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Trip Reports: Chilliwack and Opal Creek

Last (Memorial Day) weekend: several runs on the Chilliwack in British Columbia
Today: Opal Creek aka the Little North Fork of the Santiam in Oregon
Tomorrow: the Upper Wind in Washington
Vimeo of Opal:

The Chilliwack valley is JUST north of the US/Canada border, and about 1.5 hours east from Vancouver. There's a town not far off where you can get food and such. The elevation is not high there, but the snow was pretty close, still. Last year when Terry led his club trip to this destination it rained and was cold and miserable for the entire time. This year nobody wanted to come, or at least, nobody did come but him.

The first run we did on the Chilliwack was from Post Creek to Camp Foley. Terry dropped me off at the putin and drove the car back down, hitching a shuttle in record time. The run was about 15 kilometers long and went by really fast. It was continuous class III pretty much the whole way, with an occasional tree or smallish horizon line. We boogied the whole way, because there weren't a lot of eddies to catch, and the momentum was so fast downstream that it wasn't exactly enticing to try to catch waves on the fly. There was some play to be had, but we just got in a groove and ran it. The water was high but not out of the banks.

The other run on the Chilliwack was actually a combination of three runs in the book Whitewater in Southwest BC by Claudia Schwab (2007). We ran the Chilliwack Canyon (Camp Foley to Slesse Creek) which is 10km and class IV- at higher flows, then the 12km class III run from Slesse to Tamihi where we were camped, and continued on to run from Tamihi to Osborne, another 3km. The Canyon was absolutely continuous and the first part I thought deserved an honest class IV, no minus about it. It was pushy with big holes and boils, and had precious few eddies. I don't know how Claudia could call any of this run "pool drop" but she does in the book. In my view there was not a single pool in the whole 25km. There were a few sections with wood but we managed to get past all but one without getting out of our boats. At Tamihi there is a big rapid, and a slalom course. There are a few other larger rapids in the lower section, but nothing with the push of the Canyon. We sat by the river at the takeout and watched some local river rescue guides jumping in and swimming in whitewater for a video camera. We just sat in the sun and drank beer and congratulated them on their excellent belly flops.

Also in British Columbia, we scouted out the Chehalis near Harrison Hotspring. Terry launched on it last year and didn't get to run it because their launch was so late in the day. This year the water level looked perfect but we didn't have a shuttle. We went to the Hotspring instead and soaked.


Opal Creek today. There is a 1 mile walk from where you park to where you get in your boat. I dragged my boat. Most people carried theirs but frankly the surface was not that abrasive and my boat is hard blowmolded plastic so I don't worry about dragging it to save my shoulder. We were all warm by the time we got to the water.

The level was 1200 CFS and falling gradually: it was an optimal level. This may be the last weekend of the year that it runs, and several people remarked that it was very rare to get to run it when the sun is shining. The water is so clear that the sun bounces around in the water and there is a lot of green glow and sparkle. The warm (80F) and I wore only a thin layer of capilene under my drysuit and was comfortable. The group was 21 people, 7 of whom broke off and ran ahead, leaving some 14 in the group I was with. People I knew: Denny, Joey, Tom, Mike and Shannon, Jessica, David P. Met quite a few others that I may or may not remember if I see them again on the water. The river was quite clear and ran through gorges of sculpted granite. Several sections have class IV drops. Big Ugly is the large rapid about halfway down that apparently people will portage. I saw no point in portaging or sneaking it; the main line was not that much more difficult than the rest of the run, there was simply the opportunity to bang your elbow on a rock wall on the left if you had a bad line. I did have a good line. There was a sneak option on the right, and the portage is on the right but no one took it. Our group was overall strong with only one swimmer out of the lot.

I was using the wooden paddle that Mykl made for me, and it felt like an old friend, even though it has a 70 degree offset. The Werner I have been using is in Idaho with Terry. On downstream there's a falls called Big Fluffy that we all walked. It involved a narrow class III+ lead in to an elbow just above a 20ish foot drop. The move to go off the drop in the right place looked quite challenging. It looked runnable but I wasn't going to be the only one running it. I scouted it with Michael and he said that he runs it when he's boogeying downstream with a smaller group and feeling good. With a group as big was we had, it wasn't easy to hit your stride boating, because there was always another boat in the way. So we all carried our boats up and down and around the rocky ledge, then seal launched off below the falls and above a couple of large trees in the river.

At the end of the run is Thor, which begins with doors numbered 1-4 (I ran #3, thought #2 sounded like fun too), then a class IV boogie water section down to a double drop which we scouted before the run, because it is right at the takeout. There is a tower of rock in the middle of the run that I recognized. I ran the double drop first because I was ready to go when the videographer indicated we should start coming. A fast slide on the main flow led me directly to a boof on the bottom ledge. Pretty nice run.

Good site for pix of Opal:


Wind River Gage:

Tom says he found 5.2 to be a little too high for his comfort, and considers it to be his max for now. Some people have run it up to 6.5 but apparently it is quite different at that flow. 4.5 is given is the bottom end of the good range. The Lower Wind is apparently not runnable until the flow dips under 200 CFS.

The run is described as steeper than anything I have run in the PNW so far. There is .5 miles of warmup and then "the goalposts" which is the beginning of Initiation Rapid. The run is reputed to be approximately 7 miles long, and the larger drops--all class IV--are all in the first half. The second half is class III.



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