Monday, March 7, 2011

Lower Brice Creek (3.5.11)

Finally the rains had returned, and it looked like we'd have some local options to boat in the Eugene area. Based on the flow forecasts, we had put Brice Creek on the top of the list. It's no surprise that Brice is one of, if not my favorite, home runs. It's broken into two distinct sections, with the upper being continuous and steep, and the lower being more pool-drop with some sticky holes. Since the flow/weather forecast are often wrong, we decided that it would be best to wait until Saturday morning to make the final call. Sure enough, after waking up early to take a look at the flows, Shawn Haggin called to get the word. The level had come up more than I had expected and was still on the rise. It looked like it would be on the high end of good, if not too high. We decided it would be worth heading up there since we did have other options in the area. With that, we made the remaining calls to assemble the crew. From Eugene we would have Roman, Aaron, Joni, Bobby, and me. From down south, Shawn would be coming with Jared and they would be meeting us there.


We had ~6.5' on this day. Typically you want between
5.75' and 6.5' for the Upper run, and between 5.25 and 6.25
for the Lower run. Since the snow level was fairly low,
this translated to a much lower flow than expected (especially on the Upper).


Once at the takeout (to Lower Brice) we noticed that the level was not as high as the online correlation gauge would have suggested. It still looked like a good level for the Upper/Lower combo, so we suited-up before heading upstream. Once we passed over the bridge separating Upper from Lower, we started to hit snow. Also, the flow in the creek dropped dramatically, making the upper stretch somewhat starved of water. As we continued up the road the snow became deeper, and we were eventually stopped by a large tree that had fallen across our path: "looks like we'll be hiking from here". Luckily we only had to hike about a 1/2 mile before a good put-in at the top of the lead-in to Bubble Trouble, one of the first major drops on the upper. The level was indeed on the low end, which translated into boat bashing for most of the Upper run. Since I've already done a trip report of this stretch at a much better flow, I'll point you to that for reference, (here) and instead concentrate on presenting the Lower run, which had a great flow.


Hiking into the Upper run



Luckily the hike was short and we were able to tow our boats



Jared fires up Bubble Trouble, the first big drop on Upper we ran.
Once again the flow was low, this drop forms a big hole at high water.



Bobby gives Bubble Trouble a go


Once we passed under the Champion Creek road bridge and entered the Lower run, the river came to life with water. We regrouped before proceeding downstream at a good pace. After some fun class III boogie water we reached the first named drop of the run, Upper Trestle. Upper Trestle, is a 5' ledge with a super fun airplane move on the hard left. The ledge forms a nasty looking pocket hole, but luckily the left line allows you to skirt the meat of it. In fact, if you hit the line correctly you probably won't even get your head wet. We all ran the left line without issue, which is good since the drop immediately below, Lower Trestle, could provide a swimmer an experience they wouldn't soon forget.


Aaron makes the move at Lower Trestle.
The right side pocket is where you don't want to be.



Bobby coming out of Upper Trestle


Lower Trestle is actually a really fun drop, at least at medium to low flows. At higher water the cauldron the ledge pours into becomes a drowning machine. It is run even at these higher flows, but you certainly don't want to screw it up. Unfortunately, a log moved in earlier this year, blocking the main (and only sane) right line. With that, we all portaged using various platforms for re-entry. Aaron decided to seal-launch just below the base of the left (and nasty) line. As he landed, his boat stalled out and he had to put in some good digger strokes to claw his way away from the hole. With my hand on my throwbag, I breathed a quick sigh of relief once he was a safe distance away.


Lofty chooses the hero launch...



...and almost pays the price.



Jared chooses the river right platform



Booooof


Just around the corner we arrived at "Pogo", where we all got out to give a look. This is the only drop on Lower Brice that I had never run, which is quite surprising since I've done this run countless times. Basically Pogo is a broken ledge that drops about 6' into a highly aerated hole, with no hope of escape in your boat if you get stuck in it. Further, the entrance at lower flows is really shallow and trashy, basically forcing you to fall into the hole with little or no speed. As I looked at it, I thought (and voiced), "Wow, this is the best I've ever seen this drop look". Not that it looked great, just not as bad as it usually does. I soon made the decision that this would be the day to finally check it off the list. After setting bag and taking photos of a few of the others that had decided to run it, I carefully chose my line and entered the water. I decided to start a little further right than the others and come out of the eddy instead of riding down the main current. The downside was less speed, but I liked the angle of this line a little more. With that, I drove out of the eddy trying to get up as much speed as I could. I hit the narrow flake right about where I planned and sailed off the lip, clearing the hole and easily paddling away. I was pretty happy with my line, as well as finally running Pogo.


Jared digs in at Pogo



Jared, airborne at Pogo



Shawn goes deep in Pogo



The author hits the line
(photo by Joni Randall)


After some class II water and a short flat pool, we arrived at the lead-in to Cheesegrater, a shallow slide dropping about 15 feet in height. At all but higher flows the line is down the center of the drop; however, as flows increase so does the power of the hole at the base. In fact, I swam out of it a couple years back, and I was also not alone as I was joined by two others at the same time! Typically, when the hole is beefy, you can sneak the drop on the far left, but unfortunately a new tree now blocks this option. On this trip the hole wasn't bad so we all ran the main line.


The crew hangs out below Cheesegrater


From here we enjoyed a mile or so of fun class III/III+ boogie water at a nice pace. I do this run so often that I really take the scenery for granted, so it's good to take it in on this stretch. The creek cuts through a lush forest with almost every rock and tree covered in a carpet of moss. It's really a beautiful place and also a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers, who use the trail that follows the entirety of the Lower run (ride report here).

Before long we arrived at the next series of bigger drops, "Fun" & "Not Fun". Fun, as the name implies is a great drop. It has a rather long lead-in, and at the bottom, the current splits around a round "gumdrop" boulder, with the standard line on the left. In the past, right of this boulder was clogged with wood. It appears that this has cleared out, but since it's a pretty narrow slot, and I've never seen anyone run it, I stick with the left side. There is a small hole at the base of Fun, but it's fairly forgiving as long as you hit it straight on.


Joni finishes up Fun



The crew takes a rest in the pool below Fun


A short pool separates Fun from Not Fun. Although it's not quite as good as its predecessor, it's still entertaining. Basically it's a 4' to 5' ledge with a busy run-out. If you haven't run Brice in awhile it's best to jump out and take a quick look, as wood has collected below this drop in the past.


Roman drops into Not Fun



Aaron finds out that Not Fun is actually kinda fun


More class II/III water followed until we reached the lead-in to the grand finale, Laura’s. The lead-in itself is actually pretty fun, and also gives some excitement since it feeds directly into Laura’s with only a couple of small eddies on the right to get out and scout her. That said, Laura’s should always be scouted, since wood in the bottom slot would be disastrous to anyone dropping in unknowingly. This is the largest and hardest drop on lower Brice, but luckily it does not contain a nasty hole like some of the ledges upstream, at least at anything other than super high flow. This is a multi-stage/move drop starts with about a 5’ pour-over that is usually run on river right. The line is fairly tight as you must thread between a large boulder (just breaking the surface) and the right wall. Make sure you are also aggressive on this part, since it has a tendency to give you a nice back ender if you come into it lazily.


Aaron entering the first part of Laura's



Aaron melts through the top drop of Laura's



Jared drops into Laura's


Just below this entrance move, the water builds up speed for a short stretch before pinching down through a 4 to 5 foot wide crack that can be difficult to stay upright through. The power of the water in this slot is quite impressive and it’s not uncommon to mystery move the whole thing. I’ve been upside down a couple of times in here, which is not fun since your head usually takes a couple of knocks from the narrow side walls.


Loft enters Laura's crack



Jared lines up the crack...



...and gets a face full



Shawn goes deep in Laura's crack



All in all, Laura's is quite intimidating, but also super fun at the same time. Usually we hang out for awhile, running a couple laps and watching each other produce a variety of entertaining lines. On this trip I had a terrible first run, and basically pitoned into the left wall of the slot upon entry. As I came through upside-down I tweaked my thumb pretty bad, presumably from the violent water pulling on my paddle. Not satisfied with the line, I decided to give it another go. This time I ran the drop clean and finished it off with a stern squirt into a 180-degree back pirouette (seen near the end of the video below).

Once past Laura’s, it’s just a short distance to the takeout bridge at Cedar Creek Campground. Wow, what a great day! Although the Upper was a little low, the Lower more than made up for the drive. I still believe that the combo run provides the best sustained quality and variety of drops in the Southern Willamette Valley. If you live in Oregon, and flows are good, you owe it to yourself to get on it. In fact, if you’d like a tour guide or more beta give me a shout, I’m always up for a trip to this great run.


The head-cam footage of our run down Lower Brice:

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