Upper Roaring River
  4.9 miles above the Clackamas River to the Clackamas confluence.

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Western Oregon has many vast, temperate rainforests, few of which remain totally unmolested by mankind. The Upper Roaring River drainage is one of the outstanding exceptions to this rule, and this has helped lure several adventurous teams of paddlers into this pristine canyon over the years.

There have been several attempts on the upper sections of this river that I know of before Pete Giordano finally dialed the access point. Dan Coyle and Gabe Flock ran the lower section ( Below Parrywinkle Falls ) in the late 90's, you can read Dan's account of their trip here.

Pete and I tried to run the section above Parrywinkle Falls in 2001, and ended up having a debacle trying find an access point into the uppermost canyon. I heard a few years ago that Raychel Muldover and another paddler took another shot at the upper section and also had a debacle, running out of daylight before finishing the run. They ended up spending the night on the river, and then finished the run the next day, making the first known descent of the upper Roaring.

Finally Pete found a hiking trail that drops down in about a mile above Parrywinkle Falls. He did the run solo in 2002, and documented it on his online guidebook. During his solo descent he also ran Parrywinkle Falls, which is the first known descent of this large waterfall ( it had been blocked by logs in previous years, which had only recently flushed out ).

Pete had run this section many times since then, but I had never managed to catch it. Finally on 11/13/05, we had sufficient rain to bring the river up into the zone. On this trip we were joined by Charles Taylor and Nate Garr out of Portland.

We met at Bob's Hole on the Clackamas early that morning. The hike in is three miles, so at the put-in Charles and Nate hastily tried to rig up kayak back-pack units, which led to some pretty amusing moments..

Nate Garr works out his ad-hoc backpack system with a little encouragement from Charles Taylor..

I only pitch products on this site if I have used and like them ( I refuse to be sponsored in any way by any company, I purchase all my gear at full retail.. ) so I will say that I was very glad to have my Salamander Kayak Backpack on this trip. I have logged a lot of miles with my kayak on my back using this pack, and I highly recommend it for hike-ins!

We drove up and left a car where Roaring River joins the Clackamas, then headed downstream to do the shuttle, which is a little convoluted. You end up taking the same road that accesses the North Fork of the Clackamas, but you go much farther in ( shuttle directions at the end of this report ).

As usual we hit snow on the last half mile, but Chuck's truck was able to claw it's way up the hill to the pulloff on the left.

Getting ready for the three-mile hike to the put in.

After fiddling around with gear for awhile we finally started walking up the road, then took the path leading off to the right and started descending into the canyon. It took us about an hour or so to complete the hike, and when we arrived at the river it looked like we had a very nice flow.

About halfway through the hike, looking up into the totally pristine Roaring River Canyon
photo by Pete Giordano

We put on and started dodging logs. The first half-mile or so had only minor rapids but the logs made it feel much harder. There is only one portage on this section, but there are several sketchy blind limbos, etc. Luckily Pete has the whole thing dialed, so we made good time and didn't have to scout..

Charles Taylor boat-scouts a steep drop on the upper. Logs are a constant threat on this section, so be very careful!

Things started to pick up a bit as we approached the short gorge that contains the big falls. There were some shorter, steeper drops, as pictured below..

Pete Giordano cruising the rapids leading up to the short gorge which contains Parrywinkle Falls.

Finally we arrived at the gorge, and got out to scout the first ledge, a stout eight-footer that slides into a sticky hole. Pete had run this one on previous trips, but it was pure evil at this flow. Nobody even thought twice about running it, especially with the big falls just downstream. We all portaged on the right.

Charles ponders the gravitational pull of the horrible hole in the first ledge in the gorge section.. The right side of this drop was easy at this flow, but impossible to get to because of the huge boil at the lip of the drop. Scout this one carefully when the water is up, because the left side is terminal!

Things got tricky just above the big Falls. You HAVE to catch the eddy on the right, because there is a horrendous class V+ drop leading into the big Falls that no one has ever run. If you miss the eddy.. well, let's not go there.

To make things exciting, getting to the scouting eddy is complicated by a log hanging about eighteen inches above the surface of the water just upstream of the eddy. Pete went first, ducking under the log then scrambling into the eddy. I came down next, and had no problems.

Chuck wasn't so lucky. He was demoing a Robson Charger, which has a very high profile, so he couldn't squeeze under the log, and he ended up flipping. "Oh shiit.." I yelled as Chuck drifted downstream below the log, into the lead-in rapid, upside down! Luckily Chuck snapped off a quick roll just in time to catch the eddy, but it sure was exciting for a second!

The nasty lead-in to the big falls.. you miss the eddy, you run this thing blind. Here the whole river pours onto a rock and boils off the wall.. No thanks!

Twenty feet downstream from the lead-in rapid is Parrywinkle Falls, a 30-footer. Pete has the first known descent of this drop ( on his first solo run of this section ) and he has run it several times since. I don't run waterfalls this big any more since my accident, so I started scouting out the semi-sketchy portage on the right hand side. Pete came up to lend a hand at the worst part, and I managed to get my boat down to river level without too much trouble.

Pete and Nate Garr scout the big one.. It was stomping at this flow!

After some discussion, Pete decided to probe the falls. I got set to take photos ( much like Spirit Falls, there is little you can do to set safety for this drop ) and finally I saw him place his boat in the eddy at the lip of the falls.

There are three things that make this drop tricky:

1. You have to get into the eddy right at the lip.
2. You have to duck under the logs as you go over, which can screw up your strokes if you aren't careful.
3. This is a big, powerful waterfall. All kinds of random things can happen when you are falling that far and have that much water coming down on you..

After a few seconds, Pete came charging down, driving from right-to-left. He ducked under the logs and plummeted off the lip, dropping dead-center into the meat of the pounding, violent hydraulics.

I just had a second to register the thought: "Oh shit.. he plugged it.." When he emerged and started to get one of the the most violent ass-whuppin's I have ever seen on a river..

Pete shot up into the air at the base of the falls and violently back-looped into the middle of the falls, taking the full force of the falls on the front of his body. He didn't stand a chance! His paddle was ripped out of his hands, his skirt blew, and he was torn out of his boat, all in about a second.

I heard Nate and Chuck yelling from the lip of the falls, but I couldn't see Pete. After a couple of seconds he emerged from the base of the falls.. on the wrong side of boil.. on the right-hand side. He washed against the river-right wall and disappeared into the undercut.

Here's what happened from Pete's point of view:

"I got blown out of my boat and I came out from the base of the falls and was flushed to the right. My boat came with me and I grabbed it as I was pushed towards the right wall. I looked downstream, but there was a 2-3 foot high boil surging against the wall, blocking the way out. I thought: "There's no way I can swim over that!"

My boat started getting pulled back up into the falls, so I let it go and went under the wall. I started trying to swim downstream, but it was very violent in there.."

Pete Giordano probes the big one..

By this time I had scrambled down from my perch overhead and was standing next to the wall about fifty feet downstream from the base of the falls. This was as close as I could get. There is a large log ( about 20 feet long and 20 inches in diameter ) blocking the exit of the falls, and I waded out into the waist-deep water and waited with my legs against the log. The current was rushing forcefully downstream along the wall, right into the log. No matter what happened, I didn't want Pete going under that log..

It had now been about 45 seconds and there was no sign of Pete. I was starting to get seriously concerned, and I could hear Chuck and Nate yelling from their perch at the lip of the falls.

Suddenly Pete shot out from under the wall and rushed downstream towards me. "SWIM-SWIM-SWIM!!!!!" I yelled, and I braced for impact. He looked exhausted, but he managed to stay against the wall and I grabbed him.. just as his boat shot out and started rushing down along the wall towards us.. "GET OUT!! GET OUT OF THE WAY HERE COMES YOUR BOAT!!!!" I yelled at Pete as his boat came rushing down. He just managed to claw his way up onto the bank when his boat came down and slammed into me, forcing me back into the log, which shifted and and started to roll over.

I let go of the boat and leapt out of the water, suddenly terrified the log was going to roll over an pin me to the bottom. Somehow I managed to grab the stern loop on Pete's boat just before it went under the log, and together we were able to pull it out and onto the bank.

After we caught our breath, I said: "Your paddle is in the eddy on river-left below the falls. Why don't you take my paddle and go over and get it while I go check to see if anyone else is going to run it?" Pete agreed and slowly got to his feet. He was exhausted, but still going..

Pete just made it across the river into the relatively calm eddy on river-left side of the falls when his paddle finally got pulled back up into the falls and took the scenic-undercut-beatdown-tour as well, finally emerging from the right side and heading downstream, where Pete gave chase and finally caught it..

Here's a short video I shot of the falls, just after Pete's paddle got sucked back into it.. This give you a good idea of the size of the boils that blocked Pete's way downstream once he was forced under the right wall at the base of the falls, which is visible in the video.. Pretty scary stuff!!

Finally Pete worked his way back upstream after retrieving his paddle and got set up at the log, and Nate came down. He took a bigger boof-stroke and totally cleaned it, not even getting his head wet! He shot out of the pile into the left eddy while we cheered wildly. Sweet!!

Chuck decided to give the falls a pass since he was demoing a boat and having a little bit of a hard time getting used to the handling. I helped him on the sketchy part of the portage, and we started off down the river again.

Just downstream of Parrywinkle is where the gradient really kicks off. If you aren't interested in running the falls, there isn't really any reason to put in above the falls, because 90% of the good rapids are below the falls.

Now I was back in familiar territory, because this is the section Pete and I had accessed back in 2001. We had about twice the water this time around though, and it was really exiting! I didn't really have a chance to get out and shoot any photos, because we were starting to run out of light at this point..

Garrzilla on the big one..

Pete chases his paddle below the big Falls...

We did portage Gabe's Drop on the lower section, it was very dangerous at this flow. Gabe's is a large triple ledge-drop is easy to see from above, look for bedrock and a significant horizon line. The third hole is the bad one, be sure to set safety here if you run this drop. ( We ran it on a previous trip at lower water, and the hole was surprisingly powerful even at that flow.. )

Finally we arrived at the home stretch, the final section down into the Clackamas. It was getting dark and I was having trouble seeing downstream. We briefly debated hiking out on the trail, but decided it would be easier to just paddle out. We made it to the final pitch leading down to the bridge and Pete said: "Just stay in the middle.. there's logs on the right bank.."

Pete led off, followed by Nate and Chuck, with me in the back running sweep. I caught glimpses of Chucks helmet as we approached the bridge, then he dropped out of sight. I had my hands full with the rapid leading up to the bridge, then I was in the fast water running under the bridge, which was leading up to an ominous hump in the middle of the river.

"Uh oh.." I thought.. "Big hole.. wave?" I wasn't sure, so I started paddling hard, and as I came over the top of the hump I saw Chuck sideways in a huge hole, surfing for his life. I hit the hole dead center and went under Chuck, managing to clear the hole, paddling with everything I had to clear the backwash. Once I got oriented again, I turned and saw Chuck cartwheeling in the hole, that big-ol Charger going around and around! Finally Chuck flushed out, still in his boat..

One more steep rapid down into the Clackamas, and we were done. It was now fully dark, and we were glad that we hadn't been forced to hike off the river.. Lessons learned though: definitely get an early start on this one in the fall!

Pete has a clean run over Parrywinkle Falls, taken on another trip at lower water
photo by Ryan Windsor



Check out Pete's online guidebook for GPS coordinates and approximate driving directions.

I also took detailed notes on our shuttle, see below. The take-out is where Roaring River comes into the Clackamas. To reach the put-in:

1. From Bob's Hole, drive about 5.5 miles downstream to MP 31, where the 'Silver Fox RV Park' sign is, across from Promontory Park.
2. Turn up this road, stay left at the fork.
3. After three miles, you pass the dirt road on the left where you hike down to the North Fork Clackamas, marked by a huge orange '3' on a tree.
4. After about 12.6 miles turn left. You should start dropping down into the North Fork Clackamas canyon.
5. Shortly after turning ( 13.4 miles total ) you should cross the NF Clackamas. If you don't, you missed your turn.
6. Immediately after crossing the North Fork, turn right.
7. At mile 18.9, there is the pull off pictured near the beginning of this report. Park there.
8. Hike up the road about 100 yards, and take the large trail off to the right.
9. Hike in about 50 feet and start looking for a path that forks off to the left, blocked by three small boulders to keep ATV's out.
10. It is about 3 miles down to the put-in from there. The path goes all the way down to the river. About a mile or so in, the path forks, take the left fork ( stay straight ), because the right fork goes to Huxley Lake. After that, just stay on the path down to the river.


We had a healthy medium flow on this day. There is a gauge under the Roaring River bridge, I think we had 2.7 feet. Pete has run it between 2.3 - 2.7 feet. At 2.7 feet or higher the section immediately below Parrywinkle is steep, congested, and intense; you want to have someone along who knows the run, otherwise you will be scouting a lot because there is some tricky wood and big holes up there!

Here is the flows in Fish Creek, the vertical blue line marking the time we were on the river:

Here is the flows in Clack at 3 Lynx, the vertical blue line marking the time we were on the river: