Drift Creek, Oregon Coast Range, Wilson River Drainage
By Jason Rackley

Torture Factor: High  

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"This seems like a bad idea.."

"Like we ever have good ideas."

"It's been awhile, but it happens sometimes."

"Hey: How 'bout that Drift Creek?"

Pete Giordano and I had a vague plan to explore the Oregon Coast range that day, with no specific destination. We finally settled on the tributaries of the Wilson River, plotting out all the likely suspects on a map. In spite of this lack of a coherent direction ( or perhaps because of it) we attracted something of a crowd, including Jon Fowlkes, Jesse Coombs, James Bagley Jr, and Mike Long.

We set the rendezvous at the usual place, the McDonalds of Hwy 26. The word on the street was, bring your rock boat. We'll be exploring some marginal tributary of the Wilson and flows are a total unknown. Everyone started digging through their pile of broken kayaks, looking for the one most likely to survive another round..

Jon rolled in first, sporting his much-abused yet still-faithful Gus. The bottom of his boat was laced with cracks, so he had been forced to take drastic measures and apply Pete's B.B.P.S ( Ballistic Boat Patching System ). Another Frankenboat rises from the wreckage..

Bring your rock boat: Another Frankenboat rises from the wreckage..

The rest of the crew arrived shortly thereafter, and after gobbling up some empty calories we hit the road.

The beauty of having no plan is that expectations are generally rock-bottom, literally and figuratively. Today was no exception. Everyone was mentally locked-and-loaded, fully prepared to spend the day groveling down some log-infested torturefest.

We wandered around for awhile looking at stuff, but nothing seemed to pan out. Too woody, too low, too flat, too short. It was like sketchy Tuesday at a third-tier dance club.

"How 'bout that Drift Creek?" I said finally, studying the gazetteer. "It looks like it's in a canyon, and there's some gradient in there too."

"Look, normal people." Someone said as an SUV bristling with playboats blew by, bound for the Wilson and guaranteed good times.

"Sucks to be them." I thought, as I squinted at the contour lines on the map. "Drift is maybe 300 fpm in places.."

So we headed up Drift Creek Canyon. The road immediately ran away from the creek, which is always a good sign. We caught some glimpses here and there, but nothing definitive.

A first look at what we were ( somewhat ) sure was Drift Creek..

It surprised no one that we were soon lost. Well, maybe lost was too strong a word for it because we knew three things for sure:

1. We knew we were probably still in Oregon.

2. We knew we were somewhat north of Wilson River, but we weren't exactly sure what creek drainage we were in.

3. We assumed the canyon somewhat west of us contained Drift Creek; yes, it was probably Drift Creek down there.. Or it could be this unnamed tributary of Drift Creek, or something else entirely..

As we wandered around the usual web of logging roads confounded our best attempts to navigate them. Our maps were six months old = obsolete. Of course, when the maps fail you can always rely on the old standby, terrain association. We knew we were in the right area because the creek ( or what we assumed was the creek ) was due west. Finally we managed to find a spur road that seemed to be going somewhat generally downward.

Of course, the road soon ended with a logging landing, well above the creek, but there was a trail that led generally down, and downstream on the far side of the landing.

"We're gonna hike down this trail and see what there is to see." Mike and Jon said.

"Isn't this how horror movies start?" I wondered aloud, but they were already gone.

That left Pete, James, Jesse, and myself on the landing, with Pete working the map and the rest of us milling about uselessly. Since we had now split up, it was no surprise that once Jon and Mike were out of earshot Pete said: "Hey, I think I know where we are!"

Of course.

He was studying the map intently, and sure enough, it looked like we were actually somewhat more north than we had originally thought.

We decided drive back up the road and take the fork we had passed earlier, to see if Pete was right.

"What about Mike and Jon?" Someone said.

Hmmm.. What about Mike and Jon.. Mike and Jon, Mike and Jon.. "Well, they've probably been hacked up by now." I said optimistically. "If we're lucky the crazy dude broke his machete and will have to go back to his cave for another one.."

"Or we could split up and wander off through the woods, calling their names randomly until we get hacked up too." Someone said, getting into the spirit. The trees seemed to close in a little.

Then I had a bright idea. I went back to Petes car and grabbed a magic marker from the map kit. Mike's green salto made a perfect canvas, and I had soon drawn a perfect scale strip map for them follow when they got back on the bottom of his boat.

We went this way..

We headed back up from the logging landing and were soon headed down into the canyon on the side road Pete had identified. Everything was tracking now on the maps, so spirits rose. Soon we identified a likely spot for our descent to the creek, which we could hear several hundred vertical feet below us.

As we were unloading gear, Mike and Jon came roaring up and piled out. Soon we had a rope lowering system in place ( the descent was very steep ) and were working our way down.

At the top of the canyon wall, everyone still in high spirits..

It took about a half hour to get all of our boats down to the creek, and once we did we were dismayed by loggy mess we were faced with.

It was at this point that I added a permanent new rule to my exploratory creekboating playbook. Always, ALWAYS send out a scout before committing to the uppermost reaches of a new run. If you don't you might find yourself hiking all the way down to the take out. This isn't always practical ( and I have completely ignored this rule since Drift Creek, so I'm not sure if this qualifies as a rule for me, maybe it's more of a recommended guideline ) but it is a very good idea.

Back to the debacle.

Well, now we had a choice. Haul our gear back up the canyon wall ( fun factor of low to extra low ) or work our way downstream until side tribs added enough water to make the creek boatable ( fun factor of medium*x, where x=the potential fun factor of a big clean waterfall or similar large drop ).

We selected the medium*x fun factor with minimal discussion and started downstream. We had floated about fifty yards when suddenly the creek disappeared over a large horizon line. We got out and found a beautiful curtain falls which dropped into a big mess of wood. There was a somewhat imaginary, if-you-had-magical-powers JesseCoombs-esque line possible down through the logs and froth that Jesse studied for awhile, then shrugged it off.

Portaging required some ropework and consumed a little time, or you could do the long hike and scramble on the right hand side. I opted for the long hike so I could get down first and get photos, and Mike was close behind. I reached the bottom first, and then I heard a lot of noice above me ( frantic yelling and cursing, crashing, etc ) and I dove for cover as a large rotten log went flying by, followed by Mike Long's penguin camera case, which bounded down and landed in the creek. A few seconds later Mike emerged from the brush just above me, covered in sticks, leaves and moss and looking all wild-eyed, but intact. We were able to retrieve the camera immediately, and luckily it emerged unscathed.

The next sizable drop was Cadillac rapid. We named it Cadillac not because it was any good, but because of the large seventies-era Cadillac sitting in the creek that someone had rolled off the cliffs high above us. I checked the car for bodies but didn't find any.

Below Cadillac the creek was full of wood but otherwise unmemorable. We paddled and portaged our way down. Soon we arrived at a truly huge horizon line, and the creek seemed to narrow somewhat. With high hopes we got out to scout, but were immediately appalled by the spectacle below.

The left-side canyon wall had collapsed here in spectacular fashion, filling the creek with large boulders, dirt, and enough logs to feed a sawmill for a month. The entire creek dove under this monumental mess, and the resulting mess was completely unrunnable. The portage took a long time, and was somewhat difficult.

A somewhat difficult portage..

Halfway done, looking back upstream..

There was a somewhat fun rapid downstream, but that did little to reduce our flagging morale. The x-factor falls was looking increasingly unlikely, and soon we were below the gradient and into the flatness. The creek became very wide and started flowing through a series of gravel bars, which meant we pretty much ran out of water. With a mile and a half to go James decided to climb out of the canyon. He later described a rather harrowing ascent as the walls neared vertical with moss and few anchor points. He almost fell a few times, but he figured that was less effort than portaging down the rest of the creek like the rest of us were doing.

Soon we reached the Wilson. It was very nice to have some water, so we took a right turn and bombed down through the Upper Devils Lake Fork and were soon at the take out bridge.

The long-sought after X-Factor Falls.. A No Go..

Jon's B.B.P.S.. Another No Go..

This is the part of the trip report where I'm supposed to drone on and on about alll the valuable lessons I learned on this trip. Well, since it seems like I never actually learn any of the valuable lessons that I'm presented with on kayaking debacles, so I won't go into all of that.

How about this: I figure you're gonna have one of these a year if you're out poking around in the woods, the runs nobody ever talks about on the blogs, the runs everyone tries to forget about. The thing is, even though you never hear about these kinds of days, they happen more often than the good exploratories you hear about..

Ok, so here's a lesson: You've gotta pay your dues if you want to find something new that is good.

New and good is very hard to find.

New and Bad? That's easy.