Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Upper Norrish Part 2

The plan that morning originally was to hit the classic Norrish run, bit of a shame it didn't happen, as the creek was at a sporty level of 4.8, higher than I'd run it, and the weather was cooperating. So Tegan and I decided to spend our Christmas Eve day dropping in to the second half of Upper Norrish Creek..

I have to admit, I had mixed optimism for the run. To our knowledge, like the first half it hadn't been run since at least the mid 2000's, and at what level we had no clue. We set our same takeout vehicle at Rose Creek and headed up...instead of following the horrible logging spur into our extraction point from last time we decided to park at the bridge over the creek that tribbed in just above the canyon entrance and bushwhack down that, this also looked to be where the road was closest to the river. This was right around the 11 km marker on the FSR, meaning we had about 4 km of river to run.

Now normally I'm the gung ho lets go exploring person of whatever group I'm with, but I wasn't so sure about this..after the less than ideal conditions encountered in part 1, now this time we were starting late (1130), going into a canyon, there was now snow everywhere, and it was a crew of just Tegan and myself. Tegan was gung ho to get in there one was or another and got spirits going, good on 'er! So we set off into the notorious BC Hell****.

It was generally ok getting down until we got to a big slide about 200 feet vertically down to the river, we found an adjacent gully and managed to scurry our way down, but it wasn't easy, it probably took us 45 minutes to get to the river. Neither of us knew though, as my PFD watch had broken! Either way we ended up just above a fun class III boulder garden that lead into the canyon. Realistically the only issue I'd have going back is the access, there has to be an easier way in, and you could get in to anywhere that the river gravel bars out above the canyon between the 11km and 13 or 14 km point, above which is where all the portaging is. It also looks like they are building new logging spurs at the 11 km mark, which might help access.

Into the canyon we went! We were being very careful not to get gorged in and taking it slow with myself eddy hopping out front and signalling to Tegan things were good to go and pointing out ideal lines, always being mindful of extraction points, luckily of which there were lots! I didn't take many pictures of this canyon thinking we would be short on time, but it is the pinnacle and crux of the trip! Beautiful scenery, waterfalls coming down, and around 5-6 class III pool drop rapids, everything very clean and fun! There is a crux rapid, harder than the others and without an easy available portage as well to be prepared for.

Then we came around the corner to see two obvious horizon lines, and a giant room, and I got excited.

As we got up on the high ground to take a look, the scene was better than anything I'd expected to find! One of the more stout rapids with a glory boof led to a pool above a technical 10 ish footer with a bit of a hole at the bottom and a massive and easy runout and pool that would be fairly carnage friendly! The falls had multiple possibilities, either trying to boof the hole straight on or from the right at an angle, or drive left and try to fall down the shallower left and avoid the hole which would be difficult as there was a ledge that could catch you and feed you right into the hole.

Tegan decided to portage and take pictures while I ran the left. Sure enough I caught the ledge and fed into the hole, I managed to dig myself out and dust myself off and was stoked. Early Christmas present indeed.

Basically after the falls are fairly continuous, sometimes steep class III boulder gardens right to the dam, completely clean and fun with no portages or unavoidable wood. There are one or two notably steeper sections with great boofs as well. I class IV boater could read and run their way down this whole thing catching little eddies and watching for potential wood.

After portaging the dam was another big surprise! A stout little canyon with some awesome big drops! Including a river wide horseshoe hole that is backed up by a ledge which I'm not sure you'd ever come out of if you ran into trouble without safety. That was the problem with this one, to set safety someone has to get to river right, meaning they need to run the first drop without issue and catch the eddy on the right above the bad hole, or rope their boat down below the hole and ferry across. I suppose they could also get out on river right above the dam and hike down that side maybe too, though I didn't look at that. It was getting dark so we finished up our mission and set off. Below the mini canyon is another series of good read and run class III pool drops until you reach the confluence of Rose Creek. If you're not interested in the hard stuff below the dam and don't mind skipping the last bit you could just take out there as well.

This 4 km section of water, minus the put in access difficulty, is classic class III with a beautiful pool drop canyon and the optional class IV falls and IV+/V mini canyon below the dam. It also features about 2-3 km of great, at this time clean, boulder gardens. I wouldn't hesitate to go back in there at all. It reminded me a lot of another underused classic section we found this year on Chehalis River out of the lake. Our level of 4.8 seemed medium low, though the canyon and some constrictions were quite fluffy and boily. It almost seems like a step down in difficulty version of the classic lower Norrish run, which is not a bad thing at all, especially as it would be awesome when the lower was too high! I personally wouldn't hesitate to go in here at a level of 6 or 7 at all to check it out, though I wouldn't bring class III boaters at those levels until I knew what to expect. This opens up the Norrish drainage to a much wider level variety which is great!

Only the most difficult 1.5 km left on Norrish proper that I haven't yet's getting time to jump into the middle!

Getting ready for a boat hike! Mamba's unite!

The class III rapid above the canyon, great class III.

In the heart of the canyon. Scenery that parallel's the lower classic run.

The biggest rapid in the canyon, fun!

Is this the 8' 'learn to fly your kayak' drop Claudia talks about in 'Whitewater of Southwest BC'?

Sure enough, the ledge fed me into the hole. Surf's up!

Happy to be free.

Some of the better boulder gardens...kilometers of great boulder gardens!

This is probably the biggest pool you'll find in the gardens, it's fairly continuous

Typical downstream view.

How can you not see the stoke on her face.

Just below the dam exiting a mini-canyon, a stout backed up river wide.

The dam and a sweet rapid right after...swift water feeds into the river wide with little room for error.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Upper Norrish Part One

I took a drive about a month ago to check the Norrish gauge for the weekend, as well as to see if the road was repaired and open from a recent slide that occurred around the 3 km mark. Well sure enough it was, then I realized I'd never driven beyond the classic lower run put-in because of stories of gates and an 'Upper run' that until recently I hadn't really concretely pursued getting on. To my surprise there were no closed gates and the entirety of the Norrish watershed opened up to me, like some wonderful early Christmas present of exploratory possibilities!

To give some bearing, Norrish Creek is located just East of Mission about 10 minutes drive along the 7, then Hawkins Pickle road will take you to the classic lower takeout where a visual gauge is located on the river left side, downstream of the newly repaired and opened road bridge. The watershed is supposed to be open to be enjoyed as a public watershed for the people of the area, and the drinking water for Mission/Abbotsford is also extracted from Norrish Creek with a small dam. If you take Hawkins Pickle to Bell Road you quickly run into Norrish Creek West FSR on river right, which is the road used to access the Creek (the East side FSR is supposedly now open as well). There is an online gauge for Norrish, but it hasn't worked in the last year. The Middle Fork Nooksack Gauge presents a decent correlation a majority of the time.

At about the 5.5 km mark is the put-in for the classic lower(IV/IV+) run (here!). At the 7 km mark Rose Creek comes in on river right, this would be my favoured takeout for the Upper run featured in 'Whitewater of Southwest BC' (or alternatively the bridge a km upstream as they guidebook indicates, but Rose Creek takeout features easier river access and a couple more decent rapids). Rose Creek is runnable at least in the lower reaches and is on the agenda for further exploration, though the FSR's up both sides are currently deactivated. Between the upper takeout and lower put-in lies middle Norrish(V), which is the most difficult stretch of the river and doesn't regularly get run, it has always been referred to as 'upper Norrish' as compared to the lower classic run because the 'upper' featured in the guidebook was, at least for some time, inaccessible, so I'm going to call it the middle now that the true upper is accessible. At the 8 km mark, just after a bridge over the Creek, is a spur road that leads to the dam. At the 16 km mark is the put-in for the Upper(III-?) run. It should be noted Rose Creek can double the volume of Norrish for gauging reasons.

That same weekend about a month ago, with the gauge reading 3.5, Alicia Lycan and I headed up to check things out, I originally planned to run the middle that day with Will Harris but he had his gear stolen from his car unfortunately. I ended up running the lower stretch of Rose Creek, a fun boulder garden and straight shot slide series/falls with very low volume, then we ran the stretch from the 8 km bridge to Rose Creek just to get in the water a bit more and it had a few fun little class III rapids, it felt medium low at that level.

Rose creek at a low level, fine for the rapid pictured though.

Dropping Rose Garden on Rose Creek. Photo by Alicia Lycan

Excited by the prospect of exploring Upper Norrish, a class III- exploratory according to the guidebook, had me thrilled. It's always fun doing a class III exploratory, you never know what you'll get, especially with wood potentially in play. The run hadn't been accessible or run for at least 7 years that I was aware of. It would also be awesome to open up a new possibility for an intermediate run and would mean Norrish could then be a destination for mixed groups of paddlers instead of just class IV and up capable.

We went there a few weeks ago with a rain event intending to hit it up, but it was in flood, at 10...the very top of the gauge! We took a look and the run was pretty crazy high. We decided not to put on. For reference the usual levels of the classic run are EFL=2.7, low=3, medium=3.5, high=4.5 and up. It could get run much higher and I believe has been, the real difficulty with that would be the must run and the last pinch canyon with that log in it.

Downstream of the 8 km bridge at 3.5, calm clear pools

Upstream 8 km bridge at 10

Upstream 8 km bridge at 3.5, a bit bony. 5 was pretty ideal looking

Downstream 16 km bridge at 10

Finally this weekend with it warming and not raining too much we headed out again to find the gauge reading 5, so we headed to the put-in. It was a mixed group of myself, Tegan Owens, Tudor Davies, Ben Holzman, and Juan Acero. Our first surprise was a bunch of new medium sized rocks on the road up as ice had formed on the cliff sides and broken off this rock with the melting...low and behold we hit our takeout and there was a busted oil pan! We decided to go kayaking and deal with it afterwards...bad omen?

At the takeout...the red car had lost all it's oil...ground clearance matters! Norrish FSR is normally good, but there were lots of new boulders from the melt cycle this day

A higher water view of Rose Creek, it was dumping 25-40% of the water into Norrish at this point...if only we had more time..

Our view at the 16 km put-in bridge with the level being 5. We put in about 11 or 1130 I think.
We got to the put-in and it was raining, the level looked good..the second bad indicator was there was ice in the eddies...this is the first time I'd actually seen this! We started making our way down. The first couple km of the run were chalk full of wood, we'd average 30-60 m of paddling between portages...lots of portages. Luckily the portaging and getting around in the Norrish drainage seems to be fairly easy for Southwest BC and this was no different. About a km in West Norrish tribbed in on the right which doubled the volume but the portaging would continue for at least another km. This is truly unfortunate as the top part of this run without the wood would be a great class III continuous boulder garden. As it was with the wood and small eddies it was dangerous for any class of boater. It felt like doing lower Frost Creek woodwise but with the volume of Yola Creek. All this portaging was eating up our daylight fast.

Ice + Wood = Walking.

Typical first couple km of wood robbing us of daylight

We were often presented with this. 50 m clean to a bend with small eddies, guaranteed there's wood right around the corner!

Our first long clean stretch, yay!

Tegan on one of the better rapids in the first few km, a strainer can be seen upstream.

The gravel braided section was long and windy being so open, but it was nice to go a couple km without portaging! The weather started to get cold...
Finally the creek braided out into gravel bars similar to Slesse Creek and the logjams ended. For the next 4 or so km we proceeded through these wide open braided channels, luckily the level provided a decent amount of water so barely any boulder scraping was involved. The creek then started to narrow and went through some very high quality, juicy class III boulder gardens then came around a bend and presented a beautiful canyon entrance. This was an extremely bittersweet moment, as suddenly a portion of the creek we never considered revisiting suddenly presented incredible opportunity, but at the same time it was 3 o'clock and we had maybe an hour of light left and at least 2 km to the dam, our earliest easy takeout. Considering everything, mainly the wood situation we'd encountered to this point and the walled in nature of what we could see of the canyon beyond the beauty class III+ entrance rapid, we decided to walk out, which actually meant walking about 200 m upstream to ferry across first.

Looking at the canyon, this drop and what we could see looked great. Maybe we should have started that hour earlier?

Juan weighing our options.

Looking at the canyon entrance from the walk was almost dark by the time we started hiking out.
We were presented with a pleasant 500 m walk up a hill before encountering an overgrown deactivated logging spur we followed about another km to the main road between the 9 and 10 km markers. By the time we collected the vehicles and towed the busted oil can car down and got the tow truck there it was about 10 PM by the time the last of us were headed home.

All in all it was a fun day and a nice workout I figure, though I'll probably never go in for that first bit again, I will be back in here and walk down to the gravel bar section or the canyon entrance to finish up that last bit...maybe next time with a little more light. 5 looked like a decent level, but it really gets narrow at the canyon, so it is hard to tell. Until next time...

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train!

The 'ol Fit made 'er to the Dealership!
Some pictures from Tudor Davies:

There I am, cold, camera in hand, looks like I'm doing a jig to keep warm

The day is dragging....hahahaha

Whoa! Another portage!?

We had an inordinate amount of fun, it helps to be prepared for what you'll have to face when it ends up being what you likely think it will be...

Finally found a spur...hard to tell but it is very dark now