After an exploratory run down Portland Creek on Saturday and being pretty tired out, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to boat on Sunday. After talking with a few folks I decided, if anything, I’d do something local, and eventually agreed to jump on Sweet Creek and/or Lake Creek Slides. Then everything changed after getting a text from my buddy Jacob, which read:
“Would you be interested in another mission tmw? Main drop is a clean 30 footer with a class iv lead in.”
This was followed up quickly with:
“The run itself is not class five, but there are 4 waterfalls. Only one 20 footer is mandatory.”
As you can expect, I really couldn’t pass up something like this, so without actually asking what the name of this river/creek was, I got all the essential stats from him (length, gradient, access, geology, etc.). Feeling fired-up for what seemed like a good adventure, I called Brandon up to see if he’d be willing to forgo our previously established plans. He agreed, and we setup a meeting time with Jacob – 10:30am at his house in Monmouth. The next morning I called Brandon to set a meeting place in Eugene so we could caravan; unfortunately he had read my text wrong and was already on his way, thinking that we were meeting in Monmouth at 9:30am. I finished packing my stuff and headed north to play catch-up.
Once at Jacob’s I wanted to go over the maps with him, since I also like to be prepared in case something was to go wrong, especially if it were to happen to the tour guide. Since it was an adventure-style run, we also did a gear check to ensure we had all the necessary group equipment (radios, GPS, breakdowns, pin-kit, headlamps, etc.). About the time we finished up with the pre-trip meeting, Willy showed up, our forth crew member. Now that we had everything we needed we headed out. Jacob was actually able to round up a shuttle driver which was extremely helpful in regards to time (thanks Aqua!).
Before heading to the run itself, we stopped at a road crossing over the stream to get a gauge reading, compliments of a stick gauge attached to a bridge support column – it was reading around 2.3'. Since I didn’t have any point of reference I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, but trusted Jacob’s lead that it would probably be at a great flow. We quickly jumped back in the car and changed course, heading to the put-in. After following a forest road for some time, we finally topped out at around 1,800’ where we encountered enough snow to deter us from driving down the spur road – this meant we’d need to hike about three quarters of a mile down to the put-in.
The first part of the hike went just fine, we pretty much dragged our boats behind us from tethers, which the snow made much easier. The second part of the hike consisted of bushwhacking down a very steep clear-cut, which basically sucked. At one point I tripped when I caught my foot on a blackberry vine. After falling on my face, I starting sliding at an alarming rate until my progress was stopped by a tree stump. Other than a bruise where a branch dug into my leg, I was uninjured -- this was pretty surprising based on how violent the wipeout was. After wiping off the dust, I looked downhill to see that Brandon had also taken a spill and was still laying in a very awkward position with his boat lying on top of him. I quickly hiked down to assist. Once we were both back on our feet, we continued down, this time with a lot more caution. It should be noted that had we hiked down the road a bit further we would have reached a much easier section of the clear-cut to hike through, basically not nearly as steep.
Once we reached the water, I took a quick breather before putting on. Right below the put-in we had to sneak around some wood and then run a steep/trashy drop against the right side. By putting in where we did, we had actually avoided a slightly sketchy log move upstream. Below this the river went around a bend and entered a fun looking boulder garden. Jacob told us that a 15'er was just below it and around the corner, and that it also had wood in it the last time, making it unrunnable. He held us up, and headed down where I could see him pull into shore on river-right. Before long he waved us down while motioning for us to eddy out as well. Pulling into the small right side eddy, we jumped out and hiked downstream to take a look. Good news, the falls were now wood free, setting it up for a first "D"!
The falls itself was not completely vertical, although very close to being so – it basically looked like a very steep boulder pile. The only real hazards that I saw were a small piton rock at the bottom center, and a small hole on bottom left, neither of which looked too concerning. Jacob went first, eddying out just above the falls on river-right, to facilitate a better setup for the main part of the drop. From there he drove across to center left and dropped in with a solid line all the way to the bottom. Willy came down soon after with a similar line, although he did get a little sideways coming into the bottom hole, which stalled him out briefly.
After putting my camera away, Brandon (who had been on safety) and I headed up to take our turn. Brandon was first. As I watched him run the lead-in and head straight for the falls without stopping, I waited for the signal that it was all clear. Probably 30 seconds or more passed with no communication, and just as I was climbing out of my boat to hike down and see if everything was alright, Willy came into view giving me the thumbs up. What I did not know at that point was that Brandon had actually gotten rolled in the falls and had been stuck upside down against the river right shelf and needed Willy’s help getting upright and free (though he did a great job of fighting and holding on); that said, this is probably a good place to have safety setup.
As I came down I also eddied out on river right to get a better setup. Pulling back into the current I drove left and dropped over the lip with a boof stroke. The line ended up being much smoother than I was expecting and I eddied out just below on the right. Since Jacob got the first D, he had the honors of naming the drop, which is now known as “Catalyst Falls”, since this is where the run adds bedrock to the mix turning the run into a big drop playground – basically setting up the good stuff!
Immediately below this was a fun 6’+ drop that could be run either left or right. Left went down a steep mini slide, with the right having a small boof flake about halfway down. I went first so that I could setup for photos and opted for the right side. Both Willy & Brandon also ran right while Jacob took the left option.
Just below the 6’er the river poured over a series of bedrock ledges, which Jacob indicated was the lead-in to the clean 30’ falls. After scouting out the entrance, we hiked up the right bank to look at the falls itself. There was actually another drop between the slide and the main falls, which is what gave me the most pause. Essentially the river funneled though a 10’ wide slot for 10 yards or so before taking the final plunge. The big concern here was a mid-stream boulder that split the current, which you wanted to be left of, and this move was a mere ten feet or so above the lip of the main drop. Although it was only a class IV move, the price of failure was obviously high. After studying the move for a few minutes, I made the decision that I just wasn’t feeling it that day. After letting the others know, we discussed the best way to setup for safety and photos. I knew that Jacob would be for sure running it, since this is the drop on the run he wanted to finally bag; Willy also seemed pretty fired up to give it a go, so it looked like we had two ready to take the plunge.
Looking down the lead-in slide to the 30'er. This
doesn't show the second part of the lead-in, which drops
between vertical walls before taking the final plunge.
doesn't show the second part of the lead-in, which drops
between vertical walls before taking the final plunge.
Since Brandon had also decided to walk it, we both grabbed our boats and started the hike up and over on river-right. Probably the worst part of the portage was hiking through the thick salal (brush) before dropping back down to the river. The plan was for me to communicate with Jacob and Willy (via walkie-talkies) and take photos, while Brandon sat in the pool below in case anything went wrong. Once I got the communication from Willy that they were about 60 seconds and 90 seconds from dropping in, I gave the signal to Brandon and we both got into position.
Waiting in anticipation, I finally saw Jacob's head appear above the lip of the fall -- with a small stroke and a slow motion tuck, he came sailing down in perfect form, as he usually does. Although I’ve never seen him show excessive excitement after running a drop, I could see in his eyes that he was pretty happy with how it went, as well as finally baggin’ the falls. Next up was Willy, who came over the lip a little more centered but with right angle. He didn’t put in the tuck like Jacob, but still landed well and paddled away with a big smile. I gotta say I was pretty jazzed to watch these guys run the drop. It’s one thing to watch someone run something big that’s been run before, but to be a part of a first D on a drop like this is something special – props guys, I can't wait to run this one myself! Once again, the responsibility of naming the drop fell on Jacob, which he so named “Osmosis Falls”!
He settled on this name when seeing a connection between the selective membrane present in that process and the selectiveness of various land owners who pick and choose who is allowed to see some of the most beautiful and rugged areas of our country, including this waterfall!
After packing up and getting in my boat to join the others, I asked Jacob how much further down the river the mandatory portage around the 40’er was, which he told me, “we've got a little ways, and it will be obvious.” Sure enough, we came to a section where the canyon walls tightened up and he let us know that after a short run through some gorged out class III, we were going to enter a pool just above the forty. He also said that we were at a point of no return if we dropped into the gorge, but that there was a way to hike around or do a throw & go for the portage. That said, we eddy-hopped our way down cautiously to make sure we wouldn’t be cut-off by some poorly placed wood. The class III stuff was pretty fun, but even better was the spectacular scenery of the canyon – this is a very special place, and I felt very fortunate that I was one of the few people to experience it. This was also the point where the geology turned from Basalt to Tyee Sandstone, which created quite a cool contrast.
As we eddied out in the pool, vertical walls on both sides, the earth dropped out in front of us and the roar of the unrunnable falls filled the air. Jacob looked to me and said, “This is the last thing you want to see during a first known descent…” Such an otherwise awesome drop if it wasn’t for the wood and “room of doom” on the left (with no place to set safety). This drop was given the appropriate name “Tough Luck” on a previous descent that Jacob made with Jeff Hartley.
It was now decision time on how we wanted to get around this thing: either a throw & go into a shallow eddy on the right, or a climb up the cliff on the left. Although the throw & go looked easier, Jacob wanted to install a permanent rope from the cliff side, so we decided to take that route. Furthermore, this would allow us to scout the mandatory 20’er (named Little Lucky), which was the very next drop and appeared to have some concerning wood. Jacob free-climbed up the soft soil wall and setup the rope for us to drag the boats up, as well as provide some additional safety for the rest of the crew. One-by-one we lifted our boats and ourselves out of the gorge at the base of another clear-cut. From here we hiked down a bit to get a better look at Little Lucky, which looked to be clear on the right, where it had been run on previous descents.
The hike back into the gorge was much easier – we only had to rope the boats down partway, at which point we could shoulder them the rest of the way down. When I finally got to the river’s edge, I didn’t see Willy, who as it turns out had already run the drop. I wanted to take a peek before dropping in myself, so I pulled over in the one-boat eddy on river-right to see what the landing looked like.
Basically it was good to go with the only real hazard being some wood that had collected on the right in the runout, but didn’t look to be that bad. Just to be safe, Willy was staged there in case something went wrong. The line I had picked out was center-right, where a nice looking flake was sitting about 4’ down from the lip. Jacob warned me that although it looks like the best line, it tends to pitch you forward. He also agreed to go first and take photos from below, of which I graciously accepted his offer. Taking the hard right line and angled toward the center of the falls, he dropped off with a nice boof, landing perfectly below. Not heeding his warning, I still lined up for the apparent flake. As I rounded over the lip I waited patiently for the timing of my stroke at the apex, grabbing for it at what I felt was the perfect time. As my boat flattened out, I spotted my landing and thought to myself, "I nailed it!". Wrong -- just as he had projected, I was kicked near vertical on my way down and entered like a lawn dart. As I resurfaced upside-down, I snapped off a quick roll just before floating into the logs where Willy was staged. Oh well, no harm no foul...
(photo by Jacob Cruser)
Next came Brandon who also decided to enter where I had, although with some angling toward the right wall. He pretty much had the same outcome as me with some nice vertical form. He was also pushed toward the floating wood pile but was able to re-gather control before it became an issue.
Downstream you could see a couple more drops, a sneak around the right side of a logjam just below us, and what looked to be a river-wide ledge further down. Jacob said that the ledge was basically the last drop before a couple miles of trashy class II to the take-out, the only real downer of the adventure. After running the first drop, Willy once again didn't waste time and ran the river-wide ledge as well, signaling that it was good to go from the pool below. I had jumped out for pictures and noticed that there was a small recirculating hole on the left, so I made sure to tell the others to stay away from that side. After taking shots of both Brandon and Jacob running it, I ran it myself, down the center. In hindsight (from below) the hole actually didn't look that bad and would probably be fine as long as you were straight and took a stroke; however, it could start getting nasty with more water.
Expecting to be done with the whitewater portion of the run, I was surprised to see another horizon line in front of me, which ended up being a pretty fun drop. The second part of it also dropped through a cool mini-gorge that reminded me a bit of the walls on the crux section of the Ohanapecosh, although formed from sandstone instead of volcanic rock.
Once past the gorge, the rapids dwindled down over the next couple of drops until we reached the true "paddle out", which could best be described as boulder-bashing boat-abuse -- you'll definitely be wishing you brought your old patched up rock boat. The one saving grace of this section was the scenery, which was pretty unique to anything else I had seen in Oregon -- worn sandstone walls with waterfalls dropping over here and there. About the time I was getting pretty tired, a road bridge came into view, where I knew that our vehicles would be waiting for us with warm clothes and beer. Hiking up from the river I thanked Jacob for the tour and mentioned that this was one of my favorite runs that I'd done in Oregon, which elicited a bit of a surprised look from him. Yeah, I certainly love the roadside classics like The Mile, Brice Creek, and Upper Quartzville, but true adventure runs are what bring me the most satisfaction and reward, probably the main reason I choose to boat.
On a final note:
I know that I'll be getting more than a few inquiries on what the name of the river is or where it's located, so let me head that off. Due to the sensitivity of access issues I cannot divulge the name or exact location online -- trust me, this is not to keep the run from others, simply a means of not bringing unnecessary attention to it. What I can tell you for now is that it's in the Oregon Coast Range. If you'd like to plan a trip here please send me an email and I'll either get you the info or pass it along to someone else who can. It's also worth noting that there are a couple of hints in this write-up which may allow you to figure it out on your own -- and if you do, we found that ~275cfs on the "LL" at “FC” gauge made for a nice medium flow in the gorge section (although 300cfs would have probably been a little better), which is the whole reason to do this run... =)
Some footage of our run down the Little Lucy a year later, at a slightly higher flow: