Saturday, April 22, 2006

Little North Santiam: Lower Opal Creek

840 cfs at Mehama

Crystal clear water and beautiful scenery give Opal Creek its fame.

Story by David Chatham. Photographs by David Chatham, Mark Yauney, and Eric Klein.

I met up with Mark Yauney and Eric Klein to run the Lower Opal Creek section of the Little North Santiam. This was a run that all of us had wanted to hit, but that none of us had been on before. We drove to the takeout and scouted Thor's Playroom, left a vehicle and headed to the put in. A forest service pass is required to park at the put in. About a half mile hike in led to a side road that ran a few hundred yards down to the river.

The early part of the run had several class III rapids.

Mark enjoying an early rapid on Lower Opal.

The first rapid requiring a look was Big Ugly, which we got out to scout on the left. At this flow, there appeared to be no way to miss the hole at the bottom left where much of the water was pushing into the left wall. From Jason Rackley's report, we knew that this wall was not undercut despite appearances. I ran first, hit my line perfectly, still got pushed into the left wall at the bottom, and tried diligently but unsuccessfully to hold the brace. Mark ran next, and pulled off an amazing high brace at the bottom to avoid a swim. Eric ran third and followed my example.

David checking out Big Ugly.

Mark demonstrating High Bracing 101.

Eric still trying to hold that brace.

After a little more class III, we eddied out on the right above the lead in to Big Fluffy. There is a fairly sticky hole at the bottom, and most folks decide to go for the seal launch instead of running the falls. We studied this a bit, and I decided to give it a go. There was a class III+ lead in and then a move back towards the right side of the falls, and I somehow barely got wet on my run.

David with a good line at Big Fluffy.

Mark and Eric opted for the seal launch.

Mark seal launching in below Big Fluffy.

After Big Fluffy, there were more III-III+ rapids before arriving at Thor's Playroom. We all opted for the Door One entry, though looking at it afterwards, Door Two might have been the more fun option. For the final drop, Mark ran first, and ended up getting squirreled by the current at the bottom and had a brief flip. He then set up to take pictures of my's and Eric's runs. I followed Mark's line for the camera with the same result.

Eric cleans Thor's Playroom.

David exiting Thor's Playroom.

Eric ended up boofing over the rock at the bottom instead of trying to stay in the main current, and had a successful line.

Eric with Thor's Hammer in the background.

The water level appeared to be in a medium low range, and we encountered no significant wood on the run. With crystal clear emerald water and fun rapids, the Little North Santiam is definitely a special place.