Sunday, October 16, 2005

Middle Fork Nooksack Canyon


Chatham hits a huge brace below Hawaii 5-0.

The Middle Fork Nooksak is one of the few creek runs east of Bellingham. We puton just below the diversion dam, skipping the upper section which looked too low. As we left town in the steady rain, talk turned to the flow, as we all knew the MF was very quick to respond to rain. The gauge was sitting in the mid 300s though, and didn't seem to be climbing, though we watched the gauge for several hours. Launching around noon, we expected a low water run through the canyon.

Forgive the image quality -- it was too dark to take stills and the camcorder is in the shop.

Video: MF Nooksak

This canyon really is stunning, reminiscent of the SF Stilly Trib Canyon Creek. It's about as long, and with about as many drops, though the drops are a bit cleaner. I felt the drops were easier than, but similar to, some drops on the Ohanepacosh.

Putting in below the dam, you get a nice splashy drop that is very straightforward. I swam it. Next up is Icebox Paradise, which we ran left. I swam this too. Looking forlornly at the bridge we had just passed under, I knew it was going to be one of those days. To top it off, I had a brief pin just above Hawaii 5-0. Hey, at least it wasn't the Ashlu.

We ran some fun clean drops below Icebox Paradise until we came to Hawaii 5-0. This technical drop has a manky entrance of badly placed rocks and offset holes pushing to the left, while 80% of the river is a sieve or pourover into a heinous pin spot -- you must get back right. Mike and I quickly made the portage, while David looked for a line through the entrance. He finally found one he liked, shortly before Mike and I froze to the cold bedrock.


Chatham runs the meat of Hawaii 5-0.

The drop below Hawaii 5-0 was another manky ledge drop with a boof center right. There was a tricky sneak far right which avoided the pins, but had its own issues.


Novak cleans the ledge.


And yes, David landed that huge brace. Nice!

We shortly came to Landslide, also knows as S-Turn. Can you guys please come up with some original rapid names? I mean, Landslide? S-Turn? Anyway, a quick look at this one and I was on the portage trail. I knew I didn't have the mental game going to hit the crux entrance and be online for the sieved out rock pile and surging room of doom eddy at the bottom.


Chatham and Novak running Blue Angel formation.


David nicely handles the pillow on the rock pile.

Below S-Turn, there is only one more major drop in the canyon: Super Boof. The middle slot almost went, but right was the line of choice. This clean, one move slide was a lot of fun, and it was a welcome change to be in my boat at the bottom of a drop.

After Super Boof, the canyon opens and the river mellows to class II+ rock gardens. After a half mile or so, you come to the final big drop: Cheesegrater (again with the original names. You were doing so well ... Icebox Paradise ... Hawaii 5-0 -- what happenend???).

Cheesegrater is a big boulder jumble where the river bends left with a bedrock wall on the right. Scout right. The easier portage route (ahem) is on the left. This drop features a class IV leadin to a 4-foot wide chute between the right wall and a huge boulder. Don't get pushed left into the surging eddy.


Chatham lines up for the slot in Cheesegrater.


Novak styles the drop.

From here to the takeout it's more class II+. We were surprised to arrive home and see the river spiking vertically to over 1600 cfs by 8:00pm. The spike started about the time we put on. Mike though, based on earlier runs, that S-Turn had roughly 600 cfs in it when we ran it. Be careful on this run -- it is very quick to respond to rain. 600 was by no means a pushy level, but I'm glad we didn't get caught too much higher.

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