McCoy Creek has long been considered a class V classic, with big waterfalls, slides, and a bitch of a portage around an unrunnable 45’er. This creek had fallen off the radar of most paddlers in the area, after a few flood events brought piles of wood into the creek. Stories broke of 20+ portages, which made me think I’d never get the chance to run this gem. Fast-forward to earlier this year, when a group of friends decided to go see for themselves, with the hope that more recent floods had cleaned it up a bit. Sure enough, word came out that it was down to 5 wood portages – it was time to make plans for a trip up north!
About a mouth later, a text I sent to my buddy Chris simply read, “Interested in McCoy this weekend? Looks like it’s at a good level!” Since we both had things to do on Saturday, a tentative plan was set for Sunday, and we quickly tried to put together a crew. In the end we would have 5 strong, besides Chris and me, Roman Androsov, Brandon Bloomquist, and Alex Kilyk where up for the mission. Leaving Eugene around 7:30am, Roman and I headed north, meeting the rest of the crew in Portland, before finishing the drive to McCoy. The drive took between 4 ½ to 5 hours (one way), which honestly, was more than I wanted to put in for a day trip – what can I say, apparently I've got it bad for kayaking…
By the time we had dropped off the car at the take-out (on Yellowjacket Creek) and reached the put-in, it was almost 2pm. Since we had three miles on McCoy (solid class V) and 4 ½ miles on Yellowjacket (class IV), we knew we needed to be efficient on the water to ensure we got off before dark; plus Roman and I wanted to get back to Eugene at a reasonable hour. Once creek side, I was a little surprised with how small the creek bed was – very narrow, with what I’m guessing was about 200cfs or so. For reference, we had ~2,700cfs on the “Cispus at Randle” gauge, which supposedly correlated to a solid medium flow. Since I had not done the run before, I really couldn’t tell, but was about to find out.
|Our flow for the day (around 2,700cfs on the Cispus gauge)|
|The take-out bridge|
|Looking upstream at Yellowjacket Creek, from the take-out bridge.|
|Brandon, all geared up and ready for some serious action!|
|Looking downstream from the put-in|
The first part of the creek dropped through a series of class III rapids in a tight mini-gorge setting. Moss was covering almost every surface, and it truly felt like a scene out of a fantasy movie – I was half expecting a fairy or two to buzz by overhead, and I could tell almost instantly that this was a very special place. There was also quite a bit of wood in the creek, most we were able to bump over or limbo, but we did have to portage a couple as well. Even with these early signs of wood, we weren’t deterred, based on the info from the previous trip a month or so prior.
|It starts off a pretty small creek|
|One of the bigger wood portages near the start of the run|
The first major water obstacle we came to was a short, somewhat trashy, lead-in to a ledge with an airplane turn against the left bank. It looked like you could either cut the inside of the turn with a boof, or simply round the corner using the water berm. I watched as Alex and Chris went for the boof, both having good lines. I opted for the latter and had decent success, although I didn’t get high enough on the turn and ended up plugin’ it a bit.
|Alex in the lead-in|
|Alex goes for the boof line|
|Chris lands on the pile after a nice boof, similar to Alex's line|
The next drop we came to was quite large, "Tom’s Slide". Although big, it also looked pretty straight forward -- enter center-right through a couple small holes, bank off the right-hand shore back toward river-center, and throw in a boof at the bottom. All of us ran the drop with pretty much the above mentioned line, and had good results. You gotta love big/low consequence drops!
|Alex busts through the entrance hole at Tom's Slide|
|Alex, boofing off the bottom ledge|
|Roman finishing up Tom's|
Downstream of Tom’s, the creek mellowed out again with some more wood to deal with here and there. Soon we were faced with a short boulder drop, which exited over a rather large horizon line. After eddy hopping down to the last one above the final pitch, we awaited instructions from Chris, who was out scouting. He indicated that it was a double-drop and should be entered with speed, starting left off the first pitch, and finishing right off the second. Alex went first and dropped out of sight in front of us. Soon after Chris gave the all-clear, and then Roman dropped in. This time there was bit of pause before Chris said, “Hit it with more speed”. Hmmm, I wonder what happend to Roman? With that in the back of my mind, I dug in and headed for the lip. It was actually a little difficult to get in a good stroke at the top, because of some squirrelly current and a tight entrance. Even so, I came off the top tier in good shape, but not so much on the second, which sent me deep into the bottom hole. After carping a roll, I was able to get’er over and dig out of the hole. Between the group, three of us probed the depths, but luckily, we all were able to work out while still in our boats.
|Part of the crew waits below the double ledge|
|Chris drives for the right side of the bottom tier|
Before long we reached the biggest runnable drop on McCoy, Chinook Falls. Dropping 30’ to 40’. Chinook is a fairly complex / multi-tiered rapid, with a couple opportunities to blow a line and/or get flipped. The biggest concern of the drop was the hole at the very bottom, which most of the water funneled into. When the previous crew had run McCoy (at higher flow) this drop wasn't even a consideration, but this time, it looked about as good as it would ever get. After some sketchy and prolonged scouting, we all had decided we didn’t want to tangle with the bottom hole, and decided to portage. To make a long story short, the portage sucked, with rope work required to get up and around, far above the drop on river-left. In hindsight, I definitely should have run the drop – now below, the hole looked like much less of an issue, and in the end, the portage was probably more dangerous.
|Looking up at the entrance to Chinook Falls and the sketchy scouting opportunities|
|Looking down into Chinook Falls, near the entrance|
|Alex finds it easier to swim between platforms than scramble along the cliff wall, during the scout.|
|The bottom hole that convinced us to portage|
|Roman looks back up at Chinook Falls, wondering why the hell we just didn't run the damn thing...|
By this time, I had burned a bit of energy and had completely gone through my water. Luckily there was a springs feeding in from river-right, which I was able to refill from. Soon after we reached another ledge, which we partially snuck along the left, to avoid a hole located center-right. It was pretty uneventful, but probably still worth mentioning.
|Chris running the left side to avoid said hole|
Not far below, the creek made a sharp right bend, where Chris was once again out scouting. Since I had been taking pictures at the previous drop, I rolled up last. Essentially what he told me was, “Run the short lead-in and boof the bottom ledge anywhere you wish”. With that, I dropped in and did just that, boofing a sweet ~8’ ledge at the bottom. I wish I would have taken pictures here, as I thought it was one of the better drops of the run.
Just around the corner the creek dropped out of sight, with spray rising up just beyond the horizon line. I figured that this must be the big runnable waterfall, which Chris quickly confirmed. For this one, all of us got out to scout, which is easily done on the right. The guide book had called it a 20’er, but I’m here to tell you that it was that plus some, maybe 25’ to 30’. Since I really like running waterfalls, I was pumped to fire it up. The line looked pretty straight forward, basically run it off the flake in the center with left angle to avoid the wall/pocket sticking out on the left. Chris went first, and dropped in further left than I was planning to. After spearing in, he resurfaced upright and paddled away from the base. I volunteered to go next, partially because I wanted to get photos from down below. I quickly packed up my camera and hiked up to my boat to prepare for my turn. Setting up from a river-left eddy, I pealed into the main current and waited for a delayed boof off the sloping lip. Before I knew it I was airborne. On the way down, I could feel my stern dropping lower than my bow. Not wanting to land stern first, I dropped my knees and entered with a more appropriate angle. Paddling away and happy with my line, I voiced my excitement for all to hear – really, I try not to celebrate too often, but that was just way too much fun!
|Chris prepares to probe the falls|
|Chris enters, stage left|
|Droppin' the falls, from my perspective|
|Alex with a great line|
|Roman drops in|
|Brandon, also with a good line|
Immediately below the falls was a bunch of wood that had piled up at a sharp left bend. A quick scout revealed a ~10’ ledge with a really nasty pocket hole at the base. Even without the wood, I would have certainly carried around it. The write-up on Oregon Kayaking (here) goes into detail of a pretty serious beat-down here, and from looking at the hole, I can understand why. From the the scouting platform you could see the creek drop out of sight, some 25 to 50 yards downstream. This was obviously the 45’er that would require another strenuous portage, and I could see the others already starting the process.
|Roman portaging the ledge with the terrible looking hole|
|Just above the 45'er|
Before starting the portage myself, I took a quick glance over the lip of the falls, it was truly awful looking. The creek dropped into a backed-up hole just below the lip, where it then diverted both left and right down an equally ugly cascade and free-fall. It was pretty impressive to look at, and maybe it cleans up with more water, but I can’t imagine it ever looking good enough to run. If someone hasn’t already, I’m sure there is someone out there crazy enough to try, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.
|Looking back upstream from the lip of the class VI falls|
The portage itself did suck pretty bad. We didn’t use ropes, which in hindsight, probably made it harder and certainly more sketchy. On the way back down, I lost my footing and fell about 30’ before stopping myself against a tree. I don’t even want to know how many pin holes I put in my brand-new drysuit from all the thorn laced vegetation. When we finally made it back to the creek I was pretty tired, and popped my 3rd energy Gu of the trip. Looking upstream, there was a sweet looking slide between us and the waterfall, which would have been fun to run; although it required a hike upstream, and we were already tired out, running out of daylight, and still had ~5 miles of river to go.
|The sweet slide just below the 45'er|
|Putting back on after the portage|
Just below where we had put back on was another 6' to 8’ ledge that we boofed off the center of, pointing left to avoid a log in the landing. Between here and the confluence with Yellowjacket was a short section of class II/III water, as well as a couple more logs to portage and/or navigate. Make sure you scout carefully in this section, as one log snuck up on us as I was lead boating. Luckily, I was able to pull into a small eddy above it and signal to the others who were yet to drop in.
Once we reached Yellowjacket, the flows increased by quite a bit, maybe threefold. With 4.5 miles to go on this class IV creek, we didn’t stop much, pretty much bombing though all the drops. Most everything was straight forward enough and boat scoutable, with the only possible exception being Godzilla, just below the confluence with the creek we had just come from. This drop is a multi-tiered and ends in a hole that can be snuck on the right, or taken head-on with speed. Most in our crew chose the latter. For the record, Yellowjacket is a worthy creek in its own right for class IV boaters, and the beautiful canyon setting makes it almost worth doing the run for that reason alone. I really wish I would have had more time to go slower and take some photos, but I guess that just leaves me with a reason to go back.
Just about the time my arms felt like they were ready to fall off, the bridge came into view, signaling our take-out. It was now ~8pm and the sun was starting to descend below the horizon line. After retrieving the top vehicle, we headed back toward home, making a quick stop in Morton for some food, and another in Portland to transfer gear and cars. By the time Roman and I got back to Eugene it was 1:30am, quite a long day trip, especially since we had to work the next day…
|Leaving the take-out at sunset...|
In conclusion, I would say that McCoy is indeed a classic, especially if you end up running Chinook Falls. That said, it’s a lot of work and has an exploratory feel to it, which I kinda like. I’d probably only head back if I knew I was going to run Chinook (which I’d like to), or if it had more water to spice up the rest of the run. The only caveat with more water would be the wood situation, since it was already a little precarious in spots -- we probably had 8 to 10 portages between McCoy and Yellowjacket. Once again, we had ~2,700cfs on the Cispus gauge, which I felt was a good medium to medium-low flow. This of course is only a calculation, and since I only have the two data points (this trip and the previous mentioned trip), it’s hard to say how accurate it is, or how much it changes between the seasons. If you end up running it, feel free to send me your findings, which would help to put a correlation table together.
Some footage from our run:
POV - The Real McCoy from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.