Monday, April 5, 2010

South Chetco

After being on the top of my to-do list this year, I have to say that the south Chetco didn't disappoint.  It was absolutely dumping rain in Crescent City, and we were afraid flows were going to spike until we started to see snowflakes at less than 100' elevation.

With perfect flows, a chance to buy cheap oregon gas, and a low elevation guarantee of a snowy shuttle drive to boot, the list of reasons to do this run goes on longer than the actual meat of the gorge itself.  That being said, if we had actually taken the right shuttle road to put-in we probably wouldn't have had as much fun on our adventure.  Lesson learned: always make sure the person who knows where you are going is in the cab of the truck (as opposed to riding in the back).  After driving through snow for half an hour, and reaching the end of the decommissioned logging road we committed to the virtual cliff laced with overhead huckleberry bushes.. knowing what we were in for.

As the cliff got steeper, we were groveling through the mud and clutching to bushes for handholds when I heard my buddy announce we were cliffed out at least 70' above the river, and to head left.  Seconds later, I heard a branch snap and my other friend Miguel's boat start careening down the canyon wall.  Seven solid "thunks" later, John announced "it's in the river"!  Miguel looked at me and asked "what should I do?" to which I replied "run"!  It turned out that his boat landed upright, in an eddy, after careening almost 200' down the hillside.  At one point during the free-fall, the boat was headed right for J.Warner, and he ducked behind the only nearby tree.  The boat smacked the tree, as John avoided the near-maiming.  After a one-hour, quarter-mile bushwhack, we all made it safely to the river... J.R. said he saw a little poison oak near the bottom, but I didn't pay that close of attention.  Also there is a brand new throwbag waiting to assist anyone else un-lucky enough to find it down the cliff.
Glad to be on the water.

As foretold, the river was mellow with a steady flow and class III character all the way to the gorge.
The scenery was very Oregon-esque with moss covered walls and lots of enormous logs along the bank, as well as beautiful old growth forest.  After wondering when the river was going to finally drop, we arrived at the first major horizon line.  There was lots of gradient, but the character of the river made for suprisingly forgiving class IV+ drops.  In the first rapid, we all ran left through a sort of sneak line (due to ample flow) and aimed for a center boof.

Miguel hit the left boof with good results as well.  A couple of more ledge drops downstream brings you to the next rapid, which has a nasty undercut cave/recirculating hole.  In our efforts to avoid it, we all took a line to the left, managing to bounce off a very unfriendly underwater rock shelf.  This has potential for nasty pin situations, and should be taken seriously.  J.R. wisely took a safer line to the left of ours.

J.R.'s Left Line

This led into another fun wavetrain that finished the crux of the gorge.

Around the bend we came upon another great class IV rapid which we ran along the left wall.

After this the gorge let up, very abruptly.  As it opened up we all figured it was over: short, and sweet.  Luckily, there was one more additional rapid waiting on a right-hand bend downstream to spice things up.
The shuttle is fairly straightforward, though we weren't able to find our way to Swede Haven, the proper put-in (where you can drive straight to the river)...After driving up road 1107 to the top of Snaketooth Butte, we took road 550 on the left at a major two-way intersection.  This is the correct road, our problem was staying straight at a major fork approx. 1 mile down this road as opposed to taking the main road, which veers right.  Eventually it leads to the river, but that will be for the next crew to figure out.  Our flow was 6,000 on the Chetco @ Brookings, and we all felt it could accomodate either less (down to 4,000)...or more!

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