Since there is no gauge for the West Fork the best thing to go off of is the Illinois gauge in Kerby.
Ever since I moved to Selma I’ve been wanting to get on some of the upper stretches and tributaries to the Illinois River. In January I got to run Josephine Creek, which was a lot of fun but not a whole lot of whitewater. There’s gotta be something somewhere up in the drainage where there’s great whitewater. Was the West Fork of the Illinois the gem I was looking for? No, but it was still fun exploring a new run.
We left our house around noon. We grabbed the little 10′ Avon and drove to the bridge over the West Fork on Waldo Road. There we left a car and continued with my truck to the put-in. We didn’t really know where the put-in would be, but we knew which road to take. When we entered Obrien we took a right on Lone Mountain Road and continued up the road a few miles. Eventually we found a place where the road was right next to the river so that’s where we put in. We did drive up a little further but it seemed that the road was straying from the river.
Due to the extremely low flows during the summer there is quite a bit of brush that grows in the river bed. This was a constant battle for us. We had to get out of the boat and “portage” three times. More times than not we could pick out a line over the smaller bushes and the boat would just knock them over. Nevertheless, the river canyon was beautiful and the rapids, although only class II, were still kind of fun. At least there was current!
We arrived at the bridge take-out around 2:45. On river-left just upstream of the bridge there is a little steep trail to the road. We used that to carry our stuff up to our vehicles.
Would I do the West Fork again? Probably not. But I’m sure glad I don’t have to wonder about it anymore!
Will’s 24th birthday – He’s still a year younger than me, but who’s counting?
People started dropping like flies on Thursday afternoon, but several of us stuck it out. Will and I had been watching the snow fall all day on Thursday and the projected flows told us it would be well above 6000 cfs. Will knew it was wrong but we kept watching the copious amounts of moisture with a bit of skepticism. Friday evening we knew we were golden – the flows were around 3000 cfs and falling.
Ryan Guy, having just started his spring break, met us at the Selma house on Friday evening. In the morning we met up with our other gung-ho boating comrades, J.R. Weir and Jonathan Hyland. I have to admit the sunny drive in the morning was incredibly beautiful but a little nerve racking – there was a lot of snow on the road. I wasn’t too excited about a potential “high water” trip, but Will assured me the snow would stay put and the flows would be fine.
We put-in around 11:30 am as the sun gods shined proudly on the birthday boy. It was definitely Will’s day on his favorite river. After an amazing day of floating the green water of the Illinois, we arrived at South Bend around 4:30 pm and decided to call it a day. The night was complete with a more than sufficient supply of spaghetti, beer, Patron and tomato juice, Jaeger and Franzia’s Sunset Blush bagged wine. It was a relaxing and enjoyable evening of some of the best story telling and hooting I’ve been around in a long time.
The next morning everyone woke up with the thought of the impending GREEN WALL. After a filling breakfast, we hit the water and made it to Prelude around 10:30 am. We decided to scout above the entry rapid. We walked down, scouted and Will and Ryan headed back to the boats. I set-up our video camera on a rock, slung our digital camera around my neck and waited for the guys to come downstream. Will entered far left due to the fact that the center was a massive river-wide hole. It was definitely not a place you’d want to be… But after some strong pulling and maneuvering he made it out clear and clean. It was a great run. The bottom hole (also known as Harvey) wasn’t too prominent, which made the run a bit easier. Ryan and Bigwater Betty, the creepy mannequin head, had a similar run and came out looking like professionals. Of course it was a piece of cake for both J.R. and Jon.
After Green Wall we navigated some of the lower rapids while we admired the many waterfalls, runoffs and creeks surrounding us. It was absolutely beautiful. Will made sure to stop at his favorite “Waterfall Camp” and was blessed by the river gods in discovering his bottle of stashed Jaeger was still in camp. We basked in the sun and told stories.
As we made our way further downriver, we decided it was time for lunch. Instead of eating at the waterfall camp or pulling over, we took customized sandwich orders, compiled glorious piles of meat, cheese, veggies and bread and ate while we floated. I think some of the most hilarious moments of the trip were watching J.R. and Jon eat while they kayaked. It’s a little easier for rafters to eat while floating, but kayakers…that’s a whole other story. However, it definitely wasn’t difficult for them to take swags off the good ol’ bag of Sunset Blush. Thank god for bagged wine…
We made it to Oak Flat around 4:00 pm, enjoyed some more Sunset Blush, packed up and headed back home. It was really one of my favorite trips down the Illinois. We had perfect flows, perfect weather and a spectacular group of people. Thanks to Barefoot Brad and Jamie for a great shuttle experience. And to Ryan, J.R. and Jon for making the trek to Southern Oregon to enjoy one of the most beautiful rivers in the Northwest with us.
Trip report written by Will Volpert. Flow was around 3.3 feet.
I was driving up to Portland when Dan Thurber called and said the Truss would be good to go. Zach Collier and I had originally been planning a mellow day exploring Killer Fang on the Clackamas so at first I wasn’t too stoked on the idea. There was also a rumored trip on the Little White, but there was no way I was headed there. After talking to George White and Zach about the Truss it actually seemed like the makings of a great day so we agreed to meet the following morning in Hood River.
While George and I were driving to Hood River he called Hans Hoomans to rally the troops. Hans agreed to meet us at Husum with two of his paddling buddies and the next thing we knew we were at the truss lowering boats down to the river. The total group is Dan Thurber and Jeremy kayaking, George and I as an r2, Hans, Kira, and Tom as an R3, and Zach Collier rowing his cat. We had a bright sunny day and a great flow.
Everything was uneventful until Little Brother (we all portaged Big Bro) when George and I dropped off Little Brother a little too-far right as we were taking the river-right line. Our boat slammed into a rock at the bottom and I successfully body-checked George out of the boat – as well as myself. We self-rescued quickly though. Everyone else had gravy lines and we continued to Double Drop. Hans and his crew ran first followed by George and I. It felt like we had a sweet line but in the bottom drop the boat shot into the air and George went for his second swim. Zach portaged his cat on river-left and the kayakers both had good lines so soon we were headed downstream.
A little further downstream Zach decided to pull over and hike out. The wood situation at Lower Zig Zag was unknown and he didn’t want to deal with it. We bid farewell to Zach – and that’s when shit started hitting the fan.
We came around a corner and there was a log across the river. There was a fair amount of current, a small eddy just to the left where Hans had eddied out, and a little bit of water going over the top of the log on river-right. Feeling totally confident, I told George we could probably scrape over on the right. We paddled hard and both jumped into the front of the boat when we thought the bow had gone over the log. Whoops. The boat stopped and turned sideways. George jumped out onto the log and I tried the same but slipped and got caught on the upstream side. My arms and head were out of the water though and I was able to half way push myself on top of the log. But then the boat started to wrap around the log and, since I was lying on the log, it was wrapping on me. Hans ran across the log and helped George keep the boat from wrapping and drain the water. Once it was empty I was able to get out from underneath and the boat was slid onto the downstream side of the log. We continued downstream.
Upper Zig Zag was uneventful. We pulled into the eddy above Lower Zig Zag to see what was in store for us. It looked surprisingly clean. Hans and his crew pushed off and had a clean run. Next up was George and I and we slicked it. The two rafts were now eddied out downstream of the rapid on river-right. All we could see was the very tail end of Lower Zig Zag. Jeremy came down in his kayak and ended up upside down (after the vertical log). The new wood is about 25 yards downstream. He swam and immediately hit the new wood, but thankfully was far enough right to catch the end and bounce downstream. We took off after him, Thurber (who had a nice line through Lower Z) went after the kayak. Hans and his crew actually got to him first and pulled him in.
Now George and I were chasing after Thurber who had the kayak in his sights. We rounded the corner and Dan was trying desperately to bring the kayak to shore but it wasn’t happening. The current from the next rapid pulled it downstream. Dan ran through and immediately behind him the boaterless kayak pinned. After a little bit it filled up with water and actually came off but then it went into a little eddy of doom. George and I are eddied out above the rapid. Hans and his crew are downstream out of sight with Dan. The kayak is swirling in the eddy. There was no way George and I were going there, but just as we were about to push off the kayak somehow (I have no idea how) popped out of the eddy and headed downstream. We chased after it but after rounding the corner saw that way downstream Hans had grabbed it.
George and I relaxed momentarily, but only long enough to enter what appeared to be a nothing riffle. Well, a nothing riffle with one feature: an enormous hole. As we dropped in we both said “that’s a BIG hole” and proceeded to get throttled. George swam for his third time in about 3 miles. I was able to hold on and somehow the boat didn’t turn over. But it damn well should have.
We finally regrouped with everyone else. Jeremy had dislocated his shoulder so he was done kayaking. We rigged his kayak on the back of our boat and he rode with Hans.
Drama is over for the day, right? Wrong. We get to BZ Falls. Hans says he’s lining. I’ve never lined BZ and had always just ghost boated. Seemed like it would be faster. So George and I go downstream where you can jump in off the cliff to catch your boat. Hans pushes it off. It has a shitty line and at the base of the falls it flips over. The stern of the boat, where the kayak is rigged, is at the base of the falls getting hammered. The boat is never going to come out. Hans leaves to get beer at the BZ General Store. 45 minutes later he comes back and the boat has just come out. I feel like an idiot.
We run down to Husum. I’m tired of getting my ass kicked so we run the river-right channel. Hans runs the center drop and styles it. At take-out we’ve got some good stories and beer. It’s always good boating with George, Hans, and Dan and it was excellent meeting Tom, Kira, and Jeremy. If there is one thing that’s certain in this life: You can never have too many river friends.
Erik and David met me at the Rogue River Journeys house in Selma around at 7:00 A.M. By 9:00 we were staring at the Smith River and getting ready to run shuttle for the Oregon Hole Gorge stretch. This stretch of water is pretty short, two miles at the most, but the river runs through a fun narrow canyon. At this flow it was pretty mellow and stayed uneventful. It was still fast with a few large holes but for the most part everything was easy to avoid. Erik and David were R2ing a 12′ NRS Otter while I was rowing my 14′ Avon.
After reaching the take-out we decided to give the Lower South Fork Gorge a shot. I’d been down this once before but at about half the flow. Turns out at the flow on this day was way more mellow. A lot of the steep drops were washed out. There were some big stomping holes but, like Oregon Hole, they were fairly easy to avoid. The only bummer about the South Fork is the take-out. It’s straight up a hill and is pretty tiresome, especially with an oar boat. But the three of us muscled the boats up and after catching our breath decided to give it another go.
On our second run through I wanted to stop to take some photos. The very first significant rapid seemed like a good choice as I could get a nice angle looking down into the rapid. There was a huge hole on the left and a very large lateral wave in the center. It looked like there was a tight line in between the two. Erik and David ran through, missed the big hole on the right but ended up going into the lateral and dumptrucking. Figures that I had the camera out to catch the only carnage of the day.
Overall a splendid day on the water. The Smiths really do have a beautiful color to them, and when the sun is out they are hard to beat!
For the boatmen, for the thrills, but really just for the rivers