Sunday, July 3, 2011

Umpqua River Weekend

Emily I had just had a really awesome weekend of kayaking and mountain biking in the North Umpqua River region of Oregon. With my knee still unable to handle skiing safely I’ve turned my outdoor focus towards mountain biking and water sports for the summer. Dennis Feeney and a bunch of other friends were planning on heading to the North Umpqua for some kayaking so Emily, Chris and I jumped on the plans as well. Throughout the week though it seemed like the plans started to fall apart and by Friday it had turned out that it would be just Emily and I in a double IK and Chris in a single. The river was running at nearly 3x the normal CFS (flow rate) and there was concern among Feeney and some of the others about the safety of the trip. But, after talking to my buddy Ben about it and some other rafters with experience we decided to give it a go anyway.

We were able to meet up with another group of rafters on Saturday morning at the Bogus Creek takeout. We had somehow squished all of our gear and bikes into and on top of Chris’ Subaru for the trip down. We met up with a bachelor party group of guys and a couple friends of mine who were guiding them down the river on a raft. The guys had actually arrived into the campsite the night before in a friggin’ limo because one of their cars had broken down. We jumped into my buddies vehicle and headed upstream to the Horseshoe Bend put-in. After blowing up 3 rafts and our kayaks along with another kayak belonging to a local river guide named Jake who was friends with the rafting crew we were able to get on the water around 10:15am. I could tell the rafting trip was going to be fun for the bachelor party as they all loaded containers of booze into the rafts. The plan was to float down past Gravel Bin take out 7 miles down the river where we would lose one of the rafts and then float another 5 miles to Bogus Creek for a total 12 mile float.

This section of the river is deemed wild and scenic even though it stays pretty close to a major highway for the majority of its length. The first 7 mile segment consisted of a bunch of class III rapids and one class IV rapid called Pinball which I was a little concerned about seeing that it was up to me to steer a longer IK with Emily and I both in it on a river that was running much higher than usual. To make it even more nerve wracking about 10 minutes after getting on the river Emily and I pinned our kayak against a rock and took our first swim in the cold water which knocked the air out of my lungs it was so frigid. Thankfully all three of us had wetsuits on (Farmer Johns for Em an I). Turns out the spill wasn’t bad at all and we just jumped back in the kayak. After taking the first spill and realizing it wasn’t a big deal I regained my confidence and steering ability and we cruised down the fast running river with Jake in the lead guiding us through the approaches to the rapids. Some of the class III rapids had huge holes on the downstream side which Em and I dove into and popped out of. We literally found ourselves sailing into holes that had a 6-8 foot wall of water it seemed that we had to plunge into, up and then over with Emily taking it head first on each one and loving every minute of it. We passed by beautiful Eagle Rock on towering above us on the right side of the river above the highway and many other beautiful rock formations along the river on our trip.

Our second flip was a little more nerve wracking as Emily got stuck in an eddy behind a rock upstream while I got thrown free into the main current . As I was floating down the river trying to hop back into the kayak with my paddle in hand Jake told me I should get in quickly. When I failed 3 times because my back was downstream with the kayak on top of me and my feet slipping his voice suddenly got a bit more urgent telling me to get my ass into the f’n kayak… Upon hearing this I turned around and saw I was being pulled directly into another large rapid with huge boulders in the middle of the river! I immediately found the strength to get into the kayak, quickly grabbed the paddle and maneuvered through the rapids with ease. Jake told me that I probably would have been fine but a little beat up from the rocks if I had to swim that section. It was a good thing Emily got stuck in the eddy as Chris simply pulled her into his single IK in front and easily negotiated the rapid to meet up with us again in a pool below. I think the rapid was either called Rollout or it was part of African Queen (Eiffle Tower). In any case Emily joined up with me again and we headed down river to the class IV rapid, Pinball…

As we approached Pinball I followed Jake lead and shouted commands to Emily in front. It turned out that the high water level was an advantage here as the class IV felt easier than the one we had just dumped on. I felt bad because Emily and I bumped into __ in the middle of the rapid and almost through him into a bad part of it. It took a lot of strength to steer the back end of the boat head on into a few of the waves and a little yelling at Emily to make sure she paddled hard so we wouldn’t get sucked back into the holes but we made it just fine. Having gained confidence nailing the Class IV the rest of the float to Gravel Bin felt easier and I was more relaxed.

One of the rafts took out and left at Gravel Bin along with Jake who we thanked for helping guide us safely down the river. I know that we probably wouldn’t have gone on the river it wasn’t for some knowledgeable people being with us. We relaxed in the sun at Gravel Bin for a bit, filled out a ridiculous 10 page survey on the river and recreation some volunteer gave to us and said goodbye to our friends and thanked Jake before jumping on the river for the next section to Bogus Creek Takeout where the Subaru was, following the now very drunk bachelor party guys down the last 5 miles of mostly class II easy rapids with the exception of Class III Steamboat which was easy in the high water. We came around a bend when I was finally able to take out our camera out of the Pelican Case for some photos and after snapping a few shots I realized there were topless girls on the rocky bend in the river… whoops! I didn’t actually end up getting them in the shots though. The bachelor party was certainly amused though.

Chris goofing off
Emily on the river
The last 5 miles was super easy and we were able to mess around and try new stuff in the kayaks without a worry of flipping. We made it back to Bogus Creek by about 3:30 and Chris shuttled the drivers while Em and I deflated the kayaks and packed our gear up. When Chris returned to us we took a drive past the unrunnable Deadline Class V falls to Idleyld Park to check out the Narrows section of the Umpqua river and find reception to call Dennis Feeney and find out where they all were for our shuttle bike ride the next day. Unfortunately, all I got was a voicemail and we spend the next two hours driving up to the Umpqua Hot Springs area and several other campgrounds looking for them before ending up high up in the pass at Lemolo Lake at the Poole Creek Campground where we paid for a spot. THANK GOD WE BROUGHT BUG REPELLENT. I’m not exaggerating when I say that when we pulled in there were swarms of hundred of the little buggers waiting for us to exit the car! I actually hid in the car until bags were taken out so I could jump into my puffy pants and jacket to avoid them. It didn’t work and I still had to douse myself in DEET to keep them away. Thankfully, we had taken the extra ice from the bachelor party and combined it with our coronas in a dry bag so we had nice cold beer to drink and Chris got a fire started pretty quick. We finally were able to get a hold of Kelly Rice thanks to calling Hartz for her number and we arranged to meet up at the start of the bike trail in the morning at 10am allowing us to have a relaxing evening by the fire and sleep in a bit in the morning. Eventually the squitoes left us alone after we smoked our clothes out and they lost interest.

Lemolo Falls
The group above Lemolo Falls
On Sunday Morning we met up with Dennis, Jill, Betsy, Kelly, and a guy named Dan and his girlfriend at the Lemolo Lake end of the “Dread & Terror” Section of the North Umpqua Bike Trail. After greasing up our chains and me gearing up with my phone, Bluetooth headphones, and helmet cam we took off down the trail. At first I let everyone lead the way but then I got all fired up with my music and after we stopped for a beautiful view of Lemolo Falls I took 2nd place behind Dennis on his 29er. Lemolo Falls was gorgeous and everyone got a kick out of the fact that as usual I skipped past everyone to the very edge to take a few photos.

Beautiful falls across river
On the "Dread & Terror"
I had forgotten how absolutely beautiful the trail was on the steep canyon walls above the river. Last time I had been here it was during the fall but now in the late spring/summer there were rhododendrons all along the trail in bloom and everything was just super green and overgrown. The trail was technical in some places which posed a challenge for Emily and I didn’t notice until I got home and watched the helmet cam video how steep and exposed certain parts of the trail were above the river. We passed several large waterfalls on the opposite side of the rivers and a couple smaller ones on our side including a few weeping walls. There were beautiful bridges we crossed and I was shown were Jill had fallen 20’ down a crack in the side of the trail to nearly the river below. How she didn’t break both her legs I don’t know but because she was bruised up and shaken she was not riding the trail again with us today (they had ridden part of the trail yesterday while we kayaked). A few of us took some spills but thankfully nobody got too hurt. I was super impressed by both Feeney’s riding ability in front of me as well as his 29er…

Lunch break along river
Fixing tire break
When we got to the end of the ride near the Umpqua hot springs after a long mile long stretch of really wet trail and mud I realized that they hadn’t left a car at the bottom and we would have to bike uphill to their campsite. Feeney had told me it was easy and just a couple miles but Betsy guessed it at 5 miles and immediately when we started going uphill it was steep… and with my right quad completely bonking from supporting my weaker left leg (new knee) I was at first pissed that nobody thought to leave a car at the bottom (worst thing after a wicked fun descent is to have to kill yourself biking uphill on a hot, sweaty forest road in the sun). But… Emily called me out for being a diva and the three of us quickly realized that the road leveled out and was only about 3 miles of not bad riding. I think if it had been 5 and the same steepness that it started out as I would have been pissed but in the end it was super easy and a non-issue.
We hung out at their super awesome campsite with the dogs and Jill who cut us fresh watermelon while Chris got a shuttle back up to the Subaru at Lemolo Lake. From there it was just a casual ride home with Emily sleeping in the back and Chris and I discussing ideas of how to make a lightweight shuttling contraption for kayaking and bike trail descents…. We are still pondering about it.. It was a fantastic weekend of excitement that I haven’t had in months! Sweet!

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