Battle Axe Creek

Upper Battle Axe: Superbeast Falls to Trail 3369: 1.64 miles, 294 fpm, 1 mile at 370 fpm - pool-drop, class: IV+ to V+
Lower Battle Axe: Trail 3369 to Jawbone Flat: 2.20 miles, 240 fpm - pool-drop, class: IV+ ( V )

( For a history of paddlers exploring Battle Axe Creek, see the end of this report. )

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Battle Axe Creek has all the elements of a classic creekin' run: A super-cool name ( very important! ), high gradient, bad access, incredible geology, seven runnable waterfalls and ledges ranging from 10 to 18 feet tall, tons of narrow, punchy drops with juicy holes and classic moves, and a remote, wilderness feel.

Battle Axe is one of two tributaries that come together to form Oregon's classic Opal Creek, flowing down out of the rugged Bull-of-the-Woods Wilderness area. Access is challenging for this remote creek, which is probably the reason why it has roared in quiet anonymity for so long..

Ok, so here we go: strap on your hikin' boots!

There are no roads anywhere near this creek, you have to hike up into the mountains 3.1 miles just to get to the take-out for Battle Axe Creek at Jawbone Flat. From Jawbone Flat you have to climb just over two miles (with 600 feet of vertical gain) to reach the put-in for Lower Battle Axe Creek, so the hike to the put-in for Battle-Axe is 5.4 miles total, more if you decide to tackle the waterfalls on the upper.

Also, you will probably run out of daylight by the time you get down to Mill Falls, so plan on hiking out about 1.5 miles at the end of the day. All told, you'll be carrying your boat about 7 miles when you run this creek, unless you want to run some class V in the dark at the end of the day on Upper Opal.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: The access trail goes up pretty high (the highest point on the hike is 2,700 feet), so it gets snowed in pretty early in the winter. Trying to catch this run with enough water ( you need 2,000 cfs in the Little North Santiam at Mehama for Battle Axe to run ) and no snow on the trail is exceedingly difficult! Note: I would NOT want to do this run under snowy conditions. You must scout many times due to the narrow nature of the rapids ( this run has a fair amount of wood! ) and the portage around S.O.B. would get very difficult with snow on the rock walls..

Pete Giordano, Michael Long, Jon Fowlkes and I ran Battle Axe Creek in December 2004 after a 'Pineapple Express' rainstorm dumped huge amounts of rain in a very short period of time while the snow level shot up.

We had serious concerns about running out of daylight, so Jon, Pete and I were on the road at 6 a.m. out of Wilsonville, tearing along down I5, planning on meeting James and Mike at the Swiss Village Restaurant at 7:30 sharp.

The meet went smoothly, and we cruised up to the trailhead, arriving at the gate at 8 a.m., right on schedule..

'Ohh.. it's way too damned early..'
On the way to Battle Axe at some ungodly hour..

Looking up into the Upper Opal Creek drainage. Opal Creek is formed by two forks, with Battle Axe Creek coming in on the left, and the Opal Lake Fork of Opal Creek coming in on the right side of the middle peak in this photo. I have run both forks, and Battle Axe is the only one worth doing in my opinion.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the put-in James discovered ( much to his dismay! ) that he had left his spray-skirt at home, so he couldn't join us.. man, early starts will do that to you! Poor James was doomed to a day of playboating, but we had a tight schedule to meet so we loaded up our gear and left him at the trailhead..

The hike went pretty quick; we pushed pretty hard and didn't stop for a brief rest until we covered the three miles to Jawbone. I think it took us about an hour and a half to reach Jawbone Flat, if I remember correctly.

After a quick break, we buckled down for the steepest section of the hike, where the old mining road rises out of Jawbone. We moved along at a determined rate, arriving at the put-in trail ( trail 3369 ) at 11:00 or so. At this point we dumped our boats and hiked an additional mile upstream to check out parts of the Upper section. This took another hour or so, which meant we put in around noon..

Getting ready at the put-in for Lower Battle Axe Creek, where trail 3369 crosses the creek. From the left, Michael Long (blue), Pete Giordano (brown).

Below the put-in the creek is fast, narrow, and very steep. About a hundred feet below the put-in we had to portage some logs, which got everyone a little worried with only about four hours of daylight left. We definitely had some time concerns and didn't relish the thought of hiking out if we ran out of light. From the portage, the creek appeared to drop into a tight little gorge, as shown below..

Jon looks on as Pete Giordano drops into the first tight mini-gorge on Battle Axe Creek. This photo was taken from the top of the log portage about a hundred feet below the put-in.

Just below the portage there were some smaller, narrow drops then the creek dropped out of sight into a very narrow, powerful-looking drop. I scouted on the left and talked everyone into the eddy on just above this first large rapid. Jon caught a small eddy on the right just above the main drop, and hopped out to scout. As we watched from above, he gave us the hand signals indicating the line, so we wouldn't have to scout. This first drop was steep, fast, and twisty, very fun stuff!!

Mike Long probes the first rapid, a fun airplane turn with a mandatory boof to the right at the bottom..

Oh yeah.. The author runs the warm-up rapid on Battle Axe, shot from below.. This steep, twisty rapid ends with this blind airplane turn, where you have to get to the right to avoid plowing into the rock outcropping visible in this picture.
photo by Pete Giordano

Downstream the creek started rockin' and rollin' through a non-stop series of pool-drop rapids that were so good we found ourselves surprised, then amazed that we had heard very little about this run! The rapids on this creek are simply excellent..

Michael Long makes it through the stompin' bottom hole in a double ledge-drop downstream while Pete looks on..
Look at that pile against river-right wall! ( Jon probed this one and got a huge back-ender out of the bottom hole.. )

The rapids kept coming downstream, endless classic drops, all clean. There was a significant amount of wood as well, but for the most part it was very 'considerately distributed', so none of the major rapids had any wood problems. On a wilderness creek like this one, that is a minor miracle..

Soon we arrived at a short drop and I scouted on the right. Here the creek dropped into a juicy hole formed by a large midstream boulder blocking the outflow from a narrow ledge-drop. Jon went first, followed by Michael and me, while Pete shot photos from the opposite wall..

The author runs a narrow slide which ends with a boxed-in hole backed up by a large midstream boulder. This is one of the 'must-run' rapids on Battle Axe, which is fine because it was fun and clean. That said, if there was a log in this drop the portage would be difficult and time-consuming..
photo by Pete Giordano

Downstream the creek narrowed then dropped out of sight over a large horizon line. Mike and I got out to scout on the left, while Pete and Jon took out on the right.

It only took a quick glance for three of us to decide: 'Portage!'.

This drop, known as 'Son of Beastie' is by far the nastiest rapid on Lower Battle Axe, dropping about 14 feet into a shallow, vicious slot, with serious mangle potential if you flip or brace. Below S.O.B the creek dropped away at an alarming rate, with another smoking horizon line visible just downstream..

I managed to portage with some difficulty on the left side, with Mike's assistance, while Pete portaged on the right with Jon's help. Once below the falls, Mike did a throw-n-go into the pool below the falls.

That left Jon, who spent a few long, necessary minutes figuring out how he was going to run this thing and come out in one piece. Finally he took a deep breath, gave us the thumbs-up, and went back up to his boat.

Jon came charging down a few seconds later, lunging hard out into space to try and clear the evil mess at the bottom of the drop. He sailed over the meat of the drop, knifing neatly into the foam at the base of the falls, emerging in the pool below with a whoop and our relieved cheers!

Jonathan Fowlkes runs the very scary waterfall known as Son of Beastie, the only drop I recommend portaging on Lower Battle Axe Creek. All of the water is dropping off the right side into the wall (yikes!) and then pounding from river-right to left down into a slightly submerged bedrock shelf on river-left. This drop has a very high mangle potential..
The portage around SOB is difficult, but all of us grunted it out, with the exception of Jonathan, who styled it.

S.O.B. marks the beginning of the 'Staircase' section, a series of sweet waterfalls and ledges that follow in rapid succession.. We were all whooping and having a grand old time at this point, as drop after drop presented clean lines a soft holes..

Pete Giordano probes the waterfall just below Son of Beastie while Jon Fowlkes watches from the shore. This falls dumps into a punchbowl with no way to set safety. Note the boulder siphon at the exit of the pool on creek-right.. No swimming allowed!!

Michael Long lines up on the third falls in the 'Staircase' section while Jon Fowlkes watches from the pool.. This one has a tricky entrance move through a narrow, stomping hole (the backwash from this hole is visible behind Jonathan.)

Michael Long gets ready to go deep at Waterfall #4, which is just downstream from Waterfall #3..

Jon Fowlkes runs Waterfall #5 which is the last falls in the 'Staircase'. Waterfall #4 is visible in the background.. You have to duck under those river-wide logs after you run this one..

Soon we arrived at the biggest single drop on Lower Battle Axe, Battle Axe Falls. This 18-footer has a nice line down the far right side, but you have to be careful because there is a boulder in the landing in the middle-right side fold, so stay out of there!

Michael Long gets big air at Battle Axe Falls while Pete Giordano looks on in the background. Just upstream of this falls is a four-foot ledge with a large, powerful hole, so be sure to set up a rope between the two drops.. ( Note: when we scouted this one in the summer, we saw a large boulder below the slot just to Michael's left. DO NOT run that slot, or you will land on the boulder..)

Below Battle Axe the creek ends with a long series of stair-stepping boulder gardens as you approach the Grand Finale, Flock Falls. Flock is located just under the footbridge at Jawbone. This drop has a narrow hole that proved very friendly for everyone on this trip, but it has caused some carnage in the past..

Below Flock Falls the creek flattens out for the final hundred yards to the confluence with Opal Creek. From here it is a quick sprint down to Mill Falls, which marks the put-in for Upper Opal Creek or the take-out for Battle Axe (Don't forget that you won't have enough daylight to paddle down to the vehicles, so you have hike about 1.5 miles back out at the end of the day.. yeah, I guess you could say that this run is not for those who don't like carrying their boats around..

Upper Battle Axe

The rapids on Upper Battle Axe above trail 3369 consist of waterfalls, waterfalls, and more waterfalls ( seven falls total ranging from 15 to 35 feet tall ). The falls on the upper section run the gamut, from fun to downright dangerous.

Most the big falls on Upper Battle Axe have shallow landings, tricky moves, and a very high mangle potential. I didn't do a full trip report on Upper Battle Axe because I don't recommend running that section; that said, if you do venture up there I wish you good luck and a speedy medivac. Note: If you do go up there, you want a ton of water; I think most of the falls would clean up at high flows, say 3000ish on the gauge, but I'm just guessing.

A sneak peak at Superbeast falls, the first drop on Upper Battle Axe Creek. This one drops you into the belly of the beast, a nasty, boxed-in slot. Most of the falls on Upper Battle Axe suffer from similar anger management problems, though there are a couple of sweet drops up there..

Flows, Access, and a little history:

You need LOTS of water in the North Santiam drainage for Battle Axe; we had perfect flows for this run, it was about 2,000 cfs on the Little North Santiam at Mehama and dropping slowly, coming off of a huge 'Pineapple Express' rain storm. The flows we had for this trip report are highlighted below. (Back in the day when Gabe and Dan ran this section they said that they had about 2,500 cfs in the Little North Santiam at Mehama gauge.)


Drive to the gate marking the beginning of the hike in to Opal Creek, then start walking..


Continue hiking past the usual Opal Creek put-in and keep going all the way to Jawbone Flat. Once there, cut through the little hamlet owned by 'The Friends of Opal Creek' and keep going straight, cross the bridge, and start your climb up to trail 3369. Trail 3369 is easy to find as it is the first major trail off to the left, marked by a small hikers sign.

NOTE: You will probably run out of light by the time you reach Mill Falls, so plan on a 1.5 mile hike out at the end of the day. You'll be a hurtin' unit by the time you get back to your car, but it's worth it!

History of Battle Axe Creek Paddling:

The only paddlers I know who have run at least part of Battle Axe creek for sure are Dan Coyle and Gabe Flock, back in the nineties. Gabe and Dan put in just below S.O.B (they got tired of hiking and just climbed down to the creek..), and paddled down to Jawbone. I don't know for sure about anyone else running this section, but I'm sure Eric Brown out of Corvallis has probably run it in it's entirety, and I think I heard one time that Dave Mustonen and John Cliff ran it as well, back in the glory days of the Corvallis creekin' scene...