Monday, January 24, 2011

Scout Report - Rediscovering Christy Creek (1.22.11)

You'd think that after over 100 laps on The Miracle Mile I would have ventured down Christy Creek, which shares the same takeout and is only split by a single ridge. This is not for lack of interest, in fact I've been thinking about this creek for some time now, mostly based on the trip report Steve provided on Oregon Kayaking (here), as well as the few stories I had heard. The things that were holding me back were the committing nature of the run and difficulty. Further, one of the biggest drops on the run, Balls Falls (which is essentially mandatory) was rumored to have gathered wood in recent years. Finally, I had heard conflicting reports on what flow is best. Based on these factors I had somewhat put the idea on the back burner, until recently, and after my buddy Eric started bugging me about it.

Where is Christy Creek?

A couple of weeks ago, Roman and I were enjoying some laps on The Mile when we ran into Quin (a Westfir local) and Toby. After getting in a lap together, they gave us another shuttle before leaving. On the way up, I mentioned Christy knowing that they had both done it before and were actually the ones that had previously told me about the wood. Toby mentioned that he had hiked up the creekbed in late summer and was able to get all the way up to Balls Falls for a scout. Once again I shelved the idea after confirmation of the wood in that drop.

A week or so after my conversation with Toby and Quin, the Northwest got hit with a pineapple express, melting a good deal of the snowpack and flooding the rivers. Word broke out almost instantly of streams being cleaned of their wood. One of the biggest events was on Canyon Creek, Washington; the massive logjam (once thought permanent) blew out, bringing back to life one of the true classics of the PNW. Even local runs around Eugene had received a scouring, with some good news and some bad in its wake. It didn't take me long to start thinking about Christy Creek once again...

Fast forward to last Friday, when I talked with my buddy Shawn about firing up Christy the next day, which would include hiking in the short distance (or so I was told) to scout Balls for wood (hmmm...). Furthermore, the Mile appeared to be running around 2', and we weren’t quite sure what that meant for Christy, we just knew that it wouldn't be low. After making a couple more calls I was also able to rope Roman and Joe into it, and the plan was set.

The bridge gauge. Mainly used for the
Miracle Mile of the NFMF Willamette,
it's about 100 yards below their confluence.
Around 2' on this day.

The new new internet foot gauge,
located ~11 miles downstream.
It was around 4.4' on this day.

The CFS calculation gauge.
It was around 2,300cfs on this day.

Saturday morning arrived and we met up before heading to Christy. When we got there we checked the level on the bridge gauge and confirmed that it was indeed reading 2 feet. We passed over the NFMF Willamette and headed up the road a short distance before taking a side road that led down to Christy. We soon reached a small pullout (and camping spot) where we parked the cars and readied ourselves for a little bushwackin'. Luckily Shawn had brought his machete (he never leaves home without it), so he would be our tour guide. The plan was to hike up to Balls Falls, check for wood and the water level, then return to the cars to gear up and hopefully run it.

Our scouting mission. The dashed yellow line
is our GPS tracks for the day. The dashed red line
is the recommended trail for the put-in if your're
going to run the river.

Shawn wielding a machete, acts as our tour guide.

Please note that since we were hiking upstream, the drops would come in opposite order if you were running it.

The first part of the hike consisted of walking through a fairly open forest, with plenty of logs to hop over and around. We did have to cross a couple of streams and go up and over a couple of small ridges, but for the most part it wasn't too bad. At this point Christy was looking fairly mellow, but it certainly had plenty of flow. We did see one small log portage, but didn't seem too laborious to hike around. We continued on for some time before the creek seemed to pick-up in action and a couple of III+/IV boogie water stretches could be seen.

Near the first part of the hike

One of a couple creek crossings

The class II/III stuff down low

The class IV stuff a little higher up

We had been hiking about a mile (2 from the takeout) before the first of the "good stuff" could be seen. What lay in front of us in the distance was a large (and steep) boulder garden followed by a series of slides; it looked great and we all started to get cautiously optimistic. There was a log coming in from river left at the base of the boulder garden, but after closer inspection it seemed like it could be easily avoided.

The first of The Goods!

A large (and steep) boulder garden is
followed by a series of stepped slides

Above this boulder garden the fun didn't stop. There were a few more good drops stacked on top of each other, pretty quality stuff too. One in particular had a couple of sweet rock boof options to choose from, with the only issue being a rock sieve on the right side of the outflow. Boofing on the hard left side would have kept you far away from it though.

More goods just upstream of the big boulder garden

Looking downstream from the same area

The ledge with the multiple boof options. The far
river left one keeps you away from the sieve below.

The sieve below the multi-boof ledge

After a lengthy photo shoot, I started heading upstream again to catch-up with the others. When I reached them, they were sitting down talking, so I knew that we would probably need to have a quick discussion. Shawn quickly informed me that it was noon and we had been hiking for almost two hours. Knowing that we hadn't reached Balls Falls yet and time was burning, a decision needed to be made. One thing we all agreed upon was that we would not be running Christy due to time requirements. What we needed to decide was whether to continue hiking/scouting, or head-back and run the NFMF gorge. I quickly voted to continue on; I mean, we had come this far, right?! I had been wanting to check this run out for a long time now, and I knew that if we turned back now that we wouldn't have the beta we came for, and probably wouldn't return to do so. Without too much hassle, I was able to convince everyone to push on.

After a short bit we turned a corner and my jaw dropped as we came to a giant slide (30' to 35' tall) that looked clean and was wood free! I looked around to see smiles on the others' faces as well. The creek also appeared to be gorging up a bit, based on the mossy rock wall on river left at the top of the massive drop. As we walked to the base of the slide, a rather large hole became visible. It definitely had some hold, but safety looked pretty easy to set, so we hiked upstream to checkout the rest of the drop.

Our first glimpse of the monster slide

We now had the entrance tier in our sight, which was not a give-me. Further, the hole at the base of the slide looked bigger from upstream, so Shawn decided to chuck a couple of logs in to test its power. The first one he threw in was about 3' long x 10" in diameter. It took off like a rocket as it hit the water and went careening down the slide. As it made impact with the hole it stopped dead and got rodeo'd for about 60 seconds before finally kicking out. We looked at each other with clinched teeth for a second, before picking up some more logs to throw in. Some got surfed, some speared right through, but one thing was clear, a little less water might be nice for this one.

The top tier of the slide

The lead-in (top tier) of the slide

Shawn finds his victim...

Hammer time! This log got an extended surf at the base of the slide.

After we were done playing around, we continued upstream. We only had to walk around the corner before we saw the next monster looming in the distance. This beast was in fact Balls acquired. This drop was truly a beautiful sight, the sun was beating down directly on it, as if it were a pot of gold. At this point it appeared that the wood that had complicated the line was now gone, and the only remaining piece was the large one hovering down from river right. That particular piece had been there since at least Steve’s trip report, which was more than 10 years ago, and the good news is that this log is essentially out of play! I was feeling almost as excited as I assume Steve and his crew were when they came upon it. I was itching to get a closer look, so without hesitation we moved in. Soon we were standing on the steep slope just above it. This is where we realized just how big this drop really was, cascading a total of 45’ to 50’! I was now pretty glad we had not put on the run without scouting first, the drop was clear of wood, but the water level would have been too high for my comfort level on this drop, it had some pretty big holes to contend with. It was also confirmed that the portaging option (or lack there of) would be an adventure in its own right.

The drop between Balls and the slide

Balls in all its glory. The top sliding waterfall drops about 25 feet!

Balls Falls from high above. Quite an impressive drop!

After admiring the drop for some time, we had reached another decision point, continue on, hike back the way we came, or try and hike out of the canyon straight up to the road and follow that back down. We knew that Rhinosex was just upstream, and was the largest drop of the run; however the word is that it has an easy portage so we figured that a decision on that one could be made from our boats at water level. The next drop above that is supposedly a long class V boulder garden, that like Balls Falls, is also essentially unportageable. Not sure how far up this drop was, and not wanting to run out of light, we decided to end our scouting mission. With little desire to bushwhack back the way we came, and maybe feeling a little adventurous still, we decided (as a group) to hike out of the canyon straight up to the road.

According to the GPS we only had about ¼ mile (as the crow flies) to the road, but it was also a 700’ vertical slog. As we started our climb we basically crawled on all fours around and over the various obstacles in our way. Soon, Joe yelled, telling us that he saw a clearing up ahead. Thinking that anything would be better than our current path, we headed toward it. What it ended up being was a massive rock slide, which served as a staircase to make our ascent. This greatly sped things up, but even so, we were glad that we didn’t have to haul boats at the same time. Eventually we reached what appeared to be a summit, and as I crested I was immediately stunned by what I saw, the climb ended and begin heading right back down with no road in site. Confused, I pulled out my GPS and still couldn’t make sense of it, “It should flatten back out for a bit and then there should be a road, WTF!” Joe came over to study the GPS with me, and determined that we were actually looking down into the Billy Creek drainage. Ahh yes, quite obvious now; “Thanks Joe!” Now knowing our position, we headed northwest toward the road, which we found after about 10 minutes. From here it was ~4 mile hike down the road to the car, long but much easier going than the bushwhacking on the way in. The road disappeared under snow a couple times during the road hike, and cougar tracks appeared here and there along the way. We laughed at our current adventure and talked about past ones; even though the hike was much longer than expected it was kinda fun just getting out and doing some exploring with the crew.

Roman hiking up our rock staircase

Shawn and Joe making good progress

Looking into the Christy Creek drainage from the hike out

When we got back to the car we had hiked about 7 ½ miles total which took around 5 hours. Feeling a little bad about getting my mates into this adventure, I offered to buy everyone beers back in Oakridge, which they gladly accepted.

In summary, the hiking was a bitch, but I believe that the effort was worth it. Although the conditions between the put-in and Balls Falls is still unknown, I feel comfortable putting on based on the conditions and quality of what we did see. As for levels, I would not want to jump on it the first time with the level we saw (2’ on the bridge gauge), due to the large hydraulics in the two largest drops. I think around a 15" would be a better level to go in at; for reference Steve’s trip report was around 1 foot on the gauge.

Hopefully this information will provide valuable information to those wondering about Christy Creek, or spark some interest in those who hadn’t. I plan to jump on the run very soon and will follow-up with a true trip-report once I do. Finally, if have done Christy and have any information to share, please do, there is not a lot of information out there.

For a trip report of our run down the following week, go here.


  1. I ran Christy back in 2000, and remember the sievey boulder gardens above Balls being the hardest part - and there were some gnarly, obstructed, sievey parts up high on the run as well. I walked Rhinosex after watching a pretty good beating of a very good boater in there. I'm not sure what the level was, but I remember Balls all the way into that slide feeling like one rapid, and that there were some big holes. I think there's footage from our run on the old video "Still Twitch'n."

    Definitely a stout run - looks like a really cool hike that you had in there. Thanks for taking me back.


  2. I sort of agree with Leland, when I ran it, it was probably a bit lower but I found the upstream stuff was, as Leland said, obstructed and seivey, but I didn't think it was all that challenging.

    I too, walked Rhinosex, and the only person to run it that day ended up with a radically reshaped bow. Balls was fun and softer than it looks, the big slide after was super fun, we called it "Snake Bite." Aaron Goodwin showed me the line down that one. We had so much speed at the bottom that the hole wasn't a problem.

    Way to recon!


  3. Thanks for the additional comments and content guys, looking forward to jumping on it myself!