Sunday, March 18, 2007

Clearwater, Revisited

Saturday was warm, the Middle Fork of the Nooksack was peculiarly holding steady at 900cfs, and a big crew was heading up from Seattle. While there was some worry that Clearwater would miss the majority of the rain heading our way, we drove up to the put-in anyway in hopes of finding water. When Hale and I pulled in, not only did we find the creek was at a respectable level, but there were about 12 guys ready to go (let's see, me, Hale, Chris, Tim, Tony, Jamie, Todd, Andrew, Marty, Shertzl, Ammen...). We had a veritable interstate collection of boaters, ranging from as far away as Colorado and Arkansas. And I can safely say that I was the most mediocre of the bunch.

The seldom run Rocky Road at a good level, as seen from the bridge over Clearwater at the bottom of the run.

Clearwater put-in. As crowded as we've ever seen it.

The character of Clearwater is a little unusual as far as local creeks go. A great many rapids are carved out of Chuckanut Sandstone, forming fun shutes, ledges, and slides in several mini-gorges. Other rapids are the more typical boulder filled style (including giant, orange weathering dunite boulders, shweet!). The first few times I swam, er, paddled Clearwater, we didn't get out to scout anything. It was 400 fpm of "Boof left, eddy right. Ready?" Things have changed. Island Drop, in the middle of the run, has changed and is now a manky boulder pile, which goes poorly on the left and has wood on the right. The best line will probably be over a hard left boof in the middle while avoiding the boulder which backs up the landing on the center right. There was a fun rapid after Island Drop that has changed, and then you get to the lead in to Orange Slice. The right side will probably go, banging over bedrock and then through the narrowing (?) slot called Door Number 2. Most folks didn't run this one due to the wood issues in the ledges just downstream.

The new and unimproved Orange Slice.

Downstream consequences that kept most folks form running the right sneak on Orange Slice.

Shertzl and Hale, mourning the loss of Orange Slice.

Most things after Orange Slice are similar to the old lines. Continuous and steep. The one notable exception is Ski Jump, which is taller, and you now run down the far right.

All in all a great day and it felt excellent to be on the water again. I had a very mediocre day, including, yes, a swim into a recirculating eddy below Slide for Life that somehow worked itself out (after I swam over the next ledge and got out, my boat followed suit and beached itself at my feet) and I plugged the hell out of both ledges in Bark No Bite. However, most things went well, not bad given all this grad school sitting and a steadily climbing water level.

When we finally finished many hours later the Middle Fork was on its way to spiking over 2000 cfs. The correlation remains a little funny, but Clearwater seems good between 1000-1500 cfs on the MF Nooksack gauge, depending on whether its rising or falling.

I think the rest of the crew had a great day as well. It felt nice to be on a backyard classic with so many phyched boaters.

Chris T. calling the boys home. The crew was stretched a few hundred yards upstream in little eddies, waiting for the take-out to clear.

Downstream from the take out...the lead-in to the pinny, woody Rocky Road.

Tim guarding against the consequences of a blown finishing move.

Shertzl bringing it home.

Andrew doing the same.

Slightly worse for wear crew at the take-out, 1.5 miles and 4 hours later.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Clearwater Creek, almost

Tuesday Clearwater Creek dropped into range. And I almost ran it, twice.

Everyone in Bellingham has been keen on getting back on this creek after the heavy floods last November altered the river bed. Winter rains have been moving wood around, alternatively plugging up and blowing out key drops. Rumors abound of freshly opened undercuts and gravel filled eddies, a less than pleasant combination at 400 fpm.

Ryan and I waited patiently while the Middle Fork Nooksack gauge dropped from 3500 cfs to 1500 cfs, and headed up mid morning on Tuesday to check it out.

Since the actual gauge on Clearwater blew out in the big floods, we had a hard time telling what the level was. I thought it looked pushy, Ryan agreed, but half heartedly, and we backed down.

We rallied again for a post-work attempt, giving us time to gather backup and wait for the river to drop a bit more. By 5 pm Hale, Jon, Ryan and myself were standing at the take-out, while the skies dumped freezing rain and snow on the only slightly lower creek.

Don't ever boat with Hale, he brings horrible weather.

Did I mention that it was snowing? That North Cascades terrestrial lapse rate can be a real bitch. Fifty in Bellingham, and 32 at the put-in.

I quickly assessed my lack of recent boating (an excuse that will soon run dry), the heightened hypothermia risk, and backed down for the second time in one day. While I could cite all sorts of logical, obvious reasons not to run a steep, recently flooded creek at 5 pm in March with snow accumulating at your feet, I think I really just need to wait for my testicles to drop back in after such a long cold winter.

Jon and I waited for a while at Slippery Slit and watched those clad in drysuits make their bold descent. Then we headed to the take out and waited in warm trucks with beer while Hale and Ryan did all the work of assessing the Clearwater situation.

When they finally joined us slightly after dark they reported that:

The river was actually a little low (MF Gauge at ~1000-1100)
Most things were pretty similar, but at least a handful of drops (island drop, orange slice) are different, and orange slice was portaged.
Not too many wood issues.

We recon that the level we saw earlier in the day when the MF was ~1400 was equivalent to ~3.9 on the old gage. For now, MF between 1100-1200 seems like a good level.

Maybe a little later in the season...

Hale Hanaway in the slightly more undercut Slippery Slit.

Ryan Bradley in the rejumbled Tony's Tumble.

Jon Dufay, warm and dry at the take out.

Waiting in the snow as night falls on Clearwater Creek.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Weekend High Water: Chickening out on Class III

If you live in the Northwest, you know that we were pounded with rain this past weekend. The big rains were coupled with rising freezing levels and rapidly melting snow, which translated into big rivers throughout most of Cascadia. Our backyard runs went from way too low on Saturday morning, to way too high by Sunday afternoon. Last I checked the Middle Fork of the Nooksack was running ~3500 cfs, about 4 times the recommended flows...

So, a few of us from Bellingham went searching for Big Water Class III fun up in Canada, which sounded like a nice way to warm up for the season and enjoy some of the water. The crew consisted of myself, Jon Dufay, Chris Tretwold, Ryan Bradley and Dirk Fabian.

Rallying through the rain in the Fraser River valley.

The plan was to hit the Chehalis River, which we paddled at high water last November. The run is long, the canyon is scenic, and the river itself is usually not that intimidating. However, when we arrived at the take out we found full sized trees floating out of the canyon and the water was about a meter higher than our November trip. We estimated flows were between 5,000-7,000 cfs, a good bit higher than the recommended 2,000. We quickly assessed our lack of recent boating missions, the continuing heavy rains, and the mobile strainers and high tailed it to more familiar territory.

Chehalis take out, a full meter higher than our last high water descent, with full sized trees floating out of the canyon.

Tucking tails and running away from the high water Chehalis option.

The Chilliwack River is just about due south from the Chehalis across the Fraser River. However, when we got to the take out we found that the Chilliwack was actually on the low side of medium. Slesse Creek was dumping in tons of mud which made the run look threatening, but there really wasn't that much water.

Chilliwack take out. Brown water and the smell of earth in the air, but flowing on the low end of medium. ???

We cruised up to the alternate put in on Foley Creek, which had been devastated in the last big winter floods, and proceeded to bash our way down the low, tree filled brook and then on to the Chilliwack proper. The Chilliwack itself has changed quite a bit since I last boated it. The last mile or so is deeply incised into the river bed, and there is lots of new wood in the lower gravel bars, but most are easy to see from above.

All in all, a satisfying day of early season boating. Now we just need to wait for Clearwater to come back in so we can go assess the much talked about changes since the storms this past winter.

Heading up to the alternate put-in on Foley Creek, which was likewise a bit low. Check out the channel on the right side of the picture left by the winter 06-07 floods.

Dirk bashing his way down a typical bony Foley drop. Plenty of wood in there now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

NF Nooksack Wood Update

I'm not going to take the time to go into detail about the new wood on the NF Nooksack, and will instead refer to the write up here.

However, I did want to put up this picture. This was the only mandatory portage at BONY flows (~300 cfs?), and it sneaks up on you quick. It is at the bottom of the long rapid above Bench Drop, and it is very hard to see until you punch the last hole, at which point you're better off heading to river left and fast.