Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Upper Upper Cispus, WA (9.23.12)

The Upper Upper Cispus (UUC) is considered by many as one of the go-to class V summer classics in the Pacific Northwest. Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington, the UUC is fed from glacier melt off the northern slopes of Mt. Adams, giving it a late summer season, when almost everything else has dried up. I have been itching to get on this stretch of river for some time, but epic stories of trouble at the must-run (essentially) waterfall known as Behemoth, convinced me to wait until I was really ready, water levels were forgiving, and I was with a good crew – Luckily last Sunday all of that fell into place.

The flow -- ~460cfs

The day prior (Saturday) was spent with a great run down the Green Truss, followed by an equally good wedding, where we got to watch our buddy Brandon get hitched to his new bride Erin. At the reception, the beer was flowin’ and we soon hatched a plan to run the UUC the following day. My hopes were high, but also knew that there was a good chance that plans would fall through when we woke up late from our drunken stupor that was set on its path the night before. I was the first of the crew to awake, and after taking some photos of the sunrise, I found some coffee to pull me out of my haze. Soon after, the others woke up, and amazingly, everyone was still in! With that, we packed our stuff and headed from Husum to the put-in for the UUC.

Sleeping quarters

Room with a view

The crew was strong, with fellow paddlers Chris Arnold, Roman Androsov, and Isaac Priestley. In somewhat of a time crunch after a delayed departure and a slow service breakfast, we graciously accepted Josie's (Isaac’s fiancĂ©e) offer to run shuttle for us. It was ~12:30pm when we finally reached the put-in, where I took a quick moment to walk onto the road bridge and look at the level. Since I hadn’t done the run before I really didn’t know how to judge it, but Isaac quickly confirmed that it was lowish, but definitely still in the fun flow range. Before long we were all geared up and headed down the river.

The put-in

Looking upstream from the put-in bridge

Looking downstream from the put-in bridge

Almost immediately we were confronted with the first major horizon line, where the river dropped out of sight and spray filled the air. The ‘warm up falls’ dropped about 15+ feet, and was not quite vertical. There was a log propped above the run out, but it was completely out of play, at least at this level. It looked good to go, which the others agreed, so I setup for some shots while the others took their turn. Everyone in the group had good lines, and after finishing up with my camera duty, I hiked back up to take a go at it. Peeling out of the eddy I drove toward the right side of the falls, before letting the current sweep my bow back into alignment and dropping in. Running center-right, I blasted down the falls and landed pretty flat, barely getting my head wet – what a great way to start a run!

Scoutin' our lines on the warm up falls

Chris droppin' in

Isaac, center-right
Chris enters the drop below the falls

Plenty of room to go under the log at this level

For the next few miles we hammered down the river at a fairly quick pace, with only quick pauses here and there for some boat scouting, on the lookout for wood and/or sieves. The nature of this section was essentially continuous class IV boulder gardens and broken ledge drops that required fairly precise boat control to avoid a pin or end up in a place you didn’t want to be. I actually didn’t find it all that trashy, and on the contrary I thought it was pretty damn fun. There were also a few relatively mellow sections in here, which allowed me to catch my breath, as well as take in the amazing scenery.

We soon reached a boulder drop where we all got out to scout, since there had been wood in the past and it was recommended that the drop should be finished on the hard left. With the lower flows, getting left would be a little tricky had we started from the center of the river; Instead, all but one of us decided to bash down the first part on the shallow river-left side. The bottom left side was a ~5’ clean ledge, which was actually kinda fun.

Said boulder drop

Roman running the bottom ledge on the left (recommended) side

The next major drop on the run that I remember was where the river split around a quasi-island and disappeared out of sight. Chris was pretty sure that the left side fed into a narrow slot with a sticky hole, and that the better line was to go right. I offered to verify and jumped out of my boat on river-left to take a look. Sure enough, it was pretty much as Chris had remembered, and although the hole didn’t look overly sticky, it would be hard to run it with any kind of boof – we all opted for the right side, where we all had good lines.

Chris finishes up running the right side of the quasi-island

Chris works on his tan while waiting for the rest of us

From reading the reports, I knew that Island drop was not far downstream. Sure enough, we came to a midstream island where the others were already beached and climbing out on. As I made my way up onto the rock island, the drop started to resemble the images I had seen of it. At this flow, the only good line to me looked like the right side – the left seemed like it would feed you straight into the bottom hole, sideways. The right side was a double ledge with a tricky lip off the first, followed by a highly aerated middle section, and finally over a bottom ledge with the sticky hole which has dealt out its fair share of rodeo sessions. I knew that if I came out of the top drop in control I shouldn’t have too much trouble getting over the bottom hole. Isaac warned me that the top ledge is harder to boof than it looks and really pulls your bow down when you’re coming over the lip. By this time, Chris had already headed back to his boat and was preparing to drop in. I quickly grabbed my camera and caught a sequence of him coming through, in perfect form. Happy with his line, he eddied out and waited for the rest of us.

Chris digs in on the top ledge of island

Keepin' it upright

Rounding the bottom ledge of Island

and finishing strong

After a quick discussion, I ended up being the only other one that liked the look of the line, so Isaac offered to take photos and Roman offered to set safety, before making the relatively easy portage. Probably the hardest part of running Island was finding a way back into the water without falling in, off the slippery rocks. After a bit of a balancing act, I finally slid into the water and got ready to head down the right side. As I drove toward the lip I waited until I saw the edge to pull my stroke off of. Sure enough, just as Isaac had warned, the water pulled down on my bow and I didn’t get it up as much as I had wanted to. This sent me a little deep and on my left edge. Luckily I was able to stabilize with a deep low brace and get it back in control for the final drop, which I sailed over without much issue. It ended up being a pretty exciting drop, and I was happy that I pulled out a relatively good line.

The author enters with a delayed boof (photo by Isaac Priestley) 

Lining back up after going a little deep (photo by Isaac Priestley)

reaching for it over the bottom ledge (photo by Isaac Priestley)

and blastin' through (photo by Isaac Priestley)

Not far below Island, the walls tightened up quite a bit and the river pinched down and over a fairly blind horizon line. A limbo log could be seen in the run out, but looked to be out of play. Isaac stated that you wanted to boof with left angle, which was going to be hard to setup for until you were right at the lip, due to the rock outcropping and angle of the drop. One by one the crew dropped over, where after a brief moment a whistle was blown, signaling the all clear. As I approached the drop I could see the water piling into the right wall and I soon knew why you wanted left angle. Throwing in a last minute stroke, I was able to make the move and join the others in the eddy below – super fun drop!

From here there were a couple more drops before Chris and Isaac indicated that we were at the “drop of no return”, a walled-in class IV that led to the lip of Behemoth. It was advised that we get out and scout this entrance drop, since it has a hole near the bottom that can present problems at some water levels. As we hiked down the sloped rock wall on river-right, there were spots that required precise foot placement/holds to prevent you from falling in, especially for a lanky/uncoordinated bastard such as myself. I had brought my camera with me which took away one of my hands, so I binered into it with my cow tail, just in case of a fall – that way I would have the pleasure of swimming Behemoth with my camera… I finally reached the end of the entrance drop where I had a good view of the bottom hole – it actually didn’t appear that sticky, but it did look tricky to line up on. Furthermore, there was a pretty big pillow coming off the left wall, which could certainly flip you if you didn’t come into it in control.

Roman practices some fancy footwork while scouting the rapid of no return

From here I could see the others continuing to claw their way downstream, apparently to look at Behemoth itself, which I didn’t know you could do from anywhere other than the lip of it. Sure enough, as I joined the others high up on a rock perch, there it was in all its glory. All I could think was, “man that thing looks huge!”, and “if it looks that big from up here…” Feeling a little bit more tense (which I also got from the others) we discussed the plan of attack. We would send two people up first while the others set bag (and a camera) from the right wall. Then, once they were through, they would set bag from river left, just above the lip of the beast.

Chris and Isaac decided to go first while Roman and I setup. Before long I saw Chris appear just above the entrance, taking a few seconds prior to dropping in. Entering right, he stayed on that side until he neared the end, where he drove back to river-center and blasted through the bottom hole. He quickly cruised past, eddied out on river-left, got out of his boat, and scrambled up onto the rocks. He had pretty much run the line I was planning to, so I was glad he made it look so easy. Next, Isaac dropped in with the same line. As he melted through the bottom hole, he stalled for a quick second before paddling away unscathed.

Chris hits the bottom hole head on

Isaac gets ready for full contact

Isaac in the run-out below the rapid of no return

Chris & Isaac getting staged at the lip of Behemoth

With Chris and Isaac safely through and in position at the lip of Behemoth, it was now time for Roman and me to take our turn. I quickly packed up my rope and camera and headed back upstream. As I was traversing the cliff wall, Roman blew past, finishing up the drop in style and joining the others below. My line went the same as the others, a little bobbled by the bottom hole, but making it through upright. I was pretty glad to be through the entrance drop, but kept my emotions in check since we still had some business to attend to.

Getting on shore from the river left eddy at the lip of the falls was more of a chore than I was expecting -- the rock platform was fairly sloped and extremely slippery. In fact, as I was walking from my boat to look over the edge of the falls I actually fell into the water, much to the excitement of my fellow boaters. Luckily I landed in the fairly calm eddy, so it wasn’t a big deal. Being a little more careful my second go, I was able to make it to the edge and peer over Behemoth. As documented many times before, the line was pretty obvious, driving from right to left down the tongue, and ramping off the auto-boof with a right draw. It sounded and looked easy enough, but the ramp/landing zone was fairly narrow – too far right and you’ll probably fall off sideways, or worse, too far left and you risk being sucked behind the falls (where many terrifying swims have occurred, and also requires a vertical extraction).

We decided to go with the same plan of attack as before, Chris and Isaac would go first and Roman and I would go second. With that, I broke out the wide-angle lens and got into position. After sliding into the water they both ferried over to the river-right eddy to setup. Chris dropped in first, and hit the line in perfect form. After landing, he pulled into the eddy on river right between the falls and the river-wide ledge downstream. I turned to Isaac and gave him the head tap, indicating the “all clear”. Without hesitation, he dug in and dropped over, getting a huge boost off the left side kicker flake. Landing perfectly, he drove for the right side of the river-wide ledge and the meat of the hole. With a solid stroke he blasted through and eddied out just below.

Chris enters stage left

preparing for takeoff

Isaac, hot on Chris' heels

Hittin' the kicker

Isaac crashing though the right side hole of the river-wide ledge, immediately below Behemoth.

It was now my turn, I was fired up but also a little anxious. I studied the drop one last time and practiced some air strokes before heading back to my boat. After reentering the water I ferried to the right side eddy as the others had. From the eddy I took a deep breath and started my approach. I accelerated down the ramp and felt like I was right on line. However, the kicker flake came much faster than I had expected, and I was unable to setup as I had wanted to and was launched sideways through the air. As I landed in the same sideways position I was immediately flipped. I’ll I could think was, “Please don’t get sucked behind the falls, please don’t get sucked behind the falls!” I snapped off a very quick roll and looked up to see that I was about 5’ from the gut of the river-wide ledge hole. With little time to react, I straightened out as best I could and planted a huge stroke off the rolling lip, clearing the hole and flying into the river-right eddy below. Exhilarated to say the least, I looked over at Chris, who stated, “Dude, you’re going to give me a heart attack. I’m too old for this shit! I thought you might have gotten sucked behind the falls.” I quickly gave him a smile and said, “No worries, we’re good!” After having a few seconds to process my run, I couldn’t believe how fast the water was moving between the falls and the following ledge – I mean, one very quick roll and I was already at the lip of the next drop?!

After taking a brief breather, I scrambled onto the bank and setup for some shots of Roman running the beast. It didn’t take long before I could see him sliding into the water, and quickly after that dropping over the lip. Like me, he came off a bit sideways but was able to plant a deep right brace and avoid flipping. Like the rest of us, he was unable to get left and was forced to run the stick right side of the following ledge. Even with a decent stroke, he went pretty deep and had to throw in a couple diggers to claw his way out.

Isaac and Chris discuss their runs while waiting for Roman to drop in

Roman, slayin' the beast!

Paddling away from the falls

Goin' for the meat

Chris and Roman celebrate after a successful run over Behemoth

Now that we were all fired up and safely below the crux of the run, we discussed the lines in the following boulder gardens, which pretty much consisted of “go right”, “go right”, go right”, etc. – with beta like that how could you go wrong?! As we made our way down, I could see how a bit more water would have made things nicer. Not that it was overly trashy, it was just difficult to get in a good boof through the narrow lines. Eventually the difficulty of the boulder gardens lessened, and we soon reached the class II paddle out. I must say, I was super stoked on the run, but my adrenaline glands were pretty well fried at this point, so the mellow stuff was kind of a welcome sight.

Roman, going right at the start of the boulder garden below Behemoth

Before too long, the takeout bridge came into view, along with our awaiting dry clothes. It was a fine way to end an all-around great weekend, which was only dampened by the impending 5-hr drive home. After loading up and saying our goodbyes, Roman and I headed out, deciding to wait until Portland to eat dinner, at one of our favorite stops, Fire on The Mountain Buffalo Wings. Even with a few stops, we made it home by 10:30pm, just enough time to clean up a bit and head off to bed.

Sunset on the drive home

I’m super glad I got to see what all the fuss was about and got to form my own opinion. For me the Upper Upper Cispus exceeded my expectations and I would certainly be on the side of those who consider it a PNW classic. Even with flows of ~460cfs, I didn’t feel that it was overly trashy. Sure there was some mank to deal with, but not enough to kill the overall feel of the run. To be honest, I’m not sure how much more water I’d want for the crux gorge w/ Behemoth. Once again, I know opinions vary greatly here, so take it for what it’s worth. I can certainly see making the drive for this one at least once every summer, and would love to get on it with a tad more water, but probably no more than a couple hundred cfs or so. I can also say with a great deal of certainty that you will leave this run feeling like you just got in a solid day of boating!

The head-cam footage of our run:

POV - Upper Upper CIspus (WA) from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

1 comment:

  1. Woooa plenty of adrenaline rush moments. (Green with envy), though I really don't know if I can do something like this. But who knows, I'll set my own limit.

    Nice pics!