Upper SF Coquille River (The Gem)
By Steve Stuckmeyer

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Pioneered in the mid 80s by a group of Coos Bay boaters (Richard Dierks, Craig Thurber, Don Wells, Dave Mustonen), this run is an instant class V classic. One only wishes it was longer, closer to your backyard, and perhaps had some runnable waterfalls thrown in for good measure. From the put-in (a 0.5 mile easy downhill hike) to the take-out, one is confronted by a series of perhaps 12 solid class V drops through huge mossy boulder jumbles among old growth Douglass Fir and Port Orford Cedar. Bring your camera! It is essentially a more difficult version of the popular class IV+ and V "Miracle Mile" section of the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette. On Thanksgiving '99, the run was entirely clean of wood, but a misplaced log in any of the boulder drops would be disastrous... scout accordingly.

The action begins immediately below the base of Coquille Falls' thundering 85+ foot cascade. In the first drop most of the flow plows into a fairly nasty boulder sieve, but there is a good sneak over a 5 foot ledge on far right. Below here the river drops away through the most difficult stretch. Scout from the left. You'll need to run a difficult lead-in moving from center to the left and then exiting back to the right. Bottom left contains a small sieve best avoided (may be sufficiently covered to run above 2.2 feet). This rapid drops 30 feet over 100 yards. At 1 foot, eddies should be abundant in the drops; at 2 feet, the eddies mostly disappear but lines open up.

If you're not having fun at this point, its best to bushwack back upstream and haul your boat uphill to your vehicle. If you're feeling good, then you should be up for the rest of what the South Fork is going to throw at you. So continue on downstream, and enjoy about a dozen drops similar to that first one. Scouting is always possible and fairly easy, although you may have to walk as much as 50 yards to see all of a rapid. Portaging is equally doable; but if you portage much, you might end up portaging the entire run since all the drops are of similar difficulty. As always, out of control boating or swimming would be bad news; be safe.

About 3/4 of the way downstream lies an island. Scout right, take the right channel, or portage if it looks too low. Below here lies one more class V. Once beyond this obstacle, you've got two more class IV+ drops as the river bends left and the take-out bridge comes into view. Either continue on downstream through Section 1 of the South Fork for a nice technical class IV finish, or climb out of your boats and think about what you just accomplished.

Upper South Fork of the Coquille (The Gem)

Class: V
Length: 0.75 miles
Gradient: 300 fpm, pool drop (The first .13 mile drops 600 fpm)
Character: Remote, pristine canyon
Access: The take-out, and gauge location, is 16-mile bridge. This is also the put-in for Section 1 on the South Fork Coquille. To reach the put-in, continue uphill taking the first left. After climbing high in elevation you will cross a small bridge over a side-stream flowing over a large waterfall. About 100 yards further uphill is a good-sized pullout on the left and a sign marking the trail to Coquille Falls. Its about a 0.5 mile downhill walk on a good trail.
Flows: 1-3 feet (painted gauge on pillar of 16-mile bridge); ~1.7 is optimum {corresponds to ~1000 to ~2000 cfs on gauge at Powers}

Editors Note: Steve and I recently scouted the 700 fpm section above Coquille Falls and found a class VI run with huge, nearly impossible class V+ to VI drops interspersed with giant waterfalls. We took a lot of photos, which will be posted as part of a trip report soon!