Friday, September 20, 2013

NF Rogue, OR - Mill Creek Section (9.1.13)

A few times a year, PacifiCorp returns the flow from the penstocks back into the NF Rogue, between the "Avenue of Giant Boulders" and Lost Creek Reservoir, as part of a scheduled release program to provide recreational opportunities. Not only does it bring the Avenue to life (a serious class V/V+ gauntlet), it also brings forth a fantastic 1.5 mile long class IV run which mainly consists of continuous boulder gardens. I've often heard of this run being compared to the Miracle Mile on the NFMF Willamette (OR), which happens to be one of my favorite local runs -- depending on who I asked, one run is a little harder than the other. With that, I knew I needed to head down to check it out for myself, and just as luck would have it, a buddy of mine (Pat) had set up a trip over Labor Day weekend.

Since the release on the Mill Creek section wasn't happening until Sunday and Monday, we spent Saturday warming up on the Natural Bridge / Takilma Gorge sections, some miles upstream and above the water diversion. Although we had a good time, the low water level (late in the season) made for sub-optimal boating conditions, which can be read about in my trip report, found here. Looking forward to some more exciting whitewater with better flow, we all slept well that night. The next morning we took our time getting out of our tents and making breakfast. Even after we'd eaten, we sat around a bit while the sun warmed our bodies and dried out our gear from the day before. Finally, at a little after 10am, we decided to head to the put-in, to meet the shuttle driver, paid for by the wonderful folks at PacificCorp.

Before reaching the put-in, we crossed over the NF Rogue, in the town of Prospect, where it spanned over the Avenue of Giant Boulders. We quickly pulled over to take a look, and words cannot describe the gauntlet that lay below us. Just upstream of the bridge is Prospect Falls, which has been run and looked pretty fun/exciting, assuming you were feeling your oats and had good safety set. It was the stretch that followed that was truly impressive/terrifying -- as the name would suggest, a maze of massive boulders, which dropped some serious gradient as far as the eye could see. I'm not sure how much of this complex puzzle has been solved by boaters, but to me it looked only marginally boatable, with many sieves and at least a few portages. Even so, it was really cool just to look at, which should be done by anyone who is passing by, whether you're a boater or not.

Prospect Falls

The Avenue of Giant Boulders

The road bridge at the Avenue of Giant Boulders

Once we were done gawking at The Avenue, we drove a short distance to a large parking lot, marking the put-in for our run. As you would assume, we weren't the only boaters that were planning to take advantage of the release and free shuttle service. After we had all greeted each other, we signed-in with the shuttle driver, Matt, before changing up and starting our descent down to the river. The first half of the hike is pretty easy-going, down a wide hiking trail that you can either shoulder or drag down. The second half is a whole different animal -- once you reach the edge of a cliff band, it descends down at a feverish rate, which, in my opinion, was a bit brutal.

Finishing up the easy part of the hike

As we geared up in the soaking spray of Mill Creek Falls, I looked around and felt very lucky to be able to experience places like this! Pushing away from the bank, we started our run through a couple of warm-up boulder gardens, before we had to make a decision to go right or left of an island. At this point I was lead boater, and after looking over my shoulder from a small eddy, it appeared that the right side had some wood, but it was hard to tell if it was in play. With that, I gave the signal to the others and headed for the left side of the island, where I hopped out on the bank to see if it was clear as well as take some photos. After I confirmed it was good to go, I once again gave the signal to the crew, who headed down and eddied out above the next drop.

The put-in, at Mill Creek Falls

Looking downstream from the put-in

Roman Androsov drops into one of the first rapids of the run

Bobby Brown in the same drop, from down below

Pat Welch, in the same rapid

I quickly packed up my gear and headed down to join the others, who were now out scouting the drop. I asked Roman if it was good to go, and he stated that it was a relatively thin line and I should probably take a look. Basically the river dropped over a broken ledge, with a line to the left or right of a midstream piton/pin rock. Roman and I were the only ones that were feeling it that day, so we both picked out our lines and made a go at it. Both runs went well and it actually went much better than it looked.

Roman threads the needle, left of the first island

Pat drops in on the same rapid
(Taken the following day)

The next sizable rapid, which flowed against a cliff wall on river left, started off with a fun water boof over a small hole, before dropping down through a series of juicy hydralics, which were also quite fun. Below this drop and above another island, we regrouped in an eddy, before boat-scouting our way down the right side until we got to a point where we felt it deserved a scout from shore, mainly for wood hazards. I quickly scrambled up onto a boulder, and noted that it was all clear, except for a midstream rock which looked easy enough to avoid. After giving verbal beta to the others, I got back in my boat and dropped in behind them, through another drop filled with nice hydraulics -- super fun stuff!

Jim Reed enters the right side of the second island

Pat, ready to get busy

Pat, in the middle of one of the best rapids on the run

The river seemed to mellow out for a short bit as we ran a few read-n-run class III drops. Actually, between here and the power house (aka, our take-out) there were really only two sizable drops that I can recall, and even those, were not overly large/difficult, maybe deserving of a class III+ rating. Of course when you consider the combination of the drops and the lack of pools, I can understand the class IV rating this section of river gets.

Bobby, partway through one of the bigger drops on the run

Pat, diggin' in!

Before long we passed by a sign that warned boaters to take-out at the power house, and as we rounded a right-hand bend, it came into view off in the distance. Floating past the power house, I could see a guy waving his arms and signaling to us that we had reached the take-out. After climbing up the short rocky pitch to the small parking lot, we were greeted by Matt, from Noah's River Adventures, a fishing and rafting shuttle/guide service from Ashland Oregon -- Apparently PacifiCorp had outsourced the shuttles to them.

Once we had all gotten off the river, we strapped our boats to the flatbed trailer and headed back to our awaiting cars at the put-in. With fresh memories of the hike down to the river, everyone but Bobby decided they really weren't interested in doing another lap that day. Instead, we decided to do some sightseeing and grab some dinner in Union Creek. Our first stop was the Rogue Gorge, on the north end of Union Creek. Basically, it's a really cool slot canyon that looked like it would be sweet to kayak, if it wasn't for the nasty waterfall at the start. Still, it was a really cool place and well worth the short walk along the rim of the gorge.

The entrance to Rogue Gorge

The lead-in falls

Roman, happy just to be sightseeing

The pinch below lead-in falls

The bottom of Rogue Gorge

Next we headed further north to National Creek Falls, which is a couple miles down a dirt road and a mile or so down a hiking trail. I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how cool this place was -- although it wasn't a high volume creek, it was still pretty spectacular.

National Creek Falls

Our final stop was for dinner in Union Creek. Although the food was good, it took forever, even just to have the waitress show up. After dinner we headed back to camp where we met back up with Bobby, as well as Matt (the shuttle driver), who decided to camp with us for the evening. It ended up being another night of bright stars and good beer, and since there was a ban on campfires (due to extremely dry conditions), we all headed off to bed fairly early.

Starry Night

The next day we took another lap down the Mill Creek run, only this time we decided to go all the way to Lost Creek Lake, which would add couple of miles to the trip. Now Monday, PacifiCorp was releasing a bit more water than they had the day before, which the run certainly benefited from -- it wasn't any harder but seemed to clean up a bit. According to the release calendar, the flows on Sunday were 250cfs, and were supposed to be 450cfs for this time down; however, there is no way that we had almost double the flow, and I'm guessing the release was more in the range of 300 to 350cfs.

Pat had remembered the section below the power house being a step down from the stretch above, more in the class III+ range. However, what we found was more of a class II+ affair, not very exciting but certainly nice and scenic. It may be that if there was additional flow coming from the power house it may be more exciting, but I can't say for sure. Having added on the lower stretch, we were treated to a fairly grueling hike up to the road, which sat about 400' up from the water. Luckily, we were able to utilize an established double-track, so no bushwhacking was required. Now knowing what this stretch consists of, I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for an exciting extension to the Mill Creek run, it's probably better to just do another lap on that one.

Roman exits some boogie water on the lower section

A typical drop on the lower section

After the hike out, none of us but Bobby had much energy for another lap, plus Roman and I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. With that, we all went our separate ways, marking the end of a great weekend on the NF Rogue!

A view of Mt. Thielsen on the drive home

The Mill Creek section of the NF Rogue is a great run! I'm not sure I'd call it a classic, and it is a bit out of the way, but I'd certainly consider heading down during any of the times PacifiCorp is releasing on it. The one downside is getting down to the water at the put-in, although this is being a bit nitpicky and it actually didn't seem as bad the second time we did it.

As for its comparison with the Miracle Mile on the NFMF Willamette, I would say that this run is quite a bit easier -- it just doesn't feel as steep or continuous. If I had to give this run a difficulty rating, which I hate doing, I would say that it's a solid class IV, but no harder. It should be noted that my assessment does not include any portion of the Avenue of Giant Boulders, with a small part of that starting off the run for some boaters.

Finally, a big thanks to American Whitewater and PacifiCorp for making these releases a reality! We often take these opportunities for granted, not understanding how much work goes into making it happen.

Some footage from our run(s):

POV - NF Rogue from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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