liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

Trip Reports: Canyon Creek and the Upper Wind

The last two weekends I've paddled a single run two days in a row. On Feb 4-5 we ran Canyon Creek, on Saturday at 570cfs then 490. On Feb 11-12 we ran the Upper Wind at 5.7 and 5.5 feet. Both of the runs are north of the Columbia river, in Washington state.

Canyon Creek at 570 is a decidedly medium flow, quite reasonable. The creek is in a basalt gorge that gets quite narrow at times, for example at the first rapid which is known as Swizzle Sticks for the pair of trees that lurk along the bank. Swizzle sticks is a coin toss rapid: you go in and do your best, and never know exactly what is going to happen. The flow is concentrated and the gorge narrow, and there are intense holes, boils, and swirls everywhere. So far I've done OK in there but I've seen several people swim there, and the most solid boaters among my crew all report that they have had their turn to get worked in there. So I'm just waiting for my turn. There are a few ledges after that, pretty easy stuff in my view, but definitely some ugly holes to avoid.

Rapids like that remind me of walking on the sidewalk across the Ross Island Bridge. It isn't hard to stay on the narrow sidewalk, but there are distractions. Every now and then a bicyclist wants to pass, or a drunk wanders across your path. If you were to stumble off the sidewalk and into the traffic, you'd probably die. If you were to trip and fall over the guardrail to the river, you'd probably die. So you just concentrate on staying on the sidewalk. Not all rapids are as easy as a sidewalk, but when they are, it pays to just focus on that sidewalk and ignore the fast traffic on one side and the long fall on the other.

Back to Canyon Creek, there's a Heinzerling move on there, straightforward as it can be. It's called Thrasher. And there's an almost 20 foot waterfall where the current is necked down to its very narrowest. It's called the Big Kahuna. It has a rock flake to launch from that assures a fine landing, but because that flake is well below the horizon line you can't see it until after you commit to the drop. Because of that it's a bit harder than the sidewalk analogy, it's more like you have to go around a corner blindfolded then remove the blindfold and choose your spot in a fraction of a second while you fall through space. So a fair number of people miss the flake, or the boof stroke that assures that your boat will project well out onto the pile of water at the base. And if you miss, you chance getting stuffed under a nice chunk of basalt on the left. So everybody gets ramped up about that one.

The last notable rapid is called the Champagne Hammering Spot. It is a series of two smallish waterfalls, both with fine boofs if you can hit them, followed by a stupid bony drop. It's really pretty when you look back upstream at it. Here it is...

It was really good to run Canyon Creek at medium-->low flows twice in a row, because now I remember it. Before that I'd only run it once. On the Sunday run I felt confident enough to run the blind horizons first, and that gives the benefit of watching everyone else's runs, which adds to my understanding of the rapids.

Here's a run at 150cfs done in October 2012:

The Upper Wind gauge rock is this double-peaked thing in the middle of the river at the takeout. At 5.7 the rock is entirely under, and there is no compression wave on the upstream side of it, but it is not forming a hole yet downstream from it. At 5.5 the left horn is showing but the right horn is under, and there is a compression wave upstream from the rock.

The Upper Wind at 5.7 was pretty juicy. Apparently it changes dramatically over 6 feet, and the gauge tops out just a few inches over that. I can imagine that it would be quite runnable with lots more water, you just wouldn't want to swim. We had a group of a dozen at 5.7 and most of us hadn't seen it that high. But it was no problem. Our group was awesomely strong, and people were hardly even flipping over. In retrospect I'd say that the run is easier at 5.7 than it is at 5.5, because it is so clean. The holes are blowing through, and rapids that are bony and complex at lower water (like Initiation) become open wave trains. Ramshorn is super easy, just big. Balls to the wall right can be run on the right or down the middle, which is not difficult, just a series of steep ledges without much push. Balls to the wall left is a series of twisting laterals. And the center left boof flake at Climax is still available, allowing for a flat landing and quick exit from the hole.

At 5.5 we had one person in our group who was a little frightened, and he wasn't boating his best. He started getting worked over right away, and didn't stop. At first he was staying upright, but then he started flipping over. At first he was rolling up well, but then he started doing back decks rolls, and then he started swimming. One time he swam a long canyony section and his boat got stuffed in a sieve, and we had to send a climber down a cliff on a rope to pull it out and paddle it down. We were getting down the river, but it was taking longer. At Climax, which is the last major drop, we all got worked a little bit. B took a sneak on river right that I hadn't seen before. The rest of us ran the flake and got tossed laterally into a hole on the right. All of us typewritered across that hole and out except for S who got yanked back in and surfed for a long time. His boat was getting tumbled lengthwise in the hole, shaken and rattled. He didn't get much air for a long time and finally wet exited, hoping to immediately flush from the hole. He didn't. He was low on O2 and his head barely broke the surface before he got recirculated again. His bloat floated out while he was still in there. He told us later that he finally remembered that one way to escape a bad hole is to ball up, so he did it, and it worked. He came out on the next recirc, and had been shoved very deep, because he surfaced a good 20 feet downstream from the drop.

B and I took off to chase his gear. I got the paddle and threw it into an eddy where other boaters could put it on the shore. B went after the boat, and I followed. I saw S's sneaker going by when we were after the boat, but let it go. B and I got the boat to shore about 1/4 mile downstream. When we were in the eddy B let out a roaring animal sound and released a fury of paddling strokes, hitting my wrist hard. I was reaching for the cockpit of the boat to pull it upright. I have a pretty impressive bruise where his paddle connected. Funny how you can get through all this whitewater unscathed, and get beat on just trying to retrieve equipment.

A raft came through Climax just then, which was great, because S got a ride down to his boat in it. On the way down the R2 team stuffed him in a pretty big hole, and he got a refresher on how to highside a raft.

After seeing all that I will consider alternate lines for Climax in the mid-fives. There's an airplane move far river left that looked good, and I'd consider B's far right sneak.

Here's Climax on a snowy day:

The paddle out on the Wind is just fine at any level over 5 feet. Below that it gets a little low and slow. I'd approximate it at 3 miles of class II and III rapids, with an occasional nice playhole. The hair boating crowd isn't wild about the Wind because of this runout, but I don't mind it, even at lower flows. But I'm one of those creekers who loves rocks.

I still don't feel like I know the Upper Wind very well. I've seen it now four times, at 4.5, 5.2, 5.5, and 5.7. It is so different between 4.5 and 5.7 as to be a new run. I would probably say that I didn't know Canyon creek very well if I'd gone there at juicier flows. But I am going to be very cautious about Canyon Creek at high flows, because I think it probably gets gnarly fast.
Tags: kayak, risk, river, washington, whitewater

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