Thursday, December 13, 2012

South Santiam River, OR - The Monster (12.9.12)

From a water perspective, Winter 2012 in the Pacific Northwest has probably been the best start to a kayaking season that I’ve experienced. We have already been able to get on a lot of the local classics, as well as bag a few of the more obscure runs. The Monster Section of the South Santiam River might fall somewhere in the middle of those outer boundaries, where the whitewater is fun but not quite classic – the real reason to run this stretch is for the scenery, which is nothing short of breathtaking. It should be noted that there are two very sizable drops on this run, The Monster & Tomco Falls, which I’ll discuss as I get to them in my following report.

After assembling our small crew, Roman Androsov, Shawn Haggin, and me, we headed toward Sweet Home (OR) to get on the water. We had originally planned to do Wiley Creek, but the damn Weyerhaeuser gate was closed once again. We had talked about doing Lower Canyon Creek as a backup, but once I found out neither had done The Monster, I convinced them that we should go there instead. It’s a little bit of a drive up Hwy 20, but we soon found ourselves at Cascade State Park, our take-out. After gearing up and leaving a car, we headed another ~5 miles upstream to the put-in, at the road bridge over the South Santiam. Since we hadn’t been planning to do this run, we had no idea what the flow situation was, but it certainly looked good from the put-in. With that, we hauled our boats down to the water and slid in, starting our day’s adventure.

Gettin' geared up at the put-in

I didn’t take any photo of the first mile or so, above The Monster, but it basically contains juiced up class III/III+ drops that are quite fun and serve as a good warm-up. I spent my time in this section, catching eddies and doing ferry practice, even getting dumped over at one point. We soon reached a more pronounced horizon line, which I knew was the ledge just above the big one. This ledge has a pretty sticky spot in the center, but the right side kicks out nicely, which is the line that all of us ran. Once we were all safely below Longbow, we traveled to the end of the fast moving pool and got out to scout the run’s namesake drop, The Monster.

Roman, running the right side of the ledge above The Monster

...followed shortly after by Shawn

It’s always fun to see folks reactions to a large drop at river level vs. looking at it from high up on the road. When we stopped to take a look at it on our way up, Shawn and Roman were picking out a line, and thought it would probably be good to go; since I had done the run before, I knew that the drop was much bigger/nastier than it appeared from 100’ up. Sure enough, now at the lip, perspectives had changed. It certainly has a line (and has been run before , but it’s beefy and the consequences are fairly high, with undercuts, pot holes, and a sieve along its length. With that we went to picking out our portage route(s).

The Monster

Roman contemplates

Shawn, who was on the right bank, began shouldering his boat along the rocks on that side. Roman and I, who had been scouting from river-left, discussed our best option around the beast. Without doing some rope work up to the road, portaging the whole thing wasn’t really an option. However, Roman thought that we could run the bottom part, just below the entrance ledge, without much trouble. I wasn’t completely convinced at first, but after giving it a long look, I had to agree with him. Basically, the only real obstacle we’d have to contend with was a large pillow boiling off the left, and undercut, wall. We had to wade into the water knee deep, where we stabilized our boats on the rocks that formed the backside of the sieve, which was better than it sounds. Roman went first and didn’t have any problem navigating the swirly runout, eddying out on river-right below. Shawn was in the middle of working his way down the rock wall to join Roman, while I took my turn, also without issue.

Roman utilizes the convenient boulder sieve to shorten our portage route 

Now safely below the meat of The Monster, we found ourselves in a mini gorge, between it and “Crawdad”, a non-uniform ledge that dropped into a beefy looking hole. Shawn was sure it flushed well, but I was a bit concerned about the strong left-hand eddy that fed back into it. It was definitely kicking out on the right, but it would have been hard to line it up that way. Roman offered to go first, while I setup with safety and my camera. Once I was in position, I gave him the thumbs up, and he dropped in shortly after. Since the best way to enter the drop was right to left, that is the line he chose. After digging in off the lip, he blasted through the hole and was immediately drawn into the left eddy, upright and in control. He quickly jumped out and setup for safety from that side. Shawn came down next, with a similar line, but was able to catch the water kicking out on the right, depositing him safely below the hole. After I packed up my camera and throwbag, I headed up to my boat. I ended up having a pretty good line and was also able to catch the run out on the right side, where it flushed.

Roman lines up Crawfish

Bustin' through the hole at Crawdad

Roman readies his rope in case of a beatdown

Shawn prepares for his turn

Shawn, entering the water between The Monster and Crawdad

Goin' deep, but away from the powerful left-hand eddy

Safely below Crawdad

After Crawfish, the river bends through another squeeze, this time through slack water. Below here, the walls peeled back, and we paddled through a mile or so of mellow class I/II water.

The run-out below Crawfish

Shawn exits the gorge below The Monster/Crawfish

Before long we reached the next major obstacle of the run, Tomco Falls. The entrance to this drop occurs at the confluence with a side creek coming in from river-right, and is fairly unmistakable from above, based on the rather large horizon line. That said, make sure to eddy out high to scout this one, since the river pulls swiftly into the gut of the drop on river-left, with no easy way to eddy/get out once you’ve committed. This drop deserves a look, and serious consideration. Here the river drops through a couple pot holes, which form some pretty chaotic hydraulics/holes that are difficult to stay upright through, at least at this level. I’ve run the left line before, but pretty much out of control once I dropped over the first ledge. It didn’t take long for all of us to decide we didn’t want to contend with the main line, so we all opted for the right side sneak. The sneak is a bit of a pain, and requires you to run a long shallow slot, against the hard right bank. From here you can pretty much drop off the broken ledge at any point you feel is a safe enough distance below the meat of the drop.

Looking into Tomco Falls, which is not the easiest thing to do.

Looking back upstream at Tomco Falls.
Note that the ledges making up the drop are formed by potholes.

Tomco Falls also marks the start of the gorge, which takes up most of the remaining stretch of river, and to me, this is the real reason to do this run. Along its ~1.5 mile length, the gorge cuts through spectacular rock formations, crating dramatic undercuts & caves, and pinching down to about 6 feet wide in one spot. Luckily, with all these potential hazards, the water is pretty mellow, with only one drop really reaching class III. However, and as you might expect, there are some tricky currents that push off the walls, and being out of your boat could turn into a bit of an ordeal. The one real drop in this section happens not far below Tomco, and actually worked me for a bit before I was able to paddle out of the extremely swirly eddy on river-right. Since it’s pretty hard to get out of your boat along most of its length, and we were also a bit crunched for time, I was only able to take photos in a few spots, but trust me, I could have spent all day photographing this amazing place.

The start of the gorge, just below Tomco Falls

Roman and Shawn making their way into the gorge

Shawn enters the trickiest drop in the gorge, while Roman awaits below.
This is the drop that gave me a little trouble by trapping me in the right eddy for a few moments.

Shawn goes deeper into the gorge

Getting a little tight

Typical scenery in the 1.5 mile long gorge


All too soon, the walls peeled back once again, signaling that we only had a mile or so left before the take-out. There aren’t any major rapids in this section that are worth noting, although there are a few wave/holes that looked like they would have been pretty fun to surf. With the road bridge in view, I casually looked for a place to get out, and didn’t decide on one until it was too late, just past the bridge on river-right. This resulted in a steep scramble through a fairly thick patch of sticker bushes – I’m sure my drysuit paid the price for that little miscalculation. Shawn had taken out well upstream where Soda Creek comes in. Supposedly this had a nice path and some stairs up to the parking lot, which is obviously recommended over Roman’s and my route.

I gotta say, I really like this run, and I would also say that it’s a must do if you live in the area. I would consider The Monster Section, as a package deal, a local classic – once again, not strictly based on the whitewater. We had ~1,500cfs (South Santiam at Cascadia), which I’d call a great medium flow. For everything else but The Monster and Tomco Falls, which are certainly class V, I’d give the rest of the run a III/IV rating.

On a final note, we found a new place to eat in Sweet Home, Spoleto's Pizzeria, which has some fantastic gourmet pizza & calzones, as well as a good selection of beer and wine --It actually feels a little out of place in this town. Make sure you stop in and get some grub on your way home, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

The video footage from our run:

POV - South Santiam River, OR (The Monster section) from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quentin Creek, OR (12.1.12)

During my early days of kayaking, I did a lot of runs down Blue River (OR), trying to build up my creeking skills for the harder runs in the area. Also around that time, I would occasionally be on the river with one of the local class V’ers, Griff. One thing that Griff was known for was trying to convince up-and-coming paddlers to jump on harder runs with him, even if they weren’t quite ready – I think he was a little bit of a pervert for carnage… So, when he tried to talk me into doing an exploratory run on one of the tributaries to Blue River, known as Quentin Creek, I was a bit apprehensive and finally decided it probably wasn’t a good idea. Apparently he had hiked it and found some really good drops in the last few miles of the creek. This was also the time when Griff was starting to boat less and less, until finally he all but fell off the radar. With that, he was never able to bag the run.

Fast forward to spring of 2012, when Quentin Creek came up in conversation once again, in Moab of all places! While hanging around the fire during our spring pilgrimage to the desert mountain biking mecca, I was talking to a buddy, Randy Rimby (aka Rando Five Thousand, or R5K for short). He mentioned hiking up a creek in Blue River drainage, which held a 25’ sliding waterfall. Although not a boater, Randy had hiked up this creek on a few occasions to swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall. Hearing of a large waterfall with a pool at the base certainly piqued my interest, and I started wondering if this was the same creek that Griff had tried to convince me to run back in the day.

Talking about Quentin Creek, in Moab of all places!

Fast forward even further to mid-July of this year. Looking for something local to do on a beautiful weekend day, my good buddy Roman Androsov and I decided to hike up Quentin Creek, to see if we could find this highly praised swimming hole, in hopes of also finding some boating possibilities. I knew, from talking to Randy, that if this was the right place, we should be able to hike right up the creek bed a mile or more to the spot. Armed with our Camelbaks, swim trunks, and water tennies, we started our adventure into the unknown. Since the water level was low and the creek was almost entirely bedrock, it was pretty easy going. We did need to walk up the bank from time to time to avoid some of the deeper pools, but for the most part we just charged up the middle of the creek, where the cold water felt pretty good on such a warm day.

It didn’t take long before we found the first interesting ledge, formed by both rock and wood; luckily the wood didn’t look like it would be an issue. It’s always hard to tell what a drop will be like once it has water, but I figured this one would do pretty well. Continuing upstream, we found that the creek was almost entirely bedrock, as well as some more interesting ledges -- all good signs. There were also a few pieces of wood that would need to be portaged, but nothing too menacing. This was also a very pretty creek, with Basalt cliff walls hanging over the water in spots. Then, what we had been searching for, came into view, a large waterfall in the distance. I quickly turned to Roman and exclaimed “Jackpot!” Before getting too excited, I wanted to make sure it was even runnable. As Randy had stated, it wasn’t quite vertical and was more of a steep vertical slide. This was actually for the best, since the landing would have been very narrow/shallow for such a tall drop. With a sense of excitement, we scrambled up the dry river-right side of the falls, hoping to find more goods upstream.

The first interesting ledge we came to

Roman finds another

Some cool rock formations, to boot

More bedrock ledges


As you can see, the entire right side is a steep ramp, as opposed to a true vertical falls.

Above the falls were some smaller ledges, and it looked like they would make for a fun lead-in to the falls. After rounding a few more corners we started to find more logjams, and eventually a pinch-point that was completely blocked by wood that would have been a real pain to portage. After reviewing our maps and GPS, we decided that putting in just above the falls would make the most sense. At that point it was about 300 to 400 vertical feet up to the road on river left, over ~1/8 of a mile. For putting on with our kayaks, this would be a pretty steep scramble, but still within reason. With that we headed back downstream, marked the location of the falls, and decided that when the rains came and Blue River was flowing at around 1,000cfs, we’d give this run a go.

The lip of the falls

Large logjam somewhere above the falls

More wood

End of the road...

Now at the start of the new boating season, I once again started thinking about Quentin Creek. The problem with exploratory style runs is that it’s hard to steer people’s attention there when the classics are also at a great level. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand not wanting to gamble one of your highly valued days off for an unknown run. Even with these difficulties, last Saturday I was able to convince a small crew to roll the dice. This was partially due to the homework we had done earlier that summer, but mostly because we’d already had such a great start to the season and gotten on most of the local classics already. Further, the plan was to combine it with a run down Blue River, which at 1K is a real hoot!

The crew consisted of Roman (of course), Andy Carmicheal, Mark Kacmarcik, Bobby Brown, and me. Meeting at the edge of Springfield for carpooling purposes, I quickly went over our plan of attack, using a small topo map I had printed out. Once everyone was familiar/comfortable with the plan, we headed toward our destination. Since we also planned to boat Blue River, we stopped first at its takeout to drop off a car, get changed, and stash some dry clothes. Now geared up, we headed up the normal road to the Blue River run, but this time passed up the put-in for it. The road soon crossed over Quentin Creek, where we stopped briefly to check the level – It looked perfect!

The plan of attack
Looking upstream form the bridge, at the confluence with Blue River

About a mile after passing over Quentin Creek, we made a left turn on NF-1516, which we followed for about ¾ of a mile before parking the car and looking for a place to bushwhack down to the creek. Once again, we had to descend ~400 vertical feet over a 1/8 mile, and since this would be a fairly steep scramble, we took some time to find the best place to drop down. The only thing we needed to ensure was that we didn’t set our course with too much downstream trajectory, otherwise we may find ourselves below the falls we’d planned to put in above.

Getting geared up before the hike

The hike down was certainly steep, and required me to slide on my butt in a couple of spots -- In fact, I think I’m the only one that didn’t drop my boat at some point during the descent. More than once I heard a loud voice shout, “Boat!”, followed by the sound of a projectile crashing down the hill uncontrollably. Eventually, we all made it down to the water safe & sound, with the whole process taking about 15 minutes. While everyone was gathering, Roman hiked down to scout for eddies above what appeared to be a rather large horizon line, just downstream. When he got back, he confirmed that the horizon line was in fact the big waterfall – we had reached our planned put-in perfectly!

Starting the bushwhack down to the creek

The put-in

Roman returns after scouting out the situation downstream

Between where we put on and the falls, there were a couple of small ledge holes, before the water mellowed out and allowed us to eddy-out on river-left to give the big boy a scout. As I walked down the bank and looked over the edge of the falls, my excitement grew, as it definitely looked runnable! Once again, the falls were sloping as opposed to being true vertical – well, at least the right side. The left did drop vertically, but since Roman and I had the advantage of seeing it at summer flow, I knew that the landing was extremely narrow and pretty much excluded it from being an option. Even the right side of the falls was not a gimmie. The entrance water was a bit boily, and there was also a pocket hole at the lip on the far right, deterring a straight shot approach. Further, most of the water coming out of the base of the falls was slamming right into a log in the pool below. Luckily the log wasn’t much of an issue, since it was essentially vertical and didn’t have any branches to get tangled up with. The worst that would probably happen is getting pinned against it temporarily. After I had spent some time reviewing the drop from a few angles, I decided on my line, which was to drive from center to right, in between the vertical lip on the left and the guard hole on the right. With my line picked out, I was very eager to get the first go at this one, and the others were happy to give me the honors.

The small ledge holes between the put-in and the falls

Picking out my line over the falls. Note the log in the run-out, which most of the water is piling into.

A couple in the crew decided to walk the drop, and instead took on the role of setting safety. Once they were in position, I gave them the thumbs up and headed upstream to my awaiting boat. After climbing in and snapping on my skirt, I slid into the water and paddled toward the drop. I was able to line it up as planned and enter right on target. As my bow dropped over the lip and I transitioned onto the steep ramp, I picked up speed and sailed through the bottom hole with ease. In fact, I was moving so fast, that I had little time to react before slamming into the log in the run out. Luckily, I was able to react well enough, by leaning into the log and pushing off after a few seconds of being pinned against it. I was super fired up with my line and stoked that I had finally gotten to run it, after thinking about it for the last few months! Without knowing if this waterfall has another name, I decided to go with "R5K", in honor of Randy Rimby, who had told me about it.

The author, setting up for the falls
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Droppin' in
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Bracing for impact
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Coming out of the base in a hurry, and right toward the log...
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Now that I had finished up with my run, I paddled to shore and made my way up to the bottom of the falls, so Roman could lower my camera down to me. Since we already had a couple guys on safety, I concentrated on camera duty, and patiently waited for the others to drop in. Next came Andy, coming over the lip a bit more left than I had. As he shot out from the base of the drop, he was able to swing into the slack water on the left, avoiding a collision with the log. Soon after Roman appeared, dropping down somewhere between Andy's and mine. Just like what had happened to me, he was pushed into the log by the current coming out of the bottom of the falls, and had to wrestle with the log a bit before working his way off and joining us in the pool below. With everyone fired up on and safely below the falls, we continued with our journey downstream.

Andy drops in

Andy, making the cut to avoid the log

Roman, cleanin' up

Plenty of stoke below the falls!

Just below the falls was a small sliding ledge, before the creek turned hard left and headed through a short section of busy water. I warned the others that we would have to deal with a log jam or two, and to be on the look out. Sure enough we came to one not far downstream, where Roman was already out of his boat, motioning to the rest of us to join him on river-left to begin the portage. Luckily it was a pretty easy walk-around and we were soon back on the water.

Roman enters the small ledge drop just below the falls

The crew waits for beta at the first log portage

Back on the water, after the portage

Almost as soon as we had put back on, we reached another portage, and then another, both around logs blocking our passage. As with the first, we were able to get around both on river-left, with relative ease. Other than the logs, there weren’t any major obstacles in this section, but there was some nice scenery to take in, including a couple of small waterfalls pouring down the cliffs, and a small amphitheater carved into one of the Basalt walls.

Typical scene between the ledge drops

Mark enters one of the more scenic stretches

It's hard to tell in this photo, but the river-left wall forms a shallow cave, just below where Mark is.

Andy floats past one of few small waterfalls pouring into the creek along the way

The next notable feature was a ~4' ledge with a nice angled boof, if you lined up for it correctly. Nothing too exciting, but fun none the less. After running another few bends, I could see Roman out of his boat again. At first I figured it was another logjam, but then, after looking at the surroundings, I knew that this was the second of the larger drops on the run (based on our scout mission). Now out of my boat and standing at the lip, I was happy to see that this one was totally runnable as well. It looked like you could run it using a couple of different line options, but the best seemed to be an airplane boof on the hard left. Since Roman had already had a chance to pick out his line, he decided to go first. With that, I setup for photos while the others got ready with throw bags, since the hole at the base looked a little sticky. Setting up out of the large right-hand eddy, he ferried across and boofed the angled ledge, against the left bank, drawing a stroke and landing in perfect form.

Mark, doin' it right on the 4'er

Roman digs in at the second largest drop on the run

I decided to go next, mainly because I wanted to get some photos from down below. Setting up and running the drop in a similar fashion as Roman, I didn't quite time my stroke as well as I would have liked. Although I didn't pencil in, and landed with decent angle, it was fairly shallow and I hit bottom. It should be noted that this is not obvious even from the convenient scout platform – basically, just try and keep your bow up. Everyone else in the group followed soon after, with very similar lines to both Roman and me.

Andy goes for the left line

Bobby, in similar fashion

Between the airplane ledge and the confluence with Blue River, which was just a short distance downstream, was some of the best whitewater on the run. The last stretch especially, which is visible from the bridge, was super fun, and provided a great ending to Quentin Creek.

The last drop on Quentin Creek, as seen from the bridge.

Now at Blue River, we decided to hike down the road a bit and put in below "Food For Thought", since it would've been pretty damn stout at this flow. Blue River itself did not disappoint, with lots of juiced up hydraulics to keep us on our toes. By the time we reached the take-out, at the confluence with Lookout Creek, it was dusk, without much light to spare. What a great day on the river!

Quentin Creek certainly met my expectations, which for the most part was expected, since we had hiked it in the summer. That said, until there is water running over the drops, it's hard to know how they're going to go, if at all. I thought we had about perfect flow, with the Blue River at Tidbits gauge reading right around 1,000cfs (gauge, here). I'm not sure I'd head back as a destination run, but it can be used to add a fun mile or so to Blue River.

Regarding the boating history of Quentin Creek, I had done some research beforehand and even talked to some of the local pioneers afterward, neither of which turned up any info of previous descents. Then, as I was writing this report, I finally got a hint that, in fact, it been run; although I’m still not sure to what extent. Even knowing this, after the fact, doesn't take away from the exploratory experience that I crave, since it was undocumented and forced us to plan as if it was a first descent. Runs like this only increase my desire to search for more uncharted stretches of whitewater in the area. Rest assured, I’ll certainly be pouring over topo maps, talking to folks, and doing google searches, trying to find our next adventure…

The video from our run down Quentin Creek:

POV - Quentin Creek, OR from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.