This trip was essentially what spawned the idea of OregonRafting.org. This was my freshman year at Southern Oregon University and I had just met Dan Thurber, who would soon become one of my most favorite people to spend time with. We had met through SOUs Outdoor Program and a week after having first met I called Dan to see if he would be interested in a weekend trip on the Lower Klamath. He called me back shortly after with the idea of running the Illinois – a river, which at the time, I had never heard of. It was flowing approximately 1300 CFS which sounded like a good flow. I browsed around online to find information on the run but hardly came up with anything. There was a video on American Whitewater but that was just about it. I ended up buying Quinn’s guide book which really just scared the shit out of me. “Scout this that and the whole damn thing” was essentially what it said.
Neither Dan or I had a vehicle, so the next step would be to talk my girlfriend at the time into going so that we could use her 4-Runner. She was into it, so the next thing we knew we were headed to a town called Selma.
Let me pause here and tell you something that I learned about Dan on this trip: In nice words “he likes to make things as cheap as possible”; or, in not so kind a sense: “He is a cheap SOB”. Aside from the 4-Runner, we were also short essentially all of the necessary equipment to do this trip. Such as: A) rafts; B) Oars; C) Coolers; Raft Frames; E) a Groover. We had our personal stuff, just not the critical items. We talked to Eric Sol who is the director for SOUs Outdoor Program and he kindly agreed to lend us everything needed in exchance for one favor: clean out the toilet that has been full for nearly 4 months and was just sitting on the floor. We agreed to this, loaded up, and with big smiles we headed back to Dan’s house to begin preparing for the trip.
It costs $5.00 to empty a toilet at the campground in Ashland and that’s what I intended to do before we set out. Not Dan though. He thought that we could just float the toilet down the river, use it as needed, and empty it at the scat machine at Foster Bar which is just a short drive from the Illinois River take-out at Oak Flat.
So, back to Selma. Here we are in our 4-Runner crammed full of river gear and a groover full of 4-month-old shit. We had left Ashland in the afternoon and arrived at Miami Bar at dusk. We set about making dinner and getting the boats somewhat rigged and then fell asleep to a clear sky. Around 1 AM another group arrived, made some noise, and then continued down the road (to where we later learned was a nice place to camp that actually had flat ground). Awaking in the morning, we made a quick breakfast before the 1 AM group arrived and began getting their boats ready to go.
They were from Gold Beach and didn’t seem too happy to see us there… My 19-year-old self and Dan’s 20-year-old self didn’t do much to convince them that we should be there and they initially tried to talk us out of the run. They quizzed us on where we had boated before and then told us that everything we had seen was much smaller than the Illinois. Their bottom line was pretty much: you’re fucked, good luck.
So we pushed off from Miami Bar and headed on downstream. We stopped to scout a lot and spent a fair amount of time on shore figuring out where we were. Our plan was to get below Green Wall and all the big stuff before camping. We got to Green Wall mid-afternoon and decided to pull over above the entry rapid and hike down to scout the rapid in its entirety. After Dan, Scarlett and I had hiked down, the Gold Beach group came around the corner and began running boats down to the lower eddy. They had six or seven boats so took turns catching the eddy, running boats through the rapid, and then sending more boats through the entry rapid to catch the small eddy. After they had run through, I hiked back up to my boat and, with a nervous shove, pushed into the current. We had a nice line through the rapid and eddied out on river left to watch Dan run through. He had a great line as well and soon both boats were headed downstream.
We spent a little bit of time scouting the rapids below Green Wall. After we had gotten through everything but Submarine Hole, we cruised downstream and very suddenly I was at the lip of a significant drop. It came up pretty quick so I pulled to the closest bank which was river left and signaled to Dan to pull over as well. He ended up on river right and through a series of hand signals we determined that we would enter river right and pass the large rock (the submarine) on river left. Dan would probe so he dropped in and I pushed off close behind. It appeared that he had made the move left with no problems and I briefly took my eyes off his boat. When I looked up again… his boat was upside down! This was awfully worrisome since I was headed in the same direction. I made the move left and passed the rock. When I reached the bottom of the rapid Dan had already re-flipped. We continued downstream to find camp, which we made right at the mouth of Collier Creek where there was a very small gravel bar against a cliff.
Having floated the Illinois 20+ times since then, I now realize how incredibly lucky we were to not have the water come up and overtake our camp. We were literally only a few inches above the water surface AND right at the mouth of the creek. When I float by Collier Creek now, I look in disbelief at our complete ignorance of having made camp there.
Back to our trip… Here is where I wished we had paid the extra five dollars to get the toilet cleaned before our trip. Dan, having elected not to clean it, had it in his boat – the boat that turned upside down. The contents of course shifted a lot more than slightly and spewed everywhere within the container and, some of it, out of the container. It was a shitty mess and we were literally up shit creek without a paddle. We cleaned it off as best as we could and broke for take-out, which was roughly 9 miles away.
We reached take-out and drove back to Ashland through Powers. This was easily one of my most memorable river trips and the Illinois is by far my most favorite of all multi-day river trips. Its beauty, solitude, and power continues to amaze me. I will never get tired of rafting or seeing new rivers, but there’s something to be said for being content with ones I have seen. If I was given one more river to run, the Illinois would be the one. And, if I were fortunate enough to see my last of all days on a river, I would choose that I be on the Illinois, preferably next to one of the canyons many waterfalls, overlooking the most beautiful of beautiful rivers.
When I returned home I organized our photos and bought this domain name: OregonRafting.org. I thought it would be a good place to put photos up of trips, especially of the Illinois because there was not very much information on it. So, that was that and now I still use OregonRafting.org… but it’s grown quite a bit!