Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hardscrabble Creek

Dan Menten in the 1st Gorge followed by Chris Zawacki. Photo: Alex Wolfgram

After a week of heavy rain the North Coast was completely saturated. The Smith was at 60,000 CFS and the following day Alex Wolfgram (celebrating his 24th Birthday),Billie Prosser, Chris Zawacki, Dan Menten, and Paul Gamache headed for Hardscrabble Creek.

Alex Wolfgram - Happy 24th. Photo: Dan Menten

Billie Prosser. Photo: Dan Menten

Chris Zawacki. Photo: Dan Menten

Hardscrabble is a tributary to the Middle Fork of the Smith with its confluence being just upriver of the put-in for the Oregon Hole Gorge. By the time the team had arrived at Low Divide Road, Hardscrabble’s Put-in, it was almost noon. The Smith started dropping out and current flows were about 30,000 at JED. Once geared up the group started the ½ mile hike along the creek. The hike-in is relatively simple; carry your boat along the road until it looks run-able.

A view from put-in. Photo: Dan Menten

It is important to mention that like any creek on the North Coast, logs are a very real and present danger. Be alert and aware; never assume any drop is clean.
Once on the creek the section before the 1st gorge is fairly boney. While not extremely dangerous or challenging a horizontal pin is possible so make sure not to space out too much early on. After bumping and grinding our way down we soon reached the 1st gorge and got out to scout. If you eddy out on river left and hike up the hill about 30 yards you can reach an access road. Below is a shot from the access road of the 1st gorge Menten took using Chris’s camera.

Alex Wolfgram in the midst of the 1st Gorge. Photo: Dan Menten

Paul Gamache runs the main drop in the 1st Gorge. Photo: Dan Menten

Shortly after the first gorge several tributaries flow into hardscrabble, doubling, then tripling the flow. After some easy water there is a boulder garden type rapid which we ran on the right. A noticeable landslide on the left marks this rapid. Somewhere in this boulder garden Alex suffered a 3’’ crack in the bottom of his Jefe.
This crack will provide for some excitement later on.
Once through the boulder garden look for a bend into a horizon line. This is an 8’ drop that has a somewhat sticky hole at the base. There is enough room in the eddy on the right for your group to get out, relax, and scout the entrance. The falls is very difficult to scout but one can climb / crawl their way along the left bank for a quick look of the "Safety Sesh" drop. Beware of poison oak. If you’re so inclined this falls is pretty good for freewheel practice. However, you only get one shot at it since carrying your boat back up would be more effort than it’s worth.

Billie Prosser drops in on a "Safety Sesh" Photo - Chris Zawacki

Dan Menten winds up a blurry freewheel. Photo: Chris Zawacki

Paul Gamache. Photo: Chris Zawacki

Less than a mile later is another memorable rapid. Eddy out on the left when you see logs on river right. Scout and run on river left, boof left.
After the boof get ready to eddy out on the right once you see the next sizeable drop.
This drop, which we’ve dubbed “Judo Log Roll”, AKA “Amputator” is a rapid that Alex will remember for the rest of his life. The presence of a large log straight across the middle of the drop makes this rapid a mandatory portage. Alex missed the last eddy on the right due to a “substantial amount of water” in his boat caused by the crack. Upon entering the drop a curler caused him to flip over. He then floated into the log upside down. Once against the log his stern caught water going over the log and he was vertically pinned facing upstream. Using his ninja skills he pulled his skirt and attempted to climb out of his boat and over the log. He managed to clear his entire body free of his boat except for his right leg. Due to a shifting of weight and water the boat then sunk down. The result was Alex being repined. Except this time it was his body pinned against the boat, which was horizontally pinned against the log. His head was just barely below the surface of the water. Eventually, Alex was able to free his leg from the pinned boat and was swept underneath the log. His boat cleared soon after. Once on shore Alex explained what had happened and how he thought his leg was going to be ripped from his body.
After a much-needed break for Alex to calm his nerves we continued on. Portage J.L.R on the right, which involves a 6-8’ seal launch. Once back in the water be prepared for the next portage. Look for a subtle corner, which will lead into another series of death logs. Portage on the right and begin the most difficult portage on the run. There is a trail, which provides access along the steep slope. Portage down the trail about 100 yards or so. You will be pretty high above the creek at this point and should be looking for a ledge below the logjam to which you can lower boats down. Again our friend poison oak is heavily present. Once on the slab it is an exciting and thrilling 15’-20’ sliding / skipping seal launch down to the water. If you wanted you could carry downstream a little further and avoid the seal launch. After the launch you will come to a 7’ boof, which Menten named the “Gorge Boof”. Boof right.

Paul Gamache clearing the "Gorge Boof". Photo: Dan Menten

Following the Gorge Boof look for an overhanging log. This marks a rapid we’ve named “Billie’s Goat” after Billie’s excitement in this rapid. At lower water this rapid must be portaged on the left due to a log across most of the left channel. Fortunately, at the flow we had there was enough water going over the top allowing us to run the lead-in on the left and then boof the log. The rapid is scout-able on the left. However, the exit of the rapid is blind from the top. Portaging would be easier on the right. Once we all roughly knew what the line was we made our way through Billie’s Goat. Just before the over-pouring log boof Billie flipped over and headed into the log pour-over upside-down. Amazingly, she rolled up just before the log, boofed out and landed in the swirling water just on the other side of the boof. Billie then caught her edge and flipped. As she floated through the exit of Billie’s Goat she tried several rolls. However, the next Class V, which she happened to be bobbing through, provided little ease as she attempted in vain to roll. Eventually, she swam out of her boat and almost instantly her boat caught on a rock, which stopped her downstream progression.

Alex Wolfgram in the middle of Billie's Goat. Photo: Dan Menten

Chris Zawacki. Photo: Dan Menten

For the next half mile the creek is a really fun Class V boulder garden.
Once through the boulder garden the creek mellows out and turns to class III in nature for the remaining mile or so to takeout. Be on guard though, apparently somewhere during this Class III Alex paddled into a 2’ boof with a good re-circulating hole. Once again being full of water he was unable to paddle out of the hole and swam. Fortunately, he was only in 3’ of water and stood up and pulled his boat to shore. We’ve named this section with hole the “Birthday Rapid”.

As we arrived at the takeout bridge along Hwy 199 we were glad to be off the creek since dusk was upon us and the temperature was quickly dropping. There was just one more thing to take care off before we called the day complete.

Tradition - Billie Prosser and Alex Wolfgram. Photo: Dan Menten

That night Alex celebrated his 24th birthday under the Madrona Bridge on the Smith River.


Flow: Hardscrabble is only run-able after several days of heavy rainstorm. We estimated we had about 350-400cfs at take-out. There is a gauge on Hardscrabble located on river right. To get to the gauge from the parking lot there is an access road that you can hike up. The gauge is located about 100 yards up the creek and there is a trail coming off the access road that you can use to get down to the gauge. The gauge read 3.5 when we were there. Hardscrabble is run-able at lower flows but changes in character from a sweet super fun creek into an arduous bump and grind log ridden creek.

Gradient: According to: - 150, 210, 170, 190, and 165 fpm.

Put-in: After dropping a vehicle at take-out continue east on Hwy 199. You will see a road marked 17n49 on the left soon after. Take this road (same road for the North Fork of the Smith put-in) continue along the North Fork road for a ways. Eventually, you will reach an obvious junction in the road this is Low Divide Road. Make a left and go about 50 yards. You will see a gate on the left. Park outside of the gate and get ready for one of the best creeks in the Smith drainage.
Take-out: From Hiouchi drive east along Hwy 199 until you see Hardscrabble come in on the left. There is a bridge here with a sign saying “Hardscrabble Creek” Use the turn out just before the creek for parking. If you reach Patrick’s Creek you’ve gone too far. If you can’t find the creek you probably shouldn’t be doing Hardscrabble.

Google Earth Screenshot:

GPS Locations:
41”51’52.05” W 124”00’42.39”W
41”50’21.07” N 124”01’35.86” W