The upper mile and a half of the Little North Santiam is a challenging run at any flow. This section (known locally as Upper Opal Creek) is a nice extension of the Mine to Three Pools run, but it is considerably more difficult and dangerous than the lower run. Hiking out would be very difficult in most places, and boaters need to be aware of fast runoff- the river can come up very quickly if it is raining hard.
It should be noted that there is one narrow IV+ to V- rapid (depending on the flow) just below the put in that would be extremely difficult to portage and another (Coyle's Boil) that requires a must make move above a serious hazard at medium to low flows. Because of this, only advanced paddlers should venture onto this section of river.
On the three mile hike up you only get a few glimpses of the river. After about two miles of hiking you reach the Merten Mill historic site, which has an outbuilding and an ancient steam powered sawmill on the right marking the put-in. (Evidently the logging company we went bankrupt after a couple of it's trucks fell off of the road, preserving the area in a more-or-less pristine state.) It should also be noted that this section of river has been adopted by a South American Rivers group, and they named this falls 'Cascada de los Ninos'; or 'Waterfall of the Children'. This is part of a river preservation/exchange program, and the Friends of Opal Creek named a waterfall in South America.
Immediately below this is a short, fast recovery pool then the river abruptly narrows again to about 8 feet and plunges through a riverwide hole that is surprisingly retentive. Twenty feet below the hole is an old growth log that is vertically pinned between the narrow walls. Boaters who don't punch the hole above the log have found themselves amusing their friends with all the latest rodeo moves!
Jason disappears into the beefy hole just above the log.
This is what happens if you don't punch the bottom hole (pictured above)-
while Bob and Steve look on. He didn't swim, in case you are curious... (Photo by Mike Haley)
Below here a few blind, narrow drops, Here Brian Little threads the
needle through a steep, tight boulder garden.
Portaging Coyle's Boil.
The last drop of consequence is the ledge at the Lower Opal Creek put in. A paddler nearly drowned in this hole in 2007, earning it the nickname "Hypoxia Hole". If you swim in Hypoxia there is no way out without a rope. Scout carefully and always set a rope if someone decides to run this one; boat-scouting without safety is just asking for trouble here.
C'mon, Chris, get a line on er'... Photo by Mark Rainsley
A few minutes later, Mark and Andy try a different approach.. (photo
by Jason Scholey)
For more information about how to preserve this wonderful place, contact The Friends of Opal Creek