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Herman Creek, Oregon
4.5 miles above hwy – E.F. Herman to PCT/Hwy
Nestled in the hills south of Cascade Locks, Herman creek meanders down the hill with a couple dramatic features. From Herman Creek Campground the trail climbs upstream, steeply, crossing the PCT then following the ridgeline up toward the East Fork.
We are now living in a time where knowledge is a click away. Any watershed can be inspected on Google Earth and any waterfall can be seen instantly in on-line photo galleries. Many of the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge can be viewed from the historical highway on the Oregon side and within short hikes along hwy 14 on the Washington side. Many of the guidebooks acknowledge around 75 waterfalls in the gorge, however with the right gear and planning there are a few hundred well within reach, most require a little extra effort to see. Herman creek appeared to be a worthy expedition. The hiking stories and photos on-line were intriguing to say the least. Like the other creeks in this area, Herman displays a rich northwest rainforest character sitting in the crosshairs of the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge.
Luke Spencer had been checking on the Herman Creek logistics for some time now with multiple scouting trips into the canyon in search of the waterfalls. A little over 4 miles up Herman creek it splits into the East and West Forks. On March 9, 2013 we decided to hike in and put-in on the waterfalls on the East Fork and continue down to take-out just above I84. Our crew came together, Brett Barton, Keel Brightman, Willie Illingsworth, Ryan Young, Luke and myself. We started hiking around 9am up the steep trail out of the campground. After about an hour the trail leveled off a little and headed deeper into the valley. At this point the canyon was closing in tighter, basalt walls rose higher and mini waterfalls poured from the cliffs above. It has a very close character to it’s larger sister drainage, Eagle Creek.
We arrived at the top of the ridge which would drop us into the East Fork of Herman. Willie kept hiking down the hill while we stopped to eat and get ready. On our way down we reached the creek and decided to head downstream on the right bank. At this point we were off any trail and moving slow through the thick vegetation. Finally, we arrived at the first set of fall and started scouting. The top drop had some wood very close to the landing and the second was perfectly clean and …perfect. We re-grouped and found out that Ryan Young had forgotten his spray skirt and had to hike out and no one had seen Willie since the top of the hill. After we put on all of our gear and gave a final scout on the falls we prepared to start down the creek when Willie appeared above the top falls.
Willie gave a quick scout on the upper falls and ran it without incident. Luke dropped in and led the way down the bottom falls. We all followed and headed down to our first portage.
A log jam blocked another small falls just before the confluence. We had to get creative and slide down one of the logs into the pool and swim across the pool in order to portage around the log jam.
After the confluence we paddled through countless class III boulder gardens with wood along the sides of the creek. We only had one wood portage before the next set of falls, about halfway down Herman’s main stem.
This horizon line was a beautiful sight, a mini gorge with two waterfalls stepping down through black basalt ledges and cutting a hallway around the corner through vertical walls. Luke, followed close by Willie, ran this set of falls while the rest of us were stunned by the beauty. Like all the other waterfalls in the area this one revealed a unique and exquisite beauty that was locked further out of sight than most.
We proceeded around the corner to the final pinch in the canyon. An eight foot falls poured out into an emerald pool and filtered around the corner bringing the creek back to a tame descent. The rest of the creek down to the PCT Bridge was read and run class III. Willie and I took out at the bridge and hiked down to the campground while the rest of the crew paddled down to the hwy. It took way too long for the rest of the crew to show up at the take out and when they finally arrived they reported multiple log portages in that section. If you take-out at the PCT Bridge you will only have one or two log portages from the East fork down.
Check out PDX River Explorers for more information on Herman Creek
With the right conditions and athletes anything is possible. The Columbia River Gorge continues to unveil it’s hidden and majestic falls. Kayakers have been in search of runnable whitewater and the heights of the falls have grown and grown over the years.
For over a decade I have been paddling, scouting, hiking and crawling through the creeks of the Columbia River Gorge and about 7 years ago I made a top ten list of the runnable and un-run waterfalls left in the Gorge and greater area. Erik Boomer recently pushed his imagination on Tanner Creek, knocking off Wahclella Falls —-CLICK HERE to see. That one was on my list at the time as was Palouse Falls (After I scouted it in 2007, which at the time seemed unbelievable, but somehow realistic for the right paddler). Well, Tyler Bradt put that one to the test and knocked it off the un-run list and the rest is history…
The technicality of the falls, access, and the height are factors that keep them from being run, but for those who look for these type of runnable waterfalls in a kayak it’s only a matter of time. Here is a look at a couple runnable waterfalls that are still on the un-run list. As i said, I made a list of ten falls, here are 5.
Exploring the Muddy Fork Cispus River, Washington
Bridge to FR 21
Forest Road 23 that runs from Randle to Trout Lake is a short cut to say the least at accessing the Cispus and Cowlitz drainage’s. In the winter it is snowed over and access is blocked off until spring. The amount of snowfall during the winter will determine when the road reopens in the spring or summer… The reason this little shortcut is so important is due to the fact that your other option is to drive four hours around to Portland, up I5 and back over to Randle. FR 23 takes an hour to get to the Cispus from Trout Lake.
A van loaded with kayaks, a topographical map, all the gear needed, and enough determination to hike through the pouring rain or snow to visit a new secluded area; for us this leads to documenting the runs that no one else wants to. How do you think classics whitewater runs are born? Proof; exploring, documenting and putting in the logistical work, hours looking over maps then driving the closest roads to where you want to go just to see if they are still roads or have turned into miles of trails at this point, going in and having to hike out or run out of daylight, then coming back and passing on the word to those interested based on what you had found. What happens between logistical work and passing on the good news can create some unforgettable experiences and hair pulling frustration.
Once you get to a point where you have paddled everything that looks fun in the local guidebook it’s only natural to look for something new. The Cascade Mountain Range isn’t a bad place to look, close your eyes and point to your next adventure. Brett had his eye on a curiously steep tributary of the Cispus River, intriguingly named, the Muddy Fork. It looked like a big enough drainage, steep enough, but not too steep, and easy access, why not check it out? We hadn’t heard any information on it as far as scouting or paddling attempts. That mixed with other un-seen creeks in the area lead us to the take-out bridge on the Muddy Fork. Keel Bightman and I drove north over FR23 to meet Brett Barton just before the snow level dropped.
At the take-out it looked good, definitely large enough to paddle and the flow looked low, but manageable. We decided to hike up from the take-out and take a look at the character of the creek to get an idea of what we were getting into. The first couple rapids had a rocky and trashy character in the creek bed. The section that we wanted to look at was only 2.5 miles long and the forest was easy to walk through so Keel and I decided to gear up and hike it without a boat. Brett was fired up to paddle and decided to take his boat, just in case.
We drove up the road in high spirits since we were all “off the couch” as they say, meaning we hadn’t paddled or been in search of whitewater in quite sometime. The mapped showed a steady loss in gradient for about a mile and a tighter pinch and steeper gradient in the middle of the run. It looked like a section that could possibly be called a worthy section of whitewater, but we had to see exactly what was in the canyon between the bridges. Our road was leading us into the snow line…”why did we just pass the Pacific Crest Trail?” came from the back of the van. “Huh, we shouldn’t have passed that.” I thought. But we hadn’t driven over a bridge… We quickly turned around in the accumulating snow and headed back down the hill. Watching the map much closer at this point, we pinpointed our put-in from landmarks on the map as we approached it and discovered that the creek was small enough that it passed through a culvert under the road and if you were not looking off to the side when you drove by, you would miss it.
At the put-in bridge it looked like less water, similar trashy (very jagged dark basalt) rock, and easy gradient. Brett put his boat in the water and Keel and I made our way downstream along the right bank. It didn’t take long to come to a log that blocked the entire creek, this is what we always dread seeing, a log portage in the first quarter mile. Next came a couple passable rapids with logs hear and there. The creek was trying to clean up in character and it pinched down into a channel just wide enough for a boat to go through. I looked at it closely and went up to give Brett the information that I had seen. “…you’ll need some right angle and paddle on the left to make it through the slot and there is an overhanging rock on the right side, you might want to duck your head left at the same time…” It gets complicated when someone explains something this precise and you have to execute those instructions to make your line go smooth, this is why paddling with people that you have mutual respect for and trust with their word, it could mean the difference between having fun or getting hurt. Brett headed into the pinch and executed the line perfectly. He looked a little like a pinball bouncing through the pinch and out, but that was the line; whatever it takes to make it down the creek safe and efficient. Exploratory paddling, especially in the winter, always makes you look at your time frame. Any hike in takes away from your daylight, major portages around waterfalls or mini-gorges takes even more, constant portages due to logs across the creek eats away more time and starts to exhaust you, the more people you have on the trip takes even more time at every step. All of these factors force explorers to be as efficient as possible and much of the exploring is done in the fall and winter months when the rain comes and just before the snow level drops, which locks in the higher elevations until summer.
We started running into rapids that pinched too tight for even a boat to fit through, then more wood in a couple fun looking boulder gardens. This seemed to be the standard character to this Muddy Fork.
Ahead of us the creek dropped down an obvious horizon line with a log propped on the lip and dropping downstream out of sight. Just beyond the horizon the tree line angled downhill and dropped around a left bend. We had arrived at our steep section.
At close inspection, and to no surprise at this point, the creek tilted on end and spilled through a series of broken falls and a gauntlet of shattered logs as far as the eye could see. A ribbon of white weaved down though the forest and around the corner. Judging by the landscape our easiest escape was up the right on top of the ridgeline and down to wherever the creek eased up again. We hiked up and into the woods; it was easy going with very little undergrowth. The creek had cut down into the forest and we could see a bend to the right below where the creek looked like it was easing up and there could be a suitable place to get back in the water. Once we made it to that spot, the creek was still littered with wood so we continued downstream.
Soon we were on familiar ground and came across the rapids we had scouted before our trip. Much to our surprise these rapids looked much more fun than what we had just seen. The take out was within sight and we hiked down to put on dry clothes. The creek hadn’t been exactly what we were looking for. We had hoped for cleaner bedrock and rapids that were fun yet challenging with more time (if not all) spent in the boat, instead the rapids that were there were full of jagged rocks and blocked by logs in many rapids. Many could read this and say that we wasted hours or even a whole day just to get shut down, but we saw it as another adventure; looking on a map, finding a new location, and going to explore with close friends, high in the hills, deep in a small valley, and far from civilization. We didn’t find what we hoped to find, but it was far from a wasted day.
I love Washington’s forests!