Upper Quartzville is one of my all-time favorite class IV creeks -- a beautiful streambed and quality drops from start to finish. The one thing I don’t like about the run is how hard it is to get on. It’s usually snowed in during the winter months, and even then it comes in and drops out very quickly, usually only for a day at a time. That said, snow melt does provide a couple of opportunities during mid to late spring, and one just happened to be last weekend.
Friday night I had looked at the gauge and it was reading right around 1,000cfs. This was a little low even with most of the water coming from up top due to snowmelt. The gauge is actually located far downstream of the run, so the flow on Upper Q can vary quite a bit even with the same gauge reading, based on snowmelt vs. rain fed. Although I’ve seen it stated that you can run it down to 600 to 800 during the spring, my cutoff has always been around 1,200cfs. My hope was that the projected rain in the forecast would bring it in, but unfortunately this would not be the case for Saturday. This forced us to use Canyon Creek (WA) as a backup, however this wasn’t too bad since it’s also one of my favorite class IV runs.
It was now Saturday night and just back from our trip up north, I looked at the gauge once again to see if it would be an option for Sunday. Sure enough, it was sitting right around 1,200cfs, and I could only hope that it would hold or go up by morning. As Sunday morning came around it looked like I would get my wish, at least partially. It had held but not much more than that. I was still excited to get on it, so I called some folks up and got a couple others on board, including Bob Lee and Eric Emerson, who I hadn’t been boating with enough lately. Joni Randall and Andy Janoski also joined, topping off the group at five. The drive to Upper Q always seems to take forever -- although it’s located in the South Santiam drainage, which isn’t far from Eugene in and of itself, the run is located far up in the hills above Green Peter Reservoir on a long and winding road. Even though we left Eugene around 10am, we didn’t actually put on the water until about 1pm. At least the weather had given us a sun-break while we changed into our gear, although it would change back and forth between sun and rain squalls throughout the day -- it was very odd weather indeed.
The first quarter mile or so of the run consists of mostly shallow bedrock slides and offers up some good warm-up before the real fun starts. There is one river-wide logjam in this stretch, but it can be bumped over on hard river right, at least at this level. Not far below the logjam the creek makes a hard right-hand bend before dropping into Technical Difficulties, the first major drop of the run.
Basically, Technical Difficulties, as the name implies, is a boulder garden drop which ends with a low angle slide into a sizeable hole. The boulder field can be run using multiple lines, but caution should be used toward the center of the drop where a very temping boof can lead to trouble due to a shallow pin rock in the landing. Everyone in our group worked down the far left side before dropping down the slide and getting a nice boof about 5’ off the left wall and skirting the meat of the hole.
Below TG is one of my favorite class IV drops, Grocker. There are actually two very distinct lines on this one. On the left is a narrow twisty slot with a boof at the end. On the right is a bedrock slide that can be pretty trashy at anything other than high flows. I almost always take the left side, and this run would be no different. After scouting the slot for wood, I set-up for photos and signaled the “all clear” to the rest of the group, who were sitting in an eddy above. One by one they came through, each with their own distinct line. Bob was the only one that was able to hit the boof head-on for some airtime, which isn’t surprising since it’s not an easy move, especially off of verbal instructions. With everyone else clear of the drop I hiked back up for my turn. Having visually scouted the drop ended up being fairly beneficial, as I was able to hit the line and catch the super boof as Bob had.
Not far below here is another fun slidey ledge drop. This is also a good one to scout for wood since it funnels through a couple of large boulders at the bottom and could easily trap a piece or two of wood. Once again multiple line options present themselves, but starting on river-right is standard affair. From here you can either ride it straight down or make a hard move to the left before dropping back to the center. It should be noted that the water is a little squirrely between the two big rocks at the bottom, so be ready for a brace as you come through.
From here the drops mellow for a bit, but there is still some really fun boogie water, with lots of small catch-on-the-fly waves created by the shallow, low-angle bedrock. This also gives you an opportunity to take in the surroundings of crystal clear water and moss covered rocks and cliff walls. Before too long we came to the next named drop, Wooden Wall. This one is not a very big or difficult drop, but the run-out from the bottom ledge does move rather quickly into a large tree trunk against the right bank, which is what gives the drop its name. I’ve never seen anybody have issues here and I’m not sure it’s all that dangerous, but it could definitely trip you up a bit if you get complacent. We all pretty much blazed through this drop without stopping.
The next big horizon line is flagged with a large log angled into the water from the left hand wall at the lip of the drop. This drop has the unfortunate name of “David from Behind”, referred from this point on as DFB. You pretty much have 3 options here, a sneak down the left, a hard right to left move just past the log, or a fun twisty airplane turn through the slot on the right. Most of us took the 3rd option down the right, with a variety of results. The tricky part here is not getting sucked into or spun around by the right eddy while entering the drop. Although the hole looks somewhat beefy I’ve really only seen people get flipped or mystery moved by it. DFB is actually a pretty fun drop, especially if you nail the line.
As we continued down the run we came to a point where a large log spanned the river just above head level. This log makes what would be a fairly straightforward drop a little more exciting, since there is a small hole right underneath it -- it’s not really in play, but it makes for a somewhat claustrophobic feeling. Immediately below here is the lead-in to Corkscrew, another fun ledge drop. The most common line on this one is to ramp down the main part of the drop on the hard left side with right angle. This angle is critical to avoid a piton into the left wall. At higher flows you can boof the big rock in the center, but it was a tad low on this day, so we all opted for the main line. I had gone down first so I could setup for photos of the others coming through. Almost as soon as I pulled out my camera the rain started up once again, forcing me to only snap off a few quick shots.
The next drop down from Corkscrew is a ledge pour-over known as Movie Star, which can form a pretty stout hole at high water, so it’s a good one to set safety on when things are juicy. Probably the biggest concern here is coming out of your boat, since there is a giant undercut boulder against the right bank just downstream. I was actually witness to someone swimming here (at higher flow) which did require a sketchy rescue from the undercut -- the swimmer ended up being okay, but it was agonizing to watch. On this day, at this flow, it was a pretty straightforward line down the right side, although you probably could have run it right down the middle without issue.
Just downstream of Movie Star is one of the best stretches on Upper Quartzville, a steep boulder slalom with pushy water and diagonal holes. It kinda reminds me a bit of the stuff on the Miracle Mile. You’ll most likely come out the bottom grinning ear to ear, but you’ll probably throw in a brace or two on your way down.
Since we were planning to takeout above the Wrapped Bridge and do another lap, we really didn't have much in front of us, except a couple of smaller drops. Just above where we took out, there is one last ledge with a hole that can surf you, especially at higher flows. On this day it was pretty forgiving and there was a nice boof on the left side of it and into an eddy behind a midstream boulder.
If you do choose to go on through the Wrapped Bridge rapid and down to the lower takeout, you'll also run across Pick up Sticks and Double Dip. The first gets its name from the massive logjam that blocks the left side of the river. Although there is usually a clear line down the far right slot, this should always be checked, since it collects wood from time to time. The second, Double Dip, is the biggest and meanest drop on Upper Q. Basically, as the name implies, this one is a two-tiered ledge, with the bottom one pouring into a walled out room with an extremely retentive hole. If you do choose to run this one (most don't), make sure you have proper safety set, since this one will definitely recirculate a swimmer. I have seen boaters both clean the drop as well as get pounded by it, I've yet to give it a go, but I'm sure I'll try and check it off the list at some point. Below Double Dip are a couple more fun rapids before the takeout.
As stated, we decided to get in one more lap before calling it a day. Since we didn't need to scout for wood on this one, and I wasn't planning to take many (if any) photos, we made short work of it. It's really fun to rally a creek like this since there aren't really any flat sections and most of the drops are just plain fun. My only wish was that this creek ran more often, although maybe that would take some of the luster out of this Northwest gem.
The head-cam footage from our run down Upper Quartzville:
And some footage from a later date at much higher flow:
POV - Upper Quartzville Creek (OR) from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.