Christy Creek: A personal first descent

By Steve Stuckmeyer. Trip date: April 11th, 2000.

Copyright © 2000, Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Author.

Editors Note: Paddlers are now using an alternate access point to avoid the endless portaging described in this report. See the end of this report for details.

Christy Creek. First run in 1993. Seven miles long. Average gradient 300 fpm, with one half-mile at 600 fpm. Located 600 feet down in a mostly inaccessible and heavily clear-cut gorge. Class V+.

If you are an experienced creek boater, you probably have already imagined much of what I'm going to tell you. A word of warning: this narrative is in no way meant to encourage running this creek and my routes (or memory thereof) may be incorrect or unsafe. I imagine my tale of hardships will keep most folks off this creek; if it only whets your appetite, then I can only wish you luck and a safe journey.

As early as a year ago I had started to seriously wonder what mysteries Christy Creek held, and it's hard not to. Just above Christy's confluence with the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette lies what is probably the most often run stretch of really steep (240 fpm) class IV-V whitewater in the state, known locally as the 'Miracle Mile'. I had often paddled past Christy while running the Miracle Mile and had always wondered about it.

A month ago I had made the decision to join a group of friends on this run, but at the last minute poor health and cold weather conditions convinced me to abandon that effort. It was a wise choice. Last week, I made my second attempt. Gabe Flock, Josh Knapp, and myself all felt ready for the challenge. Even better, we boat pretty well as a team and we try to get downriver by the safest means possible, even if that means taking a fair bit of time for scouting and portaging. Gabe and I had recently been part of a team on a descent of the North Fork of the Trinity (California); that run proved extremely challenging, but I had felt our teamwork had made it as safe as possible. With Josh along, I certainly felt comfortable with how I imagined our downstream progress would proceed.

Saturday, April 9, Gabe and I made back-to-back training runs down the Miracle Mile. It was flowing at about 1 foot (~1000cfs). At that level its fairly tough. Low enough to still have exposed rocks everywhere, but high enough the water has developed a serious push. Both runs went very well. Upon finishing, we noted that Christy had about 200-300 cfs at its mouth, and then attempted to reach the upper access. On the final downhill approach, about a half-mile from the put-in, we were blocked by a hundred yards of unmarked 8-10 inch deep snow. Between the two of us, we had at least 200 feet of rope; enough to use my truck (firmly grounded on dry earth) as a safety backup should Gabe's Nissan get stuck. So, undeterred, we used Gabe's truck to slowly plow through the snow. He never did get permanently stuck, but I did have to push on both ends many times as he rocked the vehicle back and forth. Eventually we got all the way through that snowdrift and found the road clear the remainder of the way. The creek turned out to be gurgling with about 200 cfs beneath the put-in bridge. Satisfied we could float a boat, we drove back uphill. This time the snowdrift was even more exciting as Gabe had to plow into it full speed, slowly would spin to a halt, back up, and then try it again. After a couple wild attempts we finally had enough speed/traction to churn our way back uphill and onto solid ground.

Saturday night I carefully went through the process of preparing for Christy Creek. This included packing overnight bivy and food supplies, extra contacts/glasses, a waterproof head lamp with extra batteries, and water purification tablets. Knowing this was going to be a hard-core descent, I didn't want to be caught unprepared for a potential overnight emergency bivy. I was careful to keep the extra gear's weight to around 5 lbs. Nevertheless this, plus my emergency paddle and first aid kit, bumped my kayaks dry weight up to around 45 lbs.. Once the inside was coated with a layer of water, the boat would weigh at least 50 lbs.!

Sunday, Josh, Gabe, and I left Eugene about 6:45am. After dropping Josh's truck off at the take-out, we got to the put-in about 8am. The day was heavily overcast, but quite warm, so we lounged a bit while changing into our river garb. I suspect it was about 9am when we finally slid into the water.

Gabe and Josh at the put in.

The first mile was a mild float through class II water. One large logjam required an easy portage along the river right bank. Shortly below this logjam we found a horizon line and an obvious narrowing of the canyon. Upon closer inspection we found the start of an extremely steep and long boulder garden. We made several class IV entrance moves down to a final eddy above another total log blockage. In one of the first drops, I flipped but caught myself before going fully over. Neither Gabe nor Josh saw this blunder, and I vowed that I would not be caught unawares again. This was to be my only mishap of the day.

Upon eddying out, we scouted and found that a series of log blockages demanded portaging. It looked like it would be a long one. We slowly worked our way down the right bank. After a bit the logs cleared out, but the rapid remained a steep and extremely trashy class V. A couple lines presented themselves through this rapid, but I was warmed up and simply continued to portage easily (actually made it past that part of the rapid quicker than Gabe or Josh did in their boats). Below this initial section the creek continued to drop away over steep, blind, trashy class V drops. Here I got my signals confused while trying to sign to Gabe, and opted to continue portaging down the right side. About halfway through this sub-rapid, I realized it was certainly runnable, but by that point I was committed to the portage. Josh and Gabe ended up boating the next 50 yards of ugly class V while I worked on what soon became a hellish portage down the right. I wish I had run that rapid. They did OK, and ended up having to wait on me for about 15 minutes as I struggled over rocks, downed logs, and undergrowth. Upon re-entering my boat, I was determined to resist the urge to portage if at all possible.

The next mile was a nightmare. Initially we were dropping 25-30 feet every hundred yards through incredibly complex and trashy boulder gardens. I suffered a couple pins in this section, but was able to work myself free from each. Also for about every 10 minutes spent in the boat, we would spend twice that time portaging over or around a logjam. I remember vague details of numerous tough portages, but one particular jam stands out in my memory. It was just above a large island. Take the exceedingly small left channel by slithering under a log while still in your boat. You will be able to bash/slide down most of the rapid and only have to get out of your boat once before reaching the end of the island. Josh opted for the larger right channel, and we waited for about 15 minutes while he was portaging. At this point, Nehi Creek has added about 1/3 to the flow, considerably cleaning up the rocky rapids. Below this island the gradient slowly tapers down to the 200 fpm range, and log portages become less frequent, and generally easier. Eventually you will find yourself floating through a long stretch of flatwater; perhaps a mile and a half. Its enough to make one wonder if the nightmare is over.

It isn't. At the end of this flat section is a 4 foot falls formed by two logs damming up the creek. We boofed down the center, but do it with lots of speed since it looks like the water could grab a boats tail and suck you under the jam. Just below this drop all hell breaks loose. First is a steep boulder-strewn drop that can be run down the right side to a spot where one could purposefully broach and get out to look at the rest of the rapid. Immediately downstream was a gnarly class V rapid that dropped through a huge logjam. There were runnable lines on left and right, but each was very hazardous and an extension of this logjam continued downstream and appeared to be unrunnable. With resignation, we shouldered our boats once more and began the arduous task of creeping downstream. This jam was 10-15 feet high. We climbed up on it and continued portaging across and along the right slope. This part of the jam had completely blocked the river, even more impressive was the fact it occurred at the top of a huge class V+ boulder garden. The boulder garden continued below the logjam but appeared too long to feasibly portage, especially to our portage-weary bodies and minds. So we seal-launched into the creek just below the jam. I then hopped right back out of my boat to scout the remainder of the drop a bit closer. Gabe and Josh were tired enough they relied on my description to get them through. Start center, move right through a narrow slot, head back left over several steep offset pourovers, try to boof left off what appears to be a clean 10 foot drop, then head back center to finish the thing off. It was an ugly rapid. We all did OK, but afterwards Josh said he was going to start scouting with his own eyes a bit more. Actually I was surprised that he and Gabe didn't look at that one more carefully.

Below that rapid the creek was more reasonable, but continued to drop away at 200 to 300 fpm. Large logjams continued to be interspersed with trashy class IV and V rapids. One rapid was a double waterfall with each drop being about 6 feet. Both slammed onto shallow shelves; we portaged easily on the right. We portaged the logjams much less easily. At one point Josh solidly pinned himself on a boulder pile in the middle of a class IV+ drop; I actually ran into him and helped loosen his situation enough that he could slide off backwards. Somewhere in this stretch we stopped for a quick lunch of PowerBars and Gatorade. About 1/2 way through the run I was wondering when and if this hellish trip was ever going to end. I kept telling myself there had to be something to make this trip worthwhile (after all I knew several people had run the creek multiple times), but I was finding it harder and harder to imagine anything worth the hardships we had been putting ourselves through. Then somewhere around 4.5+ miles into the run, the gradient began to jump sky high and we finally found the "good stuff".

It started with a long class V boulder garden that dropped into the first gorge. After running the initial two pitches, I eddied out and began to scramble downstream. I climbed fairly high on the right wall and found the first class V that was basically 'unportageable'. Fortunately it was fairly clean, and also fun. After memorizing the route through this complex series of 6 drops, I headed back upstream to Josh and Gabe. They listened closely as I explained, "Gorged out class V, good recovery stretch below and just above what appeared to be a big waterfall. You must eddy out above the waterfall on the left to scout and portage. Take this initial drop trying to get to the center, move from center to right with speed and punch across a big pillow feeding into the narrow slot you see downstream, continue through the center slot that will then appear, stall out and ferry to far left, drop down a 6 foot flume, stay left and boof over a 10-12 foot falls with a meaty hole that should kick you out and left, punch the final 3 foot ledge on the far left and eddy out above the next rapid. We're on our own once we get on this one. Any questions?"

Gabe went first. His entrance over the initial drop didn't really allow him to start center, but he appeared to make it past the big pillow which fed into the 4 foot wide slot I didn't like. Beyond that we couldn't see him. Then Josh followed suit. However he didn't clear the pillow, it kicked his nose left and he was surfed into the midstream boulder pile, momentarily broached, and then was fed forward into the slot while flipping. He flushed through nicely and appeared to execute a roll just as he disappeared around the corner. I hoped for the best, and prepared for my own run. I didn't like how either had approached the initial drop. I ferried upstream, rounded a boulder, and went of the initial 3 foot ledge several feet left of Josh's or Gabe's line. This set me up further center, and allowed me more momentum heading into the pillow that had ruined Josh's line. I crashed through, took the next center slot, eddied, ferried to the left slot, and stayed left over the waterfall and through the final slot. Nearly text-book perfect! Fortunately both Josh and Gabe were waiting for me (Josh had in fact rolled immediately before sliding over the 4th pitch).

The author looks upstream at the 12 foot exit falls described above.

Exhilarated, we moved on downstream and hopped out on the left immediately above a 25+ foot double waterfall. This drop is very impressive. The first 12 foot drop was a wild flume reminiscent of photos of Gorilla (Narrows of the Green River, North Carolina), it fed directly into a vertical 12 foot curtain falls. The drop was cleanly runnable, but very dicey since the second falls had a bad pocket on the left where most of the water was flushing towards. Coming out of the first drop with no control could end badly; coming out upright and a couple easy strokes should send you sailing off the lip center or right of that bad pocket. It looked like a roll of the dice might determine the outcome in that first drop. We portaged easily on the left over mossy bedrock.

(Editors note: The drop mentioned above and pictured below was never named by the first descentionists but some paddlers now refer to it as 'Rhinosex'.)

The group takes a break in front of the nasty main drop on Rhinosex.

Immediately downstream the creek exited the gorge by falling about 25+ feet down a 60 degree slide, continuing down and over a sizable 3 foot ledge-hole, and then splitting around a bedrock outcropping. The left was a twisting slide; the right a 12-14 foot waterfall into a big hole that appeared to immediately kick downstream. The entire rapid was enormous and totally runnable! Perhaps 45 feet high! Portaging would have been an extremely difficult task of traversing high along the steep canyon wall and then somehow finding a way back down 75+ vertical feet to the creek. I was so enthralled by the idea of getting downstream and photographing the rapid, that I actually was NOT nervous about running this one! So I volunteered to probe, and headed back up to my Skreem. The lead-in was a tricky 4 foot boulder slalom. I exited it with too much momentum to river left. I wanted to be right of center when going off that first slide. I quickly stroked towards the center, but was partly sideways a few feet above the lip. Relatively unconcerned about my loss of momentum, I did a quick turning stroke and entered the slide right on the mark. I accelerated down the face, hit the curving ramp at the base, and flew out of the bottom hole. I was kicked rather hard to the right, causing me to abandon my plan of taking the final drop down the left slide. I then powered to the right, skirted the edge of the big ledge-hole, and tried to boof off the final falls. The boof didn't work perfectly, but I sailed right out of that hydraulic, paddled to the left bank and climbed out of my boat. It was as exhilarating a ride as I have ever had!

Gabe followed my lead, and even seemed a bit farther right as he came down the first slide. Then somehow he flipped in the hole, and evidently was deposited along the right eddyline (I could see none of this). Eventually he was able to roll, paddled out of the eddy, took a sneak around the right side of the ledge-hole, and then sailed off the right falls.

Gabe Flock runs the first part of the triple falls.

Josh's run was even more exciting! After coming down the big slide, he hit the meat of the ledge-hole, it momentarily surfed him, and then spit him down the final falls SIDEWAYS! Again the hole proved benign and spit him out, and I caught the whole sequence on film. That drop basically washed away all memories of the horrors from earlier in the day.

Josh, hole testing on Christy. He sidesurfed the top hole for awhile and then was spit into the bottom one sideways...

Below the big recovery pool was another trashy class IV boulder garden. Gabe, I think, was a bit overconfident from the previous huge drop, and chose to go down the main channel. It was partially blocked by some nasty logs. Momentarily he appeared to broach on them, and I thought our day was about to be ruined. Fortunately he clawed off, and was fine. A shallow sneak on the far left worked fine for Josh and I. I seem to remember some other boulder-strewn drops following, but soon we were confronted by another huge horizon line. This time it was a slide that dropped only about 30 feet over a 45 degree escarpment. It was broken into two really steep sections by several yards of lesser gradient. It seemed a fairly straightforward run down the right side with the main current. We all blasted through the bottom hole like a freight train. I did come into the second part too far right and went off a steeper section that caused my bow to piton. Fortunately I recovered enough to stay upright and stable through the remainder of the drop.
Josh runs one of the slides while the author watches from the right bank.

Below this slide, the creek tended to become more straightforward. Several long boulder gardens led into a series of entertaining smaller slides that summed up to about 50 vertical feet. All were very shallow, and basically wide-open. I do remember one more highly challenging class V boulder drop that pinned and flipped Gabe; Josh also had a marginal line, and mine too was blown but I compensated well. The slides were gone, like a figment of our imaginations, but we continued to be confronted by challenging boulder drops as everyone grew quite tired. Then, amazingly soon, the action petered out and we realized we were in the final mile of class II-III! With at least some relief, we all kicked back and lazily floated down to the confluence with the Miracle Mile. After being on Christy all day, that final set of rapids on the Mile felt like a big river!

Upon scrambling up the bank to Josh's truck we found it was 4pm. We had spent about 6 1/2 to 7 hours on that run. An amazingly long day. Considering how slowly we floated through the easy sections, I imagine it would have been easy to trim at least one hour off that time, but I doubt I would ever end up bombing down that run so fast as to reach under the 5 hour mark. I'm just way too cautious when it comes to woody rapids for that. We all did run nearly every rapid that was not log-choked (I did mistakenly portage much of the initial class V boulder garden, and I purposely portaged the shallow 12 foot double drop and Rhinosex). Most importantly of all though we ran them safely and in control. Or at least MOSTLY in control! ;-)

--Steve Stuckmeyer

ACCESS UPDATE: The Eugene crowd has now found a way to put in below the portages, just above the 'good stuff' in Christy Creek Canyon.

The access point description and map, by Steve Stuckmeyer. Thanks Steve!

The alternate put-in involves driving along a unmarked FS road (marked in red, below) to the edge of a clear-cut that drops 500 feet down to creek level. The log boof that marked the end of the flat stretch I mention in the trip report is visible from the rim; this also marks the beginning of the final class V gorge... the section of Christy that is actually fun.

Getting to the creek involves three 150 foot rope lowers and lots of slipping and sliding, BUT it was nowhere near as bad as dealing with the many many logjams and trashy rapids that lie upstream.

I pulled up the satellite photos to zero in on the top of the clearcut that we dropped down through. I'm 100% certain that the marked waypoint is where we descended, and you can the see road we used is slightly darkened by the route I drew over it to calculate mileage. On the map below, the road is in red and the creek is in blue.

After reaching the more level area close to river level it's advised to work to the far downstream edge of the clearcut before descending the final hundred feet to the creek. That saves you an immediate portage.