Feb 20, 2012

Ain't No "Can't" In The Word Canyon

Throughout the years I've had many great runs down a lot of different rivers here in Washington. I've fantasized about what some of the more obscure runs would be like as I've scanned the hundreds of pages of whitewater lore in the WA river bible. And recently one particular little chunk of the Cascades keeps calling me back to explore. Top notch runs like Deer Creek got me excited about other creeks carving their way through this bedrock sluice box. I've been up there several times, but for one reason or another never got on the water. Until today.

A few weeks back we had a big snow storm here in western WA that shut everything down. Fortunately some of us have 4WD which makes snowy roads fun, not scary. Jeremy Bisson and I had been up to this spot before, but the snow was deeper and we weren't able to make it close enough to the put in affording us enough daylight to get 'er done.

Jackman Creek is about 6 miles long and starts way up a steep, old logging road. Two things I like seeing on the way to a put in, usually.

before we hit the snow line 

a new creeker on a butt-low creek
the BIG Villain

the new outfitting ROCKS!! even the beverage holder 

end of the road for the Previa 

Jeremy gets his kit together 

Scott Waidelich has no idea how steep the take out is going to be

every so often it's fun to go snowboating 

 gettin into it

mile 6? must be getting close, I hope 

snow angels or exhaustion?  

the snow keeps getting deeper
w/ Jeremy Bisson

I had parked in the middle of the snow covered road and didn't want the van to get defiled by some redneck 4WD hooligans trying to make it up further. I use the word park loosely, really I just couldn't drive any further, I was grading the road with my axles. I found a small pull out a half mile down the road that allowed other vehicles to get by (who would drive up here?) and allowed me to park far enough from the edge that I wouldn't worry about the van sliding off the road and down the 400 vertical feet to the river. By now it was 1-ish? and this little jaunt was feeling more like a mission. I was starting to get excited. New creek!! 

I raced back to find the boys and boats gone. My boat was gone, too. I was puzzled. It took me a minute, but snowy footprints left me to only one conclusion: these boys were in a hurry! And Scott had talked Jeremy into dragging my boat behind his. True friends, I tell ya. Not all kayakers are dirtbags. I walked for a little bit figuring I would catch up with them, but I never did. So I started running. The footprints were easy to follow and I caught up in a few minutes. The further we went, the deeper the snow got. Soon it was over a foot deep. We hiked for a good couple of hours and had little beta on the run other than it was continuous and the put in was at a bridge. 

the first drop below the put in bridge

By now it must've been close to three and we were pretty excited to get on the water. Sometimes, after hiking for that long, it feels funny to climb into a boat and start paddling. We took one look at the first drop from the road and it didn't take long to decide to turn around and put in below this drop.

 Scott charges downstream straight outta the gate

 "how much more wood?"

Jackman may have been a sweet run at one time, but in the years following the publication of the WA river bible massive flooding, ice and wind storms had done a number on this creek. Either way, we knew the fastest way to the take out was to paddle, we hoped. What we found was a small riverbed with many drops and a continuous nature. Mostly IV-IV+ with some bigger drops peppered in once in a while to make it interesting. Uneasy might be a better word.

 Jeremy styles a fun sequence on Jackman Creek

Due to our growing desire to hastily skeedaddle this was the last pic I shot. There was a LOT of wood on this run. We were all pretty thankful Jackman was so low because there were few eddies as it was in between all the pieces of wood and downed trees scattered throughout. I was glad the new Villain I had ordered came in just before this trip. It saved me from a number of pitons/pins and made ferrying and eddy hopping a breeze. Instead of paddling wildly, I was using a brace here and a pry there. Backstrokes to slow down were on the menu for today.

When one puts themselves in situations like this paddling becomes a delicate dance. We ran a lot of sketch wood we'd rather not have just to get to the take out before it was too dark to see. Scott did an awesome job of boat scouting many rapids and Jeremy made quick work of the scouts when someone needed to hop out for a look. I wasn't out of my boat quite as much as the notorious Upper Johnson Creek debacle, but Upper Johnson was only 2.5 miles. Jackman was 6 and we were running short on light. 

There were a lot of drops. One of the signature moves, Jackman's Jump, we almost portaged was a sweet midstream boof to the right that puts the paddler inches away from a large old growth which spanned over the landing zone. Enter center with a little right angle, boof hard off an 8-10 foot ledge drop, landing in a pocket and paddling out underneath the 40 foot behemoth which spanned over the landing zone like a bridge. Cool indeed. 

In all we may have portaged half a dozen times. I don't need to say how thankful we all were to reach the take out in tact with all our gear and still have daylight. The takeout we knew would be less fun than the creek, but at least we weren't going to drown under some wood. We weren't really sure exactly where the takeout was, exactly, but we knew the gradient had eased way back and it was time to get up to the road. Since Jackman was listed in the back of the Bennett book, information was sparse at best. Few words were used  to describe the takeout, something about "arduous hike" and "clear cut". Well, the guide book was published 15 years ago and who knows when the last time this section had been run before the book came out. We kept looking for a good spot. We knew there was a logging road somewhere not too far above us we hoped, so we picked a spot and started the inevitable. It was a long way up, but we didn't care, we were on land! I think it took an hour just to get above the "forest section". Yes there was a clear cut section above the forest section, and while the forest section had its own dealings, the clear cut was much steeper and took at least another hour, probably more like two. 

We were excited to get to the clear cut section due to the absence of downed trees and thick, tall underbrush, but once we were a ways up, we knew it was to be, simply put, a different flavor of sucking. Yes, clear cuts have many unnatural formations of wood and slash strewn about which make for uneasy travel and lots of stumbling. We found some, avoided others and stumbled a lot. It became an unpleasant game only made worse by the fact we were carrying 50+ pound boats and that we could either continue sweating profusely with our drysuits on, or unzip for temporary relief only to shiver soon after due to the already exorbitant amounts of sweat that were soaking our base layers and frigid temps as darkness fell. Sweat, wood, steepness, all cast in silhouette by a lovely full moon. Yes, the moon was up by now, the sun was down and we had a long way to go before we got to the road. This had to be the worst take out I've ever experienced. Many times I thought to myself as I looked up and shouted obscenities very loudly to no one in particular, "I don't think I will do this run again."

Jeremy made it to the road first. We had dropped his little 50cc motorbike at the "takeout" and, as to be expected, we took out a mile too soon. Scott made it up a few minutes later, then me. Scott was a zombie. He had nothing left and was just sitting on the frozen snowy road when I finally made it up. He couldn't even help me get my boat up the last few feet. I had a little more juice so I was standing, but no position was really comfortable. And it was cold. After I caught my breath I decided to start walking back up to the put in where the Previa was. At least it was only going to be 3-4 miles, not 6. It was kind of funny, a little bit, now that I didn't have a boat on my shoulder. By the end of the hike, actually long before the end, each step had become grueling. Jeremy had run down to the 50, I was making my way up to the van and Scott was nearly passed out. Soon enough though I got the van back down and we were all digging for warm clothes, food and beer. It felt so good to sit in the warm van, and the drive back down didn't take nearly as long as the drive up. I'm glad I hadn't stopped at all those places I wanted to for photos. I had left my house at 7:30 in the morning and got back around 11 that night. Jackman Creek... check. Next time I'm leaving at 6:30, oh yeah prolly not. The Year of the Water Dragon is upon us.

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