Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lake Creek Slides, OR (2.18.12)

I still remember my first time visiting the Lake Creek rock slides. I was visiting a friend in the area and was not yet a boater. It was summer, so there were lots of people hanging about in the various swimming holes, as well as sliding down the rock slides on their butts or using other various craft to assist them in the descent (boogie boards, snow sleds, etc.). Being summer flows, it was a relatively safe waterpark for the various groups of folks that had gathered there, but when my buddy told me that he had seen kayakers run it a much higher flows, I figured that would probably get pretty exciting.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, and my intrigue for this area had once again re-emerged, although this time as a boater. I did some research online to see what I could find on running this section in a kayak, but could only find one video and it was at much higher flow (here). Everything else I was able to gather on the run was via word-of-mouth, so I figured I just needed to go scout it for myself. I had actually looked at it about three or four times at different water levels, usually when it was fairly high on return trips from either the Lake Creek Play Run or Sweet Creek. One thing that I had discovered form my scouting was that below the slides held about a mile of class IV/IV+ boulder gardens, generating further excitement. Unfortunately this was somewhat stifled by the hazards upstream -- the first falls, as well as the run out to the slides, had gathered some unfortunately placed wood, so I was starting to lose faith that it was even worth running.

The log stuck in Lake Creek Falls. Unfortunately it
sits just below where you want to come off the lip.

Looking at the lead-in to the lower slide during one
of our scout missions. Note the wood here and there.

The log sitting below the lower slide, prior to the recent floods.
Since then it has now been lifted and shifted out of play!

Scouting the boulder garden just below the lower slide. Looked like
a great flow, which was right around 6.5' on the gauge at Mapleton.

Fast forward even further to a couple of weeks ago. Once again during a return trip from the coast I decided to give it another look. Since Lake Creek had gone well above flood stage (~28' on the Mapleton gauge!), I was curious to see if any of the wood had shifted. Because I was with Emily (my wife), and didn't really have the time to do an in-depth scout, I only did a quick survey -- and what I found was encouraging. The first falls still had a horizontal log with one end wedged in the curtain, however the river-wide old growth that sat at the bottom of the second slide had been lifted onto some rocks and now allowed easy passage underneath. I still didn't know what shape the boulder gardens were in, but hey, sometimes it's just more fun to figure things out once you're on the water. With that, I decided to hatch a plan and try and generate some interest.

Based on my previous scouts, I figured that between 5' and 6' on the Siuslaw gauge (here) would be a good first time flow, especially not knowing what lay downstream in the boulder gardens. When I saw that it would probably fall within that range over the weekend, I decided to rally the troops. Surprisingly this wasn't too difficult and soon enough we had some people from Eugene, as well as from up north. The plan was to meet at the slides parking lot (just below Triangle Lake) at 10am. By the time everyone had shown up we had a crew of 7 -- Roman Androsov, Andrew Bradley, Andy Carmicheal, Jacob Cruser, Emile Elliott, Anna Herring, Joni Randall, and myself.

After some pleasantries and chitchat, we headed down to give it another quick scout so people could see what they were getting into. The first thing that became obvious was that the water was lower than the gauge/previous scouts would have suggested -- at 6' on the gauge, this would probably be about as low as you'd want to run it. The first falls also looked as ugly as it always does, and in fact even worse with the lower flow. After an in-depth look at the drop no one really wanted to run it, so we all decided to put-in just below the falls and above the first slide and take-out about 1 1/2 miles downstream where a road bridge crossed over the creek. Even with sub-optimal conditions everyone seemed ready to have a good time, and heck, we were already out here!

The flow for our run, right around 6'. I would
consider this a minimum flow for the run.

A topo view of the run

A picture of the sign at the put-in, which basically shows the run.

I was the first to hike down to the put-in (using the very convenient stairs) so I could get my camera set up and ready to take some snaps of everyone running the first slide. After watching everyone drop down it one by one, I got anxious for my turn and headed up to my awaiting boat. The slide ended up being pretty fun with a nice little kicker about halfway down and followed up quickly by the final plunge. It wasn't overly exciting, but enough so for each of us to run a couple of laps on it.

Jacob below the first (top) slide.

Jacob hiking back up for another lap, which is super easy to do.

Roman dropping over the final plunge of the put-in slide

Anna following soon after


Andrew hits the kicker halfway down the slide

The author takes his turn

After everyone had their fill of the first slide we headed down to the second, and longer one. To get there you have to paddle a small boulder drop to the left of the island -- it's not a hard set of moves (at least at this level), but you want to stay on-line since there is wood and sieves if you're not.

It should also be noted that running the right side of the island (the fish ladder) is not recommended -- it's trashy, undercut, sievey, and you'd also miss out on the slide.

Looking into the channel on the right side of the island
below the upper slide -- wood, undercuts, and sieves, oh my...

Another view of the right channel

Since there was a nice generous eddy above the slide itself, I decided to jump out and take pictures of Jacob and Andrew running it. After documenting the drop from above, I ran the slide myself to setup for pictures from down below. I would definitely say that this slide would have certainly benefited from more water; it was still fun but also shallow enough to scrub a lot of your speed.

Jacob drops down the preferred line on the lower
(second) slide, while Andrew lines up for his turn.

Look ma, one handed!

Before long I could see the rest of the group forming in the eddy above the slide. One by one they dropped over, each with a big smile on their face. Due to its benign nature, paddle twirls and sit-on-top runs were also made.

Roman drops in

Roman watches while Joni rides the
right, and most padded out, line.

Joni catches the speed-trap

Jacob and Andrew heading back up for another lap

Paddle twirls...

...and sit-on-tops

Big smiles below the lower slide

Now that we were gathered below the second slide we got out to start scouting the boulder gardens. The banks were fairly overgrown, so after looking at the first drop, I decided to head back up, run it, and catch an eddy below to scout the next series. After giving some verbal beta, a few of us headed down. Basically this first drop was a poop-chute flume run down against the left side wall.

After ducking the log, head left to drop through the poop-chute

The left-hand chute just below the lower slide

Next, the creek tumbled down through the steepest and most congested section of the boulder maze. Aside from some poorly placed F-U rocks it was certainly runnable with the only wood being on the left at the entrance. I setup for pictures from above while Jacob probed. His line was relatively clean, other than getting hung-up on one of this bastard rocks right in the middle of what would be a sweet airplane turn. After freeing himself he continued down a couple more pitches before catching a small eddy on river-right.

Jacob saddles up for the boulder garden

Jacob enters the boulder garden

Dropping into the airplane turn. Unfortunately, at this
flow, there is an F-U rock that complicates the line.

Since I also wanted to get shots from downstream I dropped in next. I was pretty sure it would be difficult (if not impossible) to run a super clean line, but also saw a line I felt I could make it down well enough. Once again, I was hoping for just a bit more water to cover up some of the junk. I was basically spot-on with my assessment, and made my way down, but it wasn't that pretty. Soon after, some more members of the group took their turn, while others decided they didn't like the look of it and hiked back up to the put-in to run more laps on the slides.

Anna in the meat of the boulder garden

Anna drives for an eddy about halfway down the boulder garden

Jacob runs the second half of the boulder garden

Finishing up the crux of the boulder garden

Andy finishes up the boulder garden while Anna looks on

Update - Wood Hazard!!!
Boaters, please be aware that as of 4/7/12, there is a new (and dangerous) piece of wood toward the bottom of the above mentioned boulder garden. It it almost river-wide, with the worst of it right where you want to go. Although there is passage underneath on the left, and it can be snuck on the right, it would be a difficult move and almost impossible if you weren't in complete control. Our crew wisely portaged on the right -- scout accordingly. Here is a photo of said log:

New log as of 4/7/12

By the time I had packed up my camera and joined the others above the next drop, Andy was walking back to his boat after scouting. He basically told me that the drop had kind of a funky hole at the top that was worth a look. Upon inspection it looked fine to me (not too sticky) with a decent flake on the right side that would take a couple good strokes to get lined up on. There was also a bit of a run-out after the hole that looked like you wanted to be river-left since you really couldn't see what the right side dropped into. With a nice platform just above the hole, I once again set up for shots of the others coming through.

Andy just above the hole

Andy boofin' the hole

Jacob runs just to the left of the flake

Andrew bustin' through the hole

Anna looking focused at the lip of the hole

Crashin' through

Jacob and Andy relax below the steep stuff

Next we encountered the trashiest drop of the run, with a log blocking the main flow on the left, forcing us to gutter ball down the right. Just below and around a right bend were two eddies on river-right that allowed us to scout the next pitch. Jacob had gotten out there and helped pull the everyone else to shore, ensuring no one would run the next part blind.

What we were faced with was a short lead-in which was followed by the creek splitting around a large midstream boulder. To the left of the boulder it was pretty trashy but could certainly be run without too much trouble -- there was also some wood over there but it was basically out of play. To the right of the boulder was one of the most interesting drops on the run. The creek funneled through a slot between a couple of small boulders and then airplane turned off the large boulder, dropping about 5' into the landing below. I actually thought it looked pretty fun, but a couple of the others weren't so convinced. The concern was that you wouldn't be able to make the right turn off the rock and avoid pitoning or smacking your elbows/face on the rock. Andrew also thought it looked good to go and offered to probe. Before long he was heading down the lead-in and eddied out just below it on river-left to get a better setup for the crux move. He peeled out, dropped between the guard rocks and made the airplane and got in the stroke just like he needed to.

Andrew lines up the airplane drop


and impact

A little more convinced of the line, both Jacob and Andy hiked back up to their boats to give it a go. Jacob came through first and also had a great line, very similar to Andrew's. Andy forgave the setup eddy and headed straight for the drop after running the lead-in. He came in pretty hot which made it harder to make the right turn off the rock; even so, he still landed and paddled away just fine. I had a similar line to everyone else, using the setup eddy and coming over the drop with my planned line.

Jacob in the lead-in

Jacob also hitting the line nicely...

...and landing well too

Andy dropping in with speed

Looking back up the airplane turn off the midstream boulder

Below the airplane drop we ran a couple more small boulder gardens, nothing as difficult as the stuff upstream, but still good fun. Before long the creek almost completely flattened out as we paddled the last half mile or so to the takeout bridge -- aw, mission accomplished!

Andy running the last of it

Jacob gets a mini boof at the end of the good stuff

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the run, and the geology is unlike anything I've paddled in Oregon. It's probably got too much junk to ever be considered a classic run, but for only being 45 minutes from my doorstep, I could certainly see running this a few times a year. Furthermore, with more water I believe it would be a much better run. However, you probably wouldn't want too much more flow, as I could see the boulder gardens getting pretty stout, but have having just enough to cover up the few F-U rocks could make a big difference in quality. Regarding the first waterfall, unless the horizontal log somehow washes downstream, I'll probably never run it, the fun factor to potential pain factor just doesn't pencil out for me (I lied, see my follow up below...).

Regarding class rating and flow, I would give this run a IV/IV+ rating, but it would certainly get harder with more flow. The average gradient of the run is right around 200fpm, but the first half mile drops at ~400fpm. Based on our run, I would like to see it between 7' and 8' which I think would be a nice medium level. That said, know the gauge is over 30 miles downstream with many side creeks (and the Siuslaw river) joining up before then, so this should only be used as a guesstimate.

Okay, so I just got done paddling both days this, the following, weekend at a much spicier level, 8.5' & 8' respectively. What I can tell you is the run was much better, but also quite a bit harder -- I would definitely give it a class V rating at these flows. I actually broke down and ran the right line on the first falls since it looked pretty good with the extra water; it ended up being super fun and a hell of a way to start off the run. Both of the following slides also benefited greatly from more flow, although the lead-in to the second was a little tricky with a guard hole at the entrance. The boulder gardens below also cleaned up quite a bit, but were also pretty juicy, I actually flipped in the meat of one on the second day and smacked my head pretty good before rolling up and seeing stars. The final plunge off the airplane drop felt about the same, although you could ride higher up on the rock, which provided for some pretty dynamic moves.

Shawn drop into the first falls
(right line; 8' on the gauge)

The author runs the right line of the first falls
(photo by Roman Androsov; 8.5' on the gauge)

Aaron with a nice line on the first falls
(8.5' on the gauge)

Aaron lines up the guard hole on the second slide.
You definitely want to run the slide on the right
and driving right, to avoid the wood at the bottom.
(8.5' on the gauge)

Loft, near the start of the boulder gardens section
(8.5' on the gauge)

Roman in the heart of the boulder gardens
(8.5' on the gauge)

More bouldery goodness
(8.5' on the gauge)

Loft runs the last pitch of the boulder gardens.
This one had a couple of nasty rocks in the run-out --
you definitely want to be upright and in control here.
(8.5' on the gauge)

The author runs the lead-in to the airplane
drop -- Nice and padded out at this level!
(photo by Roman Androsov 8.5' on the gauge)

The author wheelies off the Airplane Drop
(photo by Roman Androsov 8.5' on the gauge)

Aaron goes high on the Airplane Drop
(8.5' on the gauge)

The author on the second day
(photo by Shawn Haggin; 8' on the gauge)

Shawn for his first time down the Airplane Drop
(8' on the gauge)

Some head-cam footage from our run:

More footage of one of are runs at a little higher water (~7.75'):

Additionally, here is a link to some Oregon boys running the slides portion at near flood stage (note that there is also some footage of Sweet Creek):
Lake Creek Slides at high water


  1. Sweet media and report! I am glad there is finally some information for kayakers now. I'd agree it is definitely worth doing and underutilized.

    The geology is different for sure. Its the Tyee Sandstone formation as opposed to the Columbia River Basalt groups or Siletz River volcanics (also basalt) that most of the rivers that get kayaked in western Oregon carve through.

  2. Love your reports man, good stuff.

  3. I have been kayaking in the Eugene area for a long, but just ran this section for the first time. I was surprised at the quality of the run (fewer F-you rocks then I expected @ 6.7 feet), I should have done this a long time ago. As of today we went over,under and around wood, but we didn't have to portage anything. Thanks for the great trip report to get me motivated to get out there.