Thursday, October 3, 2013

Low flow Chetco.

About a year ago I was introduced to the wonders of multi-day whitewater packrafting. When I returned, glowing, from the above-linked trip, I spent lots of waking moments searching out other rivers for future trips. 

 Thanks to this writeup, at the tip-top of that list was Oregon's Chetco River.


Doom and I had planned to run it last spring, but the bottom fell out of the flows a few days before we were able to get there. 

 I spent the next few months watching weather patterns and the gauge, hoping that the water would come up before the season was too far advanced to enjoy it. Jeny's need to burn a heap of vacation time before October 1st also hastened the desire to head north stat. When I called Bearfoot Brad to arrange our vehicle shuttle he protested that there simply wasn't any water. Unlike Brad I'd been methodically checking the forecasts, and within hours of our arrival in Oregon the fall rains began, taking our target from 60cfs to over 800. 


Highlights of the trip are many.  Top of the list has to be the impossibly clear water, followed closely by the carved-through-bedrock gorges, both ensconced within the remotest feeling place I've yet experienced in the Lower 48.  Both of us are lifelong mountain bikers and agreed that we've never been able to get anywhere close to this 'out there' by bike.

Jeny and I completed our trip in 4 days. That was a bit ambitious for a first time down, and given a choice I'd add an extra day next time. The hike is easy and takes half a day rain or shine--I'd want the extra time to savor and photograph the gorges and canyons once floating.

On that note, steady rain our first three days severely curtailed use of my DSLR.  We got heaps of POV but with the always-low-light not much of it was usable.  And because I had hoped to shoot lots with the DSLR, I only brought one battery for the point and shoot so we had to use it sparingly.  All in all I'm very disappointed with the 'coverage' I came away with, and can't wait for the opportunity to head back and right that wrong.  The upshot is that without a viewfinder in the way I really did enjoy the views, the scenery, the headspace created simply by being present in such a place with a good friend.

Jason Shappart's above-linked writeup included this:

"I am purposefully going to leave out a lot of the actual on-water details. We had very little information for our trip, and the lack of information coupled with the fact that none of the six of us had ever been in there before, made for a super fun and full-value adventure. I hope to provide a reader with enough information to help get a group to the river and give a little information on the general character and difficulty of the river in hopes that other folks too can have a similar adventure of the sort that is becoming all too scarce in the northwest multiday boating scene, where every rapid, camp, lines at low and high water, etc. make having a true adventure in the pioneering sense, a scarce commodity these days. Not that the classic other well known trips aren't fun an enjoyable, but an upper Chetco River trip is a completely different animal, and should be enjoyed for its wild unknown character."

I'd like to thank Jason (and those that came before) for their willingness to share *some* details, otherwise I'd likely never have heard about this gem of a river.  In that vein, I only wish to add a teeny bit of beta:

-Beaches suitable for camping are scarce--think hard about time of day and energy levels before passing one up!
-I felt that our flows of 750 falling to 350 were a bit low.  I'll shoot for 1500 as max next time, hopefully staying above 1000 throughout.  There are several IV and IV+ rapids that simply weren't runnable with the flows we had.

Scouting a IVish drop that simply didn't go at this level:

Options here included a chunky rock slide to ankle breaker landing, or a quick flush into an unmakeable corner with undercut wall as backstop.  We walked it.

And on that note: Of the ~150 rapids on the run, we boat-scouted and eddy-hopped our way through ~140 of them.  We got out to scout the remaining ~10, and of these 8 simply didn't have enough water to run.  The other 2 were above our skillset, but easily portaged.

All in all this was one of the most incredible trips I've yet had the pleasure to experience.

Thanks for checking in.