Monday, April 18, 2011

West Coast Waundering: Spring Break 2011 (Pt. 1)

The trip started off right, skipping the last day of class before break to get us an extra one on the water. Piling in the Forerunner with Leif and Natalie we drove through the night and added one more Dave to the party in Reno. We headed on to Auburn that night, and camped outside of the Sierra Outdoor Center. The next day we were ready to fire up the first run of the trip. After a few calls we decided on the Sierra classic, 49 to Bridgeport. This was my first taste of California granite. The picturesque canyons were better than any photo I’d ever seen of the run. From Auburn we headed farther north. We could’ve easily spent the whole break paddling around Auburn and even farther into the Sierras but Leif and Natalie had some friends we planned on staying with in Aracata (FYI, the home of Kokatat). I wasn’t too disappointed about leaving more Sierra classics for another trip, because by the next day we were already gearing up for another classic run.
After waking up rather damp from the rain and being skunked on two low volume creeks Leif and I opted for a run through Burnt Ranch Gorge, while Natalie ran shuttle. Natalie was more than happy to read her book, grab dinner for us, and thank god put my sleeping bag in a dryer. I had been excited about trying out my new bivy sack and in hasty packing didn’t bring a tent. Lesson learned, when it rains on the west coast, it rains! and when it doesn’t, it drizzles.
Rain or shine we made it on the river and Leif showed me good lines down Burnt Ranch which was running a relatively high 2500 cfs. I say relatively because a few days later 2500 would feel like low water. Apparently typical summer flows are around 500 cfs. From my Rocky Mountain perspective I’d say it was similar to Gore Canyon, minus the rapids made from railroad tailings and with 2 to 3 times the number of significant drops. If you can picture that then you can imagine it was a pretty solid day of boating.
The next day we rallied early for a low volume run called Willow Creek which, thank you rain, was at a medium-high level. But regardless of water this creek still had a slight scrape-and-pinball-off-rocks kinda feel. You spend enough time boating in Colorado and you’ll know this feeling well, we felt right at home. Heads up to anyone who may run this one in the future, be weary of the “Forbidden Zone” (cue dramatic gasps) which separates the upper section from the lower section. I guess it’s steep mank that lands on to mank, with mank and scary things in between. I'm not real sure what it really entails, but it’s no bueno. I can’t say I have good beta for the portage takeout, the whole upper section was a bit of a roller coaster ride, but just make sure to seek out some beta if you ever want to get on this creek. It’s a super easy shuttle, park on the side of the highway right after the bridge crossing the river and takeout in the town of Willow Creek.

From Willow Creek we raced to the coast and had a few hours of daylight left to finally pull the playboats off the roof and hit the surf just outside Arcata. Being my first time surfing I didn’t really notice how wacky the tides were acting. Hearing about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan here and there throughout our journey we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived on the coast. Apparently the tsunami itself had arrived the day before. When we made it on the water we were still seeing the after effects. The tide would recess from all the way out to nearly full tide in a matter of minutes. It sure made for some interesting swells, maybe a little inconsistent, but plenty big.
The next day we relaxed in Arcata and took another afternoon surf session with more consistent breaks. It took us a little while decide our next move but the rain once again intervened and made up our minds for us. Burnt Ranch still fresh in our minds from two days ago had gone up just a little bit….to 10,000 CFS!?! We met up with the crew early the next day ready to see some big water, not really knowing what to expect. We had a pretty bomb looking crew of 6 kayakers joined by one raft, wait, cataraft?… nope…. creature craft yah that’s right, one of those big hypalon pool toys with seat belts. That’s one way to make any big water run even more exciting. And exciting it was, I’m not going to expand here, we’ve still got more big water and some waterfalls to cover, but check out this awesome post, BR10G by Dan Menten and sweet video edit, Hell or High Water by Dave “the German” Ernst. It was a trip for the books, that’s for sure.

On the road north once more we drove through the ultra-scenic canyon of the Cal Salmon River, granted it was pitch black outside Natalie assured me it was beautiful. Our plan for the next day was the classic (I know it’s beginning to sound cliché) Nordheimmer and Butler runs, and what do ya know, with more high flows. It was gorgeous and the big water playboating was a blast… in a class V squirt boating kinda way. We paddled light this day and didn’t get much in the way of photos but take my word for it, you need to go paddle the Cal Salmon! It’s awesome! With big water rapids like Freight Train and Gapping Maw (yah, it’s a huge hole) you’re in for a good time. I came to learn that the Sturges family Otter Bar Kayak Lodge was just up the canyon from where we were paddling. Pretty sweet locale for a kayak resort.
After the run we had a tough decision. We had thrown around the idea of heading to Eagle Creek and the illustrious Metlako Falls at the beginning of the trip, and now it was time to make the call. Leif was all about it, but Natalie was a little more inclined to just start heading home. My fall back answer for the whole trip had been “I’m down for whatever” and I decided to stick to my guns, all the time thinking that we’re already pretty close to Oregon so we might as well go for it. Little did I know that Eagle Creek is really only a hop and a skip from Washington, and we’d be putting in close to 10 hours of driving to get there. But let's get real, paddlers have traveled alot longer for a lot less.
So we went for it and rallied through another night of driving across damn near the entire state of Oregon. It was a haul but I was pleasantly surprised at about 11:00 p.m. to discover that it’s actually illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon. Yeah, someone actually comes out and pumps your gas for you, crazy right? Being my first time in the state I was in awe, but quickly moved on to more pressing matters, like holy crap we’re gunna be running Metlako tomorrow! We pulled over on the side of the road at about 1:00 a.m., set up camp, and the soft sputter of rain quickly calmed the excitement I had for the run the next day and I passed out. With that I’ve rambled on long enough for one blog post, and for a run as amazing as Eagle Creek it deserves a little more than a brief over view. Check back in a day or two for the culmination of one killer spring break paddling excursion.

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