Canyon Creek, Oregon

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Canyon Creek is one of the best creeks Oregon has to offer. This run has so much action in the first couple of miles that you are almost never without a big horizon line or a burly boulder garden to keep your adrenaline glands pumping! If you love steep creeks this is the real thing- Canyon Creek is one of the best runs Oregon has to offer. The first time John and I ran this creek we teamed up with local experts Dan Coyle and Aaron Bietler on a sunny spring day after a big rainstorm. Only Dan had done the run before, so there was plenty of excitement in the air at the put in. Dan was the only one on this trip to run every rapid that didn't have wood in it- everyone else portaged at least one.

Dan Coyle warms up at the put-in, which gives no indication of the maelstrom waiting just downstream.

Paddlers must stay alert below the put in because 90% of the wood on this run waits in the first half mile or so. After a short class two warm up that is filled with log limbos the creek steepens dramatically and the first of a long series of boulder gardens appear. The first big drop is known as 'Chocolate Chips'. This fun rapid always gives paddlers a wild ride through a narrow, powerful drop that crams you down through the gut of a beefy hole. This drop is like Corkscrew on Upper Quartzville, only about twice as big and three times as fun! Dan says this drop used to be a ledge, but it collapsed, forming the slot.

Steve Stuckmeyer blasts through Chocolate Chips while Gabe Flock watches below.
(Photo by Josh Knapp)

Just below Chocolate Chips is a long boulder garden known as 'Chicken Little.' This rapid has an active landslide feeding into it, so wood can be a problem here. Chicken Little one of the best rapids on Canyon Creek, is generally run down the right side, though it is so steep that some scouting is usually required unless you are familar with the run.


Dan catches an eddy above an extremely dangerous creek-wide old growth log in the middle of 'Chicken Little' while John acts as a safety downstream. ( a couple of years ago a Corvallis boater tried to go left over this log. He didn't make it and was sucked under the log. Amazingly he flushed through, minus his boat..)

Soon the gradient jumped to 300 fpm and we arrived at the crown jewels of Canyon Creek, Terminator and Day of Judgment. These towering boulder gardens are awe inspiring and intimidating the first time you look downstream and contemplate running them...

Terminator is a twisty, hydraulic filled ride down through a steep boulder slalom with a mandatory move to the right at the bottom to avoid an undercut on the left. Basically, the current crashes into a big boulder at the bottom, dividing the flow left and right. The left side rushes about twenty feet and then disappears under a huge undercut boulder. The right side powers into the wall and then turns back downstream. My line through Terminator was pretty exciting- I had no problems all the way down until I got to the bottom boulder- when I got there I did a wild airplane turn around to the right, flipped and was immediately flushed into the terminal eddy against a huge boulder on the right. The only way out of this eddy is to ferry across the jet of current crashing into the boulder, but when I started to ferry Dan yelled from downstream that Aaron was coming! Seconds later he too bounced down and was tossed into the eddy beside me. We jostled around for a second in the now very crowded eddy and then worked our way out one at a time.

(It should be noted that Terminator is fairly easy to scout or portage on the right)

Jason Scholey makes 'The Move' at Terminator. The boulder splitting the flow here is the 'dividing line'. The current going to the left goes under a huge boulder. The right side is the only safe route.

One short pool below Terminator is Day of Judgment, a huge boulder garden that is a kayakers dream come true. Once we got closer the line became evident, but it was long and complicated. (Day of Judgement can be scouted or portaged on the right) Day of Judgment starts with a fun slide down an eight foot ledge into a sizable hole, then a short pool separates you from the meat of the rapid which consists of a wild boulder slalom filled with holes, holes, and more holes! Dan went first as usual and we each carefully followed his line down through the gut of the monster...

Aaron Bietler runs the first drop on Day of Judgment.

John, about halfway down Day of Judgment. Dan is watching from an eddy on river left. Terminator is just upstream from here but is not visible in this photo.

Below Day of Judgment paddlers need to exercise extreme caution as there is a blind drop that has two very dangerous old growth logs jammed in it on the right and center. The logs are invisible until you are at the lip of the drop, so be very careful until you are safely past here! (When in doubt stay far, far left.) Dan boat scouted this rapid and somehow made it through without getting pinned but he got very, very lucky! Downstream from the woody drop there are so many big, clean drops that I lost track of them all. Most of the rapids are punctuated by powerful holes, so when in doubt paddle hard!

Dan punches a big hole somewhere on lower Canyon Creek.

The next major drop is Osprey rapid. This one is preceded by a long class II section and can be recognized from above by a dramatic narrowing of the creekbed and large boulders in the middle of the channel. At Osprey the creek funnels down to the right through a hallway formed by boulders on the left and a sloping rock wall on the right. There are three consecutive holes in this rapid, each larger and hungrier than the last. The final hole is really retentive and pretty much inescapable if you get stopped in it- a rope is mandatory here. Dan says this is the only spot where he has seen someone 'get worked really hard' on this whole run. ( I have also seen someone get worked and swim in the bottom hole, so be sure and set safety on the downstream boulder when running this drop.) The problem with the bottom hole is that you lose all of your momentum in the one just above it so you are in big trouble if you don't recover quickly!

John punches the second hole on Osprey. The final hole is just out of sight in the bottom right side of the picture.

Downstream from Osprey rapid the creek assumes more of a pool-drop nature and there are some cool ledge drops and narrow slots- the scenery on this part of the run is also really great if you can take your eyes off of the creek, which isn't very often!

Aaron runs a fun ledge on the lower part of Canyon Creek.

The last really nasty drop on this section will always be a mandatory portage for me at this flow. Here the creek pinches down to about four feet and plunges through a powerful slot into a claustrophobic rock walled chute. John and I eyed the boils coming up thirty feet downstream and the scary recycle feeding back into the slot and shouldered our boats for the easy portage on the right. Dan was the only one who was optimistic about this drop, so Aaron stood by with a rope while he got ready upstream. At the last second I decided that two ropes were necessary so I gave John my rope while I got ready to take pictures and it was a good thing I did!

Dan blasted down through the slot and made it through no problem- I was just about to cheer his seemingly effortless descent when he hit the rock wall on the left side about seven feet downstream from the slot and stopped abruptly. Immediately the recycle grabbed him and with astounding swiftness pulled him back upstream towards the nightmarish hole. Dan tried vainly to paddle but the walls were so narrow he couldn't get a stroke in so at the very last second he yelled 'ROPE!! ROPE!!!!" and John instantly hit him in the chest with my throwbag just as the stern of his boat reached the hole... John later said that the recycle was so powerful that he had to walk downstream and pull hard with his legs to get Dan out! It all happened so fast that I don't even remember taking the pictures but I did and here they are...

Dan enters the slot...

...this is why we paddle with our friends!

Below this slot there are a few more steep horizon lines and then the take out bridge. Canyon creek was a lot of fun, but if do you go up there scout carefully and keep in mind that Dan said this creek changes more each year than any other he knows. (This report was based on our trip down after the big rainstorm in early June 2000. We estimated the flows to be between 350-400 cfs, and that corresponded pretty closely with the number listed on Pat Welches website.)

A parting shot of Quin's Canyon Creek nosejob...

HOW TO DETERMINE FLOWS: There is no internet gauge on Canyon Creek, but the flows can be estimated fairly accurately using other gauges. Canyon Creek shares essentially the same drainage as Blue River, but Blue River tends to have a bit more water. On the other hand, Canyon Creek tends to have slightly more water than it's sister creek, Wiley.

Therefore, Canyon Creek flows can be estimated by looking at the internet gauge for Wiley Creek, and the internet Gauge for Blue River at Tidbits. The flows on Canyon will be somewhere between these two gauges.

Also, the South Santiam River at Cascadia should be between 1000 and 2000 cfs.

Note: Most people run Canyon Creek between about 300 and 600 cfs, regardless of what some guidebooks say.
If you go higher you'd better be at the top of your game because this creek takes no prisoners at high water!