Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Olympic National Park

One of the regions neither of us had ever been to before this trip was the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.  It was finally time to go explore the lush hidden canyons filled with supposedly scary and at times unportageable whitewater that fall from the glaciated peaks high in the Olympic National Park.  First on the list was the Grand Canyon of the Elwha.

In typical fashion, we left the Cispus later than expected and then had to spend some extra time resolving some car troubles and buying our food for the river, resulting in a 2 am arrival in the Elwha take out parking lot.  To our surprise, there was another kayaking vehicle there, loaded with boats but with no signs of paddlers.  In the morning, there was still no sign of the other paddlers, so Tom headed down to the ranger station to grab a permit while I oversaw a large and marginally successful gear drying operation.  Eventually Tom returned with a permit and the paddlers came out of their campsite in the bushes to reveal themselves, and it was the Kiwis.  Turned out their original trip vehicle had died so they had replaced it with a sweet minivan.  Jordy and Ari were down to join us but Barney and Chris had to abort due to a medical issue.  So, after a lazy morning of packing the 4 of us headed up the trail and into the lush Olympic forest.  Fortunately, the hike isn't too steep or long so Tom and I took our sweet time, rolling up the trail slowly to find the Kiwis had already sussed out a sweet riverside campsite.

TJ early in the hike surrounded by lush ferns.  Photo: JJ.

JJ cruising through the moss and huge trees.  Photo: TJ.

River side camping along the Elwha River.  Photo: TJ.

After a lazy morning, we headed down into the verdant crack in the earth that is the Grand Canyon of the Elwha.  The walls quickly closed in and the portaging, and sometimes scouting, options disappeared.  Fortunately, low water levels (700ish) and the current configuration of a formerly unscoutable rapid named nightmare made things pretty manageable.  Naturally, paddling with kiwis had us blazing down through the canyon of electric blue water quickly and soon enough we were eating lunch in the open section below the Grand Canyon.

Ari Walker leaning into Eskimo Pie.  Photo: TJ.

TJ heading into the easy part on Nightmare.  Photo: JJ.

JJ and Jordy Searle enjoying the canyon downstream of Nightmare.  Photo: TJ.

After lunch, the river quickly gorged back up into the shorter, smaller, and less committing Rico Canyon.  There were a few surprising rapids in there but we all handled them well and quickly the canyon started to dissipate.  As we continued, we started paddling into what is now the bathtub ring of the former Lake Mills Reservoir thanks to the removal of Glines Canyon Damn shortly before our trip.  As of 2014, we were required to hike out due to instability at the damn site, but hopefully in the near future paddling out through the old damn site will be a possibility.  Regardless, the Elwha lived up to its reputation as a scenic gem with some seriously locked in whitewater.

Ari rolling into a stout one in Rico Canyon.  Photo: TJ.

TJ as we enter into the bathtub ring of the old reservoir.  Photo: JJ. 

JJ looking further into the bathtub ring.  Photo: TJ. 

TJ getting ready to hike up the hill.  Photo: JJ.

 After a rest day in Forks to allow a rain storm to pass through and hopefully bring levels up a little, we headed down the peninsula to the Quinault region of the park with our eyes fixed on the North Fork of the Quinault.  Reputed to be even steeper and more locked into a slot canyon we were both excited and nervous to get the hike over with and drop into another slot canyon.

Again, hiking in the Olympic National Park did not disappoint with fern gully style scenery and an abundance of lush ferns and greenery everywhere.  This time the hike was significantly longer although no steeper.  We dropped our camping gear at the base of the steep whitewater and carried our boats up for a few more miles before retreating back to camp.  Only one thing was concerning, the river had lost a significant amount of water due to the various tributaries that came in below the canyon, and looked a little on the scratchy side (750 cfs on the gauge).  Oh well, when you've just carried your boats more than 10 miles up a river, there's nothing to do but paddle back down.

North Fork Quinault Valley resident.  Photo: TJ.

And the next morning, that's exactly what we did.  After carrying our boats upstream a little further to find an easy spot to get down to the river, we quickly geared up and headed downstream.  The minimal flow was abusive, but as the river gorged up and the flow channelized things came together nicely.  The canyon was spectacular and the water was incredibly clear and beautiful.  The rapids were good and manageable, and as they kept coming, we stayed on our toes looking for the glowing wall, which supposedly was the crux must run rapid.  The low flow made things a little rocky but allowed for some scouting that might not have been possible at higher flows.  After running plenty of somewhat scary but not too bad rapids, the canyon started to open up and suddenly we were back at our campsite.  Apparently the glowing wall had changed and was no longer the blind and mandatory 12 footer it once was.  Regardless, the canyon was magical and definitely worth the effort to get up there.  After grabbing our camping gear, we headed downstream, appreciative of tributaries adding extra flow just in time to keep the paddle out from being too frustrating.

JJ below what I think is the former glowing wall rapid.  Photo: TJ.

This canyon is beautiful!  Photo:JJ.

JJ staring down into more commitment.  Photo: TJ.

Here's a link to TJ's sweet video from the trip: https://vimeo.com/127317256

Not really wanting to travel much, we decided to try a quick trip on the main Quinault through a short but intense canyon.  After a quick hike up the 3 miles to Pony Bridge, we scrambled down to the river and put on.  After a short bit of flatwater, the river rapidly gorged up and headed into a class III rapid underneath a huge log jam.  With no portage options, and not wanting to paddle back up to the bridge to hike back down, we debated the options for running the rapid.  We both thought we could make the slalom moves through the log jam, but it's not exactly what you like to see entering a slot canyon with unportageable rapids.  Nevertheless, stubbornness got the best of us and we dropped in.  The log slalom went off without too many issues and we were quickly forced out by a walled out sieve pile.  Fortunately, we could portage over the boulders on the top right and seal launch into the run out.  Afterwards, the river opened up quite a bit with only a few more good rapids on the way down to the take out at Graves Creek.  The main Quinault doesn't quite stack up to the North Fork or the Elwha, but it's a good option if you're in the area and short on time or will to hike long distances carrying a torture device.
JJ boofing out of the sieved out rapid.  Photo: TJ.

The Olympics were spectacular, but water had run out, so it was time to head north for the cascades!

Into Washington

After more than 2 months of gypsy living, we finally took a break in White Salmon, thanks to our Uncle Jim and Aunt Cindy who have called it home for something like 40 years hosting us for about 10 days despite being super busy preparing for their daughter's wedding.  We spent quite a few of those days enjoying the Little White and Green Truss and even got to paddle with our Dad from Husum to the Columbia through the old Condit Dam site.

 TJ boofing into Husum Falls.  Photo: SJ

 JJ cruising into the big hole on the Lower White Salmon.  Photo: TJ

Our dad in action on the Lower White Salmon.  Photo: TJ 

JJ boofing into Stovepipe on the Little White Salmon.  Photo: TJ 

JJ with another Spirit Falls lap.  So Good!  Photo: TJ 

Eventually the water was running low in White Salmon and all out family had left following our cousin's wedding, so it was time to head north to the Ohanepecosh and the Upper Upper Cispus (after one more Green Truss lap).  We had great times with big crews on both runs despite low water on the Ohane and high water on the Cispus which unfortunately drove most of the crew to walk out at Behemoth.

Unknown paddler on the classic Ohanepecosh waterfall.  Photo: TJ 

Unknown paddler crushing the Ohanepecosh waterfall.  Photo: JJ 

Joe Keck getting amongst it in Elbow Room.  Photo: JJ

JJ probing a large hole at the Island Drop on the Upper Upper Cispus.  Photo: TJ 

Despite premium juicy flows on the Upper Upper Cispus, we decided to head on in search of what this trip was all about... camping out of our boats on beautiful remote rivers.  In Washington this means one thing, we were headed to the Olympic Peninsula!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gettin' Lucky in Idaho

With the flows dropping in Idaho, we decided to head there for a quick tour en route to Hood River.  The main objective was the South Fork of the Salmon, but we also wanted to get on something in the Payette drainage on the way north.  After burning a little too much time getting supplies in Boise we decided to hit the South Payette Canyon run.  It was 7 pm on July 4th when we got to the take out, and fortunately we were able to quickly wrangle a shuttle driver.  The dramatic evening light in the deep canyon was a great way to celebrate 'merica, enough so that we skipped the debauchery down the road in Crouch to enjoy a quite campfire.

The next morning we headed up to McCall with one objective, find a shuttle driver.  We tries every connection we had and every outdoor shop in town, but a few hours later we still hadn't found anyone.  It turns out the day after the forth of July everyone in McCall is either working or too hungover to want to earn some shuttle cash.  Without other options, we headed to the ranger station for out permit, deciding we could hitch back to McCall and then hire someone to drive out towards Yellow Pine on the back end.

We were rolling out of town past Little Payette Lake when three kids in the road flashed a brown claw at us.  After a few chuckles, we made a U-turn to see if any of them were interested in helping us get our rig back to McCall.  By the time we made it back, two of them were in the bushed purging their previous nights' mistakes, but the third was game to ride out to Yellow Pine with us and drive the jeep back to McCall.  On the ride, we found out she was guiding near Riggins for the summer and would have no trouble driving the Jeep down to the take out.  Sometimes things just work out perfectly when you least expect them too.

Chill canyon section on day 1.  Photo JJ. 

Dinner with some freedom brauts.  Photo TJ. 

We ended up putting in on the East Fork of the South Fork near Yellow Pine in the late afternoon, which was a great roadside section of class IV before continuing past the South Fork and Secesh confluences into the overnight section, camping shortly above Devil's Creek Rapid.  Great splashy class IV with a touch of class V spice at the end continued for the remainder of the South Fork.  We found a great campsite under huge pines at the confluence with the Main Salmon.  The next day we made quick work of the twenty miles down to the take out through lots of flatwater with the occasional beautiful glassy wave.  3 days out on the river was just what the doctor ordered and the great but not threatening whitewater on the South Fork was perfect for licking our wounds after some rough days in Durango.

Some mighty fine creek boat surfing out there.  Photo TJ. 

And more glass... Photo TJ. 

Beautiful canyon scenery as well.  Photo TJ.

It was only noon when we arrived at the take out, so we decided to get some more boating in for the day.  After resupplying in Riggins we headed up to the South Fork of the Clearwater, which unfortunately didn't have enough water.  Instead we decided to head up to the Lochsa, arriving at 7:30 pm for a quick evening run.  It had been a long time since Tom and I had run the Lochsa but its rapids were just as good as we remembered with big powerful wave trains with the ocassional big hole.  We finished up just in time to hitch a shuttle and find fantastic riverside camping just before dark.

Idaho had treated us well, even serving up a breakfast of waffles, berries, and ice cream in Lewiston on the way out, but it was time to head to Hood River for our cousin's wedding and a little time on the Little White and Green Truss.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Durango Days

Once the small California snowpack finally ran out, we headed back to Durango so Tom could work a few shifts and I could sample a little bit of his home town boating.  We were able to get on most of the classics: Upper Animas, Pandora's Box, 2nd Gorge of Lime, Vallecito, and even a little time at the Durango playpark.  See below for a little video of Pandora's and some eye candy from Lime Creek.

Skirt implosions in slot canyons generally aren't good.

TJ Spotting his landing and exit to the second gorge of Lime Creek.  Photo: JJ

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Last Drop of California Goodness

Leading up to the Middle Kings, we had been throwing out all kinds of ideas for how to get shuttle done efficiently.  We found out JJ and the Kiwis would be meeting up in Truckee to start their shuttle, then having a driver meet them at the take out for return to Truckee, so we agreed to meet them up there to get it done.  Then we started thinking all sorts of crazy thoughts and trying to figure out how we could sneak in one last Cali run near the Middle Kings take out, the South Kings.  Turns out our buddy Daniel Brasuell was into South Kings as well, so we hatched a somewhat ludicrous plan to make it all work.  Tom and I would meet up with the boys in Truckee, leaving Tom's Jeep at his friend Matt's place.  Then on Friday, the day we were taking off the Middle Kings, Matt would pick Daniel up on the way to the Kings area while we would attempt to meet them in Fresno.  Then, Matt would drive our shuttle and hike in to camp with us at the South and Middle Kings confluence.  Trouble was, JJ and the Kiwis were hell bent on finishing the Middle Fork on Thursday and we had no interest in rushing to get out of there just to spend a night in the hell hole of Fresno.  So, Tom and I would just have to figure out how to get a ride for us and our boats from the middle of nowhere about 2 hours to Fresno.

Like usual, these things just sort of work themselves out if you let them.  As we were winding down on our run through Garlic Falls to finish our Middle Kings trip, Tom and I were discussing how far we should keep paddling past the normal take out to look for a ride.  But then, we ran into a group of 3 paddlers who were finishing up an overnighter on the Garlic Falls section.  We paddled with them for the last of the class IV and they were kind enough to take pity on us and offer us a ride to Fresno.  We cruised the rest of the run out to the Garnet Dike trailhead where we piled into the their truck for the long dusty ride to Fresno.  Huge Thanks Fellas!

Tom and I decided we needed some real food after 6 days of caloric deficiency, so we had the boys drop us off at a pizza place in a strip mall.  We ordered an enormous pizza planning to share with them, but they were in a hurry to get back to the real world and didn't want to wait for it to come out.  Fortunately a post Middle Kings appetite is a crazy thing, and that huge pizza went down like nothing.  The ravenous appetite continued as we went next door to get a half gallon of ice cream to split.  About when we finished our ice cream shopping, Matt and Daniel showed up to take us up towards Boyden Cave and the put in for the South Kings Horseshoe Bend (Fear and Loathing) section.  Between the four of us, the ice cream did not last long.

The start of the Horseshoe Bend Canyon as seen from the road.  Photo: TJ

Moving downstream as the walls rise up.  Photo: TJ

After a night spent sleeping alongside the South Kings upstream of the put in, we lazily made our way down towards the put in.  Putting in at a tourist trap like Boyden Cave is about as far as it gets from launching on the Middle Kings in Leconte Canyon, but soon enough, the whitewater was building along with the walls.  The road was still in sight, but it was a world away.  Fortunately, the name sake rapid of this section, Fear and Loathing, which used to be pretty marginal and unportageable, has changed significantly for the better in recent years.  It's still unportageable, but it's pretty safe and chill.  Plus, there's quite a few other high quality rapids squeezed between the walls which are good fun and portageable if you don't like what you see.  It's not your typical high Sierra granite bedrock run, but it's got plenty of great boulder rapids that are on par with what Garlic Falls offers downstream, just with a little more commitment.  4 hours after we put on we arrived at the confluence and found a nice camp.  It was the first night in California the whole trip that it was truly hot.  Tom and Matt went off to try a little fishing while Daniel and I sat around and swam.  They came back with tales of big fish and an enormous rattler that Matt had stepped on in flip flops.

The authoring airing out the first nice drop.  Photo: TJ

Bracing through the splashy pinch.  Photo: TJ

And boofing the bottom on the slide.  Photo: TJ

Or plugging it.  Photo: TJ

Daniel looking down into the unportageable Fear and Loathing.  Photo: TJ

Fortunately there's nothing to fear or loath as it boats quite nicely these days.  Photo: TJ

JJ blasting through the first slot of a nice double drop.  Photo: TJ

And off the sweet second tier.  Photo: TJ

Daniel on the first drop from below.  Photo: TJ

Daniel plugging away.  Photo: TJ

Nice table top boof.  Photo: TJ

And ensuing slightly dirt run out.  Photo: TJ

Nice roll to vertical over a sticky hole at the top of the last major rapid.  Photo: TJ

Right as it was getting towards dark and we were settling down to cook dinner, we got a huge surprise, the Taylor Cavin birthday party (not to be confused with his bachelor party: http://thenexthorizonline.blogspot.com/2014/08/north-kings.html) came rolling into camp.  We had plenty of room, so the party joined us, making for a great last night on the side of the river in California for 2014.

The next morning we bid the birthday party goodbye and headed down into Garlic Falls.  As Tom and I had just run it 2 days earlier, we were able to give Daniel lots of verbal beta and with a few scouts we made it through.  This run is really top notch and has fabulous scenery despite its low elevation, making for an excellent end to either a Middle or South Kings trip.  We got to the take out right around noon and Matt was nowhere to be found.  We waited for a long time, hoping he hadn't gotten lost.  Finally he rolled in, rocking a donut tire on Tom's Jeep.  The California season had finished off Tom's tires so it was back to Fresno to see if we could find someone to sell us tires at 4:30 pm on Sunday afternoon.  Again, it all worked out and soon enough we were on our way back to Sacramento, Truckee, and then Durango.

For Daniel's video of the trip check: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3Iw_FfN9Wo.

The first major rapid of Garlic Falls is a little chunky.  Photo: TJ

Cassidy Falls is one of the sweetest drops in the whole Kings drainage.  Photo: TJ

Daniel boofing over a sticky ledge hole.  Photo: TJ

Soaking up the scenery at Rough Creek Falls. Photo: TJ

More good stuff.  Notice the trickle of Garlic Falls proper downstream river right.  Photo:TJ

The author on the last good boof of California 2014.  Photo: TJ

Finally at least one photo of Tom.  Photo:JJ

It was a hell of a California season, despite predictions from naysayers that nothing in the Sierra would run in 2014.  Instead, we had gotten on pretty much everything we had wanted to with the exception of the Royal Gorge and the North Fork of the San Joaquin and the water held out until June 22nd.  For anyone who loves creek boating and especially hard multi-day trips, California is unrivaled in the world for the combination of long quality runs, great wilderness, reasonable logistics, and great weather.  Although it might not happen in 2015, I can't wait to get back out to the Sierra again.