Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Middle Eel: Recon Run

I paddled this section with John Warner on the 21st of May.  We were hoping to run the upper-most section but were unable to reach it due to a locked gate some 7 miles up the road.  On the way back down the road we found a forest service road that seemed to be heading in the right direction.  Following this road to the end, we arrived at a sweet campsite on the rim of the Middle Eel's final gorge.  We had time before the sunset, and spent it exploring a potential route to access the river.  Lucky for us there was a fairly well established trail (probably due to some forest service study) that was marked with flagging to discern it from the many game trails.  By following the flags we were able to access the huge grassy field visible from our camp that provided a great river access.  Here is the river as seen from camp

Base Camp was at the sunny ridge on the left side of this shot.

The next morning, Warner elected to run the bike shuttle.  I rolled over in my sleeping bag because it was chilly out, and before I knew it he returned.  After making coffee, we stashed our stuff in the woods and started hiking for the river.

There were thousands of caterpillars everywhere, on every tree, plant, rock or other inanimate object.

Warner enjoys a moment on the hike in.

Here is the view looking upriver at a great rapid marking the end of the upstream classic run.

After descending one more grassy hillside to the river, we put on an estimated 1,500 cfs.  The flow was powerful and the river is fairly steep (80 fpm) combining to make boat scouting a little difficult.  The river channel was huge however, evidence of massive wintertime flooding.  Here is John Warner coming around the first corner.

  Everything went with the flow, making for a great class III-IV run as we dropped into the gorge.

Just downstream was a fun boof down the right side, and then we arrived a the rapid visible from camp.  This drop turned out to be much smaller than anticipated with a line just right of the middle.

The river was amazingly clean and filled in at the level we had (2,000 @ Dos Rios).  We finally arrived at a portage drop where the river enters huge boulders, this is visible from the shuttle road high above.  The portage we did on the left was short, but slippery and over boulders.  We seal-launched directly into the rapid and paddled a slot to the right (as the left went into a sieve).  This would probably clean up at higher flows.

One more fun rapid is just downstream, we ran it down the right side.

In all, this run is fun and unique with great scenery and whitewater.  Our campsite was excellent, and the hike in was quite nice with great scenery.  This run is definitely worth doing on an evening prior to a lower Middle Eel trip, or if you run into a locked gate while heading to the upper run.  To reach the run, drive to the confluence of the Black Butte River and Middle Eel, either by heading across Mendocino pass in the springtime (from the east), or 15 miles from Covelo on the Highway 162.  Be sure and make the right turn after Covelo, or you will wind up in Zenia!  We took out on the right bank downstream from the bridge.  To reach put-in, turn left at the Black Butte store, following the sign to Indian Dick.  The unmarked forest service road to put-in was about 3 miles upstream while you are going uphill, and takes off as a "Y" on the left side.  This comes after several private residences, so if you take the wrong turn, be respectful.  Just down the road, stay left at another "Y" and follow it to the end.  This may be difficult for a low-clearance vehicle, but it's not that far anyways.  Hope everyone's enjoying a good spring...Have fun!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Elk Creek near Happy Camp

Because it is an enormous drainage, on the north side of the Marble Mountains, this creek was high up on my to-do list for 2010.  After a trip to the Middle Eel, I got two more days off and rallied Miguel and John Warner.  We drove via. Greyback Saddle from O'Brien to Happy Camp, though this road is usually closed in winter.  After eating breakfast at the Frontier Cafe, we headed across the river to set shuttle.  12 miles of driving brought us from take-out to the unfortunate locked gate we at Sulfur Springs trailhead.  We began our hike here, aiming to paddle from the Granite Creek Confluence down.  The hike wasn't too bad, but my biggest piece of advice is the trail is on river left, so before you arrive at Bear Creek, head to the other side of the river from the road.

This area burned two years ago, resulting in one of the most beautiful wildflower displays I've seen.
After 3-miles of hiking we arrived at Granite Creek and took a well-needed break.  It was fortunate the weather was cool, as this hike would have been brutal on a hot day.

Once on the water, the pace was steep and continuous (200 fpm+).  A little more water would be nice, making the big drops spicier though.  Here is John Warner on Elk Cr. above the Granite Cr. Confluence

After 1.5 miles we reached the Dream Chute, where the creek drops through a steep boulder-garden/cascade into a gorged out waterfall with a sticky hole.  I had seen pictures of this on Google Earth, and it was veritably responsible for us hiking all the way to Granite Creek.  I decided to give er a go, and wound up plugging the hole, logging seconds of downtime and emerging with a huge back-ender into the hole.  Somehow I managed to flush against the wall, rolling up with a big smile.

Here is John Warner scoping the Dream Chute.

Looking down into Dream Chute

More boulder gardens continued, with occasional bedrock goods spiced in too.  The gradient was steep, yet despite the forest fire, we didn't have one log portage.  Here is Miguel in Chopstick Rock.

Miguel sliding down Upper Elk Cr.

We finally arrived at Smooth Walls Falls, where a diversity of lines treated us O.K.

Below here more steep rapids continued all the way to Sulphur Springs, where we took our lunch break. It was here that the creek changes character, from a IV(V) to a III-IV section.  Because it was such a long drive, our shuttle was set at the Klamath confluence, 13 miles downstream.  Here is Miguel sticking a boof in his new Burn.

A quiet moment on Elk Creek

Many more miles of mellow water brought us to the final 5 miles, containing an interesting class IV bedrock section and the one rapid we all portaged.  Here is Miguel charging the corkscrew drop.

Here is the rapid we portaged.  It would've gone, probably on both sides, but it was the end of a long day for us, when we reached take-out we'd paddled almost 16 miles, dropping close to 2,000 feet of gradient.

Finally...the take-out!

The Confluence.

Though this creek is not quite a classic, it is borderline classic.  Definitely worth doing, with just a touch more water it would've been even better.  If you are a class III-IV boater, the best section is from Sulphur Springs on down, or the guidebook section downstream of the East Fork confluence.  If you are after some bigger drops, the goods are upstream of where you can drive, and slightly higher flows are recommended than what we had (Salmon @ 5.2 ft, Indian Cr. @ Happy Camp 500 cfs, Klamath @ Orleans 9,000).  Here's what it looked like from Highway 96.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Upper Van Duzen (Class III)

You know those days when you are stoked to be on the water, paddling a new run with good friends...Those are the days that we paddlers live for: the sheer appreciation of living on a beautiful planet.  

After hearing reports from my trusted source Silent Ed, who paddled this run when he was a 13 year old beginner I knew it would be a good run.  This section is also well regarded in Dick Schwind's 1974 West Coast River Touring guidebook, although he recommends putting in another 3 miles of class II up at the confluence of the East & West Duzen.  We decided to keep it short and sweet, paddling the bridge to bridge section containing all the class III.

Ed told me there was only a couple of Rapids, so I wasn't surprised when we quickly arrived at the first one.  Johnny Chin bombs into the mellow class III.

Fitting through the Pinch

The beautiful upper Van Duzen

The run was rather steady at our flow, (275 @ Put-In; 450 @ Take-out) with only a few big pools.

We arrived at the second class III, a tongue that boofs you over a rock.

Typically when I paddle the Duzen (Grizzly Creek Run), its brown & muddy.  This headwaters section has much better water quality and takes you through a very peaceful area.  Several large creeks enter from the left, nearly doubling the flow.

Fun little rapids continue downstream

Sandstone is the primary rock, soft, smooth and forgiving.  Blooming asetum Succulents line the cliffs. 

Relaxing in one of the pools.

Phil Cruizin on the Duzen

We finally arrived at the take-out bridge and rapid, 3.8 miles later.  This drops over a series of sandstone ledges and required sticking to the flow.

Phil enters the Ledges

Phil ready to boof

With a mellow bike shuttle, pretty country and good company this is one stretch of river that deserves attention.  If you are a class III boater you will enjoy it, and should consider putting in upstream for more warmup and scenery.  We enjoyed the run and ended with a Jam, Mad River Butte in the background.

Take-out is reached by turning right onto the Van Duzen River Rd. off HWY 36 just east from Dinsmore, and driving about 8 miles to the first bridge.  Put-in is 4 miles up, or continue to the upper put-in at the confluence of West & East Van Duzen (bring a map to find it, its not totally roadside).

Flows were 1500 on the Duzen @ Bridgeville, but it was June so a good proportion of water was coming from the top of the drainage.  This run could handle much higher flows, and may develop excellent playspots with more juice in the rapids.  Warm sunny days in March and April are your best bet for this run.  Recovery pools would be nonexistent at high water though.  The water had dropped at least a foot since the night before we paddled, very typical Duzen.

An Ode to Bridge Creek!

Well, I might as well share the pics I've got from my most photographed, and favorite creek run!
Especially considering that this summer it will probably be running into July, its latest season in years!

Disclaimer: Its initial classic reputation became tarnished as numerous epic mis-adventuresome stories began to emerge.  However, if you consider the 440 fpm gradient average (300, 475, 525), epic hike-in, beautiful wilderness, amazing bedrock, supreme solitude, and 10 miles of classic Wooley; the initial classic reputation must linger on!  Here's the Solution: take this run seriously, get an early start, bring break-down paddles and food make sure you can navigate off-trail, and don't dilly-dally unless you brought gear for a 2-day (Highly Recommended and pleasurable!).  The hike-in is the most daunting task!

After 13 trips down Bridge, a couple planned overnighters, and a hike out down Wooley in the dark, this is my favorite creek.  It is one of the best waterfall training runs around, with no single drop greater than 20'.  This is where I learned to plug-boof waterfalls.  If your cup of tea is 20' plus, heed the words of my friend Dave Norell, who stated "none of the falls were big enough!"  Time to move to Hood River.

Damon Goodman and Seth Naman in the midst of the "Mank Mile"

Plan on portaging two drops in the Mank Mile, the slippery log portage comes 1/4 mile down from put-in after the creek flows through a meadow and turns left.  It is a mank cascade, runnable without wood.  Leif's Purple Toe is a 30' boxed in drop that dished out Mulleticious consequences in 2007.  This comes after a calm pool and is portaged right though we've been portaging over a log spanning the drop.  Purple Toe Gorge is changing rapidly, any year I expect it will be different.  Once past this drop, my stoke level starts to climb.

Damon Goodman in "First Taste"

Damon Goodman exits "First Taste"

Orion Meredith plops the "Bobsled Run"; a sweet sliding entrance kicks off the First Waterfall

Immediately below Bobsled Run lies Medicine Falls.  This drop is best boofed with right to left momentum.  I've pitoned this at low flows, as an underwater shelf juts out from the right.  At higher flows this hydraulic is powerful and safety is extremely difficult to set!

Mike Lee drops Medicine Falls

This marks the beginning of a high quality stretch of bedrock drops and low angle slides.  After a tight right turn and increase of gradient you approach the Rooster and Fucker Rock.

Plugging The Rooster: Photo Curt Welsh

Mike Lee portaging "Fucker Rock" immediately downstream from the Rooster

Story Time: Fucker Rock
This drop has changed remarkably on a near-annual basis.  We used to run a boof onto a rock that bounced you very near the left wall.  Now we portage this mandatory-hit manker.  One fine day (2004) I was paddling with my friend Gabe Forsythe.  His line through F-Rock was hideous--he flipped as he was coming off it.  When he tried to brace, his paddle stuck into the drop, resulting in him falling straight through and breaking it.  Neither of us had a spare paddle, I had brought my NRS handpaddles instead.  We were approx. halfway down Bridge, with most of the big drops ahead.  
Gabe stood up to the plate--hand paddling the rest of Bridge creek, mostly on verbal directions.  He portaged Toilet-Bowl and the Penalty Box, but ran everything else; often styling moves with the dynamic hand-plant.  When we reached Wooley I asked if he would like to trade-off the paddle.  "Nope", Gabe said and continued to Hand Paddle the 10 miles of Wooley also.  Remarkable Bridge Creek Achievement! 

Miguel hits the "Kicker Slide"

Miguel speeds through "Amnesia"

Curt Welsh takes the "Magic Carpet Ride"

Magic Carpet marks the one-mile mark to Wooley Creek.  It is the most picturesqe drop on the run and forms severe hydraulics as the flows increase.  You have officially descended into Poison Oak territory.  Continuous manky boulder gardens continue downstream from here and it is a very good place to be on your toes.  The next major horizon line is the Teacups, scout left before blundering into them.

Flowdaddy boofs the first teacup with right angle.

Damon Goodman backlit in "The Teacups"

The Teacups is a legitimate 3 part rapid, containing a very tricky and congested entrance boulder garden.  This drop is so legitimate in fact, that at a flow of 5.5' a crew of 6 paddlers had 4 simultaneous swimmers here, one in each drop at the same time.  

Silent Ed lines up "The Toiletbowl"

The Toilet Bowl is definitely the stoutest drop on the run.  The horizon line is hidden behind a large boulder, and comes during your typical busy-water boulder garden.  Be on your toes to scout right and/or portage this one.  Maintaining slight left momentum and launching a boof can help you to avoid this amazingly unique and sticky hydraulic.  On a previous run I was surfed in this hole, scrambling to stay out of the way of my buddy Andrew Bell, who came off the drop and gave me a funny look as he cleaned the line.  I was swirling in the bowl while he eddied out and came to feed me a rope.  I then flipped and decided I would rather try to paddle out myself.  After surfing the hole across the boil I made it out.  Moral: if you're paddling in a 2-pack, consider setting safety for your friend so you don't both wind up in the bowl.

Another time I was in the toilet bowl, my friend Seth Ricker fed me a rope properly...he pulled it while hunched down to maintain a low-center-of-gravity-pull.  This kept me from flipping, though he needed a pull from our buddy Matt Fayhee to prevent him from sliding across smoothly polished slippery bedrock.  This drop can be portaged rather easily on the right, but be careful as I've seen several paddlers walk right through the enormous poison oak bush here.

Your next scout is the Pearl Necklace, which comes shortly downstream.  This is an amazing crack to slide drop, I used to walk it, but now its my favorite.  People who walk it can seal-launch into the slide, but I've seen at least 4 different folks slide into this drop while portaging the mossy slab.

Seth Naman squirts through the "Pearl Necklace"


Pearl Necklace is a slippery portage. Clint learns the hard way.
Great shot of typical Bridge water

Downstream of the Pearl Necklace, rapids continue to the Penalty Box, recognizable by a cliffed out right wall and a left-hand bend.  This is the worst hydraulic on the run, scout, set safety and/or portage on the left.  The portage requires teamwork and delicate climbing to avoid falling into the drop.  Poison oak is abundant here.  

Penalty Box--Set safety and Boof the Hell out of it!
Photo: Mike Lee

On our first trip down bridge in 2000 (before we found the put-in trail), Guillo Torres was giving our crew of 8 verbals as we paddled in dusk.  We were racing to reach Wooley before dark.  In the eddy above I was told to go left and watched Ligare paddle into the darkness.  Upon entering the slide though, I could see the creek fell into the left wall and quickly stuck my boof to the right.  One after one, our friends came off the drop, with large smacks to the wall echoing in the canyon.  We couldn't see 'em but we could hear 'em.  It is amazingly fortunate that we didn't have any swims that day.  The Penalty Box actually becomes more sticky at lower flows due to the bowled out hydraulic and bedrock-pinch exit. 

Two more rapids remain, a mini-gorge on a corner and Bridge Creek Falls--The Grand Finale.  

Mike Lee drops into Bridge Creek Falls

Matt "Flowdaddy" Flofo drops Bridge Creek Falls

I can't think of a prettier creek anywhere.  You've now descended from fir and cedar to oak and pine.

Camping at The Wooley Cabin

My new favorite logistics are to plan a 2-day and camp upon arrival at Wooley Creek.  This is especially a good method if you haven't heard wood reports yet, or haven't done the run before.  The cabin is a 1/4 mile hike up (left bank) Wooley from Bridge Creek Falls.  This will allow you plenty of time to scout, set safety and rest before you test your mettle against Wooley.  

Flows: between 4 and 4.75' on Salmon @ Somes Bar for first timers.  This is a class V run.  Above 5.5' it can produce other-worldly hydraulics to Boof or Die! (Even though the Knapps paddled it over 7' once)