To put it simply, on my drive back home after this short trip I left my dear friend, Dan Thurber, a message that went something like this: “Hey Dan, just wanted to let you know about how I feel about Emigrant Creek. It’s pretty much the worst ****ing god-damn piece of ****, **** sucking pig of a ******’s bloody ******* run I’ve ever been on.”
Needless to say, I believe this was and will be the first and last raft descent of Emigrant Creek. Countless portages over logs and barbwire fences, coupled with low-hanging branches and a small dam, plus difficult put-in access due to private property, on top of the fact that there really is never enough water to get a raft down this thing… enough said.
Carberry Creek is considered to have 1/3 of the total inflow for Applegate Reservoir (above). This flow was great for a 10′ raft being r2’d. I think you could go substantially higher and have an excellent time, but you’ve got to be on the lookout for wood. Unlike the Upper Applegate, which is the other main inflow into the reservoir, it is difficult to see the creek from the road.
As you get close to the put-in the road drops down towards the creek and you can see the first and second larger rapids. It’s worthwhile to stop and check out both, as wood tends to collect here.
The character of this run is very different than UA too. It has about the same gradient but has a flatter stretch in the middle, which makes the rest of the run steeper. It is also a lower volume creek and offers more of a class IV technical run. Click here for a Google Earth map of the standard put-in and take-out for Carberry Creek.
Leland and I were r2ing and Nate and Josh were in kayaks for Carberry. After the run they dropped us off at the put-in for the Upper Applegate and we bombed down to top off a good day on the water.
The Upper Applegate is the largest stream into Applegate Reservoir and represents roughly 2/3 of the total inflow (shown above). It is strictly a winter and spring run and bottoms out in the early summer or late spring. This has been the first week it’s run consistently this boating season, so we jumped at the chance to catch it.
We put in at the second bridge over the river. Just upstream is a significant drop into a nasty undercut that doesn’t look appealing. However, there are runs further upstream. Click here to download a Google Earth map that shows the standard put-in and take-out locations.
Depending on who you talk to, this stretch drops somewhere between 80 and 100 feet per mile. Just know that it is fairly continuous with no big drops, just mainly class III (at this flow anyway). It is definitely a fun and relaxing run. Nothing scary, but be on the lookout for wood. As you drive up to the put-in you can see most of the run, except for a few sections.
I would consider this flow to be mediumish for a raft. Zach Green from the SOU Outdoor Program and I were r2ing a 10′ Avon and there were five kayakers with us for the first run. On the second run, Marcelo, Zach, and I finished the entire run in under 20 minutes. It moves!
It was John Ruskin who said, “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” And it is I who calls Bull Shit, John. It should be re-written as: “Sunshine is warm and nice, rain is wet and makes things damp, wind can be heinous and snow is really friggin’ cold, but the best memories don’t come from sun.”
The best memory-maker is the tried-and-true hypothermia inducing sideways-sleet-snow. I don’t know how John would describe it, probably something like “the mating of love and honey” but the metaphor I would use to share its glory would be similar to getting scissor kicked repeatedly in the neck and then dunked in an icy concoction of baby vomit and dog crap.
It was a sideways-sleet-snow kind of morning in Selma, Oregon, on November 20th, 2010. In attendance were 29 folks, 14 rafts and catarafts, 3 kayaks, 1 very cold keg, and a grand total of 290 completely numb fingers. In an impressive show of a complete lack of conventional wisdom, we’re now driving to Miami Bar, which sounds like a place to order a tropical beverage and relax on a palm tree laced beach, but I can assure you it’s not. It’s the access point to the wilderness section of the Illinois River where most trips begin. From Miami Bar to Oak Flat, the “take-out”, the river flows for 32 miles within one of the most beautiful river canyons in North America.
By the time we had gone eight miles downstream nearly everyone was frozen. We decided to camp at Pine Flat, which was a little worrisome because the water was low (only around 800 CFS). From Pine Flat it is 24 miles to Oak Flat. The ground was covered in three inches of snow, which made for difficulties carrying all of our gear up the slope. The following day we were on the water by 9:00 and at take-out by 4:00, an impressive feat considering the size of our group, the low water, and the cold weather.
I’ve been thinking about why people would do this and, even more intriguing, why they want to do it again. Although trips like this can be miserable at the time, looking back on them offers great memories and a renewed sense of life. It’s what I call the aftertaste of adventure and it’s the antithesis of a hangover. Also, it must be a good thing to be outside, to overcome obstacles, to exercise, and to feel so alive at the end of an adventure.
With this in mind, I started thinking about why more people don’t do this. Why are more and more people content playing video games on their computer rather than walking in the rain and splashing in puddles? Seriously, what are you going to remember? A day of poking on Facebook or a day of freezing your ass off with friends alongside a beautiful river?
Get outside people. Get your hands numb and stand under a tree. Set up a tent in the rain. Build a campfire and pass around a bottle of whiskey. If you don’t have a story to tell, you will soon enough.
For those who don’t know how to start, I’ve spent my morning writing about my favorite river and how, you too, can find yourself at its put-in with snow blowing in your face. Before I begin I’ll leave you with this:
“So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.”
The Illinois River, Explained
There’s a lot of mystique amongst boaters about the Illinois River. With any river you’ve never run before, it’s always somewhat of a hassle to figure out logistics and the Illinois is no different. In reality there’s a road to the put in, a road to the takeout, various shuttle services, and the stretch is only 32 miles long – logistically it’s a piece of cake.
Like most coastal rivers in the Pacific Northwest, the Illinois flow jumps around a little bit. During the summer the base flow is around 40 CFS. As fall rolls around and rain starts to fall, the base flow gradually increases so that at the end of each storm (and subsequent spike) the base flow is a little bit higher. It gets to a point once everything is saturated for the winter that, even without rain for a week, the Illinois will hold above 1,000 CFS. What gets folks worried are the spikes that occur hand-in-hand with Oregon’s notorious downpours.
The most widely accepted window to run the Illinois, in terms of flow, is between 800 CFS and 3,000 CFS. The gauge is roughly 30 miles upstream of Miami Bar in a town called Kerby and between the two are numerous creeks, big and small, that can add substantial flow. However, the only gauge is in Kerby, so that’s what you use. Despite the fluctuating flows and the narrow window, I would venture to say that the Illinois is the most consistent free-flowing multi-day river trip in the West, which is probably the exact opposite of what you’ve ever heard.
Here are the stats: historically the Illinois breaks 800 CFS by the second weekend of November and remains, on average, above 800 CFS until mid-May. The base flow during this time frame is never above 1500 CFS, which means that with a few days of no rain, the river is likely to be between 800 and 1500. If we say the boating season is between mid-November and mid-May, that gives us six boatable months. Compare that to the Middle Fork of the Salmon, which is about four months, or the Upper Kern, which is around three months, and you’ll understand that this is a long season.
There’s this damn cliche running through my head when I think of why it is a common belief the Illinois is fickle and hard to get on. And I’m sorry to even write it here because it sounds so lame but here it is: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Thank you, Michael Jordan, for your infinite wisdom. It certainly rings true on the Illinois.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve run the Illinois at great flows that weren’t predicted three days ahead of time and the predictions had caused someone to bag out. Why is that? There are a whole lot of reasons you might decide to cancel a trip but the three big ones are these:
1. You are worried about flows.
2. You only want to go if the weather is nice.
3. Your contingency plans suck.
The first thing you ought to do is cross out #2. That should never be a reason to bail on an Illinois trip. Most of the time the weather will not be ideal, so if that’s a reason to not go you have now successfully made the Illinois the most difficult river to catch a trip on. Congratulations.
Because the Illinois is in a weird place geographically for most folks it takes some driving time to get there. No one wants to drive all that way and then have the disappointment of the flows not being right. But there’s good news. The Smith River is only 45 minutes from Selma and offers everything from class II to class V. Something on the Smith will be running if the Illinois is too high. If the Illinois is too low, chances are the Smith is too, in which case the Rogue is your best bet. So now, even though you’re not on the Illinois you still get to be on the water, which is a whole lot better than a stick in the eye.
At this point you have now narrowed down your reasons for not going on the trip to one factor: flow. If flow is your only concern you are going to get on the Illinois a lot because, like I said before, the Illinois is the most consistent free flowing multi-day river trip in the west. Just about everyone either uses the USGS website or the Northwest River Forecasting Center’s website to check the Illinois gauge. The nice thing about the NWRFC is that they show predicted flow. The downside, however, is that it is consistently wrong. It is a good indicator as to which the direction the flow will be going (up or down) but not so much of a good source for where the flow will end up (top of a peak for instance).
Whenever I plan an Illinois trip I constantly check the predicted flow because it’s fun, creates anticipation, and is wildly bizarre. I try not to get too excited because chances are I will wake up the morning of the trip and the flow will be way off from where they had predicted it to be three days earlier. Which doesn’t really matter at all because the only reason I wouldn’t go on the trip is if the water is too high or too low regardless of where it was predicted.
Most trips on the Illinois are multi-day trips, which means the flow is likely to change while you are on the river. This is the only time you ought to make a decision based on predicted flows. If you are launching at 2000 CFS and the predicted flows have it spiking on the afternoon of your first day you may want to consider heading over to the Smiths. I’m not going to tell you not to go because, well, I’ve put on in that situation, but you better think about what you’re doing.
And that just about wraps it up. The bottom line is if you reduce the number of excuses for not going to the only one that is critical (the flow), your chances of getting on this beautiful river are very good. And if it’s snowing the aftertaste of adventure will be with you even longer.
A group of 7 floated the Illinois this past weekend. Dana and I brought an oar boat and joined five kayakers. In kayaks were Nick, Chris, Jodi, Lisa, and Brian from Waterdogs. We met in Selma at the Rogue River Journeys house and from there drove into Miami Bar.
We launched sometime around 10:30 or so and made it down to Pine Flat for lunch. After lunch we made a pit stop at Deadmans. I had never seen it before and was amazed by how much space there is. It’s a little bit of a carry, but seems to be well worth it. After getting back on the water we made our final destination for the day at South Bend, but not before seeing a nice black bear across the river standing on its hind legs scraping for berries.
Until recently I had always thought that South Bend was much more of an “emergency” camp than a place to plan on staying. It always appears much smaller than it actually is and from river level does not look particularly flat. However, the place has grown on me and after having stayed at South Bend quite a few times in the past few years it is now one of my favorite camps anywhere. The gorgeous view it offers looking downstream, coupled with the creeks coming in across the river upstream, make it incredibly scenic. Plus, there is space for quite a few folks. If water was on the rise I would definitely hesitate staying here for two reasons: 1) you’re still upstream of Green Wall and the gorge below and 2) the pebble bar would probably disappear with a high flow.
The next morning we geared up and headed down to Green Wall. Prelude was uneventful. Upon stopping to scout Green Wall, it appeared the water was low enough so that the middle door in the top drop (Door “B”) was closed off for the raft. Door A had a good sized hole at the bottom of the drop, but with no real other option that was the place to go with the raft. After Chris ran through in his kayak (there was space for kayaks to go in door B) I ran through next. The boat punched through the hole and before I knew it I was backwards slamming into the wall at the bottom. After a short highside, the boat pivoted off the wall and I was home free. Not a pretty run but it worked!
Brian followed with a nice run and the next thing we knew we were at Pimp Slap (Little Green Wall), where I proceeded to get Pimp Slapped between the bottom rock and wall. The kayaks had great runs through. Next up I got slammed into another rock in a no-name rapid, had to ask Dana to highside, and we slid off. At Submarine Hole I hit the left bank about as hard as anyone possibly could, thus completing the worst three miles of boating I have done in a very long time! Fortunately for me (and Dana), there really aren’t any more sustantial rapids below Collier Creek, otherwise I probably could have found a way to really screw up.
We stopped at Waterfall Camp for lunch and then headed downstream to Oak Flat, arriving sometime around 2:30.
A one-day trip is not the right way to see this beautiful river. However, you have to take what you can get – especially in October. It is pretty rare for the Illinois to have consistent flows this time of year, however this October has been different. In fact, the river spiked the previous week up and over 3,000 cfs. With the early saturation, it just took a little bit of rain to get it spiking again in time for the weekend.
Mike, Skip, and I pushed off from Miami Bar at 9:15 a.m. We made it to Pine Flat by 10:45 and from there we picked up the pace. After a very brief stop at South Bend (reached at 12:45) for a bite to eat we headed down to Green Wall. After taking a quick look it seemed that the bottom hole wasn’t much of a feature and also had a line to the right. Skip and I were sharing a boat and he rowed me through. I had never been a passenger through Green Wall before, it is almost more exciting than being on the sticks!
Both Skip and Mike had clean lines and we pushed our way down to Oak Flat, arriving at 4:00 p.m.
1,200 cfs is a little low to be doing this in one day. We definitely were pushing the entire 32 miles and keeping an eye on our watch. I’ve done four other one day trips, all of them over 1,600 I think, and during those trips it never felt like we were pressed for time.
Here are some shots from three Middle Fork of the Salmon trips in September of 2010. We had great weather for all three trips, spectacular fly-fishing, and nearly had the river to ourselves. September is an excellent time of year on this river. If you don’t mind the lower water and scraping over rocks you can enjoy one of the best wilderness trips in the U.S. without entering the permit lottery (post-season trips).
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.
For the boatmen, for the thrills, but really just for the rivers