Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sweet Creek (1.28.12)

It's probably no surprise, either if you know me or follow my stories, that Sweet Creek is one of my favorite local runs. I have actually done a write-up on it once before (here), but since it's changed a bit since the last floods, I thought I'd do another. It seems that boaters in the area either love it or hate it, but one thing we can all agree on is that it's one of the steepest and most exciting creeks in Oregon, at least that is easily accessible. On the downside, it has a few trashy drops and is way too short.

This past weekend I had plans to hangout with a group of friends at a beach house on the coast, and since Sweet Creek is in the Coast Range and only about 45 minutes from where I was staying, I decided to see if anyone would want to meet up there on Saturday. In the end I was able to round up Roman Androsov, who in turn was able to enlist Matt Cline, a new transplant to the Eugene area and avid boater. Since we would be driving from different locations, we decided to just meet-up at the take-out at noon. From there we would hike up and run some laps on the crux section.

Considering that flow is always a bit of a dice roll, I was glad that we had a crew willing to take a chance. That said, I've actually had pretty good luck with hitting the window, which I attribute to a gained understanding of how the creek drains. Basically, it's a very short/steep drainage, so it only comes in after a few days of hard rain and doesn't stay in long. Since there is no flow gauge on Sweet Creek itself, you must use the Siuslaw at Mapleton gauge (here). The main thing you are looking for is a 2' spike on the gauge, which usually sets up a day or two of good flows. If you have a smaller spike, say 1 foot, you might be able to catch it that day. We were actually facing the opposite situation, the gauge had spiked a whopping 7' three days prior. To be honest I didn't know what this would bring us, but my gut told me it would be perfect, if not a little on the juicy side.

The gauge used for Sweet Creek, found here.
On this day (the 28th) we had ~9', coming
off a 7' spike three days prior.

Since I had a slightly shorter drive, I ended up getting there first, which allowed me to hike up without my boat to check flow and see how the creek fared after the recent floods (e.g. wood). The first thing that I noticed (other than having a nice solid flow) was the section below the last major drop had been shifted around a bit; although it was still shallow and rocky, some boulders had been moved around, which really made me wonder what changes, if any, lay upstream. As I rounded the next few corners of the convenient hiking trail, the crux section came into view. Immediately my eye was drawn to a chuck of log resting against the left wall just below the fifth and final drop of this crux section. As I moved in closer it looked like it was definitely in play, but at the same time appeared to be more of a nuisance than dangerous.

The new log at drop #5

I continued upstream and scouted the remaining drops along the way. The next change that I noticed was the lead-in to drop #3 (the punchbowl drop) which had cleaned up significantly due to boulders also being moved around in this section. From here the creek was relatively unchanged, other than a small tree that was blocking the normal put-in eddy. It should be noted that between Sweet Creek Falls (upstream) and this eddy, which we typically put-in at, is a series of shallow slides and ledges, which in my opinion, is not really worth running, although it might be fun at really high flows.

Looking down the crux section of Sweet Creek

Looking up at the crux section

This was taken on a previous trip (slightly lower flow).
Note that the log is not there.

As I started hiking back down to the car I ran into Roman and Matt, who happened to be checking out the log I mentioned earlier. After a brief discussion we decided that with proper safety set the hazard was manageable. Since Matt hadn't done the run before, we quickly discussed the other drops before heading back to the car to get geared up. One hazard that was worth mentioning is a vertical pin spot on drop #4, which got me last year. This was not the first incident at this location and probably won't be the last, so take it very seriously. For an account of my entrapment, go here.

Because of the well maintained hiking trail and spectacular scenery, Sweet Creek is a very popular hiking area as well, so back at the parking lot we got the usual assortment of questions/comments, like: "Are you guys gonna take your boats down that?!", or my personal favorite "Are you guys crazy?!" After confirming their questions and exchanging pleasantries, we headed back up for some fun.

Hiking up for some fun
(photo by Matt Cline)

Since I wanted to setup for some video and photos from below, I stopped at the drop with the log (#5) and told the others that I would set safety. Aside from the wood this drop is also a good one for safety due to the beefy hole that forms with higher flows, like we had on this day. With that, I seal-launched into the water and ferried across to get set-up -- while doing so the others continued the hike to get ready for their runs. I was actually surprised with how easy it was to set safety at the log, basically it has a nice little perch carved into the wall right next to it. I was also a bit surprised with how much stickier the hole looked from close up, the pile feeding back into the hole was much taller than I had interpreted it from the other side of the creek.

Before long I could see Roman dropping over the punchbowl (#3) and eddying out just below it on river-left. After a few more seconds he reappeared and dropped down the slide that follows. I quickly readied my bag and waited for his arrival. As he dropped over #4 he was spun around and thrown against the left wall (not uncommon). He quickly ferried back into the current and turned around at the last minute before dropping over #5, where I was staged. Roman went deep, and as he resurfaced against the left wall the hole locked on. Putting in a flurry of paddle strokes he attempted to paddle out, but unfortunately the backflow was strong and the wall was making it hard to take a left stroke. As I could see the hope leaving his face I waited for him to call for the bag. Then I came up with another idea and shouted at him to feed me the end of his paddle, which he did without hesitation. I quickly grabbed the paddle shaft and pulled him free of the hole, after which I guided him through the narrow opening between the log and wall. "Well, that was a close one!" Roman pulled into the eddy below with a big grin on his face, and after thanking me, took my place at safety so I could hike up for my turn.

Roman drops into #3
(photo by Matt Cline)

Roman at #4
(photo by Matt Cline)

Roman squeezes through the narrow slot between
the log and wall, after receiving the "hand of god".
(photo by Matt Cline)

When I got to the top I was greeted by Matt who was holding his camera. Since he was already set to take photos, I volunteered to go next. Still struggling with a head cold, I rested for a few minutes before dropping in. As I slid into the water I splashed my face and prepared to drop off the face of the earth -- well, with a gradient of ~600'/mile that's how it feels anyways. Drop #1 went fine, and after eddying out for a brief moment, I setup for #2, the Super Boof. I came off with a nice stroke and ran it pretty much as planned. Since the lead-in to #3 is now much cleaner, I didn't spend much time setting up and just kept moving. Next, I ran the Punchbowl along the left wall (like I always do), and headed toward #4, and #5, which are pretty much stacked on top of each other. Just like Roman, I was spun around and thrown against the left wall coming out of #4. The difference between our two lines was that I got flipped by the hole in number five and was forced to pull my skirt -- damn... Now out of my boat, I struggled to stay above the surface in my desire for air. Unfortunately I couldn't see Roman or a rope since my boat was smacking me in the face. After getting pulled back into the hole once, I frantically swam to the right side of the hole (where it kicks out) and was able to escape its clutches. Luckily I was able to get out in one of the eddies below where my boat had also washed up on a rock. My paddle was stuck under water where Matt easily retrieved it. At this point I was fairly pooped and figured I wouldn't be doing another lap (at least right way), especially with how sticky the hole was. With that I gathered myself and returned to my safety position at the log so the others could run some more laps.

Matt was next, which would be his first trip down -- I can only imagine what he was thinking after seeing both Roman and I struggle with that damn hole. If it did make him nervous, it didn't show, as he pretty much ran all the drops perfectly (at least the ones I could see). He was now headed straight into the dreaded #5 drop, and got in a nice stroke as he came over the lip, but this was still not enough to keep him from going deep. Basically it was a reenactment of Roman's situation, and I ended up giving him the "Hand of God" as well by grabbing his paddle and pulling him free (in his boat).

Matt runs the second part of #1

Matt lines up #2, the Super Boof

Throughout the next part of the day Roman and Matt ran another few laps with even better lines and no issues at the hole. There was also another group of boaters that had shown up and ran some laps as well. Between all the boaters, there were a couple more swims, one at the punchbowl (#3) and one at #4, which included a wild self rescue -- a little bit of a shit show, if you were judging.

Matt helps recover a boat from an unknown swimmer

Matt at safety on #5

An unknown boater rests below #2 before continuing on

Out of the blue our buddy Joe showed up, along with his dog Mackay. He wasn't sure if he wanted to boat or just go for a hike, but was more than willing to be there with a throw bag and a camera. By this time I was also starting to feel a bit more energized and decided I couldn't let the others have all the fun, and hiked back up to run at least one more lap and get some redemption. This time went much better and I was actually able to eddy out on river right between #4 and #5, which allows you to miss that damn hole. I love catching this eddy, but it's not an easy one to grab -- the only time I really go for it is if I'm able to come out of #4 with right angle, otherwise you run the risk of missing it and running #5 backwards, which I've seen happen far too often.

The author gets ready for lap 2, hoping for a better outcome...
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author takes flight at #2
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author at the punchbowl drop (#3)
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author drops over #4...
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

...and goes deep
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author glad to be clear of the
hole and at the bottom of the crux
(photo by Joe Brushyhead)

As Matt said, "Mennonites love them some kayaking"
(photo by Matt Cline)

Roman shows how much he loves setting
safety by sportin' off his newest dance moves

Now that we were done running the top five drops making up the crux, we headed down to the bottom three. The first of these is #6, a 10' to 12' falls that has a very narrow landing between a shallow rock shelf on the right and a rock outcropping on the left, both of which can inflict boat or body damage. I seem to hit my elbow at least 75% of the time, so if you decided to run it make sure you're wearing pads. Both Matt and I had decided to eddy out above it, while Roman decided to fire-it-up without doing so. I noticed that he seemed to be a bit right as he went over the falls, and as he rolled up at the bottom he grimaced and motioned that he had pitoned. I was actually planning to walk it anyways, but since we had just enough flow to sneak it on the right, I took that option, along with Matt. It should be noted that the lead-in to this one has also changed, so if you haven't run it in awhile, it's worth a look.

Roman sets up for his new nose job
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author takes the sneak route
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The last 2 drops are some of the best on the run. The first of these (#7) is a slide into a good sized hydraulic at the base. Since you build up so much speed and there really isn't a hole, chances are you'll just right crash right through with a big smile on your face.

Roman drops into #7
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Matt at #7
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author takes his turn
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author hits the pile at the bottom of #7
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The last drop (#8) is basically an auto-boof, assuming you hit the nose of it. This is also an easy one to lap by hiking back up from river-left, and I highly recommend doing so since this one is just too much fun. The three of us each took a couple goes at it before heading down to the take-out ~50 yards downstream.

Matt hits the boof nicely on #8
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Hiking back up for another round
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author grabs the ape hangers at #8...
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

...and braces for impact
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Roman finishing up with a nice boof
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Mackay greets Matt near the take-out
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Even with the swim, it was another great day on Sweet Creek. The recent floods definitely changed the run a bit, some for the better and some for the worse, but in the end it's still the same ol' run. A big thanks to Joe for showing up and helping out, especially with the camera!

Some footage from a different trip to Sweet:

Short Film - Sweet Creek, OR from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.


  1. Nice Report. Thanks again for pulling me off that bottom log!

  2. Also I have some video of the yellow boater (Matt?)here...


  3. No worries Lucas, just glad to see other boaters enjoying the run. Thanks for passing along the video with Matt (and nice edit), I'll let him know about it.