Staff River Trip on the Deschutes!

1 11 2021
First night’s happy hour! As you can see adult beverages on the left AND right!

The Covid years of 2020 and 2021 have been the most challenging – and rewarding – to all of us Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Each of us has worked our hearts out – practically reinventing the business in the process – slaloming through countless challenges posed by mask mandates, reinvention of rental and instruction procedures, chronic product uncertainties, and skyrocketing pandemic-driven consumer demand. We’ve succeeded. The business is stronger than ever, and we still command exceptionally high customer satisfaction. Congratulations everybody! So in early October, our bosses Dave and Suzi, as a celebration and thank-you, closed the store for two days and took the staff on a two-day trip on 42.4 miles of the Lower Deschutes River.

The trip was to put in at Buckhollow day use area, below Sherars Falls, and end at end at its confluence with the Columbia River at Heritage Landing State Park. The plan was to meet up and camp at the White River Campground, a few miles upstream from Buckhollow.

Meloy, Matt, Alex, Ethan, Byron and I loaded up the van with our gear and a couple of whitewater kayaks. Dave and Suzi earlier headed out with a trailer full of rafts and inflatable kayaks. Road trip!

We arrived within 30 minutes of each other. With daylight slipping away we wasted no time setting up tents and the all-important kitchen and “campfire.” At the departure date, wood campfires were prohibited. We ordered a propane-fueled campfire set up but it hadn’t showed up the day before, causing anxieties. But it showed up two hours before departure, and it was totally a hit!

Suzi did a bang up job coordinating the food and beverages for this trip. There was NO shortage of anything especially the adult beverages, which included wine, tequila, mud slides and mimosas! Our first night’s meal featured pulled pork burritos with this amazing salsa for the toppings. For dessert, she served my suggestion of brownies topped with whipped cream. The night was pretty cold! I sleep pretty warm. I brought my Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag plus a packable down comforter. It’s a hydrophobic down bag. I was so comfy I never even zipped the bag. We all had frost on our tents upon awakening.

Wakey wakey was about 7 a.m. with piping hot coffee. We had a nice assortment of Suzi’s home baked pumpkin muffins, yogurt, cereal, and fruit. The idea was to eat quickly and get on the river!

Once packed up we headed down to Buckhollow. Even though it was chilly, it was pretty physical work putting the boats together, and before long, we were wondering, once we put our dry suits on, if we’d soon be de-layering! Setting up involves sorting out gear, inflating rafts and inflatable kayaks, strapping things down, river feature discussion, etc. I was having trepidations about the dry suit I chose – I suspected it might leak. So I wore thick polypropylene pants and neoprene socks. That turned out to be a wise choice!

Off we went! This river section has a couple of Class II and a Class III (sometimes III+) rapid called Wreck Rapid. Turns out the name Wreck Rapid wasn’t referring to wrecking boats. It was the site of a 1949 railroad crash! As it’d been 10 years since I last whitewater boated, I chose an inflatable kayak. It was an Aire Tomcat. Inflatable whitewater kayaks are kind of two-faced. On the one hand, they are very forgiving, pretty much riding over eddies and opposing currents, rather than being thrown around by them. On the other hand, trying to make any sort of quick move just doesn’t happen. They are barge-like. I found the best way to approach a rapid or wave train is to just point it right at the waves and go. The main thing to avoid is being sideways to a wave. What is amazing is how fast they drain! Many times the kayak would seem to completely swamped, only to drain instantly. I brought along my bomber waterproof duffel by Ortlieb. It’d taken me on the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, and the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, in Nepal. But it hadn’t been subjected to constant thrashing on a river trip! This tough as nails bag came though completely dry on the inside. My drysuit, however, was as problematic as I’d feared. The right leg was very damp and foot wet. Yes, after the trip, on inspection, it had some kind of abrasion inside the leg, it had delamination, and the icing on the cake, a hole in the sock.

Today’s objective was to get to a few miles past Mack’s Canyon. If we managed that, we’d have a shorter paddle tomorrow. The river passes through beautiful Central Oregon canyon country. The canyon walls are lined with spectacular columnar basalt formations. Flora is mostly sage brush and juniper. We are on the lookout for Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep! We glimpse countless Blue Heron, Osprey, and Kingfisher. The Cliff Swallow nests are visible, but the inhabitants have migrated away for the winter. The character of the paddle itself is moving flatwater punctuated by pool-drop rapids.

We chose to go further than Mack’s Canyon, the initial destination. We paddled approximately 3.5 miles further, to a campsite called Homestead. This offered us plenty of space to set up a kitchen with plenty of dispersed tent sites. But our late arrival made for hasty tent pitching and set up before dark! Alex set up a long length of line to hang out gear which we availed ourselves of tout suite! Soon, we found ourselves setting out food and drink, and the fire pit was going. This night we’d enjoy Suzi’s home made pasta sauce over noodles. Prior, as appetizers, we scarfed down crackers, cheeses, plates of sliced carrot, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and more.

Dinner done, it was time to hang out by the fire. It wasn’t long, after a few quaffs of adult beverages, that calls came out for the “Squim” game. Uh oh. This is a game where quarters are carried to a kettle and aimed and dropped in. HOW, do you ask, does one drop them in? By holding the quarter between the butt cheeks! Not all are skilled in this endeavor. But Suzi has buns of steel and is very adroit at this game. Andrew tried it too, and his new found strut made me just about cough up my beverage in laughter.

Suzi nails it!

I announced I was retiring, and went to my tent. But before, I ensured I had everything inside, including my drysuit. This turned out to be super wise, as it started to rain just as I zipped up the tent fly. My MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent was not the tent it used to be. The tent fly did not leak thank God. But the inside tent’s seam tape had completely disintegrated, and the floor became sticky like some kind of tape. Anyway eventually I got up to check and OMG there were little pools forming at the edges. The foot of my sleeping bag was wet. But inside the sleeping bag it was still dry. Lucky it’s hydrophobic. And if I just stayed on my Thermarest pad I was dry. It was hard to sleep, as I dreaded a drip drip drip falling on me from the fly! I prayed PLEASE rain stop. Which it did. I think it rained 90 minutes. About 2 a.m. I got up to relieve myself, looked up and glimpsed a 100% clear, sparkly starry sky! So the rain was a desert passing shower.

Once again, wakey wakey about 7 a.m. And first things first, the morning Constitutional demanded attention. OH, I ought to mention! On this river trip, this situation was practically a crisis! Only myself and Suzi brought toilet paper, and I only had 1 roll. For like 10 people? Damn. I will leave it up to your imagination. Oh come on, we are supposed to be professional outdoors people, right? I only know in my case I never depend on the campground or whatever for TP, I always bring it just in case! Anyway, here I was early in the morning, my body making demands. Dave had set up the ‘stool’ some ways away from camp. Only upon making the hike did I find the spot more than a place to perform the duty. It was a place of contemplation! Let’s just say, it was a unique spot to complete one’s daily dump.

The Throne of Contemplation!

In my case, my thoughts were occupied with the final few Class II, Class III and maybe Class III+ rapids I’d need to navigate in my leaky drysuit. Dave and Suzi, and Ethan told me repeatedly these were straightforward and not that big of a deal. But I didn’t know for myself, right? Oh well. Just forge ahead, right?

Our Chef’s duties called for my group to cook this morning’s breakfast. The pressure was on myself, Tyler and Ethan. The menu called for hash browns, bacon, and scrambled eggs, with melted cheese if we could manage that. And OF COURSE lots of coffee! The hash browns were of a kind I can’t seem to find at my local Fred Meyers. They come in a cardboard container. Just open, pour into the skillet and cook! The bacon was a snap. Suzi had pre cooked the bacon before the trip. Essentially all that was needed was a nice hot pre-heat. The eggs I did in my own simple way, which is to crack them open right on the skillet and add the other ingredients (milk and in this case cheese), scramble right on the skillet. All went well! The paddlers were satisfied! The funny thing about this trip was that many of us had never camped together before, yet it certainly seemed like we’d been camping together for years.

OK. After clean up of kitchen, packing away wet tents and other gear, topping off inflatable kayaks and rafts, strapping down of duffel bags, camp chairs, kitchen tables and propane tanks, it was time to head off! Today’s journey called for much flat water river journeying, viewing of canyon walls, hiking to petrogplyphs, and 4 Class III and III+ rapids at the end of the float. I was definitely nervous about the end, but it turned out to be more fun than fear!

Yes, once we began, Day 2 was sparklly bright and clear. There would be no rain. Wind was our primary challenge on Day 2, especially toward the end! On this day, we had plenty of fast moving flat water. But lay ahead were rapids with names like Washout, Rattlesnake, Colorado, and Gordon Ridge Rapid (where one of our Wenonah Canoe sales representatives dumped).

Some of switched boats, but myself, Meloy and Byron stuck to their original craft. For Matt, it was his first time piloting a raft, and he performed like a seasoned raft paddler. One thing I learned is that as a kayak paddler on a trip like this, you do NOT want to be behind a raft entering a rapid. As a kayak paddler, if you are behind a raft, the raft blocks your view, and secondly, the raft may, without warning, suddenly change direction, leaving you, the kayak paddler, without time to change position for an upcoming river feature like a hole.

I found that my favorite rapid was the Gordon Ridge Rapid. It seemed unanimous that all of us liked this rapid best! It featured numerous small islets which the river wended around, creating innumerable opportunities to paddle the kayak back and forth to meet the demands of the river. And, it was longer than the other rapids, making more fun! At one point, we were so ‘trafficked,’ that we bumped into each other.

We finished the storied Colorado Rapids, which were followed by Rattlesnake. Funny thing was, I paddled through Rattlesnake and did not even know it. Maybe it was the river level, I don’t know. But I just followed, at a distance, Dave and Suzi’s raft, and it was no big deal.

Then the wind roared. How does this happen? So, in the Summer, the Columbia Gorge gets hot, and even on warm Fall days, and the hot air rises. Something has to displace the air rising. And what would that be? It is air from the Pacific Ocean, and it begins to replace the rising air about noon. This every-day phenomenon starts a race-track all the way from Astoria to beyond The Dalles in the Columbia Gorge. And, it also flows up the Columbia Gorge side canyons like the John Day River and the Deschutes River. On our final miles to our take-out, we were experiencing gusts up to 35 mph. So what to do? PADDLE HARD! It constantly forced my inflatable kayak to turn right. To counter, I had to paddle hard to left, which at some point eventually led to a blister on my right wrist. Alex had a First Aid Kit with a gauze self-adhering bandage which I applied. That kept the damage at bay.

In the end, we all paddled against the wind to the take out. It was annoying but not too bad!

We had a terrific trip! We’re looking forward to a great 2022!





Hiking the Lower Deschutes Canyon, Oregon in Spring

30 05 2017

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The winter of 2016-17 brought record rainfall to many parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, which saw all-time records for the October – April periods. It was great for skiers. Great for replenishing reservoirs. But it. Just. Kept. On. Raining. Sometimes, the only way to escape Portland’s gloom is to head east, past the Cascades. There, the clouds part and it’s likely a sunny hike can be had!

There are many good springtime hikes in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Wildflowers start coming out in March and peak sometime in late April. One nice choice are the trails along the Lower Deschutes River Canyon. There are three main trails leading from the mouth of the river. One is an old railroad bed converted to a bike trail. Another follows the riverside, snaking along. And a third is in between these two. It is possible to go many many miles upstream following the old railroad bed.

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To get there, take I-84 east from Portland, past The Dalles, to Deschutes River State Park. Park at the area in the southern part of the park.

Laura and I decided to do this hike as it’s a rolling terrain hike and doesn’t involve lots of elevation gain. A loop is possible by taking the river trail about 3 miles to where it climbs and connects with the railroad bed trail.

We had wonderful weather. It was warm in the sun. A train on the opposite side slowly made its way, stopping for a time.

The river was flowing swiftly, emptying Central Oregon of all the excess water from the spring rains.

We saw the occasional balsam root flowers starting to emerge, plus some others I couldn’t identify.

Total hike mileage was 6.5 miles, a good conditioning hike.

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Laura photographs some emerging flowers

The Deschutes River cuts through some of Oregon’s interesting Geologic features. So the trail offers some natural interest. Along the way one can view layers of basalt and ash laid down over millenia. In some spots natural lava bridges formed.

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Weather plus the river have carved some interesting shapes into the rocks here. For wildlife, we saw mostly ospreys and buzzards. Supposedly there are deer and rattlesnakes in the area as well. It’s popular with anglers for the trout and salmon. And backpacking is possible along this trail, too.

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For me, spring and fall are the best times to hike this canyon. Obviously it offers sun when Portland is cloudy. But in the midst of summer, this canyon has three things I don’t like: Intense heat, little shade and often punishing wind. In the summer, it just bakes here. And that heat, which makes air rise, means something has to displace it. And that is air from the Columbia River and the Pacific. In the summer, by afternoon, it can be like a convection vortex here. I have even seen a kite torn from its string! Rafters cannot make progress against this force – often being forced to spend the night and start off in the morning.

So for me, it’s all about the seasons, and this hike is just GREAT in spring!





The Cabin at Lake Billy Chinook – Cove Palisades State Park

18 11 2010

Since I’ve lived in Oregon, I’ve heard about Lake Billy Chinook. I only knew it was some kind of big lake in the canyon of the Deschutes River or something. I also heard lots of motorboats and houseboats plied its waters.

So, it wasn’t all that high on my list of places to visit. If it was full of jet skis I didn’t want to be there. However, I got an invitation to share a cabin post season – and that piqued my interest.

Seems sometime in October the marina and campgrounds close, and therefore the power boats dwindle. Yet, being in Central Oregon, this lake is bound to have some decent weather – it might be a spot to escape the rain on the west side of the Cascades.

Everyone was really stressed out at work the week before we went. Office network upgrades, e-mail server blowups and mid term grading dominated agendas. So it was GOOD to get away to such a quiet spot.

We reserved a cabin at Cove Palisades State Park managed by Oregon State Parks for two nights in early November. The cabins turn out to be very nice! And they have a nice view, and though a bit close quarters, they are suitable nonetheless. Each has a kitchen (no stove) and outside propane grill with burner.

Who's gonna do the dishes tonght?

April, Warren, Jessie and myself quickly settled in and enjoyed the first night’s meal. Mine was soul stuffed with crab (Trader Joe’s) accompanied by green beans/hollandaise, with a baked potato. Then we rallied for a game of “Therapy!” That’s a fun way to learn about each other!

We also went outside to see the 100% clear sky and fabulous stars. We were able to get decent reception on our iPhones, and made use of the star chart software. Plus I brought two powerful binoculars. So we could check out Jupiter and the crab nebula! Way cool.

Suiting up!

Saturday we had omelets and then took off in the kayaks. I didn’t know that Lake Billy Chinook is formed by three rivers – the Metolius, Deschutes, and Crooked Rivers. Each can be followed to its confluence with the lake. Today we paddled out to the Metolius arm, because we knew there was an island where we could have lunch.

The lake is indeed inside deep canyons.

The walls are vertical in places. All along you can see the colonnades formed by cooling basalt during the epic Oregon basalt floods. We were the ONLY boats on the lake pretty much all day. We only saw two other boats.

Skullduggery kayak detailing

Fauna consisted of seagulls, cormorants, king fishers, terns, feral goats, ospreys, bald eagles, falcons, deer and pigeons. We knew other wildlife abounded, though.

We returned to the cabin about 4:00. I showered and then set about preparing the evening’s dinner – a burrito bar. Tortillas, onion, beans, sour cream, guacamole, tomato, salsa, olives, bell peppers and more graced the table. But during dinner prep and following, everyone seemed to collapse. It couldn’t be today’s paddle – we didn’t paddle very hard, or far. The likely culprit was work. Work had exhausted everyone – and their bodies were letting them know it was time to recharge!

Glassy reflections everywhere on Sunday

Only Jessie and April were cognizant enough to play the night’s game, Scattegories. Warren fell asleep on the couch and I tried and failed to follow the game!

Sunday we awoke refreshed and whipped up a feast of pancakes topped with nuts and raspberries, with bacon on the side.

Chefs at work!

Then off to explore the Crooked River arm of the lake. Along the way we were privileged to witness two very healthy coyotes padding along the rocks on one side of the canyon!

I’d definitely recommend the cabins – especially in the off season!