Monday, May 16, 2011

EFSF McKenzie (5.15.11)

The East Fork of the South Fork (EFSF) McKenzie has been eluding me for some time. After reading a short description in the back of Soggy Sneakers (4th edition) stating three miles of continuous boulder gardens at 240'fpm, I was immediately drawn to it. However this was the only beta I could find, and I was pretty sure that it hadn't been run in a long while, making its condition also unknown.

My first trip to this river was after a couple of days of hard rain, and all the creeks in the area were juicin' pretty good, so I figured it would be a good time to check it out. I quickly assembled a crew and we headed over. When we got there we found it was a little too high to safely run, at least for a personal first descent and not knowing what the wood situation was (for reference the SF McKenzie above Cougar Reservoir was flowing at 2,200cfs).

Here are couple of pics from our scout of the river at high flow. Although it looks pretty good, trust me, it was cookin':

My next attempt was when the SF gauge was reading about half the flow as before (~1,050cfs). Once again we were denied, but this time because it was too low. Since there wasn't really anything else in the area that was going, we decided to just spend the day hiking the trail that runs alongside it to give a more thorough scout and determine if it would ever be worth doing. We ended up hiking/scouting the last 3 miles and discovered that with enough water, the last 2.5 miles could be pretty darn good.

A couple of pics of the river on our second attempt, obviously too low:

After getting rejected the two previous times, I knew that it would be hard to convince people to go back again, unless there just wasn't anything else running. Fast forward to last Sunday, when we had expected Upper Quartzville to come in and had planned to all get on that for some classic whitewater. Unfortunately the weather man was wrong for the umpteenth time this year, and most of the crew had bailed out because of it. The only person that was even interested in boating something else local was Bob, and after pitching the idea of heading up one more time to check out the EFSF, he happily agreed. The flow for the SF was at ~1,300cfs, not much higher than our last attempt, but noticeably better. Heck, at least we were getting out!

The flow for our first actual run down the EFSF Mac
(~1,300cfs on the SF gauge)

The battle plan

Once we got to the takeout, and like the previous two times, we hiked up the trail about an eighth of a mile to a bridge crossing to see what the flow was. Just about like I had expected, it was higher than last time but still looked a tad low. Since it still looked like it was quite boatable, we decided, "what the hell, let's give it a go". With that we ditched my bike in the woods (to use for the shuttle) and drove up the road 2.5 miles to where we planned to hike in.

The start of our hike in (~2.5 miles upstream of Cougar Reservoir)

Bob begins the bushwhack down to the river

The hike down to the river (200’ in elevation) consisted of bushwhacking down the hill, however it wasn’t bad at all and only took about 10 minutes. Once we got to the water we looked for a good place to put in and start our descent. The flow was certainly a little low, and we found ourselves pin-balling down the start of the run. Even though we were wishing we had a bit more water, this probably wasn’t such a bad thing since the wood situation was somewhat unknown and eddies would start to get scarce with more water.

Bob wondering if this is really going to be worth it.

Mank near the start of the run

Soon enough, we did come to our first wood portage. It was somewhat hidden behind a left-hand bend, but since we were boating cautiously it didn’t sneak up on us too badly. Luckily we were able to make an easy portage just underneath it on the right bank, and continued downstream. Sure enough, when we rounded the next corner another river-wide log presented itself, forcing another portage, which was done with similar ease. I didn't remember seeing a ton of wood during our previous scouting mission, but at the same time I really hoped it wasn't going to turn into an all-day portage-fest.

Our first log portage (one of four for the day)

Some fun boogie water between the log portages

Below the two portages the wood cleared up, but we still got out plenty of times to scout steep horizon lines and blind corners. This also allowed me to get some pictures along the way, which can be somewhat rare on continuous boulder runs such as this. Although the wood had subsided, the lowish flow uncovered lots of nasty pin and F-U rocks to navigate around (and sometimes over). Basically we would take turns getting out and giving each other verbal beta to move things along at a reasonable pace. I was glad there were only two of us.

Bob drops into "a clean one"

Technical boulder dodging as far as the eye can see

Another clean limbo log rapid

Bob enjoying more techie bits...

...and some more

Bob eddied out between steeper pitches

Throughout the run the character seemed to change from scrapy boulder affairs to fun pushy chutes and slaloms, and back again. The run was basically one long boulder garden and most of the drops weren't very distinct from one another. There was one really fun stretch that occurred where the river left wall gorged up and boulders gave way to bedrock. This made for a fun pushy flume with a nice ledge drop as an exit, which we both got a nice boof off of. After this, the river dropped over some more fun drops and under a small footbridge.

Dropping into the fun mini-gorge

Bob lines up for the exit ledge

Passing under the foot bridge for the trail that parallels the run

This stretch had some nice padding

About two-thirds of the way through our run, I mentioned to Bob that there was another log jam coming up (that I had seen from my previous trip) which we would probably need to be portaged. Before long we came to the spot, however it looked like you could actually limbo underneath the logs with a clear passage. Bob jumped out to check and after confirming, gave me the thumbs up. As I dropped in I could see that it would be a tight fit, and when I ducked I didn’t bring my paddle down in time, which clipped the log and smashed the shaft against the bridge of my nose – this was enough to draw some blood and give me a nice little cut, but nothing too serious. It should be noted there was also clear passage to the right of the log.

Bob limbos the log that gave me a bloody nose

Soon after this the river split around an island, with the right side blocked off by a large logjam. Unfortunately this is where most of the flow went, so we found ourselves essentially dragging our boats down the left channel.

Looking back up at the right side of
the island, a chunky and woody mess.

The run-out below the island

After here I knew we didn’t have far to go, and I was on the lookout for the entrance to the class V drop, which we would not be running due to wood and other nasty features. Once I caught a glimpse of it, I peeled into the eddy next to Bob to let him know we wanted to get out and take a look and portage this one. Instead of lugging our boats down right away, we decided to give it a quick scout just in case. After a quick bushwhack, we were able to confirm that this one was definitely a no-go. Both piton and pin potential presented themselves as well as a terrible strainer in the run-out. This ended up being the longest portage of the day, and even though it wasn’t all that bad, we were both pretty tired out and looking forward to the takeout just downstream -- although I still needed to do the bike shuttle…

Looking upstream at the crux of the class V drop
(This picture was taken at the higher water
event during our first scout of the run)

Looking downstream at the run-out to the class V drop
(This picture was taken at the higher water
event during our first scout of the run)

The last stretch between the class V and the takeout ended up being pretty fun with a couple of good boofs. Eventually the river dumped into Cougar Reservoir that left us with a short lake paddle to our takeout. After scrambling up the bank I grabbed my bike and started up the steep road climb to gather the car. Being a mountain biker, I’ve done many gravel road climbs and plenty of elevation gain, however I hadn’t done any biking yet this season and I was pretty tired out from our adventure boating. I can definitely tell you that the road seemed much steeper on my bike than it did in the car. About the time I thought I'd never make it, the Suby came into view like it was a mirage in a desert landscape. I quickly loaded up the bike and drove the car back down so we could change into our street wear and head home, which we did rather sluggishly.

I would say that with the right flow this could be another class IV/IV+ “go-to” run for Eugene boaters, if you don’t mind a couple of portages (I think we only had 4). Based on my two previous scout missions as well as actually boating it this time, I would say that flows of 1,500cfs to 1,800cfs on the “SF McKenzie above Cougar Reservoir” gauge (here) would be optimal; much over this and the eddies would be almost nonexistent, and anything lower would be a bit mankey, like it was for us on this day. Regarding the use of the SF gauge, this is only a correlation, and from my observations you’ll end up with about 25% of this flow on the EFSF. In other words, 1600cfs on the SF would give you about 400 on the EFSF. It should also be noted that there is a ~2mile stretch above this that has the same gradient (~250fpm), and although I assume it’s the same character, I haven’t scouted it, so I’m not sure what condition it’s in. Please let me know if you’ve done that stretch and I’ll add the info to this report.

Update - 4/6/2013:
A group of us ran the 2.5 miles above where Bob and I had put on for the run in this report. We had ~1,600 of the “SF McKenzie above Cougar Reservoir" gauge, and found the character to similar to the bottom half, but with a lot more wood, a lot less volume, and trashier drops -- in other words, not really worth it. We ended up having to hike out after about 3.5 miles boating/portaging, due to fatigue and running out of daylight. We did run a small bit of the section talked about in this report, which was at a much better level, but also a few new/dangerous pieces of wood. Therefore, if you decide to run this section, scout/portage accordingly.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Upper Quartzville (5.8.11)

Upper Quartzville is one of my all-time favorite class IV creeks -- a beautiful streambed and quality drops from start to finish. The one thing I don’t like about the run is how hard it is to get on. It’s usually snowed in during the winter months, and even then it comes in and drops out very quickly, usually only for a day at a time. That said, snow melt does provide a couple of opportunities during mid to late spring, and one just happened to be last weekend.

Friday night I had looked at the gauge and it was reading right around 1,000cfs. This was a little low even with most of the water coming from up top due to snowmelt. The gauge is actually located far downstream of the run, so the flow on Upper Q can vary quite a bit even with the same gauge reading, based on snowmelt vs. rain fed. Although I’ve seen it stated that you can run it down to 600 to 800 during the spring, my cutoff has always been around 1,200cfs. My hope was that the projected rain in the forecast would bring it in, but unfortunately this would not be the case for Saturday. This forced us to use Canyon Creek (WA) as a backup, however this wasn’t too bad since it’s also one of my favorite class IV runs.

It was now Saturday night and just back from our trip up north, I looked at the gauge once again to see if it would be an option for Sunday. Sure enough, it was sitting right around 1,200cfs, and I could only hope that it would hold or go up by morning. As Sunday morning came around it looked like I would get my wish, at least partially. It had held but not much more than that. I was still excited to get on it, so I called some folks up and got a couple others on board, including Bob Lee and Eric Emerson, who I hadn’t been boating with enough lately. Joni Randall and Andy Janoski also joined, topping off the group at five. The drive to Upper Q always seems to take forever -- although it’s located in the South Santiam drainage, which isn’t far from Eugene in and of itself, the run is located far up in the hills above Green Peter Reservoir on a long and winding road. Even though we left Eugene around 10am, we didn’t actually put on the water until about 1pm. At least the weather had given us a sun-break while we changed into our gear, although it would change back and forth between sun and rain squalls throughout the day -- it was very odd weather indeed.

The crew suits up at the put-in

Our level for the day, ~1,200cfs

The first quarter mile or so of the run consists of mostly shallow bedrock slides and offers up some good warm-up before the real fun starts. There is one river-wide logjam in this stretch, but it can be bumped over on hard river right, at least at this level. Not far below the logjam the creek makes a hard right-hand bend before dropping into Technical Difficulties, the first major drop of the run.

Basically, Technical Difficulties, as the name implies, is a boulder garden drop which ends with a low angle slide into a sizeable hole. The boulder field can be run using multiple lines, but caution should be used toward the center of the drop where a very temping boof can lead to trouble due to a shallow pin rock in the landing. Everyone in our group worked down the far left side before dropping down the slide and getting a nice boof about 5’ off the left wall and skirting the meat of the hole.

Looking at the bottom half of Technical
Difficulties from the road on the drive up

Bob, about halfway through Technical Difficulties

Eric gets a nice boof on the bottom ledge of Technical Difficulties

Below TG is one of my favorite class IV drops, Grocker. There are actually two very distinct lines on this one. On the left is a narrow twisty slot with a boof at the end. On the right is a bedrock slide that can be pretty trashy at anything other than high flows. I almost always take the left side, and this run would be no different. After scouting the slot for wood, I set-up for photos and signaled the “all clear” to the rest of the group, who were sitting in an eddy above. One by one they came through, each with their own distinct line. Bob was the only one that was able to hit the boof head-on for some airtime, which isn’t surprising since it’s not an easy move, especially off of verbal instructions. With everyone else clear of the drop I hiked back up for my turn. Having visually scouted the drop ended up being fairly beneficial, as I was able to hit the line and catch the super boof as Bob had.

Andy drops into the left side at Grocker

Bob lines up the boof at Grocker...

...and gets it

Not far below here is another fun slidey ledge drop. This is also a good one to scout for wood since it funnels through a couple of large boulders at the bottom and could easily trap a piece or two of wood. Once again multiple line options present themselves, but starting on river-right is standard affair. From here you can either ride it straight down or make a hard move to the left before dropping back to the center. It should be noted that the water is a little squirrely between the two big rocks at the bottom, so be ready for a brace as you come through.

Joni enters another fun drop just downstream from Grocker

Joni gets ready to exit the drop shown (and described) above

Eric takes a more centered approach

Same drop from below

From here the drops mellow for a bit, but there is still some really fun boogie water, with lots of small catch-on-the-fly waves created by the shallow, low-angle bedrock. This also gives you an opportunity to take in the surroundings of crystal clear water and moss covered rocks and cliff walls. Before too long we came to the next named drop, Wooden Wall. This one is not a very big or difficult drop, but the run-out from the bottom ledge does move rather quickly into a large tree trunk against the right bank, which is what gives the drop its name. I’ve never seen anybody have issues here and I’m not sure it’s all that dangerous, but it could definitely trip you up a bit if you get complacent. We all pretty much blazed through this drop without stopping.

The next big horizon line is flagged with a large log angled into the water from the left hand wall at the lip of the drop. This drop has the unfortunate name of “David from Behind”, referred from this point on as DFB. You pretty much have 3 options here, a sneak down the left, a hard right to left move just past the log, or a fun twisty airplane turn through the slot on the right. Most of us took the 3rd option down the right, with a variety of results. The tricky part here is not getting sucked into or spun around by the right eddy while entering the drop. Although the hole looks somewhat beefy I’ve really only seen people get flipped or mystery moved by it. DFB is actually a pretty fun drop, especially if you nail the line.

Andy digs for the boof on the right line at DFB...

...and lands in the thick of it

Same drop (and line) from below

Joni takes the more conventional airplane turn

As we continued down the run we came to a point where a large log spanned the river just above head level. This log makes what would be a fairly straightforward drop a little more exciting, since there is a small hole right underneath it -- it’s not really in play, but it makes for a somewhat claustrophobic feeling. Immediately below here is the lead-in to Corkscrew, another fun ledge drop. The most common line on this one is to ramp down the main part of the drop on the hard left side with right angle. This angle is critical to avoid a piton into the left wall. At higher flows you can boof the big rock in the center, but it was a tad low on this day, so we all opted for the main line. I had gone down first so I could setup for photos of the others coming through. Almost as soon as I pulled out my camera the rain started up once again, forcing me to only snap off a few quick shots.

Eric drops down Corkscrew

The next drop down from Corkscrew is a ledge pour-over known as Movie Star, which can form a pretty stout hole at high water, so it’s a good one to set safety on when things are juicy. Probably the biggest concern here is coming out of your boat, since there is a giant undercut boulder against the right bank just downstream. I was actually witness to someone swimming here (at higher flow) which did require a sketchy rescue from the undercut -- the swimmer ended up being okay, but it was agonizing to watch. On this day, at this flow, it was a pretty straightforward line down the right side, although you probably could have run it right down the middle without issue.

Andy relaxes below Movie Star.
This one gets pretty sticky at high flows.

Just downstream of Movie Star is one of the best stretches on Upper Quartzville, a steep boulder slalom with pushy water and diagonal holes. It kinda reminds me a bit of the stuff on the Miracle Mile. You’ll most likely come out the bottom grinning ear to ear, but you’ll probably throw in a brace or two on your way down.

Bob leads down one of the best stretches on the run

Since we were planning to takeout above the Wrapped Bridge and do another lap, we really didn't have much in front of us, except a couple of smaller drops. Just above where we took out, there is one last ledge with a hole that can surf you, especially at higher flows. On this day it was pretty forgiving and there was a nice boof on the left side of it and into an eddy behind a midstream boulder.

The takeout ledge

The Wrapped Bridge rapid (just below our takeout for the day)

If you do choose to go on through the Wrapped Bridge rapid and down to the lower takeout, you'll also run across Pick up Sticks and Double Dip. The first gets its name from the massive logjam that blocks the left side of the river. Although there is usually a clear line down the far right slot, this should always be checked, since it collects wood from time to time. The second, Double Dip, is the biggest and meanest drop on Upper Q. Basically, as the name implies, this one is a two-tiered ledge, with the bottom one pouring into a walled out room with an extremely retentive hole. If you do choose to run this one (most don't), make sure you have proper safety set, since this one will definitely recirculate a swimmer. I have seen boaters both clean the drop as well as get pounded by it, I've yet to give it a go, but I'm sure I'll try and check it off the list at some point. Below Double Dip are a couple more fun rapids before the takeout.

Double Dip. The bottom hole is really nasty on this one.

The lead-in to Double Dip

More fun stuff continues below Double Dip

As stated, we decided to get in one more lap before calling it a day. Since we didn't need to scout for wood on this one, and I wasn't planning to take many (if any) photos, we made short work of it. It's really fun to rally a creek like this since there aren't really any flat sections and most of the drops are just plain fun. My only wish was that this creek ran more often, although maybe that would take some of the luster out of this Northwest gem.

The head-cam footage from our run down Upper Quartzville:

And some footage from a later date at much higher flow:

POV - Upper Quartzville Creek (OR) from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.