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…

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