I had recently lamented to Murray that despite the abundance of talented individuals in the club, whenever it came time for a trip that had mention of “class 4″, suddenly everyone was on vacation, catching up on yard work, or just plain laying low. Legends have it there was a time when the LCCC regularly ran such gems as the Breitenbush, Butte Creek, Quartzville Creek, Upper and Lower Wind, and even the Farmlands on the White Salmon. Club canoeists were occasionally seen running Punchbowl Falls on the West Fork Hood and Husum Falls on the White Salmon. Whatever happened to the ‘good old days’?
I was very excited when Murray offered to maybe revitalize the class 4 trip offerings on the calendar. The low-water, technical kind, not the big-water pushy stuff. And, as club Whitewater Trip Coordinator, I knew that would be 1 less arm I would have to twist to keep the calendar filled!
Then word came down that flows on the WF Hood, upper Wind, and lower Wind were coming into LCCC range. Murray had posted his trip would be one of these. I pulled out the guidebooks. WF Hood is rated an easy 4 at lower flows. Lower Wind is rated solid 4, and the Upper, 4+. Denny and I discussed it. Neither of us had paddled any of these. “Uh, West Fork Hood would be nice.” “Yeah, that would be good.”
But Murray had other ideas. The Wind was at a good level, and he needed to get back home to help with the club potluck right after the trip. OK, I thought, I can handle the lower Wind. “Which Wind?” I emailed Murray. “Upper.” Note to self: Better not to ask!
I was relieved to learn that Russ was joining us and had run it last year with guidance from OKCC’s Michael Williams. So we had 3 of us riding kayaks, and Murray guiding the lone canoe. As we changed at the takeout we asked Murray when he had last done this stretch. “Let’s see, was it ’83, no I think it was ’84.” With the most recent experience, Russ was unanimously elected ‘lead probe’.
The gauge at the put-in read just under 4.2′, a good first time level. Kayaks have run it below 3.5′, but I liked the idea of a little more padding between my boat and the bottom of the drops. Plus, I was thinking of the brief but tense pin situation several of us had witnessed 2 weeks earlier in a craggy drop on the Kalama (Leader rapid). More water usually means more choices.
After a short warmup we reached Initiation, the longest of the named rapids. I wanted to get a really good look at anything I was going to run, so I hiked a ways down to get a view of the uppermost drop from below. I was about to head back to run it when I noticed Murray and Russ were already portaging. Well, I was this far down; may as well check out the rest and see what I was in for. Wow—except for the crux drop at the very top, the rest of the rapid looked to be quite sweet!
Denny and I ran the main channel center-left, but diverged right at the crux. Denny took the right side, while I came down later and took a parallel route just to the left. I had decided ahead of time that the 2 variations on the drop looked comparable in difficulty, with Denny’s route slightly favored in the event of a swim. But in the last seconds I chose the lazy left line, as I would have had to work a little to get properly corrected to make Denny’s line.
My line turned out to be a little bonier than I had anticipated. Halfway down the short drop I was jolted almost to a stop as my tip made contact with a barely submerged rock, prompting momentary thoughts back to the Kalama. Note to self: Steep drops need extra water! I’m beginning to appreciate the extra margin of safety afforded in low water by a canoe or inflatable kayak when it comes to pinning potential. They ride higher on the surface, don’t have the thin noses that can easily submerge and jam in nooks and crannies, and offer a higher vantage point from which to leap to safety.
Anyway, other than that short but unexpected delay, there were no other surprises. I pulled into an eddy, regained my bearings on the next couple pitches that I had scouted, and then paddled out with Denny in tow. The rest of this rapid was a taste of and typical of the best parts to come. This particular rapid is worth scouting as it was difficult to tell where you wanted to be before you were semi-committed, due to the steepness and boulders blocking the line of view. But most of the run can be boat scouted, floating up within range of several pour-over channels before picking which one looks most enticing (or instead opting for the shore). Eddies were plentiful and the shore was never far. The drops seemed surprisingly friendly given the height of some of them. I rarely felt I needed much momentum and tended to relax and take my time as I entered them. The real fun was when we had a sequence of them — zigging and zagging like a slow motion roller coaster!
The one rapid that caught me off guard was Ram’s Horn. I had seen higher flow pictures of it, but they don’t come close to capturing the shear height difference between horizon line and the background view of the river below. Coming from a mostly III/IV boating background, this was a big drop! Murray was already portaging, and I was thinking “Not a bad idea,” especially after viewing the violent topography of the main drop and the blocked view of what was undoubtedly a terminal hole at the base. We floated/dragged the boats down the left side along a trickle of water flowing over jagged water-worn rock described in the guidebooks as the “sneak route” at higher flows.
The fishermen at the base weren’t having much luck but were happy to be casting anyhow on such a beautiful summer day. Looking back up from the bottom, Ram’s Horn did not look nearly so ominous. There was a line down center-left that looked semi-plausible, and the hole at the bottom was short and appeared to have plenty of outflow. Denny and I surveyed. “I could have run that.” “Yeah, no problem.” …Maybe next time.
Many more fun rapids followed. At one point the lead boat pulled out to scout a drop that in the end we decided to portage. The channel on far left dropped and then banked right against some sievey-looking mank — doable, but why risk it? The right channel flowed over a jumble of submerged boulders that created an ugly set of boiling fountain hydraulics. This might have been a perfectly safe route for an experienced boater, but looked like certain capsize to our novice bunch.
Then came the complication. Russ had tipped over just upstream in some shallow water that was not deep enough to roll up in. After attempting to upright to no avail, he exited the boat and was now on the wrong shore for the portage. While the rest of us were fretting about whether this would require a rope (or 2 tied together) and how we would get it to him, Russ emptied his boat and got back in. I paddled out to the middle to find out what his plan was and to warn him to cut hard right if somehow he found himself running that side. As it turned out he had found an easy ferry route among all the rocks and rejoined us shortly for the portage.
At another point I pulled out because I couldn’t quite see the bottom of a diagonal pourover that looked like the most promising route. On shore I ducked under a downed tree and tore the shoulder of my drysuit on the sharp nubbin of a broken branch. “Lunch stop!” Duct tape didn’t stick at all to the outside, even when well-dried. But it worked great on the plastic-coated inside. Glad it was my old drysuit!
After lunch we proceeded down through the last of the challenging stretch. We never did clearly identify the horizon-line rapid named Climax, but that one is suppose to be easy-down-the-middle at this water level. The last 2 and a half miles of the 6 mile trip was mostly class 2.
One of the highlights for me of Murray’s last 2 trips has been the wildlife. On the Kalama the special moment was when a large steelhead (or was it a salmon?) jumped 3 and a half feet out of the water about 15 feet from Murray’s canoe — not once, but 5 times in rapid succession following the path of an arc around the canoe! After the 4th jump, Murray raised his paddle up like a bat. The 5th jump was the last we saw of him. I can’t help but think the fish was checking out the strange craft that had invaded his territory.
And once again the prized sighting was in the air, but this time not a fish. An immense golden eagle—the largest I’ve ever seen in the wild—flew right over us from behind and landed in a tree just downstream. OK, it’s the ONLY golden eagle I have ever seen in the wild, but that’s what made it special.
At the takeout I waited while Denny completed the roundtrip return shuttle in exactly 20 minutes, including unloading Murray’s boat. I won’t ask how. Upon arriving home I found a message that the kids and mom were finished at OMSI and enjoying an early dinner at Pizza Schmizza. The club potluck was at Murray and Dale’s place that evening, so I grabbed a Guinness, plate and utensils, and a tub of deep-frozen homemade pinenut-oatmeal cookies and headed over. We had a smaller turnout than normal, but a well-balanced selection of delicious dishes (despite the random assignment of what to bring), and a very interesting slide presentation by Lee Sessions on the other (Arctic) Hood River. All in all, a great cap to a fantastic day!
Thanks for a great trip, Murray, and may we have many more!
By the way, for the record, Murray had no swims and was rarely even seen emptying his canoe (seriously!).
Photo credits go to Denny Egner.