The Miracle Mile is one of my all-time favorite runs, and one which I’ve logged literally hundreds of laps on. To me it feels like more of a training course than your typical kayak run. Since it’s essentially a mile-long boulder garden dropping ~250’, it’s a great place to practice steep creeking, with eddy catching and reactionary boating making up a majority of the curriculum. A couple of other pluses are its relatively long boating season and close proximity to Eugene (about an hour drive). All of these things have made “The Mile” the go-to run for class IV/V Eugene area boaters.
Although The Mile does have a long season, as stated above, it typically drops out by mid to late May -- however, because of the unseasonably deep snowpack, we were now boating it in late June with good levels. This was great news for our buddy Jason, who had moved to San Diego (for work) a few years back, and was making a return visit. I’ve done many laps on The Mile with him over the years, and I was looking forward to a few more. The plan was to get some of the old crew together for boat & BBQ festivities there on Sunday. The forecast called for sunny skies & 75 degree temps, and it looked like we’d have just under a foot on the bridge gauge, what more could you ask for?!
When Sunday morning rolled around, I was still pretty tired from the get together at my house the night before. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I went to the store to pick up some food for the BBQ, before Jason showed up at my house. Once he had, we loaded up our gear and headed to the meeting spot in Pleasant Hill. Only four of us ended up showing up there, but we knew that Dan and Kristen planned on joining up later, so we figured we'd still have a good sized group.
As we reached the takeout, we checked the bridge gauge and confirmed that we had 10”, not a bad flow for this late in the season! The sun was out and energized us as we setup the grill and our camp chairs before heading to the put-in, just one mile upstream.
After unloading the boats and gearing up, I quickly put on the river so I could boat down and setup for photos while the others were setting the back shuttle. This was pretty much the routine for the first couple of laps, so I could get photos of all the main drops on the run. Basically, as soon as they came down and eddied out, I’d jump back in my boat and head down ahead of them to take shots on the next drop. Even though The Mile is basically one long rapid, the named sections make it nice for communicating locations of potentially new hazards (e.g. wood, etc.) and/or meeting points during the run.
The first named section of the run comes just around the corner from the first road bridge you pass under, and is aptly named “Initiation”. Once you pass underneath a couple of overhead logs, the typical line is to run down the left side before breaking right behind a couple large midstream boulders. Below this move it’s pretty much read and run to the bottom of Initiation and a large river-left eddy. This is one of the easier (and cleaner) drops on the run, so if you’re feeling a little over your head you might consider walking off.
Now that we had been initiated and were warmed up, we headed down toward the next drop, "Ricochet". This drop can also be identified as the first island, with the only clean routes down the left side of the island. Once you’ve gone left of the island, you can either run left or center-right, with left being quite a bit cleaner. The line that I always take is to run the lead-in down the left, drop into a small diagonal hole, and drive down the main part of the drop toward river center. It’s a fairly bumpy ride, but usually goes better than expected. There is also a fun eddy to catch on river-right just below the drop, which is where I setup for the following photos -- however, getting back in the water was kinda challenging and required me to do a fairly interesting seal-launch.
Just below Ricochet is “Confusion”, which is the longest single drop on the run. There are two main ways to enter this drop, either over a 3-foot ledge in the center, or the more exciting flume to the right. Whichever way you decide to enter, the rest is pretty much read-&-run through a gauntlet of boulders, with some passages cleaner than others. I typically run the first half down the center and the second half down the left. It should be noted that there is some wood on both the hard left and hard right in the second half of the drop. Like most of the run, Confusion benefits from a little more water, and can be quite trashy at low flows (< 8”).
At the base of Confusion is one of the largest eddies on the run, river left. We almost always regroup here before continuing down into “Shark’s Tooth”. Back in the day we used to run the drop off of "The Tooth" in the middle, but most people now run the right line off a 4’ ledge drop, which is a bit cleaner and sets you up a little better for the run out below. Speaking of the run out, it’s one of the pushier sections of the run and makes for a fun little boulder slalom.
Now at the second island, aka “Whoop-De-Do”, you have the chose to run down either side. The first is the main line down the left side of the island, which ends with a steep drop down a pile of boulders. The goal here is to continue driving right while trying to avoid getting pushed into the center of the river where it drops through a narrow slot with an undercut rock on the bottom left of it. The far left side (left of the island) really isn’t an option, since it’s basically a giant sieve. The other standard route is to run right of the island, it’s pretty trashy and has affectionately been given the name “Gutter Ball”. You basically crash your way down a narrow twisty chute that also feeds past an undercut boulder, however, it’s fairly benign. Hopefully a big flood will come though and clean this drop up a bit, but until then Whoop-De-Do continues to be the most unpleasant part of the run, at least for me.
This is one of the manky sections of the run.
Next up, “Silly Putty Slot"! My typical line here is to enter through a squirrely flume that seems to always test my bracing skills – this is followed by a fast run before dropping over a 4’ double ledge in the middle of the river. The actual “Slot” (which gives the drop its name) is located to the right of this double ledge on the other side of a large boulder -- this also used to be a common line, but a new piece of wood sits at the base, so it should be avoided.
If you look carefully, you can the wood in "The Slot"
to his right and on the other side of the large boulder.
Below Silly Putty the gradient seems to taper off a bit, but the run remains action packed and has a more wide-open and pushy feel. There are basically two main straightaway sections separated by a boulder fence and large eddy on river right. Both sections are read-&-run with some great boofs here and there. The second section should be entered either hard left or hard right, to either side of the fence. This last straightaway also produces some of the biggest hydraulics of the run; if you run it down the middle – it’s quite a wild ride! We also call this stretch “Swimmer’s Alley” since this is where most people seem to come out of their boat.
Once below Swimmer’s Alley, you are faced with two short stretches separated by the confluence with Christy Creek, a great class V run in its own right. The first part runs through a fun S-turn flume with banked corners. After this the river makes a sharp turn to the right and drops over a fun 4’ boof ledge, typically run on the right. A nice eddy sits on river-right just below the confluence, which can be used to setup for the final stretch of the run. Since you now have the added water from Christy, the river has some good push and fun hydraulics. With the bridge now in view, make your way to the takeout spot just above it on river-left and celebrate. Whew, what a great workout!
On this trip we did a total of 4 laps, pretty standard affair for a Saturday or Sunday trip to The Mile. We were also joined by Dan Dellwo, Kristin Alligood, Ed Fredette, and Gabe Flock for the last couple of laps and BBQ, which added to the fun. All of us felt pretty blessed with the bright sunny skies, warm temps, aquamarine water, and good flows. The boat & BBQ on The Mile has been a tradition for us the last couple of years, I just can’t believe that the flows and weather allowed it to happen in late June, what a crazy snowmelt season! I'm already looking forward to next year’s event…
Some head-cam footage of a lap down The Mile at 10" on the bridge gauge:
The USGS has added a new gauge to the NFMF Willamette, which can be found here.
I've started to list to try and create a correlation between it and the bridge gauge:
11/11/10__________2.7' __________ 825cfs _____________5"
11/27/10 _________2.87' __________980cfs _____________6"