After an extended email thread on what to boat on Saturday, we decided on two options: 1) Lake Creek Slides/Sweet Creek combo, or 2) Hills Creek/Miracle Mile combo. We ended up choosing the latter. Since we would have boaters traveling from both the Portland and Corvallis area, I wanted to make sure we got in as much boating as possible to justify the drive for them, plus I wanted to show them some good whitewater in the Upper Willamette drainage. From Portland/Vancouver we had Stephen Cameron, Chris Arnold, and Pete Giordano. From the Corvallis area we had Jacob Cruser and Jesse Coombs. I had boated with everyone on the list at least once except for Jacob. I was looking forward to boating with him since he also has a blog documenting his boating adventures (mostly in the PNW), which can be found here.
We first decided to go check out Hills Creek and get in a run on that before heading to the Miracle Mile for a few laps. However, once we got there and scouted the main drop, we thought it looked pretty junky and decided maybe a better bet would be the seldom run Salmon Creek Gorge, not far away and back toward the town of Oakridge.
Salmon Creek Gorge should not be confused with The Salmon River Canyon run, which flows into the Sandy River (Columbia River Gorge), and is exponentially more difficult (and I've not done). The reason I mention this is due to the questions I get when mentioning the run featured in this write-up.
As for flows, the best internet gauge is Pat Welch's correlation, which can be found here. Supposedly this gauge has some accuracy issues, but can give you a rough idea (along with recent weather) of whether the creek is running or not. According to the Oregon Kayaking write-up here, you want at least 400cfs on this gauge. We had ~500 to 550cfs which correlated to a solid medium flow (see the following). For further reference, the Miracle Mile was just over one foot on the bridge gauge, which was after a rain event.
On the drive, we decided to only run the first 1 ½ miles, which makes up the gorge section and is rated at IV/IV+. You can extend this run down to Salmon Creek Falls (and beyond), but you have to deal with some miles of relatively flat water and the falls really aren’t that great (in my opinion). With that, we dropped off my car at NF 2408 bridge, and drove up the road a short distance (~1.5 miles) to the put-in, which required a short scramble down to the creek. Once we had geared up, we bushwhacked down and put on just below a river-wide log and the start of the gorge. I had only done this run once before so I was excited to get reacquainted with what was downstream, especially with a little more water this time.
As soon as we made a sharp right bend (a couple hundred yard downstream), we were faced with the first rapid, a class III that ran along a moss covered cliff wall on the left. The drop was pretty straight forward, but it did have some wood to contend with. Basically, a large log spanned river-wide but was broken in the middle which allowed passage over the top at that point. Once below this we immediately eddied out above the next drop and the biggest one of the gorge, "Holy Terror".
Holy Terror is a fairly long and complex boulder garden, especially with the miscellaneous pieces of wood scattered throughout. The drop gets its name from the large holes that form when levels are high. We had a solid medium flow so they weren’t too bad, but the drop as a whole still feels pretty big. I actually got out at the top of the drop and walked about halfway down to scout and take some photos of the rest of the group. Most people eddy hopped down and either waited for beta or just ran the drop. The wood situation was pretty avoidable but a couple of strong moves were required to run the drop cleanly. There were also a couple of line options near the bottom (and steepest) part of the drop. The first was right down the middle which included a log limbo and some hole avoidance/punching. The second was to ferry over to river left just above the limbo, catch an eddy on that side, then head back to the middle to finish the drop.
After watching most of the crew run the drop, I headed up for my turn. Not liking the middle line I decided to go for the left eddy. As I ferried across I was tripped up by some squirrely current which threw me into a deep low brace; for a few moment I thought I was going over but was able to pull it out and eddy out next to the log limbo as planned. From here, I moved back to the center with a boof over a small ledge & through some pushy hydraulics before being deposited in the pool below.
The next drop (just below) was a fun little ledge with an easy move on the right, which we all greased without issue. There was a deep pocket on the left side which probably could have provided some nice rodeo action, but none of us decided to venture there.
Just like above, the drops just kept coming in quick succession. The next major one was a multi-staged drop that started off where the creek pinched down the right side of the riverbed over a 4' to 5' ledge into a small hole; from here the rapid continued a short distance before resting above the second largest (and last) single drop of the gorge.
Once again, multiple line options and some wood presented themselves. The hero line was against the right side and through the meat, which some of the group chose. I took a more conventional line of working toward the center and finishing on the right, which was still plenty exciting.
After the last drop in the gorge it was a fairly short distance through class II/II+ drops back to the car. The sun started to poke through the clouds which generated the needed motivation to head to The Mile for some more boating. On the way, a couple of us picked up a burger (a.k.a. rectum rockets) from DQ for some extra fuel in the tank.
In summary, Salmon Creek Gorge is a high quality run in the Middle Fork Willamette watershed which should certainly be on every local boater’s radar. It’s even worth a long drive (e.g. from Portland) if you combine it with another run like we did. It would even be fun to do on its own with multiple laps. It should be noted that there was a ton of wood on the banks and in some of the drops. There was one spot that may warrant a portage depending on level, but it was in a class II drop so it wasn’t much of an issue; even with all of the wood, all of the major drops had clean lines available. That said, this could change at any time, so be careful about dropping into something blind. For this reason alone, I wouldn’t recommend that tentative class III/IV boaters or people that have a strong fear of wood (as I once did) venture through the gorge at this time.