4th of July on the Klamath 2018
by Jan Dooley
POST hosted a small group of class III paddlers for four days on the Klamath River June 30-July 4th. Our group consisted of John M, and Bob L in inflatable kayaks, plus Ruth V and Jan D in open solo canoes. Curly Jack campground in Happy Camp proved quite pleasant with spacious, shady spots. With town close by, we could get ice cream, gas and supplies anytime. The daytime highs started in the low hundreds the first two days, and then dropped to the low 90s.
The North West Rafters also camped at Curly Jack and we combined groups the first day. We paddled the Savage Ledge run with 4 canoes, 3 inflatable kayaks and one cataraft. Cecil lead in his canoe. His wife Mary Ann paddled her canoe. Many of you may remember Cecil from when he taught with CCK and Red Cross in Sacramento. Since this was Ruth’s first class III run, I guided her down the rapids with Bob sweeping behind her. Greg in the cataraft picked up any pieces at the back. John M joined us the second day. We scouted Savage Ledge on the drive and found the class II+ route on the right. The two miles between Savage Ledge and Fort Gough Falls contained several fun class II and III rapids. Savage Ledge started with a long lead in with no landmarks. Once you saw the slot, it was straight forward, but you want to be in the right spot. The narrow rock slot below the ledge created large, powerful boils. Cecil found out that turning your back on them to check on the rest of the group caused an out of boat experience. At Lower Savage, the water converged from several angles into a large wave. You could aim for the flat spot on the right that pushed you toward a rock wall, or try your luck on the shoulder of the wave. The shoulder worked best the first day. The flat worked better the next day. Ruth paddled directly over the wave the first day for a spectacular ride with a gunnel grab, but she ended upright and mostly dry. Cecil, a right handed paddler, chose the flat spot and discovered that you need a place to put your paddle in order to maintain control. The flow dropped a bit the second day and made it a little easier. Otter’s Play Pen contains a hidden narrow slot you must go through. A sweeping left, then right, turn creates a wave train that you have to cross as you approach the slot. An eddy above and to the right of the slot catches you if you are not alert. Scary, but the water goes through the slot. The trick is to end up aligned with the flow. Just below Otter’s Play Pen lies Fort Gough Falls, a river-wide wave with big boils beyond it. The easiest route runs on the right edge, but a hole was there the first day. Bob L made it over the wave, but the boil just beyond stopped his boat as he continued downstream. Greg picked up Bob and had a long chase to reconnect him with his boat. We took out at Seattle Creek the first day. The second day, with just canoes and IKs, we shortened the run by taking out at the primitive take-out at Tim’s Creek.
Monday found us on the Ferry Point Run. Jan led based on her distant memories of running it previously. The first rapid called Ferry Point lies just around the corner from the put in. We failed to find a good place to scout it. We heard a raft guide yell something to his group about which route to take, but could not clearly hear the instructions. Jan started down the left based on the road scout and an old memory. As she came over the lip, she realized she had no idea where to go. She prayed that she was not leading her daughter in to another “but I don’t want to die” experience. (A long story involving Blind Falls on the Grande Ronde River. We weren’t close to dying either time, but tell that to a scared, young paddler pushing her limits). Gratefully, Jan recognized a landmark and saw a sneak route on the far left. Ruth paddled nimbly and made it look easy. It turned out that the easier route was on the right. The rapids came at a relaxed pace after that. The flow kept us moving quickly, assisted by a downstream wind. How often does that happen? Independence Rapid was scouted from the road. We went left using canoe sneak routes, but right was probably easier. This run is known for the class IV Dragon’s Tooth rapid. The water piles into a large boulder in the middle with rocky channels on either side. One look was all it took to know that the relatively easy portage was the best choice for our group. The boats we watched run it included river guides in hard shell kayaks and rafts. They all played pinball with the rocks but managed to stay upright. The remaining rapids presented a series of fun, challenging rapids. I mostly remember big grey rocks and beautiful water with glass tongues intermixed with whitewater and waves. An option on this trip is to beach your boats above Ukonom Creek and hike up the very cold stream to a spectacular waterfall. The air temperature and our already earned pleasure combined to encourage us to keep on going.
Tuesday saw John and Bob packing up camp in order to leave after driving 60 miles to the Tree of Heaven run. This lovely run was lovely once again. Ruth and Bob took turns leading. Dutch Creek was easier than usual and could have been paddled down the center, and on the far right. We took the usual route on the left and choose different slots to paddle through. At the Schoolhouse wave, we found a swimmer enjoying the hole on his river board. We wanted to run the left side of the island at Honolulu, but could not see the entire run. We decided to take our chance on the lower half, also known as “Lulu”. This rapid continues to get rockier. Jan and Ruth chose to hit one of the rocks padded by a pillow broadside with our sterns so it would turn the canoes back downstream. John and Bob bounce along just fine in the IKs.
One of the best things about POST trips is the opportunity to hang out together at camp. Sharing risks and relying on each on the river builds for rapid trust. The long hours spent in camp builds friendships. Sharing campsites, meals and chores encourages long exchanges of stories, dilemmas and hopes. I treasure these times with my river “family”. I especially want to thank Bob and John for supporting Ruth in her first class III runs. And thank you POST for creating trips like this.