Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Panther Creek (12.18.10)

White Pan.ther
noun \ˈpan(t)-thər\
1 : a white specimen of any of several species of larger cat. "Panther" is used in some parts of North America to mean the Cougar (Puma concolor), in South America to mean the Jaguar (Panthera onca) and elsewhere it refers to the Leopard (Panthera pardus). A white panther may therefore be a white cougar, a white jaguar or a white leopard. Of these, white leopards appear to be the most common, although still very rare.

2 : a wintertime run down Panther Creek, Washington

After failed attempts to put together a day of local boating (Eugene area), I called my buddies up north to see what plans were forming. After talking with Chris, it looked like Panther Creek was the most likely option, based on water levels. I had done Panther once before, but the water was low(ish) and since none of us had done the run before it took us awhile to get down. The other difference between the previous trip and this one was the weather; last time we were treated to partly cloudy skies and relatively warm temps (for mid-April), compared to the falling snow and white covered banks we would encounter this time. A trip report of the previous adventure can be found here, and since I’ve already described the run in that report, this one will be more about the conditions.

Since, once again, I couldn’t find anyone else to paddle with in our area I was forced to make the drive north by myself. The one good thing about this was that I was able to make good time and reached the meeting spot, Lewis & Clark State Park, in record time (1 hour, 45 minutes); heck, I even beat the Portland folks there! Chris had originally thought we would have a really large crew, but it turned into a much more reasonable size with five of us. Our group consisted of Chris Arnold, Stephen Cameron, Eric Arlington, Paul (last name?), and myself. I had paddled many times with everyone but Paul and this would be the first time we had all boated together. We not so quickly loaded all 5 boats on my car and headed into the Gorge and toward Panther. After about ten miles on I-84, the sky started to dump rather large snowflakes and the ground stared getting covered white in a quick fashion. These conditions would continue for a majority of the day.

We first dropped off Stephen’s car at the takeout before heading to the put-in. By the time we reached the put-in there were already a couple inches of snow on the ground. I often get asked “how do you guys not freeze on the river during the winter?!”. I’ve actually asked myself this on a couple of occasions, but in the end, it’s all about good gear, and a drysuit is pure heaven (and I would somewhat argue necessary) on days like today. I’m actually amazed at how warm you can stay, especially if you’re properly hydrated and don’t have an empty stomach. Another good piece of gear is either pogies or gloves, I really can’t stand either and usually shed them halfway through the run, as I did on this trip.

The crew gears up at the takeout...

...and unloads at the put-in

A quick inspection of the level read 2.3’ on the stick gauge. This corresponds to just over 500cfs found on the internet gauge, here. This was almost double the flow I had my first time down, which made it nicer from that perspective.

The water level for the day, ~500cfs.

I was the last person to put on and after doing so we all headed downstream at a rapid (pun intended) pace. It definitely helped having people that knew the run, which allowed us to make quick time. I was definitely not boating my best and actually had to roll in an innocuous drop right near the beginning. I was also bouncing off of rocks here and there; this lack of boating prowess can be witnessed in the head-cam footage at the end of this write-up.

Looking downstream from the put-in bridge

Before too long, we all eddied out at the lip of Raychel’s, the largest drop on Panther. This three-part drop requires precise boat handling and I certainly wasn’t feeling it. Stephen was the only one that fired-up the first tier, which he did with style. He got a little bobbled going into the second but recomposed and busted through nicely. The others decided to run the third part, but I just didn’t like the look of the wood/rock sieve combo, and decided to portage it as well. Everyone else had good lines and I rejoined them below after an exciting seal launch into the runout of this last drop.

Scouting the first drop of Raychel's

Stephen gives 'er on the first tier...

...then busts through the second

Portaging the top part of Raychel's

Chris fires up the third tier

Below Raychel's, Panther picks up a bit and I was feeling a little more in control. This was good, since the continuous nature and 250’/mile gradient meant that a missed line could compound, sending you out of control where you don’t want to be--reactionary boating at its finest. As we leapfrogged down, catching eddies here and there along the banks and behind rocks, I got a feeling from the others that no one was really in a flow and things just weren’t clicking. Luckily we had a solid crew so we still proceeded downstream without too much difficulty, just more frustrations than anything.

Soon we reached the second major drop of the run, a boulder garden with a couple of ledges at the bottom. After we all gave it a scout our crew came down one-by-one. I hung out near the bottom to get photos of both Chris and Stephen as they came by. While waiting, I was actually able to look around a bit and realized how beautiful the creek looked with the rocks and trees covered in a blanket of snow. This, along with the large falling snowflakes, really contrasted with the brightly colored boats and boaters as they soon appeared in the distance; it was a pretty surreal sight! The crux move of this drop was definitely toward the bottom where you had to make a hairpin turn around a large boulder on the right side of the creek. We all made it through in one manner or another and reconvened in a large eddy below the entirety of the drop.

Stephen enters the boulder garden

Stephen making the tough move

Lining up the first of the bottom ledges

Chris drops through the first of the bottom ledges


Chris on the final ledge of the drop

From here, it was pretty straight forward boogie water all the way to the Lower Wind confluence, with a couple of poorly placed fallen trees that were more of a nuisance than anything else. Once we reached the Wind, I paddled to shore to take a couple quick shots of the steams converging; once again the snow made for a breathtaking view.

Looking back up at the Wind/Panther confluence

As I stated in my last report, going from Panther to the Wind is quite a study in contrasts. Some of the hydraulics on the Wind were pretty big, but were also easy to avoid (if you chose to). As we were carried down the river I started thinking about The Flume, the next big (and friendly) drop on the run. It would be almost impossible to run this drop without a huge smile on your face at the bottom. Basically, line it up down the tongue on center-left and hang on through the monstrous crashing waves! As a perk, there was a cascading waterfall dropping into the pool below, once again setting up a spectacular backdrop.

Paul lines up The Flume

Paul in the entrance to The Flume

Eric braces for impact on the massive bottom wave/hole

Chris in the thick of it

The Flume from far below + a nice waterfall coming
in off the left bank (right side of the picture).

Beyond Limits, just around the corner, was not appealing to me at this level, and I quickly shouldered my boat while the others pondered the line. As I made my way along the rocks and passed them, they indicated to me that no one was feelin’ it, so safety didn’t need to be set. Eric had been there the day before when it was slightly higher, and he said it actually had a better line going through it, which they ran. All I know is that it’s a huge hydraulic both times I've run Panther and come across it.

Looking down into Beyond Limits

Beyond Limits from below

The crew makes the wise
portage around Beyond Limits

From here we had some more read and run drops before our next portage, a big one around Shepherds Falls. On one of the drops before the falls I was running hard left and got knocked off line by a hole/crashing wave, which sent me into and under a log coming off the bank. The rest of the crew watched in horror, but luckily I came through clean and rolled up on the other side. It was definitely sketchy and just another reminder that bad things can happen when you get complacent, even during the in-between stuff.

Shepherds Falls was about as scary and magnificent as I remember it being at high water. Although we run these series of falls during the summer months while the water is low, at this level it would be suicide. A couple of us talked about how, even though you would never plan on running it, you still catch yourself looking for a line and pondering the beat down you would be served for trying such an act…

Shepherds Falls in all its glory

The bottom tier of Shepherds. It's enough to send shivers up your spine.

Winter flow (scary)...

...Summer flow (fun as hell)

Chris drops the first tier at Shepherds during a summer run

Dan Dellwo gets some

Stephen on the second tier at summer flow

We created a bucket line to shuttle our boats up the cliff wall and over to the diving board area for the ol’ throw & go. I must say, I’m not a huge fan of cliff jumping, especially into water that I can’t see below the surface. It does however add some additional excitement to the day. I was the last to jump, and unfortunately while spotting my landing on the way down, my whistle smashed me in the cheek on impact, giving me a nice battle wound. This was a small price to pay for another great and memorable day on the water.

The crew saddles up after the throw and go

The sun sets and the moon rises
after another great day of boating

We made quick work of the remaining stretch of river between the falls and the takeout. After reflecting on the day we grabbed the cars and headed to Stephenson for some Mexican food and cold beers. Once we had gotten our fill, we parted ways and I started my dark and lonely drive back to Eugene. It was a full day, and it convinced me to sit at home and just relax on Sunday, something I haven’t done in a long while…

The head-cam footy of the run:

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