Friday, October 5, 2018

Paddling the mighty Rogue River

Once we had finished our little bike tour of the general Rogue zone we were perfectly poised to execute on the 2nd phase of our ideal adventure; the river trip!

But first, it occurred to me to throw up a map showing our general bike tour route:
Of course, within that are important details - like the excellent "Scenic Bikeways" in the Coquille and Elk river areas, and if there's any interest I have the gpx route that we took.

Only minutes after we finished our tour in the little hamlet of Galice trucks started showing up with kayaks on them, and our crew had arriven.  Although the official Rogue put in for the permitted section is a few miles downstream, there is a convenient campground nearby that allows for a pre-launch riverside camp, complete with volunteer campground hosts who take their "jobs" way too seriously.   Though Leigh and Matt have been great friends for a long time, they have also been gone a long time and have made plenty of "new" friends, so we tried to make the rounds to meet everyone even as everyone "rigged" their boats (ie stuffed gear into their kayaks, and one small raft) for our 4 day trip.

The first little bonding experience our new group had was navigating The Big Rapid, Rainie Falls.
cool pano shot by Matt
According to the little info stand at the lookout far above the falls that we happily took the time to read on our bike tour, the falls  -like most - is formed at a geological break between two different types of rock.  But early river runners put in the effort to subdue later efforts by blasting out a more-gradual fish ladder adjacent to the main falls, which it appeared was generally ignored by the locals:
poached this pic from the web.   Tho we saw a few of these fish given'er like this, it's hard to get the pic!  
The main falls looks a bit daunting, but the truth is that you can pretty much line up and paddle hard, and if you do happen to get caught in the hole at the bottom the thrashing would likely be brief before it spit you out into mellow water.  As always, there was a bit of concerned-looking scouting:
the outflow

And debates whether to run the falls or the ladder,  and if the former then what line to take.  One by one we decided on our respective strategies. Kiwi Andy started hard right:
and got pushed to the center
Dave started left and stayed left to get over the maw with a fine boof stroke:
that got his hair a little wet
Chris also executed a fine boof stroke going left to right:
and I also went for the left to right charge:
I brought the pack raft instead of the hard shell because I brought my hardshell out for Andy and was too lazy to borrow another and tried to keep the bike tour/river trip gear in the car to a dull roar, and the truth is that I was a little curious to see how the Alpackalypse pack raft would do on Rainie.  Went ok:

and here's a video from Andy's run:

The buoyant little packraft likes to stay on the surface!

And on down the river we went:
Leigh running one of the many fun class 2-3 rapids.
Like the Salmon, the Rogue has a long and interesting history of human habitation, both from natives (there's evidence of habitation from 7000 years ago, and there's a  place ironically called "Battle Bar" that's yet another awful example of immigrant hubris in 1856 when 200 soldiers shot and killed mostly women and children natives) and white folks.  This ranch:
was developed in the late 19th century, and was the center of a surprisingly big population of folks who lived along the Rogue's banks.
As with bike touring, river trip pace is slow enough that you are incentivized to stop and read the historical things! 
the ranch got a big renovation a coupla years ago, and even though it's new paint, apparently it was originally painted this bright red as well.  Tons of pear and apple trees too!
Another unique aspect of the Rogue is that it was a summertime getaway for the well-known western writer Zane Grey.  His cool little cabin:
and boat to ferry across the river:
which of course inspired me to start reading an original copy of his most popular book Riders Of The Purple Sage that Martha Connell amazingly had and gave to me;
from the first 1912 printing
Just downstream was Mule Creek canyon, which is a super cool narrow gorge that is likely pretty spicy at high water, but at low water was just nice and fun.  Ash heading in:
and then stoked to have made it through the infamous swirlies:

Matt was happy that we got to camp early that afternoon and that it was sunny, since a dry bag had been left open and his more-important sleeping bag needed a bit of dry time:
it's amazing how compact down gets when it's soaked!  
and to celebrate that successful task the two lads did a riverside jam sesh:
as Ash put it, lots of trips have people playing instruments and it's usually mediocre music, but these boys are actually really good!  
The hiking along the Rogue is great; there's a well-hewn trail traversing the length of the run (and we bumped into a raft-supported runners' trip; they runners but ran something like 11, 17, and 13 miles a day while the rafts shuttle their lunches to riverside beaches and their gear to camps and a lodge; something that a commercial outfitter should do on the Middle Fork Salmon!).  There are also side hikes; one was billed as a "Grand Canyon-style slot" so we had to give that a go:
some weird steps hewn in to get up above 

It wasn't super slotty, but it had a nice section:

Andy made it exciting
and it was beautiful in a deep Northwest way:

The last bit of beautiful excitement is the Blossom Bar rapid.
The general line is to start left and cut quickly to the center to avoid the dreaded "Picket Fence" of big boulders below the left entrance; at high water this is pretty challenging, but at low water it's no problem.  However, a week prior some unlucky drift boater cut too hard right and discovered why undercut boulders are problematic; the raft in the pic is the runners' gear boat and the pinned drift boat is circled
Here's the crew on the scout:
another cool pano by Matt
Andy lining up for the unorthodox right line; he's going Rogue!

Ash and I lining up for it:
and dropping in
Ash making the first cut to the right....

charging through the meat! 

and cutting back to the left, while I'm staring at that pinned drift boat that's creating a fair hazard!  
Once again, everyone made it through with no problems, and we happily made it to our last camp:
Where Ash celebrated a successful trip with a bowlful of gin and tonic:

The Rogue is well known for its population of black bears, and being from New Zealand where the most exciting animal is the wild goat Andy was determined to see a bear.  And indeed, he was the one to spot a momma and a coupla cubs:

Too soon we were at the takeout, and with the simplicity of the (mostly) self-contained trip (the raft did house the groover, tables, stove, and a few extra beers; thanks Ross!) we were off the ramp and scattered pretty quickly.  

Andy and I  had one more adventure left in us, so after dropping Ashley off at the Medford airport early the next morning he and I headed for the North Fork of the Rogue where it bubbles out from near Crater Lake.  It's a beautiful stretch of river that is in two sections separated by a bridge; a class 3-4 canyon and below that is the Takelma Gorge, where the river goes into a vertical walled canyon that is short in both length and height but has 5 multi-tiered rapids and is mostly inescapable once you're in.  We had a nice time on the upper section, and took a good long time to scout the gorge, that is indeed a bit daunting:
But there were no logs in the rapids and we decided to give it a go.  
One of the first drops
Scouting another
I've said a few times that I haven't really found the limits of the pack raft and had been feeling confident in it, so at the 4th of the five rapids I had no problem with charging over a 6-8 foot pourover, and was quite surprised when I found myself upside down!  I had been practicing rolls in the boat on the river trip because the roll is a bit more difficult than in a hardshell, but alas I didn't hit my combat roll and found myself swimming over the next rapid, where I made the major faux pas of letting go of my paddle.  I was able to wedge myself and the boat into a crack between the basalt columns and we got out the spare paddle to exit the gorge into the flatwater where I was sure we'd find the lost paddle, but to no avail.  So it goes; another donation to the river gods (here's a helmet-cam video of a coupla doods running the gorge at what looks like about the same flow that we had).  

We had planned on paddling the infamous Hell's Corner run of the upper Klamath, but the shuttle logistics of that run were too daunting so we took the proximity opportunity of Oregon's only national park and went to Crater Lake, where we found a great run up to the park's high point

Before turning the wagon back towards Salt Lake.  

As it turns out, we paddled the Wild and Scenic Rogue river right about on the 50th anninversary of the Wild and Scenic rivers act, which has been used ever since to protect rivers from dams and other degradations and is without any comparable river protection anywhere in the world.  The Rogue received the designation in 1978, but still only 1/4 of 1%  of rivers in the country have this formal designation.  And not a single mile of river in Utah is yet Wild and Scenic, and with our current leadership it's hard to imagine that will change soon.  I haven't yet watched it, but this movie on the Wild and Scenic act looks good.

Thanks again to Leigh and Matt for having the vision to get the Rogue permit and organize a great posse of Suzy, Steve, Ross, Megan, Dave, Chris, Cathy, Barney, Corrie, Andy for Ashley and I to paddle with.  Always fun to hang with great river rats, and I'm glad that my recollection of the Rogue not being that great was totally wrong; it's a gem!  

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bikepacking The Rogue Zone

Despite growing up in Oregon, my consistent range there never really spread much into the southwest corner of the state.  Which is somewhat inexplicable, since it's an amazing part of the country, much less the state, with a dramatic coastline, great rivers, good mountains, the state's only national park, and zillions of miles of great riding on roads and trails.  So when we got an invitation to join our old friends Matt and Leigh on a Rogue river trip, we jumped on it.

Well, sort of jumped on it.  In about the year Nineteen Hundred and Ninety One I did paddle the Rogue, but my recollections of it were not that great, for some reason:  almost no rapids, short for a multi-day trip, and jet boats are allowed to travel upstream.  So over the last 20 years that Ashley and I have been together we've done lots of rivers, and even though she at times has said "I wanna go do the Rogue!" I've not been too enthusiastic about it, especially now that we live 12 hours away vs the 4 hours from Portland that I had when I first did it.  But the opportunity to do a trip with Leigh and Matt was a great one, and when Ashley said "let's combine it with a bike tour!" I was in, and hoping that my feeble memory of a mediocre river was wrong. 

As everyone knows, the word of the summer in the west was "Fires."  It seemed like all of California was on fire, BC was up in flames, Utah had its share, and also SW Oregon.  When I called a bike shop near Medford to get some ideas for potential riding routes they pointed out that they hadn't seen any of the hills around their place for over a month, and a quick check of indicated that Ashland was buried in the Red Zone.  But closer to the coast it seemed to be a little better due to coastal breezes or somesuch, and we finally decided that if we were going to be at the Rogue anyway we might has well explore the riding through the Siskiyou mountains that the Rogue cuts through.  So we decided to drive right to the river put in, leave our car there, do a nice 5 day loop back to the car, then jump off our bikes and into our boats for the 4 day river trip. 

This was a great plan, because being a multi-sport enthusiast I have a dumb habit of being on my way to a river and saying "this would be great riding!" and when I'm riding near a river I say "Wow, I really want to paddle that!" and this was going to satisfy both those urges! 
Looking downstream from the put in....from the bridge we were crossing on our bikes. 
As we started our climb out of the Rogue valley, we got a look from on high at the infamous Rainie Falls, which looms two miles down from the put in:
Which we knew we'd be facing in a few days, but for now all we had to do was ride on beautiful one-lane paved and gravel roads where we'd see at most a couple of cars per hour.
Being from Utah we reveled in the greenery, but were also happy when we found a roadside hike up to a peak that would give us a bird's eye view of the Siskiyous
And a lot of gnarly clear cuts
apparently we were not the first - nor the most exciting - summitteers of the little peak
The peak was named Mt Bolivar, named by a guy way back in the day who apparently was a big fan of Simon Bolivar of South American independence fame; what better way to memorialize a Venezuelan general than to name a little butte in SW Oregon for him?  

We utilized the famous bikepack-hike anti-theft technique of chammy-side out:
It worked!  no one stole our bikes.  
Our general route was to go from the Rogue put in up and over the mountains to the coast at Coos Bay, then down the coast, back through the mountains to the Rogue near the takeout, and then back through the mountains on the shuttle road to the put in.  From the drier, oak-ier inland side we soon transitioned over to the rainforest, where they grow them trees big:

And there are nice waterfalls:
and more sublime riding

The signs were aged well:
But we deciphered "Oregon Coast" and the arrow so we shrugged and followed those through the maze of forest roads.  

and we were happy to discover that we were on an actual bike route
Only in bicycle-mad Oregon?  
As we came out of the mountains we were rolling through flat farmlands, which is good/bad; great riding, but as day-ends loom and you're still far from a town there aren't many camping opportunities.  So we rolled up to a nice farmhouse, knocked on the door, and nice-guy Bill let us set up camp in his yard:

Bill came out later and had a beer with us, and we learned that his great grandparents came over on the wagon trail from Medford in 1873, a year after the trail had been put in, and his grandparents built the home based on plans they had bought from Sears Roebuck (the house was almost an exact replica of the house of a neighbor of ours in rural west Portland back in the day).  So Bill was most definitely a "local", and told us how he had flipped pancakes at the nearby grange hall when Cycle Oregon came through a coupla years prior, and he also mentioned that they hadn't gotten any rain   -on the Oregon Coast, one of the rainiest places ever - since mid May!  Tough on ranching.  

But the following morning in the Coquille Valley did have a bit of fog and dew:

In addition to allowing the ability to meet nice folks along the way, bike touring provides the opportunity to actually stop at the little historical info turnouts you always blow past in your car:
And in Oregon - with no salt on its roads and thus no rust - you get to see some funky old cars:
a sick Fastback

I thought it was interesting that their little local paper was called "The World"
The broader view, from the Oregon Coast

And of course, late summer in the Northwest means....many things, but importantly, it's blackberry season!
roadside power food

Soon enough we popped out in Coos Bay, which I'd never been to but have long known about it as the original hometown of Steve Prefontaine, whom I wrote about a coupla years ago in a post, so we had to swing by the town's mural memorial and geek out for a moment:
Coos Bay was our northernmost point, and we needed to go south along the coast.  Doing a bit of research we found a good alternative to the busy coast highway called the "Seven Devils" route.  According to what we read, it was infamous among coastal bike tourers for its difficulty, so we prepared ourselves for some good grinding.  However, according to what I could find on various map stuff it only encompassed 1500 feet of climbing over theoretically 7 climbs and 11 miles?  I figured that must be wrong and we'd be on something more exciting; there were even helmet cam videos of people "doing the Seven Devils!"  
there she goes!  
But after doing some roly-poly climbs  -some on gravel - and finding ourselves at the highway 101 Ash rode up to me and said "did we miss it?"  1500 feet of vert over 5-7 climbs is indeed not too much, though it is almost car-free and has a nice secluded beach to visit

The Seven Devils road ends in the nice little coast town of Bandon, where we were able to fill ourselves with fresh seafood and local beer before launching south on the main highway.  
shot as I was precariously going no-hands while trying to not veer into traffic. 
The Coastal Route is a bit of a classic bike tour, but we agreed that it's a good representation of why more people don't bike tour; it's more efficient to get places on bigger roads, and many cyclists see bike touring as means to get places efficiently, which puts them on too-busy roads, where people in cars see them and think "wow, that's shitty and dangerous riding", when the reality is that it's usually not far to this kind of riding:
and in Oregon you get actual Bike Routes!
On the coast highway we did get a chance to see some roadside cranberry harvesting:
Not many places in the US grow cranberries; interesting that they grow in bogs. 
Soon enough we were spinning up the Elk River, which I was embarrassed to have never heard of despite it looking like a great 20 mile section of whitewater (with a lot of rain) and eventually we climbed out of the Elk drainage up and over the mountains to drop down into the Rogue again:
We had about a 14 mile descent to the river on a chilly morning
And we saw our first evidence of the well-advertised fires:
Queue Deep Purple guitar riff....
But it wasn't bad, and we were relieved that our last segment back up and over to the car was indeed open after having been closed for weeks due to a fire.  

it started with a 17 mile climb, with fires looming in the distance:

and then we got into the meat of it:
still off in the distance

hard to believe these oversized hot tubs provide any reasonable amount of water for a forest fire? 

They spray fire retardant on the trees next to the road to protect the road, but it looked like the retardant was pretty much napalm itself since it had already killed the vegetation.  
And we had a wicked fun 20 mile (??!!?) descent through the recent burn back down to the river
And about 10 minutes after we got to our car a bunch of trucks with kayaks on them rolled up and there was our river crew, and we were poised for the second phase of our bike/paddle adventure!  (in the next post).