Sunday, April 14, 2013

Willamette River (Boone's Ferry Landing to Willamette Park West Linn)

Willamette River (Boone's Ferry Landing to Willamette Park West Linn)

If you want to do a down river run on the Willamette, there are scores of choices for put-in and take-out points. On this particular day we chose our take out as being as close to Oregon City as we could get without actually going over the falls (or breaking other laws). There are a few “Willamette Park”s, this one is off exit 6 right in West Linn at the confluence of the Willamette and the Tualitin rivers.
View Boone's Ferry to West Linn in a larger map
We wanted around 3 hours of River time. The river was listed at flowing at 2 mph (which is moderate fast) and a person can do an extended paddle pace of around 3 mph (which means going upstream would be damn slow). So our combined forward progress would be around 5mph. What with wanting fun and explore time and all we chose a handy put-in location pretty much right at the 405 crossing of the Willamette near Charboneau.

I got 3 Kayaks on my Subaru!!

There are a lot of places around the Portland area that are called something ferry. Scholl's Ferry, Taylor's Ferry, Boone's Ferry. Boone's Ferry was a big one south of Portland near Wilsonville. It was originaly built and operated by a grandson of Daniel Boone and continued in service until a bridge was built across the Willamette near the ferry site in the 1950s. (I think we may have passed the remains of that bridge).
Boone's Ferry Landing

We put in at the Boone's Ferry landing, on the South East side of the river. Even at the launch dock, the speed of the current was apparent. You had to point you kayak a little up stream to avoid getting pushed into the downstream dock.

The first part of our trip was a sunny river holiday getaway float. Lots of beautiful expensive houses on the high banks, each with a smaller but often equally beautiful expensive dock thing down by the water. Hard to just call the docks. They were more like party houses. Some were 2 stories tall, with nice windows and teak and special housing for boat storage. All were floating and moored to VERY tall steam posts the size of telephone poles. Gives you a good idea how high the river can rise.



On this particular day, the water was up, but no where near flood stage. Still, we had a few places where the current was moving faster than we had expected and this limited our exploring somewhat. For instance, about 3 miles down for the start we came to the confluence of the Moala river. Bill (one of our more experienced paddlers) had gone up this stream before and we all thought that would be fun, but after pushing up stream for a few hundred yards we realized that this was just going to wear us out, so, we turned and shot out back into the Willamette.

After this we shot into a spot where the river got really wide. Now, I sort of expect the river to be more challenging when narrow (and fast). And it is. But in this location, when it got wide it got (relatively) shallow and there were lots of upwelling areas. Places where the river current was bouncing off of something on the bottom (I am thinking rocky protrusions) and skittering to the surface to make whirls and eddies and random currents. Usually they don't mean anything, but they will, on occasion, push your boat around in unexpected ways. So I am wary of them.

In truth, there are a few things on the river to be wary of. The water is dark and cold, there are snags and logs and fishing lines under the water. Things could surprise you or tip you over. And the water, even in the spring, is cold enough to kill you if you can't get out of it efficiently. Which is why you should travel safe and prepared. All of the 5 people on this outing, for instance, were wearing emersion gear (dry suits). You wear these over a warm layer of normal clothes and they will keep most of you completely dry for an extended dunking. Plenty of time for one or two of your buddies to come by and make a rescue or for you to get yourself together and perform a self rescue. Didn't need to do that today, but there was this one time.....

About 6 or 7 miles down the way we came to “the narrows” (see map). This is a place where the local basalt rock upwelling (ha!, 2 uses of upwelling in the same post !!) has been cut through by the river. A pull-back on a topo map shows the rock ledge pretty clearly. It also shows the river make a big elbow around the rock before cutting through. The place where the river makes its break is rocky cliff on both sides (as you would expect) and has rocky island still remaining in the narrow center. Lots of current, lots of pretty rocks, plenty of swirls and such to play in.

We found a little rapid water and went in circles for a while practicing entering and exiting the swift water. I am still learning how the current will push your bow around on entry. You have to expect it and lead it and them paddle hard to maintain your control while going upstream.

At the end of the narrows, we crossed over the main current. This was another education for me. We did something called “Ferrying”. Which essentially means aiming up current quite a bit from where you want to go. This was working find until I hit a little whirlpool that jogged me around to the wrong direction and made me worry about going into the drink. It seems like I am worrying a lot more than I am actually flipping. I probably need to flip over and be rescued a few times just so I will stop worrying about it.

A little about wildlife. On this trip we saw: Bald Eagle, King Fisher, Canada Goose, Blue Heron (just one off in the sky). On the little islands in the narrows we saw the red barked Madrone trees along with Oregon Grape and the ever invasive Scotch Broom, Himalayan Blackberry, and Poison Oak. (OK, Poison oak may be native, but I still want to eradicate it).

As we left the shelter of the Narrow's islands and headed back into the combined strength and width of the Willamette river things got a little dicey again. The wind had picked up and it was pretty much right at our backs blowing us downstream. This was fun at first, but the farther away from the islands we got, the more the wind had room to blow up the river, and the large the following swells got. They were coming over my bow and pushing my stern around and I really wasn't in the mood to get rescued. (and no, the “FALLS 10 MINUTES DOWNSTREAM ARE NOT SURVIVABLE” signs had nothing to do with it).

OH COME ON!! Looks survivable to me.

I ended up coming ashore right at the Willamette Park landing with around 1 foot waves breaking on the boat launch. Doesn't sound like much, does it? I took a picture and you can't even see the waves. But when you are sitting about 2 inches below the water, then they at least feel bigger. Sigh. I need more practice.

So, study up before you do this trip. At the height of the summer, the rapids and whirlpools and whitecaps will all be gone, and the water will be warm enough that you won't need a dry suit. But, you won't have the 2 knot current pushing you down that 10 miles either !!.

Oh, by the way, right where that last picture of the falls was taken is a great Scottish Pub.


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