Rogue River Staff Trip 2016 – a Wild & Scenic adventure
Rogue River Staff Trip 2016
Wild & Scenic Section:
Almeda Park to Foster Bar ~ 38 miles
October 25-27, 2016
This fall, as the flurry of summer faded, our staff took an opportunity for some R&R on the water. It’s rare for the staff’s days-off to lineup for a single session, and a chance to go on a multi-day trip is exceptionally elusive. So, despite a foreboding weather forecast (100% rain all week), we rallied two rigs, a trailer, and nine of us south to the Rogue River.
(Don’t forget to check out the three slide-shows at the end!)
Our group ran the 35 mile Wild and Scenic section. Soggy Sneakers: A Paddler’s Guide to Oregon’s Rivers begins its description of the stretch like this:
“This run on the Rogue is one of the best-known whitewater runs in the United States. Flowing through the Siskiyou Mountains northwest of Grants Pass, it is classified Wild and Scenic, with the river preserved essentially in its natural condition. The banks vary from steep forested slopes to vertical rock walls. The river provides class 3 rapids connected by slower stretches and deep pools.”
Doesn’t sound half bad, eh?
For the nine of us, we brought two oar rafts (a 14′ and a 16′), one tandem Tributary Tomcat, and 4 hardshell whitewater kayaks. From May 15 to October 15, access is controlled by permit. Outside of that date range, river users are asked to self-issue a free permit. Of course, you can always go on a guided trip with a group like All Star Rafting. If you do choose to permit your own trip, it’s worthwhile to use a local shuttle service, saving you a few hours of vehicle shuffling at either end of your trip. Contact Galice Resort for help with this! Call them at 541-476-3818.
Our group woke up to the sun glowing behind misty ridges at Almeda Park, 3 miles upstream of the Graves Creek put-in. Rains all week had risen the river to about 4,000 cfs on the Agness Gauge, and it was decided that an extra 3 miles would be no big deal. We gladly took advantage of the faster current between rapids to expedite our progress downstream. Waiting for us downstream are two Class IV rapids (Rainie Falls and Blossom Bar), “about 14 Class III rapids and approximately 50 Class II rapids.” (Oregon River Tours)
Day 1 on the water brought us to our first Class IV rapid: Rainie Falls. Most of our group ran the fish-ladder-like chute on river right. This channel was blasted out by guides and fisherfolk years ago for lining their drift boats down. While most of the group worked down the fish ladder, a few of us scouted Rainie Falls on river left. Admittedly, we had done a little “video scouting” leading up to the trip. Standing above this rapid now, we confirmed our lines and went for it! The pool below Rainie Falls is a mighty swirly soup of seams, boils, and whirlpools that insist on playing with your boat before you make it downstream. Three good lines off Rainie by Brent, Ethan, and myself, and we continued down the river a few miles to camp at Tyee Bar.
Two group shelters proved invaluable for our rainy trip. Though paddling weather was cooperative, setting and breaking camp was a sure way to start and stop the downpour. So just as we got our tents set up, the rain started, strong and steady, and it would not let up until we broke camp in the morning.
We laughed, huddled under a tarp, working diligently, though in vain, to build a fire. The weather had determined that there would be no campfires this week. Fortunately, most of our group brought their trusted Luci Lights to string up, lighting our merry crew as we passed stories, jokes, and a little liquid-cheer under the group shelter.
Day 2. The river had come up a fair foot over night. Creeks and waterfalls hushed and rushed their way into the river, further filling the banks through the day. Today we would see Mule Creek Canyon, Coffeepot Rapid, and the infamous Blossom Bar. With all of the rain, Mule Creek Canyon was one of the coolest rapids on this stretch. The river squeezes narrowly through vertical rock walls, small waterfalls raining into the canyon from every direction you look. The compressed nature of this canyon makes the water very swirly and confused. The end of the canyon is Coffeepot Rapid where boils appear and spin your boat, pushing left and right, a chaotic choreography carrying downstream. Fun and beautiful, I couldn’t risk pulling a camera out from the vantage point of my kayak for this rapid, but a mental picture is burned clearly into my memory.
Shortly after Mule Creek and Coffeepot comes Blossom Bar. Blossom Bar is the last significant rapid for our trip. This rapid is often characterized by a large boulder “fence” in the center of the river that requires rafts and drift boats to make a hard and tight move across the river. With so much recent rain, the fence was pretty well filled in, and our rafts were able to run down the right side of the rapid, avoiding the fence entirely.
As the team set up camp at Lower Solitude, the rain returned. We were “excited” for the latrine at this site. It hadn’t been serviced very recently and was quite ripe, however. This site also had a bear fence set up for campers to cordon off their food, but the high water and unrelenting rain warded off any bear sightings or encounters. Like clockwork the next morning, the rain gave us a break just as we broke camp and put on the river.
Our last day of paddling went quickly as the river rose once again. In the hardshell kayaks, we dawdled and delayed, surfing every riffle we could find. The river volume had nearly tripled since we put on two days earlier (4,000 cfs rose to 11,000 cfs by the final day), and the rafts cruised through the flat sections. We arrived at Foster Bar, the take-out, without incident. Bags of wet gear were piled into the trucks, last sandwiches were built, and we were back on the road north.
Just as quickly as the water rose, the short trip was over. We were thankful for cooperative paddling weather: no wind, very little rain, and moderate temperatures. The camping weather proved less than favorable, but we made up for the drear with the cheer of great company.
I will definitely do this trip again, and maybe the sun will even come out!