Cedar Creek

Copyright © 2003, Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Oregon Kayaking webmaster.

Cedar Creek is a steep tributary of the Opal Creek run on the Little North Santiam River. Much like Opal, this creek has stunning emerald-green water and thick, lush forests towering overhead. Cedar also cuts through the same geological strata as Opal, forming large waterfalls, ledges, and boulder gardens. However, that's pretty much where the similarity ends. If Opal Creek is like a newborn kitten, Cedar Creek is like a ravenous lion with a taste for boaters that hasn't eaten in a month..

Cedar Creek should be approached with a great deal of caution and respect. There are several very dangerous rapids on this run that lurk on blind corners and/or have few eddy options above them.

Remember one thing: boat-scouting blind drops on Cedar Creek is a great way to get yourself killed.

With that in mind, safety-conscious paddlers will take a little time and figure out where the three class V+ to VI rapids are ahead of time, and the eddies above them, assuming they exist (at high water they don't!).

Looking down into the Cedar Creek drainage from the put-in. The mountains in the background form the Opal Creek drainage.

Fortunately, the shuttle road stays fairly close to the creek, allowing ample opportunity for some quick scrambling and peeking through the woods at the horrors that await the unwary paddler. The road also allows an easy escape route for the terror-stricken..

We drove up about two miles to where the first falls became visible, and got set up. I don't run waterfalls anymore, so I set up downstream with a zoom lens and captured Pete and Jesse as they ran the first drop.

Jesse Coombs and Pete Giordano below the first falls. Get a good boof on this one; the pool has shallow spots.
Pete probed this one, boofing right with no problems. Jesse went with the flow and caved in the bow of his boat..

About 100 yards downstream from the entrance falls is Hellevator Falls, an evil class six 20-footer that is now blocked by a huge log.

Jesse and Pete scout Hellevator Falls on Cedar Creek during the shuttle. Note the 'eddy' at the lip of the falls on river-left.
If you value your life, start portaging on the road well upstream of this waterfall.

The ever-optimistic Jesse hiked upstream to check the exit of Hellevator Falls. Note the huge log wedged horizontally in the falls.

Just downstream from Hellevator is possibly the best single rapid on Cedar, a twisty double slide-falls that careens down into a large, moving pool...

Pete Giordano runs the double slide-falls while Jesse watches from below.

Below the slide the creek mellows considerably, and is pretty much class II-III for at least a quarter of a mile. This section has some great scenery though, which helps pass the time. This mellow section ends abruptly as the creek thunders over a 20-foot V+ to VI drop that has small, moving eddies above it. At high water, I don't know how you would stop above this rapid, so approach with caution!

This drop can be portaged pretty easily on the left hand side. Pete and I looked down into the maw of this monster and said "Ha ha ha! I don't THINK so!"..

Let's see, where do I start? The top part of the falls plunges into a large pothole that forms a wicked hole with an elevated, surging pile.. not good. Assuming you make it past that, the water then careens down into the overhanging river-left wall, before dropping into a powerful hole at the base of the falls. From there, the water exits directly into a 'room of doom' on the river-right side which is filled with wood. There is no way a swimmer would be able to get out of this 'room' without a technical rope rescue.. all in all, a very intimidating, highly technical, and dangerous waterfall.

While Pete and I were strolling by with our boats, Jesse said: "Hmmm. This looks interesting..."

Of course, neither of us knew Jesse was thinking of running this monster, so we had just about completed our portage when I noticed that Jesse was still studying the falls intently.

Now, I have watched Jesse run a number of 'recommended portages', so the alarms started going off in my head and I quickly paddled across the river and scrambled up onto the gorge wall on river-right, directly above the 'room' where the outflow was going. I found a decent anchor point and started working through various rescue scenarios in my head. Best case, I figured I could get a rope in there to him, then toss the rope across the river to Pete and pull him out, if necessary. Worst case, rappel in and stabilize him if he was injured.

Meanwhile, Pete had drifted downstream, blissfully unaware that Jesse was seriously considering running the falls. Suddenly Jesse flashed me a grin and gave a quick thumbs up.. it was game on.

Jesse Coombs gets ready to mix it up with the gnarliest rapid I have ever seen someone run in real life.
This thing was straight out of a Twitch Video..

"PETE!!!" I yelled downstream. "JESSE'S GONNA RUN IT!!!"

"WHAT?!?" Pete yelled back, paddling frantically to get back upstream. I gave Jesse a signal to hold up until Pete could get in position. As he paddled by below me, I yelled: "If he swims out of it, try and get em' before he goes into this thing." (indicating the room of doom below me)..

Pete nodded and paddled up to hover at the edge of the boiling outflow from the falls.

I gave Jesse the thumbs up and he peeled out into the current.

Things happened pretty fast after that..

Jesse took a strong boof stroke at the top but still didn't clear the first powerful hydraulic. It grabbed him and looped back into the hole "OH SHIT.." and he surfed for a second, then clawed his way out somehow, but it had pushed him the wrong way and now he was too far left, and he accelerated down and disappeared into the undercut left wall with a crashing sound halfway down, disappearing for a long second "C'mon Jesse C'mon man.." before levitating out of the foam halfway down the final drop, backwards and somehow upright..

"How does he DO that?!?" I muttered incredulously.

After that it was all fun and games for Jesse, just another hole. He surfed and cartwheeled in the bottom hydraulic for about 45 seconds while Pete yelled encouragement from ten feet away, but it didn't seem like he really needed any, he looked very relaxed, trying this and that, until finally he got the right combination and paddled away with a grin..

Jesse flushes out of the undercut backwards and miraculously upright.
He surfed and cartwheeled in the bottom hole for about 45 seconds before emerging with a smile..

Downstream were a few fun drops, then last really big drop, which I nicknamed 'The Impaler'. This big nasty is definitely worth a look, don't even THINK about trying to run this one blind!

Above 'The Impaler' the creek bends slightly to the left and tumbles happily down a deceptively wide-open stretch of class II for about 50 yards, then the creek abruptly turns to the right and instantly goes from giggly, bubbly class two to foaming, stomping, piton-death, siphon-suck hell-pit gnar-gnar, then goes around another corner and drops over a clean (but very unfortunately located) six-foot ledge...

I portaged along the road above this drop, while Pete and Jesse stayed closer to river level, so they could scout and/or do a seal launch off the boulder sieve in the middle of the drop and run the last ledge. I think Jesse would have run the first part of this rapid, but we were running out of daylight at this point (we got a very late start) so we were moving pretty fast.

Pete runs the second half of the final dangerous drop on Cedar Creek, which I nicknamed 'The Impaler'.
The really nasty part is hidden from view, just behind the boulders.

Below the last big falls the creek rips down through a half mile of steep class IV-V boulder gardens to the confluence of Opal Creek.. there are a few sketchy spots even in this section, so be sure and scout what you can't see!

FLOWS AND BETA: Cedar Creek is generally difficult to access due to snow on the road, especially in the spring. A good minimum flow is 1500-2000 cfs on the Little North Santiam Gauge after a significant rain event with a low snow level. You can easily check the flow by scoping out the runout boulder gardens on the drive up. If these look impassable, go elsewhere. (conversely, if they are covered, remember that the hard sections upstream tend to be very narrow..) I don't think I would venture up on this one much above 2500 cfs, I think it would become exceedingly dangerous.

ACCESS: Follow the directions like you are going to Opal Creek, but instead of turning right to go down to Three Pools, continue straight until you cross a bridge. This is the same bridge you paddled under when you run Opal Creek. Drive upstream about two miles until the road bends to the right. The very runnable first falls will be visible from here, with about 100 yards of steep boulder gardens leading right to the lip. Just downstream is Hellevator: scout this on ahead of time, if for no other reason than to marvel at it's badness.

We drove upstream about a mile to the next bridge, but the creek looked pretty boring with the exception of an interesting drop under the bridge. Of course, you never know with this run, there may have been something else hidden from view up there.. if you do find anything interesting on the upper mile, let me know..

OTHER BETA: This Creek was first run by Corvallis paddlers Eric Brown and April Hoffman in January 1991. Not surprisingly, Eric ran every drop and likely has the only no-portage descent of Cedar; this was back before Hellevator had a log in it.