Monday, January 31, 2011

Christy Creek (1.29.11)

After our scouting mission into Christy Creek the week before (report here), we had hoped it would drop into the sweet spot in the next couple of weeks so we could enjoy the fruits of our labor. During our scout, the level was around 2ft on the bridge gauge just below the confluence with the NFMF Willamette. My guess was that the best level would be around 1 1/4 feet on the gauge, and my mid-week it had already dropped lower than this. By Friday it became clear that it would probably be under a foot, so I wasn't sure if it was going to be worth the effort or not. I decided to give Shawn a ring to get his thoughts. After a brief discussion we decided that even though it would probably be a little low, it would be better than too high for the first run down that we had heard about in years. Plus, the snow levels were high right now which would allow us to drive all the way to the start of the hike at the canyon rim, typically only possible in early fall or late spring.

After hanging up with Shawn I made calls to the crew and assembled a small team. When all was said and done, we would have Roman Androsov, Chris Arnold, Shawn Haggin, and myself; a perfectly sized group for this type of mission. The reason I say mission is based on the character of Christy: a tough hike in, committing class V nature, really big drops, and the potential for laborious portages. We set a meeting time for 9am which we thought would give us the time we needed to complete what was sure to be an adventure.

Saturday morning rolled around and I was awoken (at 6:30am) by a text from Chris that read: "I'm in Eugene now. I will pick you up. Going to eat. Text me when you get up".
Not quite ready to rub the sleep out of my eyes, I fell back asleep for an hour so, then a call came in from Chris: "Hey I'm in your driveway, get up!" After I showered and loaded up my gear, we headed off to meet the others at the DQ in Pleasant Hill. Once we had our team we caravanned to the takeout to check the level and get changed into our boating attire.

Checkpoint DQ

Once we got to the takeout we confirmed on the gauge that we had just under a foot, we hoped that it wouldn't be too trashy. As for the weather, the forecast called for a chance of showers, but the sky was only partly cloudy and we crossed our fingers hoping it would remain that way for the remainder of our trip. After changing, we fired-up the GPS to guide us to the clear-cut where we would begin our ~700ft vertical descent, and ~1/3rd of a mile, into the canyon and our put-in for Christy. Once we reached our destination via car, we made our last minute preparations before starting our hike; it was now 11:30am.

Our level for the day, ~11" on the bridge gauge.
(for the online gauges, see my correlation chart at the
end of my trip report for The Miracle Mile, found here)

Gearing up at the start of the hike

The map overview of our run

I had gotten beta that it was best to hike on the downstream side of the clear-cut and in the forest a bit for the easiest way down. Further, this would also put you at the bottom of a steep/trashy class V that would probably need to be portaged anyways. I can't speak to this route being easier, but what I can tell you is the one we took was a bitch, but to be honest, I'm not sure there is anyway around it. It was essentially a mix of shouldering/dragging the boat for the mellower pitches, lowering it for the steeper ones, and even butt sliding for the steepest. We only had to use a rope once which was actually the very last pitch before the creek, which was a welcome sight indeed. By the time we reached Christy, it was between 12:15 & 12:30pm, and time for a short break before starting our descent of the river.

The start of the hike

Getting steeper

Roman snakes his way through the tree prison

Finally the creek was in view.
Unfortunately it was also really steep right here.

Immediately above us was an extremely steep and trashy looking boulder drop. This must have been the one I was told about and I was glad to be below it. Downstream did not look nearly as steep, but was also quite trashy. Once again we hoped for the best and looked forward to the bigger drops downstream.

Looking up at the trashy class V from our put-in

Looking downstream into the unknown from our put-in

After everyone was in their boats and in the water, we headed downstream into the unknown. After some low volume boat bashing the walls gorged up slightly and we got out to scout a pair of small ledges. The first required you to drop between two mid-stream boulders or go left around them; the right was blocked with wood. A fast moving pool followed this before dropping over the second ledge, a diagonal pile coming off the right wall. The first drop looked OK, but the second had a piton rock to smash against if you didn't drive correctly into the pillow. Not wanting to have issues this early in the trip, we all decided to portage.

The walls starting to gorge up a bit

The first tier of the double ledge drop

The first tier of the double ledge drop.
Note the flake on the left that convinced
us to walk (it looked worse in person).

Directly below this was another ledge, and much taller than the other two, probably dropping about 10ft to 12ft total. Unfortunately this one also looked like a no-go due to its piton/pin potential and a rather nasty sieve on the left side. I'm not sure if this one would be better at higher flow or not. The run-out to the ledge consisted of more boulder bashing which we also decided to carry. I chose to run the last little bit, but didn't make it look good.

The trashy 10 to 12 foot ledge.
Note the sieve on river-left side.

The junk below the above ledge

Now sitting in the eddy with the others, Chris (who was on shore) signaled that the next drop was clean, which was a fun little slide. Below here were more small boulder gardens, but they were a little cleaner than the stuff above. Before too long the river turned sharply to the left and out of sight.

Shawn finishes up the fun little slide

Roman drops in

Chris eddies out just below the slide

More in-between boulder gardens

Chris, who had once again jumped out to scout for us, said that the drop below was pretty trashy but runnable, you make the choice. Both Roman and Shawn decided to go off of verbals, while I jumped out to take a look and snap some photos. After the entrance drop the creek dropped through an impressively steep boulder garden, which looked fairly clean, except for what appeared to be a mid-stream sieve toward the bottom. Wanting to inspect further before dropping in, I hiked downstream (river-left) to do so. At this point both Roman and Shawn, who were on the opposite side, also got out to scout. After a closer look the sieve looked kinda nasty, plus the runout below it looked pinny as well.

Looking around the corner into the class V boulder garden

Looks pretty good from here

Great, a midstream sieve...

The second part of the boulder garden below the sieve

Chris, who was now sitting in the eddy next to me and just above the sieve, asked what the line was. Not wanting to send him near the hazard, I told him it would be best to walk or at least take a look for himself. While he was doing that, I went back up to start hauling my boat down. I was now convinced that this was the big boulder garden just above Rhinosex that I had read and heard about. Even though the portage was a bit strenuous, I was glad that it was actually portagable and not cliffed out like I had imagined. While hiking down with my boat I could see that Shawn and Roman were also carrying around the drop, but on the opposite side. As I put-in below the boulder garden, Shawn and Roman were roping their boats down back down to the water; apparently they had gotten cliffed-out. Luckily getting back down for them wasn’t too tough and they were soon back in the water.

Looking back upstream at the class V boulder garden

Now the only thing separating us from Rhinosex was a short class III stretch and a small eddy on river left above the drop. We all made it into the eddy with little effort and got out of our boats to scout the infamous drop. Upon inspection, the drop didn’t look all that bad, and was actually one of the cleaner looking drops of the run so far. It was a two tier ledge with the second being a clean ~10’ boof, as long as you were center or right of center. The problem was that it was somewhat shallow and also sluffed off to the left and into somewhat of a crack. Further, the entrance drop looked like it would be tough to come out of in control, or even right side up for that matter. That said, going over the bottom part upside-down could have serious consequences, and has in the past. Starting to feel a little pressured for time, none of us gave the drop a serious consideration and made the relatively easy portage on river-left.

The lead-in to Rhinosex. The first part (bottom of
the photo) is the last drop of the boulder garden

Roman studies the entrance to Rhinosex

Rhinosex from below

Shawn and Chris making the easy portage

Below Rhinosex were a couple more small/chunky boulder drops before making a sharp left bend and generous eddy above a massive horizon line, Balls Falls. This particular drop was the one that I had been interested in and excited to run. It was huge looking at it from water level and quite intimidating. The first tier dropped over a ~25ft tall slide/waterfall. This was followed by a fast run-out into ~5ft ledge/hole. Then, the outflow from this split around a midstream boulder and dropped another 10ft or so, and into the pool below. Climbing high up on the left bank we gave it about as good as a scout as you could. However, from this perspective (high up and looking straight down), it was hard to judge how sticky the 5’ ledge hole was or if the last tier was clean. Based on that, we decided it would be best to run the first 25’er and eddy out above the other two drops in the large eddy on river-right. Both Chris and Shawn decided that they would go first while I setup for some photos and Roman watched their lines from our initial scouting perch.

Chris went first. After peeling out of the eddy just above the drop, he ferried hard to river-right and dropped over the slide/waterfall on that side. He slid down with impressive speed and hit the kicker perfectly landing flat and peeling into the eddy below as planned. He later told me that he felt like he was going to smash his head against the overhanging log on his way down the slide; luckily it’s high enough out of the water. Shawn, who came down immediately after, had started a little higher up above a small boulder entrance ,which he did to get enough speed and line up properly for the drop. This worked well and he ran the it in similar fashion, eddying out below next to Chris.

Chris hits the kicker at Balls Falls

Chris eddies out below the 25'er

It was now my turn. I did not like the entrance that Shawn had taken since getting bobbled coming out of it could have serious consequences on the drop below. Instead, I decided to use the same eddy/approach that Chris had used, and was the one I had planned from the get-go. Before getting into my boat I looked over the edge one more time to firm up my line in my head. While doing so I got the signal from Shawn to eddy out, as they had below. Obviously they had seen something that probably needed further inspection before running. As I climbed into my boat and strapped in, I remember having a nervous energy come over me as I looked over at the earth dropping out of sight. This was going to be exciting! Once I had channeled my energy, I peeled out of the eddy and into the current, driving (as Chris had) toward river right. As I dropped over the slide and picked up speed I didn't have enough right angle when I hit the kicker, so I was funneled by it back to the center of the drop's landing zone. This didn’t end up being too big of a problem other than taking some extra effort to get into the eddy. Also, I was hoping to get some good airtime off the kicker...oh well, no second chances on this one. Some head-cam footage of my line can be seen in the video at the end of this trip report.

Next, it was Roman’s turn to give it a go. From my location I could not see him enter the drop, but Chris (who could) shouted that he was coming down. Unlike the rest of us, he decided to run the drop a little more left to avoid getting deflected off line by the kicker. Running the drop in this way allowed him to stay left for the bottom two tiers, which he did with fantastic lines. At the last minute, I was able to bring my camera into position and get off some shots as he ran the series of drops known as Balls Falls.

Roman drops into Balls Falls


Roman taking the preferred left line
at the bottom (at least at this level)

With Roman now sitting below, Shawn and I walked to the 2nd and 3rd tiers where Chris had been setting safety. Now with a closer view of the right side of the bottom drop, we could see that it had a potential piton hazard or even the possibility of a vertical pin. In order to avoid this hazard you would need to have a near perfect line driving off the hard left side of the slot, which would be very difficult coming out of the ledge/hole directly above. Since, from our eddy, it would have been almost impossible to get to river-left to run the last two tiers (Roman’s line), we decided to portage the remainder of the drop. I was able to confirm since this trip that a friend did in fact piton on a previous run in this spot.

Balls Falls (the whole enchilada)

A little bit more energized after running Balls, we continued downstream. We had a couple more small ledge drops before reaching the next major drop, Snake Bite. This two part slide drops more than 30’ (in elevation) with a pretty big hole at the bottom. When we looked at this drop during our scouting mission (the week before), it had twice the water and the hole was a lot beefier. We actually watched a log, that Shawn threw in, get worked for about 60 seconds before spitting out. At our current flow, I was confident that I could hit the line and have enough speed to break through. Basically, you just didn’t want to go down the slide sideways, backwards, or upside-down. The only real obstacle to hitting the line was a large diagonal pile waiting to prey on unprepared boaters by knocking them off line. Since the top tier was blocked by a large sieve, as well as piton/pin rocks in the only sane line around it, we opted to put-in just below it and run the main part of the drop. Since it did have a nasty hole, Chris had setup a rope ready to pull anyone out that got bit by the snake.

Chris sets safety at the meaty hole at the base of Snake Bite

I went first. As I pulled out of the eddy with my bow pointed upstream, I ferried to river center to setup. As I let my bow swing back round to ten-o’clock I drove at the diagonal pile and prepared for impact. As I braced against the pillow it straightened me back out and down the slide, although a little more center than I would have liked. After building up some speed on the way down, I pulled my bow up and climbed over the hole and past the backwash. My boat actually went into a slight back ender as it hit the meat, but luckily I was able to keep 'er down and moving forward. My line on Snake Bite can be seen in the second part of the video below.

Soon after, Shawn came down and had an excellent line, staying far right at the bottom and the soft part of the hole; this was actually the line I was trying for. Now that Shawn was sitting safely below the drop, I traded in my cameraman hat for a throw bag, to relieve Chris of his duty and allow him to run the drop. As he was hiking back up to his boat, Roman came through. He easily punched through the hole at the bottom, with a line similar to the one I had. Chris’s line ended up being a bit different than everyone else. As he came into the pile, he blasted completely through, setting him up on the left side of the slide and toward the stickiest part of the hole. I quickly reached for my throwbag as he made his way down the slide. Without even slowing down, he drove through hole and made the dynamic move into the left-hand eddy with style. Nice!

Shawn sets up nicely off the pillow

Shawn lining up for the right (soft) side of the hole

Shawn bustin' through

Even though we had now made it through a majority of the big stuff, we weren't even halfway and we only had an hour of light left. Feeling the pressure we pushed on, knowing that we did have one or two more drops that may have a need to be scouted and/or portaged. It didn’t take long before we reached such a drop. I had remembered this one from our scouting mission. There were a couple of boof or slot options to enter the drop, but at the bottom you wanted to be left to avoid a nasty sieve. I watched as both Shawn and Roman crashed down the left side having questionable lines over the drop. Since I couldn’t see their line below that, and Chris (who had scouted) didn’t indicate things had gone bad, I assumed it probably still went, even with the lower water level. At this point Chris called me into the eddy below me on the right. When I pulled in, he mentioned that the drop was pretty trashy but was probably fine based on the others' lines. Plus, from the eddy, we had a better approach than they did. After watching Chris run the drop with a much cleaner line, I peeled out and headed for the targeted left side. I rounded the sharp corner and hit the boof rock as needed; however, I was instantly chalked against a rock just under the surface of the water. I was wedged pretty good, but after about 60 seconds of aggressively rocking back and forth I was able to free myself. By this time Chris was already out of his boat and running upstream to get to me. It’s good to see your buddies are on the ball when things start to go wrong.

The ledge that momentarily pinned me after taking
the hard river-left line off the small rock boof (photo taken during our scouting trip at ~double the flow)

This drop immediately fed into a class IV+/V- boulder garden, complete with a log in the exit blocking part of the left side. At this level the drop was a little chunky, so we all decided to put-in below the entrance and run the last part. Soon we were all sitting safely below the drop and above a series of low angle slides. Since the water was fairly low they were somewhat scrapey, but the holes were friendly allowing easy passage through each one. I’m sure they would have been a lot of fun with more water, but some of the holes probably get a little exciting too.

The last class V boulder garden (top of photo)
followed by the series of slides (photo taken
our scouting trip at ~double the flow)

The slides soon gave way to boogie water that almost had enough water to entertain, however it could have used some more padding. To be honest, at this point we just wanted to be back at the car and it was a race to the finish to beat the impending darkness. After passing a campsite on our right we knew we only had about a mile of class II riffles before the confluence with the NFMF Willamette and our takeout. Once the bridge came into view, calmness and unspoken celebration came over the group. Even with our rather late start we had completed our mission before darkness, but we only had about ½ hour left.

The boogie water below the slides
(photo taken during our scouting trip at ~double the flow)

Beers were opened as we changed back into our street gear and talked about the day's successes as well as the trials and tribulations. Both Roman and I waited at the takeout while Shawn and Chris drove back up to retrieve the other car. The sky grew darker and darker as I jogged in place to stay warm; it had been a long but successful day…

Dusk sets on our adventure

In conclusion:
I’m glad we made the effort and committed to run Christy, the big drops were really good. I would say that ~50% more water would have been nice, which aligns with my original analysis after our scouting mission last week at high water (~100% more). That would put the sweet spot roughly between 15” and 18” on the bridge gauge. That said, I see this being a small window since the big drops (the main reason for going in there) form huge hydraulics at water levels much higher than this. Furthermore, eddies would start getting pretty tight above some of the other drops, and you would want to be on your game. At the level we had, there were just too many drops ruined by FU rocks in critical spots; basically there was just a lot of junk to deal with.

As for difficulty, I would rate it a solid class V adventure and not one for the timid, since the commitment is high and a hike out would be torturous. I had been told (and originally thought) that some of the bigger drops were unportageable; however it’s always possible, it’s just a matter of how much you want to suffer, and it may be more dangerous than just running them. The hike in is also difficult, and the 700’ descent requires good foot work, endurance, and a little bit of masochism.

Would I go back? Sure, but not anytime soon and the level would need to fall into the sweet spot. I’m sure that next time we will be able to make much better time, as long as another flood/snow event doesn’t threaten to rearrange stuff again. Hopefully this also gives you an idea on whether or not you want to venture into Christy Creek. For now I’ll just stick with the memories of this trip…

Follow-up (5.1.11):
Surprisingly I made the decision to run Christy Creek again this season. We had much nicer flow which made the run that much better. This time we had around 15" on the bridge gauge at the takeout. As for the internet gauges we had 3.7' on the gauge at Westfir, and 1,600cfs using Pat Welch's correlation gauge.

Some head-cam footage of my line on both Balls Falls and Snake Bite:

The head-cam footage of our second run on Christy Creek:

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