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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
and Eric with his happy face on...
and here is some 3rd person perspective footage of the whole run at ~6" on the 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:
11/11/10__________2.7' __________ 825cfs _____________5"
11/27/10 _________2.87' __________980cfs _____________6"