Rarely do I find myself boating on the east side of the Cascades in Oregon. This is mainly due to a limited river selection, and frankly, with all the classic runs on the west side, it's hard to find the motivation to head over there. However, in Fall when things on our side haven't really started to come in yet, some opportunities near Bend present themselves and allow us to get back on the water again. I had actually been thinking about boating in the high desert earlier in the week, and then on Friday, my buddy Joe Bushyhead suggested we head over. After looking at options/water levels, we figured our best bet was the Dillon Falls to Meadow Camp section on the Deschutes River -- with that, we called around to rally the troops. Along with Joe and me, we'd have Roman Androsov, Andy Janoski, and Alex Scott.
|Our flow for the day, ~825cfs|
Since we would only be going for the day, we met fairly early on the edge of town, so we could carpool to Bend, about 2 1/2 hours away. After stopping near McKenzie Bridge to pick up Andy, we headed up and over Santiam Pass. Along the way we were treated to vibrant Fall colors, and even a little snow at pass level. Coming down the east side of the pass we stopped to take a couple of pictures along the way.
|Lots of Fall foliage on our drive up the McKenzie|
|A view looking toward Mount Washington (covered in clouds) on the other side of the pass|
|The Three Sisters, from just outside of Bend. It's a little bit dryer on this side of the fence.|
We soon reached the city of Bend. Conveniently the run we were doing was only a few miles out of town, so it wasn't long before we reached the take-out to drop off the shuttle car. Stepping out of the car was a rude awakening, with the coldest air temps I had felt of the season. I was glad that I had brought plenty of layers for underneath the drysuit, and I didn't waste much time changing into them. Once all of us were suited up, we piled in Joe's truck, and headed to the put-in at Dillon Falls.
One thing about Bend is that they spent a lot of time and money developing the outdoor recreation sites, helping to make it one of the top outdoors/adventure towns in the country. This is obviously a double-edged sword, but it is nice from a convenience standpoint, with picnic tables, boat ramps, and a trail running the length of the river. After putting on, we boated down a couple hundred yards, before getting back out to scout Dillon Falls, the first major drop of the run.
|Roman preps his ride at the put-in|
|Andy gets ready for a good day on the water|
Dillon Falls is certainly not the cleanest ledge around, but is still plenty fun. At this water level (~825cfs) there are essentially two line options, hard right or hard left, neither of which is a total gimmie. The right side ramps down through a couple hydraulics before dropping about 6’ to 8’ off a very narrow flake. This line is much harder than it looks, since most of the flow slides off into the crack in the middle of the falls, which I've seen many people fall into. As for the left side, it starts off with a 3’ shallow boof, followed by a flat stretch, and finally dropping over a ~12’ vertical plunge. The difficulty here is the angle of the 12’er, which complicates the takeoff/landing. After finishing up the falls, you’re not done – you must now get past the Dill Hole, which at this level, wasn't too sticky, although at the same time, you wouldn't want to fall into it sideways. I have personally watched three people swim from the Dill Hole (all at once!), and have also seen a couple videos of people swimming out of it; basically don’t get complacent here.
|Looking just downstream of Dillon Falls. The Dill Hole is located at the top of the rapid.|
After giving Dillon a scout, I offered to go first, and headed back up to my boat. Since I had already run the right line in the past, I wanted to give the left a go. I quickly buckled myself in, slid into the water, and set my course. The first 3’er has both a shallow take-off and landing, but must be run to line up for the 12’er. Paddling toward the lip I dug in my right edge and planted my right stroke. Coming of the lip I shifted my weight back toward the left to straighten back out, but also neglected to get over the front of my boat. Entering the water at a little steeper angle than I wanted, I went a little deep but resurfaced quickly. After busting through the Dill Hole, I eddied out on river-left, and hiked back up to watch the others take their turn and take over camera duty.
|Andy and Alex scout their line|
|The author digs in on on the left line (photo by Joe Bushyhead)|
|Resurfacing in the spray (photo by Joe Bushyhead)|
|The author lines up for the Dill Hole (photo by Joe Bushyhead)|
Both Andy and Joe also opted for the left line, while Roman and Alex decided to give the right side a go. The left side was definitely producing better lines, with Andy & Joe landing nicely below, and Roman & Alex falling into the center crack, after struggling to get far enough right. Everybody but me decided to do another lap, with Alex being the only one to give the right another go. This time he was able to avoid falling into the deepest part of the crack, but still rolled off to the side, albeit much more in control – it really is a hard line to nail. As with the previous lap, all the left side lines went well.
|Andy takes his turn|
|Alex gets caught by the tricky current and falls into the center crack|
|Roman finds the crack as well|
|Joe, going left.|
|Andy on lap 2|
|Alex goes for the right line again, and is able to keep it a little more on line.|
|Roman decides to go left on his second lap, with good results.|
|Alex launches into Dill Hole|
After everyone had gotten their fill, I grabbed my drybag to start packing up my camera gear. Unfortunately the bag had tipped over and had about ½” of standing water at the bottom of it, along with my 17-50mm lens – damn!!! Needing to dry the lens out before using it again, I was now stuck with my 11-16mm ultra-wide for the remainder of the day. This was actually fine, since it was the first day I had used it in the field and I wanted to get a feel for it.
Below Dillon Falls & the Dill Hole, the river crashes down through a short gorge section, with some fun splashy water over sharp lava rock. Needless to say, this would be a very bad place to be out of your boat, which pretty much applies to the whole run.
|The short gorge section below Dillon Falls/Dill Hole|
All too soon the rapids came to an abrupt end at a long section of flat water followed -- basically it was a lake. This stretch lasts for ~2 ½ miles with only one III- rapid about three quarters of the way through. Even though not terribly exciting, the scenery more than made up for it, with lots of fall foliage, including an amazing stand of brilliant yellow Cottonwood trees. It was also nice to just kick back, relax, and catch up with the crew! Along the way, we also encountered more than a few fly fishermen trying their luck with the brown trout, which the Deschutes is famous for. Making sure to give them a wide berth, we exchanged pleasantries as we passed by.
|Taking in the scenery on the flats|
|The amazing stand of Cottonwood trees|
|With a setting like this, it's hard to complain too much about the flat water|
Just as I was starting to get overly relaxed, hazard signs of impending doom ahead dotted the shoreline, signaling that Lava Island Falls was just downstream. I’m certainly not making light of these signs, they do serve a valuable purpose, especially for folks enjoying the mellow float upstream to take-out beforehand. Tragically, a couple months ago two women floated into it unaware in an inflatable raft, killing one (and yes, both were wearing life-vests). Since I had only done the run once before, and it was years ago, we made sure to take-out in the calm water above on river-right to give it a scout.
Lava Island is more of a multi-pitched rapid than a true falls. Starting things off, the river goes into a swirly water S-Turn before dropping through a narrow slot against the left wall. From here more twisty/boily water continues, until the river splits around a rock island (hence the name). As far as I know, the standard line is to go right of the island, which we all decided to take, since it was hard to see if the left was clear, at least from our vantage point. The right side basically ramped down about 10 to 15 feet into a sizable wave-hole, that wasn't overly sticky. None of the moves on their own were too difficult, but stacked together makes for a pretty exciting rapid.
I motioned to the others that I would setup for photos if they wanted to drop in first, which they all agreed to. Lava Island is actually a really hard rapid to photograph, mainly due to how long it is and how it wraps around the corner. With that, I decided to take photos at different points for each of the crew. One by one they all came through, with all having good/similar lines. The bottom hole definitely provided the best entertainment, with a variety of stern-squirts and face shots.
|Roman, partway through Lava Island|
|Roman heads down the bottom right side of Lava Island|
|Alex makes the entrance move at Lava Island Falls. The upstream currents are trickier than they look.|
|Alex drives for right of the island|
|Andy drops the last pitch of Lava|
|Joe lines up perfectly on the bottom tier...|
|...and gets a nice face shot|
Once everyone was through, I hiked back up to take my turn. Based on scouting and watching the others come through, I knew that the swirling water was going to be a bit tricky, which did end up being the case. The strong eddy lines made it difficult for me to drop in with much speed or grace; however, once I was in it went pretty well, including a 360 degree eddy-turn partway through. As I dropped down the final pitch, I pointed right and into the gut of the hole, smashing through with plenty of speed and a little help from my Bliss-Stick Tuna – what a fun rapid!
While the others were waiting for Roman to re-enter the water (he had been out on the island watching /setting safety), I headed down through the next rapid, “Cut Up”, so I could take photos from down below. Cut Up, is a pretty fun rapid, with a long straight stretch of splashy hydraulics. It’s pretty straightforward class III/III+ at this level, but I could see it getting pretty exciting/more fun with double the flow. From my photo perch high up on the river-left rocks, I watched/took photos as the others came through.
|Joe, leading the pack though Cut Up|
|Hangin' below Cut Up|
Since I was the only one that had done the run before, I warned the others to be careful about dropping into anything blind, as Lava 2 (aka “Barry’s Back Ender”) was not far downstream. Barry’s is not necessarily an overly difficult drop, but it has collected wood in the past and is difficult to get out once you've dropped in. Once again, because I had only done the river once, awhile back, we played it safe and started our scout from the end of a long pool and the initial entrance to Barry’s. There is a foot trail on river right which we used, but it was a bit overgrown, so there was some bushwhacking in spots. Upon getting a full look at the rapid, we found that there was in fact some wood along the right side of the river, which was somewhat in play. However, as long as you stayed left though the crux part of the drop it wasn't much of a problem, and luckily it was a pretty easy fairy to get over there. Probably the worst place to be was in the center, where some nasty looking lava rocks/pins-spots resided. The final obstacle is ~4’ ledge on the left, with a little bit of a hole to boof over, which I’m sure is what gives the rapid its nickname.
|Looking down into the crux of Barry's|
Once again, I would stay below to set safety and take photos while the others came through. Due to the longish hike back up to the boats, it took a while before I saw the first paddle blades in the distance. Andy was the first to drop in, and made the move to river-left with little effort. After bouncing though the meaty part of the drop, he lined up for the bottom ledge, putting in a stroke at the lip and clearing the hole. None of the others had any issue getting left either, but I did get to see a couple back enders at the bottom hole! My line went pretty much the same as everyone else's, and before long I was through and joined them below.
|Andy makes it left in the crux of Barry's|
|Andy lines up the bottom hole at Barry's|
|Alex finishing up strong|
|Roman, almost through|
|Roman takes a power stroke off the bottom ledge|
|Joe, gettin' "Back Endered"|
It should be noted that the run-out to Barry’s is splashy class III, with a river-wide strainer about 100 yards or so downstream. It’s not an issue as long as you’re in your boat, but make sure to get any swimmer out of the water if someone has issues Barry's. Luckily there’s passage around the log on hard river-right, so no portage is required.
Just below the log is one more small drop before the river comes to a screeching halt at another long section of flat water. From here we only had ~1/4 mile float to the takeout at Meadow Camp. Once we got there we changed out of our kayaking gear and into some more comfortable cotton layers. Joe and Alex went to retrieve the top car, while the rest of us sat around and waited at the conveniently placed picnic tables on the side of the river. I was bit surprised with how cold it was, and even though I had thrown on multiple layers, the cold breeze still cut deep – needless to say, we were all pretty glad we wouldn’t be camping that night.
|A calm/cool takeout|
|Beautiful Deschutes shoreline|
|The end of a great day on the water!|
Once they got back, we headed into Bend for beers and food at 10 Barrel Brewing, which is highly recommended and another shining example of fine northwest brew.
|The crew works on their Wheels & Water gang signs|
It was good to get back in the boat, and even see some new high desert scenery as a change from the wetter west side. However, although the major drops, Dillon Falls, Lava Island Falls, and Barry’s are pretty fun, they're certainly not classics, at least IMO. That coupled with the overabundance of flat water will probably dissuade me from doing this run more than once every couple of years. Living in Bend it would be a different story, as it's right out your backdoor and runs almost all year at a variety of regulated flows. I also feel like I need to get on it at higher flows to feel like I’m giving it a fair shake -- I’m sure it would make it a lot more exciting. Further, I know there are other runs in the area like Meadow Camp, Riverhouse, and the Steelhead Falls section, which are also supposed to be fun. With that in mind, it could make for a fun weekend getaway, which would make the drive a little more worthwhile. Heck, another option would be to combine it with some quality mountain biking, which Bend has a plethora of.
Some footage of our run down Dillon to Meadow Camp:
POV - Dillon Falls to Meadow Camp (Deschutes River, OR) from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.