Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Upper EF Hood, OR (5.18.14)

Although the Upper EF Hood has been on my radar for many years, it’s always seemed to elude me, and finding a crew to go has always been difficult. I think this is mainly due to other runs being “in” while it’s running, as well as some negative press here & there (wood, trashy, etc.). Whatever the case, it’s certainly overshadowed by the more classic runs in the Columbia River Gorge, such as The Truss, Farmlands, Little White, and Upper Wind. Personally, I tend to be drawn to the style of runs like the Upper EF Hood, steep continuous boulder gardens...basically the staple of boating in the Eugene area, where I’m based.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to convince a small crew of boaters to run it, after some things happened to fall into place, mainly good flows and aligning with other plans for that weekend. I had also confirmed, on the PDX Kayaker Facebook group, that there was only one wood portage and that flows were healthy; at least that had been the case a few days prior. In the end there would be four of us - Brandon, Carter, Darren, and myself. After meeting at Lewis & Clark (the normal meeting area before heading into the Gorge), we headed east on I-84 until we reached the town of Hood River, where we then headed south ~20 miles toward the run. After dropping off a car at the take-out, we piled in the other and headed toward the put-in. Looking at the river along the way, I wasn’t convinced we’d have enough water, since it looked really low. Once we got to the put-in, Brandon said that he had previously done it at the same level and that there would be plenty of water. Since I know how things can look much different from shore than than when you're pits deep in the middle of it, I took his word and suited up, looking forward to a great day on the water.

At this point, all I really knew about the run was that it was steep, fast, and eddies were few & far between. Although I wanted to take photos, I also knew my opportunities would be limited, so I would just have to get out where I could. Almost immediately, I came to the realization that we had plenty of water, which actually caught me off guard a bit. With a couple of botched lines through the first couple of rapids, I slowly started to dial into the character of the run and started to feel more and more comfortable with the pace of it. Eddies were certainly scarce, with most only able to park one kayak at a time. The few places where we could group up a bit, Brandon would give us verbal beta, but otherwise, we were simply falling in line with the lead boater.

The first major obstacle we came to was “The Worm”, where without stopping, Brandon dropped over and out of sight. Since I wanted to get some photos of the run and also give a quick scout of the drop, I got out from a small eddy on river-right. The Worm started off with a fast/juicy lead-in and was quickly followed up by back-to-back ledges, dropping a total of about 12 feet. The ledges weren’t very tall (3’ to 4’ each) and the rapid, as a whole, looked pretty straightforward, assuming you didn’t fall over either of the ledges sideways. I quickly pulled out my camera and got in a few shots before dropping in for my turn, which went really well. Once I was safely below, I got out once again to grab some shots back up at the drop.

Carter enters The Worm

Darren, in the middle of The Worm

Finishing up the bottom ledge with a nice boof

Below The Worm was a long busy stretch, all of which was read & run. Just around the corner, I met back up with the crew, where we continued our downstream progress. For the next few miles the run tore downstream in a hurry, with only small eddies here and there to catch your breath. I was really glad we had gotten a wood report prior to putting on, since scouting could become an all-day affair, due to the numerous blind bends that are fairly committing once you’ve dropped in. There really wasn't much to distinguish one section from another, as the gradient and character remains fairly consistent. With the continuous nature of the run, it really wasn’t conducive for taking photos, which was probably good since the crew seemed more interested in rallying than being subjects to one of my typical photo shoots; Therefore, I decided to put the camera away and just concentrate on boating.

Brandon leads it off, through the boogie water below The Worm

Carter, in one of the more open sections of the run

Keep yer bow up

Carter eddies out above another blind bend in the river

Darren relaxes in one of the more mellow sections

Darren lines up one of the bigger drops in the bottom half of the run

We did come across one river-wide log that required a portage to get past. It was about 3/4 of the way through the run, and as long as you're paying attention it shouldn't catch you off guard. I portaged down the right, while the others scrambled down the bank on the left, with both routes taking about the same amount of time.

As we neared the take-out, we slowed up a bit and made sure not to drop into anything without eddy scouting, since wood had been a problem here in the past. Luckily, it ended up being clear all the way to the road bridge, so we only had one portage for the whole run, which is pretty amazing considering the potential for this run to collect wood. Although we had originally planned to do another lap, we had taken too much time on the first (mainly due to me taking photos) and Brandon didn't have enough time to do so. The rest of us had somewhat lost motivation while hanging at the take-out, so we decided to just call it a day. This was actually better for me, since I still had a long drive back to Eugene ahead of me.

I really liked this run, and reminded me a lot of the creek boating in the Eugene area (Upper Brice Creek, The Mile) - a steep / technical boulder garden affair. I've heard some negativity about this run, mainly that it's a bit trashy and a little sketchy, and while these are a little true, it doesn't take away from an otherwise great run. At the level we had, which felt like a nice medium flow (~5' on the Hood River @ Tucker gauge), we certainly hit rocks here and there, but with much more water I'm guessing it would turn into a runaway train with few places to stop and catch your breath. I would definitely go back to do this run if it was in and I was in the area, but would be less likely to drive all the way from Eugene. All that said, if you like steep/continuous boulder gardens and the levels are good, I'd highly recommend it.

The internet gauge, loosely used to determine flow. We had ~5' on this day.

A couple things of note:
  1. Wood is always a concern on this run, so ask around before putting on, or take your time and scout any blind drops before committing to them, since eddies in some sections are few and far between. As of our trip, it was really clean, with only one piece of problem wood, which was visible from upstream.
  2. When using the Hood River @ Tucker gauge, know that this will only get you in the ballpark, since it's not on the EF itself. Supposedly it runs on rain or after a few hot days during the snowmelt season. Once again, it's probably best to ask around before heading there.

    Some footage from our run. Unfortunately, I didn't have it running while going through The Worm, but it should still give you a good idea of the character of the run:

    Upper EF Hood, OR from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.