Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Middle Santiam - The Concussion Run (6.15.13)


I've been boating for about 8 years now, all based out of Eugene, and for some reason I had never done the "Concussion Run" on the Middle Santiam. The reason that this is so odd is that it has fun whitewater, runs year-round (dam release), and is only an hour from my doorstep. My only explanation is that during the winter there are so many more boating options, and in the summer I mainly spend my time mountain biking. Whatever the case, I'm glad that a friend had sent out an open invite on Facebook, giving me a reason to finally see what it was all about.

From reading the write-up on Oregon Kayaking (here), I knew that the run was short (~2 miles), with the first half being class II/II+, and the second half consisting of three III/IV drops, which increased in difficultly from one to the next. Furthermore, the last drop, "Concussion", supposedly had a nasty mid-river sieve that had been the site of a couple of close calls in years past. I'm guessing that the story told might be one of the reasons that this run isn't done very often. I figured that we'd just play it conservatively, giving it a quick scout once we got there.

Roman and I left Eugene on Saturday morning, planning to meet-up with some of the Corvallis crew to run a few laps. After meeting them in the parking lot at the turnoff from the highway, we caravanned a few miles up the road, parking near the put-in. From the car, we had to walk around a locked gate and hike down the road about a ¼ mile to where a chain-link fence also blocked the road, at which point we traversed the river-side of it until we found the semi-developed path down to the river (thanks to the Corvallis Crew for clearing it!). The trail down is short, but very steep and lined with blackberry bushes -- I’m not the most nimble person on my feet, so it required a little bit of sliding as well (sorry drysuit…). We had originally thought the water got turned on at 10am, but now at ~9:45am, it looked like the water was already being released. With that, we slid into the water and started our first lap.

Hiking down the road to the put-in

The crew navigates chain-link fence

Michael heads down the crude trail to the river

Baby steps

The Put-In

Since I intended to do a write-up of this run, I wanted to jump out ahead and get setup at the first good rapid(s). After letting the others know, I quickly paddled out ahead. As I had heard/read, the first mile or more are basically class II/II+, with a couple of fun eddies to catch and some on-the-fly surfing if you so choose -- Since I needed enough time to get setup for photos, I cruised past the various opportunities. Eventually a wall started to form up on the left, signaling that I had reached the start of “the goods”. It started off with a fun splashy III/III-, which ended up being “Swiss Cheese”, the first of the three named drops.


Entering Swiss Cheese

On the other side of the pool below Swiss Cheese was “Scrawley’s Wall”, which I assume gets its name from the landmark on river-left, a sheer vertical wall rising straight out of the water. I jumped out pretty early on river-right and scrambled down the bank to find a good perch. I finally found one, on a rock about a third of the way through the rapid, and none too soon, as the crew had just entered the pool above. I gave them the thumbs up that I was ready, at which point they started dropping in one by one. The rapid itself was a very straightforward class III – enter left and then finish down the wave-train on that side, or enter left and cut across the current to the large eddy on river-right. Everyone had good lines, after which I packed up my camera and headed back up for my turn, where I had a pretty uneventful line like the others. It is worth noting the run out does lead into the next drop, “Concussion”, known for that nasty sieve. That said, the run-out is very slow moving water (at least at a release of one unit from the dam) and you would have to be really passive not make it to the right shore in time, especially if someone from the crew was already staged down there.


The crew stages above Scrawley's Wall

Michael Freeman and Anna Herring run the wave-train to exit Scrawley's

Roman enters Scrawley's

The Wall

Alan Bergmann, in the middle of it

As stated, Concussion started almost immediately after Scrawley’s. Once again I wanted to take some photos, so I asked the others to give me a few minutes to setup. I quickly found a good spot on river-right, and once again gave them the signal that I was ready. The sieve itself is pretty easy to avoid, just don’t run the center chute unless you have 100% confidence that you can run it cleanly, and even then, I’d highly discourage doing so. Everyone in our group wisely chose the conventional line of entering right and then making a strong move back to the center to finish up the drop, through a couple of powerful wave holes. This “move” is really quite fun, and done to avoid a big hole on river-right, which is easy to get pushed into if you get too complacent. Sure enough, there were a couple of folks in the group that got pushed right and had to work pretty hard to claw out of the hole or avoid it, but in the end, everyone made it through cleanly, except for a couple flips in the bottom hole(s).

Michael enters Concussion

Michael, above the move.
Note the sieve on the left of the center chute - a really bad place to be.

Making the move

Blue Angel though the meat of Concussion

Anna sets up for her turn

Christine Broniak working hard to get back to the center to avoid the river-right hole

Roman swings in for his turn

Settin' up proper

Roman lines up the bottom hole while the others look on

I went last and planned to catch the squirrelly eddy on river-right, just above the move back to center. As I approached the eddy and cut in high, I was bobbled by the boil at the top of it. A couple of quick stabbing braces kept me upright and I was able to make it into the calm part of the eddy. From this setup, it was a relatively easy ferry to avoid the river-right hole, allowing me to line up nicely for the bottom two with a direct hit to each. The great thing about this rapid is that all the holes seem fairly flushy (albeit big by Oregon standards) and it dumps right into the lake!


Lining up the bottom hole of Concussion

On the second lap I actually soloed the run while the others were putting on, so that I could get setup for photos below Concussion. When I hit the bottom hole in Concussion, I stalled out on the pile and was pulled into a back surf and was immediately flipped. After snapping off a quick roll, I paddled over to the left-hand shore to find a good vantage point. Before too long, a few helmets and paddle blades appeared in the distance. Dropping in right after one another, they soon came bombing down the rapid, all with solid lines. Michael Freeman actually decided to surf one of the bottom holes in his playboat, to the cheers of everyone below.


Here they come!

Blastin' through

Michael surfin' the bottom hole

Roman, below Concussion

The crew regroups below Concussion/start of the lake

From the bottom of Concussion it was just a short lake paddle to where we took out, finishing up a couple of laps on this short, but fun, run.

Conclusion:
Once again, I can't believe how long it's taken me to do this run. Coming away from my first time, I would say that it's a nice run to have close by, especially since it runs during the summer. However, I certainly wouldn't call it a classic, or drive much more than an hour for it -- it just doesn't have enough whitewater/drops to justify doing so. Concussion (the class IV drop) is great, but Swiss Cheese and Scrawley's Wall are fairly uneventful class IIIs, at the end of II/II+ section, which makes up a majority of the run. There might be a way to put-in just above Swiss Cheese, which would eliminate the mellow stuff, but it would shorten the run to about a 1/2 mile long. Based on these statements you'd assume I didn't think much of this run, but I actually did enjoy it quite a bit, and would probably boat it a few times during the summer. The next time I do, I'll definitely bring my playboat, which I would highly recommend doing, the creekboat just felt like the wrong tool for the job. Furthermore, I'd also like to do it when they are releasing at 2 units, as doubling the flow might change my perspective on it altogether. For flows, the USGS gauge height (here) or NOAA's CFS guage (here) -- unfortunately, the phone number given on Oregon Kayaking (to get this info) doesn't seem to work anymore. Please let me know if you know of another gauge or phone #, I'd gladly add it to this report.

The gauge height when we ran it on 6/15/2013 (one unit, or ~1,800 cfs).
You can see how they turn it off/on depending on the time of day.



The footage from our run:

Middle Santiam (OR) - Concussion Run from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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