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)

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