Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Upper Staley Creek, OR (4.29.12)

A first documented descent...

I’ve probably spent more time this year than any other looking for new runs to explore. As anyone who tries to find new runs will tell you, it usually ends up being a portage/suffer fest, leaving you cold, tired, and hungry by the time you make it back to the car. Some of us out there actually enjoy these types of masochistic experiences (at least from time to time), and every once in a while you come across something that is worth being found – in this case, that would be Upper Staley Creek.

First off, I must give credit to Jacob Cruser for bringing this one to my attention. You see, Jacob is known in these parts for being one of those people who loves self-torture and is occasionally able to convince others that some obscure creek is worth adventuring into. Once he realized that I was open to such things, we started discussing what types of trouble we could get ourselves into in my neck of the woods. Jacob threw out the names of a couple creeks, and after a few Google image searches, I became very interested in one he threw out there, Staley Creek. Photos of volcanic rock gorges, cascades, and a waterfall spoke of not only good whitewater, but also some of the most amazing scenery I’d had seen in Oregon. Almost instantly a plan was hatched to go check it out.

For the record, we knew that Lower Staley Creek had been run based on documentation found in the back of Soggy Sneakers (4th edition). That said, we have found no documentation of anyone running the ~3.5 mile upper stretch, which starts at Davey Creek ( ~7 miles up from the confluence with the MF Willamette) and ends at Staley Creek Falls. Therefore I’m calling this one another “first documented descent”.
Since writing this trip report, Gabe Flock brought it to my attention that both "he and Dan Coyle bagged the first descent back in the late 90's. (at higher water, and did not run the two bigg'ns)." I must say that I'm not that surprised, it's way to good of a roadside creek to not have been run before.

Staley is located in the Upper Middle Fork Willamette watershed, above Hills Creek Reservoir, and flows into the Middle Fork about 10 miles upstream of Sand Prairie campground. The first time we went to go check it out in the spring of 2011, we didn’t have a clue as to what levels to look for, so we waited until nearby creeks such as Hills Creek and Salmon Creek Gorge were running, so that we would at least have a backup. When we got to the creek, we found only minimal flow, which was probably boatable, but at the same time a total scrape fest. For reference, we headed up there when the inflow to Hills Creek Reservoir was reading ~2000cfs. What we also found was confirmation that the creek looked like a perfect kayaking run, almost entirely bedrock, and no signs of wood in the river. With that, we left with even more optimism and headed for our backup run on Hills Creek (trip report here).

In the fall of 2011, Jason Naranjo, Roman Androsov, and I headed back to Staley Creek for another look, this time with much more flow. If I recall correctly, the inflow to the reservoir was between 5K and 6K (gauge here), and when we got to the run we knew immediately that it was way too high. Even so, we drove up and got out to scout in different locations to see what it would be like at that level – basically scary was how I’d describe it. Although we got skunked, it did give one more point of reference for a gauge correlation. With this newly collected data as well as our previous scout, I estimated that between 2,500cfs and 3,500cfs would be a good first time flow.

Looking upstream from the take-out bridge during our high water scout. A little rich for my my blood...

Staley Creek Falls at high water
Fast-forward to last Sunday, with the gauge reading just below 3K and having had two good days of boating under our belt, we decided to give it a go one more time. When we reached the takeout at Staley Creek Falls, the level looked to be a medium to medium-low flow, which was perfect for a first time down. The first thing we did was scout the falls, which looked pretty ugly. The left side drops into a crack that looked like it may have pin potential, and the right fell off a broken ledge, also with the likelihood of a pin/piton -- further there was a room of doom on the right at the base. There was a line off the hard right side, but unfortunately it’s partially blocked by a log. It’s really a shame that the falls aren’t cleaner, since the lead-in is a sweet cascading drop with only a small eddy to get out from at the lip of the falls.

Our flow for the day

Looking up at the cascading lead-in to Staley Creek Falls

Staley Creek Falls (from the take-out bridge)

Looking over the lip of Staley Creek Falls. The log complicates the only good line.
The falls from below

Looking at the lead-in from the lip of the falls

Not about to let it deter us from doing the run, we ditched our shuttle bike and drove upstream toward the put-in. Along the way we got out at a couple of spots to scout. Although we didn’t check everything from the road, the reasonable water level and character of the creek (bedrock with few midstream boulders) had us comfortable that we could scout from river level. We parked the car just below Davey Creek, where the road rounds the corner and starts pulling away from Staley. After gearing up, we made the short bushwhack to the edge of the creek.

The end of the road

Final preparations at the put-in

The sun was bright, and so was the mood -- it felt great to finally slide into the water on a creek that had been on my short list for some time. The water clarity was amazing, and very reminiscent of that of the Ohanapecosh, which is renowned for its clear blue-green water. Spinning around and looking back upstream brought views of snow-capped craggy mountains -- it really felt like paradise, and I knew it was going to be a good day.

Jason starts off the run

The first drop of the day

Roman dropping into the first one

As we made our way downstream, we leapfrogged from eddy to eddy, with the lead boater signaling the all-clear to the others before proceeding further. The creek started out fairly continuous, with a class III feel. Before long we came to a right-hand bend that split around a small island and dropped out of sight below us. I quickly jumped out on river left to run down a take a look; the others had also gotten out but were hiking down the right bank. What we found was a somewhat trashy entrance, followed by a long shallow slide, which eventually dropped over a small ledge/hole at the bottom. It looked really fun, and I could see from the smiles on the others' faces they were in agreement. With that, I readied my camera while Jason and Roman hiked back up to their boats. Both came through with great lines and eddied out below to wait for me to come down. I also had a decent line, but ran it a little further right where the hole was a little stronger. When I hit the hole, I stalled out for a brief second, before being deposited in the right eddy just below it.

Roman dropping in

Roman lines up the bottom ledge

Jason follows-up soon after

The author takes his turn (photo by Roman Androsov)

The author digs in (photo by Roman Androsov)

Looking back upstream at the drop

Immediately after this drop was another fun sliding ledge. As the creek made its way down the slide, it crashed through a series of diagonal holes – fun stuff indeed!

The boys regroup between drops

Jason navigates the fun series of wave holes

Soon, rock walls formed up on either side of us and we found ourselves working down some really fun boogie water, blasting through a series of small ledge holes. This stretch exited at a final plunge through some beefed up hydraulics and in-between some large boulders. The last move was around a small midstream boulder, which could be run either to the right or left. Both Roman and Jason took the right door, while I opted for the left.

Roman heads toward the exit

Jason picking out his line through the exit drop. Note the fun top part of the drop.

Exit, stage right...

As we regrouped our spirits were high, we couldn’t believe how good the creek was to this point and that we hadn't heard or read about anyone doing it before. As the walls opened up again, more fun boogie water continued. There were a couple of blind turns and signs of wood, so we proceeded cautiously, including some scouting from shore. At one point Roman had hike down to checkout a drop, where he mentioned that with a little more water there would be an awesome boof off the center of a ledge, but with current flows it would be better to run it hard left or right. He also said it didn’t need scouting but was definitely worth taking a picture at, so with that, I grabbed my camera and hiked down to setup. What I saw was indeed picturesque, a small ledge that emptied into a pool with a waterfall pouring in from river left. Although the boof was shallow, it did have enough water to hit the right corner of it for a little airtime.

Jason finds some more fun whitewater

Roman gets in some eddy practice

Roman leads the charge down some more boogie
Roman probes, on the lookout for wood


More Boofs...

And waterfalls!

Not far below the waterfall/pool, the creek gorged up once again, this time with a massive overhung wall rising straight out of the water on river-left. Once again it was like a scene from the Ohanapecosh, and we all stood around taking in the beauty of our setting. Not only was the scenery good, it also had a pretty fun drop that snaked down the left side against the wall. The last move had you driving up and onto a pillow that shot you back to the center of the creek. All of us had good lines here and we continued further downstream.

Another fun drop, another beautiful setting!

The entrance to the short gorge
Roman goes first while Jason looks on

Jason makes the move to river-left

After another sizable ledge drop (and another waterfall cascading down off the left wall), a road bridge came into view, signaling that we were more than halfway through the run. The short bedrock section above the bridge was also really fun, with some small ledges and offset wave/holes. There was actually a little boof flake in the middle of the crashing waves, that I didn’t even see until I was sailing over the top of it!

Jason finishes up another fun ledge

Roman about to drop into another section of boogie water

The fun drop just above the midway bridge

Below the bridge were more splashy rapids, until after ~ ¼ mile where the walls closed in once again, but this time with more authority. We guessed that this was one of the spots we had looked at from the road, where we expected to run some fun class III in a half-pipe shaped gorge. I quickly jumped out to snap some photos at the entrance, just above the point of no return.

Looking downstream of the bridge

Jason enters the point of no return

Just past the entrance, the creek made a right-hand bend and entered a straightaway of small bedrock ledges and slides, really good stuff! Once again we were grinning ear to ear, somewhat in disbelief of how good it really was. I jumped out ahead, blasting through a couple of small holes before eddying out above a rather large horizon line. Since I was in a very small eddy on river-left, I could only look over my shoulder while holding on to a handful of moss growing out of the cliff wall. What I could see was the creek dropping into a tight crack and disappearing from sight – obviously not the section we had seen from the road… By this time Jason had also come down and was eddied out on river-right just across from me. Since there was no real place for me to get out, I asked him to jump out and look at what was below us. After doing so, he quickly came back and said, “You’re gonna want to look at this one!” With that, I ferried across the jet of water (that fed directly into the blind drop), so that I could get to where he was, and the only practical place to get out. Once we were both on solid ground, we waved Roman down to the eddy, who had been waiting upstream for our signal.

Hmmm, I wonder where the water goes?
Jason signals Roman down to the eddy, and only easy option for getting on shore

To scout anything other than the entrance drop, we had to free climb up the side of the near vertical wall. This was not an easy task, as the only holds were moss and small bushes growing out of the side of the cliff. Roman had decided to wait below while Jason and I went to investigate. What lay in front of us was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Basically, the creek cut through an extremely narrow gorge, with overhanging volcanic rock walls covered in a blanket of green moss – it was truly one of the most spectacular sections of creek I had seen anywhere. The whitewater itself was equally amazing, with three distinct drops that grew in difficulty from top to bottom. All the drops were clean and runnable, but the third had a pretty stout hole that swirled around in an undercut room formed by the dramatic volcanic wall formations. The combo was a solid class V drop which was highly committing. I really wanted to run it, but didn’t feel like we had the right setup to ensure proper safety – a swim here would have been extremely dangerous. For reference, I've nicknamed this class V drop, in its entirety, "Chasm".

Dropping into the Chasm

The Chasm

Jason ponders the stiff hole at the base of the third drop in the Chasm
Update - 12/26/2014:
Aaron Loft fires of Chasm, during a follow-up trip! 

Below the third drop/room of doom, the creek lazily snaked its way through the tight wall for some time before opening up into a rock amphitheater. It quickly became apparent that portaging was going to be a mission in its own right, so without too much delay, we headed back to give Roman the news.

The calm after the storm

The run-out of the Chasm

With no other option, other than running the drop, we yarded the boats and paddles out of the gorge with a rope from above. Once we had gathered everything, we shouldered our boats and began hiking downstream, looking for a place to get back to river level. Not too far along the way, Jason yelled out that he had found a place to get back down, although it would require some more rope work. In the end it wasn’t too bad; we basically had to do two separate rope lengths, but we were able to get everything down in about 20 minutes.

Relaxin' after the portage

Now back at the creek, we were located just below the Chasm at the edge of the rock amphitheater. After sliding back into the water, we paddled around a bit between the walls just to take it all in. Roman thought you might be able to attain all the way to the room of doom, if you were so inclined. Since we still had a bit of uncharted path in front of us, we decided to cut our visit short and start heading downstream once again.

Roman paddles back up toward the Chasm

I’m not sure if it was the narrow riverbed or that feeder creeks had added some flow, but it felt a little more padded out in this section. Along the way we scouted a few drops that had signs of wood, but luckily everything had clean routes around them.

Roman in one of the most scenic sections of the creek

Jason finds more fun waves-holes to boof over

Jason getting signals on the wood situation from Roman

Duck and eddy-out left

Even the mellow stuff was fun

Once again we reached a point where the creek dropped out of sight and around the corner. Since there was visible wood at the top of the drop, we decided to get out and take a look. As we hiked down the edge of the creek, a large horizon line presented itself, and luckily this one was runnable! To start things off you had to sneak the left side of a rather nasty looking, but easy to avoid log. Next, you round a wide left-hand bend and drop through a narrowing of the creek, which deposited you in calm water in a cool little mini-gorge. The neck of the drop was the crux, and although it wasn't too tough, you had to be on-line to avoid some mank. While the others went back up to get in their boats, I setup for more photos. Both Roman and Jason had great lines, but pitoned slightly while running the squeeze on the right. Jason mentioned to me that the water was pushing harder that way than expected and to dig in a bit more while dropping in. Following his advice, I was able to make it through the drop cleanly and join them in the pool below.

Roman probes another

Jason droppin' into the same one

The author eddies out after taking his turn (photo by Jason Naranjo)

Hangin' loose (photo by Jason Naranjo)

This would probably make a great summer swimming hole (photo by Jason Naranjo)

Just when I thought we'd finished the run with no wood portages (a small miracle for exploratory runs in Oregon), we found one. Luckily it was pretty easy to spot from above, and almost as easy to portage. Both Roman and Jason caught an eddy on river-right just above the log, and I caught one just upstream of them. From here we dragged our boats up and over a small rock outcropping and put back in on the other side of it. Immediately below we snuck another log on the left and dropped through a small rock garden before the creek opened back up again with more boogie water.

Jason running one of the only boulder gardens of the run, just below the log portage

One last boof for good measure!

With impeccable timing a road bridge came into view, which signaled the end of our run. Although we had a near perfect day, we were all getting a bit low on energy -- exploratory runs can really take it out of you. Once again we were a little bummed that we couldn't finish off the day with a run over Staley Creek Falls, but none of us even considered it in its current form; maybe the log at the lip will get washed away at some point, making it more runnable.

So tempting to drop in...
Update - 12/26/2014:
Aaron Loft fires of Staely Creek Falls, during a follow-up trip!

Conveniently, there was a camping spot on river-left just above the point of no return. On shore we traded high fives in celebration of our successful mission. After a bit of reflection on the day's adventure, I headed back up the road on my bike to gather the car. Upon my return we loaded up and drove into Oakridge for some much needed fuel at one of my all time favorite Chinese food restaurants, Lee's Gourmet Garden -- really, if you haven't been there, you owe it to yourself to do so. After our meal we headed home to rest our weary bones.

If you haven't already guessed, I believe that this run could become a local classic, especially if folks start running the two class Vs, Chasm and Staley Creek Falls. The whitewater is pretty darn good, and the scenery is even better. The water clarity/color is amazing, especially with the volcanic rock gorges as a backdrop (think Eagle Creek, OR). Another pleasant surprise was the minimal amount of wood on the river, which I would attribute to the bedrock character, as opposed to the more boulder garden style runs that this area is typically known for. I also feel the run has a good mix of continuous stretches and ledge drops, which flows really well.

As for difficulty, I would give it a class IV rating overall; this of course assumes you don't run the two big ones. The gradient for this 3.5 mile section is about 160 to 170 fpm, at least according to my topo work. For water levels, once again I thought we had a great first time flow, maybe a little more would have been nice. Having now run the creek, I'm estimating that 3,000 to 3,500 cfs would be the sweet spot (inflow to Hills Creek Reservoir, here). This of course is only an estimate since the gauge is actually on the MF Willamette about 10 miles below the confluence; further I'm sure there will be a difference in the correlation depending on the season (i.e. rain fed vs. snowmelt).

So what are the negatives? Well, If you don't end up running Chasm, you'll have to put in some work to portage it, but don't let that deter you, it's still worth the effort. It should be noted that the eddies above Chasm would get pretty tight with much more water, so make sure to scout ahead of time before dropping in. Also, if you don't feel comfortable with a somewhat sketchy scramble up the steep embankment, you may want to consider not dropping into this section at all. Other than that, I really can’t point to anymore real downsides, other than not having a couple of clean 15 to 20’ers mixed in for good measure. =)

So there you have it, my documentation and thoughts on a pretty cool run in the area. Hopefully this information is helpful and gets you out on this creek or convinces you to go find another diamond in the rough. Once again, I must give credit to Jacob Cruser -- although he wasn't there for this trip, he was a big part of making it happen.

On a final note, Please let me know if you head to Staley and end up running either of the two class Vs, I'd be very interested in knowing how it goes. We are actually planning to head back at some point to take care of unfinished business, so until then...

Some footage of another run we made the following week, at a little lower flow:


  1. Nice work Nate!!! Can't wait to see the TR when you run the Chasm!

  2. Great review. Just an FYI, camped below the falls last weekend (7/5-7/8 2012) and hiked up the creek to just below. That log blocking the right side was gone.

  3. Awesome, thanks for the update!