March 08, 1997 at 9:33 AM
I was going to run the Wilson river Saturday, March 8, 1997 but Scott Harvey called up and with great enthusiasm and fabrcation sold me on joining him on a trip down the Salmonberry river. He had conned Bert Campbell, Charlie Escola, and kayaker Mark Yauney into running the river. Since Scott hasn't cornered the market on how to make enemies, I invited Katharine Lykins and my brother Richard Riggs on this " fun filled adventure". Little did I know how much "adventure" we were going to have.
Scott and Charlie had gone to the " Beaver Slide" put in 4 weeks earlier and talked about the 4 wheel drive requirements to get to the river. Katharine and I decided to drive to the North Fork Salmonberry confluence with the main stem to revisit our launch point two years ago. Well, the floods of '96 wiped out the road a mile above the confluence and there are no plans to rebuild it.
We drove back up through the snow and down Beaver Slide to within 1/4 mile of the river where we stopped to scout the road only to discover one tire was going flat. Instead of risking homesteading in the mud bog we walked to the river and found a nice but slick put in which would surely accommodate the 3 cat boats, kayak, and bucket boat we planned to bring in on Sunday. While changing the tire on the jeep this fella with no front teeth who looks like he just came from a scene out of "Deliverance" comes walking up, looks at the flat and asks "Got a flat tire Huh?". I searched for a sign on his back which says "STUPID" but couldn't find it so I figured he must be a Salmonberry rafter also. It turns out "Jethro" and his buddy were down the hill from us in a Plymouth sedan and needed us to get out of the way so they could get a run at the mud hole and blast through it. We moved the Jeep up hill and waited to see if our inbred friends would need some help getting out but they came through with flying colors (mud colors that is). The river looked like a go to me.
Sunday morning our crew, Scott Harvey, Charlie Ecola, Bert Campbell, Katharine Lykins, Richard Riggs, Mark Yauney, and myself, assembled at the Dairy Queen in Manning. Since this river is a killer shuttle we conned my neice and her husband into driving the infamous Travelall towing a horse trailer to the take out . The plan being to put all the passengers in the rig and the gear in the trailer and drive back to Scott's truck at the Salmonberry road junction with Hwy 26. We consolidated Scott's and Mark's gear into Bert's and my pickups and drove through less snow and more mud to the put in . This segment of driving took 45 minutes but would take longer if you weren't sure of which "Y" to take.
After about an hour of inflating and rigging my bucket boat , Mark's kayak, Bert's two cat boats and Scott's cat we were ready to launch from a fairly good access point just across the railroad tracks. Immediately the river picked up momentum as it swung out of view of our vehicles and I found myself working hard on the oars to stay on course as we passed under the first RR bridge. My oar sleeves were not adjusted properly and I was giving away valuable leverage that I needed especially when hauling two passengers, 20-40 gallons of water, a cooler, three river bags and my fat butt. I'd work off some of the fat by the end of the day. Bert, Scott, and Charlie seemed to be faring quite well in the cat boats in this steepest section of the Salmonberry as did Mark in his Yak. There was not much time for sightseeing above the confluence of the North Fork Salmonberry (our launch point two years ago) because of the constant rock dodging , rock hitting, and rock 'n rolling we were enjoying. I've never had to ship my oars so much in my life.
After the first two miles the gradient slackened and we passed under the cable at the confluence. Just around the bend we docked at a gravel bar to assess our boats, and boaters. Charlie had a broken oar blade and needed to adjust the oar right, but more severely, he had to relinquish the con to Richard because the tendons in his forearms were starting to flare up and he could no longer grip the oars. Charlie climbed into my boat and was put to work right away on the bail bucket brigade. "There's no free lunch and there's no free ride".
The canyon narrowed again and the speed picked up as we continued downstream being alert for new rocks and sweeperes which may have come down since our last descent. We passed around a couple of downed trees then the next thing I know Scott and Mark are yelling to get over to the bank. To our horror, we see Scott pulling on the oars but losing the battle with the river Gods as his boat is pulled into a sweeper. The cat slams into the tree, then flips backwards putting Scott into the water . We watch him go under surface as the river pushes him under the log. The inverted boat follows him after making some breaking noises. We are somewhat relieved when he surfaces downstream of the log and is carried away around the bend. Mark carries his 'yak around and re-enters the river to chase Scott down . We'll worry about the boat later.
Bert manages to haul out on river right and I order my crew to prepare for an emergency landing on river left in the midst of fast water. The three of us from the Momentum are clinging to rocks with our feet and one hand while the other hand is trying to maintain a grip on the boat. Our arms are aching and Katharine is being pulled into the current as the boat continues to slip away from us. I tell her that her first priority is to keep herself safe and that we can rescue equipment later if necessary. Charlie manages to grab the bowline and get a wrap on a protuding rock which allows us to finally rest for a moment. The river is such an unrelenting force , a friend or a foe, but it never stops and it doesn't care.
While we are struggling to land our boat , Richard comes around the corner and hears us yelling to pull over but the bad news is Bert and I have taken the poor excuses for parking spots already. Richard attempts to land on river right downstream of Bert but he has no bowman to leap to shore and hold him. He bounces back into the channel and it is inevitable he will hit the sweeper. His boat runs into the log and begins to flip backwards while he is trying to scramble over the front to get on top of the log. Abandon Ship! Being a cat boat there is no floor to launch from without planning where to step . He has no time for this . He is in the drink clinging to the log, the boat oar pushing against his leg. Richard pushes the oar and boat away from himself with his free leg and watches as the inverted cat takes off downstream after being spit out from under the log. We feel helpless as we watch from our positoins grasping our own boat. He feels no strainer branches with his legs and decides to push off and go under the sweeper figuring if the boat can make it so can he. Richard makes it to an eddy 20 yards below the log and hauls himself out complete with glasses and hat. Croakies work!
We are somewhat relieved but what about Scott? Could he have run into another sweeper downstream? Hopefully Mark will find him. In the mean time Bert and Richard are rigging throw bags to line the remaining cat boat down to the branched end of the fallen maple tree. I grab the throw bag from my Momentum and 'biner one end to the stern and the other end to a stout alder on shore. We will line it on the left bank over the main trunk of the tree. Katharine proceeds down the tracks to scout for Scott and Mark while Charlie and I begin to bail what seems to be 200 gallons of water from the Exxon Valdez.
Bert lines his boat into the sweeper and the current forces the cat into the branches, snapping those that insist on providing restraint. You always think a tube will rupture when boat meets stick but the new fabrics inflatables are made of today again prove their mettle. Richard and Bert complete their task and ferry across the Salmonberry to assist Charlie and me . The extra throw line comes in handy as I stand on the log and toss the throw bag to Richard who ties it to another tree downstream . The plan is for Charlie to slacken the boat while Richard yards the bow end down river and I heave the boat itself over the log without getting swept into the drink. A few tense moments and voila, the bucket boat is past the obstacle which caused us so much grief. I guess it took us about 1:45 to go 40 feet, excluding Scott and Richard of course.
While we were fiddlydinkiing around with the lining of boats, The City Of Tillamook Railway train came upstream and stopped, wondering if we wanted them to radio for help. We declined the radio offer but had we been equipped with chains or cable it would have been a good idea to have them yank the sweeper out of the river . We inquired about Scott and Mark and they told us that they had to kick Scott off the freight train twice as he tried to hitch a ride the 1 1/4 mile back to us . I later told Scott he was unsuccessful in his attempt at riding the rails because he wasn't carrying the prerequisite bottle of Thunderbird in a paper bag. The switchman confirmed our MIAs were ok and offered radio help one more time but we declined knowing everyone was OK and that we were equipped to deal with the situation. Besides, there would be another train tomorrow.
Since Richard decided not to swim the remainder of the run and now had no boat, we gave him the bucket, put him in the Momentum, and said it's time to earn your fare. So now there were four of us in the raft, Bert was in the cat and Scott and Mark were somewhere downstream. Rounding a bend 1/2 mile beyond our sweeper encounter, Scott was working his way through the brush up river right. We pulled over and he seemed shaken from his swim. Later he found out he bruised some ribs. He found Richard's cat boat stranded in the middle of the big class IV rapid at tunnel 2. And then there were five. If I had known everyone was going to abandon ship and join me in my boat I would have been willing to share the work by bringing paddles for all. Fortunately we only needed to go another 1/4 mile before we had to pull out and determine how to rescue the unmanned Aqua Module (cat boat).
It was a nasty route down the right and even uglier on river left. The middle was off limits guarded by pourover rocks and holes. Bumping the cat might get it loose but would leave two boats set up with no route except a sideways drop into one of the holes on river left. Bert suggested a Pendelton Roundup rescue. It looked like the safest method of retrieving the boat provided someone was proficient with a lassoo. Since we needed a recovery boat below the Tunnel drop, Richard and I piled into the raft and set course through the maze on river right. While we were getting the bucket boat , a tree fell off the cliff into our path unbeknownst to us, but was pulled out by our roping competitors before we arrived at the rapid.
A tight technical run, I shipped the oars several times, popped one of them out of the oarlock, and managed to luck out on getting lined up straight on the holes to punch them and pull out 400yds past our rodeo contestants on the right bank. We were around the corner out of sight and tied off to a tree root. Time for a beer. I knew they would be a while freeing the cat boat . We waited for about 30 minutes and sure enough, around the corner came the unpiloted cat right side up. Richard instructed me to go after it but I was still moored, he was on the bank, and even if I caught up with it in the looming class III rapid, how would I secure it and control both boats to a safe haven on shore. I opted to utilize some philosophy I heard on TV-"It's better to be lucky than good". With this inspiration, I leaned off the stern of my land bouy, made one, two, no, three grabs at the cat tube loops before finally catching the remaining molecule of thread connected to the boat. I pulled it in to my micro eddy as if it had been rehearsed, handed it off to Richard, and popped a cookie in my mouth . The only natural act of this sequence was the latter, but to be cool you must act cool.
Since we had now retrieved the boat surely the rest of the crew would come walking around the head wall any minute ready to commence our adventure. 45 minutes passed and finally there was our crew but on the opposite shore from where they had started! How did they get there? Legend has it that the falling tree on river right made them nervous about scaling the class V cliff to reach us so Bert did the noble thing and had Charlie, Scott and Katharyn straddle the tubes of his 12' cat and ferried them to the oppsite shore above the big drop. According to Bert it was a strenuous pull to make it to the bank before the Salmonberry sucked them into the maw of Rototiller rapids.
Now what? Everyone was on river left except Richard and me who were at the lip of a class three boulder garden on river right. Bert went on by solo saying he'd meet us somewhere on river right, explaining that the trail crew would have to do the same. My aching arms had some time to rest so off to the races Richard and I went through the boulder maze looking for a place where two boats without landing personnel could eddy out on the right to pick up the rest of the crew. A quarter mile downstream we managed to catch a calm spot where we could jump out and tie off. In 10 minutes the Salmonberry Seven were reunited when the walkers spied us from the tracks and hopped aboard my bucket boat. Mark had left his kayak downstream where he had caught up with Scott's cat and walked up the tracks to supervise the lassooing of Charlie's cat. Again I had the paddle crew but no paddles; Mark should have at least brought his kayak paddle for moral support. Fortunately it was only 1/2 mile to Enright where Scott's battered boat was beached.
Enright is a two building community accessible by train or quadracycle. There is a rail siding there and at one time in the 30's it is reported to have had 1000 people living in this logging camp. Since it was past 4:30 we had no time for visitation so Bert gave Scott a spare oar lock and Scott replaced his broken oar with his spare. The tractor seat on his rig was torqued up but still usable. It was time to go. I had forgotten about the big holes below Enright we would have to run and was soon thankful for the weight of my two passengers which helped me punch some of the larger curlers.
We were burning daylight so it was understood that scouting would be kept to a minimum. A mile below the water tower and bridge at Enright are three distinct pourovers which Scott lead us through followed by Bert and me. On the third and biggest hole, Richard in Charlie's cat, decided to punish the rig for abandoning him at the sweeper tree so he flipped the 12 foot boat. Revenge is not a good game to play with the River Gods. This time Mr. Salmonberry broke off two ammo cans, and kept Richard's leather cowboy (hippie) hat while he practiced his breast stroke. Well, at least the croakies worked! In no time Richard was a ridin' that doggie upside down while Scott chased him into a shallow spot . As I worked to position to help, Charlie spied an oar cruising by so my mission changed to retrieving gear since the boater was ok. We eddied out and waited for the cat to be righted all the while watching the daylight fade to gray. The thought of running this river at night had no appeal to any of us .
It took Scott and Richard about 15 minutes to right the cat and get it headed back down river with Richard at the oars resembling a drowned muscrat. He complained he could not see because his glassses were fogged up and dusk was upon us. Nevertheless we pushed on and the river doubled in size as we passed several creeks. When we came to Preston creek the channel narrowed and a big log jam lurked on the right prompting us to get out and scout. My boat was on river left and the others were on the right bank. The main concern here was a submerged tree sticking out of the slot where a boat may be tempted to pass. Surveyeing the situation, the log jam was no threat, but there were pourover rocks that needed to be circumanavigated. Scott and Bert made it look easy so Richard , Mark, and I followed unscathed.
Shortly after Preston creek the channel re-widened and some cabins came into view signaling our take out at the confluence with the Nehalem was near. The current was still strong and as we beached on the left bank under the Nehalem River Road Bridge the whitecaps on the Nehalem itself were standing tall. I climbed down the north bank and read the gauge at the bridge pier ; it was 4.00'.
The Travelall and horse trailer were on the road but we had to downrig our boats and hike the gear up the hill 50ft to stage our stuff for loading. While most of us were busy hauling gear, Richard backed the truck and trailer into loading position and took the opportunity to change out of his wet suit and into my dry pants and socks and Katharyn's sweater. Only after we were highway bound did I notice something familiar about the belt he was wearing. I guess he deserved a break. Afterall it's not everyday you get to earn your submariner's stripes twice.
The next stage of the Salmonberry shuttle logistics called for Bert and me to hop into Scott's truck and drive in the 40 minutes to our launch point while the rest of the crew continued to the Dairy Queen in Manning and offloaded gear into piles for reloading onto our respective vehicles. It was dark and rainy but we made good time going in and out the dirt/mud/ snow road to get our pick ups. We rendezvoused at the Dairy queen and packed up in short order. I got my pants back and changed in the rain. We arrived in Portland about 10:30. If ever you do the Salmonberry, get an early start and a shuttle driver.