Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hills Creek (4.9.11)

After weeks of bailing on Jacob for some exploratory boating, I finally committed to making it happen. We had first thought about looking at a run in the South Santiam drainage, but then our attention was turned to the Upper MF Willamette watershed, based on some further research that he had done. After getting some photographs of the creek online, I agreed it looked like it had promise and a plan was set. Since this write-up is about Hills Creek (where we ended up), I’ll keep this part short and sweet. Basically we got to our destination and verified that it would definitely be worth doing, but unfortunately it only had about half the flow of what we would have liked. If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the name of the creek, it's probably because it deserves its own write-up, but only after it’s been run, and I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag just yet!

With this plan on hold we decided to check out a couple of stretches on the MF Willamette above Hills Creek. Unfortunately we ran into snow at the section we wanted to put on, which also turned us back. We could have hiked in, but we weren’t sure we have enough time for that and an unknown run before it got dark. On to the next one…
The one creek in the area I did know would be running is Hills Creek, although it’s certainly not one of my favorite runs. It actually has a lot of promise, but unfortunately the stuff that would be good, like the put-in waterfall, or first gorge, are sketchy due to wood or junky rock formations. It’s really too bad, because other than that, it’s a beautiful run with tight walled gorges and some fun in-between stuff. Since Jacob hadn’t yet done the run, it was pretty easy to convince him that it was still a good idea.

The gauge used to determine approximate flows in Hills Creek.
Supposedly you divide this flow by 5 in the winter and 4 in
the spring
to get a rough idea of what you'll have in Hills.
The gauge read
2,000cfs for our run, which would equate
to between 400 and 500 cfs, although it felt like more than that.

On the drive there I mentioned that we should scout the two gorges for wood on the way up, which would save us time once we were on the river. Also it would be good to scout the first gorge to see if we even wanted to run it at all, due to its trashy nature and consequence for a missed line. Luckily I was able to recognize where the second gorge was in relation to the road, and we parked the car and scrambled through the brush to get a peek. Upon inspection, it was clean. We also confirmed that the water level was good, and probably in the medium to medium-high range. Next, we drove up to the top gorge, which allows for easy road scouting. Basically it's located where a rock quarry meets the road on the left and the trees give way for easy viewing. The first two drops can be seen from here. The first is a narrow slot against the left wall and a midstream boulder. The hole does have a little grab to it, but the real issue is that a portion of the boulder partially blocks the slot on the right, creating a piton hazard. If you hit it, you'd probably bounce back into the hole and setup for some fun rodeo action. After this and a fast run-out is a broken ledge that is also far from clean. I've seen people have violent pitons against the exposed rock in the center, and even "cleanly" run lines haven't looked that pretty.

The first drop of the first gorge,
a tough slot drop against the right wall.

Looking down into the second drop in the gorge

The second drop of the gorge, a nasty broken
ledge that this photo does not show very well.

To see the third, and most difficult drop, you must do a bit of bushwhacking down a steep slope to a viewing platform above the gut of it. The big concern here is the "Room of Doom" against the right wall, where most of the flow goes after pillowing off the left wall. There is also a ledge just above it that you must clean to have any hope of avoiding a stay in this room. At higher flows, like we had, it's a fairly low percentage drop, and the pillow would be very tough to get over if you weren't in complete control. Even if the other two drops were clean, this one definitely makes you think twice about running the gorge, since taking out between it and the drop above would be difficult. At this point Jacob and I still weren't sure if we wanted to gamble with it, but decided to drop a rope into the room and tie it off above, just in case.

The third, and hardest, drop of the
first gorge. Note the "Room of Doom"
in the bottom-left of the photo.

Jacob looking into the Room. It's hard to tell
in this photo, but the water is pillowing hard
off the left wall and deflecting right into it.

We still had one more scout before putting on, the put-in falls. Wood had been a problem here in the past, but with the flooding that occurred earlier in the season I was hopeful that this had changed. Unfortunately this was not the case and the wood situation was still pretty bad. The upper falls had a vertical log on the left side that complicated running it. There was a line, but it was fairly thin and would require you to boof out and to the right of the veil. Further, the wood in the next drop had rendered that one unrunnable. Running just the upper falls was an option, but there was a slim chance that you'd get pulled into the logjam below if you had troubles above it. Also, we were burning daylight and it seemed like it would be a lengthy affair. With that we decided to put-in just below.

Jacob scouts the top 18 to 20'er.

Looking downstream of the waterfall into the log-choked bottom drop

The left side of the bottom drop. If you look carefully
you can see Jacob still scouting the top falls.

The right side of the bottom drop. Nasty!

The first part of the run consisted of fun class III boulder fields with an occasional log to dodge here and there. I was actually surprised to see it much more clear of wood than the last time I did it, which required a few portages. Before long we reached a series of slides that made an S-turn and dropped out of sight. Still a little gun-shy after my last wood episode, I decided to get out and give a look. Once I confirmed it was all clear, I setup and took photos as Jacob dropped in. Other than being blind, the drop is pretty straightforward and plenty fun.

Looking downstream from the put-in. This is pretty
characteristic of the first mile or so of the run.

Jacob enjoying himself on the slide section

Halfway through the slides...

...and nearing the end

Just around the corner from the slide the road came into view on the right, signaling the start of the first, and tougher of two gorges. Since we had planned to walk this one, we took out just above it and hiked straight up to the road. By this time my injured ribs (from my previously mentioned log pin; here) were really starting to bother me. This must have been pretty obvious to Jacob, who offered a much appreciated hand in hauling my boat up. The nice thing about having the road right there, was that it made for an easy portage around the gorge, and we were able to put-in not far below the last drop of it.

Now off and running again, we continued further down the creek. Even though we were between the two gorges, the walls started to narrow down a bit and the scenery become much more spectacular. Soon we dropped into the first part of the second gorge with a fairly trashy entrance drop that deposited us into a slow moving pool between narrow vertical walls -- similar to Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge, only on a much smaller scale. Around the next corner we took out to scout the class IV stretch.

The crux section of the class IV gorge

The exit to the crux section

It started off with a narrow line to either the right or left of a large mid-stream boulder. The right slot was a little more complicated and fell into a fairly sticky looking hole, which also seemed to be somewhat undercut. Based on these factors we chose the more straightforward left line, although even it had somewhat of a hole. After a brief scout, Jacob felt good about the move and offered to fire it up first. He came through the small initial drop and lined up for the left slot. As he dropped through I could see him throw in a last stroke to bust through the hole, before paddling into the narrow gorge below and out of sight. I ran down along cliff where I found him held up in a small right hand eddy giving me a thumbs up.

Jacob enters the gorge

Lining up the left slot...

...and dropping in

Jacob paddles into the slot gorge below

With my bruised ribs I didn't feel comfortable running the slot drop without some kind of safety setup at the hole. In reality I'm not sure how effective a rope would have been, since the safety platform wasn't very good for pulling someone out of the hole. However, Jacob graciously agreed and we started the process of getting him and his boat up on shore and out of the tight little gorge. This ended up being more of an ordeal than I had anticipated, and may have been more dangerous than just running the drop without safety. I guess if nothing else, we got to work on our extraction skills, which was also kinda fun.

I basically ended up running the same line as Jacob and had pretty similar results, although not far below the slot I was deflected into the left wall by a midstream rock just below the surface, which should be noted on the scout, since at lower water it could be more of an issue. I eddied out where we had pulled Jacob up and where he was planning to seal-launch back in. It was actually a pretty dramatic re-entry, which he did with style and a big smile on this face.

Below here and not too far downstream, the gorge walls opened up a bit and we were treated to a couple more fun class III rapids before the takeout bridge came into sight. You can actually continue down to the reservoir about a mile downstream, but we decided to cut the section out due to time constraints and the reservoir being full enough to cover up the last couple of rapids.

Looking back upstream into the gorge
from the eddy we lifted Jacob out of

Opening back up


Our takeout

It had been a long day of scouting potential runs and boating on Hills Creek, but it was also really fun. However, once again, this run is not one of my favorites, it's just not clean enough to be one of our "go-to runs". I'd probably only do this run once every couple of years and it would be more for the scenery than the whitewater.

Head-cam footage from our run down Hills Creek:

1 comment:

  1. Another great post and video as usual. Love the scenery!