All posts by Joseph Hatcher

Box Canyon Creek, Chetco River – November 20 – 23, 2016


Box Canyon Creek (into the Chetco). High water, ropes and helicopters, oh my!

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is vast, rugged and steep. I am always grateful to get a chance to visit her again. I had been wanting to do the Chetco, and heard of an alternative. This spring, a group did a tributary to the Chetco called Box Canyon Creek. After reading the article and seeing their photos, I was intrigued to see a different section of the wilderness.

Box Canyon Creek basically parrallels the Chetco River. It is about 7 miles long and the beta we had mentioned class IV/IV+ rapids without much discussion of wood. They recommended higher flows (possible as high as 10k). I thought the same after looking at the photos. The other bonus was only a 4 mile hike versus a 9 mile hike to the Chetco headwaters.

They had 2500 – 5000 cfs on the Chetco gage for the Box. Keep in mind that the Chetco gage is way down stream, and not a reliable source of information. It serves as only an indicator. With flows “predicted” to peak at 6000 cfs I thought we were set up for a great level. With more flow and their beta—David and I thought we could knock it out quicker than they did. We were planning on only one night.

I picked up David Fomolo at 5am. He worked passed midnight the night before and was running on only a few hours of sleep.

We dropped a car at the South Fork Chetco and the Chetco confluence before driving up toward Vulcan Lake. The road we drove was rough, narrow, and no shorter than 15 miles. With the time of year being late November, we were surprised to come up behind a Dodge truck a few miles before the road dead-ends.

When the road ended, I hopped out of David’s truck to talk to the guys. They were rough looking characters. However, coming from West Virginia, I learned to never judge a book by its cover. The guy in the passenger seat was older with what looked to be a burned right eye. He had a rifle in his lap and a pistol on the dash. The gentleman driving was younger. The older gentleman asked where we were going. I explained, and then asked what they were up to. He said, they were hunting and that his family use to own the Gardner Mine up by Vulcan Lake. He was happy to relay some of his family history on the area before the wilderness designation–and I was happy to get the history lesson.

He said that he wouldn’t go in there this late in the year—despite what the weather was doing (It was down-pouring). I mulled over his warning.

David has a two-seater truck and it was dumping buckets. Lucky for us, there was a dilapidated shitter at the trailhead. Dave and I were both able to fit in it to get situated and changed for the mission. We finally attached backpacks to our boats and headed out.

The hiking trail (~2 miles) was pleasant. I’m sure the scenery would have been grand had it not been socked in with clouds. Visibility was extremely low. We got slightly off trail. We took a wrong fork and lost the trail due to the scene of the Biscuit Fire. After a little bush whacking, we were able to meet back up with it again. We eventually made it to the point to start the cross-country hike (~1 mile). We knew we wanted to hike down a ridge line—but due to poor visibility, we couldn’t tell which ridge line to descend. We missed slightly and ended up in an inconvenient ravine. Traversing it was difficult but we eventually made it to Box Canyon Creek.

Put-in level
Put-in level

At the put-in, we could see that the water level was high. We scouted the first section as far as we could see. We had to run the first 3-4 drops all at once to get to the first eddy. I went first and caught the eddy, David came next and said he flipped and had to roll. I ran the next manky drop and eddied out. In front of me were two drops that lead into a river wide log. David came down the shore to scout and check on me. I showed him the log and we discussed our options. The only way to pass it would be to flip when you got to the log and then roll up after it. It was questionable whether there was enough clearance to even pull that maneuver off. Portaging was questionable because the walls were straight up.

We both agreed that the water was too high and it would be best to camp and let it drop. We decided to set camp and reevaluate in the morning. Having only traveled about a half mile—it wouldn’t have been too bad to hike out if things did not improve the next morning. It pitter-pattered rain all night. In the morning I was skeptical that the water would drop enough. We were still trying to decide whether packing boats and gear out would be better than leaving boats and coming back for them in the spring.

First canyon with log duck
First canyon with log duck

In the morning, when we reevaluated the rapid—it looked much more manageable and you could now barely duck under the log. The green light was back on. David carried the manky drop and we ran the rapid and ducked the log without incident.

Steeper section
Steeper section

We got into a rhythm. The water level was still high, but doable. We made it to a really steep, long section. The upper part was a mandatory easy portage river right. We then had to start from river right ferry across some fast current and then drop over a few drops, just flying along. It was our first great rapid and brought smiles all around. I caught an eddy to set safety for David. He opted to carry past me. We encountered a few logjams here and there, particularly where there were islands (I think there were 3?).

Below steep section
Below steep section

There was one newly formed rapid where a landslide had formed and pushed the river bed over to a new channel. The water was fighting to clear a new path between the trees and boulders. This was the easiest portage on the run.

Landslide rapid
Landslide rapid

We then got down to a narrow squeeze that had a severe undercut on the right. It was also a mandatory easy portage river right with a seal launch after.

Narrow squeeze with undercut on right
Narrow squeeze with undercut on right

Shortly after this, things started to gorge up. We then arrived at a pinch that fed directly into a wall. The water was violently ricocheting off the wall. You had to enter the pinch and get your nose left to brace/ride it out. The violent surge of water would have made it difficult to stay upright. The difficulty was a deflector rock in the approach that wanted to send you right. If you got caught in the right swirl it looked, bad—real bad. There was eddy service before this rapid—both on the right and left side of the river.

We were able to get above the canyon on river left—out far enough to look down the canyon. It was difficult to see down the canyon here because it “S” turns back and forth. The next rapid after the pinch was straightforward. There was another rapid with a log you could duck—and around the corner you could see a ledge drop with exploding water below it’s horizon line. It was hard to see it from the top of the canyon. It looked big, but straight forward.

There was a spot for us to drop kayaks down on river left after the pinch. If we did that, we would have to commit to running the ledge drop. It looked like there was no getting out before the ledge drop once you were at water level again.

We once again discussed our options. We both thought we had to carry the pinch. If this was the start of the main gorge, we felt there was still too much water. We felt we needed to camp again and hope for the water to drop again.

We debated between carrying our gear and boats around the portage that night, or waiting until morning after the water had dropped. We could not tell from above if there were any good sleeping spots down below on the launch rock. We opted to sleep above, and determine further in the morning.

We had to scrounge around that night for a spot to sleep two bodies. We found one up river. There was not a spot big enough for the both of us to sleep side by side. We were hoping to share our one rain tarp. David had a bivy and I opted to chance it—sleeping out in the open with the tarp beside me in case it rained. We were very thankful that night. It was the only time in our whole trip that it was not raining.

Camp for the night
Camp for the night

In the morning, we noticed that the water level had dropped again. After scouting the pinch drop in the morning, we decided it looked difficult—but more manageable. It is definitely runnable. Because the water level dropped, I discussed a new option with David. The plan was to drive my boat center and dry out on the rocks above the pinch drop. From there, I wanted to scout the right side and then eventually help David make the same move by grabbing the bow of his boat once he hit the rocks. From there, we would have to go up a little ways and drop back down to a seal launch about 10 feet above water level. Though more dangerous, it would make the portage much easier.

If I did not make the drive onto the rocks correctly—there was a chance that the water would grab my tail, spin me around and flush me down the pinch backwards. If I did not like the situation, I could get back in my boat and eddy back across river. We could still portage river left.

I drove up on the rocks and got out without any trouble. I then attempted to cross the channel to get to the rocks on the right bank. The only way to do it was to commit and jump. If I did that, I was not sure I could get back across. Everything still looked good so I waved David over. I grabbed him and he got out. I jumped across. The passing of boats and gear was very dangerous. If you slipped or dropped any gear, it was going down the pinch and heading for the canyon. We took our time and were very methodical. It was David’s turn to jump. I asked him if he wanted a rope or sling. The look he gave me made me feel like I insulted him. David competed as a decathlete at a collegiate level.

Seal launching back into the river meant immediately committing to the next ledge drop. I went first and was moving fast. I thought it was going to be a boof. Instead, it was a 10-15 foot vertical slide that had a kicker rock in the bottom. I halted my boof stroke at the last second dropped my bow hitting the kicker rock perfectly. I then looked downstream to see a log in the next drop. I caught the only eddy on river left. I knew David was right behind me—so I scrambled to get out of my boat to free up the eddy for him. About the time I got out of my boat I saw him come over the drop. He was further right than I was, and ended up flipping. I do the “roll up, roll up” under my breath while scrambling for my throw rope. David nailed his roll and was facing upstream. He could tell by my facial expression and the fact that I was out of my boat that he needed to eddy out immediately. With a couple quick strokes he caught the eddy and hopped out.

This next drop is a small ledge. It hits the canyon wall and makes a ninety degree right turn. The log is at a “T” to the drop. We looked up and checked both sides of the canyon. There was no easy option. I started studying the logs. There was a small eddy in the back left where the wall makes the 90-degree turn to the right. There is the log and a piece of another log wedged end to end on the canyon walls. It looked like it would be too dangerous to try and paddle to the back eddy and get out of my boat at the log. There was no way to get any footing. Also, if you flipped there, you and your gear would be swept into the logs. If I swam out to the eddy—near the left wall—I could then grab the partial log and use it to pull my self up onto both logs. I jumped in and swam along the left wall about 15 feet. Once secured to the logs, I had Dave attach my boat to a throw bag—which he then tossed my way. It took a couple minutes to get my gear situated. I ended up securing my boat to my rescue harness while it floated freely on the downriver side of the logjam. This allowed me to use both hands freely while balancing on the logjam. We debated tossing my paddle the 15-20 feet—then quickly decided that attaching a line and not losing a paddle was the better option.

David was nervous about the swim, and the “paddling the drop” option wasn’t any more settling. He felt confident enough to seal launch and paddle to me. I then lifted him over the log, and he paddled to the eddy shortly downstream. I had to precariously place my boat on the two crossed logs and get in it, put my skirt on, grab my paddle without falling off the log. With patience and care, I joined David in the eddy below.

A few drops later, we came to another log. This one was big and river wide. There was a pretty straightforward ledge but all the water was feeding right which then culminated at the log and the right wall. Upon first glance, it looked like it you might be able to charge it and boof over the log. Upon further inspection there was a hole right before it that would stall your moment. If for any reason you did not make it, you would be pinned there and have no way for someone to rescue you. The other possible option was to get in the river left eddy before the log. It was an extremely hard move because you would need to enter on the far right and drive all the way across the current in front of the log—thus putting yourself right in harms way. We looked around at the canyon walls; they were steep. We debated waiting it out to see if the water dropped again — hoping it would make the left eddy easier to attain. After discussing, we decided to attempt portaging.

This meant someone had to free climb 75+ feet up the cliff. There was a gap but it looked questionable. I started climbing. The first 10 feet or so was straightforward. It then started to get steeper—and steeper. The canyon walls were made up of small, loose, crumbling scree. The little bit of out cropping rocks it did have, were all shale. As soon as you thought you found a good hold it would crumble in your hands. I was about 50 feet up when I hit the crux of the climb. I had a small section to traverse right to a ledge. I had my feet on some sketchy spots and was searching for a good handhold. I could not find one. For some reason, at that point, I looked down. I think it was to determine a line for a potential down climb. I quickly realized how high I was, and that down climbing was not an option. I panicked for a second and had to pull my body as close to the cliff as I could. I concentrated on my breathing. My legs began to shake due to fatigue, and fear. I concentrated harder on my breathing. I slowly got it under control. Even though I was not breathing as slow as I wanted, it would have to do. I could not just stand there. I quickly determined what my next best option was. Above me was a shrub. If I could get a hold of it, it would provide the decent handgrip that I so desperately needed. The wall near my chest was slightly overhanging. I pulled my hips in tight and started to lean up—reaching. I pulled back in. I wasn’t ready yet. I concentrated on my breathing for 2-3 more breaths. My legs tightening, I leaned up again, slowly—making sure to shift my weight in just the right amounts. I extended my 6’4″ frame to the fullest and grabbed the branch. Pulling my chest close to the overhang and my hips in tighter, I slowly moved my foot to the next hold. Once stable, I quickly pulled the other foot over. Things now became easier and I continued up.

There was no “top” per say. The mountains just go up and up in this wilderness. There is just scree, small shrub trees and small pockets of semi-vertical versus vertical. I needed to determine if there was a place for us to get back down to the river, and how far we would have to traverse to get there. Upon inspection, we were in luck. There was a ravine down to the river with a rock ledge and enough space to launch. The ravine required more rope work to descend it.

I went back and told David my plan. Even 75+ feet below, he knew there wasn’t another option. I found a four inch shrub off to the right that I could use for an anchor and sent down my rope. It was about 10 feet too short (60 foot rope). I pulled it back up, attached my sling to it, and sent it down again. This time, David was able to connect his rope and sling. I pulled up all the goods and got my rope work prepped. I had two ropes, one 60 feet (1/2” thick), one 75 feet (1/4” thick), two pullies, two prussics and a few carabiners.

I set up the sling around the tree with a pulley and prussic on the 75 foot (1/4) rope. I threw it down to David. He connected one of the boats (~100 lbs with gear). I started to pull it up. It was not working. First, the anchor point was not in line, so it was putting stress on a sideways pull. The second thing was the 1/4″ rope was cutting the shit out of my hands. It had a rough sheath and was too small for this type of use. I pulled it about 10 feet and stopped. David hollered at me and I peered down to him and said, “It’s not working, give me a minute”.

I had to fix the problem. I could make a 3-1 advantage with the other pulley and prussic, but then I would have to manage it and pull over and over with not much “working” area on the side of the hill. It wasn’t the ideal option. I needed to get a better pull angle. I looked around to find the next best spot. There was a small 1-inch shrub that I had overlooked. It was the only other option, so I had to make it work. Switching to the 1/2-inch line was necessary to keep from cutting my hands as bad. I released the prussic and lowered the boat back down to David. I hollered down to start unloading boats.

I started derigging. I originally tried to use both slings to connect the 4″ tree and the 1″ tree but they were not long enough. I thought about removing my pfd and using that to bridge the gap. After some consideration, I thought I could test the 1″ tree and see how solid it was. I tied myself into the 4″ tree and put all my, 200 lb weight onto the 1″ tree. It held solid and did not move. That would work. I then connected the 1/4” rope and the 1/2″ rope, and then tossed the 1/2″ rope down. By the time I was done rigging everything up again, David was done unloading the gear from the boats. He connected the empty boat this time. The new rigging allowed me to only have to pull about 10 feet with the shitty 1/4″ rope. If I wrapped it multiple times around my hands it did not cut too bad. Once the connection point of the two ropes reached the pulley, I rigged the other prussic onto the 1/2″ rope. I pulled until I could get that prussic onto the carabiner to hold. I then removed the 1/4″ rope, ran the 1/2″ through the pulley, and the boat was up in no time. The right tool for the job always makes it easier.

We did this a total of 5 times to get the gear up (2 boats, 2 piles of gear, 2 paddles). Each time a piece came up, I had to disconnect it and then traverse or up climb 10-15 feet. I had to find a shrub to stash it behind or attach it so it would not slide off the cliff. I was glad to have a rope on David as he climbed up—though he did not have much trouble. If nothing else, it provided mental security.

Everything was up. I led David over to the ravine to make sure he was comfortable with plan while also trying to find a line to traverse. He glanced it over. He—like me—was not happy with it, but agreed it would work. We started traversing gear—one piece at a time—being careful with every step. The ravine had a really nice tree that I used for an anchor point. I set things up. When I was ready, Dave connected himself to the end of my rope work. He started climbing down. With some back and forth, using trees/shrubs, and kicking some scree, he got down. I lowered boats and gear down to him, one piece at a time, same as coming up. I had to use the 1/4″ rope again due to its longer length. Because it was descending, I had an easier time controlling the weight. At one point, the gear kicked down some rocks and poor David dove into the cliff for protection. He still took a couple big rocks to the head and shoulder.

It was my turn to descend and I did not want the excitement that I had coming up. It looked like I could plan it right using trees and shrubs to down climb while using the thicker (1/2”) rope. I folded the rope in half and slung it around a tree. This gave me about 30 feet at a time to down climb before running out of rope. I did this until I got to a shelf or anchor point, and then pulled the rope around the tree to me. I would then traverse to the next possible anchor point and repeat. I had to free climb the last 10-15 feet before safely regrouping with David and the rest of our gear.

At this point, David and I took a quick break for some food and water. The portage probably took about 3 hours. We had to go slow, be cautious, and do things repetitively to make this feasible.

We had spent almost a full day doing three portages managing about 1/2 mile of river. We were hoping to be out of the canyon soon and get some miles under our belt. The next series of rapids were very fun and enjoyable. As we moved down stream the Canyon walls slowly deteriorated, but we still had about 3-4 more portages ahead due to logs.

We soon came out to the confluence of the Chetco. I gave David a hug. At this point, things became a lot easier. We paddled for about another 1/2 hour looking for a campsite. It rained all night, our coldest night. Considering we were only planning to spend one night and this was our third, we still had plenty of food. David cooked up some rice and beans, a two person dehydrated meal, which we shared. We ate the last crumbles of jerky and each had a cliff bar for desert.

The next morning it was time to finish out and get home. The Chetco at this level was awesome. I would call it 4/4+ bigger water read and run. About 14 miles after our day 4 put-in, we got down to the 1st steel bridge. We expected someone to be there looking for us. We had two more class 5 rapids left, Candy Cane and Cone Head. We got to Candy Cane and got out to scout. It was horrible looking with two big pour over holes and a big hole at the bottom. We thought about trying to sneak down the right side. Upon ferrying over, it looked really bad with some nasty undercuts. We carried around.

I thought there was a small gap between Candy Cane and Cone Head but there is not. Once we put on, I had to make a quick decision between running the rapid and catching the eddy. As I started in, I could see the line: start center and work right. There were big waves but I ended up nailing the line. I turned to wait on David. He said he eddied out on the right to boat scout. He saw me charging right. He came out of the eddy to the middle but then had to change direction to charge back to the right. As he came in, he hit a crashing wave, which sent him back to the middle. The wave sent him backwards right into the pour over hole in the middle. He glamorously attempted to fight it out, but it wasn’t happening. It was so powerful that when he went to pull the sprayskirt, the hole had him pinned against the back deck. He had to wait until it shifted him so he could reach it. He flushed down and around the center rock. It was so violent; it ripped his go pro off his helmet. There was a big pool below. We collected his gear and got him back in his boat.

We were about 100 yards from the takeout when we heard the helicopter coming. It circled around us and we both knew it was looking for us. As we pulled up to our takeout, there was a sheriff and two guys getting ready to launch a jet boat. They were looking up at the helicopter as it circled and did not notice us until we hit the shore. They said they were looking for us. After the helicopter landed, a guy came over and spoke to David directly. I guess David’s dad was on a fire crew for many years and pulled some strings to get the helicopter and most of the rescue team.

I tried to thank each person that had come to assist us. I felt bad about not being able to let others know.

Because we were in there so long, David’s truck got snowed in. I hope we can get it out soon and it does not have to sit there all winter.


The first day, the water was too high. The next day was high. The last day was medium high. I think the Chetco gage is only a loose way to tell what you have in there. Make sure there is no rain behind you and don’t be afraid to sit it out or retreat out of there if things are too high. I think ideal flows are 4K – 6K on the Chetco gauge, but they can change fast—especially in the fall.

I would recommend taking a climbing rope and an ascender/belay device.

This is NOT an alternative to doing the Chetco. It is a separate river and different beast. The magic of the Chetco is in its upper reaches. This section puts you below the best parts of the Chetco.

The Chetco from Box Canyon down at high water is awesome. Too bad there is not easier access.

There would have been more photos and video but my phone died because I had to use it for land navigation in the beginning of the trip and Dave lost his Go Pro.

Middle Fork Rogue – March 13, 2016

My morning started off with a quick email check and confirmation from the Mt Ashland Ski Patrol director that the mountain would be open. They got about a foot on Saturday and it snowed all Sunday night.

On the drive to the mountain, I received a call that the mountain was closed and the lifts would not run due to high wind. I had to quickly scrabble for a different plan to not let the day slip away.

I sent out some text messages and got a reply from Hunter Connelly that said “945 shady cove sf”. I read it twice and cold not decipher it. Was it an address? I quickly called and it meant to meet at 9:45 at Shady Cove the plan was to do the South Fork of the Rogue.

This barely gave me enough time drive to my house and swap out my ski gear for paddling gear and make the arrangement point on time. I met Hunter and Jared Sandeen and we started driving up to the put-in. We decided to check the Middle Fork gage on the way up since they are both close, share the same takeout and you drive by the Middle to get to the South Fork.

When we got to the Middle, we all got out and looked at the gage and the flow. It was one of those all day rains that was mixed with cold and chilly air. Hunter and Jared had both done the South Fork and the Middle Fork but I had not done either. We looked at the gage, then at the flow and stood around discussing, the flow. I was getting soaked and had no idea what either meant so I quickly got back in the car. The gage showed about 2.4-2.6.

We then drove to the South Fork and repeated looking at the flow. We looked over the upstream side of the bridge at the rock in the center. There was water flowing over it which meant high. The consensus was that both were higher than either had done them before. The big question was how much higher and how did that translate downstream. Was this still a manageable flow? I was getting soaked again and quickly jumped back in the car. I left the decision up to them since I had never done either.

They came back to the car and said “Middle Fork” so we drove back to the put-in. While there, I was losing my stoke. I was partially wet from standing in the rain and starting to get cold. I waited till the others got dressed and was the last out of the vehicle. I tried to catch my second stoke as we put on.

In the first couple miles we had 3-4 tree portages. It was flat water but the portages were no easy task. It was the choice of stay close to the shore and deal with mud and collapsing soil or go up into the woods and try to poke a hole through the underbrush. Different techniques were used with varying success. The good news was this was the last of the trees.

After passing the trees, we were floating down, and all of a sudden there was this enormous water fall coming in on the right. It was a 20 footer dropping over a 40 footer, etc.. Basically falling from the sky. It was then trying to push itself through the trees to join the Middle Fork. It looked like the trees were squirting out water. So beautiful yet so drastically changed the nature of the river. It felt like the river doubled in flow. Not truly that much but it gave it that feel.

We soon got down to the first major rapid. Because the flow was high we had to be super careful about eddy space and not crowding. Jared hoped out to scout and quickly gave me the hand signal “1,2,3”. Which translated to left, middle, right. I followed Hunter through and it was fun but you could tell with this flow there was some spice to the run.

At the next spot I got out and took a look. The bottom had a pointed rock in the bottom. From the top, it looked like you could go left or right of the pointed rock. After describing it to Jared, he said, memory told him the bottom left was the better route. He went first and then Hunter.

By the time I got into my boat, and fired off the drop, I came into a small eddy on river right at the bottom. Jared was out of his boat and quickly gave us directions on the next rapid. I was in the eddy and could see that there was a small seam to cross then a big horizon line. Jared said to go off the left side of the hump and then hit the lower flowing charging hard back to the right.

As I started taking paddle strokes out of the eddy, I realized how with this style of boating how strong the trust level needs to be with your paddling partners. I was trusting Jared that he could assess the drop, my abilities, and his abilities to describe where to go. If he thought any of those were a “no go”, he would signal to me that I needed to look for myself. I have boated in these situations with him often. As I pulled out of the eddy I felt that even though I could no see over that horizon that I trusted him. Just as he described, as I came off the boof charging to the right the current carried me down and into the eddy on the right. This would turn out to be the steepest single drop on the run.

A little farther down, Jared knew that there was a hard rapid that let straight into the portage rapid. The portage rapid is right before entering the canyon. Hence stacked up issues if someone got in trouble. We all got out to scout this drop just to visually see where we wanted to be while in our boat and if things did not go as planned, and where to swim too. There was a large eddy to the right before the portage which gave us all relief.

I went first and had probably my best line of an single rapid on the run. Right where I wanted to be. Jared came next and got shoved to the right, mostly because he was in such a small boat but better right than left. Hunter was taking pictures and I got out with a rope while he went up and aced the drop.

The Portage rapid was heinous looking. The water gets tight against the left wall then drops off this 10-15 foot drop onto this jumble of rocks. Today there was enough water to cover up the jumble of rocks but the jumble of rocks then formed this massive pour over that created a beat down waiting to happen.

We ate a snack and basked in our surroundings. Even thought it was pouring rain, at this point, it really did not matter. I felt like I was in Shangri-La. A magical place that not many could experience.

At this point, this is where you enter the gorge. The gorge is like Takelma on the North Fork of the Rogue but way higher. There are two hard rapids below this point. One is the confluence where the South Fork of the Rogue and the Middle Fork come together and then one below.

The Middle Fork Rogue gorge. Photo by Hunter Connolly.
The Middle Fork Rogue gorge. Photo by Hunter Connolly.

We started into the Gorge. Jared went first and I went second. I then caught a eddy and waited for Hunter. It was not hard, entering the gorge but something bad here could spell major disaster, so our senses were heightened. I caught a super small eddy and held onto the wall and waited.

Hunter came down and passed me. Jared was out of his boat on river left scouting the confluence rapid as best he could from his vantage point. Hunter was river right below me and I was facing upstream holding on to the rock wall.

Jared gave us directions but because of my location, I could no turn around or even look over my shoulder. I asked Hunter if there was room for me in his eddy and he said to stay put. After the verbal, Hunter said he was going. I wanted to follow fairly close since I was at a disadvantage from my blind location.

The line, was to stay left through some rocks, back to the middle, then at the confluence stay way left and then come back to the right as you come off the main drop.

I see Hunter go through the first squeeze and he gets backendered some and has to give a big right brace to stay upright. Jared is standing there and as I pass, he yells, “farther left”. I oblige as best I can and have to brace hard also but grateful for not backendering.

I then move out to the middle and see the confluence coming. I look up and see that Hunter has caught an eddy on left, I glance up stream of the South Fork and see a water fall and a bunch of water coming down. I glance downstream and see the line forming. I have less than a split second to decide to try to catch the eddy Hunter is in, or keep going and run the drop. My eyes are locked on the route and I just keep going with the flow. The drop is big and water was powerful having seemed like flow just doubled again!! I had a great line and hollered at the upstream crowd to let them know I made it through.

I then eddied out and waited for them to come through with big smiles on their faces. Comments were made how South Fork seemed stout and if we would have chosen that option it would have been big.

The next section was mellow for while and once again we soaked up the gorge and the special place we were in.

The last drop we all got out of our boats and looked. It had a big hole at the bottom and two possible lines, left where you ride a curler off a rock then off the wall or right where there was a sloped hole. The bad part was the middle of the hole and left or right there was potential to get into the hole but looked passable.

We talked about this rapid extensively and about the best way to set safety. One suggestion was a rope but you would have to hold onto the wall and when thrown to the swimmer, he could pull the person off the rock since there was no where to anchor in. Also the thrower would just be pulling the swimmer back into the hole. We discussed all three running it at the same time and hoping for the best. Finally we decided that two of us would run right and the third would wait. The option was that if the first two had issue, the third could try the left line. Sometimes you just have to go with the best option even though it may not be the option that you want.

After all that discussion Hunter went first and cleaned the right line, I went next and never got my face wet. Jared also cleaned it. After all that discussion it looked worse than it was.

At this point the gorge fades away and it is a couple of fun miles to Lost Creek Lake. While paddling down, we found a Werner paddle in some backed up logs. Jared said, he knew the owner and was with him a few years ago when he lost it. We took turns paddling the lost paddle out.

We shortly came to the North Fork Rogue confluence and paddled the short distance up to begin the hike up. We all sat in our boats at the takeout. Discussing, laughing and reminiscing about the day, letting the adrenaline run from us before starting the upward hike to the vehicle.

The Middle Fork is one of the more unique runs I have done. I can’t wait to see the South Fork.

Chetco – February 28 – March 2, 2014

The Mission
Complete the Chetco River located in Siskiyou National Forest and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area in Oregon in a weekend. (Feb 28 – Mar 2)

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Southern Oregon
The Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Southern Oregon

John Wilburn – Grant Pass

The Difficulties
Beta, Hiking information, river levels, takeouts

Put-in Logistics
There are two ways that previous people have hiked in.

1) Chetco Pass route
2) Babyfoot Lake/Mt Bailey Trail

Babyfoot Lake Trailhead
Babyfoot Lake Trailhead

This is where I probably had the most difficulty finding accurate and reliable information.

The Chetco Pass route was the shortest and with time being an issue was the most appealing but I found out that they have a POC gate that they keep closed to help with Port Orford Cedar Root Disease. If you start at the gate and hike the road and then drop down it is the same distance as the Babyfoot but it means climbing over a pass. The advantage is you get to hike the first part on the road which seemed appealing since we would be hiking the first miles in the dark. Even though more grueling it would thus eliminate the possibility of getting loss in the dark.

After finding a way to use gps on my iphone. The plans changed to the Babyfoot lake trail and I think for the better. The Babyfoot lake trail also puts you 3 miles up higher and allows you to paddle what they call the “Magic Canyon”.

To get to the Babyfoot Lake trail head, you take 199 toward Crescent City and right outside of Selma you turn onto $8 Mountain Road. Follow this road to the top of the mountain and then take the left fork. There is a parking lot there with a pit toilet. Very easy to find and everything is well marked.

We were not sure if 4×4 would be needed or a vehicle with ground clearance, etc. but this is a gravel road, you could take a Mercedes up. I also was warned that it would be completely snowed in

Distance – 9 miles

The hike into the Chetco
The hike into the Chetco

We arrived at the trail head on Friday after work and began hiking at 7pm. We hiked till 11:30 pm and crashed. The temperature was cool and perfect for hiking. That night it started to drizzle/rain. We just pulled out the tarps and rolled up in them like tacos till morning. By morning the rain had stopped, we ate breakfast and started hiking around 8am. We reached the put-in at about noon on Saturday.

Hiking with a kayak is difficult. A kayak alone ways 50 lbs then put about 25 lbs gear in it and you are at 75 lbs, not only that but it is large and awkward. These miles are also on trails with loose rocks, limbs and downed trees.

The put-in looked low and scrappy. It soon picked up volume. The upper section is tight and technical.

The Upper Chetco - low and scrappy at the start
The Upper Chetco – low and scrappy at the start

We were able to boat scout and run everything thus moving quicker than I thought we would. We put on about 1pm and paddled till dark and was only about 2 miles from Tolman Ranch having covered about 20 miles.

It rained all night and our shuttle was not going to pick us up till 5pm so it would be lots of waiting around in the rain so we decided to get an early start and push on thus getting the lower Chetco which has Candy Cane rapid and Cone Head, two solid class Vs.

Running Conehead Rapid on the Chetco River
Running Conehead Rapid on the Chetco River

We were able to get a text out at the second bridge to our driver with the change of plans to meet us at the start park. We arrived there at 3pm and was back to Grants Pass after picking up our put-in vehicle by 7pm.

We had a consistent 1800 on the Chetco gauge near Brookings. This is adequate water but if I were to do it again. I think idea would be 3000 and dropping on the Gauge thus cleaning up a lot of mank in the early sections.

Our initial plans were to take out at the first bridge crossing the Chetco. Some reports said bring a rope to get your gear up. Don’t be fooled there is an easy trail after the bridge on river right. We ended up taking out at Alfred Leob state park. Ideal takeout would be the South Fork Chetco confluence on River Left. Thus getting the two Class Vs and cutting out the flat water.

It was neat to see and feel how this river starts out as a mountain stream and then gains volume and turn into a river. The vegetation also drastically changes from dry and airy to moss covered and coastal. The rapids are well spaced and I never lost boredom with flat water until below the Sourth Fork junction. The lower rapids had lots of big rocks and different lines and were quite fun.

After 9 miles hiking with a kayak and 40 river miles, I could not wait for a hot shower with a cold beer!