Monday, April 1, 2013

The Breitenbush River, OR (3.30.13)

With one of our boating buddies, Jason, coming back to Eugene for a visit, it seemed like a good opportunity to reunite some of the ol' crew for a day on water. On Friday, Jason, Bobby, and I went to The Mile (NFMF Willamette) for a few laps -- with 12" on the gauge and 65 degrees under sunny skies, it doesn't get much better than that! Since the next day we would have a much bigger crew, including those that hadn't been in their boats much lately, we decided to do something a bit more mellow. After reviewing water levels, it looked as though we would only have a few options. After some discussion, we decided on the Breitenbush River (~800cfs), which was fine by me, since I hadn't done it in five or six years. I did remember that it was really beautiful, so I was excited to take some photos and video as well.

Jason, gettin' it done on The Mile (not the Breitenbush)

In the end we would have a crew of nine, and after meeting in Eugene in the morning, we headed northeast toward The Bush. I had forgotten how long of a drive it actually was, more than 100 miles / 2 hours from Eugene. Before heading to the put-in, we all met up at the take-out to change into our boating gear, so we’d have nice dry clothes when we got off the river. The temperature was around 70 degrees with bright sunny skies – really amazing weather for one of the last days of March. Since there were nine of us, it took us quite a bit of time to actually get up to the put-in and on the water; Personally I wasn’t much in a hurry, and was looking forward to a relaxed day on the river.

Once we had all slid into the water, we started downstream. There was quite a bit of wood built up around the first right-hand bend, where the river became braided and flowed through multiple channels. The far left channel was the most clear, but even it required a portage around one of the logs – this ended up being pretty easy by walking down the island between channels. After putting back in, I jumped out ahead so that I could get setup for photos at the first major drop, The Slot, which lay just downstream and around the corner.

After running the small lead-in section, I eddied out on river-right, just above the lip of The Slot. As I was taking a look at the entrance ledge and trying to determine what the best camera angle would be, an upside-down boat was making its way toward the drop. Shawn was doing his best to plow it into the eddy, but since the boat was full of water and the current was fairly fast, he was unable to do so. Once I knew that it was going to drop into The Slot, I started running down the bank hoping that it might get stuck in the entrance hole for a bit. Sure enough it had, which allowed me to jump into the feeder eddy and grab ahold of the bow and pull it to shore. Whew, crisis averted! Once the boat and the pilot were reunited, we went back to scouting/discussing the drop.

Essentially, The Slot starts off with a ~4’ entrance ledge, with a very sticky hole at the base. Assuming the lead-in isn’t too shallow, it’s a pretty easy line, with a well-placed boof stroke allowing you to easily clear the hole. Just don’t plug it; I’ve personally witnessed a swim here, which included a couple of body recirculations. There is also a left side chute that bypasses the ledge hole, which can be used if you don’t feel comfortable with your boof stroke, or if the water level is too low to effectively run the ledge. Below the entrance, the river pinches down through a flumey drop, with some fun juiced up hydraulics, before depositing you into the calm water below. All of us decided to run the entrance ledge, with everyone having good lines throughout the whole drop – pretty good for such a big crew!

Brandon gets it started with a nice line off the top ledge

Shawn drops in while Scott and Ken look on

The author gets the boof off the entrance ledge

Ken takes his turn, entering stage-right

Ken digs in part way through the The Slot

After The Slot the river runs through some fun class II+ drops in a beautiful setting where small moss covered cliffs lined the banks. Before long, a large river-wide log came into view, with passage underneath it on hard river-left. Immediately below the log the river ran down a shallow bedrock drop, feeding into The Notch, and the next named drop of the run. To scout the drop for wood, we caught an eddy on river-right just above it, which has a good viewing platform. The Notch is a very straightforward drop, running the right channel off the nose of the ledge. The one concern here is wood, so if it’s been awhile since you’ve run it, make sure it’s clear.

Scott takes the standard line at The Notch

Jason at The Notch

Just below The Notch are a few more class II/III drops before the river exits the first gorge section and mellows out for a bit. This is a good time to take in the scenery and relax. At this point Brandon and I had jumped out ahead so that we could communicate any wood hazards that may creep up. I was also on the lookout for a good place to setup for some photos, but nothing was motivating enough to get me out of my boat.

Before too long we reached a river-wide ledge, signaling the start of the second gorge section, and which I had remembered being pretty sticky when I had paddled this river back in the day -- after warning Brandon we both dropped over. Brandon boofed the center without issue, but I was flipped as I tried to boof into the river-left eddy. Luckily it wasn’t as sticky as I had remembered and I was able to easily roll up and paddle into the eddy. Right below this ledge is S-Turn, a fun twisty drop with a few holes, most notably the one on the right just below the entrance. I hopped out on river-left to scout for wood and setup for photos. After I confirmed it was clear, I gave everyone the beta using hand signals and took photos as they dropped through, all with clean lines. After everyone had taken their turn, I packed up my gear and headed down to join them below.

Roman blasts past the biggest hole in S-Turn

Soon after S-Turn is Sharon’s, a class II/II+ lead-in to a 4’ to 5’ ledge. Since the run-out to the ledge is blind, I caught the last-chance eddy on river-left, just above it, to scout for wood. After quickly climbing up onto the giant rock I could see that it was good to go, which I let the others know from my perch. We all ran the left side, with Brandon probably having the best line by catching a nice boof off the left side of the center rock.

Scott enters Sharon's

Brian, just above the final pitch of Sharon's

Brandon, with the money line

Below Sharon’s there are a few more fun class II/III drops, and some wood here and there, before the walls peel back and the river mellows out again. Eventually a road bridge comes into view, which can be used as an alternate take-out, if you aren’t interested in running the drops below. On this trip, we continued down river.

Not far below the bridge, the river splits around an island, with most of the water going around to the left, which is the channel we took. Once we started getting close to the end of the island I recognized that it was also the entrance to Barbell. From my recollection the left side had a pretty sticky hole, but I couldn’t quite recall what the best line off of it was. With that we decided to get out on the island, wade across the right-side channel and take a look. Sure enough it looked sticky, with a sneak line down the hard right side of it. You could run the meat of the hole, but you’d definitely want to get in a good delayed boof stroke. I signaled to the others who were either waiting in their boats or on the island, that the hole was sticky and to either take a look for themselves or run the left channel, away from the hole. Bobby decided to charge the hole, so I readied my throwbag and camera. He ended up taking a premature boof stroke and went pretty deep, barely clawing himself out of its grasp. Shawn also decided to run the right side hole, but got hard right and was able to skirt the hole with ease. The rest of us ran the left channel without issue, which is actually a really fun line as well, and more of a boulder drop.

Bobby takes the meat line at Barbell...

And almost pays the price

Shawn takes the safer route

Roman takes the left chute

As we continued along we found a few more fun rapids, one with a couple of nice back-to-back wave-holes, which caught me sleepin’ and sent me ass over teakettle. After getting pushed against the right wall and missing one or two rolls, I was deposited in the calm water below where I was able to get’er upright. Just below this was Woo Man Chew, the last major drop of the run.

Getting out on river-left at the cement structure, we hiked down to pick out our lines. To me the left/main line looked really sticky, with lots of water pulling back into it off the left wall. The right line, which supposedly goes much better at high flows, looked pretty trashy, and not something that I’d choose to run if there was an easy walkaround. Scott, who didn’t even get out of his boat dropped down the right and gave us the all good signal. Bobby had also decided to run it sight unseen, but going left instead. I was given the signal and once again readied my camera and throwbag. He came through with a nice stroke and sailed over the hole and out of harm’s way. Everyone else (including me) decided to run the junk slot on river-right. There were a variety of lines, both good and bad, and it actually produced two swims. My advice here would be to look at the drop and choose your line wisely, just make sure you have a bag setup if you choose the left and flows are good. There isn’t much in the way of whitewater below Woo Man Chew, so take in the last bit of scenery and be on the lookout for where you parked your car at the take-out.

Bobby runs the hero line, in style

Brandon, making lemonade out of lemons

Jason dropping into the right line...

...And bustin' through

I must say, it was good to get on the Breitenbush and boat with the ol’ crew again! We had ~800cfs on the gauge, which I’d consider a medium/medium low level. At this flow the river has a class III feel to it, with a couple of class IVs mixed in for good measure. This is a great steppingstone run for up and coming creek boaters to cut their teeth on, or for more experienced boaters looking for a less stressful day on the water - the drops are plenty fun and the gorge sections are beautiful. That said, I’m not sure I’d make the long drive there very often, but would certainly do it if I was already in the area or hadn’t done it in a long while. Of course, if you’ve never done it, it’s definitely worth the trip.

After party

The view on the drive home, after a long day...

The POV footage of our run down The Bush:

POV - The Breitenbush from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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