Monday, August 19, 2013

Middle Fork Nooksack/North Fork below the falls

It's been a productive summer, I've ticked off a few classics I've always wanted to do like the Upper Birkenhead and Rogers Creek, as well as participating in the Callaghan Creek Race and coming in 18th with Mason Lacy. Near the top of my list for a long time has been the Middle Fork of the Nooksack as well as the missions below and above unfortunately unrunnable Nooksack Falls on the North Fork. With work keeping me in my local area lately, all of the Nooksack drainage is within about an hour of Chilliwack, the opportunities have finally started to present themselves.

Rogers main event. Photo by Steve Arns

North Fork Nooksack Horseshoe Bend. Photo by Tegan Owens
Callaghan Race, the big falls getting lined up. Photo by Michael Hustler

Despite less than ideal levels for some sections the drainage holds water long after most other things in the area have dried up due to the glacial feed off Mount Baker high in the Cascades. I have long been attracted to the area, but often find it hard to rally boaters from North of the border to head south.

I'll start with the Middle Fork. My buddy Wayne from Williams Lake had been down near Glacier for some vacation so I'd been paddling the Horseshoe Bend section with him all week, a classic section that goes at a variety of water levels. This gave me the opportunity to meet some of the Glacier local boaters, Glacier is an amazing place, in fact this whole area is a great place to come hang out and spend time.

With the Middle Fork gauge reading in the 200-300 cfs range I figured it was done for the time being until it started raining a bit, though I had read posts of it being run this low before. There was a rumour that the gauge was off by about 200 cfs low which would place the actual level at 400-500 cfs, a good runnable level as I understand it. So we made a plan to meet Saturday morning.

We got started fairly early, 2 of us had done sections of the run which was good for sure. We debated whether to do the Upper section in addition to the gorge and settled on being there anyway we may as well, how bad could it be even if it was low we thought.

Well turns out none of it was what I'd call bad. The Upper is definitely a step up on the gorge I found, especially it's steeper sections with it's continuous nature, the level caused one portage on the whole run, near the start of the Upper where it was too low to run the regular centre line and too bony to do anything else. It turned out the gauge is reading correctly and it was quite low, but it was still a sweet run and a great day!

The gorge is classic, similar in character to Norrish Creek but a half step up in difficulty and more distinctly pool drop character, there are some amazing rapids and great boofs in here. This is my new favourite section of river I'd say, and a great new afterwork alternative for capable Fraser Valley folk. There is an unbelievably awesome rapid in there I think called S-bend, a super narrow slot on the left followed by a big wavy drop down to a hole...this rapid is one of the most fun I've ever ran. The gorge all went at this level, and was more enjoyable than low water Norrish, but I wouldn't want to do it any lower for sure and am excited to run it higher! It's amazing how clean it is either way, and there are long stretches of class III/IV read and run through large portions of the entire run as well.

The Upper part definitely needs more water. I wouldn't go back in there at this level as it was quite bony. It took us a good couple hours to pick our way down the entire run at this level with nobody remembering anything, but it was a great day that ended with a delicious trip to the North Fork Brewery for pizza and beers and reminiscing of good times on the water! Even got in my first head dip mega-edge boof today!

Well it's low, should we do the upper part? ...sure why not

Wayne and Scott start off on the Upper

Wayne and Scott heading into the steep maze in the Upper

This gives you an idea how low it was, the boof on the left side of the picture was still sweet

Wayne shows us the lines through the mank on the Upper
Me on the same rapid I think. Photo by Roy Massie

Me on the same drop pictured below. Photo by Roy Massie

Roy dropping a cleaner Upper drop

Wayne taking notes

Scott resurfaces Russian sub style

Beauty gorge from the bridge above by the dam
Wayne in Hawaii Five-O I think. Photo by Roy Massie

Huddling up to discuss S-bend in the heart of the gorge, my favourite rapid

The North Fork Nooksack, unbeknownst to many people, has more than just Horseshoe bend and the class III and II stretches below, it has a number of class V runs both above and below Nooksack Falls. My buddy Ash was wondering what to boat a month or so back and I told him about the stretch below the falls which I knew very little about and he and Guy went in there and ran everything! I believe the level at the time was around 1400 cfs.

A few weeks later Josh and I decided to head down and check it out with the level around 800 cfs and found it to be too low unfortunately. It was still a great chance to get some amazing photos and run a few drops in a rarely attended section of river, you really could tell how relatively untouched the area down there is. At the takeout we found that the run of river project there is diverting, we thought it was out of commission, that would explain the low level and why it needs the North Fork to have more water to be runnable, looked like a good 200-400 cfs was being diverted. I'm excited to get back in there at a decent level and also to explore the stretches above the falls.

Lowering to the river

Berries....everywhere, so good! ...and spikey

Nice shot of the mist from the falls

Nooksack Falls from the base...125 feet onto a rock

Josh running the first drop

That's why it's so low! (powerhouse in the background)