Trip Report: Lower Clackamas

Lower Clackamas 

Submitted by Fred Payne

01/01/2021 Lower Clackamas, Upper McIver Park to Barton Park, 3000 cfs

I'm a glutton for punishment.

two boats NYD.jpg

I really, really wanted to go on the OWA’s New Year’s Day Sandy trip, but instead I went on the Clackamas River.

Not that there is anything wrong with the Clack.  Far from it.  I just needed to be home by about 1:00 PM.  Given that the Sandy trip wouldn’t start until 11:00 AM after the shuttle was complete, I wasn’t sure when I would be getting home.  Certainly, midafternoon at the earliest. 

That’s why I am a glutton for punishment.  I wanted to watch my Irish pay Alabama in the semi-final Championship game.  The most recent game between Notre Dame and Alabama was in 2012 for the Championship.  One of the better tailgates I had been to.  The enjoyment lasted until about 3 minutes into the game. After that, misery as Alabama humiliated Notre Dame. (At least Notre Dame’s band was much better than Alabama’s!) Hope springs eternal and possibly this New Year’s Day, the Irish might pull off an upset. By going on the Clack, I could get started early and be assured that I would be home by kickoff at 1:00 PM. 

I should have gone on the Sandy.

Photo: Two Boats, submitted by Fred Payne

For me, the Clack is the section below Estacada Lake.  There are numerous launches: Upper McIver, Lower McIver, Feldheimer Rd, Barton Park and Carver Park.  If one wants a really long drift, there’s the pullout at Clackamette Boat Ramp. 

Once launched at Upper McIver, a rock garden is quickly encountered.  Lots of fun.  There’s a decent hole shortly after the launch at Lower McIver.  From Upper McIver to Feldheimer Rd, the scenery is spectacular!  

The Clack is a small boat river. There are times when a 14’ boat will work, but year-round, my one-person, 10’ cat works perfect.  The trouble with a one-person boat is that, if you want company, you need your companion to have their own boat.  Recently I bought a Puma—the same width as my 10’ cat but 11’6” long. I rigged it with a rowing frame that allows me to take a passenger. Or better, I bring both boats. I get to row. My guest gets to row.

From Feldheimer to Carver, it’s a lovely, lazy, 11-mile drift—and the perfect river to introduce new rowers to the sport.  Let them get the feel of the oars.  Practice pulling away from obstacles.  Work the stroke with one hand pulling and the other pushing. With some skills learned, launch with the novice at Lower McIver and then later Upper McIver for an introduction to Class II water. 

Set the hook properly on a novice rower and they are committed to rowing for life!Lower McIver Summer.jpg

Because I can go from my door to being on the river in as little as 40 minutes, I drift the Lower Clack quite a bit. During the late summer when the flow is low (300-500 CFS), there are a few times when I need to drag my Puma or 10’ cat across a gravel bar.  A drift can take as much as 4-5 hours.  Quite relaxing.

Beware!  The summer brings out inner-tubers.  One very hot Saturday in the summer, I took my 14’ boat with my son and two young grandsons on the Clack only to compete for lines through narrow channels with—and this is not exaggeration—about 500 people in tubes.  Best to drift those hot summer days during the week.

Photo: Lower Clack in Summer, submitted by Fred Payne

On New Year’s day, the Clack was flowing closer to 3,000 CFS. The 11-mile drift took only two hours. It was fun to see how the river had changed so much from the low flows in October.  Gravel bars disappeared as the water sought higher banks.  The Fall’s low flow channels were still the lines I mostly took as I headed down river, but there were opportunities to explore other side channels.

drysuit NYD.jpgAnother reason I drifted the Clack New Year’s Day was that I had my very first dry suit!  After a freezing dunk in the water in November 2019, I knew I needed a dry suit. A visit to Andy & Bax convinced me that the best option was a suit made by OS Systems out of Scappoose. Steve measured me up and the order was placed.  However, COVID has impacted OS’s ability to get their production levels back to pre-pandemic levels.  The suit was not available for my Grande Ronde Trip in November nor a Deschutes trip in December.  Paul, the owner of OS Systems, promised me it would be available for the Sandy float.  And he made good on that.  (I picked it up at Paul’s house the evening of December 30!)  Because Paul did me a good turn, I had to be on a river this past New Year’s Day.  (I only wished it would have rained!)  

Love the dry suit!  I put it to good use again on January 9.  And I look forward to using it again soon—hopefully on a wet, cold OWA float.

Photo: Fred in his new drysuit