Marion Creek

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I suppose sometimes you can ascertain the character of a creek by just looking at a small part of it, but often what you don't see makes for a very long day!

Dan Coyle, Tim Goodfellow and I briefly scouted Marion Creek on a whim this last winter and what little we saw looked really good- a couple of waterfalls and some long slides. We ran out of daylight while we were scrambling around in the brush so we vowed to return...

Dan and I finally ran Marion Creek today and it was one of those experiences that you are glad you had but hope you don't have too often. On the map Marion looked good- a decent gradient with the map showing four waterfalls in the middle of the run. This combined with the sweet ledge slides we had seen during our brief scout had our expectations high. It was a beautiful sunny spring day as we drove up into a heavily forested valley on the flanks of Mount Jefferson. We hit snow about three miles up so we dragged the boats for forty five minutes up through a foot of semi frozen snow until the road ended. This was hot, sweaty work but we knew we would soon be rewarded.

We put on and immediately encountered a fallen tree across the creek- portage number one. We got back in, paddled what seemed like ten feet, and were out again for log portage number two. I eddied out way too high and had to fight my way through the tightly woven underbrush- it was horribly thick and I was sweating heavily and cursing profusely by the time I got back in my boat. I looked about wistfully for a pool to roll in but there weren't any so I baked in the hot sun. In the first mile there was an astounding variety of wood in the creek- logs, stumps, sticks, underbrush, roots, you name it. Luckily both Dan and I have a pretty high tolerance for running wood choked drops or we would probably have had to walk out. Despite these minor annoyances we were in high spirits because it was such a beautiful day and we were paddling, after all. Besides, it could only get better, right?

Dan heads for a creek-wide logjam on Marion Creek

One mile and six portages later we came to our first horizon line. We scouted and it looked really fun- a nine foot dome shaped ledge with a long steep slide runout dropped out of sight about a hundred feet downstream. This was definitely the best drop on upper Marion, though we decided not to run it. If you do run it enjoy yourself because it is the last thing you will ever do- the long slide terminates with a fifty foot unrunnable waterfall. We got to the lip of the second falls and the view was amazing. The part of the falls we could see poured onto rocks, so I started contemplating the difficult portage down the cliff face. "Wait." Dan said. "I'm going to make sure it's not runnable." I paused. "It's not runnable." I said, but he was already gone, shimmying down a log that extended down the cliff face like a firemans pole. I got chills up my back watching him- I rock climbed for years and I don't think I could bring myself to repeat those moves...

Eventually Dan worked his way down the cliff and then crept out onto a log in the middle of the creek and stood for a long while staring intently at the most completely unrunnable falls I have ever seen. Then he worked his way across the boulder garden at the base of the falls, leaping and swimming from boulder to boulder until he got to the other side of the creek. I think at this point he was just goofing off, but there was no way to be sure.

Dan ponders Upper Gooch Falls on Marion Creek...

Finally he climbed back up and we roped the boats down the cliff and continued downstream, where we encoutered another horizon line. This was the ledge we had seen on our first scouting trip, and we both ran left with no problems. I purposely went in deep, completely submerging just to cool off because this was the first real pool we had encountered.

Dan runs lower Gooch Falls

Downstream were more fun slides and then we had one of those unforgettable paddling moments- we rounded the corner and a majestic elk was crossing the creek, oblivious to the brightly colored water creatures watching it in awe. "Did you see that?" Dan said, eyes wide. At this point my hopes were high for Marion, but I hoped too soon. Just downstream we ran the first of many uniform ledge drops courtesy of the Forest Service. I thought it very considerate of the government to create rapids where there were none before by cabling logs in the river, though the loose cable and other wood in some of the drops made even this section tiresome and dangerous.

After a half mile or so of this we called it quits because we were past the falls, so we didn't see any reason to continue dealing with all of the Forest Services fish habitat. Marion had only taken us three hours to run, so we had plenty of daylight left- Plenty of time to scout another obscure creek for next week....