July 15-18, 2013
Here is our highlights video. Additional videos are embedded throughout the report.
Three families (Gardiner, Lloyd, Ames), three rafts, and two inflatable kayaks. And Kevin’s friend, Nick Foust.
The water level has been really low this year. The flow at Grants Pass was about 1440 cfs. The river was flowing between 1700 and 1800 cfs on all prior trips that I have taken.
We had good weather, with the exception of some moderately stiff headwinds some of the days. The high was in the low-90s near Grants Pass, dropping to the mid-80s near the take-out at Foster Bar. Temperatures near the coast were in the 60s. We did not have any rain (in fact it has been a very dry year), and very few bugs.
The drive from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Grants Pass, Oregon, is brutal. Google maps indicates that the drive would take about 12.5 hours, but that must not include stops. I think it took us over 14 hours. We had three vehicles and no small children, so our stops were relatively efficient, with the exception that many gas stations had single stall toilets, so it took a long time for our rest stops.
The drive to Winnemucca, Nevada, is all on I-80, but it is very boring. From Winnemucca to Lake View, Oregon is also very boring. The scenery improves significantly past Lake View, but the travel speed reduces due to the winding roads through the forests.
We left home at about 6:00 AM Sunday morning and arrived at the Valley of the Rogue River State Park that evening. We gained an hour when we crossed the time zone near Wendover, so we had a little daylight left to set up our camp. This is a fairly nice campground and even has free showers. The main downside was all of the campers with barking dogs.
The next morning we had a quick cold breakfast, broke camp, and drove to Galice Resort to arrange our shuttle. We then stopped at the Rand Ranger Station to obtain our permit. We learned that we were the last of six large groups and three small groups to launch that day – although some launched upstream from our put-in at Grave Creek. We also noticed one of my photographs on their bulletin board. They have a picture off my 14’ blue raft running the middle chute at Rainie Falls, captained by Marcy.
The drive home was even more brutal. We decided to spend some time visiting Redwood National Forest. It took us five hours to drive along the coast to our reserved campsite at Patrick’s Point near the coast. Once again we arrived at the Redwood forest after dark, so it was difficult to fully appreciate the majesty of the forest.
Patrick’s Point was another very nice campground. The temperatures were perfect for sleeping. I think most of the group got their best night’s sleep there. Of course, not having to worry about bears may have helped.
The drive from Patrick’s Point to Salt Lake took about 18 hours. The drive was very scenic in the mountains until we reached Reno, and then boring desert along I-80. We arrived home just before 4:00 AM.
With so many large groups on the river it was difficult to find good campsites. There are some very nice camps along the Rogue, but the outfitters tend to snag them very early in the day.
Here is our video from day one:
We were hoping to spend our first night at Whiskey Creek, but the two sites were already taken. We ended up at a mediocre camp just downstream on the left. I don’t know if this site has a name, but it is near Doe Creek.
Here is our video from day two:
On day two we stopped at Horseshoe Bend to eat lunch in the shade under a tree. After lunch Jamie and I hiked up a steep trail and found the real campsite. It would be a long haul of gear, but it was one of the nicest camps I have ever seen. It had a gorgeous view up and down the river, a flat area for playing Frisbee, a bear fence, and a toilet.
Our second camp was just across and down from Long Gulch camp. We settled on this site because it was late in the day and about three more miles to the last few camps above Mule Creek Canyon. Those last two camps are very nice, but it is common for multiple groups to share a site since there are no more camps for many miles.
Day three video:
On our third day we didn’t make as many river miles as we planned, so we camped at Upper Half Moon Bar. We actually stopped there for a late lunch and decided to stay rather than risk not finding something decent further downstream. This site is primarily a gravel bar, so the tent sites were not ideal, but we did have evening shade.
Day four video:
Rainie Falls was a real drag – literally. In the past we have always run the “middle chute”. With the low water this year we figured that the middle chute would be very difficult to enter, so we opted to take the fish ladder down the right side. This is the route that most people take, but it was a major pain for our heavily loaded 16’ rafts. Kevin and I went first. We got stuck at least six times, and it took a lot of effort to get us moving again. The channel is very narrow and very shallow. We basically had no control over the boat – we would just bounce off or get stuck on every rock. It took us almost ten minutes to get through.
The rest of the group had a slightly easier time because we stationed people along the channel to help push them off rocks. Those in the inflatable kayaks (IKs) actually had an enjoyable run.
We probably should have scouted Wildcat Rapid. Kevin was rowing and I was trying to interpret my notes from the guide book. The book talks about avoiding “alligator rock” near the bottom, but we were not sure which of the many rocks was alligator rock. In the end, I concluded it must be the one with the cataraft stuck on it. We slammed into the cataraft, driving them even further up onto the rock – as did all of the other boats in our party. I tried to grab their frame and help pull them free, but to no avail. Jamie and Hannah stopped in the IK and offered to help, but there wasn’t much they could do either. I do not know if they ever got the boat off – we never saw that group again the rest of the trip.
Black Bar Rapid
My guide book says to run Upper Black Bar down the far right side. From the boat, the middle route looked easier, so I took that route. Mistake. I hit numerous rocks with my boat and my oars. The other boats took the better route down the right side.
Lower Black Bar is one of the best rapids on the river. It has a nice smooth tongue down a huge drop, followed by some nice waves.
Mule Creek Canyon
Mule Creek Canyon is always entertaining. The river is very narrow, surrounded by about 40’ cliffs on each side. The Water is turbulent and you never know which way it will throw you. It is especially challenging in the IKs. The last section is known as “Coffee Pot” because the water is so turbulent. At these lower flows it wasn’t too bad, but it was still interesting.
Of the four runs I have made on the Rogue River, I would definitely say that this was my fourth best run yet. The lower water slows down the flow, but it made the slot to cut in behind the Horn really small and difficult to hit with a 16’ raft.
As usual, we stopped to scout the rapid. There isn’t much of a trail to get to places that offer a decent view of the rapid, but it is well worth the effort to get there.
From our vantage point high above the river, we watched a gal negotiate a perfect run through the rapid. Not only did she make a clean cut in behind the Horn, but she easily zigzagged through the rocks in the lower portion of the rapid. She made it look easy.
Kevin and I hiked back to our raft and went first from our group. My run was nothing like that we just witnessed. I basically played bumper pool off rocks the whole way through the rapid.
I made my cut out of the tongue too early, so I hit the rock to the left of the Horn. This bounced me back to the left while the current spun my boat clockwise. I was now facing directly downstream and had to ship my right oar because of the rock. This was not the position I wanted to be in.
Kevin immediately started paddling from the front, trying to move our boat to the right – away from the dreaded “Picket Fence”.
The front end of our boat slid onto the right-most rock of the Picket Fence, and luckily the rear of the boat swung towards river right. This spun us around and we went down the chute backwards. From there it was just a matter of dodging rocks and picking our way through the boulder field. The main challenge was finding open water in which to take some power strokes with the oars. We made it through safely, but certainly not in good style.
After landing below the rapid, I hiked back up on the cliff to take pictures of the rest of our group come through. Barry’s run was almost identical to mine, but he didn’t “kiss” the Picket Fence quite as forcefully as I did. The rest of his run was also somewhat cleaner than mine.
Next it was Mike’s turn. He made his cut to the slot a little late, so rather than “kiss” the Fence, he gave it a good solid “hug”. I feared his boat would swing left and become pinned on the Fence, but luck was with him too.
At the bottom of the slot there were three rocks that looked too close together for a raft to go between. Barry and I rowed hard to go around these rocks. Mike just slid right over the middle rock, which set him up for an easy run through the rest of the rapid.
The smaller size and greater maneuverability of the inflatable kayaks made for an easy run for them.
Death On The River
While waiting for our inflatable kayaks to come through, I watched another group make their run. As the boat slid down the tongue I could tell that they were in trouble. With many years of experience with minor emergencies, I have often regretted not keeping the cameras rolling to record the emergency and the recovery effort. So I took pictures.
The boat did not make the cut into the eddy behind the Horn and got stuck on the Picket Fence. At first I thought they were just in for a long day trying to get off, but as they tried to move to the high side of the boat, the boat suddenly flipped. Two of the three rafters washed down the slot, along with the raft and some gear bags, but the third person became trapped on the rocks. He finally broke free about one minute later, but it was clear that he was unconscious.
Since our group was waiting at the base of the rapid, along with part of this boat’s party, we quickly pitched in to help recover the body and administer CPR. My daughter, Jamie, and Hannah, paddled down river in the IK to the lodge at Paradise Bar while Josh, Tiffani, and Nick helped with CPR. Paramedics arrived by helicopter about two hours later and declared the victim dead. Later, the medical examiner determined that the cause of death was a massive heart attack and not a drowning.
Needless to say, our group was very somber that evening as we discussed and evaluated the events of the day. We concluded that our rescue attempt was actually quite good, but there are always things you could do better and ways to be better prepared. I suspect we will be a little more cautious and prepared on future trips.
Our hearts go out to the group, friends, and family of the deceased.
The main point of interest on the final day on the river is a hike up to a natural waterslide at Tate Creek. The trail is in pretty bad condition, as compared to our last trip several years ago. But once you reach the falls, it is very entertaining to watch people climb the cliff and slide down the slide into the cold, clear water at the bottom.
Beyond Tate Creek we just tried to make good time to reach the take-out at Foster Bar and begin de-rigging the boats and loading up the trailers for the long drive home.
This was not our best trip down the Rogue River, but it is probably the most memorable.