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Black Butte River - An Adventure

Written by Reid Kingsbury

Randy Watson and I recently completed a two-day, 24 mile raft run of the Black Butte River on April 9 and 10, 2005.  We started at the Basin on Estelle Creek and exited at the Middle Fork Eel confluence.  We were in a 10-foot self-bailing Wing raft.  The flows were averaging 1100 cubic feet per second as measured at the confluence.

We have the following to report:

The first mile required a lot of boat exits to pull the boat over rocks.  There was a great deal of cussing going on due to this.  Fortunately it was early in the trip and we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at that point.  Later, the murky water hid partially submerged rocks engendering even more cussing and apologizing betwixt Randy and me.  We felt that if the flows were higher, our rafting would have been significantly improved.  We second the notion that if you are going to raft, use a small boat, go light, and plan on three days rather than two, especially if you are over 45 years of age.  This would make the trip more relaxed and enjoyable.  There were a lot of logs, particularly in the first 5 miles, which our boat sometimes scraped under, sometimes did not.  So, maybe things would not have been easier if the flows in the upper reaches were higher.  Such are the vagaries of river running.

In the Cal Creekin' description of the first class IV rapid, Andy Hertz describes it as being beyond an overhead log.  The first real class IV rapid we encountered was a pig chute which ended in a rocky pool from which there was no raftable exit.  We believe that this was the one Andy Hertz referenced in his description.  The overhead log has now shifted downstream 75 yards or so, and is at an angle over the second half of the pig chute.  Fortunately, it does not interfere with the rapid run.  When we first encountered this rapid we decided we would line it.  At first glance we were freaked out by the jumbled rocks and felt like we could get sieved out on the left if we came out of the boat somewhere.  We further opined that Andy Hertz and his buddies were gung-ho, balls-out youngsters who think all class V rapids are just IV or IV+.  However, when we tried to bring the boat down to the point where we would line it, Randy did not understand that I was turning the boat 180 degrees preparatory to paddling upstream and thereby loosing momentum.  "What the hell are you doing" Randy quipped.  "I'm trying to eddy out the F---ing boat!" I yelled.  (This is what can happen when you go with your good buddy of 30 years.)  Since there was no good place to eddy out, and because we had too much momentum due to the argument, both of us ended up jumping out of the boat about ten feet from where the rapid begins.  The boat floated up broadside against a rock prior to the entrance and I ended up on the deep water side getting pulled further out against the boat.  Randy grabbed the boat onshore on the rock, but things were fairly precarious.  I went partially under the boat and had to wrestle my way back to the upcurrent tube.  At one point I got a foothold on a rock and tried to jump back in the boat but I slipped.  The current against my body was going to pull me, the raft and Randy downriver.  Randy was yelling for me to scootch back toward shore.  But then the water welled up and pulled me under and to the far end of the boat.  So, I ended up letting go and swimming the rapid.  You all know that stupid feeling when your stupidity gets you in trouble.  Well, I felt that.  Fortunately, I forgot to burp my drysuit and I floated like a cork.  I bashed down the pig chute staying to the right side and ended up in the unexitable pool at the bottom after bouncing off several large rocks.  After a minute I pulled myself out on a rock and made eye contact with Randy to signal that I lived.  I climbed back upriver to Randy, and in doing so got out on the log which we think used to be above the rapid.  It was on a 15 degree angle.  I was still filled with adrenaline and somehow underestimated how slippery it was until my feet came out from under me and my ass hit that log hard.  I fell another six feet off the log onto some rocks, and again experienced that "too stupid to live" feeling.  Amazingly, I was fine.  When I got back upriver to Randy we decided that if I could swim the rapid, then we could run it in the raft, which we did without further ado.

We then had excellent boating and soon got to a rapid which might be identified as Plug Rock by Mr. Hertz.  This rapid was another long pig chute.  However, at the terminus there is now a large, partially submerged log in the final drop under which the water flows.  You could probably swim underneath the log and squirt up the other side as there are probably no submerged branches coming off the log, but neither Randy nor I wanted to risk our lives to find out.  We therefore exercised our good judgment to line the raft through.  We then boated for another mile and a half and camped at mile 6.5 at a beautiful spot upriver from Buckhorn Creek.

Randy's back was hurting from all the jarring off the rocks.  I was sore from my swim and fall, but was elated.  To encourage Randy, I told him that we were perhaps the second crew to raft this 24 mile stretch of the Black Butte River, and second only to the Bauer brothers, who made the first recorded descent, and who are probably old geezers like us.  They were smarter, and did it in three days.

The next day we got an early start.  We had 19 miles to go.  Unfortunately we stiffened up a lot over the night.  We trepidatiously looked forward to fifteen minute scout rapid and Top Portage rapid, and continued trying to identify the side creeks to determine our location with varying success.  We got stuck in a big hole at the end of Top Portage and I came out of the raft.  I lost my paddle.  We were now down to our last two.  Things looked bleak.  It seemed like the river was just continuous class IV and there were many side creeks.  We ran the river skidding over or under the occasional full river log that came our way.  We were exhausted by mile 14 with 10 more miles to go.  Since we did not want to blunder into Double Dynamite, we tried like hell to identify Sallady Creek and Billy Williams Creek, and think that maybe we did.  We could not find Jumpoff Creek at mile 20.1 with its big gravel contribution.  Rather, there appeared to be a shit load of gravel on river right for about 200yards around mile 22, prior to the relatively calm water that is a prelude to Double Dynamite.  In any even, DD was unmistakable.  We portaged on the right.  When my feet thawed out I came to realize that I had sprained my ankle.

It was a great trip and I will do it again.  I am not sure that Randy will.  I might have cured him of creekin.

This story is copyright 2005 by Reid Kingsbury.