Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Big Rain = Big Adventure

The rain has been coming down in a pretty regular pattern lately in the PacNW, so it is now time to get out and explore some of the lesser known/explored runs in our part of the country.

On Saturday, Mike Glass and I headed to the coast range and the Wilson River drainage to hit the seldom paddled North Fork of the Wilson (Flows were at about 5 feet on the Wilson at Tillamook gauge). It started to pour rain as we left the highway and headed up into the moutains. After about 30 minutes of driving uphill, we dropped back down to the river and saw a relatively narrow and steep (80+ FPM) stretch of water. At the confluence of the West Fork of the Wilson and the North Fork Proper paddlers have a decision to make: put in here for the 3.3 mile run down to the main Wilson, or head up one of the 2 forks.

We originally scouted the North Fork, as it is estimated to have gradient in the range of 140 FPM. As we drove up stream, we saw one quality drop after another through the pouring rain, but were sadly greated by a large pile of dirt in the middle of the road. We got out to inspect it, only to find that the road had been washed away during the last high water event. This was particularly interesting, since the NFW was only about 2.5 parking spaces wide at this point, so the volume of water raging downhill must have been impressive. With little chance to make it further upstream, we turned around and headed back to the West Fork to scout. After about 2 miles of driving we started to pull away from the river at a pretty steep grade, so we chose a Put-In that involved the least amount of bushwhacking. We couldn't really see much of the West Fork on the drive up, given the thickness of the forest and the distance it lay below the road, but given the quality of what we saw and the North Fork, our expectations were high.

Mike finally reaches the river after our bushwhack from the car.

Once on the water, we immediately had to portage a river wide log, which concerned us just a bit. After another 100 yards or so we had another portage, followed by a limbo that actaully scraped the bill of my helmet. Luckily, that was the last of the major wood we encountered for the day and, all-in-all the WFW was a lot of fun and we looked forward to the confluence that featured a really quality Class III/III+ drop.

Typical scene on the West Fork of the Wilson

We both ran the confluence drop clean and moved down stream through fast moving water and more quality drops. At one stretch of the river there were two sweet drops, one of which we both skirted on the right, to avoid a monster hole... the next had a sweet Class II+ lead in, followed by a double hole drop of about 5 feet. The rest of the river was pretty much the same... fast, steep paddling with fun little drops. It was a great run, culminating in me getting beat down about 100 yards from the take-out, smacking my elbow on the river bottom, losing my paddle, an obligitory swim to appease the river gods and a hike back upstream to run the drop again... thanks to this nice smack on my funny bone, I now own a pair of elbow pads.

North Fork of the Wilson - Just below the confluence with the West Fork

On Sunday, Mike Glass, Aaron Nudelman and I joined a few other friends for a descent down the Upper Upper Kalama (Flows were at 1690 CFS on the EFL Gauge and 2400 on the Toutle Gauge) in Washington State.

This run is classified as a Class III (IV), but I would place it at this flow about III+ overall due to its continuous nature. During the bulk of the year, this section of the river is unaccessable, because Weyerhauser owns the land and has it gated off. However, during hunting season, paddlers can explore the upper reaches of this river - an undertaking that is well worth the time. We traveled, once again in the rain, to the gate and proceeded about a half mile to the first bridge, which is the normal take out for the UUK. After gearing up, we headed into Weyerhauser land, which feels very far away from everything... creeks and waterfalls were everywhere. We drove over one particular creek that had 2 sweet looking waterfalls, both clean of wood. About 11.5 miles from the take-out we reached Road 7300 and the next to last potential put-in (paddlers can proceed all the way up to Upper Kalama Falls, which I understand is quite a site and paddle down for a total run of 15 miles).

The Upper Upper Kalama

The first 3rd of the run was very fast and continuous and featured lots of hole dodging. This type of river didn't last for long, as small drops started to appear and before we knew it, we entered the first of maybe 6 mini gorges. The river took on more of a pool drop nature, with lots of horizon lines, some blind corners and beautiful scenery. There were tons of little creeks feeding into the river and even more waterfalls. This section was, in a word, AWESOME!

The end of the gorge section features the largest of the drops on the run: Double Drop. A fun class IV drop, DD is created by the river squeezing through a 20ish foot constriction and dropping over 2 ledges... I would say the river drops maybe 15-20 feet in about 30 yards AND THIS IS A MANDATORY DROP AT THIS FLOW... PORTAGING WOULD BE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE AND GETTING OUT OF YOUR BOAT WAS A CHORE IN AND OF ITSELF. The first drop is a fun move from river center with right angle and brace against a large converging wave... typewriter to the left and move hard to the right to drop down the green highway to the bottom, avoiding a large hole on river left... I got punched hard to the left on the first drop, held my deep water brace, but didn't not get far enough right and caught the edge of the hole, but rolled up quick on the flush with a fist pump.

The final 3rd of the the run opens up again to a little slower moving water and wider river, but with some equally fun drops... all in all, a great run and well worth the time to paddle it. All total, it took us about 3 hours to paddle the 11.5 miles, and that was with stopping and a precarious scout at DD.

Uh, yea, there is a paddler in this picture... you can see the top of the helmet and some paddle

The group prepares to enter one of the many blind corners on the Upper Upper Kalama

Okay, that's all for me... it was a great weekend and could only have been made better if Shell had been able to paddle with me, but she was pursuing her other passion (scuba diving) up in Seattle and had a great time, so if she's happy, then I'm happy.

Until next time...

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