By Kanako Iwata-Eng
Occasionally, people describe a river as a “gem”. For me, no river is more gem-worthy than the Metolius. Its headwater bubbles up from the ground; crystal clear cold water creates a small pool and starts the river. This spring water guarantees enough water for boating even in the dry months of the year.
Boaters can put in pretty close from the headwater, wherever you can find a parking space. It is a narrow and shallow stream at first but grows a little after a couple of creeks come in. Soon it passes campgrounds, a small Camp Sherman resort and cute little houses. We limbo-danced under a series of low bridges, except one a few not-so-flexible boaters had to portage. In a small canyon, we were awed by more clear water gushing out of the canyon wall.
In the mid September, Captain Bill, Doug, Kathy, Jim, Cody and I headed to the Central and South Oregon to paddle rivers running all year around. All were dammed rivers –North Santiam, MacKenzie, Willamette and Umpqua – except the Metolius. After paddling a short section of the North Santiam, we drove to the Metolius. We were staying at the Lower Bridge Campground for 2 days to run both the Upper and the Lower sections. The Team had been there three years before. We ran the Upper on the first day, which was a beautiful day we saw a rainbow all day. However, a strong wind blew during the night, and we gave up the Lower run because of a fallen tree across the shuttle road. So, this time, I was determined to finish the unfinished business.
We chose to run the Lower section first. The Lower Metolius is 18 miles long. The shuttle is 35 miles of gravel roads each way. We anticipated logs and at least one portage. Expecting a long day, we got up in the dark, and the shuttle drivers left as soon as the sun rose. About 10:30 am, we could put in from the campground.
The cold crystal clear water was moving fast. Because the water level doesn’t go up, shores were covered with thick vegetation to the edges in most places. It reminded me of the Tieton, and I thought it could be hard to rescue a swimmer. Shortly after putting in, we came to a long steep Class 3 rapid. As the Soggy Sneakers guidebook mentioned a log jam, we carefully boat scouted and went down one boat at a time. Luckily, we didn’t encounter any in the first few miles.
The entire lower stretch was remote and serene. The whitewater was continuous without any ledges, but we occasionally had to boof jumping over river-wide logs. The “easy Class 4” rapid, felt more like Class 3+ that day except a couple of small wood hazards. They were both easy to miss, but when passing between boulders, paying too much attention on the obvious wood on the left, I touched the submerged wood on the right. Later in the week, we joined the Lower Columbia Canoe Club’s North Umpqua trip and met someone who had run the Lower Metolius on the day before we did. He said one paddler in his group hit this submerged wood, flipped and swam.
There was one big log jam. The river left seemed possibly passable, but there was a trail on the river right. We made an easy portage on the right. After that, the river offered many Class 3 rapids one after another all the way to the end.
Our group, including a couple of new kayakers, did pretty well. Near the end of the day, one of the newbies flipped and swam in the funny water where the river was going against a wall on the right. He was in a wetsuit, and I had been worried, but he was OK. It was near the end of the day, he quickly self-rescued, and the climate had changed dramatically. The put-in was in the green woods; the take-out was in the dusty high desert. I finished the unfinished business, and it was certainly worth the effort.
Next day, we ran the Upper section. It was a 12-mile easier whitewater, but the low bridges, a few beautiful short canyons, and the very weird Wizard Falls rapid added excitement. The Wizard Falls is a Class 3+ rapid right at the fish hatchery. The right side is too shallow, and the left side is a shelf which is also too shallow, therefore we all have to run the center. Water flowing in from both sides creates the swirliness, and the end of it is another low bridge with a half dozen tourists holding their smart phones to videotape us. Under the bridge, I flipped, but nobody videotaped it. Ha!
The Metolius is very special. You need to spare time to get there, drive the long shuttle, and paddle the long run. At the end of the day, however, you would believe me – it is a true gem.