Monday, February 17, 2014

Henline Creek, OR (1.15.2014)

To say that the weather in winter of 2013/2014 has been odd would be an understatement. With drought conditions in both December and January, the skies finally opened up for us in February. We were first treated to a rowdy snow/ice storm, which was followed up by warm rains, bringing with it a pineapple express. With almost all the runs in the area running either extremely high or at flood stage, all the local chatter revolved around Lake Creek, which is considered one of the best play runs anywhere, when flows are good. Although I do enjoy both playboating and Lake Creek, it's really not my forte, so I started looking to see what steep creeks might actually be running. It didn't take me too long to find just the ticket, Henline Creek, which flows into Opal Creek Gorge.

Henline Creek is not your typical kayaking run -- it's short, extremely low volume, steep as hell, and requires both a hike into and out of it. It's very similar to both Sweet Creek (OR) and Fall in The Wall (WA), but I'd consider it a half-step up in difficulty from either of those. I figured my biggest challenge was going to be finding a crew to head there, since this type of run tends to be a hard sell. In the end, I was able to rope both Roman and Alex into heading up to check it out and hopefully run a couple of laps.

On the drive between Eugene and Henline, we passed by many swollen rivers and creeks, making me anxious about what type of flows we would have. According to the write-up on Oregon Kayaking (here), a good level to shoot for is between 2,500cfs and 5,000cfs, on the Little North Santiam near Mehama gauge (here) -- Obviously you'll have a lot less than this on Henline, as it's only a small tributary of the much larger river that it drops into. As we drove onto the bridge over Henline, I peered over the edge and saw what appeared to be a great flow. I quickly parked my car on the other side of the bridge, so we could get out and give it a better look.

Our flow for the day (~4,000cfs on this gauge)

Looking upstream at the goods, from the road bridge

Since we wanted to scout the run before committing to running it, we started bushwhacking up the west side of the creek (creek-right). Peering down into the creek as we made our way along the steep bank, I held onto tree limbs to keep myself from falling in and running it without my kayak. We didn't have to hike far before we reached the recommended put-in, just a short distance above a 15'er. The good news was that all the upper drops were clear of wood and had reasonable lines; however, eddies were very small and there was really only one line choice on each of the drops. Back at the road bridge, I decided to hike downstream as well, to give the bottom half of the run a scout. I ended up hiking down about a 1/4 mile (or less), finding more fun looking drops, with places to pull out and give a closer look once we were on the water.

When I got back to the road, I found the other two, who were hanging out on the bridge, discussing the run. Roman wasn't feeling it on this day, but Alex agreed to do a lap with me. Roman would help provide safety, which helped to ease our minds. With that, we got geared up at the car, shouldered our boats, and started the hike upstream to our planned put-in.

Before dropping in, Alex and I wanted to give the first set of drops another scout. The first was a ~6' drop that split around some shallow rock in the middle. The left looked like the only good line, as the right poured through a narrow crack that looked like it would be hard on the elbows and other body parts. Just below this drop the creek funneled through a pinch/fast moving pool, before dropping over a narrow 15' waterfall. The lip of the falls looked pretty tricky, with a shallow guard rock and a small step-down before going vertical. It was possible to eddy out between the first and second drops, but since I wanted to have some speed coming over the falls, I planned to forgo the eddy. I would say that both of the drops would have benefited from a little more water, to clean up their entrances.

Since I wanted to get photos from below the falls, I offered to go first, which Alex graciously accepted. From the small put-in area, I slid into the water off the rocks and was immediately heading downstream. The first drop went as planned, depositing me into the narrow pinch and heading toward the falls. Bumping over the shallow rock and into the crack above the lip, I pulled a right boof stroke off of the veil. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to pull my bow up as much as I would have liked and penciled in a bit. To further complicate things, I clipped my left paddle blade on something on the way down, jarring the shaft from my left grip. Luckily, I was able to get my hand back on my paddle and roll up, while being held against a small undercut -- Although I was a little bummed with my line, I was happy to still be in my boat.

Losing my grip

From a small eddy on creek-left below the falls, I got out my camera gear and waited for Alex to take his turn. The rain was certainly making it difficult to keep my equipment dry and lens from fogging up or being covered with water droplets. I actually held my camera underneath a limbo log to protect it from the elements as much as possible. Before long, I caught a glimpse of Alex’s head and swinging paddle blades just above the falls. Nosing in off the drop, he reemerged from the boil in a dynamic stern squirt, keeping it upright and paddling away with a big smile on his face.

Alex flies off the lip of the first waterfall


Although we had briefly scouted the run before dropping into it, we had only checked for obvious hazards (e.g. wood, undercuts, etc.), so to make sure we had a good line planned out, we hopped out of our boats to take a look at the next drops in front of us. This one started off with a banked left turn, then dropped down a shallow slide with a kicker rock, which was followed by a fast cascading section. At the end of this series of drops, there was a small eddy underneath the road bridge on creek-left, which we could use to catch our breath and scout the next drop. Alex decided to go first, while I setup for photos just below the first pitch. Just as we had discussed, he entered the first turn up high on the bank, dropped down the kicker ramp, and then started working his way down the left side, before eddying out underneath the bridge. My line went very similar and I soon joined him in the eddy below.

Alex, dropping down the first ledge after the turn

Catching the edge of the kicker rock

Entering the cascading drop

Alex finishes up the section above the road bridge

Looking back upstream at the final cascade in the upper section

The drop just below the bridge looked a little chunky, with yet another kicker rock smack-dab in the middle of it. It looked like you could either sail over the top of it or try and sneak past it on the right. The only place you didn’t want to be was hard left, where it funneled into a crack against the left rock wall. I offered to go first, after deciding on my line. I planned to drive from left to right onto the cross current/pile, letting my bow swing around just before coming off the kicker rock. Unfortunately, I drove a little too hard and ended up just a little to the right of the kicker, which sent me penciling into the base of the drop. I was immediately flipped and typewritered into the left wall, complicating my roll attempts. Eventually I was able to roll back up, allowing me to get out and setup for photos before Alex headed down. His run came soon after, and although his line wasn’t any more elegant, he was at least able to keep it upright.

Looking down into the bridge drop, with Roman in safety position.

Alex, givin' it!

After the bridge drop, the creek entered a relatively long mellow section, before bending around a left-hand turn and entering the next series of drops. We both caught a left eddy just above the entrance drop, a small ~5’ ramp, with a piton rock dead-center. Since there didn’t appear to be any good eddies below in which to boat scout from, we both decided to jump out to take a closer look of what lay downstream. From shore, we got a good view of the drops in front of us, and we both agreed that it was good we had chosen to take a closer look, since it appeared to be the stoutest section of the run. After the fairly easy entrance drop, the creek headed down a fast chute of water into a rock jumble, which was fairly padded-out down the middle and to the left. Just below this was a ~12’ near vertical falls that appeared to have a shallow landing. The run out from the falls entered another cascading section, which you need to finish up on the left, to avoid a log in the bottom drop -- This was definitely a case where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts! We spent quite a bit of time examining and deliberating the different line options, and I waffled a few times on what I thought the best plan of attack would be. In the end, my goal was to drop over the middle of the falls, brace for impact, and then head left down the final series of drops. Since I really wanted to get photos and the scouting platform seemed to be the best setup, I convinced Alex that he should go first – of course, I was also happy to watch someone else run it before me… =)

The mellow stretch above the last series of drops (taken from the bridge)

Once Alex had gotten himself mentally prepared, he hiked back up to his boat and got ready to drop in. Before long, he came into view and slid down the first drop. Without stopping, he headed down the ramp of water into the rocky section, where he was bounced farther left than he had planned. Throwing in a last minute back-pry he was able to spin it around at the lip of the falls, just before dropping over. I waited in anticipation for him to appear from the bottom of the drop, which he did after a few seconds. Coming away from the falls, he was certainly more center than I was planning to be for the last stretch. Since I couldn’t see around the corner from my vantage point, I wasn’t sure how his line had finished up, but Roman (who was setting safety down below) soon gave me the head tap, which let me know that he had made it through safely.

Alex, startin' it off!

Hitting the rocky bits. The first horizon line in front of him
(between the rock pinch) is the 12' falls.

Alex does his best to get left on the final stetch

It was now my turn. I felt pretty comfortable with my line choice, but also knew that I may need to improvise a bit once I was pits deep in the middle of it. I took a couple of deep breaths before sliding off my rock perch and into the eddy above the mayhem. The first mini-ledge went fine and I briefly eddied out below before pulling into the current and heading down further. I had intentionally scrubbed some speed before hitting the rocky section, so I didn’t blast through it and end up too far left. As I came off the bottom rock I was bumped left and had to throw in a few correction strokes before dropping over the falls. Surprisingly, the transition from vertical back to flat felt smooth and I came out of the base of the falls with plenty of speed, as I headed into the next section. I was able to get left but had to duck a few overgrown branches on my way down toward the bottom of the rapid. I was happy to see that I was setup nicely for the bottom pitch and far enough away from the log for it not to be an issue. After melting into the base of the bottom ledge, I resurfaced to the cheers of both Alex and Roman -- Wow, what an exciting series of drops!

The log complicating the final ledge of the run we did.

Now finished with the lap, we gave each other a high five and reflected on the crazy ride we had just done. After all the scouting, setting up for photos, and hiking in and out of the run, we were both pretty content with doing only one run – pretty crazy, since it’s less than a half mile long! With our decision made, we shouldered our boats and started the bushwhack back to the car, which was mainly done by slogging through the thick salal undergrowth. Back at the car we changed into our street clothes, while trying to stay dry from the persistent rain, which had been falling all day. After we had loaded up, we headed back to Eugene, in the middle of a nasty wind storm, which is a bit sketchy when you’ve got a sail of kayaks strapped to the top of your car.

Parting thoughts:

I really enjoyed Henline Creek! As I previously stated, it reminds me a lot of both Sweet Creek and Fall in The Wall, just slightly harder. The access is certainly not as good as either of those two runs, but heck, that’s part of the charm, right?! As for flows, at 4,000 on the Little North Santiam gauge (near Mehama), it felt like it had around 100cfs, which is certainly not much, but remember, it's an extremely narrow streambed and drops at a rate of nearly 500’ per mile! Furthermore, since the gauge is not on Henline itself and really far downstream, this should only be used to make an educated guess on whether or not it’s running. Personally, I would have liked to have a bit more water to clean up some of the drops, especially the first waterfall and the rock pile above the second. That said, there’s probably a fine line between not enough and too much water, as I assume it would turn into a freight train at double or triple the flow. I’ll certainly be heading back for this one, and I’d love to learn the lines a little bit better so I can run it in style – the first time down it kinda feels like survival boating! I'd also like to either do multiple laps and/or combine it with the lower half of Opal Gorge.

Some footage from our run:

Henline Creek, OR from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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