the rest of California being dry as it typically is in the
Dave Maurier made the drive up north to meet me for some kayaking in
the Smith drainage. The Smith River drainage is the only completely
free flowing drainage in California. All forks flow from their source
to the sea with no dams at all, a total of about 320 miles of free
rolled into the drainage around noon on Friday, with rain
down and water levels coming up a bit. Knowing flows were low the
previous day, we opted for the Middle Fork because we had heard it goes
at lower flows than other runs. After a quick stop in Gasquet, (locals
pronounce it “Gas-kee”) we were off to find a
put-in. Just outside of town we saw a bunch of boaters on the water and
hopped on with a group comprised of people from Oregon. The first
several miles were class II-III with no remarkable features except for
waves that were great for wave trains. Eventually we got to the Oregon
Hole Gorge and things picked off with a nice class III rapid.
Immediately after this rapid most the group eddied on the right, with
the leader eddying out on the left in a smaller eddy. Dave started to
ferry across surprisingly low, and about ¾ of the way
across, realized he wasn’t making it. As Dave disappeared
over the horizon line my interest in the rapid picked up. I ferried
across and got beta that it was just a big long rapid, so I went for
it. As I dropped in I couldn’t see over the wave right in
front of me and picked up speed as I went down the middle. Cresting the
first wave I saw a hole on the left and punched through it, exiting in
a long tail stand, looking at the sky and wondering what was next
downstream. Just as I was getting my boat leveled off and under control
I hit another small hole and rear endered into a quick rodeo roll,
proceeding down through the run out. This rapid is “Fire
hose” and reminded me quite a bit of “Gaping
Maw” on the Cal-Salmon, without a left side. I paddled down
to Dave who was eddied on the right, and found that he had a similar
run as well. I grabbed my camera and headed up the cliffs to get a
picture, of the Oregon crew running it.
Goldberg on the Middle Fork Smith: Firehouse.
Samantha on the same rapid.
Jenny Goldberg on the Middle Fork Smith
after Fire Hose was a fun swirly rapid, followed by a bit
flat. The next rapid had a few large rocks at the top, with a nice
large entrance ramp on the left. From the eddy it looked good to me so
I charged down the ramp driving right with Dave close behind.
Thankfully we drove right on the entrance, and continued that way
seeing a very large wide hump on the left. It turns out this is the
famed “Oregon Hole”. We eddied out and watched two
of the group run the rapid, one brushing the edge of a hole, both
working much harder with their longer boats in the quick turn. As the
last member of our group dropped in she was angled a bit too much to
the left, and paddling a much longer old boat. As Megi turned and
started to paddle back to the right she was unable to break across the
current, and we quickly learned how the Oregon Hole got its name.
Dropping sideways into the hole she disappeared for a second and then
resurfaced deep in the trough getting a bumpy ride. This quickly
changed into a brief moment upside down followed by several ends in the
10’+ boat. Megi gave a good fight and swam quickly after
this, taking one recirculation and flushing out of the right side of
the Oregon Hole.
Nate running Oregon Hole at lower flows, it's obvious where the rock
ledge creates a big hole at higher flows.
regrouped with everyone feeling okay and finished the class
out of the run. I think the only thing lacking about this run is the
length, the gorge is tragically short, and is really only three major
rapids. I’d give the gorge a solid class IV rating. Later in
the weekend we ran it again and put in at a river access that is signed
Oregon Hole Gorge. This is the preferred put in, giving you a quick
warm up of two rapids before the gorge. You could easily do laps
putting in here. Shuttle directions are both easy to figure out and in
the Holbek & Stanely guide.
While you can run the Oregon Hole low, it's actually tougher
around 1,500-1,800 than around 2,500. It starts to get very pushy at
4,000 but can be run even higher.