Friday, April 27, 2012

Klamath River--Seiad Valley to Green Riffle--Six Rivers Source to Sea

Day One (Two Really)
During the night it started to rain, and the gentle percussion continued all night long on the roof under which we were so fortunate to be sleeping.  Explore Six Rivers owes a big thanks again to Tom Alexander and Four Winds Rafting in Seiad Valley as well as Alice DiMicele for putting us in contact.  While hanging out with Tom and his friends Eli and J we were stoked to hear that they would come rafting along with us for a good stretch of water from Seiad down to Thompson Creek.  It would be the first time the Explore Six Rivers crew would have a raft along for the mission.  Also discussed was circus sideshow as a part of rafting since Eli was trained in the circus arts at Humboldt State.

Photo: Will Parham

Morning came and the shuttle arrangements were discussed.  The plan was to drop our kayak/canoe crew off where we took-out the previous night at the upstream end of Seiad Valley and then meet up with the shuttle crew at the Sluice Box River Access at the downstream end of the valley.  Tom graciously offered to put us up for another night thus solving our problem of having a dry place to sleep and having to repack the truck with all our crap.  Wes elected to drive shuttle with the Four Winds boys who helped us all the way down to Happy Camp. 

The paddle through Seiad was generally disinteresting flat water and the beautiful mountain scenery we enjoyed the day before had succumbed to grey rainclouds.  It was cold and for sure snowing in the mountains all around us as the rain continued steadily.  While floating through Seiad Valley we passed the confluence of Seiad Creek and Grider Creek, both of which added substantially to the rivers flow.  Before long we arrived to Sluice Box where the raft was waiting.  

Photo: Will Parham

Boiling eddy lines and swirling currents were making me quite nervous in the open canoe and I forced myself to do a practice roll to quell the fear.  The practice roll was successful, but the fear remained.  We headed downstream into the canyon separating the Marble Mountains to our south and Red Buttes Wilderness to the north.  Side streams were flowing strong and seemed to be coming in everywhere.  The river also picked up its pace since entering the canyon and we were enjoying some fun wavetrains. 

Before long we reached Savage Rapids, and Will got out to film.  I came charging into the drop straight down the gut and right towards the breaking wave.  When the canoe hit the exploding wave it didn’t swamp the boat like I was expecting, instead, the hull of the canoe struck the wave and sent me launching into the air!  Yee-haw!  Right behind me the raft came through with Eli juggling away in the bucking raft.  This was some quality entertainment and we were definitely enjoying the river as it should be enjoyed.

Photo: Will Parham

The circus sideshow continued unabated

Just downstream, another rapid called Otter’s Playpen kept the crew grinning.   The river was on the rise, and moved us quickly downstream to Thompson Creek where we parted ways with our rafting/juggling friends.  Downstream the Klamath enters an amazing canyon lined with metamorphic slate bedrock.  The road isn’t noticeable through here although it is just above; the only intrusion comes from the gigantic boulders lining the banks.  We paddled onward; enjoying the ease of the miles we were making and looking forward to eating at the Pizza House in Happy Camp.  

We passed China Point, named for Chinese miners who worked here during the late 1800’s.  Here the Klamath makes a gigantic horseshoe bend as it carves around the northeastern edge of the Marble Mountains and begins flowing south, instead of the westerly course we had been on since Iron Gate Dam, 70 miles upstream.  There were a couple of nice surf waves however, too good to pass up.

During this section the river also flows past Fryingpan Ridge, an incredible limestone formation that we decided to stop and investigate for caves.  After pulling our boats aside we went charging up the hillside to be repeatedly thwarted by thickets of poison oak and never reached the mystical cave we were searching for.  Nonetheless it was a good side hike and nice to be out of the canoe and moving my legs for a bit.  Getting back on the water we enjoyed the last five miles to Happy Camp where we arrived by four o’ clock, making for a short 40-mile day.

Jon spelunking

Happy Camp has a unique history, dating back beyond its present name.  The town was denoted in the 1860’s by a traveler who remarked about the cheery nature of the local miners who were all doing successfully with their gold-discovering exploits.  Ironically, this name replaced the previous title of Murderers Bar.  I have a friend who swears he saw a ghost while staying at the Forest Lodge.  When driving around Happy Camp these days one cannot help but notice that many of the locals have “No Monument” signs in their yards and in front of businesses.  The signs are protesting the proposed Siskiyou National Monument, which would extend from Seiad Valley all the way past Happy Camp downstream.  Supposedly the proposed monument would involve placing many restrictions upon the locals who already live in the area and as such, these signs are posted nearly everywhere.  It is a contentious issue that is further complicated by the presence of Mexican Mafioso weed-farmers who invade the hills surrounding Happy Camp every summer.  A friend of mine told me that recently the Siskiyou County Sheriff responsible for policing the general area was forced to retire after the mafia-growers had literally outnumbered and outgunned the lawman, who was fearing for his life and unable to effectively do his job.  

Photo: Will Parham

As foretold, the crew loaded our boats and charged to the Pizza House for some highly anticipated goodness. The Pizza House is notoriously delicious as they make their own dough and they do it right.  I recommend a trip to Happy Camp for the pizza alone!  The ladies there didn’t even mind that we were still wearing our drysuits as we devoured perhaps my favorite food of all-time till it was gone.  Then we returned to Seiad Valley where we were so blessed to have a place to stay, the cold rain had continued all day long and it was forecast to continue.  Actually the rain had increased in its intensity and began to pound upon the roof while we hung our gear to dry around the heater.  After paddling 90 miles over the last two days we were shagged out and with our full-bellies the crew turned in early for the night.  Tomorrow we were looking forward to finishing off the trip with another 40-mile section guaranteed to be a big water extravaganza.  The rain drummed on the roof all night long causing me to sleep like a rock.  

Day Two: Happy Camp to Green Riffle
We woke to even harder rain that was forcing its way down from the sky.  After gathering our equipment we bid our gracious hosts adieu and headed off downstream to finish the three-day paddling bender.  When we reached the put-in at Indian Creek the crew stopped for a moment to appreciate the intensely high water.  Logs were floating past us and the creek’s flow nearly rivaled the river into which it was flowing.  I was exceedingly nervous and second-guessing my decision to bring along an open-canoe for the trip.  Fortunately “I was surrounded by a crew of solid paddlers”, this I told myself repeatedly to try and find some semblance of comfort.  But there was no comfort when we reached the first horizon line and I saw an exploding wavetrain that continued as far as the eye could see.  Dodging breaking waves and charging past boiling eddy lines was my task for the day, that and staying away from the randomly appearing whirlpools. 

Photo: Will Parham

After having good lines and making my way cleanly through several rapids my confidence was building.  Dragons Tooth rapid quickly put an end to that—one look down the gauntlet of exploding hydraulics and river features put me right into check.  I slid into this fascinating liquid artistry that was entirely reminiscent of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon—chocolate brown water rolled along in a chaotic fashion.  Feeling a strange sympathy for all the small rodents and deer that constantly run about this planet in fear, with all due respect I needed to take a nervous pee.  Negotiating that rapid was a 5 minute battle, the canoe filled with water instantaneously and I was forced to maneuver my way about with an extra 100 lbs of water in the boat.  Then, after finally making it to the bottom of the rapid I was met with the equally formidable task of splitting between two monster eddy lines that were sure to do me in had I failed.  After my successful line through Dragons Tooth, I was bailing the boat frantically because I saw another horizon line just downstream.  There was just no downtime for the open canoeist who finds themselves on the Klamath at 25,000 cfs.  

Photo: Paul Gamache

Bailing frantically
Photo: Paul Gamache

Devil’s Toenail turned out to be the next rapid and equally daunting as the previous.  I found myself on the scramble once again, boat full of water and trying to avoid the eddy lines at the bottom.  Looking ahead my friend Wes got completely enveloped by a spontaneously formed whirlpool and I felt the hairs on my neck rise.  After 20+ years on the water, this was one of the most stressful days yet as I charged ahead hoping to avoid the same feature that gobbled my friend before me.  Before long we reached the Independence Bridge and river access where our shuttle rig waited.  Will traded up shuttle detail with Jon, who took one for the team and hopped in the truck.

Photo: Will Parham

Taking a break at Independence

Photo: Paul Gamache

The Open-Canoe Setup, thanks to Don Iverson for making it possible...sorry Don, I'll get that bailing bucket to you, the floatbag is in the boat though:)

Photo: Paul Gamache

In contrast to my stressful canoeing, the kayakers were playing their brains out all around me.

Photo: Paul Gamache

We were constantly passing by some of the largest river features any of us had ever seen, and the boys were proudly dropping into them.  At one point, Will dropped into a house-size wave for a surf just as a whole tree floated into it.  Unable to avoid the floating hazard Will surfed straight over the root ball, rail-grinding the entire tree.  Paul was charging into some monster boofs that we sent him over.  Jon and Wes were playing in the abundance of river features.

Photo: Paul Gamache

 We had made 20 miles in a little over one hour and it had been a wild ride.  More big drops were ahead for sure, though nobody had a good idea of where they might be.  Ferry Point rapid, known as the high water rapid, was a guaranteed big one that we were anticipating, but when we arrived found it to be completely flushed out.  What we did find, however were some of the biggest surf waves any of us had ever seen.  Will, "Did you see that rail-grind!"

Photo: Paul Gamache

 The largest rapid turned out to be Ti Bar rapid with some legitimate holes to be avoided.  The open-canoe onslaught continued and I was tiring quickly as my friends in their kayaks comfortably floated down the wavetrains while I fought my way along the edge, bailing water any chance I could get.

Photo: Paul Gamache

None of us had ever paddled to Green Riffle before and we stopped at a couple of river access points before we actually arrived to G.R. for fear of passing the take-out and having to deal with Ishi-Pishi Falls at massive flow.  When we finally arrived to green riffle, it was only 4 and ½ hours later and we had completed what many people do as a 2 or 3-day float during the summer.  Mission accomplished!  After 3 great days on the water we had done it and made our 120-mile goal.  Unfortunately, the water was so high that we were unable to turn the truck around at the bottom of the shuttle road and had to back it all the way out the steep river access instead.  On the drive home we discussed the remaining Ikes section and Upper Klamath sections that still remained for the Explore Six Rivers team, especially the possibility of kayaking Ishi Pishi Falls at high water.  The section we had just paddled is one of the best big water play runs any of us had ever paddled—hands down.

Photo: Paul Gamache

Here's to the mighty Klamath River!

Photo: Paul Gamache

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Klamath River--Iron Gate to Seiad Valley--Six Rivers Source to Sea

This was a 140 mile endeavor that could only have been thought up by the Explore Six Rivers crew.  The plan was to paddle as far as we could in the first two days so our last day wouldn't be an attempt to cover lost ground.  In the aftermath of one storm we would get a nice day of weather before it was supposed to rain again.  Earnestly, we were hoping to catch as much extra water as possible to carry us downriver without undue effort.  For this trip we owe a big thanks to Don Iverson, Alice DiMicele, Jeff Burlingham and Tom Alexander of Four Winds Rafting in Seiad Valley.

Photo: Wes Schrecongost

It was a dream of mine to paddle the Klamath River in an open canoe--for various reasons.  The primary reason was that class III water is simply more exciting for me in an open canoe than in my kayak.  I get scared at something that I would happily go play in with my sprayskirt and double-bladed paddle.  Open canoes make for excellent craft during long floats, you can stretch out and enjoy your surroundings much more than when being cramped in a small kayak.  You also sit higher and are afforded a better view when boatscouting.  I don't own an open canoe however (aside from an old slalom C-1 in Idaho) and had to resort to other means of obtaining one--i had to talk to the godfather himself.

Photo: Wes Schrecongost

 Don Iverson is the godfather of open canoeing in California.  He has devotedly written an article published in AW about the many advantages open canoeing offers relative to kayaks.  My meeting with the godfather was arranged through one of his associates, Matt Titre.  After arranging the deal, Matt called me with good news that the godfather would see us on the way out of town and provide a canoe for the trip.  I was nervous about the exchange but confident in Matt's word.  We pulled up and introduced ourselves humbly.  I walked with Don over to the boat rack and started discussing which vessel I would be using.  The rack was adorned with open canoes of all shapes and sizes...tandem canoes, wide ones, narrow ones, flatwater canoes.  Don pointed to a wide red one, suggesting it was the best choice.  Being a wily one, I asked about other possible options and Don singled out a narrower, shorter Dagger Rival that had much more appeal to my eye.  The deal was done, included was a bailing bucket and floatbags, an essential piece of open canoe equipment.  We loaded the boat as gingerly and securely as possible while Don looked on.  Then we made our departure, feeling good about the coming adventure.

Wes drove all the way to Medford, 3 hours away, where we had arranged a place to crash for the night with my good friends Alice and Jeff.  Alice is an amazing musician who has produced something like 13 albums and Jeff is an awe-inspiring surf kayaker, they are both wonderful folks and gracious hosts who accepted us despite our late 11 o clock arrival.  Alice even sang us a new song she wrote called "Schoolhouse" about surfing the namesake wave on the Klamath River and the need for Dam Removal on the Klamath.  It was a special moment for our crew who proceeded to sleep like a bunch of babies.  Waking up early we proceeded towards Iron Gate, with a quick stop at the gas station in Hornbrook to fuel up on coffee and pre-packaged doughnuts for our breakfast.  It truly felt like we were in real America, with an aura of flags and rednecks.

After arriving at Iron Gate, the posse geared up for the initial flat miles down to the I-5.  The plan was for our crew to alternate running shuttles, thus avoiding having to bring a second vehicle considering the obscene gas prices these days.  Also, when you're covering 140 miles, you don't need to get every mile to feel like you've done something, so the arrangement worked out with a little sacrifice.

Photo: Wes Schrecongost

Hitting the water felt good, we were moving fast and it was a beautiful morning.  It also felt good to be paddling for fun, the last time I had seen this stretch of water was while conducting salmon carcass surveys for work and my memory is tainted with the putrid stench of rotting fish and chopping through them with a machete.  We would pass a bend and I'd reminisce about the time I had to chop a big slab of fish and got "mung" splattered on my face.  The thought of not being able to eat because all I could smell was carcass came back to me.  Good times.

The Klamath River has a huge fisheries issue that has been reaching a climax with the recent discussions of dam removal.  Iron Gate forms a total barrier, blocking salmon from hundreds of miles of river upstream where they historically spawned.  In addition to cutting off fish from available habitat, the Dams create water quality issues associated with high temperatures, toxic algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen levels in the river.  Just downstream from our put-in we ran into a fish crew that was trapping juvenile salmon to monitor their condition and abundance.

 Actually it was my buddy Phil, who is a good kayaker and all around great guy.  We said hello before passing on, we had miles to cover!  Here is Paul with the fish trap deployed behind him.

Covering miles on the upper Klamath River.

There are actually some decent class II rapids through this section and a couple of playspots that made for enjoyable river time.  My ankles and knees were starting to remind me why I stopped canoeing years ago, but the beautiful scenery egged us on as we made good downstream progress.  Here is a uniquely decorated river-home we passed along the way.

Eventually we reached the I-5 bridge and Shasta River confluence, downstream of which an excellent access point waits at the "snagging hole".  Here we traded up shuttle drivers and ate a quick lunch before continuing downstream.

The river had grown already and combined with some extra gradient the next several miles were quite enjoyable.  As you paddle downstream on the Klamath River, you pass the sagebrush hills of the upper river and begin cutting into the forested canyon that splits the Siskiyou and Marble Mountains.

 In places the south facing slopes are desert sagebrush while the north facing slopes host grey pine, ponderosa, and douglas fir.  Eventually, Oaks and Madrones get into the mix, along with ferns, cedars and eventually you find yourself in a beautiful forested canyon that feels like anything but desert.  Side creeks are virtually everywhere and the river constantly seems to be growing.  Reaching the confluence with the Scott River was a major point along this section, as the Scott River was gushing from recent storms.  At the confluence, the Scott River water came bursting into the placid Klamath as a brown watery wave train.  The flow almost doubled here and we were stoked to make some easier miles with the extra water.  A mile downstream, Hamburg rapid presented the crew with its biggest obstacle in a while, and definitely raised the hairs on this open canoeists neck...Here is Paul, coming through some quality whitewater on the Klamath River.

Along the Klamath you see lots of structures that were flooded out and abandoned due to the high water of 1964.

The next several miles presented some excellent whitewater, with solid wavetrains and swirly water due to the added volume.  The flows at this point were closer to 4,-- ???  for the day and we had officially begun to increase our average pace.  Suddenly we heard gunshots downstream, although we yelled and tried to get some attention the gunfire continued so we were forced to paddle tight along the right bank with bullets literally whizzing over our heads.  Floating on the Klamath.

 I was getting nervous in the open canoe.  After a couple more miles the river flattened out as we entered Seiad Valley our final destination.

We paddled through the valley and took out at the Sluice Box, passing Grider Creek and Seiad Creek along the way.  The Klamath was flowing strong and I looked nervously towards the whitewater that lay ahead in the coming days.  But we were blessed, because Alice had arranged for us to have a place to stay with Tom Alexander at Four Winds Rafting Company in Seiad Valley.  We were graciously hosted and very happy to have a roof over our heads when it began raining.  Discussion of the next day on the water, as well as pizza in Happy Camp was already in the works and we shot for an easy Seiad to Happy Camp for our second day on the water.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lower Klamath River--Orleans to Klamath Glen--Six Rivers Source to Sea

One day after ticking off 40 miles on the Lower Trinity we chased the rain straight back up to Weitchpec and beyond!  The plan was to kayak straight through the heart of bigfoot country and tour the Yurok Indian Reservation via. kayak.  With flows of  17,000 cfs at Orleans Miguel, Paul and I put-on in hopes that the abundant water would carry us quickly through the flat sections of the lower river.  Paul surfing the Big-Bar wave.

Hoping to paddle 50 miles was a tall order but we felt up to it and put-on with a business-like fashion at Orleans.  Will honorably elected to drive shuttle in an effort to get some good camera shots from the road and the plan was to make the call at Weitchpec if we thought we were making good enough time.  Right away we were making good time, surfing the goods.

Photo: Paul Gamache

The Klamath is amazing in that it has so many large tributary streams coming in from both banks.  Seems like every other bend another large creek is coming in and the river flows swiftly. The Klamath is also a very mighty river with a an ominous feeling of history that tingles your spine at times.  After floating though Orleans, Camp Creek spills on on the right bank and the Klamath enters a beautiful canyon with an excellent wave right at the entrance.

Photo: Paul Gamache
After flowing through this beautiful section of River, Red Cap Creek enters on the left.   The canyon continues with beautiful metamorphic bedrock.

Then the road begins to drop closer to the river right at the big bar river access.  This spot has a surf wave that I have literally driven past a hundred times on my way to other runs but surfed only once.  Turns out it was a good flow and we sessioned for a while, close-up view from the eddy.

Photo: Paul Gamache

Then another couple of rapids bring you down to the confluence of Bluff Creek, coming in on the right.  The realignment of Bluff Creek during the flood of 1964 is is one of the most unique geological features I've seen.  Bluff Creek actually used to flow along the Highway 96 and empty into the Klamath 1/2 mile downstream of its current location, but in 1964 the amazing volume of water caused the entire hillside separating the Klamath and Bluff Creek canyon's to collapse, sliding into the Klamath River.  The result is a gnarly class V spectacle that has rearranged multiple times in the 11 years I have lived here.   We drove past this spot after a huge rainstorm and while standing on the bridge you could literally hear the rocks tumbling down the riverbed and caroming down the amazing whitewater spectacle!  It is a powerful place, Bluff Creek is also the location of the famous Bigfoot footage that cannot be disproven, here Paul walks up from the Mouth of Bluff Creek looking for signs of Sasquatch.

Downstream from here the river charges through an interesting rapid with a huge surfwave.  Problem is just downstream there are some huge whirlpools and a gnarly eddy line so it takes a little liquid courage to drop in on!

Photo: Paul Gamache
The big rock always visible from highway 96, and Orleans Mountain as the backdrop

We continued along in a flurry of wavetrains, making easy miles and enjoying our time on the water.  Stopping in Weitchpec we grubbed down on our lunch before bidding our friend Will adieu.  Then we continued along downstream with the addition of the Trinity River that was flowing a strong 10,000 cfs   at Hoopa that day.  A fun wavetrain just downstream had weird boils and swirls and I realized this may be the largest volume of water that I have ever kayaked on!  It was exciting and the rain continued to fall on us as we passed the mouth of Pine Creek.  Pine Creek has an excellent class IV(V) run, and first D potential higher up.

And then we passed the Martin's Ferry Bridge.  

The Martin's Ferry Bridge was structurally weakened following an earthquake and extremely high water event in 2006.  The highway department closed off the bridge and for a little while the residents downstream of Weitchpec who live off the Bald Hills and Tully Creek Road were cut off from the road back to Weitchpec, the community hub.  Well, it could only last so long before people were risking it and charging across the bridge in their vehicles.  Before long I was driving across the bridge, mistrustingly, on my way to the Bald Hills Road back to the coast near Orick.  It seemed like nobody minds that the bridges srtructural integrity was of no concern to the crazy locals of the Northcoast.  When we passed the bridge, however I was both surprised and delighted to see a road crew set up and working to reinforce the Martin's Ferry Bridge.  Just downstream, Tully Creek comes in, another creek that has been run, but unfortunately became plagued with landslides and portages in the last 5 years.

Downstream we were entering a section of river I was fascinated by but have never paddled.

 Not only is it squatchy, but the lower Klamath is also known for having the greatest diversity of coniferous trees (pine, fir, spruce, cedar, needled trees basically) in North America.  The reason for this is related to the last period of glaciation, where the majority of North America was covered in ice...the Klamath river, however, did not ice over during this period and as a result it was literally the "seedbank" from which most of the common North American conifers came.  Pretty cool huh?  Needless to say it is a powerful place and the river was huge at this point.  Fun rapids continued intermittently mostly with surging waves and randomly appearing boils.

Eventually, however, we reached what appeared to be a "real rapid".  I could see whitewater on the right and dictated that's where my line should be, although the giant wavetrain down the left looked equally enticing.  I quickly realized that this splashing surging feature was actually one of the best waves I've ever surfed!

Photo: Paul Gamache
The "Discovery" wave was a solid 6 feet tall with a surging foam crest and speedy green trough that also had a tasty shoulder on the surfers left side.  Best of all, there was an eddy 1/2 mile long so you could basically run the entire wavetrain rapid over and over again after surfing this awesome wave.  I can't wait to go back here, a few miles downstream of the Martin's Ferry bridge and spend some quality time with a playboat tearing this lonely wave apart!  Here is the view downstream at the runout.

 We passed into the coastal fog zone and began to see some Sequioa sempervirens , Coast Redwoods

Passing the Mouth of Roach Creek, another stream that has been paddled.

Riffles on the Lower Klamath

Paul enjoying the trip

Turns out the Mysto Wave was the last real rapid on the Klamath River.  Downstream are some "riffles" but nothing I would consider a rapid, at least at our high flows of 37,000 cfs at Klamath Glen.  This section of river is notorious for having lots of jetboat traffic as many people fish the river, however it seemed that nobody was interested in taking their jet boats out on this particular day and we saw nobody else on the river, which seems to be a theme of our mission.

Maybe it was the cold rainy weather and fog, with high water that was discolored and too murky for fishing that kept other people off the water?

Arriving at the confluence of Blue Creek was a special experience.  Blue Creek has never been paddled in its entirety but is a dream of mine and to see it flowing strong at the confluence was inspiring to say the least.  This also meant that we were nearing the highway and our take-out.  We had been paddling pretty solidly for several hours now as the river had flattened.

The scenery was beautiful, although only a few old growth redwood stands remain, fewer than I was expecting.  Several of them contained magnificent and grandiose trees however.

Before we knew it we were passing the stream gauge at  Klamath Glen and arrived to the boat ramp where Will was waiting for us.  It was an amazing day on the water and totally different from my expectations in that we found sick waves, had lots of current so we didn't have to paddle our asses off, and didn't see another soul.  Another quality day on the water in the land of the Six Rivers!