Upper Little North Santiam
Cascada de los Ninos to the Mine

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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.

Josh Knapp soars over Cascada de los Ninos. The right side of this drop has some shallow spots, so go left or boof hard!

Below the falls boaters are rewarded with the spectacular pristine gorges and crystalline water that the Upper LNF is known for, but soon the rapids will occupy all of your attention. This section is characterized by narrow, powerful drops with sharp corners that require scouting.

Pete Giordano blasts around the corner on one of the first drops.

Harvey Wallbanger is the first difficult rapid and is located just downstream from the put-in. This two part drop is very hard to scout and would be difficult to portage if it was blocked by wood. Here the river starts with class II water that leads to a sharp right corner that drops into an increasingly powerful series of twisting drops that narrow abruptly to a boat length and push hard into the right wall.

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 Lien drops into the first part of Harvey Wallbanger on Upper Opal while Griff watches from an eddy below.
The second drop (with the biggest hole) is just downstream of Griff, where the log extends into the water.

Jason disappears into the beefy hole just above the log.

This is what happens if you don't punch the bottom hole (pictured above)- Ely cartwheels 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.

The next difficult section begins with another innocuous looking right turn. Here class II water leads to a class III drop that empties into a short, fast pool which plunges into in Coyle's Boil, a powerful class V drop that is very hazardous at regular flows. This drop contains a beefy hole backed up by an underwater boulder sieve recirculating against the undercut wall on the right. Boaters running the lead in to Coyle's must quickly eddy out in order to portage on the left. At higher flows (1500 cfs and up) this drop fills in and becomes runnable for mere mortals.

Brian runs the lead in to Coyle's. The must-make portage eddy is visible on river left, in front of Pete. (The horizon line immediately below the short pool is Coyle's Boil)

Portaging Coyle's Boil.

Immediately below Coyles Boil is a fun 8 foot ledge drop. This drop has a dangerous pin spot on the far river-right (shown below), so just right of center is best.
Jon Fowlkes boofs the ledge, Coyles Boil is in the background, the pin spot is visible on river-right.

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.

Trying to get a line on a boat in Hypoxia Hole..

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