It has been said that there is nothing more dangerous than a bored kayaker (especially to themselves), and I would tend to agree with that bit of boating wisdom.
We were in the midst of a record low water year, a year that will be remembered with much grumbling and profanity in years to come, a long, dark, sunny year plagued with a profound lack of rain and a bunch of bored kayakers looking for something (anything) to do.
Then John Whaley called me.
I'm pretty sure John has scouted every moving body of water in the Pacific Northwest, and of course he had plenty of runs in mind for that bone-dry weekend. Got your eye on a remote first descent? You'd better hustle because he's probably halfway to the put-in as we speak. He has a very long list, and your secret creek is probably crossed off somewhere near the bottom. Anyway, John had an idea that we could do two very short creeks (Oneonta and Multnomah) that drop pretty much vertically off of the walls of the Columbia gorge. In order to survive, however, we would have to engage in a little ELF boating.
ELF boating? What the heck is that you might be wondering?
ELF boating (Extremely Low Flows Boating) was a phrase coined by Jim Snyder after he broke his back running a big falls in Mexico. For awhile after that he ran stuff very low and he coined the phrase "ELF boating" to describe his version of kayaking, usually done with inflatables.
Well, 2001 was the kind of year when the Elves were pretty much everywhere. The rain god was vacationing in the Bahamas, and the resulting drought made it so runs like The Little White probably got more descents than in any other year ever due to unusually low flows. Heck, everyone was pretty much fed up and ready for the season to be over by about the middle of January, and it hadn't even really started yet!
Anyway, back to the story.
So John told me about this big waterfall up on Oneonta Creek, which is in Oneonta gorge, which was kind of a tourist attraction. Now, I'm not some crazed Tao wannabe but I sure was looking for an adventure and maybe a little excitement (ideally involving a kayak), and this sounded like just the thing. John said this run involved a mere two miles of hiking up a nicely groomed trail that was practically swarming with bloated tourists and Hood River Trustafarians, so I replied the way any water-starved, bored kayaker would when I said:
"When and Where?"
We parked at the trailhead and started hiking up the Horsetail Creek trail up over onto Oneonta Creek. Sure enough, pretty soon we saw a waterfall and it did look a little biggish. Unfortunately it poured onto rocks, and though I'm sure my Eskimo Diablo could've survived the fall I sure wouldn't have. (can't beat that Eskimo plastic!)
Anyhow, soon enought we saw something that looked a little more like a fella could plop over it and live a healthy life afterwards and suddenly the day was looking brighter. We put on above it and scrrrraaaped our way down some ledges and slides and soon got to the big one.
John of course was mighty suspicious about how deep it was, but I was pretty sure there wasn't anything under there. I studied the boils and soon decided that there was plenty of room for a boat so I plopped over. John went next and then we ran it ten or fifteen times while the tourists ooohhed and aaahed and generally made nuisances of themselves while we hiked up the trail to take another run over the falls.
Jon Loerhke probes Oneonta Falls. (This image was extracted from a digital video format, hence the blurriness.)
After we hiked out I decided that maybe this wasn't such a bad season. And besides, when it really comes down to it, a season is pretty much what you make of it...
The view looking up into Oneonta Gorge.. (Photo by Josh Knapp)