High Water and Open Boats on Crab Orchard Creek, By Robert Martin

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

I got to Frozen Head late that night, alone. I went up a day earlier than my group because of the deluge the plateau had gotten the day before. "Surely, their would be some boaters I could hook up with in the morning." I reasoned. There were boaters alright: The campground was full of whitewater canoes from Ohio! "I'll be the only kayaker... Damn it!" I thought.

The next morning I went over and asked if I could paddle with them. I could tell they were nervous listening to their discussion about the Oakdale gage being so high. They decided to try Crab Orchard Creek and yes, I was welcome to join them.

The leader was an older gray haired dude known as "the Vulture". He seemed very tense as we left the campground, twelve open boaters and I. The gauge at the put in was three feet, "not bad" I thought ( Crab Orchard washes out at high water ).

Nevertheless, you could feel the tension as we put on, The Vulture took the lead and set a blistering pace. It was white knuckle paddling, no catching eddies, no play, just blast through everything. We finally came to a perfect wave, with a nice big eddy next to it, I had to stop and surf! When I turned around a minute later, I saw the last boat disappear around the bend.

I gave chase, and when I caught up with the pack, all twelve canoes were lined up "bow to stern" and still paddling, hell-bent for the take out. We came to a sharp bend to left, and just before the Vulture disappeared round the bend he began flailing his paddle furiously.

The next guy rounded the bend, same thing. Now the boaters in the back were freaking out, but there were no eddies and the current was to fast to upstream ferry, so inevitably they were swept around the bend and sure enough when they saw whatever it was down stream, they panicked, flailed, then disappeared. I hung way back, trying to think of what to do and decided to go for it.

As I rounded the bend I saw one of the strangest sights I have ever seen on a river. A big pine had fallen across the creek, completely blocking the flow. There were twelve big, colorful boats pilled up against to tree, in midstream. The pile was a mass moving of arms, legs, heads and torsos, seemingly unconnected. With the contrast of rainbow colors, mixed with body parts, all I could think of was, "PICASSO! VIVA PICASSO." The pile of boats dammed the river enough to create an upstream eddy. I pulled into the eddy, got out of my boat and began assisting the Vulture in extracting "boats and bodies" from the pile.

No one was hurt, no boat was totaled, but I'm sure they all had to wash their polypro that night. My only regret was not having my camera out. By the time I determined everyone was OK, the Kodak moment had passed.