Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mckenzie River Weekend 2014

This weekend Emily and I joined Nicole, Ian, Coleen, Jake, Richard, ____ and Chris Harmon for a wonderful weekend on the Mckenzie River in central Oregon.  We left Leo with friends in Portland and headed south on Saturday morning to meet up with everyone else who had camped Friday night at the McKenzie Bridge Airfield in Blue River, OR.  We got an early start and met everyone around 10am at the upper trailhead for the Mckenzie River bike trail near Clear Lake.  They were a little late to arrive which was good as it took us a little bit to get our bikes put together from the back of the Prius.   Read on for all the details
Saturday was blazing hot out and although the bike ride was mostly downhill along the river we were all super overheated and going slow.  We took plenty of stops for both rest and to take photos at the many viewpoints such as Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls.  Although I've biked this trail four of five times now I'm always impressed at how much water is flowing despite the dry summer months.  It's basically all snow melt from the Sisters volcano complex that is trapped in the lava rock and melts out year round.  

By the time we got to the famous Blue Pool (the river dives underground in lava tubes, then resurfaces at the blue pool) we were all super hot and Ian and I were ready for a swim.  I had always heard of people cliff jumping into the pool before but I never had because I never had anyone willing to go with me.  Thankfully, Ian was set on jumping and thus so was I.  We didn't know that a man swimming just before us needed a thermal blanket because he went hypothermic from the near-freezing water.  But we did know that people had been known to have heart attacks when jumping into it.  This is bad because when you jump in you literally need to swim about 150 along a cliff band before you can get to a safe place to climb out.  

Ian headed down to lower rock platform to jump but of course I went to the highest point I could find.  It had been a few years since I'd jumped from anything higher than 50' feet and this was pretty close so I wanted to give it a try.  The blue pool is so clear that the bottom looks like it's just beneath the surface but in reality it's more like 30 feet under the surface.  It's so clear that when you jump you can't see the surface of the water which can be dangerous so Ian wisely suggested throwing a rock to create ripples before you jump.  I just used his splash as I jumped pretty much right after he did, aiming to land just next to him.  

I'm glad I aimed because when I reached the surface I noticed Ian was having a hard time.  He told me that when he landed he got some serious water in his ear and and had lost all sense of balance.  I stayed next to him in the water trying to collect and calm my breathing in frigid water.  It was so cold I could barely talk to him so I just followed him as he made his way to a narrow platform of rock under the huge cliff.  We hauled ourselves out of the water and I stayed there with him until got his orientation again.  He seemed pretty rattled but after a few minutes felt better enough to jump back in and swim the remaining distance to the climb out area.  Of course non of our friends could really see what was going on which I'm sure concerned them so I was happy to get back into the cold water and swim to where I could signal we were all good.  

Once we pulled out of the water and climbed the surprisingly steep cliffside back up to our bikes and Emily Ian was feeling much better.  Em asked if I was ok and I said yup with a big smile and even contemplated another jump because it was so darn hot.  The pool had chilled me to the bone which was great because I felt much cooler as we got back on our bikes and continued on down the trail.... only to discover a mountain bikers worst nightmare....

It was a Saturday on the trail and the only trailhead for hikers going to the popular Blue Pool was ahead of us down the trail.  This meant that we would be sharing the trail with a ton of hikers which is not good, or fun, as a mountain biker.  But that's not the bad part.... the bad part was that nearly half of them were from a large group of deaf people... yeah... so they couldn't hear us behind them giving a warning we were coming... At first we thought people were just being really inconsiderate and we may have even mumbled some words going by when they finally stepped aside, but then we saw the sign language... and just felt horrible!  Truly, a bikers nightmare on a busy, and technical, trail.

We biked the full length of the trial all the way back to the Mckenzie Bridge Air Field.  Near the end Richard had biked ahead, grabbed some beers, and biked back up the trail to meet us!  How nice to be hand-delivered cold brews before even ending the ride!  Ian was so far ahead that he just met us back at the tents.  Emily and I both wrecked a couple times on the technical sections and were bloodied but happy.  Nicole decided to make her wheel into a taco near the end of the trail as well!  

Back at camp we used the convenient, and big, airfield shower to clean ourselves up and set about cooking dinner.  After a quick shuttle north to grab the Prius Emily and I made quick run to the local convenience store in Blue River just minutes before it closed to pic up some sausages and food to share but it was barely needed as others had brought yummy watermelon and Nicole had her usual amazing fresh marinated meat from her farm.  Emily and I heard that Ty and Cathy would be flying in to join us for rafting on Sunday but because of big thunderstorms we heard in the distance and rough skies they never showed up which was disappointing because Em and I wanted to surprise Cathy by being there.

We gorged ourself on amazing food and then set up chairs in the airfield to check out the full moon rising slowly over the hillside.  We all took bets on when it would break the treeline.  I bet never but eventually it did.  Ian had brought a tripod and his nice DSLR to take photos (kinda nice not to be the photographer for once).  As he set it up to take some star photos with us in it I grabbed a headlamp and taught everyone how to make letters with long exposure shots.  Of course this degraded to 7th grade antics among us 30 year olds... which led to some really funny photos.  Ian eventually did end up with a nice photo of us spelling moon and then when it got darker got some great shots of the full moon as well.

On Sunday we leisurely got up, ate a yummy breakfast and made our way to the put in for a McKenzie River rafting run.  Ian's friend Paul also joined us in the morning with his Kayak.  As a certified paraglider and skydiver we naturally really liked Paul and all his stories.  He's new to Corvallis and will definitely fit in well.  We had both of Nicole's rafts with us so we had plenty of room.  Nicole guided one and Ian guided one.  We of course loaded up on some mixed drinks and beers before putting on the river for the easy Class III or below rapids.  

We headed out onto the cold river with mist still rising off of it from the night before.  The storms overnight had definitely driven the heat away and it was actually a bit chilly on the river.  Thankfully, Nicole had an extra wet suit for Emily and dry top for me as Emily and I didn't bring them expecting it to be hot.  We probably should have switched days for mountain biking we didn't realize it would cool off so much.  

We had a great trip down the river and Ian did a great job guiding us around rocks on the very boney river.  We stopped at a very cool hot spring along the bank where the naked family before us thankfully left just as we were showing up.  I was actually pretty hot so I didn't really go in the spring but it looked pretty cool and even had a little cave you could wander back into out of site.  We chilled there for a bit before then moving on to Belknap Hot Springs.  I had sworn that I had rafted the river before but after the hot spring and now Belknap I realized I hadn't done any of it prior.  

Nicole led us down a path along the river and over a bridge to the public area of Belknap which was a beautiful garden with spring water flowing all around it.  We ate lunch there and both Chris and I relieved ourselves... me a little more graciously in the brush than Chris out in the wide open center of the garden.... I think he scared away a woman on a walk!  I snacked on more of the grilled meat we had cooked the night before and a huge tub of potato salad!  It had finally warmed up and we enjoyed ourselves in the sun of the garden for a while before making our way back to the tied up rafts.

Back on the river we made one more stop under a bridge for a pee break and to watch Jake and  Richard do a "bridge traverse" which basically meant climbing out onto the bridge around the barbed wire and security dog sign to crawl over one side, all the way underneath and then back up top on the other side.  All this while Ian was floating around in his dry suit in an eddy underneath them.  

From there we got back on the river with Richard guiding us for a while and negotiated our way around a big snag and a few more rapids to the takeout.  We had drained all the booze and beer hours before so by the time we had shuttled and packed up the rafts we were ready for the long drive back to Portland.  What a great weekend of multiple sports, cliff jumps, hot springs, good food, good friends, and adventure on the Mckenzie River.  Let's keep this an annual event!

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