Saturday, January 22, 2011

Upper Brice Creek (1.19.2011)

Brice Creek is one of my favorite runs in Oregon; it pretty much has it all: waterfalls, slides, ledges, and steep boulder gardens! After sky-high flows over the weekend I was pretty sure that the levels for the creek would hit the sweet spot by mid-week. Luckily for me it was my birthday, and so it wasn't hard to get the day off of work for some paddling.

The birthday crew (minus the birthday boy)

Brice is actually broken up into two runs, Upper and Lower, with each having a much different character from the other. The Upper has a gradient of over 200’ per mile. It’s very continuous and flows through steep boulder gardens, while dropping over a few slides and ledges along the way. There are really no pools to speak of (expect around the corner from Parker Falls), however small eddies abound depending on level. This run is a gas when the level is high, but it turns into a freight train which could result in a train wreck if you’re not on your game. Conversely, at low levels it’s much easier, but the trashy nature and sharp rocks just below the surface have claimed more than its fair share of boats.

The lower run is much different, and has more of a pool-drop nature. It is typically easier (~100fpm; class IV) but does pack a punch at higher flows. The first mile or so of the lower (to Lund Park) packs the most heat, and has four named ledges that can eat your lunch if you botch the line; the higher the level the meaner they get. Below Lund are some more good drops including Fun, Not Fun, and the grand finale, Laura’s. For a my trip report of the lower run at low water go here.

The river gods were smiling down upon me and offered up perfect flows for a birthday paddle on this gem. The night before, I was actually afraid it would drop into the low end of the range for the Upper, however, some rain the night before stopped it from dropping and even gave it a little bump!

We had ~6.3' on this day. Typically you want
between 5.75' and 6.5' for the Upper Run,
between 5.25 and 6.25 for the Lower Run.
should be noted that since this gauge
is actually on
the Row River, these
figures will only get you in the ballpark.

On this day we had around 3,100cfs; I actually don't
like to use this gauge except for the forecast
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.

The birthday crew consisted of Shawn Haggin, Roman Androsov, Eric Emerson, Bob Lee, and me. I was super excited to have both Bob and Eric joining us; I hadn’t seen or been on the water with them in a while. Bob was actually just coming off the couch from shoulder surgery, props to him jumping on Upper Brice for his reintroduction! After we all had met up we drove southeast headed toward Brice.

On the drive up we noticed that the fields had lakes in them and the rivers were filled to the banks. Wondering if the gauge was accurately reflected, we knew we wouldn’t be without water… A quick stop at the bridge gauge (~1 mile downstream of Cedar Creek Campground) revealed that the level was ~14”, a solid medium flow for the Upper and high for the Lower.

The bridge gauge. Reading ~14" on this day.

Since we initially planned to boat both Upper and Lower, we got changed and dropped a car off at Cedar Creek Campground. From there we drove to the put-in at Parker Falls while stopping along the way at several spots to look for wood (from the flooding over the weekend). For the Lower, the only new wood we noticed was in Lower Trestle, making the drop essentially unrunnable in its current state.

The new wood in Lower Trestle. Bummer...

As for Upper, both good and bad news, a couple of pieces of bad wood had been blown out, but a new one was brought in just above the entrance to Orthodontist’s Nightmare, one of the best drops on the run. Fortunately you can put-in just below the log and still run the drop.

The tree blocking the entrance to Orthodontist's Nightmare

Since we hadn’t run the very top part of Upper Brice in years (due to wood), we gave an extensive scout of this section (between Parker and the first bridge) prior to putting on. There was still some wood to contend with, but it would be fairly manageable to deal with from river level. After unloading the boats and putting on our last pieces of gear, we headed down the steep trail to the top of Parker Falls.

The lead-in to Parker Falls (as seen from the road).
Parker Falls itself is what drops out of site.

Parker Falls is one of the most exhilarating put-ins I’ve done. You basically pull out of an eddy into a flume of water, bust through a couple holes, make a sharp left bend down a slide, and drop over a waterfall! It should be noted that there are logs sitting at the base of the falls with water pushing into them on the right; this is definitely a good place to have safety setup. Another amazing thing is that I've never run Parker. This is because by the time I was ready, wood had clogged the gorge below, making it not worth the effort. There is still at least one wood portage and two maybes, but, after some recent storms Parker is now open for business once again! Since Bob’s shoulder was still in recovery he opted for putting in below, setup safety, and working the camera. Shawn and I were fired up to run it and Eric was still contemplating (also coming off the couch after not boating for a while).

Shawn adjusts his boat at the put-in eddy above Parker

Because it was my birthday, I had the honor of going first! I strapped into my boat, slid into the eddy, signaled I was ready, and dropped in. Immediately I was on my stick and powered through the first two holes. Next, I rounded the left turn as I dug for the inside corner to ensure a clean line off the falls and away from the wood. As I came over the falls I knew I was where I needed to be and caught flight for a brief second before landing in the boil below. What a great drop and helluva way to start the run! Soon after, Shawn and Eric came over the drop in similar fashion, each with an exhilarated look on their face.

The birthday boy firing off Parker Falls
(photo by Bob Lee)

Shawn goes for a more right-side line
(photo by Bob Lee)

Eric fires up Parker Falls
(photo by Bob Lee)

As we rounded the corner below Parker, we floated into a slow moving pool between cliff walls. This pool is new, and formed by a logjam at the end, which must be portaged easily on the left. Once over the small log dam, we were faced with a couple of more logs to either put-in above or below. The group went half and half, and the ones choosing to navigate the wood obstacles did so without issue. Between here and the first bridge we had continuous class III+ water with two wood hazards to deal with. Both could have been run but the lines were a little sketchy and we decided to portage for the safety of the group.

The pool created by the logjam just around the corner from Parker

The logjam ledge that creates the pool

Portaging the log dam

As soon as we passed the first bridge we were in familiar territory; this allowed us to start making good time, which was good since we had spent more time than planned up to this point and daylight was potentially a factor for completing both runs. After some fun steep boogie water, we reached the lead-in to the first major drop (below the first bridge), Bubble Trouble. Not only does this drop have a cool name, it’s also quite fun. A busy lead-in deposits you into a small fast moving pool before dropping over a low-angle slide and into a beefy hole. As long as you run the far right side of the ledge you’ll bust through no problem, however if you blow the entrance or don’t line up properly, you may face a beating you won’t soon forget. For this reason, and to take some photos, I jumped out of my boat and ran down to set safety.

After setting up, I waited for the others. And then I waited, and waited…

After growing impatient, I decided to hike back up to see what the hold-up was. Come to find out Shawn had just broken his brand new boat; his third one in about a year! At this point he had already started the hike back upstream to retrieve the car. I once again ran down to the drop to setup. Soon enough the crew came into sight, led by Roman who had a textbook line down Bubble Trouble.

Roman leads Eric and Bob through the lead-in to Bubble Trouble

Roman hits the line down Bubble Trouble

Bustin' through the hole. This thing is extremely
sticky on the left side, so stay right as Roman did.

Both Eric and Bob eddied out just above. Eric wanted to give it another quick look while Bob made the decision to take off, wait for Shawn, and prevent overworking his healing shoulder. While Eric gave the drop another scout, I ran up, got in my boat, and ran the drop, making the lines that I needed to. Eric dropped over soon after and we were on our way.

Eric and Bob in the lead-in to Bubble Trouble

The author drives for the right line on Bubble Trouble
(photo by Eric Emerson)

Dropping in...
(photo by Eric Emerson)

...and hitting the soft spot of the hole
(photo by Eric Emerson)

Eric runs Bubble Trouble

Since Bob was walking the road, he graciously offered to take pictures for the rest of the trip. After a short bit we were in the eddy above The Snake. This drop has gotten a little less sketchy since the log in the left slot has washed away. That said, it’s not a give-me drop, and requires dropping over blind around an airplane turn and threading a tight pinch between two boulders. We all made it through with some interesting lines and met up in the eddies downstream.

Roman lines up the pinch at the bottom of The Snake
(photo by Bob Lee)

Eric dropping into The Snake
(photo by Bob Lee)

The author goes for the airplane turn entrance
(photo by Bob Lee)

Holdin' on...
(photo by Bob Lee)

...and threadin' it
(photo by Bob Lee)

Between here and the next major drop, Orthodontist’s Nightmare, is continuous class III/IV boulder dodging. There is one horseshoe shaped ledge hiding around a blind right corner that we always sneak on the left. There is a generous eddy above it on the left, but you could easily blow it if you came in too hot and didn’t know what was below. As I approached this drop, I passed both Eric and Roman who had briefly eddied out higher; I then cut across the turn (above the horseshoe) and drove for the eddy. Unfortunately I hit it too low and flushed out backwards toward the ledge; all I could think at this point was, “ahh, shit”… There was no time to recover or turn around, and as I felt myself dropping over backwards, I plastered my face against my boat and hoped to pop through. I would not get so lucky. After plugging it, I immediately went into a high-brace side-surf. I held on for a moment and thought I was clawing my way out, but was soon drug back in by the backflow/boil. Not wanting to swim in the deep pocket, I pulled before it had a chance to drag me there. Amazingly, I was able to pull myself up the ledge wall and back into the eddy above it. I watched as my boat was getting worked in the deep part of the hole that I had wanted to avoid. After getting the “I’m alright” from me, Roman chased down my paddle while Eric got a line on my boat. Based on the above, we now refer to this ledge as the "Birthday Hole"! The described carnage can be seen in graphic detail here:

After my boat was emptied and paddle was back in my hand, we headed downstream once again, still burning daylight. The next eddy we caught was just above the large river-wide log blocking the entrance to Orthodontist's Nightmare. Both Shawn and Bob were there at roadside to greet us, and like the good chaps they are, they set safety and snapped some pics of us running the drop. I went first. After sliding in below the log I paddled down toward the drop. The best line on Orthodontist's is to cut river-right about halfway down the lead-in, then drive for the boof flake that feeds back to river-center in the meat of the drop. I hit one of my better lines and waited in the eddy below for the others to come down. Eric got a little bobbled in the lead-in but recovered nicely and hit a good boof off the flake. Roman had a great line as well.

The wood blocking the entrance to Orthodontist's Nightmare
(photo by Bob Lee)

The bottom crux section of Orthodontist's Nightmare

The author lines up for the boof on Orthodontist
(photo by Bob Lee)

and gets it
(photo by Bob Lee)

Eric hits the boof
(photo by Bob Lee)

Roman diggin' in at Orthodontist's Nightmare
(photo by Bob Lee)

By this time Eric was feeling the effects of not boating for awhile, and our crew had now shrank to 2, from our original 5. With spirits a little dented but still high, Roman and I continued to the next drop just downsteam, Le Mans. Le Mans is certainly not the biggest drop of the run, but it is one of the hardest lines to make. Basically it's an S-Turn that requires a precise left turn at the bottom to avoid getting blown into the junky mess on river right. Prior to the flooding the weekend before, wood had also shared the space with the junk, making the price of failure a little higher. Both Roman and I greased the drop and eddied out below.

Roman coming out of the first turn at Le Mans
(photo by Bob Lee)

The author makes the second turn at Le Mans
(photo by Bob Lee)

From here is a busy stretch that leads into "Hop, Skip, Splat" with the only real eddy sitting on river-right at the lip of the drop. This drop is almost always portaged due to pin hazards and a backed up hole at the base, and it just looks ugly in person. Not wanting to blow another eddy, we took out immediately below Le Mans and chose a little bit longer walk around.

Hop, Skip, Splat. This drop looks much worse in person...

Putting in just below the base of the falls, Roman and I were off again. This is actually one of my favorite stretches on Brice, it feels pushier than the stuff up above but has great flow and just keeps going all the way to the takeout bridge. I remember a couple of months ago when we ran it a stupid high flow, a buddy of mine asked what was below as we portaged Hop, Skip, Splat, I told him "boogie water", and once we got to the bridge (~1/2 mile below) he came up to me and said, "that wasn't boogie, that was one long class V drop". That said, be prepared for a ride if the flows are high.

A view looking upstream from the bridge separating Upper and Lower

As soon as we reached the bridge that separates Upper from Lower, it had been a long day already and so we decided to takeout. As we waited for the others to return with the cars we reflected on what a great day we had on the river. Even though we didn't do the Lower like we had planned to, we'd definitely had a full day. After loading up, we all headed back into Eugene to grab some dinner at one of my favorite eats, Papa's Soul Food. What a great way to spend a birthday, on one of my favorite creeks with my bros!

Some head-cam footage of our run:


  1. Nate, great report and footage! It starts off quick. would love to do it sometime. Stephen

  2. Did you ever look to see what the level was the time I came down and ran Brice with you guys?

  3. Jacob, I want to say it was something ridiculous like 7+ feet on the Pitcher Creek gauge. By the time we took off, it was probably 1.75' to 2' on the bridge gauge. The highest I've run it, a little scary but also stupid fun.


  4. Thanks Stephen! Yeah, we'll get you on it, you'd love it.