By Lisa Jeidy
  Co-conspirators: Jeff Hazboun and Nico Zegre
  Middle Santiam Wilderness run, Oregon Cascade Mountains

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The Middle Fork of the Santiam River starts in the Santiam State forest and should end fourteen miles later on Weyerhauser land. However, the timber company does not allow access to the road where the river becomes a lake, so you must paddle six miles across a reservoir to a boat launch at the end of your trip. Because of this, the river is usually done as an overnighter, or in one very, very long day.

The shuttle for this run is long, and it is almost impossible to catch the river with water before the snow melts off the roads. So, you can add a hike in through the snow to the paddle out across the lake. Needless to say, this section is not done very often, and then only by adventurous locals looking for something new.

Two friends and I ran our shuttle and were heading to the put in when our one-lane road up a canyon ended in about a foot of thick deep snow heading up the road as far as we could see. It was pouring rain like a Hemingway novel.

We'd already dickered away half our day debating water levels and decided the run could be worth it even if the water was low. After looking at a map we decided that our devotion to this run extended to hiking a few miles to the put-in. The maximum hike looked like it would be about four miles, and as far as we could see down the road, we could drag our boats over the snow.

Nico Zegre suits up for the long hike in.

Well, we parked somewhere around milepost seven and set off up the road, dragging our boats loaded with overnight gear. A couple miles later the snow ended and the boats went onto our backs.

Nick only had rodeo socks for the hike, I had cobbled together a pack with NRS straps and a life jacket, and Jeff has a vertebral problem that generally isn't made better by carrying heavy things around. The way I figured it, if you combined the three of us together we had maybe one well-prepared kayaker.

A little while after running out of snow we also ran out of mileposts.. maybe around 12.5 or 13, I threw down my boat. None of the roads had signs anymore, and we were worried when we turned off on a trail ( one I thought I remembered from the map ) that the road we should really be taking was the one we'd left behind.

We had no map of course.


It seemed that we'd underestimated the distance to the river, but the description in the guidebook didn't seem to fit with the turn we'd taken to get to the water. The road we thought we should have stayed on obviously continued to climb away from the valley and the river. So, we decided to climb down into what appeared to be a river valley below us.

Our decision to descend could be summed up as: "We'll get to the water somehow.. We know it's down there, right?"

We followed a hiking trail and reached the river as darkness set in. Hoping for at least a decent campsite, we paddled half a mile and camped on a comfortable flat shelf, completely unsure of where we were.

After a half-hearted attempt to start a fire, we let it sputter out and sat in darkness on an upturned boat under a tarp, the rain still falling..

The next morning started with a lively debate as to where we actually were. The channel was wide and cobbled, spanned in a few places by huge trees. As we proceeded downstream the river narrowed and the rapids became continuous and gradually more difficult.

After at least five miles we hit our first bridge over the river, putting us at least within the intended stretch of river, but we hadn't seen Pyramid Creek, which was one of our major landmarks. If we'd put in upstream as far as South Pyramid Creek, which is a much smaller tributary, we might have as much as twenty-five miles to paddle that day. We debated, but we never stopped paddling..

All things considered, the whitewater slipped by fast. All of the rapids on this section are stacked close together, with maybe a fifty yards of slackwater between them. Most of the drops were long boulder gardens with the occasional big gaping hole, or a ledge that would crop up when you realize that you have been holding your breath maneuvering your heavy creekboat down a quarter-mile long rapid.. Then you breathe, look at the scenery, look downstream and start picking lines again..

We didn't get very many photos while we were on the river.. we were having too much fun!

Here and there we stopped to guzzle water and snack, but we were pushing downriver fast to get to the reservoir. Suddenly the continuous boogie-water slackened, and we had run our last drop. The reservoir pushed back with a headwind, glaring sunlight, and ugly stumps.

The author on the six-mile flat water paddle out of the Middle Fork

We paddled under the Weyerhauser bridge and sighed.

A motorboat tooled by and we sighed again.

Six miles later we pulled up at the boat launch. Nick stumbled away up to his car and drove it a hundred yards down to the boat ramp.

We lifted the boats in pairs, one person on each end, tenderly. On our way to burgers and fries we studied the map intently. The path we took to the river might be the one on the map, might even be the one the guidebook intended with its vague description. But carrying one's boat and gear six miles in the pouring rain and then paddling twenty something miles the next day...

I don't know... I still just don't know. After pulling up 2005 aerial photographs and 1:24000 topo maps at work, I still don't know where we put in. I don't know how far I paddled or carried my boat on my first kayak overnighter, but that's how it goes sometimes I guess..

The entire Middle Santiam wilderness run, starting at Pyramid Creek on the right side of the image and ending with the reservoir on the left.

For directions to the put-in and take-out, as well as other info, pick up the newest edition of the Oregon paddling bible, 'Soggy Sneakers' by Pete Giordano and the WKCC. This is a book no serious Northwest paddler should be without. You can pick this book up at your local paddling shop, or on