Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cispus Camp-out

A while ago we talked about the ubiquitous one-day trip. Let’s take a bit of time now to talk about the big brother of the onesie, the overnighter. A good way to maximize your driving around time is to do at least two separate activities, connected by spending the night somewhere. In this particular instance, the two activities are going to be kayaking on the Green Truss section of the White Salmon River and the Upper -Upper Cispus River, both in Southern Washington State. Somewhere along the (extremely) scenic route between the two will be the location of the night spent.

The only other Class V kayaker in Bend, Oregon who seems motivated and available to travel at a moment’s notice is Kim Russell. She’s always down for an adventure, even a midweek one, and can always be counted on to stomp the lines and landings on whatever run we happen to be floating down. Although she’s an aspiring professional paddler, at the impressionable age of eighteen I can still convince her that low water boating is worth doing in the name of good fun… This would be key on the Green Truss Section of the White Salmon in southern Washington State

As with most overnight trips, this one started out on a whim. Kim had been interested in checking out the Upper-Upper Cispus run for quite a while, continuing her progression as an explorer of the river environment. I’d been on the Cispus once, alone, with borrowed gear, (thanks, Cooch) six or so years ago, making me an expert on the topic. One evening, while discussing said run after an evening run on the Deschutes in Bend, we bucked up and agreed to leave the next afternoon for the region surrounding Mount Adams. Done.

Now, a brief interlude to discuss photography. I’m a professional athlete. I ride bikes for a living, usually in the woods. People often like to photograph this pursuit. While I’m happy to oblige, this isn’t really why I do what I do. I like to ride, not stop and screw around with photos. Again, when it’s my job, I’m more than happy to. But when it’s not my job, such as when I’m on a kayaking trip. I don’t exactly make time for documentation, other than that of the “one’s own memory” variety… Kim, as a budding pro kayaker, is always taking photos. I use my seniority and blunt manner of speaking to squash most photo attempts, at least those that will intrude whatsoever on the purity of our river experience. So, we don’t have many photos. The ones we have were snapped before I could tell Kim to put that shit away. Sorry.

Since we don’t have any photos whatsoever of the Green Truss run, and we’d done it a bunch of times already, I’ll just say that it was really fun. We ran some waterfalls, raced through some rapids (it was a tie, two-two), watched the sun set, bummed a shuttle from some local guys, and generally enjoyed our pit stop on the way north (by west).

Here’s where the quality, if low-consequence, adventure started. With forest road 23 over the western flank of Mount Adams closed because of a (probably burly) wash-out, we had to find another route. Some consultation with the Washington Gazeteer (pronounced Ga-zee-ter) and cross referencing with a Forest Service Map Kiosk determined that our best route would be west toward the Lewis River drainage then north past Mount Saint Helens and over Elk Pass before dropping into the Cowlitz Drainage and heading back up the Cispus River to the takeout. This route consisted of, near as we could figure, mostly paved, twisty, two-lane, awesome roads. Good thing we’d packed light, summer gear only, to keep the WRX as close to it’s optimal performance level as possible. With darkness descending rapidly on Mount Adams, we set about charging seemingly endless dreamy tarmac, hoping our route would pan out. I love the challenge of reading virgin road and putting things together as they unfold in front of you, whether it’s that perfect on-camber compression right into a cresting left, leaving the grocery-getter tail happy and singing a high note or getting the perfect late brake/downshift/handbrake combo that leaves you roosting out of yet another switchback. Driving is fun. As a means to get somewhere, of course…

After a bonus ten-mile section of buttery smooth gravel drifting, and the drop into the Lewis Drainage, with a stop to admire the moonrise and subsequent reflection on Mount Saint Helens, our adrenal glands were starting to reach their limit. We decided to find a place to throw a sleeping bag on the ground ASAP. Our first opportunity came at a random turnoff on the top of Elk Pass. Turns out it led to a beautiful meadow with a whole lot of welcoming grass for sleeping. Done. About nine minutes of “camp” setup and a few of stargazing set us up for a good cold, dewy, night’s sleep. Although the pesky full moon did wake us up a few times as it poked above the ridgeline…

Morning came early, but was welcomed on account of warm sunshine, granola and the fact that car camping only takes about 12 minutes to completely pack up for departure.

A brief hour of (slightly more responsible due to daylight conditions and possible oncoming massive log trucks) driving on more awesome roads found us at the takeout for the Cispus. Flow looked good and there was, surprisingly for 9am on a Wednesday, another kayaker vehicle parked there. We quickly stashed our shuttle vehicle (my trusty ten-speed) and rallied up to the put-in, hoping to find the owners of the ‘Yota and paddle with them. Turns out we missed them, no bother, the two-person team is always a good way to travel too (unless you want to set up a legitimate rescue…).

Now, I’d remembered the Cispus starting off with a bang, some kind of entry waterfall guarding the miles of classic boulder gardens lying downstream. I seemed to think it was good to go and a good time, but a scouting/personal morning ritual mission determined otherwise. There were a whole bunch of logs in the runout gorge section. Whoops, no happy-go-lucky fifteen-footer to start the day off right. Instead we got a portage to seal-launch combo, which was fine with me, I like sliding off a rock and into the water anyway…

Once we were on the water a good groove was immediately established. Whoever was leading would roll up to the lip of a boulder garden, peer downstream, make a quick call whether to run or scout, or hop to a lower eddy, and we’d proceed. Scouting sometimes to ensure we were on the most fun line, running on a whim and a feeling sometimes, taking some questionable lines, and generally having a great time getting in the groove with the river. Oh, and I did the best rock spin of my life somewhere in there. Better than any New Hampshire Granite spin I’ve ever done. It was amazing…

Now, the Upper-Upper Cispus has two big rapids nestled between all the sweet boulder gardens. Island and Behemoth. We arrived at Island and decided to scout from the island proper. Right channel was a pinched eight-footer into a boily hole mess followed by a fairly stout pourover hole. Hmmm. Left channel was a techie sliding boof that would land you right next to the big pourover, sideways and at a dead stop. Hmmm. We elected to appreciate the sunshine and good juju so far by going for the high left line and bonus fun seal launch below the maelstrom.

Now we just had Behemoth to sort out. Approaching what was clearly the gorge leading to the falls, identified by treetops downstream and an obvious mist, we spotted an unmanned kayak and paddle on the right bank. Thinking the folks before us might have some issues, we clambored out of our boats and across the scree slope. Nobody to be found. Hmmm. At least the search for the abandoned craft’s captain gave us a unique scout of the Behemoth lead-in rapid and falls proper, in addition to some good scrambling on narrow ledges above eddyless, unportagable, grade 5 whitewater… The falls looked sweet, in kind of intimidating, “you’re here so you’ve got to run me” way. Sloping off the ledge and plunging 25 feet into a caved-out, boil-filled punchbowl where it sprayed mist up out of the gorge and into the sunlight, it was quite a sight to see. We probably should have taken a photo… But, we were much more interested in getting back to our boats and downstream as planned. The lead-in rapid holes were bigger than we thought, but we pulled through. I won a quick reaux-cham-beaux in the pool at the lip, meaning I got to go first. Hmmmm, did I win or lose? I fired a boof off the ramp and set it town flat and forward in the pillowy boils below, then snuck around the massive hole guarding the exit to the punchbowl. When I looked back upstream I saw Kim launch a similary sweet boof into the sunshine, but she got kicked into the cavern at the base of the falls. Some maneuvering with a giant old-growth log and a couple proud ferry attempts, while I stood next to the exit hole with a rope, and Kim earned the privilege of exit. Another mile of decreasing difficulty classic boulder garden boating had us out of the canyon and floating to the takeout.

Turns out we almost caught the other crew at the put-in, they were lunching and lounging at the takeout, getting gear dried out for their drive on to British Columbia for some high water summer creekin’. It turned out one of the guys was from New York and had a bunch of the same New England buddies as me. Another was from Corvallis and keen to hook up for some Oregon rainfall boating this winter. The girl who gave me a ride up to our trusty Subaru was from Hood River and keen to have some more chick creekin’ partners. The circle of whitewater love is small but continually amazes me with it’s depth.

We got some jeep road shortcut beta from our new acquaintances on how to get back to Hood River without the massive detour and set out on the trip home. Ten miles of dreamy tarmac led into ten miles of buttery gravel which led us to our marginal shortcut, but, thanks to the skidplate and some clever angles of approach, we made it through just fine. Lunch in Hood River and a swimming stop at Clear Lake on the flanks of Mount Hood kept us fed and refreshed.

I had decided to be ambitious and get dropped off in Warm Springs,, about 70 miles north of Bend, and ride my trusty Ten-Speed home, gently pushed by the perpetual north wind. I figured three hours of daylight to ride 70 miles was plenty. Regardless of starting at 1500 feet elevation and eventually finishing at 3800… The tailwind would make it possible to average 22mph or so, getting me home just after 9pm… Well, in august it gets dark at 8:30. I got home at 9:30 after an awesome ride into an awesome sunset. Gotta get in shape for Worlds, after all…