This trip report was written by Alan Jones. The river peaked at just over 1400 on this trip.
Our much anticipated Illinois trip finally arrived. Five of us met at the Timber Tavern about 6 miles NE of Selma for a little dinner and drinks. Kate, our waitress was a real hoot, the beer cold and the food surprisingly good. It made for a great start for the trip. With rain in the forecast, we decided to spend the night at the new Forest Service covered shelters located about 6 miles up the Illinois River Road. The other 5 that formed our group joined us there after dark. It was a good call as it dumped all night.
We had our first rescue of the trip before we made it to Miami Bar. It seems that three of our out of state boaters (who will remain nameless) in two vehicles decided to take the greasy, slimy, steep road at mile 9 thinking it was the way to the put-in! They didn’t get too far before realizing the error of their ways. The 4-wheel drive with the trailer was able to back up just fine, but not the van. Seems the clay was a tad bit to slippery for him to negotiate the grade without the possibility of plunging off the road and down a very steep cliff to the river! A tow from the 4-wheel drive was in order.
We unloaded four cats and six kayaks at Miami Bar and finished rigging. Just prior to departing another group from Ashland showed up. This was our only encounter with other humans until the take-out at Oak Flat on Sunday.It rained off and on (mostly on) all day Saturday. But, the river is so spectacular it doesn’t matter. Once past Panther Creek the rapid frequency and intensity build. The drops on the Illinois are truly amazing. Steep, frothy drops with large boulders that require precise maneuvering to avoid. Our crew, who are all very experienced boaters enjoyed every minute of every rapid.
We had four Illinois virgins on the trip, three cat boaters and one kayaker. And it was my first time rowing a cat. I just picked up a SOTAR from Ted and Ron at Payette. A couple of the people on the trip were amazed I’d take my first strokes on a new boat, let alone a new type of boat on a river like the Illinois, but as an eternal optimist I figured that if I was proficient at rowing a heavily load 16′ Avon, rowing a lightly loaded 14′ cat would be a piece of cake! It was. I must be one of the last round boat hold-outs. I’ve been running Avon’s for 25 years and never considered or recommended a cat to anyone. I was truly amazed at the easy of maneuvering and nimbleness of the cat. Plus I really liked the forward rowing placement. Being a kayaker also, it was great to be in a position to actually drop down in the holes.
The entire group made clean runs at all the rapids on day 1. I even put the SOTAR smack dab in the middle of the Boat Eater. My first experience at surfing a cat (not deliberate), also my first experience with using pins and clips and the ability to let go of the oars and jump to the high side knowing the oars would still be usable when I got out of the hole! Worked great!We camped at South Bend and had a great spaghetti dinner. The weather cleared about dark, and by midnight the sky was white with stars.
Sunday dawned clear and beautiful. After a brief breakfast, packing and rigging, we were on the river by 9:30. One mile until the Green Wall. All the cats ran left at Prelude with one of the Kayakers volunteering to hike up for the traditional photo shoot from behind as you make the drop. Steve, one of the kayakers liked Prelude so much he did it twice. We all ran the upper section of the Green Wall and eddied out behind the big boulders just above the Wall.
After a brief scout, one of the kayaks ran first, took the left sneak at the top and then set up the photo shoot. Greg, in his 12′ cat went next. He had a text book run, except the big hole at the bottom caught him by surprise, no carnage. I ran next. Not exactly a text book run by any means. I was setting up for the first drop between rock # 2 (which was completely covered) and rock # 3 and miss read the cross current on top. I caught rock #3 with the tip of the left tube and got spun left. By the time I’d straightened up I missed the next slot also and was trying to take the kayak sneak on the far left with a loaded cat. Not a good choice. After lots of tugging and lifting, we got the cat through the rocks into a vicious little eddy with no good exit in sight. I had one chance to get out if we could get a rope upstream and out by the entrance rocks on the left. After numerous struggles we managed to get the cat facing the wall and far enough from the rocks to give me a chance to let go of the line and make the ferry of my life to avoid the ugly strainers below. Few, I was lucky enough to make the ferry and finished the run in good form.
A couple of the kayaks came through. They were all such solid boaters that the Green Wall presented little challenge to them. Tom in his cat came next. He managed to crab an oar on the top drop, got spun sideways over the drop, but recovered nicely. He just didn’t have enough speed to clear the big hole at the bottom. It was hungry and decided to keep him. Tom valiantly fought his way out of the hole, but was surfed too far to the right to miss the wall. He had a beautiful slow motion flip against the wall. Arthur made a text book rescue line toss and Tom was brought to safety next to my cat. Greg took off after Tom’s boat which was secure in the eddy below and on the right. Between Tom’s run and mine I don’t think we lowered Jeanne’s anxiety level much. She was the last cat to run, and run she did. Made us boys look really bad. A perfect run. The last of the kayaks came through with Arthur being last. I have to say I wish I was as proficient a kayaker as Art. It’s not everyone who does intentional tail stands in every hole going through the Green Wall! It’s amazing how much less foreboding the Green Wall looks when it is sunny and beautiful out.
The next four miles are some of my favorite. We finished the day out soaking up the scenery and the remaining rapids enjoying the sun. Sunday was Steve’s 32nd birthday. What a great way to spend your birthday. The flow when we put in was 1,200 cfs. It had risen to 1,360 by the time we took off Saturday afternoon and was 1,400 when we ran the Wall. It was my first time at this flow and I have to say I don’t think you could get a better level to run it than this.The Illinois is truly a gem. Fantastic rapids, lots of them, and a total wilderness. It still amazes me you can have a river this spectacular, and have it to yourself. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to boat with. Hats off to all of you, and thanks for your help in my little section of the Green Wall!