Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Mile (2.27.10)

After another disappointing week of botched forecasts and lack of significant rainfall, we were once again forced to head to the Miracle Mile for some low water laps. "The Mile" as it is commonly referred to, is a ~1 mile stretch of whitewater on the North Fork of the Middle Fork (NFMF) Willamette about 12 miles up the road (northeast) from the town of Westfir, Oregon. The gut of the run falls at a rate of ~250fpm between two bridges. Essentially, it is one long boulder garden punctuated with small eddies throughout, and larger ones below the steeper pitches. Locals have named a few of the drops on the run for reference, but few breaks come between.

Levels for the this run can be determined by the painted gauge on the base of the takeout bridge (near the Chrisy Creek confluence). There is an online (correlation) gauge that can be used as a ballpark figure, but there can be a large discrepancy between this and the painted gauge, even within the same season. For reference, most people figure that for every 100cfs on the internet gauge you should have about 1" on the bridge gauge. Once again this can be misleading, and as an example, last week some friends went up there with 650cfs on the internet gauge only to find 0" on the bridge gauge. Most people run The Mile when the gauge is somewhere between 6" and 1.5', which marks the high and low water levels. Once The Mile rises above 1.5' it really starts to get some push and you had better be on your stick or it can turn into a train wreck in a hurry. Even so, people have run it at 3' and above. On the low end, below 6" starts to get pretty trashy, and if you don't know the lines, pins are commonplace. My feelings are that a level of 8" to a foot is a good first-time flow, although this will vary based on what type of boating people are comfortable with.

The bridge gauge (~5" for this day)

The online gauge (for reference)

As for the difficulty of the run, there is some debate. Most people that I have talked to agree that the run feels 4+ at levels below 1.25' and as the level rises from there so does the difficulty. There are no single drops of significant difficulty, however they are stacked on top of each other giving the run a much harder feel, and even seasoned paddlers can be intimidated their first time down.

On this day, the internet gauge was reading around 750cfs and the bridge gauge was reading ~5"; a little low but we had bright sunny skies, warm temps (for February), and a great crew. From Eugene we had Roman, Aaron, and me, from Corvallis we had Dan Delwoo and Dan Thurber, and from Seattle had Tom O'Keefe of American Whitewater. Last and certainly not least, we had the veteran boater Jim Reed. After assembling in Eugene, we made the hour drive to The Mile, a drive I have done many times during my limited boating career. After changing at the take-out and discussing the best shuttle logistics we headed to the put-in. Both Aaron and Dan Delwoo decide they were going to get in a couple quick ones and went out ahead. Since neither Tom or Dan Thurber had done the run before, we decided to take the run at a medium pace and eddy out often. Due to the continuous nature of the run, I rarely get out to take video or pictures, but today's weather would give perfect lighting and the slower pace would allow me get down below in spots and setup. Once everyone was geared up we slid into the water and were on our way.

The first quarter mile (or so) is class 2-3 and acts as a nice warm-up before dropping into the main part of the run. You know you're getting to the steep part when you pass under a bridge and the river bends to the left and out of sight, this marks "Initiation". Initiation is fairly straight forward, but at lower water a boulder fence forms just below a large mid stream boulder with a tree balanced on it. The cleanest passage is on river right, but even that throws you into an undercut if you don't line it up correctly. The rest of the rapid is pretty much a straight shot to a large eddy on river left at the bottom of the drop, and the top of the first island. The group had held up above Initiation to allow me time to paddle down and setup for some shots; they all had clean lines and joined me in the eddy below.

Dan leading a part of the group through
the bottom section of Initiation

The island we were now sitting beside marks the next drop, aptly named "Ricochet". Due to wood in the right channel, going left of the island is the only option; from here you have a couple of lines to choose from (both left of the island). The first is the right side, which after running a small lead-in drops you blindly over the boulder pile that is Ricochet. The only advice I can give you for this line is to run center right and keep it straight (and upright) to avoid getting pinned. The second option, which I prefer, is to run the lead-in down the left side and over a diagonal pour-over just above the main part of the drop; from here I typically run from the top-left of the boulder pile, angle right down the drop to catch the eddy below. On this day, everyone made it though the drop without issue except for some minor hangups.

From here it is only a short distance and and a couple of turns to the top of "Confusion", the longest single drop on The Mile. This drop has many line options and it would be difficult to describe the preferred lines, so I won't even bother trying to describe them. If you do find yourself above this drop, you would be wise to stay close and follow someone through, with some reactionary boating thrown in for good measure. The bottom of Confusion is marked by a large eddy on river left. Once again, I had gone down ahead to snap some shots and was able to watch everyone make it through using a variety of lines.

Eric leading the group about halfway down Confusion

Eric leading the final stretch of Confusion

Roman all alone in the middle of Confusion

From this eddy, you are now sitting above the drop known as "Shark's Tooth". My understanding is that the name comes from a line that was usually taken which dropped you though the seam of two rocks (the teeth). The first couple of years that I boated The Mile, I would take this line; however since then a small piece of wood has gotten wedged there, and this has persuaded me (and most others) to take a boof down the right side of the drop, which I feel is a better line anyways. We all made short work of this drop and re-gathered in the eddy below.

With Shark's Tooth out of the way, you are now faced with the second island, marking "Whoop-De-Do". This is by far the trashiest drop on the run, and typically run left of the island down the right side. It should be noted, that staying right can be difficult due to the current (and some rocks) which do their best to force you to the center of the river, and through a slot against an undercut boulder in the steepest part of the drop. This move actually becomes much easier at a foot and above (on the gauge) as it cleans the line up quite a bit. With that said, my preferred line is to run right of the island through a gutter ball section which drops through a couple of slow moving pools. There is much debate on which side of the island is cleaner, but due to less consequence (and being a creature of habit) the right side is where I usually find myself. It should also be noted that just this year a new line has opened up which splits the island about halfway down and is entered on the left side. This became possible after some wood that was blocking the line moved, presumably down stream. On this particular trip (lap) we all went right of the island.

Next up is "Silly Putty Slot" with some boogie water between it and Whoop-De-Do. This drop is named by a slot on the right side of the drop that is used by many as the standard line. However, most people I boat with these days don't bother with the slot and instead run a fun boof right down the middle.

Once below Silly Putty there are no more named drops and it turns into more read & run, but there some obstacles that should be avoided so it's best to follow someone that knows this section. It should also be noted that even though the drops are not named, the action is still fast and furious, and at higher levels forms some of the bigger holes. This section is also somewhat broken up by a large eddy on the right just above a near river-wide log balancing on some mid-stream boulders, and just before the river bends to the right. Everyone in our group caught this eddy and rested up a bit before dropping into the final few stretches.

The group running the section just below Silly Putty Slot

Dan all smiles as he heads for the eddy above the log

The crew in the eddy above the log

Below the log are a multitude of options with no real hazards expect for some pushy water in the middle and a hidden mid-stream boulder just below a pour-over that could cause a nasty piton or pin. After shooting some pictures, I rejoined our group just before the confluence with Christy Creek. From Christy Creek it basically a 100 yard dash through some fun boogie water (thanks to the added flow) to the takeout bridge.

Running the final stretch above Christy Creek

Jim lines 'er up

A shot from the take-out bridge

Everyone in the group cleaned the run (a relative term on The Mile) with only a few minor pins, which is somewhat expected at this low level. Tom and Jim had to leave so that Tom could make the train back up to Seattle, but before they left they were nice enough to give us a shuttle ride for another lap. The rest of the group ran multiple laps before we called it a day. I was pretty pooped after 5 laps and really felt it on the way home.

A parting shot of the group between laps
and Eric with his happy face on...

Here is a video I put together of The Mile from top to bottom. It was taken on multiple trips from 4" to 8" on the bridge gauge. It also includes footage from my first ever run down The Mile, thanks for taking video Steve!

And here is some head-cam footage of the whole run (top to bottom) at 10" on the bridge gauge:

and here is some 3rd person perspective footage of the whole run at ~6" on the gauge:

*New Gauge*

The USGS has added a new gauge to the NFMF Willamette, which can be found here.

I've started to list to try and create a correlation between it and the bridge gauge:

Date:_________ USGS Gauge:___ Pat's Correlation:___ Bridge Gauge:

Rain Fed:

11/11/10__________2.7' __________ 825cfs _____________5"

11/27/10 _________2.87' __________980cfs _____________6"









Snow Melt:






Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Addition

So, it appears that the Pfeifer household has taken on a new addition. Grace (so named by Emily) is a cute little black lab that we assume to be around 6 months old.

Basically, she had been left in the woods a couple of weeks ago to fend for herself (I assume by the previous owners). The area she was found in is most notably used by a group of mountain bikers known as the Disciples of Dirt, who have built an extensive trail network to use as a winter riding area. This saves the more popular trails around Eugene from damage which can be caused from riding the trails when it gets muddy. Apparently she was using some of the trails as her playground and she was spotted by a group of friends that Emily was riding with by a trail called "Stumps Can't Win". Based on her condition, she had obviously been living off the land for some time, as she was basically skin & bones and quite timid. They were finally able to corral her, and our buddy Brad transported her to the back of Emily's car.

This is where I come into the story. On my way back from Sweet Creek (see previous post) Emily calls me to let me know what had happened and asks if it would be okay to use our home for a couple days as sort of a "halfway house" until we can find a good home for her (hopefully with someone we know). Being a dog (and Lab) owner, I was certainly a little excited (and a little nervous) about having another one to provide some companionship to Orvis (our big goofy chocolate lab) for a couple of days.

As I was loading my boating gear back into the garage, Emily pulled up with the little black lab laying in the back seat. Emily opened up the back door of the car and proceeded to try and coax the dog from its prone position and into the house. Unfortunately the dog seemed to be pretty scared and had no desire to make any forward progress. After both of us trying for couple of minutes through many words of encouragement we gave up and Emily was forced to lift and carry her into the house. From here she timidly explored her new surrounds until dinner time where her lab genes kicked into high gear and she demolished her food, almost putting Orvis to shame, which is quite a feat. I could already tell that Emily was starting to get attached.

Over the next couple of days she gradually became less afraid and her puppy tendencies started to kick in. Of course puppies can be both a blessing and a curse. Usually the blessings revolve around being cute, so let's talk about the latter (f0r now). The first thing that became apparent was that she was very interested in our cat, Lucy. Lucy, although little, does not back down from much and this dog would be no exception. The first major encounter happened while Emily was holding Lucy while surfing the web. Now more curious than ever, the little dog decided to put its front paws on Emily's leg to get a better look and take a sniff. Lucy, who I'm sure was feeling a little trapped (from being held) deciding she didn't like this too much, went bonkers and started slashing at the new the curious beast. The encounter didn't last long and puppy ran to her bed which was located in the open closet of our room. A quick analysis of the damage revealed a missing claw on Lucy and the same claw stuck in the snout of the other, however this would not be their last encounter... The next, which I was not around for apparently happened as the cat was on the table and the dog once again decided to get a better look. Lucy went to her standby arched back, hissing, and swiping. This time the dog did not run away and proceeded to growl and bare teeth. Emily would have none of this and let the dog know and sent her to bed. A quick list of other puppy features that also exist are: chewing (on things that should not be chewed), jumping up on people, and a complete lack of command knowledge, but hey, she is potty trained which almost makes up for it.

Even with all the standard puppy issues, she is still a great little dog that just needs some lovin', time, and a little discipline. It has also become apparent that there is no way Emily plans to give this dog up without a fight. She has already been to the doc to get her vaccinations and a quick look over. She is also sporting her shiny new tab which clearly states her name, "Grace". In fact, Emily said if anybody has to go, it would probably be me. =)

Grace on her bed

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sweet Creek (2.13.10)

On Saturday Bob, Roman, and I met up with a couple of guys from Corvallis (Jay & Dan) to run some laps on Sweet Creek, which is a little creek in the Oregon coast range just south of Mapleton.

Expecting a big storm to hit Thursday and Friday, we had originally planned to explore one of the Cascade runs to the east of us (Upper Canyon Creek, Christy Creek, etc...). Unfortunately the storm did not hit as hard as was forecasted (again) , but Sweet Creek looked like it would be at a great level based on the Siuslaw River gauge, which it flows into. Determining the level on Sweet Creek can be a bit tricky as the gauge is not actually on the creek, and the level can rise and drop quickly due to its short length and the narrow creek bed. The rule of thumb, as I understand it, is that you want about a 2' spike on the Siuslaw gauge, but even then it's a roll of the dice.

Saturday's Level (~2' spike)

Level from a later trip. A couple days after
a 4' spike produced a perfect medium flow.

With a plan in motion, we headed out of Eugene to meet up with the Corvallis crew at Sweet Creek around 11am. After arriving at the Sweet Creek trail head parking lot, we open the doors to 60 degree temps and overcast skies (not typical for February in Oregon). This was the first time I've been to Sweet Creek when it wasn't raining, which is always nice for changing into our gear. Jay and Dan showed up separately from Corvallis and with Dan showing up a little late due to never doing the run before and getting lost on the way. Jay offered to wait for Dan and let us head down to the gorge to scout and setup safety and some camera shots. With that Bob, Roman, and I headed down the path to put on the creek.

I had not run the section between Sweet Creek Falls and The Gorge before this day, and I probably never will again unless it is significantly higher. Basically we scraped our boats down the first couple of slides and bashed down a couple of rocky drops until we were at the entrance to the gorge. From here we all got out and headed down the trail to take a look. At this point Roman's wife Yuliya joined us, who decided to come along to watch Roman do some boating as well as enjoy the scenery as this is also a very popular hiking trail. The first thing I noticed was that the water was lower than I was expecting, but I had done it at this level before and it still had plenty to serve up a good time, but without the threat of a beat down in one of the meaty holes that can form at higher levels.

We decided to setup safety from shore at a couple of spots and go one at a time since there's not much your buddies can do from the water once you drop in. I decided to go first while the others looked on. As I was walking up to get in my boat both Jay and Dan showed up and also decided give the gorge a scout. I've run Sweet Creek a couple of times, and I still get butterflies setting in the eddy above the first drop; The gorge drops ~600fpm and is still the most exciting couple hundred yard of kayaking I have ever done. From the eddy next to the hiking path, I ferried to the center of the creek to get a better angle at the first drop. Essentially, it is a double drop consisting of 2 sliding 4' ledges. I ran both center right to avoid the hole against the left wall and was deposited in the right eddy below the drop without issue. After taking a couple of quick breaths I pulled into the main current, turned around and lined up for the auto boof ledge on the right side of a giant bolder which splits the creek (the left side has a log running lengthwise in the slot and at this level the right was the only safe option). I ended up coming off the lip of the drop farther left than I would have liked and scraped my paddle against the large bolder on the way down. I was a little bummed since this is my favorite drop on the run and if you hit it right you're in for a monster of a boof. Once again I eddied out right to catch a couple of more breaths below this drop.

The auto boof ledge on my third lap
(a little too far right on this one)

Photo by Yuliya Drobyshevska

Next, I ferried out across the top of the bouldery mess blocking the next ledge drop and entered the left chute to line up on it. This ledge has somewhat of a horseshoe shape to it and also has a log running lengthwise right down the middle of it, so your choices are either hard left or hard right, or if you're into it, a log slide down the middle. Coming down the drop I didn't get a delayed boof like I had hoped and subbed out a bit, once again, a little disappointed in myself.

The entrance to the horseshoe Ledge
(taken on a different trip; similar level)
Photo by Scott Bridgham

Me running the horseshoe ledge
(taken on a different trip; similar level)
Photo by Amanda Nahlik

Next, I exited the punchbowl and ran the next slide down the left side dropping through the gut of the two ledge drops in the middle of it. Below this I eddied out on river left completing my first lap of the crux section and a feeling exhilarated!

The author enters the slide of the crux section
(taken on a different trip; similar level)
Photo by Scott Bridgham

The author runs the bottom part of the crux section
(taken on a different trip; similar level)
Photo by Scott Bridgham

After eddying out and popping my skirt, I looked up to see Roman on the path walking over to greet me and also give me the thumbs-up that he was ready to give-er, his first time down Sweet Creek. It was now my turn to set safety and take some pictures as he got ready for his run. I positioned myself just below the auto boof ledge and waited for Bob to give me the signal that Roman was in the water and headed down. Soon after Roman came sailing off the ledge and landed with a classic boof.

Roman running the first drop of the gorge
Photo by Yuliya Drobyshevska

Roman running the auto boof ledge
Photo by Yuliya Drobyshevska

Without rest, he continued down the rest of the run (taking similar lines to me) with me in hot pursuit from the hiking path. I met him at the bottom eddy where he had an ear-to-ear grin across his face, he was somewhat speechless. He did mention that he felt a little out of control in a couple of spots, but you couldn't tell, and he appeared to make short work of the run.

By this point Jay and Dan were walking back up the path for their run; apparently they had gone down further to scout the next section of drops below the crux section of the gorge. Unlike us, they decided to run the gorge as a team and both had good lines throughout.

Next up was Bob, he had been all work up to this point (setting safety), and it was his turn to have some fun. Bob used to live in Mapleton and had run Sweet more than anyone else in the group, which showed as he had the cleanest line of the day which appeared effortless.

Bob running the first drop of the gorge

Bob running the auto boof ledge (from above)

Roman and I both ran two more laps, with each of mine getting worse and each of his getting better. I just wasn't paddling very well, I had to pull off a couple of rolls, and work myself out of the bottom hole. Luckily I was able to do what I needed to stay in my boat. Both Jay and Dan also ran multiple laps, I'm not sure how many they had in total, but it was more than us.

Aaron Loft runs the 4th drop in the crux section
(photo taken on a later trip at a higher level)

The author grabs for the boof on the 4th drop
(photo by Joe Bushyhead; taken
on a later trip at a higher level)

Joe Bushyhead runs the 5th drop in the crux section
(photo taken on a later trip at a higher level)

The crew relaxes after several laps
(photo taken on a later trip at a higher level)

Next, we all headed down to the lower section which consists of three drops, and a nasty (at this level) folding ledge, a super fun slide, and another auto boof ledge. At this lower water level you have to be careful on the first folding ledge as the lead-in is shallow and the line is extremely narrow; a missed line in either direction serves a bashed elbow due to the shallow exposed rock on either side. In total, four of us ran the ledge, and I was the lucky one to receive the hit to the elbow (left side), which still hurts a little today.

The author runs the trashy lead-in to the bottom series of drops
(taken on a different trip; similar level)
Photo by Scott Bridgham

The author lining up the folding ledge
(taken on a different trip; similar level)
Photo by Scott Bridgham

Joe runs the folding ledge
(taken on a later trip at a higher level)

Next, we all ran the slide directly below the ledge, and in true form for that day, I had to roll after getting knocked over by the pile at the bottom. Finally, we made our way to the last drop with everyone having great lines, which is pretty effortless.

The author runs the slide directly below the folding ledge
(photo by Joe Bushyhead; taken on a later trip at a higher level)

Jay stomps the final ledge
Photo by Yuliya Drobyshevska

Dan on the final ledge
Photo by Yuliya Drobyshevska

Joe gets a boof on the final ledge
(taken on a later trip at a higher level)

After the last ledge it's only a short distance to the takeout parking lot where we all celebrated after a great day of boating!

Here is video I put together of some friends running it at a little bit higher level a few years back:

Sweet Creek on Vimeo.

Here is head-cam footage I put together on a recent trip:

POV - Kayaking Sweet Creek from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.


Welcome to Wheels & Water! This is my (first) attempt to document my weekend adventures with my wife and friends. From kayaking to mountain biking and some things in between, this is meant to be enjoyed by those who shared the experience with me as well as anyone else who might be interested.