Ah, Upper Siouxon.. This run is another Washington classic, but it also bears the distinction of being one of the most elusive creeks in the Northwest.
Upper Su is a lot like Upper Quartzville, only it has bigger drops and is harder to catch: When it has water, there is too much snow to reach the put in. When there is no snow, there is no water..
A difficult problem to solve.
In December 2004 we did an exploratory run down Upper Su after snow levels shot up, but an expected rainstorm failed to materialize, and we had very low water. On that trip we were thrilled to find a wonderland of non-stop bedrock, slides, and big falls, so this year we were determined to run Upper Siouxon with good flows..
Everything looked good that Sunday morning. We had four times more water than last year, and the snow level had been rising and falling around 3,500 feet. This is approximately the elevation of the trailhead where you begin the hike down to the creek, so our prospects looked pretty good.
It all started with me sitting drowsily at my computer at 5:45 a.m., doing a half-assed conference call with James Bagley on my cell phone on one ear and Jon Fowlkes on the house phone on the other ear..
"We should do Battle Axe." James said in one ear.
"Do you think Hoffstadt is running?" Jon said in the other ear.
"Yes." I said.
"So, Battle Axe?" James said.
"Alright! Hoffstadt!" Jon said.
"What about Upper Siouxon?" I said..
"What's the snow level?" James said in one ear.
"I haven't done that one, sounds interesting." Jon said in the other ear.
"I wouldn't worry about it, I think it's gonna be ok." I said ( to James ).
"Huh?" Jon said.
No wonder we ended up having a debacle..
We met at the Jantzen Beach Safeway at 8 a.m. and headed north, arriving at the take out about an hour later. We decided to drive to the put-in in my little commuter Toyota Tercel ( a.k.a. The Terkle ) because it has the lower clearance, so if we hit snow we would be able to make a 'well-informed decision' about whether or not to continue.
We started heading towards West Peak and things looked good. There was no sign of snow, and we were making good time. We arrived at West Peak and drove around the north side and there was a dusting of snow on the road, but nothing too serious.
Then, about a mile before the large four-way intersection, the snow got deep. No problem, the Terkle has narrow tires and front-wheel drive, so I started plowing my way up the road. We made it another half-mile or so, then had to stop and put on chains.
"I can't believe this car is still going." James said, as we chained up.
"Trust in the power of the Terkle." I said. "This car does really well in the snow, unless it gets high-centered."
Speed is the key with new, wet snow. You've gotta punch your way through, so we started up the hill as fast as I could manage, plowing our way up and trying not to slide off the road. It was touch-and-go there a few times, until I felt the dreaded loss of power that comes with a high-center and then we stopped cold.
"Shit." I muttered. "We're stuck.."
We got out, broke out the shovel, and started digging out the Terkle. We had given it our best shot, but we were still four miles away from the put-in trailhead, and there was little hope of making it there. We had just started to make some progress when I heard the sound of engines coming up the road.
"Oh oh." I muttered as three jacked-up trucks rolled into sight. We were totally blocking the road, and it didn't look like that would change anytime soon. The trucks stopped, and their occupants piled out to look at our mess.
"Hey!" The driver of the lead truck said. "Looks like you're stuck pretty good."
His grin said what his words didn't: You dumbasses.. what are you DOING up here with a rig like that ?!?
"Yeah, we're pretty stupid." I admitted. "We're trying to get over this ridge so we can hike in to a creek."
Now he was intrigued. "Ok.." He said. "I can pull you back down out of the way if you want, or I can pull you up the ridge, doesn't matter."
Pull us up the ridge ?!?   That sounded.. well, it sounded like the worst thing we could possibly do. Last time I checked, snow gets deeper the higher you go. The smartest thing to do would be to thank these friendly locals for helping us out, let them pull us out, and go back to more Terkle-friendly pastures.
Of course, that would be the smart thing to do, the safe thing, so we did the opposite.
"Wow, you'd pull us up to the put-in?!?" I said. "That'd be great!!"
Jon and James just grinned; it wasn't their car..
Getting ready to hook up the Terkle to be pulled up the ridge..
Our rescuers had no problem getting around us, they just stomped on the gas and plowed into the ditch, flinging snow, dirt every which way. Soon we had the towline firmly attached, and Jon hopped in the back of the lead truck. Once we were set, my car lurched forward as he gunned the engine, and we were on our way.
We 'slid' up the road, the underside of my car sliding along the snow like a bloated toboggan. I could feel the floorboard flexing under my feet, which is just.. wrong.
"Well, the bottom of my car is going to be really clean after this.." I rationalized aloud. James just grinned. Again, not his car..
Jon enjoying a classic "Thank God I didn't bring my car up here" moment as we get dragged up the ridge by some friendly locals..
According to my shuttle directions from last year, we still had about four miles to go to the trailhead. It was obvious the Terkle wasn't going to get us there, so we started debating whether we should add four miles to the already long hike. It didn't help that there were dark gray clouds on the horizon, and a light trickle of snow had started drifting down.. The storm predicted for that night was threatening to arrive ahead of schedule.
"I'll take you up there." The driver of the lead truck said, looking amused.
Take us to the put-in ?!?   That sounded.. well, it sounded like the worst thing we could possibly do. Last time I checked, your car doesn't get any less stuck as more snow falls. The smartest thing to do would be to thank these friendly locals for helping us out, let them pull us out, and go back to more Terkle-friendly pastures.
Of course, that would be the smart thing to do, the safe thing, so again, we did the opposite.
"Wow, you'd drive us up to the put-in?!?" I said. "That'd be great!!"
Jon and James just grinned; it wasn't their car..
We quickly loaded the gear and James and I hopped in the back of the lead truck. After consulting with the driver, we headed up the road. It was getting cold fast, and I instantly regretted not putting on my drysuit. I huddled down, trying to make sense of the rapidly dissolving piece of paper which contained our precious shuttle directions.
James, enjoying a classic "Thank God I didn't bring my car up here" moment as we cross-load the gear..
We quickly left the other two trucks behind ( one of which Jon was riding in, at least we hoped he was.. ). As we bounced and fish-tailed our way up the road my body temperature continued to plummet as overhanging branches dumped snow on us and a vicious cross-wind tore through my thin layer of fleece.
Up in the cab, the locals were having a great time, with the heater was cranked up high and the radio blaring. This was the kind of thing they had come up here looking for..
Soon we rounded a long, gradual bend in the road and ground to a halt. Ahead of us the road sloped off at an angle, and with this much snow there was no way to safely get past it.
The driver rolled the window down. "This is it." He said. "We're not going to try that."
"We could hike from here." I said doubtfully. "I think we are only about a mile from the trailhead." My 'map' was now an unreadable, soggy mess, but I was pretty sure we were on the right road.
Around and around we went:
"Assuming we are on the right road, I don't think we are going to be able to get the Terkle out of here when we're done.."
"It's getting colder, if that snowstorm comes in, we're screwed.."
"Maybe we could just get these guys to tow us around in our kayaks on these roads.."
and so on..
The end of the line.. two miles past the intersection, the road had partially collapsed and was sloping down into the canyon.. A no-go with this much snow.
In the end, it came down to:
1. Lose a toe or three hiking up to the put-in, have some fun boating, then spend the night digging out my car and/or getting our toes hacked off at the local hospital..
2. Turn around, head back down to the heated car, and bug the @#$$# out, and never, never, EVER tell anyone about this..
Amazingly, reason prevailed. It's surprising what the prospect of losing large chunks of flesh will do to your motivation levels, not to mention the possibility of losing my loyal Terkle until next Spring..
Gotta have the Terkle.
So, we turned around and headed back down to the intersection..
Oh well, maybe next year..
James, looking back up the Siouxon Creek drainage as we begin the long, cold slog back down to the intersection. At this point, we still had about two miles to go to reach the trailhead that marks the hike to the put-in.
When we arrived back at the intersection, we loaded the gear back onto my car and started er' up, the heat pouring through the vents feeling like heaven on earth. I was able to get the car turned around on the packed snow of the intersection, but of course I immediately got stuck again when I reached the main road.
Again, the local boys came to the rescue, hooking up their tow line and pulling us back down the ridge until my tires were able to catch traction again and we stopped to unhook.
We thanked the local crew profusely, tried to offer them beer money ( which they refused ) and watched them rumble off down the hill, looking for deeper snow, better roads, and perhaps some more hapless boaters, stuck in the snow..
We followed them down the hill, stopping here and there to peer down into the headwaters of Canyon Creek, Washington.. Of course, we spent the rest of the afternoon scouting out possible exploratory runs, but that is another story..
"Hey, what creek is that down there?!?" Jon, looking for trouble in the Upper upper upper Canyon Creek drainage..
James ponders the only casualty of the day.. my chains, torn up and wrapped around my axle..
The crew of friendly locals who hauled our sorry asses up one side of the mountain and down the other..
From left to right: John Francis, Mark Becker, Mike Becker.. Thanks guys!