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First Descent of Succor Creek, Oregon

Written by Mike Moser

On Sunday, May 7, 2006, Mike Copeland, Mike Moser, Jeff Careaga, Andrew Elam, and Aaron Swisher made the first known descent of Succor Creek, a tributary of the Snake.  This is a summarized trip report of the event.
As we drove into the canyon of the Succor Creek drainage, we were overcome with the normal Owyhee scenery.  The jutting spires and canyon walls make this just worth the drive.  There are many caves that are along the road and some great camping spots as well.

A picture of a steep section from about 1 mile away
At first glance of the creek that was running down miles from the takeout, we were definitely thinking that it needed a lot more water in it.  We were all thinking that this might have been a drive that just wasn't going to pay off.  As we got to the takeout for the creek, a campground with a footbridge that crosses the creek, Mike Copeland gave us some unwelcome news, "The water is down about 6-8" since the last time that I looked at it."

We decided to head up the road and take a look anyways.  As we got to a spot where the road could look down inside, we pulled out the camcorder and zoomed in.  Our thoughts were in the same place, too low of water.  We decided that we had driven all that way and we might as well get wet, even if we were going to scrape all the way down.  Another note is Mike Copeland had taken pictures of the top part of this creek and also from where we could see down into the canyon (which wasn't much).  We weren't expecting any of the rapids that we got.

Once we got to the put in (a farmer's field with a sneak line under the barb wire), we were all cracking jokes about how you could literally watch the 10 cfs go by.  We drug our kayaks through the field and got ready.  We were in for a surprise!

There is some nice warm up scraping at the top before you enter into the gorge.  We came to the first real rapid which we dubbed, "Rattlesnake", since it is a nice winding channel that has sieves on the left side.  Also, Jeff Careaga jumped back quite a bit during scouting after almost stepping on a rattler.  We all decided that it wasn't the best place to scout and decided to follow Aaron Swisher's line directions from his scout on the other side of the river.

Swisher SweetsSwisher Sweets
As we went deeper into the gorge, the rapids got harder and hairier.  We came to a boulder choked rapid that had a sieve in the entrance.  We had to portage this.  There was a nasty drop at the end of this rapid that fell into a crack with a mean hole then flushed through a pinch turn drop.  We all ran down to where the drop was and Swisher was the only one who decided that it was worth running.  We dubbed this one "Swisher Sweet" due to Swish's not so sweet run down the drop.

It seemed that about every 50 yards or so, we were getting out of our boats to scout another section of a rapid.  There were sieves everywhere and nasty pinch drops as well.  There were a ton of rapids that just dropped down these sweet little chutes.  We all came to an agreement that another foot of water would be scarrrry!

There was a drop in there that wasn't too terrible, but it was a must make move.  The water was dropping through this bumpy channel and pushing off a rock to the right.  Immediately after this, there were a few sieves and broach drops on the right and center, but the left channel was open.  Andrew Elam and I had gotten out and scouted this one while the others were still running a drop above.  We had told everyone what the move was and the first two had made it through just fine.  Swisher came through and had tiredly paddled his way to the left channel.  Too late, he was heading down one of the broach drops backwards.  Boom!  He was vertically pinned backwards in his boat.  I grabbed my throw bag from my pocket on my life vest and scrambled down the rocks to him.  Once I got close enough to throw he indicated he was alright.  I waded across to him while he was climbing out of his pinned boat.  Immediately his boat filled with water.  We got his boat free with me pulling from above and him shifting from below.  We came down to another rapid that had a nice little pinch turn in it.  The pinch turn looked like it had a nasty hole, but all the water was flushing.  As we were scouting this pinch, we could look downstream, and there was a significant horizon line.  We decided to set up safety here just in case.  Swisher ran it first and made it look easy, then he went down to scout that horizon.  When the next member of our group came through, Swish was giving the sign that the drop was no good.  I went to the river right (the portage side) after running the pinch and looked myself.  I saw a 15 footer dropping onto a nasty sieve rock in the middle.  I kept looking for someplace to run this drop at.  There was one little slot on the right that looked like it might be doable, but the boater would have to be precise and get a good boof without catching.  It looked shallow at the bottom of the drop.  We all agreed that a little dynamite might liven that rapid up.

Some of the calmer stuff
After that portage, you put back into a steep section of creek that is boat scouting all the way down.  Keep the eyes peeled for any rocks that are sticking out waiting to grab you.  We came down to a rapid that had a sweet slide type run through it.  The line is through two boulders at the top of the slide.

We came to a rapid that had a sweet boulder section in it.  We got out of our boats to see what down below looked like.  We were excited at the lead in of the rapid.  It had a nice narrow lead in with some good channels through it.  As we got higher on the hill side, we started to see something that didn't make us feel good.  All the water led into a nasty fall sieve.  It was here that we realized there was a nice cow trail on the river left.  We decided to be cows and hoof it.  There was a rapid that Mike Copeland had scouted that had a nasty little lead in.  He kept telling us to boof and there wasn't much room up above to get any speed over the sandpaper type rock at the entrance.  I watched Andrew go first and he ended up sliding down the left and coming out with a grimace on his face.  Swisher went next and got stuck on top of the rock.  I went after and knew that I would probably slide down left off the rock.  As I went up the rock, I saw a nasty little spoon rock down the left.  I tried to make my boat as flat as possible and drop on through.  After that ugly lead in, there was a triple drop.  The first drop, you boof to the right to avoid a rock, the second boof to the center and the third to the left.  They happen in quick succession and it is hard to get the last boof.  If you don't, you only end up with a hard landing and a sore butt.  The center boof, we all went deep in the aerated water.

Another good drop that we found was towards the bottom.  A signal that you are close is a small diversion dam on the river right side.  You might see it, you might not.  We came down some series of steep little rapids and rounded a corner.  Andrew was in front of me and as I came around and stopped in the eddy that he was just at, he disappeared over a drop.  Swisher came down and I told him, "He just disappeared".  Andrew finally materialized and told us to boof the right.  Swisher went and all I saw was the back of his boat disappear over the edge.  No boof there.  I went and as I paddled over, my nose just fell away from me and into the deep I went.  Completely under the water, then I resurfaced nose first almost toppling me over backwards.  Mike Copeland came through, same thing.  Jeff Careaga came through and same thing, but his boat resurfaced, popping clear out of the water and toppling him over backwards.  If we would have had more time, we would have dropped that drop again and again.  Unfortunately, Andrew had to be at work at 4:00.

I had a nice carnage situation.  I came down a little rapid nonchalantly and came way to close to an undercut.  I used my elbow pads to guard my face from the impact of the overhang and my paddle got wedged between the wall and the ground.  As that happened, I tried to hold on to my paddle and was forced upside down.  It was ripped from my hand and I did a hand roll downstream.  When I came up I looked back to see Andrew come past and jerk my paddle sideways as he went by freeing it.  Jeff Careaga was in uncontrollable laughter.  I was thankful to get my paddle back and to avoid a booty drinking swim.

The take-out after the run
There was some more carnage downstream, some I probably shouldn't talk about, and a lot more broaching.  The paddle out was kind of long through class III to IV- trashy stuff and our muscles were all tired and sore.  When we got back, we all had a beer and congratulated one another on a great first descent.  Andrew was anxious to find out what time it was and low and behold, it was 6:00.  At least he missed work for a great run.

We looked at the bridge at the campground and wanted to put a gage down there for future reference.  We didn't have anything to make a gage.  One reference that I can give you now is there is a cement side that ramps into the water.  If the edge of the water and the ramp meet where the cement is chipping away, this is a good flow to run this run.  If the water is any lower than 6" below this, you will probably want to come back another day.  If the water is a foot or more above this, beware, it could get really pushy inside this creek.  If we wouldn't have had all the eddies we had, we could have been in some real trouble.

Please note that the rapids that were described above are not necessarily in order.  They are in the order that I remembered them.  There are a bunch of other rapids in there as well that I didn't describe that are just as good because I figured the reader had the idea that this creek had a lot of good rapids in 7 miles.

Be very cautious of rattlesnakes.  I was laying on a rock video taping a section of the creek and then went to run the rapid.  While I was getting in my boat, Mike and Aaron came up the river to where I was just filming from and saw one of the biggest rattlesnakes they have ever seen.  Mike almost stepped on it and it didn't even rattle.  The day that we hit it, the weather was raining slightly, I would imagine on a warm say, lots of rattlers hanging out on the rocks that you have to scout from.

Thanks to Mike Copeland for inviting us on this adventure.

This story and photos are copyright 2007 by Mike Moser.