Rogue River, Wild & Scenic – February 7, 2015
On Saturday, February 7th, three of us pushed off from Almeda on the Rogue River and headed downstream. Four and a half hours later we were at Foster Bar. Here’s what I remember. Thank you to Roger Goth, Aaron Stone, and Erik Weiseth for providing great beta before we pushed off. There are some incredible stories of folks doing this kind of trip back in the day. We were fortunate enough to bring home some photos and video. We weren’t the first, this was not a speed record, but it was an incredible experience.
On Friday I was contacted by Aaron Lieberman of Orange Torpedo Trips. He wanted to run the Rogue the following day. He told me I could just show up – no boat needed. I was mainly interested in photographing the river at such a high flow, so it sounded perfect. It peaked at 104,000 c.f.s. in Agness Friday night. I met him at the OTT warehouse in Merlin at 8:00 a.m. Jeanne Fields drove our shuttle. We left OTT around 9 a.m. It was me and Aaron in a raft and Hunter Connolly in a kayak. We pushed off from Almeda at 9:45 a.m.
The river was fast and had some scary looking eddies, but it was pretty flat between Almeda and Quail Creek. On the way we stopped at Horseshoe Bend. The water was lapping at the top of the bar. We joked that from now on, we will only camp at Horseshoe at 90k+ CFS because the carry is way easier. The water was so high complete river bends were gone, which made it somewhat difficult to figure out where we were in a few places. There was no indication of Rainie Falls, Upper and Lower Black Bar were literally non existent (no waves or anything), and Sports Illustrated Rock (in the Battle Bar Flats) was sticking out maybe 10 feet. The larger waves and features that we saw seemed to be in places where, at normal flows, there are no rapids. Places that normally have rapids were pretty flat.
Despite there being very few actual rapids, the rowing was exhausting (mainly to avoid eddy lines and to correct for the unpredictable waves and current) so we switched on and off on the oars. Aaron was rowing when we got to Boulder Ally (there are varying names here, also known as “Elephant Rock”) and the character of the river changed. It went from a relatively calm river to one that felt like it was really flooding. It was a lot pushier. I guess that could be attributed to 1) We probably started on 30,000ish and as we moved downstream volume increased to nearly 90,000 and 2) Maybe the river becomes more constricted in the lower half?
Towards the bottom of Boulder Ally we got pushed to an outside bend and Aaron had to make an incredible hero pull back to the inside to avoid some nastiness. That pull zapped him pretty well, so I jumped on the oars and we were soon taking a quick break at the mouth of Mule Creek. We decided that I would run Mule Creek Canyon and then we would pull over to look at Blossom and Aaron would run Blossom. From what we had heard, Mule Creek Canyon would be under water and the mouth of Stair Creek would have boils. Well, Mule Creek Canyon was under water but the rapid just upstream of the mouth of Stair Creek was huge. We could see some exploding waves and a giant giant giant set of boils on the left. There was a nasty eddy on the right, a huge eddy on the left, and what looked like a thin line of current (moving at about a million miles an hour) in between the two just right of center. I missed to the right and we went for a wild ride on the eddy line on the right. For a split second, a whirl pool grabbed the nose of the boat and I thought we were turning over end-over-end downstream. Here’s a video:
The current grabbed the back of the boat and we were yanked back into the downstream flow. Now things were interesting. The worst eddies we’d seen all day were between Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom. The normal scout for Blossom is on river right. All day long we were trying our best to stick to the inside. We were flying downstream and a left hand bend showed an eddy on the outside. Starting inside, we began the move to the outside and tried breaking through the wave train. It quickly became apparent that catching the eddy probably wasn’t going to happen and if we tried much more and missed we’d be stuck on the outside bend going into Blossom with no idea of what lay ahead. So, a quick change of plans had us pulling back left and missing the giant erratic waves that strung from the right to the center of the river. Stayed left and towards the bottom had to time the move back right to avoid a gnarly swirling eddy that a lot of the current was pushing into.
Stair Creek, Mule Creek Canyon:
Catching take-out at Foster was maybe the most difficult pull of the whole trip because the water was nearly to the toilet but the river right channel was filled with trees. We had to swing way outside initially but Aaron made another great pull and we were soon resting at Foster Bar. Our shuttle arrived 3 minutes later (they had taken the coast route). 4.5 hours from start to finish. I was back in Ashland by 6:00 p.m.
So that’s the story. Probably wouldn’t do it again, but then again………