The South Fork Coquille has been on my radar for quite some time. There are multiple sections on this stretch of river, although, one in particular had peaked my interest more than the others. It is simply referred to as “The Gem”. After reading Steve’s write-up (here) and seeing things such as “instant class V classic” and “a more difficult version of the Miracle Mile”, I was foaming at the mouth to get on it. Further, the stated gradient of 300fpm (600fpm in the first 1/8 of a mile) for a boulder garden run was also quite appealing.
So why had it taken me so long to get on it?! Well for starters it's quite a ways away from Eugene (~3hrs). In addition convincing weekend warriors to take a chance and abandon plans on one of our roadside classics can be tough. This weekend seemed to be the perfect excuse to head down, all of the standard Cascade runs were snowed in (and would require a good deal of hiking), plus due to the snow levels, the flows weren’t that attractive either. Knowing that the SF Coquille was in the coast range, the elevation wouldn’t be all that high, and the flow also looked like it would be medium low (based on the stated range), which would probably be good for a personal first descent. After a round of phone calls and emails the crew was formed. Joe Bushyhead, Roman Androsov, and I would be coming from Eugene, and Shawn Haggin would be joining us from Roseburg; pretty much the usual suspects.
After meeting up at LCC, the Eugene crew headed south, where we met-up with Shawn right off the I-5, just south of Roseburg. From there we headed west, and into the coast range. The drive was long indeed, and by the time we reached the takeout, 16 miles upstream from Powers, we were pretty much in the middle of nowheres-ville, Oregon. The first thing we noticed upon inspection of the river, was that it looked really low. The gauge at powers was reading ~1200cfs, and the stated flow range was 1000 to 2000, so we optimistically thought, “Well, maybe it’s more channelized up higher…”. Since there were no painted markings on the bridge pillar (they must have been removed since Steve's write-up), we couldn't verify the level, but we decided to just take a chance. With that we got changed and headed toward the put-in, which shouldn’t have been far, since the run is only ¾ of a mile long.
We had a little bit of snow at the takeout, but it started getting deeper and deeper as we made the steep climb up the road. As we approached a summit, we turned left off the main road and continued to climb. Since there was only one other set of tracks (which were already partially covered), it was puttin’ my Suby to the test. Soon the snow was up to my under carriage, and not wanting to get stuck (plus our other car was only 2wd), we opted to park on the side of the road and continue by foot. The nice thing about hiking through the snow is that you can drag your boat behind you without burning a hole though it. However, your feet still get a little heavy.
We hiked for probably another half mile before crossing over a road bridge and cool little waterfall. Just on the other side of this was our marked trail down to the river. Although the trail wound through a snowy forest, it was nice and wide and headed downhill, which made for hastily descent down another half mile or so of trail. If you’re counting, we are now at 3 hours (one-way) of driving and 1 mile of hiking, for a .75 mile stretch of river; hmmm…
Our efforts were partially rewarded when we rounded a corner and both the river and awesome cascading waterfall, Coquille Falls, came into view. This multi-tiered, nearly 100’ tall waterfall, is far from runnable, but created a wonderful backdrop for the start of our adventure. Although only ½ mile from the road, it felt like we were in a highly remote location.
There was a drop directly below the falls which plunged ~10’; although, both sides of the forked entrance had issues. The right went through a narrow (and shallow chute) that would have been hard to clean and get a boof stroke in. The left approach was far better but also sent you into the gut of the pocket, and most likely a beat-down. After giving it a little thought, we all wisely chose to put-in below it. As soon as we put on, we had to ferry across the pool to start a portage of a log blocking the channel. It was an easy portage, but we hoped this wasn’t a precursor to what lie downstream.
The first drop we actually ran had a sieve in the middle of it, but since the water wasn’t very high it really wasn’t in play. We all made the easy line off a shelf and through a slot to the right of it, before continuing downstream.
Above the next drop, and at the start of the boulder garden, Roman got out on river-left to scout and give us beta. He quickly navigated us using hand signals to an eddy about halfway down the drop. From here Shawn got out with Joe to look at the next pitch. After some time they signaled it was a no-go and required a partial portage. With my boat on my shoulder I walk past what had given them concern, a trashy little slot that fed into an undercut rock. Luckily we were able to put-in just below it to finish up the drop, which ended up being a fun airplane turn into a pool below.
This pool emptied into another blind boulder drop, requiring another scout and partial portage. Like the others this one was also quite trashy due to the level, and required some moves back and forth to navigate through it cleanly. The last part of the drop had two options, going left through a boily diagonal slot, or right over a small ledge with a couple F-U rocks to thread through. We all chose the right line and came through without issue.
Next up was probably my favorite drop of the run, a 10 to 12 foot double tiered plunge between large boulders. Going off verbal and hand signals from Roman, we came through the drop cleanly with smiles on our faces; we hoped there were more like this one downstream.
Immediately below here the river poured over another ledge, with most of the flow directed into a large undercut boulder on the bottom left. There was a line on the left but it was uncomfortably close to the undercut, so most of us chose the chunkier line down the right.
We were now faced with a fairly long /complex boulder garden, that was surprisingly clean. Once again you couldn't see around the large boulders, Roman and Joe scouted from different locations and gave beta as I worked my way through the drop. I stopped near the bottom and got out to take some photos as they came through and joined Shawn below the drop.
We were now about halfway through the run. The rest consisted of more trashy boulder drops and ledges with sieves here and there for good measure and to keep you on your toes. We also came to a couple islands which split the current and made it that much more trashy. There weren't really any standout drops on the second half and we got through them both boat and bank scouting, with portages made around the ones with no clean lines.
Finally the takeout bridge came into view, and although we had only gone ~3/4 of a mile, it had taken us the better part of 3 hours and I was pretty glad to see it (I'm sure the others were as well). Back at the car we changed into our street cloths, while Shawn, with help from the others chained up his Buick so we could retrieve my car which was still sitting in the snow near the put-in. I was actually surprised with how well it did in the snow on the way back up, and we made much better time than anticipated. On the way back we stopped to load our boat before heading back toward home, it had been a long day for such a short stretch of river...
I'm somewhat conflicted on summarizing this run. Since we had such low flow, I'm not sure I'd be giving it a fair shake. That said, I would guess that 50% more water would equate to the minimal "good" flow, and probably double what we had for a more optimal level. I'm guessing that it was much lower than the 1200cfs (at Powers) would indicate, because it was looked up in the form of snow; similar to how the flow correlation for Opal Creek and Upper Quartzville changes based on the season. The others felt that due to the character and gradient of the run, double the flow would start to get a little scary; however, I still hold hope that it would "pad out", become much cleaner, and more runnable. One nice thing about the run was that it was almost completely clear of wood, with only a couple pieces in play. If I was to go back down, I'd like to camp for the weekend (in warmer weather) and do some of the other runs in the area; then it might actually be worth it.
In the end, it was also kinda fun to practice our river signals and scouting for the group, which I must say everyone did extremely well. The jury is certainly still out on whether this is truly a "instant class V classic", but for now I would have to say no...
Here is some head-cam footage of some of the upper (and best) half of The Gem:
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
After a long day on the SF Coquille (the day before), I was looking forward to spending my Sunday either lying around the house or boating something close to home with minimal time commitments. After talking with Jacob Cruser, it looked like Sweet Creek might be in at lowish, but still runnable, flow. Being only an hour from my house I was easily convinced.
Since we would be coming from different towns, the plan was to meet at the Homestead Trailhead, the takeout for Sweet Creek. Amazingly, we arrived about 2 minutes apart, and after a quick bathroom break, we headed up the trail to check the level in the crux section of the gorge. As we started up the trail it became clear that this was the lowest I had seen it, and I hoped for the best as we continued upstream. Now at the heart of the gorge, things weren’t looking good. You could certainly get down, but it would be a scrapey affair. The biggest concern, and one that persuaded me to not run it, was the drop where I had been vertically pinned on a previous trip at higher flow (see here). It looked much worse, with a fine line to avoid the same one that had entrapped me, but for me the fun factor didn’t outweigh the risk. After reviewing the line options, Jacob also agreed, and we decided to throw in the towel on running Sweet Creek.
What to do now? Well we could run laps on the lowest two drops, which could be fun, but they certainly weren’t at an optimal flow, and the idea would have been more about not getting skunked. Then I made the suggestion that we should go check-out Beaver Creek Falls, a couple miles upstream, and only a short drive away. I had heard of it being run and knew it was ~25’ tall, but I had never seen it myself and was kinda curious to. However, I was pretty sure it would be too low as well, since it’s also on Sweet Creek. Luckily Jacob, who is always looking for a new drop to checkout/run, was more than game to see what it looked like.
A nice map I swiped off the internet. It shows the location
of Beaver Creek Falls in relationship to Sweet Creek.
of Beaver Creek Falls in relationship to Sweet Creek.
We soon arrived at the pullout where a short trail led to the lip of the falls. Beaver Creek Falls is actually the confluence of Sweet Creek and Beaver Creek. They both converge after plunging ~25’ into the same pool. The Beaver Creek side is essentially one drop that falls near vertical the whole distance, where the Sweet Creek side is a narrow twisty slide into a two-tiered drop. Unfortunately, as projected, the Beaver Creek side was really low, and although it could have been run, it would have been a little silly. We then turned our attention to the Sweet side. After a quick analysis, I didn’t think it looked all that clean, but once again thought it was runnable. Jacob was more optimistic which convinced me to look a little closer. Sure enough he was right, there was a clean line, albeit a tight one. The more I looked at it the more I liked it, it was basically a class V move with only mild consequences, a good one for practicing such lines. With that, we headed back to the car to suit-up.
One of Jacob's friends from school, Danah Shivley, who had come to spectate and get in some hiking, graciously agreed to help with our little photo shoot. I shouldered my boat down the trail while Jacob decided to run the short lead-in section. By the time I had my camera out and I was setup, he came into view in the eddy above. After giving him the signal, he peeled out and dropped in. Although I was looking through the screen of my camera, I could see that he had a really clean line and was soon sitting in the pool below, fist in the air, showing his own approval of the outcome.
It was now my turn. After giving the thumbs up I peeled out of the eddy and lined up. I dropped into the twisty slot and came out with right angle as planned. Coming over the small first tier, I landed in the aerated pocket and immediately set my boat angle for the next (and final) drop. I wasn’t able to plan a boof stroke here, but still dropped cleanly into the base of the drop, also excited about my line. The drop was surprisingly fun, and I looked forward to doing a couple more laps.
(photo by Jacob Cruser)
For Jacob's next run, I decided to set-up shots from down below. This is where Danah really helped us out by signaling back and forth between the two of us that we were ready. On his second attempt he nailed the line once again, entering the base with perfect form.
On my second lap I had planned to go for a boof off the final ledge. Unfortunately I took too early of a stroke, which caused my stern to catch/deflect, pitching me forward and vertically into the base of the falls. After a couple of quick roll attempts and a little assistance from Jacob, I sat in my boat and contemplated the crappy line I just had. Not satisfied with it, I wanted one more go-around.
My third attempt ended up going okay, not as good as the first, but certainly better than the second. I was almost flipped by the swift resurface, but was able to hold on with a small brace.
Now that we were both satisfied, we packed up our stuff and headed back to the car. We both celebrated by having a beer, with Jacob’s being served out of his booty; not for a swim on this day, but from a previous time on The Farmlands (his account). The funny thing is that I had also swam that day in the same spot, although the crew I typically boat with has a different prize for swimming, affectionately referred to as “The Dick of the Day”, but that’s another story in and of itself…
I would say that Beaver Creek Falls was a great contingency prize after running Sweet Creek fell through. Both Jacob and I agreed that it would probably be better with more water, and even open up the Beaver Creek side of the falls. I’m certainly planning to head back with more flow, and will probably include a couple laps on it with any future trips to run Sweet Creek proper.
The head-cam footage from my first lap: