Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Farmlands (2.5.11)

The Farmlands is a high quality run on the White Salmon River, nestled across from Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge (WA side). It is often overshadowed by the classic Green Truss section, located just below it. The Farmlands is ~5 miles long and can be run by itself or combined with The Truss for one of the best 10-mile stretches of whitewater in the Pacific Northwest. You should plan on a long day if you want to do both, especially if you haven’t done either run before. The beauty of the combo is that you are relieved of the put-in/takeout that splits the two runs, which may or may not require boat lowering/raising depending on your footwork and comfort level. On this day most of the crew decided to takeout at the Truss bridge (including me), while a few in the group continued down. For a trip report of The Green Truss from last spring, go here.

The river cutting through the farmlands
which gives this section its name

Based on lack of water in the Eugene area, I had actually sent out an email early in the week wondering if anyone would be interested in doing The Farmlands, since the levels would be good and I hadn’t done it in some time. I was feeling quite social and decided to cast a wide net hoping to snare at least a couple of willing participants. What I didn’t expect was that almost everyone on the list was game, setting up what could be a rather large floatilla and great apr├Ęs-paddle. I also didn't expect Stephen to offer up the use of his parents' cabin as our base camp, which was conveniently located on the banks of the White Salmon. Wow, this was shaping up to be a great weekend in front of us!

On Saturday morning I met up with some of the southern crew (Eugene/Roseburg) to carpool together. The plan was to meet everyone else at BZ Corner at 10:30am, which should give enough time for those that wanted to do both runs. Since we would have such a large crew it was probably a bit optimistic that everyone would arrive on time. On the way up we stopped to check the gauge near Husum Falls, I was surprised to see it reading between 3.5’ and 3.75’, perfect for The Farmlands and juicy for The Truss.

Between 3.5' and 3.75' on the stick gauge

~3.5' on the internet correlation

By the time everyone got to BZ, we were running about an hour behind. The parking lot was the most filled I had seen BZ Corner in a long while, and typically this turnout would only occur in the summer when the raft companies were taking clients down the river. Since there was really no feasible way to coordinate based on the size of our group, we just started heading up in packs to the put-in, near our base camp.

BZ packed to the brim. In winter?!

We would actually be putting in a bit down the run from the upper put-in. This would eliminate a couple of drops, including the often portaged Sidewinder. The problem with this drop is that most of the flow piles into a “grotto”/undercut against the left wall, and it’s really hard to clean it. I had hiked up to check it out while everyone was getting ready. At this flow it actually looked really good, with a nice line off the hard right with a small boof; unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk anyone else into hiking up to run it.

The drop just above Sidewinder

Looking down into Sidewinder

Sidewinder. Notice the undercut grotto on river left.

The run out below Sidewinder

As I was down at shore level getting ready to put on, more and more people just started showing up; it was like a never-ending line of boaters. After a quick discussion with a couple of the others, we agreed it would be best to form our own core group for our descent, and even at this we were about a dozen strong. After letting a couple groups go down in front of us, we found our way in line and headed down. Before long, and much sooner than I remember it being, we reached our first main drop, Doorbell. At lower flows (below 3’) a pin rock is uncovered at the bottom of the drop, river center. This rock is what gives the drop its name (assuming you were upside down), and has folded at least one kayak that I’m aware of. At this level it was completely covered, and we made easy passage on the left.

This is the point in the run where the walls really gorge up and it can feel quite claustrophobic at times; it is also where our string of carnage began. Just below Doorbell are a couple of fun drops before the next named ledge, Little Lava. We did have one swim just above this drop, but luckily both gear and paddler were quickly corralled. Once I had repacked my rope I quickly headed down to the eddy just above Little Lava. After ensuring that the line was clear, I ran the drop about 3 to 5 feet off the left bank as most do. You can certainly run the center line, but make sure to get a good boof in to avoid a stomping.

The drop immediately below Doorbell

The crew lines up above Little Lava

Here is where things got really interesting. Sitting in the eddy just below Little Lava, I was waiting my turn for the eddies to clear out below me. I heard at least one whistle blow, but couldn’t tell what was going on since it was around the corner. After a couple of minutes the path was clear and I pulled into the next eddy. After getting some quick beta that the left line was the best choice for the next drop (at this level), I peeled out and lined it up. As I dropped in and came through I was flipped by a small diagonal and some swirly water. While upside down I was somewhat twisted up and was having a hard time unwinding to setup for a roll. Wanting some air, I put in a half-assed attempt to get over; this failed along with about five other attempts before I pulled the pin and was bobbing down the river with only my head out of the water. Luckily I had held onto my paddle and used it to swim into a small eddy on river right. Once I had collected myself, I started to walk downstream to collect my boat, which the others had gotten to shore. As I climbed around a rock I noticed that two more of my buddies were also out of their boats and had swam the drop as well. The only difference was that they had gotten mangled in the hole on the right side of the drop, while I just couldn’t hit my damn roll.

Unfortunately, the crew wasn’t able to immediately corral all three boats, and one was swept downstream in the fast current. This forced the owner of the boat to attempt a climb out of the gorged out canyon. While he did that, I made it to my rescued boat, joined the rest of the crew, and we headed downstream. Soon enough we reached the lead-in to Lava Falls, in my opinion the best drop of the run. Lava Falls is a 12 to 15 footer which requires a delayed boof and is very reminiscent of Little Brother on The Green Truss. The difference between the two is the consequence. Little Brother does have a hole at the base that causes swims from time to time, but Lava is particularly nasty, with a cave behind the veil that has trapped its fair share of paddlers and gear, sometimes for an extended period of time. That said, it’s wise to have a solid boof before you run this one. Back to the lead-in, there is a small hole (at this level) guarding the slow moving pool that feeds into Lava. Normally this wouldn’t even be a second thought, but knowing what looms downstream makes it a little more exciting. Even with our large group everyone made it out above Lava without issues, although I was slightly tripped up by the squirrely current just below the small hole.

Lava Falls from the rim of the canyon.
Note the lead-in flowing directly into it.

While we were scouting (and some ran) Lava, Eric Arlington came up and informed us that the paddler who had to hike out was not able to get all the way out of the canyon and needed help from above. Luckily his boat had already been recovered, which we were able to rope out. From here Dan went to search for the boater while the others went down further to find an easier route out of the canyon to assist. In the end (and after about a half hour) they were able to track him down and help him safely to the rim.

Chris gets a nice boof and prepares for landing at Lava

Stephen droppin' into Lava

A boater gets lucky after a mistimed boof

Back at Lava, and once Dan had returned, I prepared for my line. There is actually a piece of wood lodged in the drop center-left, however it doesn’t block the line, and I actually felt it helped me line up better. From the eddy, I peeled out and waited for my stroke as I rounded over the lip. I was able to plant it where I needed to and pull myself out and away from the hole at the base, now feeling good to be safely below the drop.

Preparing for my line over Lava Falls
(photo by Dan Dellwo)

The author digs in at Lava
(photo by Dan Dellwo)

The author mid-air
(photo by Dan Dellwo)

Right below Lava are two separate series of drops. The first is a double ledge with a hole that forms on the right of the second at higher flows. The next series has a total of four small drops separated into two distinct pitches. The second tier of the first pitch has a nasty hole on river right that has made at least a couple of boaters I know of swim, although there is a pretty straightforward line down the left side. Once below this, the next pitch is pretty benign, with a fun left-to-right curler/pillow followed by a straightforward run-out. Our now small crew ran through all of these drops without issue, and prepared for the next couple of miles of mellow water until the next gorge and more class IV(IV+) water.

The double-tiered drop directly below Lava

The four-part drop around the corner from Lava

It was at the beginning of this class II water where we met back up with the rest of the original crew, who had just gotten back from their rescue mission of the aforementioned boater. Now in full force, we fell into formation and continued downstream, taking in the scenery and chatting along the way. With the extra water, this section didn’t seem as bad as it had in years past, although I was glad when we finally reached the fast lead-in that funneled into a fun mini gorge. Basically this section consisted of breaking waves and squirrely water between narrow walls, and lasted for an 1/8th of a mile or so. It also fed directly into the next major drop, Off Ramp.

To be honest, I’ve never really liked Off Ramp, and have actually portaged it a couple of times, which is arguably more dangerous. The problem I have with this drop is that it’s a fairly trashy broken ledge, which looks horrible if you were to get blown left. The typical line is to drive across the entrance current from left to right, and eddy out just above the vertical pitch of the drop. From here, and with basically no speed, you drive off of it and try and put in as good of a boof as you can. One line that I’ve been meaning to try is to let the current carry me downstream as I’m driving right and go for a huge angled boof; however this would be a tough line and missing it wouldn’t be fun. Our whole group went for the conventional line (including myself) with pretty good results across the board.

Aaron enters Off Ramp...

...and boofs the lower ledge

Shawn with a nice boof at Off Ramp

Anna gettin' er done at Off Ramp

Joni follows with a nice boof as well

With the majority of the run and big drops behind us, we headed downstream once again. One more fun mini-gorge separated us from our takeout at the iconic Green Truss Bridge. It’s essentially a fun series of drops separated by short fast-moving pools. There are a couple of small holes and some boiley water that can play with your edges and knock you off line. We actually had another swim in here (which I didn’t witness) that put our total at five for the day. That’s what we call "amateur hour", and quite surprising for the caliber of boaters on the trip; some trips are just weird like that I guess…

The iconic Green Truss Bridge
(taken on a earlier trip during much better weather)

Now at our takeout, each of us were forced with a decision, continue down The Truss or climb up the steep pitch to end the day of boating. About 75% chose the latter and decided to call it a day. Hunger, fatigue, not boating well, content...we all voiced at least one reason before roping our boats to the top. Once we had all made it out, we loaded up the cars we had and headed up to base camp to retrieve the rest. While some went up to the house to relax, a few of us drove down to BZ to pick up the crew that ran The Truss. Before too long, and just before dark started to set in, they arrived with smiles on their faces and stories of big clean drops and good/exciting lines.

Once the whole crew was reassembled, we headed to Everybody’s Brewing for dinner, then headed back to our cabin for the evening. Our accommodations were quite impressive and included a 3-story indoor climbing wall and a panoramic dining room view of Mount Adams. The night was filled with good stories from great people and we all slept well as we thought about where our boating destination would be the next day.

Thanks again Stephen (and your parents) for being such amazing hosts, you would be hard pressed to find better!

The indoor climbing wall!

Looking out the dining room window toward
Mount Adams. Unfortunately it was covered in clouds.

Happy hour at our abode

The head-cam footage of our run:

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