Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Upper Opal Creek, OR (6.4.11)

With warm temperatures and sunny skies forecasted for the weekend, I was looking forward to getting on the water, even after coming off a week of boating in California. I wanted to stay somewhat close to home, and was actually hoping that Upper Quartzville would come in to a good flow, which it unfortunately didn’t. The backup plan ended up being Opal Creek, which I was still excited about since I hadn’t done it in a while. I wanted to get a full day of boating in, so I pitched the idea of doing an Upper/Lower Opal combo, and in the end I got two bites, Roman Androsov & Anna Herring.

Opal Creek is one of the, if not the most, popular creeks in Oregon to kayak. If flows are good, you can expect to see at least one or two more crews at the put-in or takeout. Lots of great class III/IV rapids in a pristine canyon with crystal clear water and untouched forests are the draw to this very special place. The standard run is from The Mines put-in down to Three Pools, with boaters rarely venturing into the creek above this stretch. This is really a shame, since it shares almost the same flow range, has some high quality drops, and adds quite a bit more whitewater when done as a combo with the lower. It should be noted that it’s definitely a step up in difficulty, and although very manageable, it does have a couple of committing drops that can be somewhat intimidating. The only downside is that it adds 1.5 more miles to the hike-in, but I'd say it's still worth it.

Roman, Yulia (Roman’s wife, who offered to run shuttle after hiking) and I met Anna at the Swiss Village, and we drove up to Three Pools to use the restroom and check to see what the flow looked like. The internet gauge was reading ~1150cfs, which in the spring and early summer equates to a nice medium flow, since most of it is coming from the top. A quick look at the takeout drop confirmed this, and soon we were on our way to the start of the put-in trail.

The hike into Upper Opal is about 2.5 miles if you put-in at Sawmill Falls (aka: Cascada de los Ninos), which is what we did. Both Roman and I rigged up our NRS Sherpa packs, while Anna cobbled one together out of camstraps. The sun was out, but the temps weren’t too hot, which was nice for the hike. As I made my way up the trail, I stopped a few times to readjust my load and talked to a few hikers that were very inquisitive about what we had planned. One of them warned me to be careful because there was a big waterfall upstream. When I told her that was one of the main reasons we were hiking up there, she just gave me one of those looks, and said, "You guys are crazy."

Roman, still happy after a few miles of hiking.

Almost there!

Before too long I heard the roar of the falls and knew that we had reached the put-in. I dropped the boat from my shoulders and scampered down a short trail to get a look at the falls and choose my line. Soon after, the others showed up to do the same. I offered to go first while they watched and took some photos. After quickly gearing up, I hiked about the trail a bit more until I knew I was above the falls, where I bushwhacked to the creek and put on. Almost immediately after putting on the water, I was confronted with the lead-in drop to the falls, a ledge drop that I ran center left. Just below this was some slack water and an eddy on river right that can be used to setup for the falls. It should be noted that there is a shallow shelf that sticks out center-right at the base of the falls, so err to the left and/or make sure you get a good boof. Without too much delay, I pulled out of the eddy and dropped down the sloping entrance. Once I saw the lip I grabbed for it with a big left stroke and went airborne -- what a great way to start off a run!

The author below the lead-in drop
(photo by Roman Androsov)

The author digs in
(photo by Roman Androsov)

As I eddied out in the pool below the falls, I saw that Anna was heading up to take her turn. Since the hike back up the hill was pretty easy, I decided, “Heck, why not run it again!” After taking my second plunge, I traded places with Roman so he could have his turn and I could get some photos. In the end we all had good lines, which set a nice tone for the rest of the run.

Anna takes flight

Roman takes his turn

Not far below "Cascada de los Ninos" and a fun S-turn drop, is the first significant rapid of the run, “Harvey Wallbanger”. This drop runs though near vertical walls, and would be extremely difficult to portage. Further, scouting anything other than the first part of the drop would be equally as torturous. Basically the drop starts off with a class III boulder slalom that funnels down against the right wall though a series of tricky hydraulics. Below this is a fast moving pool that then drops through another slot, with a fairly sticky hole. If you’ve not run this before, it’s definitely best to eddy out on the left above the hole and give it a scout, since lining it up properly is important, assuming you even want to run it.

After a quick look at the entrance to Mr. Wallbanger, Roman jumped in his boat and signaled that he was dropping in. While shooting photos I could see him getting pushed around a bit in the first slot as he dropped out of sight. I was pretty relieved to see him reappear in the pool between drops and eddying out, since he wouldn't have had safety if something went wrong.

Roman in the middle of Harvey Wallbanger

Roman prepares to drop through the first slot

Next up was Anna, who had a similar line to Roman but was flipped in the first slot -- after a quick roll, she joined Roman in the eddy below. Now my turn, I hiked up to my boat and dropped in. Everything was going well in the class III entrance until I hit a rock just above the slot. With no speed I was flushed through, got spun around, and flipped almost immediately. After a violent couple of seconds under water, I was able to hit my roll and eddy out just above the hole. I remember thinking, "Wow, that was a little close for comfort.".

Anna enters Harvey

Anna just below the slot that flipped the both of us

After pulling up to shore and jumping out of my boat, I started to walk down the bank to take a look at the bottom hole. By this time Roman and Anna had already scouted and decided on their lines. I once again brought out the camera to take some shots while they took their chances with the hole. Roman went first, and after taking a big left stroke while dropping through, he was flipped by the boil feeding off the right wall. I quickly grabbed for my rope, but luckily he was able to roll up and paddle away, with some effort. Anna went next and had almost the same exact line and outcome. I put my rope and camera away and went to finish giving the drop a scout. To be honest I didn’t like what I saw. It wasn’t that the hole looked all that threatening, it was more that the entrance move was thin and seemed somewhat like a roll of the dice. With that I decided that it was just as easy to shoulder around it, which I did along left bank.

Roman prepares to take on the bottom hole

Droppin' in

Anna meets force, with force.

Looking back up at Harvey Wallbanger,
including the bottom hole.

Now that we were below Harvey Wallbanger, we proceeded carefully downstream so we didn’t stumble down the lead-in to “Coyle’s Boil” without realizing it. Before we got there we came to another horizon line, where large boulders blocked the view of most of the drop. Roman, who had remembered the line from a previous trip, entered down the center between two of the boulders and headed left. As he dropped out of sight, I turned and said to Anna, “Guess that’s the line”, and quickly followed. It ended up being a pretty fun two-tiered drop, with a somewhat busy run-out.

After a short bit we reached what we knew to be the lead-in to Coyle’s Boil. The drop is notorious based on a class III lead-in with a must make eddy just above a ledge with an underwater sieve and undercut wall. Since I’ve not seen the drop at low water I can’t verify the hazards, but we still wanted to play it safe. I made the decision to eddy out above the lead-in on river-right, where I could walk down to set safety. Roman and Anna had already run about half the lead-in and were held up in a left hand eddy. I motioned to them that I had a bag, and both came down making the eddy above Coyle’s without issue.

Roman and Anna eddied out partway down the lead-in to Coyle's Boil

Roman finishes up the lead-in to Coyle's

Anna heads for the must-make eddy

Ferrying back to river-left to do the portage
around Coyle's Boil, which is directly below her.

With safety now set for me, I boated down and caught the eddy as well – although I got slightly knocked around in the lead-in which certainly got the heart pumping. After ferrying from the river-right eddy to river left (the only side with a portage option), we gave Coyle’s a quick look. I was surprised to see that it actually looked quite runnable. It was certainly not clean, but not all that bad either. If I had decided to run it, I would have kept my speed from the lead-in and not eddied out. Since this was no longer an option, none of us seriously considered running it and made the easy portage down the left.

Looking back up at the lead-in

Coyle's Boil

The portage

Immediately below Coyle’s is a fun 8’ vertical ledge, which would be even better if you could build up enough speed to really air it out. We all ran center-right (avoiding the piton/pin rock hard right), which appeared to be the best line option and worked well for us.

Anna runs the ledge just below Coyle's

Roman runs the same line.
Coyle's is the drop in the top of the photo.

Just around the corner from Coyle’s and the ledge drop, I could see that we had reached the put-in for the normal Mines to Three Pools run. I knew from both reading and witnessing, that the ledge just above the put-in is extremely sticky on the left side. I would highly recommend that you give this one a good look before running the “hero line”, since the hole can trap a swimmer, make for a uncomfortable experience, and create a difficult rescue situation. They call this one "Hypoxia Hole" for good reason.

Since we pretty much bombed down this lower stretch and I didn’t take any pictures, I won’t go into any more detail other than: Big Ugly went really well down the left, and I almost paid the Linkprice for missing my boof on Big Fluffy, which luckily let me go after holding me briefly.

Anna runs the fun seal-launch around Big Fluffy

The author about to probe the depths of Big Fluffy
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Shot of the same line taken from below
(photo by Anna Herring)

If you want to see my account of Lower Opal at lower flow, go here. You can also see our run from this day in the head-cam footage below.

A POV of our run down Upper & Lower Opal:

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