Monday, April 19, 2010

Panther Creek (4.17.10)

The weekend before last, a group of us headed up to the Columbia River Gorge for some much needed playtime. The weather forecast called for 70 degree temps with a slight chance of showers on Saturday and sunny skies on Sunday. After getting a lot of rain lately the forecast encouraged us to stay for the entire weekend and camp out. Essentially the plan would be to boat on Saturday and bike on Sunday. This would give us better weather for biking, and also allow Emily to bike with us since she wasn't able to drive up (with the dogs) until Saturday evening, due to her work schedule.

We waited until Friday before firming up our boating destination since it was hard to tell what the water levels would end up being. When the time finally came, my push was for Panther Creek. I'd been wanting to do this creek for a couple of years, but for some reason it always fell through; levels too low, levels too high, couldn't drum-up interest, etc... It looked like (based on snowmelt) that it would be in at a medium/medium low level of ~300cfs. This was actually good news since no one in our group had run it before, and we knew that it would probably be pretty busy and blind due to a gradient of around 250fpm. After pitching the idea to the others we agreed that if the level held we'd give it a go.

Still in Eugene at this point (and just finishing up work), I scrambled to get my stuff packed to make it to the first meeting place on time, Eric's house in Corvallis. Once there (a few minutes late), Eric, Amanda, Evan and myself packed up and headed towards Tucker Park just outside of Hood River, and our campground for the weekend. On Saturday we would be joined by Dan, Kristin, and Emily, so luckily taking a second car for a shuttle wasn't necessary.

After ~3 hours of driving, talking politics, and describing how we would solve the world's problems, we pulled into the campground around 10pm. After setting up our bedding under stars and headlamps, we all turned in for a good night's sleep to the sound of water flowing down Hood River right beside our campsite.

The next morning I woke up first, took a small walk around the park, did some reading about Panther Creek, and waited for the others to wake up. About an hour later, Evan's tent started to rattle, and soon after that Eric and Amanda climbed out from their abode in the back of Eric's truck. After eating breakfast (eggs and sausage) and setting up the remainder of our camp, we called Dan and Kristin to establish a meeting place in Carson, the closest town to Panther Creek.

They had arrived about 15 minutes before us, so when we got there we quickly fueled up and grabbed some snacks before heading to the takeout. The takeout for Panther is actually the same one used for the "Lower" Wind River run, which you also end up paddling when you do Panther. Since Kristin and Amanda would not be boating, we only needed to show them where the takeout was so they could leave us a car. Once that was done we headed to the put-in. When we got there, I scrambled down to see what the stick gauge on the bridge support was reading, and it was right at 1.8'. (~21") For reference, the internet gauge was reading ~300cfs.

Gettin' geared up at the put-in

The stick gauge on the bridge support (reading 1.8' or ~21")

The internet gauge (reading ~300cfs)

We had decided to only put on for the last ~1.25 miles of Panther Creek since the top section is supposedly long and mellow with minimal action. After changing into our gear, we hauled our boats down to the the creek, jumped in, and headed downstream. Our buddy Shawn had told me that the first major rapid of the run (Raychel's) contained some wood and was a recommend portage, and a long one at that. From my recollection of the conversation, it was ~1/4 mile down from the put-in and the lead-in was also a recommended walk. With this in mind, we proceeded down using extra caution and boat scouting the first series of drops. Once we felt we had gone close to 1/4 mile we also started to incorporate some bank scouting to ensure we didn't drop into the rapid unintentionally, keeping in mind that none of us had done the run before.

The crew running the boogie water above Raychel's

One by one, we boated our way from eddy to eddy downstream wondering if it was the next one in front of us. This went on for certainly longer than our beta had suggested, but finally came to the drop know as "Raychel's", which we guessed was more like a 1/2 mile from the put-in. It should be noted that, at least at this level, we were able to run the lead-in drop and catch a generous eddy on the left at the lip of the drop without issue.

Raychel's actually consists of 3 parts; the first was a choice between three narrow slots, with the left seeming to be the best choice. All three poured into some highly aerated water before spilling over a short slide into a beefy hole, which you'd definitely want to hit straight on and with speed. Once past this hole, the creek forms a small moving pool before running down the final drop, a sliding ledge with some wood in the run-out. Although it appeared that the wood could be avoided (if you were upright and in control) the first two tricky drops, and no room for error, convinced all of us that the long portage was the best choice. The walk around Raychel's was pretty exhausting since you have to walk all 3 parts as well as some of the run-out, so I ate an energy bar and took a short rest before getting back in my boat.

Starting the portage around Raychel's.
These are the entrance slots to the drop.

The entrance slots mark the beginning of Raychel's.

The second tier of Raychel's drops into this large hole.
It should be noted that there is essentially no recovery

time between this and the slots above

Eric back in the water at the end of the portage around Raychel's

The creek below the portage keeps its busy nature and seemed to steepen a tad. With that, we continued our conservative boat and bank scouting where necessary. The next major drop had us run down the left side through some boulders, before forcing us to ferry across to river right to avoid some wood in the left channel and a sieve in the middle of the creek. Once on the right, we all got out to scout the exit drop through a narrow slot against the right wall. Eric also pointed out a good looking boof just to the left of the slot, and decided that would be his line. The rest of us went for the slot with everyone having good lines, including Eric.

The entrance to the slot drop against the right wall

Dan runs the slot drop against the right wall

Evan lines up the same slot

Eric opts for the boof to the left of the slot

Once again we collected in a large eddy below the drop, and then continued downstream through more busy class 3-4 boogie water.

Dan runs a small ledge somewhere on the second half of the run

Eric goes for the boof again

Dan runs some more boogie water on the second part of the run

Eric makes his way down some more boogie water

Soon we came to the longest major rapid of the run. It consisted of a 75 to 100 yard boulder garden that then turns swiftly to the right, before dropping over a ledge with a hole that supposedly gets pretty sticky at high flows. However, at this level the hole was pretty benign.

The lead-in to the long rapid described above

Eric receives beta from Evan for the single longest rapid of the run.
Just out of sight of this photo is where the river breaks hard right

over the ledge with the hole (described above)

Dan in the middle of the long boulder garden

After this long drop, we scouted a few more including one with a hole that fed into an undercut boulder (and some wood) on the right. At first I didn't like the look of it and began to portage, but as I was walking down I could hear the others discussing a boof in the middle of the ledge that would make a pretty good line. I hadn't even noticed it at first, (obviously getting tired at this point) and after watching Eric grease it, I decided to join the others and give it a go. We all ended up having good lines on this one and no one came close to the hazards on the right.

Eric lines up the boof at the drop with the undercut on the right

Not far after this, the Wind River came into view. We had reached the confluence! In contrast with the steep, low volume run we had just done, the Wind had significantly more water and it took a little bit to get used to the push and large hydraulics. After some fun warm-up we came to the first big drop, The Flume. I have run the Lower Wind at low summer flows and was used to The Flume being a steep, somewhat trashy boulder drop. Although still fun at that level, it had no resemblance to the drop that was now in front of us. Basically, the water funnels down into a large exploding wave-hole about halfway through. After a brief scout, we all charged through, each hitting the hole and busting through upright. It was a hell of a ride, and one of the most fun drops I've run in awhile.

The entrance to The Flume on the Lower Wind (Photo by Evan Durland)

The author somewhere in The Flume (Photo by Evan Durland)

Only one rapid separates The Flume from the next big daddy, Beyond Limits. At lower water I've run the main line on river right with little effort. However, this level presented a whole new beast, and neither Evan or I wanted any part of it. Eric, however, gave me the double thumbs up to signal he was gonna give 'er. Dan was still contemplating, but I knew that as long as Eric didn't get destroyed he'd also give it a go. Eric walked upsteam and got into his boat to prepare for takeoff. He ferried into the main current and as he approached the lip he quickly turned and eddied out about 10 yards above the drop to get a closer look at the massive hole. After a few minutes of scouting he was back in his boat, took a couple of deep breaths (which I could see from the opposite shore), and dropped in. Due to the steepness of the ledge, he was able to build up quite a bit of speed and busted through without even slowing down. Elated, he paddled over to the left hand eddy below the drop. Now it was Dan's turn. He entered the drop in a similar fashion, but flew down the tongue with a little more of a left angle. This small adjustment allowed the hole to grab his bow and and pull him in toward the left and stickiest part of the hole. After getting surfed for a quick moment, it launched him into the air into a complete 360 before letting him go upside down. After snapping off a roll he joined Eric in the eddy below. Although he was glad to rodeo out of the hole, he also voiced frustrations with his line.

Eric blasts through the hole at Beyond Limits

Video of Eric's Line

Video of Dan's Line

Soon after leaving Beyond Limits, Shipherds Falls came into view. Basically, it is a series of four ledges with the first two tiers waterfalls, the third a slide, and the last a lowhead dam. At anything other than low summer flows these become unrunnable, and would be a suicide mission, with the terminal hole formed by the dam being the nail in the coffin. Wisely, we shouldered our boats and made the long portage around them. All excitement is not lost however, for to shorten the portage, a 25 to 30 foot throw & go allows you to do a little cliff jumpin' after throwing your gear off.

The author contemplates the jump below Shipherds Falls
(Photo by Evan Durland)

Once we had all jumped and collected our gear, we headed down the last mile or so of class 2 water before reaching the takeout. We had actually planned to meet Kristin and Amanda at 4pm at BZ Corner for a quick run down the Middle White Salmon, but unfortunately it was already 5pm, and by the time we loaded up and headed over there it probably would've been a little late for putting on. With that, we called the girls to cancel the plans, and instead all headed back to camp for the evening.

I must say, Panther Creek is definitely one of my favorite runs in the Columbia River Gorge, I only wish it ran more often. It reminds me a lot of the Miracle Mile (on the NFMF Willamette) and Upper Brice Creek--steep, tight, continuous boulder gardens. We'll surely be making a trip back.

Once back at camp, and soon after starting a fire and eating dinner, Emily showed up with the dogs. After time spent chatting around the fire, we once again climbed into our bed rolls and prepared for some mountain biking at Syncline the following day.

To be continued...

Some head-cam footy of a more recent trip at higher flow (~500cfs) and snowing:

1 comment:

  1. Great Day, great times, great people and a great pair of runs. Two polar opposites in just a matter of hours. I can't wait to get back.