Sunday, April 15, 2007

Opal Gorge

Opal Gorge is a rarely run section of the Little North Santiam River below the well known Opal Creek run, though it is being run more often than in years past. It's not often run due to the high committing nature of the gorge, difficult whitewater and stories of unscoutable unportageable drops. The run is short measuring 2.5 miles or so. However, the river passes through a very tight, walled-in gorge section that makes escape from the river impossible. The run was pioneered in the winter of 1994 by a strong team after spending a lot of time scouting. You can read more about the history of this run on Jason Rackley's Oregon Kayaking site.

Looking upstream at Thor's from the put-in for Opal Gorge.

You can put on at the bridge near Cedar Creek for a longer run. Given the fact that neither of us had done the run we opted for the lower put-in to give us more time in the gorge.

Jim doing some pre-run stretches before we head into the unknown.

The river is pretty mellow as you pass around the corner below Thor's Playroom, the last rapid on the Opal Creek run. The water is class II-III before you come to the first significant boulder garden marking the entrance to the gorge proper.

Looking into the gorge from the bottom of the first bolder garden. You can see the horizon line for Mystery and the high committing nature of the drop.

The first major rapid is unscoutable and unportageable. Mystery, as it was named by the first descent team, is not the hardest drop on the run, but is easily the most intimidating of the drops we ran. The drop can be run on the left or the right. After some discussion, I went for it. What a rush. I drove off the left side and cleaned the drop. Jim followed with no problems.

A blurry shot of Jim blasting through the left side of Mystery.

Looking back at Mystery.

Below Mystery is a small drop followed by a long, deep pool that leads to the class VI Undertaker. Here the entire river dives below a finger of rock that blocks off the river. The only sane portage route is along a shelf on river right. It's significantly longer than the left, but far safer.

Jim in the pool between Mystery and Undertaker.

The scenery in the heart of the gorge is unbelievable.

Looking into the heart of the Undertaker

Jim ponders the ugliest class VI either of us had seen

The portage was somewhat long, but not bad given the scenery. After taking in the splendor of this fantastic place, we put back on just below Undertaker.

The boulder garden below Undertaker was one of the best drops on the run. Just around the corner Henline creek comes crashing in on the left side of the river marking the next big drop.

Looking into the boulder garden below Undertaker.

Henline rapid begins with a five or six foot undercut ledge drop followed by a fast shoot into an undercut wall with a log vertically pinned mid-stream.

After a brief scout, I volunteered to run it first. The log had us both a little worried, but I felt I could clean the boof and make the necessary move above the log. I cleaned the ledge just about perfectly and began to charge to the left to miss the log. The current was a lot stronger than I had expected and it shoved me into the log. I thankfully bounced off and made it to the eddy below. Jim was up next and had a very similar line.

Jim getting ready to run Henline rapid.

Below Henline rapid is a narrow slot called Sierra. I didn't get any pictures of this drop for some reason, but we both entered on the right charging left. Neither of us even got our hair wet on this one.

Looking downstream from below Henline Rapid. Sierra lies just around the corner.

After Sierra, the gorge really starts to open up as you come to the last drop on the run. This falls looked horrible to us as the majority of the river thundered down on a large boulder before squeezing through a narrow slot next to an undercut. We quickly shouldered our boats and walked around.

The last drop on the run. To my knowledge, it's been ran twice.

Jim gets a little water out of his boat before we cruise on down to the take-out bridge.

This was a great run and as of April 14, 2007 is wood free. We ran it with roughly 660 cfs and this proved to be a very good level, though I'm sure you could add another 100-150 cfs without any real changes. We also had a dry day which is nice given how slick the rocks get when wet.


There is a gauge below the take-out bridge on the river right. We had 5.4'.

1 comment:

sako said...

hey whats up Ryan this is Sako I paddled with you about a year ago on June Creek with bCrazy Carl and Mike Long. I lost your number and just happened on your blog. Call me to boat 503-997-2606 or email