Running Green Wall – Spring of 2004

This last weekend I took a raft down on the Illinois River, a gorgeous and remote river that flows into the Rogue west of Grants Pass. The run is 34 miles long and contains a lot of rapids, several of which are class IV and one that is class V. So let’s talk about that one, the big one. It’s called Green Wall and lies about 19 miles down river in the heart of the canyon. Many people break it up into two parts. At 2300 c.f.s, the first 150 yards are a big class IV boulder garden filled with big waves and holes. The river sweeps around a corner, slams into the wall on the right, and then the real action starts, as the whole river chugs through a constricted chute choked with boulders the size of houses, and creates many minor features mixed in with two distinct ledge drops.

So naturally, we have to scout this rapid. Of course, Will and I didn’t want to have to scramble along the river bank for a quarter mile just to get to the place where you can see the main part of the rapid, no, we’re lazy. We go with the popular plan of running the first half without scouting. There’s no pool in between the two drops, but there is a small eddy on the side of the river. We decide to run the class IV lead in, then catch this eddy and tie our boats up to scout. All was going well, we’re rowing through the lead-in, and all of a sudden, I realize I’m off my intended line, and dropping into a big hole. I have no choice but to run it, so I give a few hard oar strokes and crash into this stomping wave. It rocked me a bit, but I kept rowing and made it through the backwash.

But that’s only the beginning. Just below, I have to start making the ferry into the eddy. So I set up my angle and started making the pull into the eddy. It was looking fine, and then suddenly, my right oar popped completely out of the oar lock. Now being midstream in Green Wall at that water level with only one oar is significantly worse than being up shit’s creek without a paddle, because with only one oar all I can do is spin the boat in circles…..and I could see the scouting eddy slowly slipping away as the forceful current pulled me downstream toward a class V hydraulic that could not only flip my boat and send me swimming, but could completely tear my raft apart.

I quickly grabbed the oar that was momentarily useless and with both hands threw it back into the oarlock, setting myself up to row again. With a few hard pull strokes, I got my boat into the very bottom of the scouting eddy.

But the water I was in was still moving downstream and I wasn’t truly in the eddy. I kept pulling with all the strength I could find and rowed my loaded raft upstream against the moving current. I kept rowing until I had parked myself on a partially exposed boulder. The worst of it was over and my heart slowed down, but I had to keep rowing to stay in place until Will could pull over, tie off his boat, and come help me get back into the eddy.

So there we were, safe and sound, with our boats parked in the middle of a class V torrent of steep whitewater. We got out to scout the second and most difficult half of the rapid. Now, Green Wall is a drop I have studied through pictures, video, testimonials and personal experience for over a year now. I’d run it successfully three times before this last weekend, but of all the different water levels I’ve seen the rapid at, this was by far the nastiest.

Below the eddy where we had our boats parked, the river right wall was a sheer vertical cliff, offering no possibility of escape or rescue positioning. The river channel narrows significantly and the entire width of the river flows over a ledge that is followed by the boat-destroying hole I mentioned earlier. Fortunately, A small channel emerges just upstream of the drop on the river left side, but is still blocked off by a rock on the upstream end, you have to enter it from the side. So if you can kill all the momentum the river puts into your raft, you may be able to move sideways to the current enough to catch this narrow window and avoid the hole by going left.

You may now think that the challenge is over. You’re wrong. The left side of the initial drop is the place to be, but immediately downstream, the left two thirds of the river are a complex maze of boulders where you risk wrapping a raft around rocks. If you do end up there and are fortunate enough to avoid a serious wrap in there, that’s great, except there’s no way out. None of the channels exiting the left side boulder garden are wide enough at this water level to squeeze one tube of a raft through, much less the entire boat.

So after making that initial move left to avoid the thundering hole, you have to move back right all the way, again through screaming fast water, to avoid the inescapable room on the left. If you can manage to make that move back left, it’s pretty straightforward: just avoid wrapping on one last guard rock that you must go right of, straighten the boat out, and run the other half of the class V section where the river drops over another ledge with a rock on one side, a massive crashing wave on the other side, and the entire flow of the channel slamming into a the river right rock wall below. Then catch an eddy before the wave train ends or else you’re dropping into the steepest 3 miles of the river canyon while your buddy upstream has to run his boat through, counting on you to bail him out if he gets in trouble.

So now that I’ve introduced you to the rapid, let’s run it! By the time I was confident enough to get back into my boat, many other groups had arrived at the rapid and were scouting it. I had only watched one raft go through because they missed the pull into the scouting eddy. He got through safely, but the line was far from clean, as he ran numerous holes and pinballed backwards through some bony slots. With lots of people standing atop the monstrous boulders watching to see how I did, I buckled my helmet, untied my boat, and pushed off.

I stayed along the side of the channel, where the river wasn’t rushing as quickly, and tried to slow my speed as I approached the first terrifying hole. The window to move left was tighter than I expected, so while I made the move around the dangerous ledge, I was carrying much more speed than I wanted. I was starting to lose control. The bow of my boat bumped into a the wall and spun me against my will. I decided not to fight it and improvised. I angled my boat back to the right, drifted through a slot backwards, and started pulling. In the torrent of water flowing into the boulder-choked left side, I found two rocks that I could use to my advantage. I backed into the slack water behind them and slowed enough to make the pull back right, avoiding every exposed rock.

I took a breath and felt extreme relief as I made the toughest move. I looked downstream at the lower drop and for the first time in the entire rapid, I took a push stroke. I was no longer trying to slow down and play the avoidance game. It was time to row downstream and row hard. The water quickly sped my boat up and within seconds I had cleared the crashing waves and the wall. I caught the eddy below, tied my boat off, and scrambled ashore. I was sweating profusely, but that was the only moisture on my body. Green Wall soaked me that day, though my boat never took on water.

By Dan Thurber

Illinois River – Spring of 2005

This trip was essentially what spawned the idea of This was my freshman year at Southern Oregon University and I had just met Dan Thurber, who would soon become one of my most favorite people to spend time with. We had met through SOUs Outdoor Program and a week after having first met I called Dan to see if he would be interested in a weekend trip on the Lower Klamath. He called me back shortly after with the idea of running the Illinois – a river, which at the time, I had never heard of. It was flowing approximately 1300 CFS which sounded like a good flow. I browsed around online to find information on the run but hardly came up with anything. There was a video on American Whitewater but that was just about it. I ended up buying Quinn’s guide book which really just scared the shit out of me. “Scout this that and the whole damn thing” was essentially what it said.

Neither Dan or I had a vehicle, so the next step would be to talk my girlfriend at the time into going so that we could use her 4-Runner. She was into it, so the next thing we knew we were headed to a town called Selma.

Let me pause here and tell you something that I learned about Dan on this trip: In nice words “he likes to make things as cheap as possible”; or, in not so kind a sense: “He is a cheap SOB”. Aside from the 4-Runner, we were also short essentially all of the necessary equipment to do this trip. Such as: A) rafts; B) Oars; C) Coolers; Raft Frames; E) a Groover. We had our personal stuff, just not the critical items. We talked to Eric Sol who is the director for SOUs Outdoor Program and he kindly agreed to lend us everything needed in exchance for one favor: clean out the toilet that has been full for nearly 4 months and was just sitting on the floor. We agreed to this, loaded up, and with big smiles we headed back to Dan’s house to begin preparing for the trip.


It costs $5.00 to empty a toilet at the campground in Ashland and that’s what I intended to do before we set out. Not Dan though. He thought that we could just float the toilet down the river, use it as needed, and empty it at the scat machine at Foster Bar which is just a short drive from the Illinois River take-out at Oak Flat.

So, back to Selma. Here we are in our 4-Runner crammed full of river gear and a groover full of 4-month-old shit. We had left Ashland in the afternoon and arrived at Miami Bar at dusk. We set about making dinner and getting the boats somewhat rigged and then fell asleep to a clear sky. Around 1 AM another group arrived, made some noise, and then continued down the road (to where we later learned was a nice place to camp that actually had flat ground). Awaking in the morning, we made a quick breakfast before the 1 AM group arrived and began getting their boats ready to go.

They were from Gold Beach and didn’t seem too happy to see us there… My 19-year-old self and Dan’s 20-year-old self didn’t do much to convince them that we should be there and they initially tried to talk us out of the run. They quizzed us on where we had boated before and then told us that everything we had seen was much smaller than the Illinois. Their bottom line was pretty much: you’re fucked, good luck.

So we pushed off from Miami Bar and headed on downstream. We stopped to scout a lot and spent a fair amount of time on shore figuring out where we were. Our plan was to get below Green Wall and all the big stuff before camping. We got to Green Wall mid-afternoon and decided to pull over above the entry rapid and hike down to scout the rapid in its entirety. After Dan, Scarlett and I had hiked down, the Gold Beach group came around the corner and began running boats down to the lower eddy. They had six or seven boats so took turns catching the eddy, running boats through the rapid, and then sending more boats through the entry rapid to catch the small eddy. After they had run through, I hiked back up to my boat and, with a nervous shove, pushed into the current. We had a nice line through the rapid and eddied out on river left to watch Dan run through. He had a great line as well and soon both boats were headed downstream.

We spent a little bit of time scouting the rapids below Green Wall. After we had gotten through everything but Submarine Hole, we cruised downstream and very suddenly I was at the lip of a significant drop. It came up pretty quick so I pulled to the closest bank which was river left and signaled to Dan to pull over as well. He ended up on river right and through a series of hand signals we determined that we would enter river right and pass the large rock (the submarine) on river left. Dan would probe so he dropped in and I pushed off close behind. It appeared that he had made the move left with no problems and I briefly took my eyes off his boat. When I looked up again… his boat was upside down! This was awfully worrisome since I was headed in the same direction. I made the move left and passed the rock. When I reached the bottom of the rapid Dan had already re-flipped. We continued downstream to find camp, which we made right at the mouth of Collier Creek where there was a very small gravel bar against a cliff.

Having floated the Illinois 20+ times since then, I now realize how incredibly lucky we were to not have the water come up and overtake our camp. We were literally only a few inches above the water surface AND right at the mouth of the creek. When I float by Collier Creek now, I look in disbelief at our complete ignorance of having made camp there.

Back to our trip… Here is where I wished we had paid the extra five dollars to get the toilet cleaned before our trip. Dan, having elected not to clean it, had it in his boat – the boat that turned upside down. The contents of course shifted a lot more than slightly and spewed everywhere within the container and, some of it, out of the container. It was a shitty mess and we were literally up shit creek without a paddle. We cleaned it off as best as we could and broke for take-out, which was roughly 9 miles away.

We reached take-out and drove back to Ashland through Powers. This was easily one of my most memorable river trips and the Illinois is by far my most favorite of all multi-day river trips. Its beauty, solitude, and power continues to amaze me. I will never get tired of rafting or seeing new rivers, but there’s something to be said for being content with ones I have seen. If I was given one more river to run, the Illinois would be the one. And, if I were fortunate enough to see my last of all days on a river, I would choose that I be on the Illinois, preferably next to one of the canyons many waterfalls, overlooking the most beautiful of beautiful rivers.

When I returned home I organized our photos and bought this domain name: I thought it would be a good place to put photos up of trips, especially of the Illinois because there was not very much information on it. So, that was that and now I still use… but it’s grown quite a bit!

Illinois River, Oregon