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.

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