Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Lower Canyon Creek, Oregon (3.11.12)
For some reason I always seem to forget about Lower Canyon Creek as a legitimately fun class IV run that's relatively close to Eugene (about an hour away) and is often at a good level. Furthermore, it can be combined with the upper section (one of the best class Vs in Oregon) for a long day of sustained whitewater -- for a trip report of Upper Canyon Creek, go here.
On this particular trip, we actually used it as a back-up after getting shut down at Wiley Creek by the road gate, and at the Soda Fork of the South Santiam by low water. For the record, the Upper Soda Fork probably had enough water but after dropping and scouting the crux section, we decided that it was basically a piece of $hit consisting of multiple pin/piton spots throughout its entire length. At one point during the scout, I remember hearing Nate Merrill say, "Well, I haven't seen one drop I'd want to run...", which I really couldn't come up with an argument against.
We had also considered running Upper Canyon, but we had a relatively large group that consisted of mixed ability levels, not the best combination for a run of that level, especially since we were running low on time. I was actually quite content with running the lower, as I was already a bit tired from hiking with my boat and sometimes it's nice to have a low stress day on the water. With that, we loaded up and headed to our new destination.
When we got to the takeout, we ran into a couple of Corvallis boaters who had just finished up the run. They stated that it was at a fun level, although a tad low (for the record, we had ~300cfs on Pat Welch's calculation gauge). Since we were already in our boating gear, we wasted little time dropping off the car before heading to the put-in. The trail from the road to the put-in is a bushwhack affair, and was actually developed by some Corvallis boaters who wanted to do the run without having to commit to the much harder upper portion. This trail deposits you about 1/4 mile below the crux upper drops, "Terminator" and "Day of Judgment". Since I wanted to take pictures of the crew coming through one of the first big rapids of the lower, I quickly scrambled down the trail to put on. Once at the water's edge, it appeared that the level would be a nice medium-ish flow.
After sliding into the water I headed down solo to setup. The first of the bigger drops is about an 1/8 mile downstream and starts as the creek makes a sharp left-hand bend. I quickly ran the lead-in before eddying out on river-left above the last ledge. I wanted to give it a quick scout as well as see if it would be a good spot for photos. After determining that it probably wasn't the best spot, I started hiking back to my boat, only to see that the crew had caught up and were already dropping in. Resigned to my current position, I quickly ran back down so I could flip off a couple pics as they ran the final ledge. After everyone had come through I put my gear away, jumped in my boat and headed down. The last ledge is actually a fun little boof, that's typically run center-right.
Just below this first drop the creek continues wrapping left through a small boulder garden that I always find hard to run cleanly. After navigating this stretch we continued down through a fairly long section which was mainly class II with a couple IIIs. The next major obstacle was Osprey, the most difficult/dangerous drop on the run, and a class V in anyone's book. The first thing that is worth noting on this one is the lead-in. It's basically a shallow gravel bar that feeds directly around some guard rocks and into the main part of the drop. Therefore, if this is your first time down, be very cautious as you approach it, since you could run out of eddies, forcing you to run it sight unseen. The next thing to be aware of is the hole at the bottom of the drop is extremely retentive and also feeds underneath the massive boulder guarding the right side of it. This is a very dangerous spot for a swimmer, and I've seen some very good boaters get served here -- in one case, having to be pulled up from underneath the rock with a rope that he grabbed just before going under. That said, it is certainly runnable and has been many times, just make sure to scout thoroughly (including from below) and set good safety. I've never had a desire to run Osprey, and probably never will, so I shouldered my boat and started hiking without even looking at it. Both Aaron and Nate gave a look for a few minutes before finally conceding and portaging as well. One last note, regarding the portage, it's usually done on the right and should be done with caution, as it's quite slippery with the route along a sloped wall -- a fall here would deposit you in the crux of the drop feeding directly into the troublesome hole.
Just below Osprey are a couple of really fun ledge drops. The first is typically run down the left through an S-Turn slot, where I had headed down to setup for pics once again. After signaling the line to the crew and watching them drop through I quickly ran the drop and blew past the others to setup for the next one.
The following ledge drops about 6' or so between a rock outcropping on the left and a cliff wall on the right. Everybody plowed though this one right down the middle with a water-boof over the small hole at the base. This is also a really beautiful section of the creek, and worth taking in the view.
Once past these ledges, the creek mellows again for an extended period of time through II/II+ water. Just as with Osprey, it's very easy to get complacent in the calm stretch, which at one point feeds into another significant hazard, "Constrictor". Once again the creek floats down a shallow section before dropping though a narrow slot, over a small 2' to 3' ledge, and into a boily cauldron, which feeds from well downstream. I have heard of people running this drop successfully, but never seen it myself. Definitely use caution here and once again make sure to set safety if you do decide to give it a go, a swim would be pretty dangerous. For the rest of us folks, a couple eddies and easy route around it facilitate a portage on the right.
Soon after Constrictor the walls closed up a bit and we entered the last gorge section. One of the first drops happens at a left bend where the creek goes over a small ledge (best run on river-right) and enters a narrow moving pool, which funnels into a log jam. This hazard is hard to spot from above and may even be covered over at higher flows. This jam has been here for at least a few years which is why I knew of it. Since the drop above tends to flip boaters I decided to take out above it and make the easy hike on the left. The portage around both the upper ledge and the log jam is very easy on river-left.
More fun class III water followed until we reached the last major drop of the run. Actually a two-part drop, we all ran the first ledge down the fun sliding boof against the left wall. The right line goes as well, and is also quite fun -- it looks like you're going to slam into a piton rock at the bottom of the ledge, but you end up sailing right over. It should be noted that the run-out does have some pieces of wood in the water, but really isn't an issue as long as you're in your boat. Furthermore, this particular section seems to always collect wood, so scout accordingly.
Below the initial ledge and run-out is another small ledge with a couple of rocks to navigate above it. I actually got bobbled just above the ledge and flipped coming off. Even though I rolled up pretty quickly, the water was pretty effing cold and it gave me a nice ice-cream headache.
The next bit of water to the takeout is pretty uneventful class II/III. There is one more mini-gorge starting just up from the Highway 20 road bridge that crosses over the creek (the take-out). The goal here is to catch the one to two boat eddy on river-right just above the bridge. If you miss this eddy, you go to the penalty box and are forced to take out a hundred yards or so near the confluence with the South Santiam -- not a big deal, just a little more hiking. Speaking of the South Santiam, you can also choose to follow it down to a take-out at Cascadia State Park. This sends you through one of the coolest stretches of that river, a long narrow gorge through vertical/overhung walls. The gorge is not difficult (mainly class II), but does have some pretty swirly water and a tricky hole that forms somewhere in there at higher flows.
Since we were all a bit tired and running out of light, we decided to take out at Hwy 20. After climbing up the steep bank, we loaded up and headed out. We did make one stop in nearby Sweet Home for some Mexican food at Los Dos Amigos -- not the best, but certainly passable. Once again, Lower Canyon Creek is a great run that would be perfect for aspiring creek boaters, or veterans, if looking for a nice low-stress run through a beautiful canyon coupled with some fun whitewater.