Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hagen Gorge (1.15.11)

Based on the small window and frequency that Hagen Gorge actually comes in, it had eluded me for a couple of years now. Occasionally, it would play with my emotions by coming in during the week (while I'm working), or when I was already tied up with other plans. It even went as far as taunting me up there with the potential for good flow, only to have my dreams squashed by its dark sense of humor. At least during that event, we were able to run the NF Washougal on its own, which provided more than its fair share of fun and excitement (trip report here).

Finally, the time had come. It was Friday, and after seeing that the level would probably drop into the sweet spot for Saturday, I called my buddy Nate in Portland to see if he was interested in showing a couple of mid-Willamette valley boys down the run. He confirmed that flows should be good and graciously agreed. From here, it didn't take long to gather the local crew for a drive north (I threw around the words "supposedly classic" a lot).

Saturday morning, Shawn Haggin, Roman Androsov, Joe Bushyhead, and I headed out of Eugene toward the Skamania Fish Hatchery, on the NF Washougal. About halfway up the I-5 it started to rain, which wasn't supposed to happen until later in the day. Hagen was sitting at a really good level and the concern was that it could go sky high from the big storm that was forecasted to give us a real pounding. We soon arrived at the hatchery, where the rain continued to pour. Not about to get skunked again, I was determined to put on regardless of level. Once Nate arrived, we headed to the upper takeout for Hagen, a bridge crossing over the NF not far below Crack in the Earth Falls. It should be noted that the fish hatchery itself can also be used as a takeout, but this adds some miles and we weren't sure we'd have enough daylight. After the car was dropped off at the bridge, we headed to the put-in to start our hike into the creek. This hike consisted of bushwhacking through a clear-cut before dropping down a slope into the forest and toward the creek. I would guess it probably took 15 minutes total, and wasn't too bad.

We had ~4,800cfs on the "Washougal @ Hathaway"
gauge. Notice how it was starting to spike when we
were on it. It eventually reached ~25,000cfs,
joining the rest of the flooding waterways!

Roman and Shawn make their way
down to the creek beyond the clear-cut

When we reached the creek, I was surprised to see how narrow the stream was; the trees and brush also overhung the banks creating quite a tight little corridor. Nate had mentioned that eddies were small for the first little bit and that we should be wary of potential wood. Immediately we encountered a couple of small ledge drops, with the first making a sharp right turn after piling up on a boulder at the base of it. Once past these, the creek continued through class II riffles before pooling up in front of an obvious obstruction, the old wooden dam. It was actually quite cool looking and reminded me a lot of my old Lincoln Log set that I had growing up. Below the dam, the run turned more pool drop with some fun low-stress ledges to boof. The last in the series was river-wide and probably 6' to 8', and as I floated past Nate, he indicated to run it off the left wall about 3 or 4 feet, which I did while putting in a stroke for good measure.

Nate sits in an eddy above the first of a series
of small ledge drops below the wooden dam

Nate running the same ledge with the others now in the eddy

Shawn goes to join the others in an eddy between ledges

After a few more bends in the creek we pulled into a couple of eddies just above where the cliff walls started to gorge up a bit. Nate told us that just downstream was Hagen Daaz, a clean 15'er. Since I wanted to setup for some photos I offered to go first. Before doing so I got the beta on the preferred line as well as the mangle potential. Both sounded manageable so I wasn't too stressed about running it sight unseen. I lined up a couple of feet off the right bank and threw in a boof as advised; after landing I reoriented myself and paddled into the eddy in front of me and beyond the outflow of the falls. It was fun to watch the others pop over the falls like lemmings without scouting as well. There were a couple of interesting lines which resulted in a short stay at the base of the falls, but everyone eventually made it out in their boats. I was able to get off a couple good shots, but the constant rain was making it very difficult to keep my camera dry and the lens clean.

Shawn fires-up Hagen Daaz...

...and gets some nice ender action

Nate lines up the same line on Hagen Daaz

As we continued down below Hagen Daaz, I mentioned to Joe what a great little creek it was. We ran a few more class II/II+ drops before the creek made an s-turn with an overgrown eddy on river right near the bottom of it. As Shawn and I sat in the eddy, we waited for the others to come down. Since it was rather small, Shawn decided to go down and catch the next one below, and just above a sharp left bend. As he did, Nate pulled into the eddy beside me. We both watched Shawn as he floated backwards out of the bottom of the eddy. Nate immediately yelled "he's gonna run Euphoria backwards!" All I knew about the drop was that it was big, and should be scouted. Nate went into hot pursuit and peeled out downstream and was planning to run the drop and go after him. Miraculously, Shawn had caught a micro-eddy on the left just below the entrance to the drop, preventing a high-speed chase. After climbing out of his boat and onto shore he signaled to us that he was okay, we all breathed a little sigh of relief.

Now able to concentrate on the drop itself, we all climbed out of our boats to take a look. Euphoria is big, probably dropping more than 40' as it cascades over a couple of tiers. My first impression was not only was it huge, it also looked kinda trashy, with potential hazards here and there. Nate laughed a little and said, "It really goes much better than it looks. You see that pile of water that looks like it may be a rock? No, just to the left of the obvious piton/pin rock. Just drive straight for it, and trust me, you'll sail right through". Since I know he's not one to just huck himself off any old drop, and his beta had been spot on up until now, I decided it was worth checking out the rest of the drop and maybe giving it a go. Another thing that concerned me about the drop was the wood sitting below it on the left. If you hit your line on the bottom tier it wouldn’t be an issue, but if you didn’t, the outflow fed right into it. Euphoria, as a whole, was certainly not a give-me.

As I was discussing the line with Joe, he seem fired-up to run it and wanted to go first. Not wanting to deprive the man of his wish (and maybe wanting to see how well it went), I offered to set safety. Guided by some beta from Nate, Joe pulled out of the eddy and into the drop. He quickly cleared the entrance bit and dropped down through the slot I was concerned about. Just as described, Joe came through nice and clean and setup perfectly for the bottom part of the drop, which he styled. "Well hell, it looks like it goes!"

It was now my turn, and I waited for the signal from Shawn (who was still on the opposite shore) that safety was set. After navigating the short entrance, I dropped into the main part of the drop with a left angle and straight for precarious-looking slot. What followed was complete whiteout as I continued to drop down the slide. Once I hit the slack stuff between tiers, I regained sight and drove hard right to finish on that side. I was able to get in the strokes I needed and safely pulled into the eddy below the drop next to Joe. What a great drop! I was glad that Nate had convinced me to run it, and yes, it goes much better than it looks. Knowing that Nate was also planning to run it, I ferried over to river-left to set safety at the log and snap some pictures. Looking back up at the drop from this perspective, it looked huge! After a short bit I got the signal that Nate was in the water and prepared for takeoff. As he came over the first tier he looked tiny against the backdrop. After disappearing for a brief moment in the white, he reappeared and ran the last part of the drop on river-right perfectly, and as planned.

Eric Arlington Runs the first half of Euphoria Falls
(taken on a later trip with a tad less water)

Loft drops over the last pitch of Euphoria Falls
(taken on a later trip with a tad less water)

Not far below Euphoria and after a few more fun ledges we reached the confluence with the NF Washougal, and Teakettle Falls. The additional flow from the NF plus the rain that had been hammering us all day changed the character of the run dramatically. Teakettle, which I had run the last time at lower flow, looked much bigger and more intimidating. Similar to Euphoria, it also had two pitches; however, even though it didn’t drop as much in total elevation it was certainly more powerful, and I didn’t like the couple of holes you had to thread. Since I was having a good day up to this point, and not wanting to ruin that, I made the decision to shoulder my boat around this one. Both Nate and Joe felt good about the line, so the rest of us went down below to set safety and take some shots. Since I was far down below taking pictures, I couldn’t see them running the first pitch, although I did have a good vantage point for the lower. Nate soon came into view and dropped over threading the holes perfectly. Joe came down soon after and little more right, and after disappearing for a brief second he reappeared upright and downstream of the drop.

Nate prepares to thread the holes at the base of Teakettle

Joe drives for the line on the bottom ledge

Kristin lines up perfectly on the bottom ledge of Teakettle Falls
(taken on a later trip with a tad less water)

We were now faced with some really fun boogie water with some nice wave trains and features to play around with. There were a couple of bigger drops but all were clean and super fun. Before long, we reached an eddy above another large horizon line, Crack in the Earth Falls. For some reason I am very drawn to this drop, and both times I’ve been here I've been excited to run it. The line had completely changed from the one I had taken at lower water. The platform I had used to scout the entrance falls the first time was now underwater and provided a whole new (and better) line. Furthermore, the lower drop had a more pronounced hole, and the slot you needed to make it through seemed narrower. After studying it for a few minutes and determining that it was good to go, both Shawn and I both decided to give it, while the others set safety for us in a couple of strategic spots.

Shawn went first and got a good boof off the falls; he landed at the base and ended up being deposited a little further right than I would have wanted. After holding up for a brief moment, he lined up, charged the slot, was flipped, but came through and rolled up without issue below the drop. My understanding is that this is quite common, and looking at the exit would easily suggest this. It was now my turn. Wanting to be a little more left coming away from the waterfall, I lined up for the ledge a couple more feet in that direction. I slid down the shallow entrance, threw in a well-placed boof stroke, made the mid-air left turn, landed, and drove hard for the slot. As I busted through the hydraulic in the narrow exit, I was squirted but able to hold on and come through clean. I was pretty happy with my line and glad I had decided to run it.

The entrance of Crack in the Earth shown at a much lower flow. The
line we used on this trip is just below where they are scouting from!
(taken on a previous trip)

Alex get a nice boof of the top falls of Crack in the Earth
(taken on a later trip with a tad less water)

Loft crashes through the bottom slot, with Logan on camera duty.
(taken on a later trip with a tad less water)

More exciting boogie water separated us from the takeout bridge and our vehicle. Nate warned us about a sticky hole along the way; he said that we needed to run it far right and he would signal when we were upon it. When the time came, Nate yelled “Go right!”, and motioned with his paddle. As I drove hard I could see a diagonal curler at the base and pulled hard to get over it. As I did, I could feel myself stall out a bit and slide sideways toward the center of the river. I dug in with a couple of frantic power strokes and was able to claw my way out. Joe, who was right behind me, ran into the same issue and was briefly surfed before working his way out.

We soon reached our takeout and relaxed while gushing about how great of a run we had just done. This is easily one of my favorite runs in the Columbia River Gorge, following closely behind The Little White & The Green Truss. As for levels, I thought it was about perfect for the whole run, especially Hagen; everything was nice and clean but nothing was too pushy. The bottom hole in Teakettle looked nasty, but in hindsight you have a lot of speed coming down the drop and probably looks worse than it is. That said, I’d drive up for this classic anytime it’s running, which is certainly not often enough…

The head-cam footage from this trip:

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