Illinois River – February 22-24, 2008
This trip really started back on January 6th at 2AM at the Beau Club in Ashland, Oregon. Dan Thurber and I had just driven a heinous twelve hours straight from Hoover Dam, having completed a 24-day Grand Canyon trip. We arrived in Ashland tired, dirty, and looking like, well, we had just gotten off a 24-day trip without showering. On a greater level, I had set a new personal record: I had only worn three shirts the entire trip.
We pulled into the Beau Club with a truck full of river mank. A parking spot was in the front, so we had a good view of all our crap from the bar. It was at the bar that we ran into Alissa Sampson and Chris Conrad. Seeing us, they looked horrified but approached with caution. We had done some boating with them the previous year on the North Umpqua. When they asked where we’d been we gave the run-down. Someone mentioned something about “winter boating” and Conrad suggested that it would make a good story. So, I opened my big mouth and said, “Let’s do an Illinois February 22nd.” They said “yes” and I said “ok” and that was the plan. Turns out the water looked good and the people fell in place. We had the river and all was lovely again.
So, the trip…. Some of us stayed in Selma Thursday night and packed while the rest planned to meet at the Rogue River Journeys guide house at 8:30. Scott Fine brought a van and trailer down so we piled all of our stuff and bodies into it and took off around 9:30 AM Friday morning. We had with us: two avon adventurers (Will Volpert and Scott Rion), one Sotar (Scott Fine), one NRS cat (Pete Wallstrom), and three kayaks (Dan Thurber, Ryan Morgan, and Alan Douglas). In total, twelve people, maximum permit size.
Our first day gave no problems. At the flow we were dealing with, most everything is class III with maybe some IV- stuff thrown in. We stopped a lot for photos and video before finding ourselves at Pine Flat for the night. A few took turns running Pine Flat Rapid through the “Boat Eater” while the rest of us took in the beautiful canyon. The night cooled down quickly but a fog enveloped the canyon and prevented temperatures from dropping below freezing. We awoke in the morning to a light layer of fog and some clouds above and got on the water around 10:30ish after a relaxing breakfast.
We stopped above the pink rock beach (a.k.a. “Last Chance”) for lunch and to soak in some sun before hitting the lower gorge. Prelude was fun as always. Next was Green Wall, which at this level I was not expecting to be very large. Everyone caught the eddy just above the first drop and we set up for video and photos. I don’t think I’ve seen Green Wall at a nastier level for rafts. At high flows, the cheat on the left develops. At lower flows, the center slot is easy and the upper hole underdeveloped. At this flow, however, the cheat was closed off just barely for rafts and the hole looked stompy and sticky.
Scott Rion ran first and started the carnage off with a spectacular surf that lasted about two minutes. Leland Fulton, a bow paddler for Scott, got dumped out about half-way through the surf but made a great recovery by grabbing the back of the raft after popping up. Unfortunately for Leland, the raft spun so that he got to enjoy the fruits of the powerful hole all the while being pressed further against the ledge by the boat. Scott pulled him in fairly quickly, a nice rescue mid-surf, and shortly after they were able to muscle out of the hole.
Next up was Pete and he had a great line at the top but ended up a little sideways for the bottom hole. Flushed through fine, however. Scott Fine had the best line of the day at Green Wall. Nevertheless, he still ended up on the floor of his boat when the bottom hole slammed him hard. Last was me. Our photographers jumped in for some paddle-assist action and we pushed off. I thought to myself “let’s just be a little further right than ol’ Scotty Rion.” Well, we definitely ended up too far right and my method of correction failed miserably as the boat dropped perfectly sideways into the steepest part of the upper hole. We surfed for awhile. My left oar popped out so I had to get the spare. Reaching the spare while in the midst of a violent surf wasn’t going as badly as I would have thought… until my head got pinned between the other oar which was still in the lock and the frame of my boat. At this point I began thinking that being a little further left would have been a grand idea and probably well worth the effort. However, with a few twists of my head and an eager desire to free myself, I found the spare, unstuck my head, and was able to pull backwards out of the hole. And then we slammed into the bottom hole which was quite large and moved us to the right where we promptly got slapped by the massive wall. Certainly not what one would call a “clean run” at Green Wall. I could hear the circus music begin to play as I eddied out to fix my rig job and take a breather.
Pushing off, we got to Pimp-Slap (also referred to as “Little Green Wall” or “Big-Mac”). Both Scotts got Pimp-Slapped on the right wall at the bottom. Pete and I avoided the Pimp-Slap by moving left in front of the boulder. Everything else was fun. At this level, not continuous or fast, just fun read and run III+ish until Collier Creek. We camped at the waterfall place. I don’t know what it’s called, I’m sure someone has a name for it but I don’t care. It is at mile or so below Collier Creek Camp. No kegs on this trip, just material for White Russians, which Dan found a liking too and mixed up for people. The next day we were on the water at 10:00 and got to Oak Flat at 11:45. The shuttle took awhile back to Selma but gave us a chance to smell the river stank that echoed off each other’s clothing.