Saturday, September 14, 2013

NF Rogue, OR - Natural Bridge / Takilma Gorge (8.31.13)

It had been many years since I had been down south to boat the NF Rogue, so when a buddy (and local river pioneer), Pat Welch, sent out an invite to head down over Labor Day weekend, I was very interested. Furthermore, they would be releasing on the Mill Creek section, which I had always wanted to do. Based on a few write-ups and word-of-mouth, I understood that the Mill Creek section was very similar to one of my favorite local runs, “The Miracle Mile” (on the NFMF Willamette) – Steep/continuous boulder gardens from start to finish.

The other run that we planned to do was one I had done a few times in the past, “The Natural Bridge section”, which from my recollection was pretty mellow unless you decide to bite off the class V at the start and/or the nasty waterfall about halfway through. Also on the agenda was Takilma Gorge, which is essentially an extension of the Natural Bridge run that takes you through a mile long vertical wall gorge, with a flat water paddle on either side. Takilma was another section that I had been wanting to bite off, since the time(s) I had been there in the past, I wasn’t quite ready for it.

That weekend, Roman, Bobby, and I weren't exactly feeling 3 days of camping out, so we drove down on Saturday morning and met up with Pat and Jim, who had already established a camp for the group, conveniently located near the take-out of the Natural Bridge / Takilma Gorge runs, which we planned to do that day. We'd have to wait until Sunday/Monday to run the Mill Creek section, since the power company would only be releasing on those days. After loading up our gear and dropping the bottom car at River Bridge, we headed upstream to the put-in, at the collapsed lava tube that gives the run its name. This area is also one of the bigger tourist spots in the immediate area, so we wanted to move pretty quickly, getting our boats down to the river, as not to create too much of a stir.

The Natural Bridge -- Where the water disappears into / comes out of a collapsed lava tube

At the put-in you have a choice to either start the run off with some excitement by running the class V, which starts just below the collapsed lava tube, or you can simply put-in just below it. I really wanted to run the put-in drop, but a fallen tree blocked the left side of the the run-out, where most of the flow was going. My main concern was getting flipped in the bottom hole and not being able to roll quickly enough to avoid going into it. I think that with proper safety set it probably would have been fine, but once again, we didn't want to make a large presence in this particular area. With that, we all seal-launched in below the drop and headed downstream.

Looking down onto the class V put-in drop, just downstream
of where the water comes back out of the lava tube.

The class V, from below

The log in the run-out

The first part of the run starts off with a few class II+/III drops mixed in with a nice mellow float through some amazing country. Eventually we reached the first major drop of the run that we felt deserved a scout, "Karma", where we got out on river-right, hiked up onto the rock cliff, and hiked downstream to see if it was clear. Unfortunately, a large tree was blocking the main line right in the middle of the drop -- A real bummer since I had remembered this being the best drop of the run. A bit disappointed, we headed back to our boats and bashed down the left side of Karma, making a short portage around a log and trashy bit. It was at this point that I realized just how low the water level was compared to the other times I had done it. Just below Karma was a ledge drop, which at this flow was fairly uneventful. Even so, I got out to snap some shots of the others coming through.

Pat cruises through some mellow boogie water, near the start of the run.

Mellow, but great scenery!

The problem log(s) in Karma

Roman blasts down the ledge drop below Karma

Jim, finishing up

Pat heads down to find some more action

More calm

As we continued downstream, I jumped out ahead. Before long I pulled into a small right-hand eddy and looked over my shoulder to see a rather large horizon line, which looked to be some kind of double drop between tight vertical walls. At first I was a little perplexed since I hadn't remembered a big drop like this on the run. I held the others up with a quick hand motion and then jumped out of my boat to take a look. As soon as I stood up I immediately recognized it as Knob Falls (aka Therapy Falls), considered a mandatory portage by most mortals. This drop has been run before (both intentionally and unintentionally), but getting a clean line would be really tough, and the landing is pretty dangerous, with undercuts lining the cauldron below and a nasty cave behind the veil. From the right side of the river, it looked like you could probably hike down the rocks and seal-launch in a safe distance below the falls; however, just to be safe, I decided to hike back up and ferry across to join the others, who had already started the portage on the other side.

Looking down into Therapy Falls

The lip

The lead-in ledge

Therapy Falls

From the river-left side we launched into the slot canyon below the falls and headed downstream. The exit to the gorge contained another ledge drop with a fairly benign hole, at least at this flow. We all made it through cleanly and moved further downstream, where the river mellowed out quite a bit.

Pat, taking the wise line around Therapy Falls

Jim, pondering the horrors

The gorge below the falls

Pat drops down the the exit ledge

Jim cuts through the hole with little effort

Before reaching the Woodruff Bridge, which is often used as the upper take-out for the Natural Bridge run, we ran a couple of slot-style drops that flowed along the right side of the river. The second is more difficult and tends to produce some pretty entertaining lines, and luckily I had my camera to document the ones provided by our crew.

Pat enters the second slot drop

Gettin' vertical!

Roman, going deep

Jim, about to enter the fray

At the Woodruff Bridge, make sure to run the right side of the rock island, as the left drops into a nasty undercut slot. On the right, we had to scrape down a narrow winding slot before dropping down the final ledge, which barely had enough flow to do so. Since we were planning to run Takilma, we continued on, passing many fishermen as we did. Between Woodruff and Takilma Gorge is about a mile and a half of flat water, which gave us a chance to relax before needing to step it up a bit. Once we saw the walls starting to gorge up at a sharp left-hand turn, we got out on river-left to scout the gorge. It should be noted that once you make the left hand turn and drop into the gorge, it would be very difficult to get out before committing to the first few drops.

The lead-in to the gorge

The start of Takilma Gorge

As we walked along the top of the gorge it became very apparent that it did not benefit from the low water conditions, with the volcanic rock creating some pretty dangerous features. After dropping into the gorge, the river makes a hard right and lines up over a double ledge, with the second tier containing a siphon style sieve with lots of the flow funneling into it. A wooden cross on the bank appeared to be a reminder of how dangerous this drop can be. It didn't take me long before deciding that I wanted no part of this drop, and started looking for a place to put-in below the sieve. There appeared to be a fairly easy place to get down to the water, but before doing so we headed down to scout the rest of the gorge.

The first tier, of the first drop, in the gorge

The second tier, containing the nasty sieve


Another view of the sieve

And a close-up - Nasty!

The next sizable drop was a broken ledge that also looked fairly trashy with the current flow. It was hard to tell how good the line was from high above the river, so I wasn't even sure I wanted to commit to that one either.

The next drop in the gorge. It was pretty hard to judge the line from this high up.

Heading further down the gorge I ran into the others, who were scouting the mandatory portage around a large river-wide log. This portage has been in place for some time now, but luckily, there's a relatively easy portage around it on the right. From below the log the river headed down and around some boulders/ledges, that, once again, were pretty nasty at the current flow.

The log portage

The run-out below the log - pretty ugly at this flow

Based on what we had seen, we all decided that it really wasn't worth running the gorge with the current conditions. Luckily the portage route followed an established trail along the rim, so we didn't have to do any bushwhacking. After heading back to grab our boats, we shouldered them back to where the river-wide log was, at which point we decided it might be worth putting in below that portage and running the last couple drops of the gorge. Although I hadn’t given them much of a scout, Jim and Pat had the day before, and indicated that they were good to go. With a small bit of coordinated rope work, we were able to get our boats down to water level without too much effort.

The unknown

After seal-launching in, we headed down the gorge a short bit before getting out once again to scout the drop that was in front of us. Basically, it was yet another two-tiered trashy drop, but at least it had a couple of reasonably clean lines through it. On the first, It looked like center-left and hard right were really the only good options, as the center line dropped straight onto a piton rock. On the second, it looked like center-left was the best way through; although it was hard to confirm from our scouting platform. I quickly manned the camera while the others dropped in, using both line options. For the most part, everybody’s line went smoothly, including mine, but I’d give it to Pat who I feel had the best line on the top drop, running the center-left line off a small kicker flake. The bottom ledge was a bit scrapey, but did go fine with the line we had picked out from above.

Giving it a scout

Bobby drops in, using the hard right line.

Driving left for the second tier

Finishing up

Pat, partway through after starting center-left

Below the double ledge was a short class III boulder drop, which signaled the end of the gorge. Although it was fairly uneventful, it was really cool to just be sitting in the water between the vertical walls of the gorge – getting to experience these places in ways others can’t is one of the main reasons I kayak! Once we were below the last drop in the gorge, we had to paddle another couple miles of flat water to our take-out at River Bridge, where we were greeted by plenty of fishermen and folks beatin’ the heat with a cool dip in the river.

Bobby drops into the final drop of the gorge

Jim, finishing up Takilma Gorge

That night we sat around with no fire, due to the restrictions that had recently been put in place. As much as I missed sitting around and staring at flaming logs, we were still treated to a star-filled sky, including the Milky Way, which I hadn’t seen in some time. After some good food and a few beers, one-by-one we wandered off into our sleeping quarters, looking forward to more boating the following day.


It’s hard for me to give this run a favorable rating, based on the low water level (~800cfs). The Natural Bridge section has a couple of fun rapids, but the best drop on the run, Karma, is currently ruined by a large tree that's probably staying put for a while. The other drops on the run are pretty uneventful at this flow, but would probably be fun if you were looking for more of a class II+/ III experience, or were simply looking for a scenic float.

Regarding Takilma Gorge, once again I could not in good conscience recommend it at this flow, it's just too trashy and potentially dangerous, at least from my observations. Please don’t think that I’m completely discounting this run, I’m sure that with the proper flow it would be quite fun, we just happened to be there too late in the season. If you do decide to run it at this flow (or similar), take the sieve near the start of the gorge seriously, and scout it out ahead of time – it is truly sketchy looking. The last two drops in the gorge, which we ran, were pretty fun, but once again would have benefited from more water. In the end, I really didn’t mind portaging the top and middle section of the gorge, it’s always good exercise and it’s a really cool place, even just to look at!
To be continued…

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