Tuesday, May 31, 2011

North Fork Eel River, Day Three...and then some!

We had hoped to make it to the confluence with the Main Eel, but our late departure from camp on day two left us a couple of miles and one big gradient section short of the confluence.  We had already scouted out the "Breakfast Rapid", the night before and with one more river level scout of the top, we decided she was good to go.  We then routed the run-out section and were stoked to have gotten our day off to such a great start.

Warner Sticks the Breakfast Boof

Immediately thereafter, the river's character changed to a wide gravelly class II run. 

We made quick time down to the Main Eel...where we were surprised to see a group of rafters, the first people since Kettenpom Store that we had run into.

Warner Stoked to be at the Confluence

Beautiful Confluence, looking up the North Eel on the right, and Down the Main Eel on the left.

I'll be honest, I haven't ever paddled the Dos Rios to Alderpoint section before, always afraid of endless flatwater and boredom...well immediately upon my arrival, halfway through the run, I was taken by surprise at the abundance of great playspots and fun big-water feel of the river. (we did have ~7,000 cfs at this point).  I now unconditionally recommend this section and can't wait to return and run it in its entirety!

Eel River Country

Did I mention the playspots?  I was wishing I had my playboat as I took this photo!

Oar-Frames on the Eel

Island Mountain Rapid comes before the actual Island Mountain tunnel, although its pretty obvious that you are approaching a larger drop..It had an entrance rapid that the rafters elected to scout, while we simply bombed through and continued to blaze down the river like we do.

Warner sets the Eel River Ablaze, Island Mountain Rapid

The scenery was beautiful, it was crazy to see the faulty railway which some people are still trying to keep going (pipe-dream), and some all around backcountry goodness...the best description of the railway I have heard yet is "looks like a roller-coaster in places"...here I am, in front of the Island Mountain Tunnel, having the time of my life!

Downstream of Island Mountain, where the river makes a monstrous horseshoe, one more big rapid awaits!  
Kekawaka Falls was more fun than Island Mountain at this higher level, although an active slide on river left gave it the feel of an entirely new rapid..one thing to keep in mind when you're padding in the Eel river area is that the geology is incredibly active, and things like rapids rearranging is entirely commonplace.
More Beautiful scenery ahead

This is a really fun river, and all of the train remnants are a constant reminder that once our "Babylon System a Fall" this will be what's left...abandoned railways and ghost towns!

We did take-out in Alderpoint, where there is a spot on the river left side just upstream of the bridge where you can drive most of the way to the river (all the way with 4WD).  I must admit, after hearing rumors of the "town's" reputation, it quickly lived up to them.  There where "whip-it" canisters (NO2) and Crown royal bottles on the bridge, and this is no place I'd want to leave my car.  The first people we encountered were true Appalachian-style hillbillies, roaring by us in their mufflerless truck and hollering incomprehensible gibberish.  Its worth the extra 5 miles to Fort Seward, to say the least, or hire a shuttle driver like we did...thanks Rosada!

The 3 day trip was awesome, we timed it perfectly with the break in the weather and both the North Eel and Main Eel are river's with spectacular and unique scenery that I will undoubtedly return to.  Don't let them get by you as long as I did!
Happy Paddling!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Middle Fork Eel River

I'm going to keep this post short, because it is so sweet!  Looking down the Black Butte River at put-in.

The Middle Eel was way above my expectations for quality and way below my expectations for work.  Easy shuttle, tons of wildlife, nobody there...how can you go wrong.  On the water.

All you gotta do is find the right people to go with and it'll be flowing for a little while longer.

The first 20 miles there are way more class II drops than I was expecting, the river keeps up a good pace (at 1500 cfs) and had much less flatwater than I was expecting.

We had lunch at about mile 13, after only 3 hours on the water

Things start to mellow with longer pools for awhile, but the rapids start getting larger.  You arrive at the Skinny Chutes around mile 25, and this is where I got schooled.  I tried boat scouting into the drop, and with the ferry angle I chose, allowed a diagonal wave to completely grab the cataraft, shoving me left into a boat-catching eddy that I had fully neglected to appreciate on my hurried boat-scout.  A few minutes of swirling around and cursing, missing my ferry angle and being shoved back into the eddy by the pillow ensued.  I gave my passenger the high-side talk, mentioned the possibility of a swim, and proceeded to make my way out of the eddy.  This left me boat-scouting the second half of the drop, which fortunately had a good line left of center.  Whoop Whoop!  Then some beautiful Scenery.

Here is the view of Coal Mine Falls' First Crux Drop

We arrived at Coal-Mine Falls downstream, and took a lunchbreak in the only non poison-oaked shade we could find.  This rapid is completely hyped and is the reason many people haven't paddled this run.  However it is a full-on class IV+ drop, with consequence.  It had a line, but after my shaky experience upstream, my confidence was rattled, and the lack of safety convinced me that lining the cat down the right channel would be the way to go.  I made the entrance  move, catching the eddy right at the lip where Laura grabbed the boat...I removed the oars and tied on a rope.  Then, before you knew it, 5 minutes later the boat was at the "bottom" and we were ready to roll again.

It turns out there is a whole other part of the drop downstream which I knew about, although the eddy I was hoping for turned out to be of insufficient size for the cataraft.  Several scrambling moments later the line appeared to me in a boat-scouting vision of creative splendor and I managed to luckily pop through clean as a whistle.  Another big Whoop!  Here is looking back up at the exit to Coal-Mine Falls.

The rest of the river flows through a beautiful canyon, I'd say in summary that it gets better as you go, and at no point is it bad, in fact it is beautiful.  The miles came easily and we camped at mile 17.5 where we should have.

Black Butte Store at put-in #707-983-9438 runs shuttles for only $50, call them and get on this run that you've been putting off for way too long.  We saw 5 bears, 2 bald eagles, 50 deer, cormorant, ducks, wild horses, green heron, and not one person.  Nuff said!  

Monday, May 16, 2011

North Fork Eel River, Day Two

We awoke to an early sunrise and had a relaxing morning before disembarking from camp.  It was a warm night, and we awoke without even dew on our sleeping bags.  I reckon we camped somewhere about the Round Valley Indian Reservation, as we were now also in Mendocino County.  During the leisurely morning, we spotted a bear descending the hillside across from our camp to a spot where vultures were circling.  Cowpies littered the grassy flat where we camped and some were decorated with these funny looking mushrooms...

The next 6 miles to the Mina Road Bridge were fun class III, and though the flows had dropped a little they weren't significantly lower.  It felt good to get back on the water.

One of the highlights was the Rainbow Wall, a chert formation unlike any other rock and undoubtedly the most colorful rock I've ever seen.  We took a break here to admire the monolithic masterpiece.

We paddled underneath the bridge, and into the undescribed Split Rock section.  For a class III-IV paddler, a two-day trip to Mina Road Bridge would make an excellent run with an easy shuttle, but continuing downstream definitely puts you into a committing class V section for several miles as the North Fork descends to its confluence with the main Eel.

Split Rock was first descended by a group containing Bill Cross, and the only information we were able to gather regarding the section was that it "wasn't worth doing ever again", and "it wasn't that bad", but the group did a long one-day descent, taking out all the way down in Alderpoint.  This didn't leave us much to go with, and after scoping the river on Google Earth, I thought it looked bad-ass.  So as we paddled downstream from Mina Road, our mood was optimistic and cautious.  The old Mina Road Bridge eerily awaited us around the first bend.

After a couple of easy miles we reached a pair of rapids that dropped us toward the gorge, where the river takes a 90 degree left hand bend.

One more boat-scoutable rapid brought us to the crux of the gorge where we elected to carry a stout class V+ drop.  The portage was across a fresh, and loose landslide and was less than relaxing to say the least.

From here we had to ferry across the river to get a scout at the next rapid, and get a view downstream around the bend.

Stoked to find that the next two drops had good lines, Warner proceeded to fire them up.

Before we left the canyon, it was time for a lunch break.  Chilling in the gorge was a powerful experience, and just as we were leaving a mist-storm blew down the canyon.

The rain was visibly falling, but seemed to be evaporating before even reaching the ground...before we knew it the sun came out and the fun rapids continued.

Looking Back up at Split Rock Canyon

Downstream of Split Rock, the river eases for awhile, though fun rapids continue.  

Eventually the river's character became more intimidating as the gradient steepened with many large boulders that made for difficult boat-scouting.

 Being off-line wasn't an option as many places had hidden sieves and undercuts, some even clogged with wood.  We continued downstream and were able to run most of the whitewater, although it was slow going.

John Warner--On Line

Two major portages came after a bit, one that we carried on the right, through a hole in the  rock and into a back channel pool of schmeg water.

The second portage could have gone, but we chose to carry on the left, and after completing it, realized that the second half of the rapid was completely sieved out.

We then had to carry up and over a ridge, where simply portaging up and over on the right bank would've saved the time and energy...these are the types of problems that arise due to the lack of visibility between large boulders.

 Looking Back Upstream

 Cool Sedimentary rocks

All of the scouting and portaging had burned up quite a bit of our daylight hours, and exhaustion led me to suggest looking for a campspot, even though we had hoped to make the main Eel confluence.  After charging through a sweet drop, we got fired up that we might be close, but then reached another gradient section and decided to call it a day.  We were able to take a sweet hike and scope out the "Breakfast Rapids" for our final day on the water and a sweet sunset.