Independence Weekend: Freedom to Boat

Trip Report  Klamath River, 4th of July, 2017

Eight paddlers enjoyed a delightful 4th of July holiday weekend on the Klamath River. Don and Karen , plus Alan and Kate paired up in tandem canoes. Jan and Ruth soloed in canoes. John and Bob joined us in inflatable kayaks. We camped at Sarah Totten near Hamburg. The campground was in excellent shape with paths recently brushed out.

The weekend started with Don and Karen arriving Thursday evening to claim our favorite campsite. They explored the scenic byways on Friday, and found some extensive road damage up Beavertail Creek road from the wet winter. The campground went from empty on Thursday to full on Saturday. Bob arrived Friday night. Alan, Kate, Ruth and Jan arrived 9 AM Saturday morning in time to paddle the Brown Bear run. The flow out of Iron Gate Dam was the typical 1000 cfs. Side creeks added significant water so the flow at Seiad Valley was 1600 cfs. It is interesting to note that the flow out of Iron Gate increased after our trip. Brown Bear, class I (II) was straight forward. Bob tried the surf hole and swam. No one else was brave enough to try it. Bob and Jan went on after most participants took out at Blue Heron. Tom Martin rapid presented problems with a large hole on the left along the inside, a large haystack wave in the center and nasty eddies on the right. Bob got stuck in the eddy. Jan portaged. Saturday night, John joined us for Don’s taco salad dinner. It was delicious and a wise choice for a hot evening.

Sunday we rose to Don’s hashbrowns, ham and cheese creations. The night was warm under the trees but cooled off eventually. Some nights it stayed muggy all night. The bugs loved it and the bats showed up to feast on them. We learned to move out to an open spot after the sun went down. Between the bugs, hard paddling and late sunsets, we went to bed most nights before the first star appeared. Afternoons saw us downstream on a nice sandy beach with a recirculating eddy and shade. A bald eagle cruised the river by camp almost every day. The blue herons posed so magnificently on the rocks while the dragonflies danced across the river’s surface. Our favorite flying critter this year was a bright blue damselfly with white wings and bold black wing tips. A river otter was spotted above Schoolhouse on the final day.

For Sunday’s paddle, we braved Trees of Heaven class III- run. The put in was packed. Two large raft and IK groups put on at the same time. Everyone was courteous, and we even shared lunch spots. By the end, we intermingled, and then all took out together. Dutch Creek was easier than usual and could be run down the middle, which we found out at the bottom. Jan led everyone down the usual route, cutting right of the rocks at the bottom. This caused a few bobbles, but no swims. Bob showed us that the easier route went left of rightmost rock. Ruth as nightmares about Schoolhouse all year. She nailed it with a perfect line. Kate and Alan turned their canoe into a submarine, but stayed upright and self rescued. Don and Karen flipped. Beau immediately started swimming for shore and Karen went with him. Don and rescuers chased the tandem canoe down the river a ways before wrangling it to shore. Beau hitched a ride in Bob’s IK and looked quite happy. Karen jumped back in the river and bumped her way down over rocks. Honolulu caused problems on the bottom half. Jan was on her side for awhile, but managed to get upright. Many paddlers in the big groups went down the left side finishing with big smiles. The high flows from the wet winter cleared out the thick river weed above Schoolhouse. This year there was no need to pole the canoes through the plants clogging the river in the center of the flow. Sunday night, we ate Dutch oven dishes with Jan’s Tamale Pie and Ruth’s Strawberries in Chocolate cake.

Monday started with pancakes and sausage courtesy of Alan and Kate. We decided to do the class II Rocky Point run. Jan volunteered to paddle the Winona tandem with Kate, so Alan could solo in his Mohawk. Don and Karen led, despite it being a new run for them. Granite Point rapid, class II, swamped Kate and Jan in the high waves. They were so deep in the water that Yukon floated out of the canoe. Kate and Jan managed to keep the boat upright and self rescued. The best part of this run is a long, continuous class I/II rapid below the hwy 96 bridge. You keep picking your way between little rocks and waves for half a mile or so. It feels like a long, slow dance. We forgot to look for a lunch spot along the long curve away from the road. So we ate in a hot, steep, rock patch just before rejoining the road. The final rapid above Sluice Box is a bouncy, winding class II on the right with most of the water. None of us knows what the left side looks like. It is supposed to be harder.

Part of the group took out at Sluice Box. Jan grabbed her solo Prodigy canoe off the car and joined Bob and John for the Portuguese Creek run.  The Portuguese Creek rapid, class III, was a first for everyone. We boat scouted it and ran it on the left no difficulty. The right side looked too low and presented an inconvenient rock at the bottom. The most recent memories of the run was Jan and Bob’s, who paddled below Portuguese Creek over a decade before. Scouting Savage Rapid was mandatory because it is rated class IV by Neil Ruckers. At our flow, it was a class III. It consisted of a wide rapid that narrows down at the end to drop over a ledge into a chaotic channel. Few landmarks make the upper part easy to get lost in. Bob led and picked the right spot to drop over the ledge. The water coming in laterally cancelled each other out and made for a relatively smooth ride over the reaction wave. The boily water below the ledge caused lots of spinning for those boats that tried to eddy out. This section of river between Upper Savage and Ft Goff Falls consists of gorgeously clear water flowing rapidly over channels in smooth grey rocks. It is beautiful and exhilarating. No scouting was done for Lower Savage because it usually looks intimidating, but is a straight shot on the right with a diagonal wave to deal with. Not this time. The higher flow changed this rapid significantly. Most of the water flowed over the ledge on the left. Jan started down the right and quickly went left due to the large eddy fence at the bottom that looked likely to be painful. She had no back-up plan and ended up with plan C down the middle. This plan went over the ledge, dodging rocks and going over tall waves. It looked like the least likely way to get hurt. It proved successful, even though John swam on the bottom wave. It was a fast rescue. Just around the corner waited Otter’s Playpen, quickly followed by Ft Goff Falls. Otter’s Playpen is a rock fence with several, narrow openings. The guide book says all openings are possible. The straight ahead routes looked bouncy. We followed the main current around to the right and through the usual chute second from the end. I still wonder how rafts run this rapid. At Ft. Goff Falls, the water pauses long enough to allow a move right to the lowest part of the fall. We took out at the primitive access called Tim’s with huge grins. Bob declared he finally felt alive. On the return drive, we scouted the left route at Lower Savage which looked easy. Alan and Kate cooked hamburgers, potato salad and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Yum!

Monday, Bob, Alan and Kate departed after Jan’s polenta and spam breakfast. The remaining four boats debated whether to paddle the class II Seattle Creek to Joe Morgan section. We call this the kids and dogs run due to its forgiving nature and beauty. We traditionally take out at China Point, but a large slide had closed the road to it. Continuing on to Gordon’s Ferry made it eleven miles and added a long right curve with class I rock dodging. After staring at each other for awhile, we decided we were tired and felt Brown Bear sounded fine. Jan had a silly swim trying to paddle a wave on her off side. Everyone took out at Blue Heron, which gives you an idea of how tired we were. We spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the beach, water, shade and snacks. Jan cooked sausages, baked beans and peach dump cake for the 4th of July dinner. We heard no fireworks, and most importantly encountered no fires. The local Hot Shot team drove past at some point and we saw smoke. There was a report of a fire near Dutch Creek, but we never saw it.

Wednesday, Don provided oatmeal and granola. We broke camp. Don and Karen drove back via the Scott Valley. John, Jan and Ruth paddled the short version of Trees of Heaven from Skeahan Bar to Gottville. Ruth again nailed Schoolhouse and finished full of confidence solo paddling in her Flashback canoe. We went down the left side of Honolulu. The top requires negotiating a boulder garden with some waves. Once clear of the rocks, the bottom is a bouncy, straight shot. It was fun. John said it reminded him of the rocky, shallow rivers in New England.

This was one of the simplest, most enjoyable trips I have been on. The river and campground is perfect for canoes with enough nearby class I to III runs. The weather was hot, but not insufferable, and made swimming inviting. The company helped each other and enjoyed each other. All of the most experienced paddlers swam, usually laughing, while the other paddlers learned a lot and stayed upright. Ruth stayed dry and gained tremendous confidence. Best of all, for me at least, was the lack of forest fires requiring sudden changes in plans. Thanks to all who came and helped to make the trip so fun!




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