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.


  1. Nate, nice write-up from a great day on the water! Sweet Creek is certainly the steepest class IV I've ever heard of. Thanks for sharing all the great photos. Hopefully I'll get to see you guys on the water again soon.

  2. Thanks Dan! Yeah it was great to paddle with you guys as well. When you get a chance get me your contact info and I'll send some pictures your ways as well as keep you in the loop on future boating plans.