Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Portland Creek (2.25.12)

Another first documented (and known of) descent:

For some reason I’ve had the recent itch to explore some new creeks. I mean, I’ve always liked that aspect of kayaking, and would try to put in the effort at least couple of times of year, hoping to find that next great run. This recent bug has been more pronounced than in years past, as I’ve been quite content bushwackin’ and climbing over logjams just to run a couple good drops – who knows how long this sickness will last. In the end I just think I’ve run the local classics so many times that I’m really just looking for something new, even if it means getting skunked.

This most recent mission began after my buddy Jacob emailed me a picture of a waterfall in the Fall Creek drainage, which looked like a pretty sweet punchbowl style falls. After only a couple minutes of research I discovered that it was called Chichester Falls, which was actually on Andy Creek, just above the confluence with Fall Creek. Since this waterfall was only ~40 minutes from my work, I decided to head there after a full day on the clock to try and sneak a peek before it got too dark. I got there just before dusk to find a 15 to 20 foot plunge into a boil that pushed hard into an undercut wall on the right. Since the drop was not conducive to boofing and you’d basically end up pluggin’ it, I figured there was about a 50% chance of going into that undercut, which really isn’t the kind of odds I’m willing to gamble on. I think if you had good safety setup, it wouldn’t be very dangerous, but an uncomfortable swim none the less. Who knows, maybe if someone was willing to stand down there with a bag, I might drop over it someday if I’m in the area.

Chichester Falls (as seen from the Big Fall Creek Road)

Looking over the lip. It should be noted that water
was pretty low on this day, with higher water the
boil pushes much harder into the undercut.

While driving back home I started wondering what other waterfalls might be in that area – since I didn’t know that much about the drainage and based on the bedrock geology, I figured there was bound to be more. Upon returning to my house, I pulled up my Oregon topo program to get a birdseye view of the creeks in that area, hoping to find a major tributary with some decent gradient. The first thing that caught my eye was Portland Creek, which did appear to supply a good amount of flow and had a gradient of ~140fpm -- not super steep for a small creek like this, but probably enough to house some fun drops here and there. The other thing that caught my eye was the identification of a couple waterfalls on the map, which had me searching Google images for waterfalls on Portland Creek. Sure enough a couple promising looking drops showed up, which peaked my interest even more. Finally, I did a search for kayaking on Portland Creek as well as looked through all my guide books, which turned up nothing. With the waterfalls, roadside access, and proximity to Eugene I had to imagine that someone had run it -- but why no info? If nothing else, I guess it was time for another first documented descent...

Digital scouting the creek

Before I risked dragging folks down a wood-choked trashy stream, I wanted to see it first hand, so the next day, after work, I drove out there once again for another scouting mission. Daylight forced me to do a very quick road scout, focusing on the areas marked with "falls". The first drop I found was easy to spot, right above a road bridge spanning the creek about 1.25 miles up from the confluence. It was a small 6' to 8' waterfall with a fun little lead-in and a couple of line options.
Happy with what I had just seen, I continued upstream and glanced at the creek around each bend, seeing some wood and a small drop here and there but nothing to write home about. My next stop was just below the confluence with Logan Creek. What I found was a great looking 12'+ waterfall, although it was starting to get dark so it was hard to make a complete assessment of its runnability/funability.

The first falls I came to -- this one was not marked on the map

The second falls, just below where Logan Creek comes in.

Moving further upstream, the creek went under the road and was now to my left, where I started to see lots of wood in the water, but strangely it all appeared to be set in place and easy to boof over. It also seemed that the gradient was steeper in this section, with a fairly continuous nature and bedrock riverbed. My last stop was exactly 5 miles up from Fall Creek, at the confluence with Nevergo Creek. The waterfall located here was not as good of a find; although the falls itself looked fun (~10'), a large old log was wedged into the base. It looked like you might be able to get left of the log, but it would need to be looked at once again under daylight. Feeling like I had seen enough, I headed back home as it started to rain like the dickens.

The very next day (Saturday) after plans had fallen through to do an exploratory mission on another creek (due to flows and snow levels), I pulled out Portland Creek as an option. As I pitched the idea I made sure to give the disclaimer that it could be a total waste of time, but that it could also be pretty good. What I finally think sold the plan was the fact that it was only ~40 minutes away and would probably not be snowed in. With that, Bobby, Joni, Brandon and I headed east to check out the run.

On the way up the creek, we stopped by each of the drops I had seen the previous evening -- the crew started to get a little more enthusiastic, and questions regarding how I had found the run started coming out. Feeling a little better that I wasn't going to be flogged, we headed up to the 5 mile mark to start the run.

See, this run has promise...

Bobby scouts the second falls on the drive up

During the drive it had been snowing quite heavily, and as we made our way up the drainage, it started to stick and get deeper the further we went. By the time we reached the put-in there was probably 3" of snow on the ground, making it look like a winter wonderland. Immediately we hiked down to scout the falls with the log. Once again it looked like you might be able to get left but the more likely outcome looked to be a piton into the log, or even worse, a vertical pin -- basically it just really didn't seem worth it. It should also be noted that a old bridge lies against the river-right bank just below the falls, creating a potential for an additional entrapment hazard.

A little snow at the put-in

The put-in falls would have been great without the log

Looking up Nevergo Creek from the put-in bridge.
It actually looks fun if it had more water.

Putting in below the falls, we started downstream on a very low volume/scrapy creek. There were also quite a few annoying branches hanging down in front of us around almost every corner -- we were hoping that the small feeder creeks would clean things up a bit we continued on.

A very small stream at the put-in...

Some wood just below the put-in

Before long we came to an obvious horizon line. Brandon, who was out front at this point, gave us the signal to hold up until he could take a look. Soon enough he motioned us down one at a time. Since I wanted to take some photos I jumped out to see what lay in front of us. Unbelievably, it was a giant old growth log creating a ~6' waterfall! After picking out my line (basically staying away from the hard right), I dropped over and setup for photos on the other side. Everyone else followed soon after without issue. I dubbed this drop "O.G. Falls" (for Old Growth).

Joni runs O.G. Falls

Bobby finishing up O.G. Falls

The riverbed was almost entirely bedrock which usually makes perfect kayaking conditions, but unfortunately it appeared that Fish & Wildlife had cabled in numerous logs, presumably for fish habitat. The one saving grace was that the logs were settled against the bottom of the creek with sediment filling in the upstream side -- this allowed us to easily boof over a majority of them, mitigating the portages. Eventually we came to a series of 6 or 7 log-drops in a row, creating a fish ladder of sorts, which once again we were able to make it through by dropping over each one. I joked that it was just like the tea-cups on South Silver, but for some reason the rest of the crew didn't find it very funny.

The Teacups...

Brandon nears the bottom of a fun bedrock slide stretch

More bedrock

As you can see at the top of the photo, the logs were cabled
directly to the riverbed -- at least they were easy to get over...

A calm stretch

After passing underneath a road bridge, I knew we only had a few more bends before we reached the first runnable falls -- Once we did, the horizon line and roar of the creek was very obvious. We all eddied out on river left and quickly hiked down to take a look. Basically there were two main line options, taking the full height in one shot on the right, or running the three steps on the left. The first thing that I noticed was that the right line looked much harder to hit than it did while scouting from the road, based on the shallow water and slope of the lead-in. With that, I decided to probe and fire-up the triple scoop on the left. With Bobby and Brandon looking on, I dropped in. Taking a boof stroke off the lip I skipped off some shallow rock and then sailed over the next two tiers with speed. Once at the bottom I eddied out and signaled it was good to go.

Looking into the first runnable falls.
It actually looks pretty exciting!

Bobby came down next and opted for the right line. As expected, due to the shallow lead-in he wasn't able to get enough speed to get a good boof off the lip -- luckily, the pool was deep enough to absorb going deep. Brandon came soon after using a similar line to mine, although a little more right. This ended up being better as he didn't land on rock like I had. This sweet drop has since been given the name "Triple Scoop Falls"!

Bobby runs the right line. With more
water I think this would be the way to go.

Brandon drops the left side, which was the preferred line on on this day.

Below Triple Scoop the run cleaned up quite a bit, mainly due to the added water from Logan Creek, the largest feeder which had entered Portland Creek just above the falls. My hope was that this next section would be fun enough to warrant return visits, since I wasn’t sure I’d be jumping on the upper again. Not far into it, and just below a log jam portage, we came upon another horizon line, which got my hopes up even more. A quick scout revealed a fun looking triple ledge, nothing too big, but clean and entertaining. I setup for photos from above, and after watching the others run through, I took my turn with a clean line, joining them in the pool below.

Brandon partway through the fun triple drop

Going over the final pitch

From here we had a few more pieces of wood to deal with here and there, with nothing really sticking out in my mind, including any great rapids. Once again we reached another horizon line, which I was sure was the last falls since a road bridge spanned the creek just below it. Bobby and Brandon jumped out on river left while I jumped out on river-right to scout. Basically I just ran up onto the bridge and took a quick look, since it really didn’t have much consequence. I could now see Bobby already heading back to his boat so I pulled out my camera and took some shots as he ran the drop just where I had planned to. Brandon came down soon after, running the double step against the left wall. There was small hole on that side, but nothing too terrible, and Brandon got over it with ease.

Scouting the lead-in to Sidestep Falls

Bobby running the center-left line. I was
planning to go about 2' left of where he is.

Brandon takes the hero line against the left wall

For my turn I drove for the center left line, the tallest single pitch. Unfortunately I got squirreled up in the lead-in ledge and blew the line, basically plopping over the falls without so much as a boof. Not happy with my line I hiked back up for another go. Believe it or not I blew it again, although this time I just went with where I was headed and at least got in a halfway decent stroke off the lip at the center of the drop. I’ve decided to call this Sidestep Falls, since the creek basically makes a 90 degree right turn before stepping down over the falls.

We had actually planned to take out here, but I was really feeling like I needed to run the rest of the creek to the confluence with Fall Creek. It didn’t look all that exciting from the road, but it was only an extra 1 ¼ miles, and I’d always wonder if there was something in there if I didn’t. Brandon was getting cold and was a little tired from all the bushwhackin’ above (which I can’t blame him), but Bobby was more than game to continue on. With that we waved goodbye to the others (who would bring the cars down) and headed off. Sure enough there wasn’t really anything worth noting other than a shallow slide or two and a couple more logs to deal with, although, I think with more water it could have been pretty fun. Finally the cars were in view so I knew we had completed our mission, which although not a complete success (i.e. finding a great new creek) it always feels good to finish something new. After changing, we headed back into town for… you guessed it, Thai food!

In conclusion, I would say that Portland Creek has the potential for being a really good creek, with falls, a bedrock riverbed, and decent gradient (~140fpm); however, the wood and brush killed a lot of the fun. Overall, I would classify the run as III+/IV, with the main hazard being wood. More water would have certainly helped, but this would make dealing with the wood more sketchy (we had ~1,500cfs on the inflow to Fall Creek Reservoir; gauge here). My feeling is that if you’re in the area and it’s at a good level, it’s probably worth doing a run or two from Triple Scoop to Sidestep Falls – both those drops as well as the triple drop between them are pretty fun, and I would guess they would get even better with more water. I’ve actually become very intrigued by the geology in the Fall Creek drainage and plan to do some more scouting /exploring, hoping to find that next good run…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lake Creek Slides, OR (2.18.12)

I still remember my first time visiting the Lake Creek rock slides. I was visiting a friend in the area and was not yet a boater. It was summer, so there were lots of people hanging about in the various swimming holes, as well as sliding down the rock slides on their butts or using other various craft to assist them in the descent (boogie boards, snow sleds, etc.). Being summer flows, it was a relatively safe waterpark for the various groups of folks that had gathered there, but when my buddy told me that he had seen kayakers run it a much higher flows, I figured that would probably get pretty exciting.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, and my intrigue for this area had once again re-emerged, although this time as a boater. I did some research online to see what I could find on running this section in a kayak, but could only find one video and it was at much higher flow (here). Everything else I was able to gather on the run was via word-of-mouth, so I figured I just needed to go scout it for myself. I had actually looked at it about three or four times at different water levels, usually when it was fairly high on return trips from either the Lake Creek Play Run or Sweet Creek. One thing that I had discovered form my scouting was that below the slides held about a mile of class IV/IV+ boulder gardens, generating further excitement. Unfortunately this was somewhat stifled by the hazards upstream -- the first falls, as well as the run out to the slides, had gathered some unfortunately placed wood, so I was starting to lose faith that it was even worth running.

The log stuck in Lake Creek Falls. Unfortunately it
sits just below where you want to come off the lip.

Looking at the lead-in to the lower slide during one
of our scout missions. Note the wood here and there.

The log sitting below the lower slide, prior to the recent floods.
Since then it has now been lifted and shifted out of play!

Scouting the boulder garden just below the lower slide. Looked like
a great flow, which was right around 6.5' on the gauge at Mapleton.

Fast forward even further to a couple of weeks ago. Once again during a return trip from the coast I decided to give it another look. Since Lake Creek had gone well above flood stage (~28' on the Mapleton gauge!), I was curious to see if any of the wood had shifted. Because I was with Emily (my wife), and didn't really have the time to do an in-depth scout, I only did a quick survey -- and what I found was encouraging. The first falls still had a horizontal log with one end wedged in the curtain, however the river-wide old growth that sat at the bottom of the second slide had been lifted onto some rocks and now allowed easy passage underneath. I still didn't know what shape the boulder gardens were in, but hey, sometimes it's just more fun to figure things out once you're on the water. With that, I decided to hatch a plan and try and generate some interest.

Based on my previous scouts, I figured that between 5' and 6' on the Siuslaw gauge (here) would be a good first time flow, especially not knowing what lay downstream in the boulder gardens. When I saw that it would probably fall within that range over the weekend, I decided to rally the troops. Surprisingly this wasn't too difficult and soon enough we had some people from Eugene, as well as from up north. The plan was to meet at the slides parking lot (just below Triangle Lake) at 10am. By the time everyone had shown up we had a crew of 7 -- Roman Androsov, Andrew Bradley, Andy Carmicheal, Jacob Cruser, Emile Elliott, Anna Herring, Joni Randall, and myself.

After some pleasantries and chitchat, we headed down to give it another quick scout so people could see what they were getting into. The first thing that became obvious was that the water was lower than the gauge/previous scouts would have suggested -- at 6' on the gauge, this would probably be about as low as you'd want to run it. The first falls also looked as ugly as it always does, and in fact even worse with the lower flow. After an in-depth look at the drop no one really wanted to run it, so we all decided to put-in just below the falls and above the first slide and take-out about 1 1/2 miles downstream where a road bridge crossed over the creek. Even with sub-optimal conditions everyone seemed ready to have a good time, and heck, we were already out here!

The flow for our run, right around 6'. I would
consider this a minimum flow for the run.

A topo view of the run

A picture of the sign at the put-in, which basically shows the run.

I was the first to hike down to the put-in (using the very convenient stairs) so I could get my camera set up and ready to take some snaps of everyone running the first slide. After watching everyone drop down it one by one, I got anxious for my turn and headed up to my awaiting boat. The slide ended up being pretty fun with a nice little kicker about halfway down and followed up quickly by the final plunge. It wasn't overly exciting, but enough so for each of us to run a couple of laps on it.

Jacob below the first (top) slide.

Jacob hiking back up for another lap, which is super easy to do.

Roman dropping over the final plunge of the put-in slide

Anna following soon after


Andrew hits the kicker halfway down the slide

The author takes his turn

After everyone had their fill of the first slide we headed down to the second, and longer one. To get there you have to paddle a small boulder drop to the left of the island -- it's not a hard set of moves (at least at this level), but you want to stay on-line since there is wood and sieves if you're not.

It should also be noted that running the right side of the island (the fish ladder) is not recommended -- it's trashy, undercut, sievey, and you'd also miss out on the slide.

Looking into the channel on the right side of the island
below the upper slide -- wood, undercuts, and sieves, oh my...

Another view of the right channel

Since there was a nice generous eddy above the slide itself, I decided to jump out and take pictures of Jacob and Andrew running it. After documenting the drop from above, I ran the slide myself to setup for pictures from down below. I would definitely say that this slide would have certainly benefited from more water; it was still fun but also shallow enough to scrub a lot of your speed.

Jacob drops down the preferred line on the lower
(second) slide, while Andrew lines up for his turn.

Look ma, one handed!

Before long I could see the rest of the group forming in the eddy above the slide. One by one they dropped over, each with a big smile on their face. Due to its benign nature, paddle twirls and sit-on-top runs were also made.

Roman drops in

Roman watches while Joni rides the
right, and most padded out, line.

Joni catches the speed-trap

Jacob and Andrew heading back up for another lap

Paddle twirls...

...and sit-on-tops

Big smiles below the lower slide

Now that we were gathered below the second slide we got out to start scouting the boulder gardens. The banks were fairly overgrown, so after looking at the first drop, I decided to head back up, run it, and catch an eddy below to scout the next series. After giving some verbal beta, a few of us headed down. Basically this first drop was a poop-chute flume run down against the left side wall.

After ducking the log, head left to drop through the poop-chute

The left-hand chute just below the lower slide

Next, the creek tumbled down through the steepest and most congested section of the boulder maze. Aside from some poorly placed F-U rocks it was certainly runnable with the only wood being on the left at the entrance. I setup for pictures from above while Jacob probed. His line was relatively clean, other than getting hung-up on one of this bastard rocks right in the middle of what would be a sweet airplane turn. After freeing himself he continued down a couple more pitches before catching a small eddy on river-right.

Jacob saddles up for the boulder garden

Jacob enters the boulder garden

Dropping into the airplane turn. Unfortunately, at this
flow, there is an F-U rock that complicates the line.

Since I also wanted to get shots from downstream I dropped in next. I was pretty sure it would be difficult (if not impossible) to run a super clean line, but also saw a line I felt I could make it down well enough. Once again, I was hoping for just a bit more water to cover up some of the junk. I was basically spot-on with my assessment, and made my way down, but it wasn't that pretty. Soon after, some more members of the group took their turn, while others decided they didn't like the look of it and hiked back up to the put-in to run more laps on the slides.

Anna in the meat of the boulder garden

Anna drives for an eddy about halfway down the boulder garden

Jacob runs the second half of the boulder garden

Finishing up the crux of the boulder garden

Andy finishes up the boulder garden while Anna looks on

Update - Wood Hazard!!!
Boaters, please be aware that as of 4/7/12, there is a new (and dangerous) piece of wood toward the bottom of the above mentioned boulder garden. It it almost river-wide, with the worst of it right where you want to go. Although there is passage underneath on the left, and it can be snuck on the right, it would be a difficult move and almost impossible if you weren't in complete control. Our crew wisely portaged on the right -- scout accordingly. Here is a photo of said log:

New log as of 4/7/12

By the time I had packed up my camera and joined the others above the next drop, Andy was walking back to his boat after scouting. He basically told me that the drop had kind of a funky hole at the top that was worth a look. Upon inspection it looked fine to me (not too sticky) with a decent flake on the right side that would take a couple good strokes to get lined up on. There was also a bit of a run-out after the hole that looked like you wanted to be river-left since you really couldn't see what the right side dropped into. With a nice platform just above the hole, I once again set up for shots of the others coming through.

Andy just above the hole

Andy boofin' the hole

Jacob runs just to the left of the flake

Andrew bustin' through the hole

Anna looking focused at the lip of the hole

Crashin' through

Jacob and Andy relax below the steep stuff

Next we encountered the trashiest drop of the run, with a log blocking the main flow on the left, forcing us to gutter ball down the right. Just below and around a right bend were two eddies on river-right that allowed us to scout the next pitch. Jacob had gotten out there and helped pull the everyone else to shore, ensuring no one would run the next part blind.

What we were faced with was a short lead-in which was followed by the creek splitting around a large midstream boulder. To the left of the boulder it was pretty trashy but could certainly be run without too much trouble -- there was also some wood over there but it was basically out of play. To the right of the boulder was one of the most interesting drops on the run. The creek funneled through a slot between a couple of small boulders and then airplane turned off the large boulder, dropping about 5' into the landing below. I actually thought it looked pretty fun, but a couple of the others weren't so convinced. The concern was that you wouldn't be able to make the right turn off the rock and avoid pitoning or smacking your elbows/face on the rock. Andrew also thought it looked good to go and offered to probe. Before long he was heading down the lead-in and eddied out just below it on river-left to get a better setup for the crux move. He peeled out, dropped between the guard rocks and made the airplane and got in the stroke just like he needed to.

Andrew lines up the airplane drop


and impact

A little more convinced of the line, both Jacob and Andy hiked back up to their boats to give it a go. Jacob came through first and also had a great line, very similar to Andrew's. Andy forgave the setup eddy and headed straight for the drop after running the lead-in. He came in pretty hot which made it harder to make the right turn off the rock; even so, he still landed and paddled away just fine. I had a similar line to everyone else, using the setup eddy and coming over the drop with my planned line.

Jacob in the lead-in

Jacob also hitting the line nicely...

...and landing well too

Andy dropping in with speed

Looking back up the airplane turn off the midstream boulder

Below the airplane drop we ran a couple more small boulder gardens, nothing as difficult as the stuff upstream, but still good fun. Before long the creek almost completely flattened out as we paddled the last half mile or so to the takeout bridge -- aw, mission accomplished!

Andy running the last of it

Jacob gets a mini boof at the end of the good stuff

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the run, and the geology is unlike anything I've paddled in Oregon. It's probably got too much junk to ever be considered a classic run, but for only being 45 minutes from my doorstep, I could certainly see running this a few times a year. Furthermore, with more water I believe it would be a much better run. However, you probably wouldn't want too much more flow, as I could see the boulder gardens getting pretty stout, but have having just enough to cover up the few F-U rocks could make a big difference in quality. Regarding the first waterfall, unless the horizontal log somehow washes downstream, I'll probably never run it, the fun factor to potential pain factor just doesn't pencil out for me (I lied, see my follow up below...).

Regarding class rating and flow, I would give this run a IV/IV+ rating, but it would certainly get harder with more flow. The average gradient of the run is right around 200fpm, but the first half mile drops at ~400fpm. Based on our run, I would like to see it between 7' and 8' which I think would be a nice medium level. That said, know the gauge is over 30 miles downstream with many side creeks (and the Siuslaw river) joining up before then, so this should only be used as a guesstimate.

Okay, so I just got done paddling both days this, the following, weekend at a much spicier level, 8.5' & 8' respectively. What I can tell you is the run was much better, but also quite a bit harder -- I would definitely give it a class V rating at these flows. I actually broke down and ran the right line on the first falls since it looked pretty good with the extra water; it ended up being super fun and a hell of a way to start off the run. Both of the following slides also benefited greatly from more flow, although the lead-in to the second was a little tricky with a guard hole at the entrance. The boulder gardens below also cleaned up quite a bit, but were also pretty juicy, I actually flipped in the meat of one on the second day and smacked my head pretty good before rolling up and seeing stars. The final plunge off the airplane drop felt about the same, although you could ride higher up on the rock, which provided for some pretty dynamic moves.

Shawn drop into the first falls
(right line; 8' on the gauge)

The author runs the right line of the first falls
(photo by Roman Androsov; 8.5' on the gauge)

Aaron with a nice line on the first falls
(8.5' on the gauge)

Aaron lines up the guard hole on the second slide.
You definitely want to run the slide on the right
and driving right, to avoid the wood at the bottom.
(8.5' on the gauge)

Loft, near the start of the boulder gardens section
(8.5' on the gauge)

Roman in the heart of the boulder gardens
(8.5' on the gauge)

More bouldery goodness
(8.5' on the gauge)

Loft runs the last pitch of the boulder gardens.
This one had a couple of nasty rocks in the run-out --
you definitely want to be upright and in control here.
(8.5' on the gauge)

The author runs the lead-in to the airplane
drop -- Nice and padded out at this level!
(photo by Roman Androsov 8.5' on the gauge)

The author wheelies off the Airplane Drop
(photo by Roman Androsov 8.5' on the gauge)

Aaron goes high on the Airplane Drop
(8.5' on the gauge)

The author on the second day
(photo by Shawn Haggin; 8' on the gauge)

Shawn for his first time down the Airplane Drop
(8' on the gauge)

Some head-cam footage from our run:

More footage of one of are runs at a little higher water (~7.75'):

Additionally, here is a link to some Oregon boys running the slides portion at near flood stage (note that there is also some footage of Sweet Creek):
Lake Creek Slides at high water