Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lower Wind, WA (8.4.12 & 8.5.12)

With near 100 degree temps forecasted for much of the PNW over the weekend, what better way to spend it than on the water! The plan was to leave Eugene, meet up with some folks from Portland, get in an early afternoon ride on Falls Creek Trail (WA), and then cool down with a run down the Lower Wind (WA). Anytime you load both bikes and boats on the car, you know it’s gonna be a great weekend!

How could this add up to anything other than fun?!

Saturday morning, Roman Androsov and I left Eugene and met up with Chris Arnold, Nate Bell, and Janice at the north end of Bridge of the Gods. From there we headed to Falls Creek Trail, where we set shuttle (a long one), and ripped over 10 miles of spectacular downhill – this ride is a true northwest classic! We had planned to meet up with Jason Naranjo after the ride (he’d be joining us for the boating portion of the trip), but for one reason or another we completely missed each other at the planned meeting spot. Luckily he caught up with us as we were just about to slide into the water and start our run down the Wind.

The only time I’ve done the Lower Wind is when it is either smokin’ high (after coming off Panther Creek), or in the summer time when Shepherds Falls become runnable by mere mortals, but the rest of the run is pretty boney. On this weekend, it was the latter. Shepherds itself is a series of 4 drops, totaling 50’ to 60’ tall. The first two are vertical drops (~10’ and 15’ respectively), the third is a rocky slide, and the fourth is actually a manmade low-head dam. Multiple laps can easily be done, but once you drop over the weir (the fourth) it’s all over and you might as well head to the hot springs, ~1/8 mile downstream on river-left.

Our flow, based on the internet gauge -- 2.85'

As previously stated, the float down to the falls is pretty trashy, but it’s still kind of fun to navigate all the boulder mazes, trying to find the cleanest line possible and avoid a pin. There are also two bigger drops along the way, The Flume and Beyond Limits. The Flume bears no resemblance to its high water alter ego, and is basically a steep rocky drop with the only real clean line down the left side. It has a couple holes that try and knock you off line, but if you can stay on track, it’s actually a pretty fun drop. Once the water drops really low, the best option for this one is probably to portage.

Just around the corner is Beyond Limits, which is also much different with varying levels, changing from an extremely intimidating ledge at high water (which I’ve not run), to a really fun airplane boof at low water. I quickly jumped out on a convenient ledge to take photos while the others ran through, after which I ran the drop myself, joining them below.

Chris Arnold does it right at Beyond Limits


Chris Menges


Not far below Beyond Limits, and after a long straightaway, a footbridge over the river appears, signaling Shepherds Falls. Before reaching the first of the falls you’ll run a small entrance drop. Although straightforward, this drop should not be taken lightly, as some of the outflow feeds through a door into a massive/enclosed fish ladder.

Soon we were all sitting at the lip of the first falls, where I jumped out on river right to take some shots. There are many ways to run this drop, but the standard line is to finish off the left side flake, putting in a good right stroke. At this level the hole was pretty benign, but due to its horseshoe shape, it can be a real man-eater at higher flow. From two days of running the falls, I can say that my favorite line is to eddy out right at the lip of the drop, ferry across just above the lip, turn in to the flake, and throw in a big righty – super fun drop!

Chris Arnold leads the charge with big air off #1

The author drops in on #1 (photo by Chris Arnold)

Matt King and Jacob Cruser go for the deuce (photo by Chris Arnold)

Jason nails the kicker

Chris Menges drops #1, while Chris Arnold and Paul hang below #2

The author digs in for another... (photo by Chris Menges)

...and gets the boof (photo by Chris Menges)

Chris Menges

At the end of a large pool is the second waterfall, which is a much harder line to boof. With a rolling lip, you really have to be patient for this one when taking your stroke. You can pretty much run the falls anywhere, but the standard lines are either driving right or left, pulling your stroke on the opposite side of your path. I certainly had a mixed bag of lines here, along with everyone else, but it’s a really fun drop and a good one to practice delayed boofs on. It should be noted that the bottom hole will surf you if you land sideways without clearing the hole, luckily none of us fell into that trap.

Chris Arnold gets the boof on #2, which ain't easy

Matt and Jacob just can't stand being away from each other (photo by Chris Arnold)

Jason prepares for landing (photo by Chris Arnold)

Okay, now you're just showin' off (photo by Chris Menges)

Roman on #2

The author waits for the boof... (photo by Chris Menges)

...with some success (photo by Chris Menges)

Chris Menges shows patience at #2

Once again, the third drop is actually a rocky slide, as opposed to a true waterfall. I typically only run this drop once, after I’m done running laps on the first two. The main line is enter on the right side of the river, then pick your way down the boulder pile; there is actually a pretty fun boof at the bottom of it, assuming the water level is high enough. Speaking of water level, this one definitely benefits with more flow.

Roman heads down #3

Chris Menges finishes in style

The last drop, The Weir, is almost always run down the chute on the left, as the rest drops onto shallow rock. I’ve seen photos of folks running the right side at higher water, but can’t speak for the legitimacy of doing so without breaking your boat or ankles… At this flow the left line goes well with a nice rolling lip and semi-delayed stroke.

Jason exits stage left on #4

Chris Menges exits after a great day at Shepherds

After finishing up with the falls, take a look back upstream to see what you just came down – quite an impressive sight, even without the top tier in view. On our first day down, it was evening, so we headed down to the hot springs for a soak. These hot springs are the perfect temperature, and since it’s a difficult trek for hikers, it’s typically not too crowded. Make sure you pack some canned beer in your boat; it will make your soak that much better!

looking back up at the bottom three

From the hot springs it’s less than a mile to the take-out on the right. Since we did the run both Saturday and Sunday, we camped at the take-out, which ended up being more pleasant than I had expected. Add another great weekend in The Gorge to the record book, as we wind down the 2012 kayaking season and prepare for more biking!

The footage from our run:

POV - Lower Wind (Shepherds Falls) from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.