McKenzie River

The McKenzie river makes its way into Eugene from a series of springs in the Cascades. Last summer I spent a couple months staying at several places in Oregon, and this river was the locus of many activities, including hiking, biking and several whitewater kayaking trips. It’s a great river, with cold, clean water and nice scenery. It’s also probably the busiest river in the state for rafting and drift boating, but when I was there (sunny August weekends) it never felt crowded, and the upper portions were downright quiet.

After a couple short trips — hiking around some waterfalls in the upper portion with my Mom (visiting from Arizona) and some kayaking as the last day in a whitewater course — the first big trip I did was a kayak trip down pretty much the entire runnable portion of the river, about 75 miles. This started at Olallie campground, not too far from the aforementioned waterfalls, and wound its way down to Armitage County Park, the park just north of Eugene where I was staying.

The start of the trip, at Olallie:

I did this over two days, which was a very fast pace but worked out OK. The river is mostly class 1 and 2 so not many major rapids to worry about, and the trip was mostly a relaxing float. There are several class 3 rapids, with the first, Fishladder rapid, about 5 miles in and the others pretty far below. I’d scouted Fishladder on the way up (short walk from the road) and made it through fine. From below:

Lots of class 2 past this this, and later in the afternoon I hit the remaining class 3 rapids, Brown’s hole and Marten rapid. Both of these I went through, both of them I flipped, and both of them I rolled back up. I’d been practicing rolling (the rolling technique I’d developed for sea kayaking turned out to be woefully inadequate for whitewater) and this was the first real test. During other runs since this trip (still just class 3 water) my roll has stayed pretty reliable, thankfully. Needing to exit the boat and swim after flipping over sucks.

There’s some folks at West Coast Action Photos that photograph boaters going through Marten rapid during the summer. Here are some shots of me going through upside down, then rolling up.

From here it was a pretty uneventful out to the end, just some nice scenery and the occasional small rapid. The next weekend I took another shot at the section containing Brown’s hole and Marten rapid, and stayed upright through both of them.

The second big trip I did here was a bike trip on the McKenzie river trail. This is 26 miles of single track that winds along the river’s edge. Usually people do this from east to west, going mostly downhill and connecting with a car shuttle. I went the other way, going on my touring bike with cyclocross tires, and switching to slicks at the top to coast back to my car on the road.

For most of the trail this setup was fine, but there are some steep technical sections which my bike was not cut out for. Between skinny tires, low clearance and the steep climbing needed, I ended up walking most of this terrain. It was eye opening though, and earlier this winter I got a proper mountain bike and have been having a lot of fun with somewhat technical riding around Reno.

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