Saturday, March 27, 2010

ELF Boating on Lower Brice (3.27.10)

The last Saturday in March brought us warm temps, and what appeared to be enough flow on Lower Brice Creek (based on internet gauges) to have a great day on the water. With water in the forecast for the weekend, and after going through an extended drought period, I was actually a bit surprised that I was having problems finding anyone to commit to getting out on Saturday. However, in the end I was able to convince Bob Lee and Ken Hutchinson that we needed to get in our boats.

From reviewing the gauges the night before, it looked like Lake Creek would end up being the best choice, but after a quick check in the morning, it appeared that it would be too low for the surf to be any good. That said, we turned our attention to Lower Brice Creek. I knew from the gauges that the Upper (and better) section would certainly be too low, but I was fairly convinced that the lower would have enough water, and heck, with sunny skies and 7o degrees forecasted, even a low water event would be better then hangin' in Eugene.

The Row above Pitcher Creek gauge
Typically you want between 5.75' and 6.5' for the Upper Run,
between 5.25 and 6.25 for the Lower Run (which is what we did). It should be noted that since this gauge is actually on
Row River, these figures will only get you in the ballpark.

The Row above at Dorena Dam gauge
I actually don't like to use this gauge except for the forecast
since I don't find it to be as accurate as the Pitcher Creek one.
However, If I recall correctly, you want between ~2,200cfs and 3500cfs for the Upper Run, and between ~1,500cfs and 2,500cfs for the Lower Run.

After making calls to the other two, we all agreed Brice would be the best choice and to meet-up at LCC at the relaxed departure time of 11am. It was pretty nice getting a late start, which allowed me to put together some pancakes and sausage for Emily and myself. After throwing down breakfast and kissing the family goodbye, I was off to meet the fellas.

As I pulled into the parking lot of LCC, I could see both Ken and Bob were sitting against their cars waiting for me, which made for a speedy departure. Since I knew it would only be the three of us, and not wanting to waste any more fuel than necessary, I had also brought along my commuter bike to shuttle with. With that, we all loaded up in the ol' Suby and headed south-east toward the creek. On the way up, we took a quick detour to Wildwood Falls on the Row River (which Brice flows into) to give a quick scout. Truth be told, I've been wanting to run this 15'er for awhile now, but it was always too high (with a beefy hole) for my comfort level when going to do Upper Brice. On this particular day it actually looked really good, with the hole flushing out nicely. The blue sky and sun beating down on it didn't hurt either. However, we decided it would be best if we ran the falls on the drive back down, after a day on Lower Brice, which would allow us to get a little warmed up.

After a short bit we crossed over the Row where Brice entering just upstream. At this point, I noticed that there didn't look to be much water coming in from the creek, but I remained silent and hoped for the best. We were now driving up the road paralleling Brice in an upstream direction, my observation on water level was confirmed, and it was indeed on the low side. Since we already made the drive, we decided there was still enough water to have a fun day and continued to the take-out, Cedar Creek Campground. Once there, I pulled the bike off the car, walked it down out of sight, and cable locked it to a tree. Next, we drove up to the put-in at Champion Creek, where we were not alone. ATVers, hikers, and bikers were also enjoying their respective recreation as well. The three of us changed into our kayaking garb, stashed a couple of beers in our boats (for the takeout) and hiked down to the creek to put on.

I immediately paddled out ahead so I could get some photos at Upper Trestle, which is only about a 1/4 mile down from the put-in. The first mile or so of Lower Brice is actually the steepest section, and a majority of the major ledge drops are found in this stretch with Upper Trestle being the first. After paddling some boogie water, I pulled into a small eddy on river right just above the drop. As I pulled my camera from my boat and out of the case, I turned to see both Bob and Ken coming into view from around the corner. As they approached, I gave them the standard head tap to signal that all was clear, and motioned toward the normal airplane boof over the left side of the drop. Bob went first, followed quickly by Ken, both having good lines.

Bob prepares to fire off Upper Trestle

Ken goes for the boof at Upper Trestle

I quickly packed my camera away, and joined them in the pool immediately above the next drop, Lower Trestle. This ledge is pretty straight forward at this level, as the hole at the base is pretty forgiving; however as flows increase so does the potential of a serious beating. Essentially, the creek splits around a small rock shelf into a boily cauldron, which exits through a short narrow gorge. Once again, both Bob and Ken had great lines and I followed in similar fashion after putting my camera away.

Ken in the pool above Lower Trestle
(upper Trestle is just out of sight in the upper-right corner)

Bob lining up Lower Trestle

Ken drops down Lower Trestle

Bob and Ken just below the mini gorge that exits Lower Trestle

The next ledge drop (just downstream) is called Pogo. I've never liked the looks of this drop and therefore have never run it. At low flows (like we had this day) the hole doesn't look too bad, but the lead-in is quite scrapey, and pretty much forces you down the center slot where there is a high potential for getting flipped in the fold. This would most likely result in a swim, since it is highly aerated at the base, which makes it difficult to get the necessary blade purchase for snapping off a roll. At higher flows the lead-in is much cleaner, but once again the extra water makes the hole very sticky, and hitting your line is critical to avoid getting mangled (notice a theme here?). Both Ken and Bob didn't like the look of it either, so we all shouldered our boats and made the easy portage along the rock shelf on river right.

Pogo (the only real option on this day was
the center slot due to the shallow lead-in)

Ken and Bob make the easy portage around Pogo

The next major drop you come to is a shallow/gritty slide, aptly named Cheesegrater. I've actually had a few run-ins with this particular rapid, and I'm not looking forward to another. One came during my first trip down the creek. While running the lead-in, I was stern squirted in a small hole just above the lip of the drop. As my nose came down, it was pointed to the right, setting me up for that angle as I went down the slide. Unfortunately, at this point there was no way for me to re-correct, and I was forced hard right where all the current shoots directly into an undercut. Luckily for me, I was flipped before going into the wall and floated upside down through the undercut. Had I not flipped, I'm pretty certain it would have resulted in some facial reconstruction. My second incident occurred at high water, where I swam in unison with a couple of buddies out of the bottom hole. At one point, all three of us were stuck at the same time before pulling the pin one by one. In fact, another guy in our crew barely escaped being the fourth-- it was his lucky day. Once again, the hole on Cheesegrater gets pretty nasty at high water, so a left side sneak is recommended at those flows. Since the water was low on this trip, we all ran down the center of the slide without issue.

The Author running the center line at Cheesegrater
(photo by Brad Bassi; taken on an earlier
trip at similar water level)

From here, the creek continues with a class III character for a mile or so before entering the next series of drops, Fun and Not Fun. Fun should be run left of the big boulder at the bottom, and Not Fun is typically run down the center of the right channel, which is created by another large boulder. Both drops are actually quite fun and fairly straight forward; although wood can be a problem here, so caution is advised.

Bob and Ken in the pool between Fun and Not Fun

Ken havin' fun at Not Fun

After these two drops you are faced one again with more class III style creekin'. Just as you start getting itchy for some more sizable drops, the lead-in for Laura's appears in front of you. Typically we run the lead-in by starting center, and heading left about halfway down. From here, the creek flows along the left bank before heading back to the right through a small wave-hole into a moving pool. This pool is what separates you from a series of two drops known as Laura's (Thighs). After running the lead-in, all three of us took up the small river right eddies just above the lip, (of the first ledge) and got out of our boats to scout. This rapid is the single largest on Lower Brice, and is still exciting at lower water. The first move consists of a pour-over ledge, which shoots you through a narrow line between the right wall and a large (mostly underwater) boulder to the left, that a good amount of the water pushes into. From here, a short fast moving pool is the only thing that separates you from a~5' wide slot of turbulent water that the whole creek funnels through before depositing you into the slack water below. While we were scouting, a couple that was enjoying a picnic overlooking the falls realized we were going to be going over it in our kayaks, and became very interested. After listening to the usual "Are you gonna run that?", "Have you ever done this before", and my personal favorite "You guys are crazy!",Bob made his way back up to the top to get in his boat. Once again I was on camera duty, and Ken armed himself with a throw bag. Bob pulled out of the eddy and greased the whole thing, barely getting his head wet. The couple that was spectating seemed taken aback, and both agreed that he made it look pretty easy.

Bob running the first part of Laura's

Bob drops into the bottom slot at Laura's

Next up was Ken. He, like Bob, came through the top drop with style, and as he lined up for the slot and dropped through, he was overtaken by the violent flume and had to snap off a quick roll in the pool below. All in all, still a great run.

Ken cleans the top drop at Laura's

Ken gets swallowed by the bottom slot at Laura's

Now it was my turn. Since Bob was gracious enough to walk back up to the viewing platform and take over the camera, I wanted to make sure I had a good line. After visualizing it in my head, I pulled out of the eddy and prepared to drop over the first ledge. Not wanting to hit the partially submerged rock at the base of the drop, I entered left with a right angle. I actually ended up starting further left than I wanted, but I was still able to make it through nice and clean. Next, I lined up on the small diagonal just above the slot, busted through, and dropped into the slot finishing it off nicely. It always feels good to run a clean line on this one, since you have to make a couple of moves to do so.

The author a little left at the entrance to Laura's

The author makes a clean break from the top drop at Laura's

The author up to his pits in the bottom slot at Laura's

After some thumbs up and waves from our spectators, we paddled away from the falls and made our way down the short section between it and the takeout. As I eddied out underneath the bridge, I was happy to see my bike sitting against the tree to which I had locked it. Knowing that I still needed to run the bike shuttle I quickly carried my boat up to the parking lot, degeared, and walked over to my bike to unlock it. "Shit!" I had left the key up at the car which was sitting at the put-in. At this point, I really didn't want to dwell on the situation, so I walked back to my boat where I had strategically stored a delicious, hoppy, northwest style beer. After poppin' the top and taking a couple swigs, I decided to inform the others of our misfortune. Luckily, I was able to convince a nice lady and her son to give me a ride back to my car. I offered her a bottle of beer for her troubles, and she turned it down. Can you imagine?!

After finishing our beer, the three of us were feelin' a little too tired for a huck session at Wildwood, so instead we headed for the border (Taco Bell), and grabbed a quick bite before heading home. Although the water was low, and the company was questionable... we all had a great day on the water!

The following video was one that I put together about a year ago, which combines both Upper and Lower Brice runs at higher flows. This video was also taken from multiple trips, and features too many boaters to list. Enjoy!

Upper/Lower Brice on Vimeo.

And here is a head-cam perspective of the run which also includes portions of the Upper:

Brice Ceek by Kayak on Vimeo.

For a trip report of mountain biking on the trail that parallels this section of river, see the following link:
Brice Creek Trail (mountain bike)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Horse Ridge Trail & my new Mama (3.20.10)

Last Saturday, Emily and I decided to take a trip east of the Cascades to Bend, Oregon for some mountain biking. This trip was actually going to serve a couple of purposes: 1) enjoy some dry trails and sunny weather on the east side, and 2) pick up my new 29er full squish mountain bike frame. The latter was really the driving force behind the trip, but we thought we should get in a ride while we were over there.

Ya see, I've been eying Salsa's "Big Mama" since it came out in 2008, but since I had recently bought my Stumpjumper FSR, I couldn't rationalize adding another horse to the stable, especially since the two bikes would serve the same purpose (all mountain). Fast forward 2 years, and Salsa has decided to start blowing out the old model to make room for the new ones. This, along a few more years out of the Stumpy, helped make my decision, so I called in the order to WebCyclery. I also knew that since I was buying just the frame (and I didn't have the cash to build it up right away), I would get at least one more season out of my old steed. Salsa's discount was also what convinced me to purchase my El Mariachi singlespeed 29er frame a couple of years back, and I've been a fan of their product ever since.

At first, Emily and I were planning to make a weekend of it and camp out. However, due to cold nights and our new dog's surgery (she had just gotten spayed), we decided it would be best done as a day trip. We had prepacked the night before and planned to get out of town between 7 and 7:30am. Because of the daylight savings change the weekend before, it was still dark when the alarm went off. After crawling out of bed (literally) we quickly took the dogs for a walk and ate breakfast before packing our bikes, dogs, and ourselves in the Outback. We were now on our way.

We stopped quickly for coffee in Eugene, and then hit Hwy. 126 up the McKenzie River and over Santiam Pass. We drove through Sisters and into Bend, where we headed east on Hwy. 20 (~15 miles) to the Horse Ridge trailhead at the intersection of Hwy. 20 and Forest Road 2015. The first thing we noticed in the parking area was that there were no trees to provide shade for the dogs. Although the temps were only supposed to get into the high 60s, we knew the car would get much warmer, so we both agreed we would need to find another place to park. After reviewing our Tread Map, we discovered that there was also a trailhead on the southeast side of the ridge. Hoping it would have more shade, we drove a mile or so down a couple of dirt roads to the marked position. To our relief, there were plenty of trees to park under to keep the car cool. The other thing we discovered about this parking lot was how empty it was, in fact we were the only car! This is quite rare for a trailhead near Bend, especially on such a nice day as this one.

While Emily and I changed into our riding gear, we let the dogs out of the car to run free. After we were ready, and the dogs had tired themselves out chasing each other through the dirt, we corralled them to their confines and we were off on our ride.

Tracks and elevation profile of our ride
(yellow arrows indicate our out direction, and
white arrows indicate our back direction

After spending a couple of minutes trying to find the trailhead, we discovered on the side of the parking area with a trail marker labeled "30". As we began our climb to the top of the ridge, it became very apparent that it was going to be a tough slog through deep sand. I turned around to see Emily dismounting from her singlespeed and preparing to do a little pushing. At this point I was glad that I had brought my geared bike, but the feeling wouldn't last long. As I hit the first steep pitch, I also had to jump off my bike and join Emily in a hike-a-bike to the top. (you gotta love instant karma!) The one nice thing about the climb is that it was short, and soon we were at the top of the east ridge looking out over the high desert valley. Even though I'm relatively out of biking shape and Emily was on her singlespeed, this climb would be almost impossible to make it up all the way without walking at least a few stretches, due to the deep sand on an incline.

Emily says: " Riding uphill in sand sucks!"

After a short distance along the ridge, we found ourselves at the intersection of the main trail, "Has No Horse". We made a left turn onto the trail, and continued along the ridge to the west. This is where the trail started to get fun, and felt more reminiscent of the trail systems right out of Bend. (the Phil's network, etc...) I'm glad we had given the trail a chance, for there was a moment where I considered turning back since I thought the whole trail might be a sand pit, and I'm sure Emily was also feeling the same way!

Emily enjoying the first part of the ridge trail, "Has No Horse"

Although the trail did have a similar feel to the other trails around Bend, it was definitely more technical than most, I would actually compare it to the likes of C.O.D. or Voodoo. The trail pretty much takes you along Horse Ridge from east to west alternating between long, smooth, flowy stretches and short technical rock gardens; super fun stuff. As a bonus, you also get some great views of Mt. Jefferson, and even Mt. Hood in the far distance if you look hard enough.

View of Mt. Jefferson from "Has No Horse"

Emily rides through one of the more
technical stretches on "Has No Horse"

The author rides through a small
ock garden on "Has No Horse"
(photo by Emily G. Pfeifer)

It should be noted that you do have to climb over two sections of barbed-wire fence along the way, since it goes right across the trail marking an environmental research area.

Emily on the other side of the fence that bisects the trail

After a little over 5 miles from the parking lot, we arrived at the lookout at the west side of the ridge. As promised, it delivered great views of the Cascade range, not only could you see Jefferson and Hood, you also got a shot of Bachelor, The Three Sisters, and other peaks in between.

View from the lookout, and our turnaround point.
Bachelor (left) and the Three Sisters (center-right)

are prominent in this picture.

From here, the trail does continue down the southern face to the valley below and up another ridge. However, one of the maps I had said the descent wasn't really worth it, and it's best to just do the trail as an out-and-back to this point. Actually, this worked better for us anyhow, as I was on a tight schedule to get back to Bend and pick up my new frame before 4pm, when the shop closed. We also wanted to try one of the descents off the north side, so after quickly taking in the view and eating a quick snack, we sped back down the trail we had just ridden up (still "Has No Horse").

On a side note, I did walk down the trail a bit, and it actually looked really good if you were up for a challenging technical descent.

A shot of the first rocky pitch of the trail that headed
down the south side of the ridge. (Looked like fun stuff!)

More fun stuff around the first switchback

While riding back, I was surprised with how much descending there was. I really didn't remember climbing that much, so it was a nice surprise. We also ran into the first people of the trip; actually we ran into two sets of 2 riders along the ridge who were going in the opposite direction. Even with seeing these other folks, it still felt like we had the whole area to ourselves, which is unlike any other Bend ride we've ever done.

Instead of heading all the way back on the trail we had come up on, we decided to take a little detour and head down a trail to the left called "Parkway". After riding along some flat terrain and a quick climb, we were faced once again with another fence to climb over. Once past this obstacle, we started down the north face of the ridge as the trail snaked its way back and forth over some pretty technical trail. This is some of my favorite type of terrain, so I was grinning ear to ear as I sped around the corners and over & through the rocks in my way. Once again, I was feeling glad that I was on my full squish, hoping I wouldn't jinx myself this time.

Emily gets some turns in on "Parkway"

Emily drops down a small set of rock stairs on "Parkway"

The author enjoying the ride down "Parkway"
(photo by Emily G. Pfeifer)

Although it was a fairly long downhill, it was over way too quickly, and only left us wanting more. There was an option to extend the downhill by way of a left turn at the intersection we were now stopped at. The map called the trail "Escape from Moscow" and it sounded appealing, however, we were on a race against time and we didn't feel like pushing our luck. With that, we chose to go right, down a dirt double-track, until we reached the old highway below (no longer in use). Although not nearly as nice as the trails we had just come down, I was glad to have some old cracked pavement to ride on instead of deep sand, which I had expected it to be. Our forward progress was also no longer going downhill, instead the road follows the edge of the ridge on a slight incline back to where we had started.

Before the road had a chance to reach the eastern edge of the ridge, we once again saw a trail off to the right marked "30". Knowing that it would probably connect back with the trail we had started on from the trailhead, we decided to take it as a shortcut crossing over the ridge instead of riding around it. Once again we were faced with an unridable sandy hill that we had to push our bikes to the top of. It was fairly short and within a couple of minutes we did rejoin the first trail at the top of the hill.

Emily once again gives the big
"thumbs down" to another sand climb

Luckily, this time we would be riding down the sandy trail we had previously hiked up. It was actually pretty fun in this direction, and as long as you kept your wheel straight and your momentum up, you could float right through the sand; it kind of felt a little like skiing.

Once we were back at the car, we let the dogs out for another run, and quickly changed and loaded up so we could make it to the bike shop in time. With the bike shop's location loaded into the GPS, we made it there with some time to spare, and after talking with one of the guys in the bike shop about components, I walked out the door with my new Mama! Next, we once again followed the directions from the robotic woman in my GPS, but this time she navigated us to Cascade Lakes Brewing Company, also in Bend. We each enjoyed a burger and beer before heading back to Eugene with the dogs.

Our final destination in Bend, Cascades Lakes Brewing Company

By the time we got home we were all pretty tired out. After going out for banana milkshakes and watching some T.V. we called it an early night, and all slept well (including the dogs).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brice Creek Trail with the Gals (3.14.10)

The Brice Creek area is one of my favorite places. The trail is actually the first hike that Emily and I did after moving to Oregon. Not only does it offer great hiking, it also provides excellent mountain biking by use of the same trails, and some of the best class 4/4+ kayaking in the area during winter months after a good hard rain.

Since Saturday was spent playboating on Lake Creek, and sunny skies were in the forecast for Sunday, I was pretty excited to get back on my bike after some extended down time. For the record, I'm not much of a playboater, and mountain biking in the winter has never really appealed to me; however for some reason this weekend I felt like breaking the norm, and I'm glad I did.

The great thing about Brice Creek, like most river tails, is that the trail surface holds up really well during the wet season, which can be attributed to a greater rock to soil ratio. Another thing I like about Brice Creek Trail is that it's one of the more technical trails in the area. By no means does it rival or come close to places like Moab, Whistler, or even Flagstaff, (where I learned to ride more than 15 years ago) but compared to most of the buffed, flowy trails in the Willamette forest, it does keep you on your toes a bit. Another thing that the trail has is some exposed areas where the side of the trail drops off steeply toward the creek below. Because of these reasons, this may not be the best place to bring a novice, however, an intermediate rider would do just fine. As for physical difficulty, it not very long (~12 miles as an out & back) and only has a couple of climbs, which aren't too tough. That said, if you were really pushin' hard, I'm sure you could wear yourself out. Also note, the trail can be extended and turned into a lollipop by adding the Upper Trestle Creek Falls Trail. Unfortunately, in the winter time this trail gets pretty sloppy and should probably be avoided.

I was actually the latecomer to the trip, which had been planned by my wife Emily (EGP), Emily Coonrod, (Coonabomber) and Kim McGovern. I was looking forward to riding with this all girl crew which typically doesn't generate the competitive atmosphere that can occur with the fellas. Basically, I was just along for the ride, so I loaded my bike and myself into Emily's car and headed to wherever it was taking me. The first stop ended up being LCC, where we met up with Coonabomber and Kim. From there we caravanned about an hours' drive southeast to the lower trailhead of Brice Creek.

My riding buddies for the day
(Coonabomber, Kim, and EGP)

After quickly gearing up in ~40 degree temps, we pedaled around the parking lot a bit to warm up. Once everyone was ready, we crossed the road and started riding up the trail on the other side. The first thing I noticed was how out of practice I was, and after bobbling on some easy rocky sections I told myself to loosen up and get into a flow. Wanting to do a post about mountain biking, I asked the girls if it would be okay if I jumped out ahead so I could get some photos for it. They all agreed, and I set off to find a spot. This is where I also noticed that I was a little out of shape as well. (cardio wise) This, plus the fact that these girls are super fast riders, had me hammering away while still hearing their voices behind me. After some time I was able to make up enough distance to set up for a couple of quick shots.

Coonabomber leadin' the pack

Once they passed by with big smiles, I quickly put my camera away so I could try and catch back up. By the time I did, I was starting to feel a little overdressed and needed to shed a couple of layers. After giving the signal to Coonabomber, she said there was a great spot coming up just past Cedar Creek Falls (a.k.a. Laura's Thighs by the kayaking community). She was right, and we stopped at a nice little pullout overlooking a small rapid leading into the falls.

Cedar Creek Falls (a.k.a. Laura's Thighs)

Emily and me taking a second to strip off
some layers and show some public affection

Once everyone had a chance to un-layer, we were off again with the girls in the lead. As we tore down the trail, I could hear yips and ye-haws as they took turns cleaning some of the more rooty and rocky stretches. Soon after, we approached the first real climb, and once again I tried to get out ahead to take pictures of them coming up. This is where both my lungs and legs really started to burn. Luckily, I was able to get far enough ahead that they couldn't see me walk the last pitch of the climb...hee-hee, they would never know... Just after setting my bike down and grabbing my camera, I caught a glimpse of Coonabomber powerin' through the climb on her 29er single-speed, making it all the way to the top without having to dab. Right on her heels, both EGP and Kim made it up with the same success.

EGP pushes though to the top of
the first hill (Kim just behind her)

Coonabomber takes up the lead
at the the top of the first hill

A couple of quick breaths, and we were back on our way. We had one more hill to climb, and this time I paced myself a little beforehand, so I was able to make it all the way up without touching down. (but still panting!) Once you're past the two hills, the trail starts to gradually head back down to the river, and pretty much stays there for the remaining mile our so to the upper trailhead, near Champion Creek. There is a fun little rock garden in this stretch, which usually isn't a problem getting down, however making it up without dabbing can be tough.

EGP drops down the rock garden near
the end of the trail. No problem!

Coonabomber exits the trail near Champion Creek

Once we made it to the upper trailhead, we lounged around a bit and ate some energy bars and GUs. By this time, the temps had increased and it was turning out to be really nice day. I was looking forward to putting away the camera and just enjoying the ride back. The pace also picks up a bit on the way back since the lower trail head is ~500' lower, that and you don't have to contend with the two hills.

Kim, all smiles, and headed back down the trail

On the way back down the trail, we ran into quite a few hikers. This is a high-use area on the weekends, so it's a good idea to check your speed, especially around blind corners. Everyone that we encountered was pleasant, which was good since biker/hiker confrontations are not uncommon. Another thing we encountered was Emily C's chain falling off a few times. After the third or forth time we decided it would be best to pull over and tighten it up. After turning a couple of bolts she had the tension set nicely, and we were off again. About 2 miles from the trailhead where we had started the ride, there's a nice little root drop that I rolled up on too quickly and ended up dabbing and and walking it down. As I looked behind me the gals had held up to take a look. After a quick talk about what would be the best line they all fired it up and had great lines with no dabs. It's cool to see how good of riders they've turned into.

The girls negotiate a rocky bit
just up from Cedar Creek Falls

The girls heading through one of the flowy
sections toward the lower trailhead

Another shot of the flowy stretch

There is one tricky bridge crossing on the way back down due to a 90 degree turn, step up, log overhead, and slick surface during the wet season. This section has given EGP troubles in the past, but she was determined to clean it this time. With that determination, she flew past and cleared it like it wasn't even there.

EGP defeats her nemesis,
the slimy, 90 degree, elevated,
overhead log having, bridge Thing

Soon enough, the bridge came into view marking the end of ride. What a great day! I'm glad the girls were cool with me comin' along.

My bike, looking as beat as I was after the ride

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Smiths, Day 2: NF Smith (3.7.10)

After completing the Triple Crown of Smith gorges, we loaded up and started heading back to Patrick Creek to find camp for the night. Chris (who boated the gorges with us) had said that if we drove up Patrick Creek that we would find plenty of good spots to choose from. As it turns out his beta was spot on, and we only had to drive a mile (or less) before we found a nice riverside area with a large grassy field and some good tree coverage. I was happy about being next to the river since listening to it always makes me fall asleep easier, when the time comes.

Bob, Aaron, and I quickly went to work gathering firewood while Eric setup the kitchen, which he had provided. Gathering the firewood was not an easy task, there was plenty of it, however it was pretty wet from the recent rains. At this point I was kickin' myself for not picking up a bundle of firewood (or two) from the gas station in Gasquet. Darkness was starting to set in, and after gathering what we felt would be enough for the evening, we went through the process of breaking it up into manageable sizes and stripping off the wet moss. Before we knew it, Bob had got 'er started with a small flame and a lot of smoke.
At this point, the three of us sat down and tried to enjoy the fruits of our labor while Eric slaved away on dinner. His efforts would not go unnoticed, as we all enjoyed a healthy serving of spaghetti with marinara and spicy sausage. Damn, it was good after a day of boating!
About this time the fire started to build and we all took turns telling stories and watching cowboy T.V., the fire on channel one, and the stars on channel 2.
After some good laughs and a couple of beers (or the other way around), we each dispersed to our bedrolls for a good night's sleep, and good it was.

The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of cracking sticks, which I thought at first might be some animal eating food we must have left out. After a quick peek out the zippered door of my tent, I was relieved to see it was just Bob trying to stoke the fire back up. After throwing on some clothes, I joined him, along with some heavy morning fog and a thick layer of dew over everything that wasn't covered.
A couple of yawns and stretches later, I started putting together breakfast for the troops: scrambled eggs and sausage links. The smell was enough to pull Aaron and Eric out of bed, and they started making coffee. After finishing our meal, we started packing up so we could get to Barefoot Brad's house for our scheduled shuttle ride at 9am.

After the short drive to Gasquet, we pulled into Brad's drive. His house is pretty obvious, just look for a one-story castlesque house with a suit of armor proudly displayed the front middle bay window. For the record, Brad is one of my favorite shuttle drivers; he's reliable, knowledgeable about the area, and is just an all around good guy. I've been using him for many years and hope to for many more. Eric was the only one in the group who had not yet met him, and after some "good to see ya's" and "nice to meet ya's", we were on our way to the put-in. Luckily, snow was not an issue for the ~20 mile drive on dirt roads through the Siskiyous. It should also be noted that even when there is snow, Brad is the one who clears a path. He also cleans up all the trash left on the sides of the road, and even is the one the posts the levels for the NF Smith on the Dreamflows website. As he says, "This is my office, so I have to take care of it". Although, even if he wasn't doing shuttles, I think he'd do it anyhow, he's just that kind of guy.

"Barefoot" Brad (left) and his counterpart
Dale when more than one shuttle rig is needed
(photo by Brad Bassi)

Once at the put-in, we quickly unloaded our gear and got changed into our boating attire. Brad, sat on a rock, smoked a cigarette or two, and enjoyed the view from his office window. Once we were all geared up, we bid our farewells to our trusty shuttle driver and set off on our way. After floating down only a couple of hundred yards, Eric started yelling that his thigh hook had broken loose and he needed to pull over to check it out. A quick assessment determined that he had ripped the bolt completely through the side of the boat! He said he must have done it "loopin' on Bob's face", whatever that means. This was going to require more than just a quick fix, so we quickly scrambled to shore and blew our whistles to get Brad's attention, hoping he hadn't driven away already. Luckily, he was still in the parking area, and Eric was able to steal a bolt from his truck and jerry-rig the thigh hook back in place. After about 1/2 hour of tinkering we were back on our way down the river.

As we had projected, the level was on the medium-low side and the first couple of gravel bars were pretty scrapey. Even so, there was still plenty of flow to have a good time, and the NF is a trip done more for scenery and the wilderness setting than exciting whitewater. However, it's still class 3 with a couple of 4ish rapids thrown in , and when the water is high it turns into a classic big water play run (above 3000cfs). On this trip down we had about 1200cfs:

NF Smith Gauge (CFS)

NF Smith Gauge (steel pipe)

It should be noted that if you did run into problems, a hike out would be a real undertaking, and for that reason alone, it may not be the best place for timid class 2/3 boaters. Actually, my first time down I was just that, along with my two companions Jason and Lanny. Somehow we made it down without issue, which I'm sure was partially due to the relatively low water (under 1000cfs if I remember correctly). Brad actually drove directly to the takeout and waited for us. He mentioned that we looked pretty "green" and was prepared to come look for us if need be. That was an exciting trip indeed.

Jason (left) and Lanny on our first trip down the NF Smith
(Look at the fear in their eyes)

After a couple of miles, Diamond Creek pours in from the left at a right-hand bend. Supposedly this is a great alternative (class 4) put-in to the one we used, but Brad said that it didn't have enough water, and since the Biscuit fire, access may be an issue due to downed trees. Diamond Creek also marks the point in the trip where the walls start to gorge up a bit; the color of the rock walls along with its jagged nature make it feel unearthly. It's truly an amazing place, and you feel far away from the daily grind.

The author entering one of the many gorge sections
(photo by Eric Emerson)

Bob (in front) and Aaron relax and enjoy the scenery
(photo by Eric Emerson)

The author paddles past one of the many
side creeks that cascade down the walls
(photo by Eric Emerson)

Another thing to keep your eye open for is Darlingtona, or "pitcher plant". This is a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects that get caught in its trap. It is native to Northern California and Western Oregon, and on the NF Smith can be seen hanging from the walls where water is feeding in. This is a rare plant and it's just one more treat this river provides.

Darlingtona, or "pitcher plant" hangs on
the wall below some cascading water

During our ~15 mile float, we stop to have have lunch where a creek comes in from the right at the end of one of the tighter gorges. It was a great place to get out and stretch the legs, and just enjoy being away from it all. After 15 to 20 minutes we were back in our boats and headed downstream.

Bob in one of the bigger drops on the lower stretch
(photo by Eric Emerson)

Aaron hand paddles though a rapid on
the lower stretch, which he did all trip
(photo by Eric Emerson)

After stopping at a couple of playspots (surf waves/holes) and negotiating some more class 3 rapids, we got to the bottom couple of miles where the river flattens out a bit. The canyon walls open up, and civilization comes into view (by way of homes on hills and stairs down to the water). Soon after this, the steel pipe gauge appears on the left marking the takeout (which was reading 9.25'). We all shouldered our boats and hiked up the rocks to where Eric's truck was to be left. Just as I summited the cliff, Brad came walking down the path toward me; he had just arrived with the truck, talk about prefect timing!

After loading up and saying our goodbyes to Brad, we jump in the truck and started the long journey home. We pulled up to my house around 8pm and sorted gear, which is always fun in the dark (hey, have you guys seen my...). Once the gear was put away and the fellas had left, I walked in the house to see Emily, the two dogs, and the cat. Although it was another great trip down to the Smiths, it was good to be home with my family...