth element to exposure (the others being shutter speed, aperture, and ISO), it adds a great deal more of control and complexity -- getting your light’s location and intensity dialed in is a real challenge but can also make for some amazing shots!
Just about the time I had my light & camera set, and taken a couple of test shots, I heard the next pack of bikers off in the distance and headed towards me. As they came through, I fired off a shot for each rider, since the flash really doesn't allow you to shoot in burst mode. I actually spent more than an hour in this section of the trail, trying different lighting setups (i.e. angle, location, exposure, flash power), which gave me many photos that were pretty bad but also some that I rather liked. Here are a few of the better ones from the bermed section of upper High Baller.

In the middle of the berm section of upper High Baller

Lovin' the burms

Terry Tiessen gets high on the turn

Another rider, another shot

Finishing up the turn

Jon Gustavson leans into it

Tim Maddux on yet another banked turn

Michelle Emmons and Shawn Litson, enjoying the flow on Upper High Baller

After spending more than enough time on upper High Baller, I once again packed everything up and headed down the trail to find another good spot. Not far below the trail dropped onto a road, before immediately heading into lower High Baller. The lower section continues the flow while also kicking it up a notch, offering more banked turns, some high speed sections, and some nice kickers to get some air, if you so choose. Even though there is potential to 'go big', it's certainly not mandatory -- this is what makes this trail so cool, it can be enjoyed by just about anyone with a dirt friendly bike. While taking photos in this section I saw folks of all ages and abilities, and the two were not necessarily linked; in fact a couple of the younger kids were really throwin' it out there! One thing that was universal was that everyone seemed to be having an amazing time and really enjoying the trail.

A youngster going big!

Followed by another. "Hey, what are you lookin' at?!"

Another rider on lower High Baller

A great trail for everyone!

Diggin' into one of the great turns on lower High Baller

Finishing the turn with speed

One of the faster sections on High Baller

Look, more berms

All too soon, lower High Baller ended at a road crossing, but the fun did not, as "Springboard" started immediately on the other side. Although it is only rated as a green (High Baller is rated as a blue), it was still thoroughly entertaining. Basically it felt like one long pump-track, with a few tight switchbacks thrown in for good measure. There are also some nice straight shots to speed through, but be careful, because at least one of the turns can really sneak up on you. I must say, I was really impressed with how well this trail pumped, and once you got into a rhythm, you could build up some nice speed without pedaling and rarely braking -- now that's flow! The way this trail is routed also gives you an impressive length of downhill, for a fairly minimal amount of elevation loss. This really gives you some bang for your buck, especially when you don't have shuttle assistance. Another thing to note about this trail is that although it's mainly downhill, there is a mild amount of climbing and even the pumping can tire you out a bit; all in all it makes for a pretty good workout. Eventually, Springboard intersected with another trail (Dutchman), where the gradient tapered off and the trails led back to the bottom trailhead. There were still some fun bits in there, but nothing like the stuff above.

Somewhere on Springboard

Watch out for this turn

Exiting the turn

Larry Desaulniers finds some sun

Trevor Griesmeyer in a speed section

A great pump section on Springboard

In the zone

More great terrain

Michelle Kinser finds some flow

One of the young guns gets ready for some jumps

Gettin' a boost

Finishing up a fun series of jumps

Now back at the bottom, I went up to my car to eat lunch, before heading back up in the shuttle truck for another round. This time I didn't take as many photos and spent more time just enjoying the trail. On my third time down the mountain, I decided to ride upper High Baller and then head south to take Bailout and Dutchman down. It is my understanding that in the future both of these trails will be designated as climbing only, which from what I saw would make a lot of sense. They certainly aren't flow trails and are more similar to the type of riding you would find in Oakridge -- hiking trails that are used by mountain bikers and other users, as opposed to MTB specific trails. That said, they're still super fun, just more of an XC style affair. Since I was trying to get down to the bottom before the last shuttle left, I didn't get any photos of these trails. Although, since I didn't see anyone else on them, the photos would have been pretty boring anyways. For the record, I didn't make it to the bottom in time to catch the shuttle... =(

After hanging out at the bottom parking area for a bit, I biked the short distance up the road to my car, where I changed back into my street clothes and loaded up my bike before leaving. I did make one more stop at Alsea Falls before heading back to Eugene, since I had never seen it before. Of course I'm always looking at creeks and waterfalls through the lens of a kayaker -- Unfortunately, some wood buildup near the bottom of the falls has rendered it unrunnable, at least for more reserved boaters like myself.

If you read the above, it will come as no surprise that I really loved the new Alsea Falls trail system, even if it is a bit limited for the time being. I think that Team Dirt did a fantastic job both designing and building trails that are/will be enjoyable to riders of all skill levels, which was especially important to do for the first phase. The flow of both lower High Roller and all of Springboard are probably the best I've ever experienced -- this includes all of my riding in BC, as well as nearby Blackrock. Speaking of Blackrock, it would be hard not to compare these trails to Bonsai Downhill, its flagship flow trail. Probably the most notable difference between the two is that the trails at Alsea are formed entirely from dirt; in other words, you won't find any wood stunts/sections on these trails. Another nice feature is that the trailheads are very well marked, with signage at every trailhead, and a few boards with an easy to read trail map (.pdf can be found here).

Typical trail signage

A huge shout out to Team Dirt, the BLM, and any other volunteers/donors that helped make this new ride area possible. The first phase is amazing, and based on turnout/feedback from opening day, it's going to be very popular. I'm already looking forward to my next visit to the area and can't wait to get Emily and other friends out there to experience it for themselves. I'm also excited about the next phase, which is already being planned; maybe this time I'll actually go out and get my hands dirty to help make it happen!

A typical lap at Alsea Falls (riding up the road and down High Baller & Springboard: