Silver Creek

Easter 2005 high water event ( All-time record high rainfall for March 26th and 27th.. )

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After one of the all-time driest fall seasons on record, there was finally relief on the horizon. It was Wednesday, March 23rd, and several huge storms were forming over the Pacific. Hundreds of kayakers from Oregon and Washington watched, waited, and hoped.. would this finally bring an end to the drought?

When the storms hit, they quickly made up for lost time. Excited meteorologists predicted between two and three inches of rain, and said that this one weekend worth of rain could make up over twenty percent of our shortfall!

Saturday it was pouring but the ground was so parched nothing had come up yet. Gabe and Nick were in town for Easter so we headed up to the Columbia Gorge and bombed down the Upper Wind River. By the time we got off the river, it was milky and rising fast; Sunday promised to be epic!

Saturday night I rallied the troops: Everything was going off which meant one thing: Silver Creek was running! On this particular adventure I was joined by Ryan Windsor and Jonathan Fowlkes, neither of whom had run Silver. "You need lots of rain for this one.." I said.. "It's gonna be sweet.."

After several delays we arrived at the put-in around 1 p.m. We had a long way to go and I was fairly sure we would run out of daylight, but that's what headlamps are for, I always say..

When we left the parking lot and started down the trail I noted that the creek was muddy and had risen so it was level with the asphalt hiking trail where it goes under the road bridge. "Hmmm.." I thought to myself. "We've got a whooole bunch of water in here.."

Jon Fowlkes ( foreground ) and Ryan Windsor ( background ) on the hike in to Upper Silver.

The hike in was even more awe-inspiring than usual with an estimated thousand cfs going over the big falls at the put in. The trail circles around a huge cave behind the falls, which makes the park worth visiting during high water, even if you aren't interested in paddling the creek.

The view from the enormous 'room' behind the big falls. The trail where I took the photo of Ryan and Jon is visible in the background.. This is an incredible place to be when the water is high, definitely worth a visit!

Just downstream of the falls ( where we put in last time I ran the creek ) is a dangerous logjam. The only safe route past this mess was on the far right, but at lower flows there might be more options. Below here it was wide open, fast and full of waves all the way to the first big one, Twin Falls.

Unfortunately the usual scouting and kayaking line on the creek-left side is now blocked by a huge old-growth log that also diverts most of the water towards the middle of the falls. At this flow the middle line looked awful, so we all opted to walk around this drop after much careful deliberation and head-shaking..

Jonathan and Ryan scouting Twin Falls. The left-side scouting eddy and slide are now blocked by a large log, forcing a run down the broken, evil-looking middle of the falls. At this flow there was no reasonable line over this drop.

There is no way to gain access to the creek below Twin Falls if you choose to portage, so we ended up carrying our boats down to 106-foot Middle North Falls, which is a mandatory portage..

Two hikers ( in red, top left) peer over Middle Silver Falls. This drop is a mandatory portage.

Downstream of Middle North Falls the creek enters a vertical-walled gorge which contains a two-tiered twenty foot drop known as Drake Falls. The usual routine is to drop your boats at the access trail that winds down to the base of Middle North and then continue down the trail to scout Drake from the tourist overlook a hundred feet above the falls.

Drake is tricky because there are two logs in it and there is no way to scout the drop from creek level. At this flow the logs were nearly covered but much more dangerous than usual due to the high volume of water piling into the rootwad.

Neither Ryan or I wanted any part of Drake at this flow, but Jon decided to give it a go. Ryan and I portaged and then I hiked with some difficulty back upstream to the base of Drake Falls with a rope and camera.

It took a long time for Jon to walk back up to Middle North, hike down to the creek, and get to the lip, so by the time he got there I was totally unprepared to take the photo and I shot it a second too late.. Jon had a perfect line, lining up on a small wave-hole at the top of the falls and threading the needle between the two logs. I shot the photo below when he had just subbed-out on the first tier of the falls..

Jonathan Fowlkes squeezes between the logs at Drake Falls ( taken a second too late!).

Just downstream from Drake Falls is Lower North Falls, marked by an unmistakable horizon line. Again we got out to scout, and after I described the line that worked well in the past Ryan walked back up to probe while Jon and I got ready below the falls.

Ryan came down, laid on his deck, and dove deep at the base of the falls for about a three count before reappearing below. He paddled over to us with a big grin and said: "That is the funnest drop I have ever run."

While Ryan and I got set, Jon hiked back upstream and paddled down. As he dropped over the lip, he took a steering stroke that slowed him down and angled his boat slightly. When he hit the bottom he struck a nearly invisible log extending off the left wall which caused him to get looped back into the hole, which started violently cartwheeling and surfing him..

"Oh Shit!" I yelled as I ran for my boat. This was bad news. By the time I got into the pool Jon was out of the hole, much to my relief, because there was no way I could've paddled across the enormous boil at the base of the falls to reach him if he would've needed it.

Jonathan Fowlkes squares up on the bottom hole at Lower North Falls.

Fowlkes, between cartwheels at the bottom of Lower North Falls..

Downstream was more gorgeous old-growth scenery and some smaller, fun drops including Crag Falls, which is once again full of wood on the right side where all of the water was going. Luckily we had enough water to scrape down the far left side, but at normal flows this one is a portage.

Soon we reached the bedrock formations and the sharp right turn marking Dobo Falls. Again, I talked about my previous experience with this drop, and the deceptive way it tends to funnel you to the far right side of the hole. On our previous trip ( at about half the flow ) we had caught an eddy against the creek-right wall and then ferried to the left for the boof, but the eddy wasn't there at this flow.

The move was a boof and I can't boof drops this big anymore because of my back, so I portaged on the left while Ryan and Jon played Paper-Rock-Scissors to see who would go first. Ryan lost, so he was probe again.

Ryan peeled out and ferried to the the middle of the creek so he could drive left, but the falls funneled him to the right and he corrected perfectly with a strong delayed boof, shown below.. He got flipped by the violent boils at the base of the falls but snapped off a quick roll.

Ryan Windsor digs in for the boof at Dobo Falls..

Jon corrected off of Ryan's line with an even bigger delayed boof and managed to land totally flat, not even getting his head wet. Very nice!

Just downstream of Dobo is a creek-wide 6-foot ledge hole that closely resembles a low-head dam. At this flow the hole was terminal, but there was a thin line down the far right side through a violent, surging pile. Ryan went first and got stopped by the hole but managed to pull himself out, so Jon and I hit it with everything we had and made it though without problems( I didn't remember this drop at all from my previous trip, so it must be much more benign at lower flows ).

Below this ledge drop the creek was playful but uneventful for the next couple of miles. We surfed some big waves but didn't linger because we had so many miles left to go.

At this point I was a little confused about the location of Dirty Falls, the last big drop on the run. I thought it might have been the ledge below Dobo, but I wasn't sure.

Luckily when the creek steepened and dropped out of sight Ryan and Jon caught an eddy and got out to scout. At this point I had been surfing upstream, so when I arrived I was relieved that they hadn't just bombed over the falls, because the hole was simply massive at this flow..

On our previous trip we had gone with the flow on the tongue down the right wall, but at this flow there was a large, violent wavehole guarding the entrance to the falls which meant it was nearly impossible to run this one in control. After pondering the strong gravitational pull of the hydraulic for a minute or so, we all portaged along a slight trail on the creek-left side..

The hideous hole at the base of 12-foot Dirty Falls. This sneaky, dangerous (at least at high water) drop appears after a couple of miles of class two on the lower section. There is an enormous wave-hole guarding the entrance to this falls at high water, making it nearly impossible to run this drop in control. In the past ( at lower flows ) we have run this drop down the right wall, going with the flow through the hole.

Below Dirty there is one more class IV drop known as 'Red House Rapid' because of the red building near the top. Red House is about fifty yards long and consists of a series of small ledges and slides which lead up to a final horizon line. This last drop had a massive keeper hole at this flow, so we battled the crazy surging eddies at the lip of the final drop and bashed through the weaker right side without problems.

Fowlkes runs the final ledge-hole in Red House rapid. This long rapid ends with this hole (which is the final horizon line when you view the rapid from upstream). At this flow the far right side was the only safe line.

Below Red House the rapids fade away and are replaced with lots of fun waves and playspots, but we were in a hurry so we just kept paddling. Eventually we hit the flatwater at the reservoir, and fifteen minutes later we were taking out, just as darkness fell..

Happy Silver Creek boaters, Jon Fowlkes ( left ), Ryan Windsor ( right ).

ACCESS AND PRECAUTIONS: Keep a very low profile on this run and respect the delicate ecosystem around this creek. Silver Creek park gets a lot of foot traffic, so ascending and descending from the trail to the creek is prohibited in most places. Be sure you know the portage routes beforehand!

If you value your life, do NOT put in and run the drop visible from the parking lot, because the next horizon line is a 130 foot waterfall. A second 110 foot falls lurks a half mile downstream from Twin Falls, take out well upstream on creek-right when you hear the falls.

Scout Drake Falls during the portage of the second 110 footer. Drake is about a quarter mile downstream in a vertical-walled gorge and can only be viewed from a tourist overlook extending out over the gorge. Do not attempt Drake without scouting because there are logs and a nasty root-wad wedged in this drop that could maul you or worse if you miss the line.

Dirty Falls closely resembles a low-head dam and is very dangerous at high water. This falls is well downstream of the other drops and tends to sneak up on you because the run is class II for a few miles until you get there. Eddy out far upstream on the creek-left side and scout by following a well-worn portage trail on the left side. In the past we have run this one down the tongue against the right wall, but at high water this line is extremely difficult or impossible to hit. A missed line here will send you into a huge, terminal hole at the base of this falls.

FLOWS: The weekend we ran Upper Silver Oregon broke an all-time record for rainfall for Easter Weekend. The Clackamas at Three Lynx crested at 12,000 cfs while we were on the run, the Mollala at Canby was at 6000 cfs, and Thomas Creek at Scio was at 5,300 cfs ( see flow graphs below, the time we were on the creek is highlighted in blue ). This was a great flow for Silver Creek!

The flows on the Clackamas at Three Lynx while we were on the creek.

The flows on Thomas Creek at Scio while we were on the creek.