Friday, October 1, 2010

Feather Fest 2010 - Tobin & Lobin (9.25.10 & 9.26.10)

After a canceled trip down to Fordyce Creek (in Cali) due to PG&E’s inability to regulate the flows as published, we scrambled to put another boating trip together. We didn’t have to look far, as the Feather Fest, on the NF Feather, was also coming up quickly at the end of the same month. I had been to Feather Fest the previous year and blown away by the quality of the whitewater, especially with it being roadside. The release, also by PG&E, was scheduled for September 25th and 26th with a planned 900-1200cfs flow of water from Rock Creek Dam. The water released from the dam gives boating opportunities on three distinct sections, Roger’s Flat (~5 miles, class III), Tobin (1.2 miles, class IV+/V), and Lobin (~2.5 miles, Class 4); just like last year we would be focusing our trip on Tobin and Lobin, and more so on the former.

Our flows for the festival (~1100cfs)

Both Tobin and Lobin feature white granite that the Sierra runs are renowned for. Tobin is a minefield of giant white boulders that words cannot describe. These rock slabs serve up some great boofs and form a boulder garden playground of epic proportions. Along with the fun comes a hefty portion of undercuts and sieves that the Sierras are also known for. Swims are highly discouraged and always dangerous, especially once you pass under the double bridge on Tobin. Even Lobin, which is significantly easier, has a few drops with really bad sieves; the most notable one that I know of is the ledge drop just below the first bridge that you come to on the run, ~½ mile downstream from the put-in. Last year, I personally watched one buddy get stuck in the underwater sieve with his head about a foot under the surface, and all you could see was his helmet. After a few seconds he was ejected from his boat, which then surfaced completely folded up. A very similar situation apparently occurred this year in the same exact spot, as told to me by another friend at the festival party on Saturday night. These words are by no means meant to discourage anyone from doing the runs, rather a reminder of the consequences; they are both great runs and shouldn’t be missed if they fall within your skill level.

OK, back to our story…
My plan was to take off work both Friday and Monday on either side of the release schedule, which would allow for driving time and some rest before heading back to work. The drive from Eugene is between 7 ½ to 8 ½ hours depending on your stops along the way. Chris Arnold was coming from the Portland area, so he planned to drive down Thursday night and stay at my house for an early departure the next morning. Both Aaron Loft and Roman Androsov would come over to my house in the morning, from where we would depart. Shawn Haggin was also driving down with us, and we planned to meet up with him on the way, since he lived an hour to the south, in Roseburg. Our last two crew members were Jason Naranjo and Bill Reidl who live in San Diego and Sacramento respectively, and they would be meeting us at our base camp near the festival.

As mentioned, Chris came down on Thursday night, and once he got to my house (~9pm) we headed over to the Bier Stein where we met up with Roman for a couple of beers. After closing the place down, we headed back to my house to sleep before our long drive the next day. Friday morning, both Lofty and Roman showed up on time while Chris was still fast asleep, and after some persuasion imposed by Aaron, he awoke and helped us with the final packing. Since we would need to take down two cars to Shawn’s house, Aaron went out ahead of us to load up with him. By the time Chris, Roman and I pulled out of the driveway, it was a little after 8am and slightly behind schedule. We made good time to Roseburg though, from which point we caravanned to the Feather.

A view of Mt. Shasta from a rest area on the drive down.
Who knew a bathroom view could look so good?!

We made a couple of stops on the way, which included a couple of fruit stands just outside of Chico, as well as the Sierra Nevada Brewery (in Chico), a Cali boating trip tradition. After a quick pint, we continued on with the remainder of the drive to Belden, CA, and our campground near the festival. When we pulled into camp we were greeted by a smiling Jason and was good to see the fellas again! That night we built a nice big fire, told stories and got ourselves amped up for boating the next day. Unfortunately, I had a little too much fun that night and didn’t sleep very well. The next morning I woke up with a good headache and felt pretty foggy. I hoped a good breakfast with coffee would get me back in fighting shape. On the menu (for most of us) was breakfast burritos and java from a French press, and once we finished breakfast we headed down to the Lobin run for a quick warm-up lap.

The usual shenanigans around the fire

Chris and Jason enjoy a good fire

The crew fuels up for a day of Cali boating

The Lobin put-in is also the Tobin takeout, so logistically it's pretty easy to do combinations of the two runs. Since Lobin is easier, and a few of us hadn’t been in our boats in a month or more, we decided to jump on that run first. While driving to the run, we actually ran into another Oregon local, Jesse Coombs, who asked to join up for a lap or two. We were glad to have him along with his friendly nature and uber-positive attitude. After setting shuttle, we geared up and got on the river. Not only had I not been in my boat for some time, but I was also not the last person to use it. As I started to strap in, I noticed my seat strap had been pulled out of the ratchet. Unfortunately, on Mystics it can be a chore to feed it back in, so I was a little behind getting on the water. Luckily, Bill, Jason, and Roman waited up for me to fall in line.
The first ¼ to ½ mile from the put-in bridge to the next bridge is actually the most exciting, and a good class IV warm-up. It took me some time to get used to the pushier river feel after boating low volume creeks all season, and my condition from the night before was certainly not helping much. To put it bluntly, I wasn’t boating very well. Even with that, I was still having a great time and enjoying the company, quality whitewater, and perfect weather (sunny and 80).
After passing under the first bridge below the put-in, we sat above the next horizon line. As mentioned before, this is where I saw a buddy of mine get stuck in an underwater sieve before being ejected from his boat. Since I wasn’t sure where exactly the trouble spot was in the center line, I opted for the conservative right side, which is still super fun. Once past this, we tackled the remaining pool drop rapids in a quick fashion with a few good boofs and other moves. By the time we reached the takeout, we were ready to jump on Tobin.

The start of Lobin from the put-in bridge
(also the take bridge for Tobin).
The water was still rising at this point.

Another view of the first drops on Lobin,
after the water had risen a little.

First, a quick disclaimer. The names and locations I've used for the rapids are based on my research and interpretation of the run, mostly from the AW write-up (found here). If I have mislabeled or miscommunicated them, please let me know in the comment section below and I'll make the changes as necessary.

Once we had loaded up, we set shuttle and headed to the Tobin put-in. On the way up we saw lots of different colored boats weaving their way over and around the boulder-choked streambed. The put-in was packed with other boaters and people just hanging out. We quickly transported our boats to the edge of the river and slid in one-by-one. After a few small warm-up rapids, we came to the first horizon line. This one was pretty straightforward with a line down the left side, and the only real move required was to avoid getting pushed into the large boulder on the left side of the runout, which wasn’t difficult.

Chris and Shawn finish up the
first drop on Tobin on the second lap

The next drop, "Dancing Boy", was the one that ate me for lunch last year in the grips of its meaty hole. Essentially, I pulled into an eddy above the drop where I was told the hole was sticky, and to go hard left. Unfortunately, I started hard left and was forced back to the right, off the banking ledge, and with the main flow, directly into the gut of it. After an extended rodeo session and two violent body recirculations, I was spit out downstream. While I was being rescued, three other boaters swam out of the hole, including another from our group. This year, I would not make the same mistake, and charging from right to left I sailed off the lip without issue. I can say that last year the flow was much lower (~800cfs), which I believe made the hole quite a bit stickier. On this lap everyone else in the group cleaned the drop in similar fashion and we headed downstream.

Lofty busts through the hole in
Dancing Boy in hot pursuit of Jesse

Chris gets a nice boof

Shawn runs Dancing Boy while Chris waits in the eddy below

After a few more small drops, we reached the double crossing bridges which signaled "Kevin’s Gate" and the entrance to the crux section. This drop is super fun and has two parts. After boofing the entrance ledge, you encounter a fast runout just above the second ledge. This bottom ledge can either be run on the left side of the main channel off a large banking pillow, or a sweet 4’ to 5’ boof on the right; I prefer the latter.

Kevin's Gate, the entrance to the crux section

Some of our crew mixed in with another while running Kevin's Gate

Kevin's Gate from below

Directly below this drop is another fun one that we ran far right. It was kind of a flumey drop, with a diagonal to boof onto at the entrance--good fun! This drop also deposits you into a large pool overlooking the massive boulder garden that words or pictures cannot do justice. Although, before reaching the boulder garden proper, there are still two ledges to contend with.

Chris, Aaron and Shawn finish up the drop just below Kevin's Gate

Another view, this time showing the
pool between this drop and Tobin Ledge.

Shawn finishing the drop, from water level.

The first ledge, "Tobin Ledge", is river-wide with a pretty easy boof on the far left. The far right also looked like it went pretty well, but the center looked pretty sticky. That said, I saw people from other groups run it in multiple spots without having problems. We all ran far left the entire time.

Jason runs the left side boof at Tobin Ledge
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The author breaks through the soft left-side hole at Tobin Ledge
(photo by Bill Riedl)

Another crew runs both right and left without issue

The ledge just below this one is actually a little tricky, and surfed one person from our group. Luckily, he was able to roll up just before dropping into the boulder mess. Your options here are to boof/gut the hole, or run it hard-right running down a tongue and through an S-turn. The first couple of laps I ran the hole head-on, but on the final lap of the trip I ran the right side tongue, which I actually thought was a better line.

Chris goes for the center boof
(photo by Bill Riedl)

Shawn battles through the hole after running the center line
(photo by Bill Riedl)

Roman enters the ledge drop
(photo by Bill Riedl)

Roman finds that the right side of the hole also has some power
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The author heads for the right side tongue
(photo by Bill Riedl)

Even over here, the hole had some juice!
(photo by Bill Riedl)

We were now at the top of the congested boulder garden, into which we entered off another sweet 4’ to 5’ boof. You actually want to hit this one on the right side for a nice airplane boof that shoots you in that direction, and towards a generous eddy below. I’ve also worked left here instead of going for the boof, but this requires a strong ferry further downstream to get back right. Plus, who likes giving up a free boof?!

Looking into the meat of the boulder garden

Another group drops into the boulder garden

Jason pulls a great boof at the entrance
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The author follows a similar line
(photo by Bill Riedl)

From this eddy, you could start feeling pretty lonely if you were by yourself and weren’t sure where to go. Large boulders block your view, except for where you just came from. From here, the two lines I know of are either directly downstream through a chute with a large pyramid rock just beyond it, or the other narrow chute towards river-right. I took the latter, which makes a sharp left turn before dropping down a steep ledge into another eddy. The other line (toward the pyramid rock) has a nice angled boof off the right side, and spits you into the same eddy.

Jason goes for the slot toward the pyramid rock
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The author feelin' a little lonely
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The next drop is probably my most feared and definitely the one that gives me the most trouble. I believe the true name of this rapid is "Another Brick In The Wall", but I've also heard it being affectionately referred to as “Muff Siphon”. It is essentially a three-tiered S-turn drop along the river-right bank where most of the water flows. The first move is off of a small ledge which sends you left. This is not a hard ledge, but is a bit squirrelly and should be run clean to line up for the harder center ledge. The second ledge flows into a large boulder on the left, where the water pillows up and sends you back right. This is where problems usually start. The water from this boulder can push you into an undercut rock (as well as into some bushes) on the right. I was caught by this once and flipped, and I’ve also had a couple of other close calls here. My suggestion would be to aim directly at the downstream side of the large boulder on the left, while coming off the center ledge; this seemed to work best for me. The last ledge is a sweeping right turn with a seam/hole on the inside corner, which has also flipped me; this can be seen in the head-cam footage below. Below this drop is a large eddy on the left, or a couple of smaller ones on the right. All are easy to catch if you're upright and in control. A couple of photos of this rapid can be seen on the "A Wet State" website, here & here.

Next up is the drop I believe is called “Cleaver”. Other than the aforementioned eddies, there are no pools between it and "Another Brick In The Wall" (see the the section between the drops here). The majority of the river once again flows against the right side of the streambed, with a diagonal hole at the top of the drop and a long run-out below. The hole isn’t particularly sticky, but could easily flip an unprepared boater. Just to the left of the channel/hole is a boof platform that can be used for entering the drop. I hit this on my last lap and wished I had used this approach before. It’s probably the cleanest and more fun line to take. If you do decide to go for the boof, just make sure you keep your bow up and run the right side of the platform with a right angle, for there is a big rock on the other side, as well as rocks just under the surface (see a photo of Cleaver from AW’s site here).

Below Cleaver is another great double ledge drop. Starting on river-right, and after a small lead-in, is a great ~5’ boof that can be hard to nail. This is also one you wouldn’t want to pencil since it can surf you and it’s only the first part of the drop. Once past the boof, more busy water ensues with another diagonal hole and boulder fence at the bottom. This fence is formed by a couple of giant boulders. I’ve taken the center slot (between the butt cheek rocks) as well as the right slot and both work great; although I’ve not taken the far left exit, it looked like an option from below. A photo from below can be found on the "A Wet State" website here, at a much lower flow.

The next section might just be my favorite, wide open, read & run boogie water. After passing though a small channel between two giant boulders and running a small banked ledge hole, your view opens up and some fun hydraulics pour over and through another boulder field. We actually had a swim in our group here, which ended up being pretty sketchy. Apparently he got caught up in an underwater sieve for a few moments while going deep during his swim. Luckily, Chris was able to get him to shore while a couple of us corralled the paddle and the other two got the boat. Scary stuff indeed.

Looking up toward the fun boogie water stretch.
Unfortunately the meat of the drop is visually blocked
by the large boulders in the middle of the photo.

The section between the boogie water and Piece Of Risa

Once past this section, we were sitting at the top of the last drop on the Tobin stretch, "Piece of Risa". Knowing that this drop has a notorious pothole/pin spot near the entrance on the right, I made sure to mention it to everyone else in the group who was unaware. At last year's Feather Fest, even though it was known to the boater, we had a vertical pin here; luckily he was able to be rescued without too much trouble. This year, another problem occurred in the same spot. Once again the boater in our group knew of the hazard, but was flipped above it and rolled up as he flushed into the pothole backwards. Both Bill and I saw the whole episode unfold from above. As we struggled to get to shore and out of our boats for assistance, the boater was flushed free and out of his boat. Although the gear was recovered and the boater was unharmed, this still served as yet another reminder of the danger associated with being out of control on this run.

The entrance to Piece Of Risa

Shawn in the middle of Piece Of Risa,
with Lofty and Chris below.

Our crew in the lead-in to Piece Of Risa

Chris breaks through the entrance of Piece Of Risa...

And then breaks through the bottom hole
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The author works right halfway through Piece Of Risa
(photo by Bill Riedl)

Shawn near the bottom of Piece Of Risa
(photo by Bill Riedl)

The other main obstacle in Piece Of Risa is the exit, where a lot of flow slams into a massive upstream slanted boulder. It's not too difficult to avoid if you're moving right at the bottom, but I caught the corner of it after being lazy and being kicked left by a lateral.

The water piling into the giant boulder
at the bottom of Piece Of Risa

The author works right to avoid the
boulder at the bottom of Piece Of Risa
(photo by Bill Riedl)

After finishing up our first lap on Saturday, half of us took a break while the other half of the group ran another lap on Tobin. Once they were done, we did one more lap on Lobin before returning to camp. The next day, we ran a couple of more laps on Tobin for good measure, and before calling it a trip.

Roman, Chris and I decided to stay another night so that we could relax and make the long drive the following day. On our way out Monday morning, we stopped by Piece Of Risa to see what the pothole rock looked like at fish flow. Standing on the takeout bridge, it looked just as horrible as I expected it to. Here are a couple of photos showing the hazard:

Looking at the pothole rock at fish flow
(from the takeout bridge)

The same pothole rock (taken from upstream)

What a great time! With an awesome crew and weather, you really couldn't ask for anything more out of a late September kayaking trip. The Tobin and Lobin runs on the NF Feather are top notch Sierra runs with convenient roadside access. The only complaints would be that they only run for a couple days each month over the summer, and it would be nice if they were a little longer.

The crew, minus Bill Riedl, who was taking the picture.
(Roman, Me, Lofty, Jason, Chris, and Shawn)

Until next year, thanks to the Cali boating community and AW for hosting another great festival!

Some head-cam footage of one of our laps down Tobin and the top part of Lobin:

Feather Fest 2010 - Tobin & Lobin from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

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