Monday, April 28, 2014

The Lost Secrets of Liumchen Creek

What you actually want to know to run it:

Class III/IV Creek requiring class IV skills, low volume continuous at times pool drop in the Chilliwack River drainage. Optional 25ish footer can be seal launched as portage. Watch for wood, there is lots. Gauge visual rock upstream of takeout bridge in middle of river, prominent as pictured below and should have water at least lapping the top, look for other creeks in the area to be medium to high. Approx. 1-1.5 hr hike in.
Drive up along Cultus Lake in Chilliwack, BC South on Columbia Valley Highway, left on Sleepy Hollow Road, right on Vance Road which will turn into a dirt road (Liumchen Creek FSR). Drive until obvious fork: on your right you'll see a yellow gate 100m up which is where you start hiking, on your left the road goes to the takeout bridge/visual gauge (first bridge you come to). Hike along road beyond yellow gate, then up the road/trail that branches off straight/left that looks old and overgrown. Follow until obvious old road/trail branches off on the left, you'll see some big logs across at the start. Cross the slide/scree slope and bushwhack to the river as soon as it's close enough to the trail. Total first time run expect 3-5 hours. 0-2 wood portages at this time depending where you put on, both upstream of the waterfall. Sketch wood prevalent everywhere.

Looking upstream of the takeout bridge, gauge rock is prominent in middle of the picture. This is a medium low flow, ideal for first time down. Hike up river left to look at the last set of rapids for an idea of what much of the run is like. This photo taken the day prior to our trip, we had it slightly lower.

Now the backstory:

It was November of 2010 and I'd been kayaking about 3 or 4 months. I was hanging out at Western Canoe Kayak where I often frequent chatting with Ryan Bayes and an older gentlemen. They were talking about a class III creek in the Chilliwack valley that hadn't been paddled in many years, maybe 15 or so? Access was a problem since a massive slide took out the old logging road and apparently there were massive logjams, probably from the same slide. There were rumours of a clean 20ish foot waterfall and that the last crew to go in unfortunately found some dead bodies at the base of the slide, probably from the slide.

Over the next couple months I'd head up to the drainage with various groups and usually Ryan, sometimes with boats, sometimes without to check things out and see what kind of access could be gained to the drainage and scout portions of the run. It was an obvious hike in, though my Jeep at the time could make it most of the way, this is no longer the case as the old road has eroded away and become overgrown into more of a path. Changing gate situations also made access difficult. I ended up spending a good amount of time up in the drainage since it was only 5-10 minutes drive from my place in Chilliwack, as well as being right alongside one of the military training areas where I work. In the spring/summer I also found it was bountiful with the best berries in the valley seeing relatively little traffic and having the oldest growth managed forest in the valley.

I did a lot of exploring, and the Creek became my 'white whale' to reference Moby Dick. I had to conquer it prior to leaving this area. I stumbled upon this post on club tread, a local forum, which really piqued my interest speaking of waterfalls, gypsies living up the valley, wild dogs and such. I spent some days with Dave Gerbrandt hiking up to the upper reaches after the creek splits to become East Liumchen which flows from Liumchen Lake and it's more prominent westerly fork. There are 5 old logging bridges reaching up the valley almost to the US border. The area does see some foot traffic as the lake is located in Liumchen Ecological Reserve, a rather untouched portion of the valley.

I spent time hiking in from the takeout when there was no water in the riverbed to check things out and also hiking up from where it tribs into the Chilliwack to see whatsup down there. Below the takeout bridge the creek drops into a short class V section with some big drops and what looks like a 15 footer that has changed in recent years before rounding a bend and plummeting over a two step 40 footer, the left half of which lands on rock unfortunately, before going through some wood choked steep boulder gardens.

Where Liumchen enters the lower canyon about 150m downstream of the takeout bridge.

The meat of the lower canyon, difficult to look at, harder to get a decent photo. This section, at this time, looks like it would go if it weren't for the waterfall below half landing on rock. The drop in the center of this picture didn't look runnable last year and appears to have changed.
Lower Liumchen Falls largely landing on rock, this is about 200-300m downstream of the takeout, but it canyons up prior.

Finally in the spring of 2011 Kiah Schaepe, Tristan Oluper and I decided to go in and run it. We took a different route driving my Jeep up the road instead of crossing the slide, which led us to hiking our boats down an extreme grade before coming to a second bridge where we eventually put on, there were a couple nice back to back drops upstream, but we were pretty tired by then to find a way up and just went on down. Including the takeout bridge described above, we would have put in at the 3rd bridge up the Creek, which is also where Liumchen and East Liumchen come together. This section down to the 2nd bridge ended up being garbage, mank with not many eddies and we walked most of it. Though I would be interested to go back as a better boater to see it anyway. It took so long that instead of continuing from the 2nd bridge down we hiked back out (meaning UP that extreme grade) to the Jeep. After coming out of the valley in the dark and dealing with some parties who were getting worried about us we decided it had been a bust.

The last rapid of the upper, taken from the 2nd bridge, this was by far the best rapid of the Upper. It was also higher when we ran this section.

Beautiful forest on a misty day. Photo by Tristan Oluper.

It wasn't until spring of 2012 when I would convince Paul Harwood to join me and try to run Liumchen proper. It was a rainy day and levels were ideal. We hiked across the slide and down to the creek as soon as we could see it and headed downstream, the wood that day was worse than it is now and we had a few portages. We got to the beautiful waterfall which Paul had no interest in running and I wasn't going to run alone. We could also not see the exit of the box canyon it dropped into and didn't know what we'd find or if we could even get out anywhere to scout anything. There was no apparent seal launch at that time, or any way to scout below, so we hiked out. It was a horrible hikeout and further setback mine and anyone else Liumchen hopes.

Paul and I at the precipice, it would be a no go this day. We later discovered it's not too difficult to move around in this canyon at reasonable levels.

Finally this year I decided I would not be discouraged, I was going to run this thing if I had to just solo it, nothing would stop me. Low and behold with this weekend approaching levels were looking great and holding. Tegan Owens and I had gone in last week to scope out the canyon exit an make sure it was passable, and I found a crew keen on doing some exploring. Finally it would happen!

Will Harris from Washington DC area and David O'Sullivan from Ireland met me at my place fairly early and we set off, after a quick level check to confirm we started hiking up. We decided to hike to the 2nd bridge, where I'd taken out 3 years prior, in order to scope out the whole creek. The first 200m or so from the bridge down were actually a lot of fun and things were looking up. Unfortunately there is a large section between there and when it gets closer to the falls that is quite manky and woody, this is where our only 2 wood portages would take place, this is also why I recommend putting in as soon after the slide as possible.

Regardless, once you come out of the mank it starts to canyon up and develop a more pool drop feel, this is how you know you're close to the falls. Finally we got to the majestic falls! What a sight! ...again. This time with a much better camera in tow for pictures to document the adventure. We fired it up, Will went first and ran the meat with a good boof. I managed to hit the flake on the left with a giant boof and landed flat on my stern in the middle of the boil, the best line I'd ever had...probably off of anything. The waterfall is fairly straightfoward, if intimidating and having a bit of a tricky multiple door entrance. The one complicating factor is having no way to set safety for the base of the falls really...only 20-30 feet downstream can you get back to water level...ish.

After the falls you're in a sweet canyon that continues to the takeout bridge and has maybe 10-12 drops that are incredibly fun and not too large with distinct pools in between, it could also handle more water. The only problem is wood everywhere, though there were no portages down here almost every drop had wood of some sort...some pruning is to be had for sure to clean things up!

It ended up being a great day and far exceeded everyones (very low) expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. The bottom line is that from shortly above the waterfall to the takeout bridge would be a classic section if it were clean of wood and had easy access. Barring that I think this could be a once off for many people, and as a local, once I find a quick way in near the waterfall I intend to make multiple trips back. The waterfall really makes it all worth it as we have a shortage of runnable ones in the Chilliwack Valley.

It feels great to finally tick this one off the list. A true Freyventure.

Gettin' ready for a hike...yeeehawww!

Oh guard your secrets well. Taken from the top of the now overgrown slide.

David looking at the's a huge slide that goes for a long ways. Happened prior to 2003, which is the oldest Google Earth image. I should note at least one portion of the slide crossing is fairly exposed and not for the faint of heart.

Will carrying double the gradient after he got lost.

The hike in actually isn't thaaat bad...

An old camp, years ago when I first saw this it looked fairly new.

Beauty forest, similar to Tamihi Creek forest.

When this all fills in in the summer time it looks even better...but will make the bushwacking and hiking a bit harder too.

Looking downstream from our put in bridge (the 2nd bridge going up the creek from the Chilliwack). The first 500-600m had some fun boulder gardens.

The old rotting 2nd bridge.

After the first blast we went through a long string of wood choked boulder mank, we portaged a couple.

The last ledge before the waterfall...getting down to the waterfall it cliffs up and becomes more pool drop with fun rapids.

What a view down the canyon from river right the top of the waterfall.

The boys scouting the lip. multiple doors mark the entrance.

Will sending the middle line, curtain call. It's difficult to capture the entire falls in a frame.

Nice view up the canyon with a brief moment of rainy sunshine.

This is the rapid above the takeout bridge, there are about 10-12 rapids similar to this after the falls. A nice double slide.

With the logging they are doing up the valley now, hopefully access will become easy in the coming years. Even to get to the takeout bridge used to be almost completely overgrown, but is clear now. It is also possible in a Jeep or ATV to connect this road over into the Chilliwack valley near Tamihi Creek. The takeout bridge area used to be a military training site as well. Enjoy this place if you venture in!