Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Panther Creek (12.18.10)

White Pan.ther
noun \ˈpan(t)-thər\
1 : a white specimen of any of several species of larger cat. "Panther" is used in some parts of North America to mean the Cougar (Puma concolor), in South America to mean the Jaguar (Panthera onca) and elsewhere it refers to the Leopard (Panthera pardus). A white panther may therefore be a white cougar, a white jaguar or a white leopard. Of these, white leopards appear to be the most common, although still very rare.

2 : a wintertime run down Panther Creek, Washington

After failed attempts to put together a day of local boating (Eugene area), I called my buddies up north to see what plans were forming. After talking with Chris, it looked like Panther Creek was the most likely option, based on water levels. I had done Panther once before, but the water was low(ish) and since none of us had done the run before it took us awhile to get down. The other difference between the previous trip and this one was the weather; last time we were treated to partly cloudy skies and relatively warm temps (for mid-April), compared to the falling snow and white covered banks we would encounter this time. A trip report of the previous adventure can be found here, and since I’ve already described the run in that report, this one will be more about the conditions.

Since, once again, I couldn’t find anyone else to paddle with in our area I was forced to make the drive north by myself. The one good thing about this was that I was able to make good time and reached the meeting spot, Lewis & Clark State Park, in record time (1 hour, 45 minutes); heck, I even beat the Portland folks there! Chris had originally thought we would have a really large crew, but it turned into a much more reasonable size with five of us. Our group consisted of Chris Arnold, Stephen Cameron, Eric Arlington, Paul (last name?), and myself. I had paddled many times with everyone but Paul and this would be the first time we had all boated together. We not so quickly loaded all 5 boats on my car and headed into the Gorge and toward Panther. After about ten miles on I-84, the sky started to dump rather large snowflakes and the ground stared getting covered white in a quick fashion. These conditions would continue for a majority of the day.

We first dropped off Stephen’s car at the takeout before heading to the put-in. By the time we reached the put-in there were already a couple inches of snow on the ground. I often get asked “how do you guys not freeze on the river during the winter?!”. I’ve actually asked myself this on a couple of occasions, but in the end, it’s all about good gear, and a drysuit is pure heaven (and I would somewhat argue necessary) on days like today. I’m actually amazed at how warm you can stay, especially if you’re properly hydrated and don’t have an empty stomach. Another good piece of gear is either pogies or gloves, I really can’t stand either and usually shed them halfway through the run, as I did on this trip.

The crew gears up at the takeout...

...and unloads at the put-in

A quick inspection of the level read 2.3’ on the stick gauge. This corresponds to just over 500cfs found on the internet gauge, here. This was almost double the flow I had my first time down, which made it nicer from that perspective.

The water level for the day, ~500cfs.

I was the last person to put on and after doing so we all headed downstream at a rapid (pun intended) pace. It definitely helped having people that knew the run, which allowed us to make quick time. I was definitely not boating my best and actually had to roll in an innocuous drop right near the beginning. I was also bouncing off of rocks here and there; this lack of boating prowess can be witnessed in the head-cam footage at the end of this write-up.

Looking downstream from the put-in bridge

Before too long, we all eddied out at the lip of Raychel’s, the largest drop on Panther. This three-part drop requires precise boat handling and I certainly wasn’t feeling it. Stephen was the only one that fired-up the first tier, which he did with style. He got a little bobbled going into the second but recomposed and busted through nicely. The others decided to run the third part, but I just didn’t like the look of the wood/rock sieve combo, and decided to portage it as well. Everyone else had good lines and I rejoined them below after an exciting seal launch into the runout of this last drop.

Scouting the first drop of Raychel's

Stephen gives 'er on the first tier...

...then busts through the second

Portaging the top part of Raychel's

Chris fires up the third tier

Below Raychel's, Panther picks up a bit and I was feeling a little more in control. This was good, since the continuous nature and 250’/mile gradient meant that a missed line could compound, sending you out of control where you don’t want to be--reactionary boating at its finest. As we leapfrogged down, catching eddies here and there along the banks and behind rocks, I got a feeling from the others that no one was really in a flow and things just weren’t clicking. Luckily we had a solid crew so we still proceeded downstream without too much difficulty, just more frustrations than anything.

Soon we reached the second major drop of the run, a boulder garden with a couple of ledges at the bottom. After we all gave it a scout our crew came down one-by-one. I hung out near the bottom to get photos of both Chris and Stephen as they came by. While waiting, I was actually able to look around a bit and realized how beautiful the creek looked with the rocks and trees covered in a blanket of snow. This, along with the large falling snowflakes, really contrasted with the brightly colored boats and boaters as they soon appeared in the distance; it was a pretty surreal sight! The crux move of this drop was definitely toward the bottom where you had to make a hairpin turn around a large boulder on the right side of the creek. We all made it through in one manner or another and reconvened in a large eddy below the entirety of the drop.

Stephen enters the boulder garden

Stephen making the tough move

Lining up the first of the bottom ledges

Chris drops through the first of the bottom ledges


Chris on the final ledge of the drop

From here, it was pretty straight forward boogie water all the way to the Lower Wind confluence, with a couple of poorly placed fallen trees that were more of a nuisance than anything else. Once we reached the Wind, I paddled to shore to take a couple quick shots of the steams converging; once again the snow made for a breathtaking view.

Looking back up at the Wind/Panther confluence

As I stated in my last report, going from Panther to the Wind is quite a study in contrasts. Some of the hydraulics on the Wind were pretty big, but were also easy to avoid (if you chose to). As we were carried down the river I started thinking about The Flume, the next big (and friendly) drop on the run. It would be almost impossible to run this drop without a huge smile on your face at the bottom. Basically, line it up down the tongue on center-left and hang on through the monstrous crashing waves! As a perk, there was a cascading waterfall dropping into the pool below, once again setting up a spectacular backdrop.

Paul lines up The Flume

Paul in the entrance to The Flume

Eric braces for impact on the massive bottom wave/hole

Chris in the thick of it

The Flume from far below + a nice waterfall coming
in off the left bank (right side of the picture).

Beyond Limits, just around the corner, was not appealing to me at this level, and I quickly shouldered my boat while the others pondered the line. As I made my way along the rocks and passed them, they indicated to me that no one was feelin’ it, so safety didn’t need to be set. Eric had been there the day before when it was slightly higher, and he said it actually had a better line going through it, which they ran. All I know is that it’s a huge hydraulic both times I've run Panther and come across it.

Looking down into Beyond Limits

Beyond Limits from below

The crew makes the wise
portage around Beyond Limits

From here we had some more read and run drops before our next portage, a big one around Shepherds Falls. On one of the drops before the falls I was running hard left and got knocked off line by a hole/crashing wave, which sent me into and under a log coming off the bank. The rest of the crew watched in horror, but luckily I came through clean and rolled up on the other side. It was definitely sketchy and just another reminder that bad things can happen when you get complacent, even during the in-between stuff.

Shepherds Falls was about as scary and magnificent as I remember it being at high water. Although we run these series of falls during the summer months while the water is low, at this level it would be suicide. A couple of us talked about how, even though you would never plan on running it, you still catch yourself looking for a line and pondering the beat down you would be served for trying such an act…

Shepherds Falls in all its glory

The bottom tier of Shepherds. It's enough to send shivers up your spine.

Winter flow (scary)...

...Summer flow (fun as hell)

Chris drops the first tier at Shepherds during a summer run

Dan Dellwo gets some

Stephen on the second tier at summer flow

We created a bucket line to shuttle our boats up the cliff wall and over to the diving board area for the ol’ throw & go. I must say, I’m not a huge fan of cliff jumping, especially into water that I can’t see below the surface. It does however add some additional excitement to the day. I was the last to jump, and unfortunately while spotting my landing on the way down, my whistle smashed me in the cheek on impact, giving me a nice battle wound. This was a small price to pay for another great and memorable day on the water.

The crew saddles up after the throw and go

The sun sets and the moon rises
after another great day of boating

We made quick work of the remaining stretch of river between the falls and the takeout. After reflecting on the day we grabbed the cars and headed to Stephenson for some Mexican food and cold beers. Once we had gotten our fill, we parted ways and I started my dark and lonely drive back to Eugene. It was a full day, and it convinced me to sit at home and just relax on Sunday, something I haven’t done in a long while…

The head-cam footy of the run:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Salmon Creek Gorge (12.04.10)

After an extended email thread on what to boat on Saturday, we decided on two options: 1) Lake Creek Slides/Sweet Creek combo, or 2) Hills Creek/Miracle Mile combo. We ended up choosing the latter. Since we would have boaters traveling from both the Portland and Corvallis area, I wanted to make sure we got in as much boating as possible to justify the drive for them, plus I wanted to show them some good whitewater in the Upper Willamette drainage. From Portland/Vancouver we had Stephen Cameron, Chris Arnold, and Pete Giordano. From the Corvallis area we had Jacob Cruser and Jesse Coombs. I had boated with everyone on the list at least once except for Jacob. I was looking forward to boating with him since he also has a blog documenting his boating adventures (mostly in the PNW), which can be found here.

We first decided to go check out Hills Creek and get in a run on that before heading to the Miracle Mile for a few laps. However, once we got there and scouted the main drop, we thought it looked pretty junky and decided maybe a better bet would be the seldom run Salmon Creek Gorge, not far away and back toward the town of Oakridge.

The first drop in the crux gorge of Hills Creek -
A slot drop into a nasty hole

The second drop in the crux gorge. This broken
ledge is a lot trashier than this photo portrays.

Salmon Creek Gorge should not be confused with The Salmon River Canyon run, which flows into the Sandy River (Columbia River Gorge), and is exponentially more difficult (and I've not done). The reason I mention this is due to the questions I get when mentioning the run featured in this write-up.

As for flows, the best internet gauge is Pat Welch's correlation, which can be found here. Supposedly this gauge has some accuracy issues, but can give you a rough idea (along with recent weather) of whether the creek is running or not. According to the Oregon Kayaking write-up here, you want at least 400cfs on this gauge. We had ~500 to 550cfs which correlated to a solid medium flow (see the following). For further reference, the Miracle Mile was just over one foot on the bridge gauge, which was after a rain event.

The gauge the day we ran it (12/04/10)

On the drive, we decided to only run the first 1 ½ miles, which makes up the gorge section and is rated at IV/IV+. You can extend this run down to Salmon Creek Falls (and beyond), but you have to deal with some miles of relatively flat water and the falls really aren’t that great (in my opinion). With that, we dropped off my car at NF 2408 bridge, and drove up the road a short distance (~1.5 miles) to the put-in, which required a short scramble down to the creek. Once we had geared up, we bushwhacked down and put on just below a river-wide log and the start of the gorge. I had only done this run once before so I was excited to get reacquainted with what was downstream, especially with a little more water this time.

The crew gears up at the put-in

Chris and Stephen make their way to the creek at the put-in

Chris and Stephen puttin' on below the river-wide log

The sharp right-hand bend that marks the
beginning of the gorge (taken from the put-in)

As soon as we made a sharp right bend (a couple hundred yard downstream), we were faced with the first rapid, a class III that ran along a moss covered cliff wall on the left. The drop was pretty straight forward, but it did have some wood to contend with. Basically, a large log spanned river-wide but was broken in the middle which allowed passage over the top at that point. Once below this we immediately eddied out above the next drop and the biggest one of the gorge, "Holy Terror".

The first rapid. If you look carefully you
can see the broken log mentioned above.

Holy Terror is a fairly long and complex boulder garden, especially with the miscellaneous pieces of wood scattered throughout. The drop gets its name from the large holes that form when levels are high. We had a solid medium flow so they weren’t too bad, but the drop as a whole still feels pretty big. I actually got out at the top of the drop and walked about halfway down to scout and take some photos of the rest of the group. Most people eddy hopped down and either waited for beta or just ran the drop. The wood situation was pretty avoidable but a couple of strong moves were required to run the drop cleanly. There were also a couple of line options near the bottom (and steepest) part of the drop. The first was right down the middle which included a log limbo and some hole avoidance/punching. The second was to ferry over to river left just above the limbo, catch an eddy on that side, then head back to the middle to finish the drop.

Chris gets ready to limbo halfway down Holy Terror

Jacob waits his turn a little ways through Holy Terror

Jacob goes for the ferry option...

...then heads back to center to finish up

After watching most of the crew run the drop, I headed up for my turn. Not liking the middle line I decided to go for the left eddy. As I ferried across I was tripped up by some squirrely current which threw me into a deep low brace; for a few moment I thought I was going over but was able to pull it out and eddy out next to the log limbo as planned. From here, I moved back to the center with a boof over a small ledge & through some pushy hydraulics before being deposited in the pool below.

Holy Terror from below (wood here and there)

Jesse relaxes below Holy Terror

Chris and Stephen in the pool below Holy Terror

The next drop (just below) was a fun little ledge with an easy move on the right, which we all greased without issue. There was a deep pocket on the left side which probably could have provided some nice rodeo action, but none of us decided to venture there.

Chris enters the next drop just downstream of Holy Terror

Chris digs in on the right line

Then decides to get a better look at the left hole,
as well as get in some cowboy time...

Jesse, same drop from below

Just like above, the drops just kept coming in quick succession. The next major one was a multi-staged drop that started off where the creek pinched down the right side of the riverbed over a 4' to 5' ledge into a small hole; from here the rapid continued a short distance before resting above the second largest (and last) single drop of the gorge.

Pete digs in on the entrance ledge

Jacob follows hot on Pete's tail

Chris gets a nice boof on the same ledge

Jacob hangs just below the ledge

Jacob relaxes in an eddy between drops

Once again, multiple line options and some wood presented themselves. The hero line was against the right side and through the meat, which some of the group chose. I took a more conventional line of working toward the center and finishing on the right, which was still plenty exciting.

Chris eddies out at top of the last big drop

Jacob enters the last rapid

Jacob finishing on the right side

Pete moves left halfway through

After the last drop in the gorge it was a fairly short distance through class II/II+ drops back to the car. The sun started to poke through the clouds which generated the needed motivation to head to The Mile for some more boating. On the way, a couple of us picked up a burger (a.k.a. rectum rockets) from DQ for some extra fuel in the tank.

Chris and Jacob catch some rays at the takeout

In summary, Salmon Creek Gorge is a high quality run in the Middle Fork Willamette watershed which should certainly be on every local boater’s radar. It’s even worth a long drive (e.g. from Portland) if you combine it with another run like we did. It would even be fun to do on its own with multiple laps. It should be noted that there was a ton of wood on the banks and in some of the drops. There was one spot that may warrant a portage depending on level, but it was in a class II drop so it wasn’t much of an issue; even with all of the wood, all of the major drops had clean lines available. That said, this could change at any time, so be careful about dropping into something blind. For this reason alone, I wouldn’t recommend that tentative class III/IV boaters or people that have a strong fear of wood (as I once did) venture through the gorge at this time.

Topo map of Salmon Creek Gorge