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

20170327_132533

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.

20170327_124653

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.

20170327_131912

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.

20170327_140413

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.

20170327_132137

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!





John Day River Oregon: A Day Running the River!

9 07 2013

IMG_0587Fraternity brother Tully Alford and I spend some “bro time” every summer camping. This year, for our first camp-out we returned to the John Day River. It’s in dry central north Oregon, an area way below the radar of many outdoor enthusiasts, yet if offers tremendous opportunities for those venturing there! Imagine floating down a canyon-walled river. With every turn, a new world unfolds. Not a house or road to be seen. Eagles and hawks float above, bass swim below. Yet only two and a half hours from Portland!

This year we decided to float the river – camping and the using a river shuttle service to pick us up and deliver us to our car at the end of the run. The John Day River is famous for long, flat stretches of running river with rapids connecting them. And for beautiful canyons with layered rocks overhead.

IMG_0579We packed up my new 2013 Ford Escape with Jackson Kayaks Rogue 9 and Rogue 10 kayaks. These kayaks are perfect for this trip, because they are good for the whitewater stretches, but also have a rear hatch – good for storing gear and food – and a skeg for the flat sections so they can be paddled straight.

IMG_0582

Tully getting ready at the put in!

As Tully had no experience in whitewater I gave him a tutorial on entering and exiting the main current into eddies. And, I explained that in rapids there are these things called “holes,” though I couldn’t really explain what they do. So you know, a hole is a backwash behind a boulder. If your boat gets stuck in one, it can be difficult to get out. Your boat gets “sucked in” by the hole.

Running the John Day River is characterized by long stretches of flat water separated by rapids. The plan was for me to run the rapid ahead and Tully follow me through. This worked great until the very end of the day.

I was very impressed! Tully made it through everything and found it fun!

IMG_0586

Tully chills out after a rapid…

Tully began the day in a wetsuit but as the temperature rose, he felt heat-distressed and at lunch took it off. The Jackson Rogue 9’s hatch took the wetsuit with lots of spare room. Lunch was sumptuous. We found a shaded peninsula and made sandwiches of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, turkey, lettuce, cheddar cheese and tomato. Plus fresh oranges for dessert.IMG_0588

Back on the water. The river and canyons unfolded one after the other. We heard, but could not see, Bighorn Sheep in the hills above. We saw bald eagles. The occasional Smallmouth bass swam below.

The run was from Spray to Service Creek, about 17 river miles. We were told it would take all day. I never believed it, but it was true. We set off at 10:00 a.m. and took out at 4:00 and we were pretty tired. It was a great day. The John Day River took its prize in the last rapid, the hardest of the day. As we approached, I could only see the horizon line and nothing of the features below. We had agreed we did not want to bother scouting, because none of the other rapids were all that hard. As first paddler I went in. Immediately I noticed three holes and lined up my kayak to pass by each one. However, on the second hole, there turned out to be another right behind it, invisible from above. After scooting by the 2nd hole, I darted across and paddled hard past the surprise hole. Tully was not able to do that, and got stuck in that hole. I did not know this until I had made it completely past the rapid and into the pool beyond. Then I looked back and saw carnage! Tully holding on to his boat, but the paddle, spray skirt, his glasses, etc. were floating by and sinking. He looked pretty shaken up and I towed his boat to the shore and he grabbed on.

We kayaked the last stretch and hauled out. No matter, we had a GREAT day on the John Day River!

The evening meal was grilled salmon, salad and mashed potatoes. IMG_0581

IMG_0580IMG_0589

 

And lots and lots of beer! Tully caps it off with a rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” There’ll be some more campouts coming this summer!

 





We Love Clean Rivers New Brand / Clackamas County Voluntourism in September!

5 08 2011

Seven months in the making, We Love Clean Rivers, the Portland, Oregon-based river cleanup non-profit, launched its new website Thursday! I’m on the board of directors. I led the re-branding effort. After countless meetings on company identity, phraseology, logos, colors, business cards, stationery and more, we are done and it’s launched!

I also spearheaded the voluntourism weekends project for the Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs Department. We Love Clean Rivers got a grant from the department, part of which was to put together tourist weekends surrounding our cleanups! You can work a cleanup one day – and putting on FUN cleanups is what we’re all about…stay in a hotel in Clackamas County, and the other weekend day treat yourself to rafting, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, or fly fishing! Check out the opportunities on the voluntourism page of the We Love Clean Rivers website…

When are these weekends? The Clackamas River Cleanup, September 10-11, and the Great Willamette Cleanup, October 8-9! See you there!