“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.