Years have gone by since I first heard of this run. Many reports from years back were shrouded in complaints of numerous portages and a lot of work to just get to this short piece of the Cispus River. The Super Slides run on the far upper reaches of the Cispus River is an incredibly unique section of whitewater. The gradient starts at a fun level and gradually continues as you slide further and further down the mountain.. Once your in the canyon much of the run is nearly a football field wide and non-stop sliding gradient. This was my first trip in there and after wanting to go for years I finally got that extra push this year from Scott Matthews. On day four of our Tshletshy trip this year he had mentioned discovering the Super Slides years ago. He had mentioned that he has wanted to go back for quite sometime…
On a run that has been described as “very frustrating to even find”, who better to go with than the man who put in the work to break down all the logistics. And as you could imagine, his logistics were spot on. We met up the road from the suggested bridge take-out at a trail head that dropped down at the end of the canyon, cutting off the last 1.5 miles of portaging. Scott insisted this was the best way to exit the run. On our way to the put-in we hit snow about 2 miles from the put-in.
After about an hour of hiking we started dropping down into Goat Creek. The flow was on the low side and just around the corner from our put-in we were on top of a couple waterfalls with shallow landings. After some brief excitement and a tricky portage on the right we were on our way down Goat Creek…before we knew it we were portaging up and over into the confluence with the Cispus River. The slides started and seemed to go forever. The first big horizon was wide open and as clean as it gets. One after another we were sliding down the side of the mountain between canyon walls. We slid our way down to Bonsai Falls, the largest drop on the run. After a brief scout for wood we were back in our boats and smiling the whole way down the falls, so much fun! Below Bonsai we turned the corner to one of the most spectacular whitewater scenes you will witness, Walupt Creek Falls.
Around a couple more corners we got out at the first possible exit to the canyon and hiked up about 30 min to the cars. The beauty and scale of the canyon are in-explainable and awe-inspiring, you have to go see for yourself. We had only one wood portage on the main Cispus at the very end of the Super Slides, just before the hike out trail. If you pass the trail, you will end up in a section known as “the swamp” where you will grow more and more frustrated as you make your slow pace to the take-out bridge.
“The North Fork of the Clackamas is one of those “love it or hate it” runs. Nearly continuous rapids in the harder sections, loads of places to pin, and the constant threat of wood, make the NF a potential nightmare for some boaters.” -Oregon Paddling
You know the old saying, “It’s not going anywhere, it’ll always be there.” That never really crossed my mind with the N.F. Clackamas. I made my way down to the lip and into the pool below the falls about a year ago and found a marginal, but runnable line over the falls. It didn’t seem quite as bad as previous reports that I had heard of. For the next year it would consistently run back to the the front of my mind and refresh my memory and go take another look. Finally Bryon Door, Tony Skriv, Joe Stumpfel, & I went in to take a look at the inner gorge on the N.F. Clackamas… Much to our surprise…The first drop had a log across it and as we made our way down to the big falls, I noticed a clear cut high on river right. At the first glimpse of the top of the falls it looked completely different than what I had seen the year before. The land slide had deposited a car sized boulder at the lip of the falls splitting the flow into two channels and making the mandatory left fading line, away from the boulders, a far fetched dream. Most of the current now goes right off the lip and into the shallow rocks below. Here are a couple images and check Exploring Elements for a future post on the N.F Clackamas River.
I have always shied away from putting on the North Fork of the Clackamas River. Most reports usually have something to do with boat-breaking rapids or scary wood situations. To top it off, if you run the first waterfall and proceed into the waterfall gorge, the portage route becomes much more difficult. But, if you take the easy route, it cuts out some of the most impressive views of the N.F. Canyon.
However, this proved once again that you should just go see for yourself. So, after getting shut down trying to get into the Upper Roaring – again, Jacob Cruser, Hans Hoomans, Paul Meirer, & I parked beside the tree with a big ’3′ painted on it and got ready for the short hike down to the North Fork.
The water was low, the first half mile painfully so. Once the rapids started, the creek narrowed and it was enough action to alleviate the low water blues for awhile. In less than an hour we approached the waterfall gorge and there was a dramatic change in the canyon walls directly above the first 10ftr. We decided to drop into the gorge and try to portage at water level so we could get a glimpse of the big falls and avoid pulling the raft uphill.
This portage required a high and steep climb up the left canyon wall,a short traverse downstream, to a rope assisted descent back to the water. It took some time and work, but wasn’t too bad over all. The big falls has a class IV lead-in with a hole against the left wall at the lip of the falls making the left of center line pretty tricky. This hole is where the raft ended up for about 15 minutes as it went back and forth, spinning at the lip of the falls. Finally Hans & Paul pulled the boat back up and sent it over the hole and down the falls.
The canyon had tightened at the entry falls, locking in with overhanging walls at the big falls. It then opened up at Stairway to Heaven, leaving just enough of a path to navigate between the cliff walls to access the river. It was well worth the effort to get below the big falls to check it out & enjoy the canyon. From previous reports the portage from the top of the ten foot waterfall to the top of Stairway is much easier.
After Stairway, the canyon changed character a little and spilled through some fun boulder gardens. It put us above the last two wood portages, just above the slack water of the lake. After a short paddle across the lake we were all excited to be at the end of our adventure. We ended up here as part of ‘plan B,’ but as far as the water levels go I wouldn’t go back without more water.. It is a gear abusive run at lower flows.
For more information on the logistics of the N.F. Clackamas check out the Trip Reports on Oregon Paddling and OregonKayaking.net.
Other whitewater nearby N.F. Clackamas River, OR
The Deschutes River originates from a 130 acre lake called Little Lava Lake which sits at 4,744ft in elevation 40 miles southwest of the town of Bend, OR. The river flows about 252 miles from the lake through irrigation reservoirs, over falls, into man-made lakes, and between ancient basalt lava flows on its way to the Columbia River. During the early spring the Deschutes River from Bend to Lake Billy Chinook runs at a pretty consistent flow while the canals in Bend are still dry and no water is being pulled from the river. Scott Baker, Dan Laham, and I decided to try and paddle from Benham Falls to Lake Billy Chinook, approximately 60 miles, camping two nights and paddling 3 days. We had a good flow averaging around 1,000cfs. The first day we paddled the upper section with Benham, Dillon, & Lava Island Falls through the Meadow camp run into Bend (with a couple bridge portages) and continued through the Riverhouse run.
On day two we took a leisurely morning and enjoyed as much sunshine as we could before jumping back in our boats and continuing out of town. Large homes lined the canyon for miles until we reached Awbrey Falls which turned out to be our first portage of the day. The Falls funneled into a sieve pile on the left and a very dangerous cave on the right.
Much of day two was swift moving water that lead up to marginal to un-runnable falls. In this section of the river the banks were lined with thick brush on both sides of the river making scouting, portaging, and even stopping for a break very challenging. Our goal was to reach Steelhead Falls and camp so that on day three we would only have the canyon section into the lake. We reached Big Falls late in the day expecting it to be Steelhead, but instead of setting up camp, we had another portage through thick brush and a long walk to access the river again. After a couple more miles we reached a State Park just above Steelhead Falls and set up camp.
The next morning we put on the river a couple hours earlier than the previous day and made quick work of Steelhead then proceeded into the canyon. This section of the river had some very impressive canyon walls and fun whitewater. The brush on the banks made any scout look terrible so we pushed downriver without scouting in this section.
After a few fun class IV rapids spaced apart by large pools we hit the slack water of the lake. We were suppose to paddle a few miles to the boat dock, but after running into another group who were taking out at the bridge over the Deschutes River arm of the lake we climbed out there and saved a couple miles of slow going flat water. All in all it was a great multi-day trip with many different settings to keep things interesting. Portaging the Big Falls and Cline took some work in finding a route back to the river as these falls are flowing through cliffed out basalt walls. The canyon below Steelhead Falls was impressive and definitely worth a return trip for a leisurely day run. Huge thanks to Matt and Andria for helping out with the shuttle! For more information on the individual day runs check out the Trip Reports on Oregonkayaking.net