Monday, February 13, 2012

Black Creek, OR (2.12.12)

Another first documented descent, or an attempt at least...

Since I'm always on the lookout for something new to run (especially if it's a possible first "D"), I became very intrigued when my buddy Bobby told me a about potential run in the Upper Middle Fork Willamette drainage, called Black Creek (bonus points for the cool name). Basically it flows out of Waldo Lake and into Salmon Creek, at a point about 15 miles upstream of Oakridge. After forgetting about it for a few days, I decided to research it a bit further on my topo program as well as using the aerial view on Google maps. What I found was a 5 or so mile stretch that dropped at ~200'/fpm -- and as a bonus it had a road that paralleled it and appeared to contain a short gorge section. It also looked like a fairly good sized riverbed (for this high up), and was one of the main tributarys of Salmon Creek, providing almost 1/2 the flow. Even with all these things going for it, it's hard not to be a bit pessimistic since most of the good runs are already well documented and wood is prevalent in these high-up streams, especially in the Upper MF Willey drainage.

Black Creek (noted in blue), runs out of Waldo Lake and
into Salmon Creek, just east of the town of Oakridge.

A couple days later I was talking to my other buddy Joe and decided to see if he might be interested in a little mission. Being an adventurous type he agreed that it would be worth givin’ it a go at some point. Since he had the following day off, he agreed to give it a pre-scout to see if it looked like you could even get a boat down. From this scouting mission (with Matt and Eric) what they found was a further confirmation that it was indeed worth an adventure -- in fact, he seemed even more excited about it. Fast forward to last Friday night. After making plans to run the Lake Creek rock slides, Joe texted me hoping to switch the plans to the Black Creek mini expedition. I was a little hesitant since I wasn't convinced that we would have enough water (to make it fun) and I'd wanted to do the Lake Creek slides for some time. However, after sleeping on it, I agreed on Saturday morning. With that, Joe, Eric, and I headed there that morning.

Probably the best gauge for determining the flow
in Black Creek. On this day Salmon Creek had a
projected flow of ~350cfs

Wanting to ensure we had enough daylight we decided to only run a 3 mile stretch, starting just above the apparent gorge and ending at a convenient road bridge over Black Creek. At almost exactly 3 miles from our takeout, we found a little spur road that ended at a small campsite, about 50 vertical feet above the creek. After gearing up and a quick bushwhack, we were creekside. The flows definitely looked a bit low, but it was certainly enough to bang down. This was actually better since we had really no idea what lay downstream and would probably encounter our fair share of wood -- I was already having flashbacks of our Upper MF Willamette portage-fest the previous year (trip report here).

The map showing our mission for the day. The black line
is the spur road that led to the campsite near the put-in.
The dashed red lines indicate our hike in / hike out.

Joe makes the short scramble down to the put-in

Joe and Eric prepare to put on

Knowing that we only had a short bit of water before the walls started to close in, we proceeded with caution, especially with all the logs bridging the creek above us. Luckily we were able to limbo a majority of the wood as we continued downstream. We took turns leading as well as jumping out to scout from shore. The gradient eventually picked up a bit and the banks became steeper, although never vertical. Instead of rock, they were formed of soft soil, and the erosion had dropped many trees into the water, blocking our path more and more the further we went downstream.

One of the first portages

Joe navigates one of the many log limbos

This one was just a little too tight to get under...

One of the few clean stretches

Eric drops under another

The run-out of the previous photo

Joe lines up for his turn

Eric boofs a small ledge on another relatively clean stretch

At one point in this tight section we did have a bit of excitement. The lead boater at the time had dropped into what appeared to be a clear pathway, only to find it completely jammed with wood. By the time I could register what was happening, he was already pinned against the wood sieve and being sucked under. I remember saying "oh God", before driving towards a micro-eddy on river left, hoping I wasn't going to be doing a body extraction. While pulling into the eddy I could now see his boat wedged in the crisscrossed logs struggling to work its way through -- there was also no sign of its pilot. I quickly popped my skirt, jumped out, and grabbed my boat before it slid into the jam as well. Standing up, I could now see him in the shallow pool below, relieved to see him giving me the head-pat, signaling that he was okay. We were all a bit shaken by the event and took a few minutes to relax and discussed what happened. It's amazing, even with the low water, how a bit of complacency can lead to near disaster. A little humbled, we continued on with a greater since of trepidation and a little more caution.

The wood sieve that almost ended the day in a bad way

The lead-in to the log sieve. I was able to catch the eddy behind
the rock on river-left, but the shallow water didn't make it easy.

Soon we reached a point where the portages really started to stack up -- basically paddling a couple hundred feet before having to start another one. The one that finally had us reconsidering our mission was so bad that it almost looked like the entire creek was flowing underneath the forest. We did make an effort to hike around it, but soon we were pulling out the GPS to see how far we were from the take-out. After confirming that we had already made it through the pinch of the run, and that the creek would probably start to get more braided, we decided to cut our losses and hike up to the road, a mere 100 vertical feet above us. Also, we were only about halfway through the run, and were already tired of the portages. The scramble up the bank wasn't too bad and soon we reached the gravel road.

Looking back upstream at another woody section

Joe waits his turn as we practice more caution

Joe and Eric eddy-hop their way down, looking for wood as they go.

The start of the real portaging adventure

Eric drags his boat around another.
The low water did make this part fairly easy.

Joe takes one of the easier routes through the forest

Up and over one of many logs along the portage route

The final carry... This time to the road.

Since we had about equal distance to both cars, I volunteered to retrieve mine, as it was in the downhill direction at the take-out. Alternating between running and walking, I reached the car and changed before driving back upstream. Next we gathered the car at the put-in and headed back to Oakridge to lick our wounds over some tasty Chinese food.

Even though it wasn't a completely successful day, it was still a good time and worth checking off the list. I certainly won't be returning to this one and don't recommend that anyone else does, unless they're part beaver. Without the wood it would probably be pretty fun and actually reminds me a bit of the EFSF McKenzie, which by the way, is a far more worthy endeavor (trip report here). For the most part, the section of Black Creek that we did was class III/IV, but the wood definitely kicked it up a notch. These types of creeks seem to get my attention at least a couple times a year, so I'm sure I'll be doing another silly mission soon enough, hoping to find that hidden gem.

A couple of final notes:
  1. The lower stretch below the bridge where we had planned to take-out has been run. Supposedly it's less interesting but has plenty of wood like the section we ran.
  2. The uppermost section was scouted where a hiking trail parallels the creek. Word was that the creek has some pretty good looking drops (including waterfalls), but it is also ruined by wood.
  3. And finally, I have not found any documentation or heard of anyone else running Black Creek above the noted take-out bridge, so I'm considering this the first documented descent. If you know otherwise, please let me know.

Until next time...

No comments:

Post a Comment