Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Raffuse Creek. Exploring the obvious ..

I suppose you could file this entry under "Leaving no stone unturned" or, alternately, "Just another thing to do in Squamish" ..

For as long as I've been around here, Raffuse has been one of those "We oughtta check that one out someday" kind of projects. If you've ever run Skookum Creek, you've driven right over Raffuse on the way there. Maybe you did a double-take as you caught a quick glimpse of the junky rapid upstream of the bridge. Knowing what we do about everything else in the region, it's rarely surprising that even the smallest streams would have at least something worth whitewater paddleboating on. And this one, even with the mank visible from the bridge, seemed plausible. Anyway, it was always intriguing to Shane, so it was more or less on the project list for our whole group for the last 5 or so years. The problem has always been that the logging road which accesses the upper reaches of the creek was gated, & that deterred any serious scouting. Bryan actually poked around on river-left a year or two ago, but didn't see much of the creek. He talked to the usual suspects around town but no one had any useful beta or knowledge of it ever having been explored.

About a month ago, Shane, Utah, & I were up for an Ashlu release weekend with Bryan, & decided to get up early on Sunday morning to head up the Mamquam valley to see what was going on that way; maybe Skookum would be in. Turned out the gate for the Raffuse logging road was swung wide open, so naturally we headed in. Within a mile, we stopped at an obvious spot & began hiking a spur which was an old road grade paralleling the creek.

Shane & Johnny U. assessing the situation

Raffuse is the drainage in the bottom-right of the map page, not where Shane is pointing ..

Several times we dropped waaaay down into the canyon & bushwhacked our way around the surprisingly easy-to-negotiate canyon walls. And what we found was -- no surprise -- very enticing: a small stream hemmed-in by dark granite walls, plunging over ledges & slides & waterfalls. Apart from one super-steep series of drops which ended in a sketchy 30-footer, & an abundance of wood throughout the creek, Raffuse didn't seem to have too much terror-inducing gnar. Just lots of steep boogie water in a well channelized low-volume gorge.

Oh, and also there was this one absolutely perfect 20-footer that dropped into a beautifully carved-out teacup room. That alone, in my mind anyway, made the prospect of running (or dealing with) the rest of the creek worthy.

We returned the following weekend with Tretwold & Fred on the heels of a strong cold front that had moved into coastal BC & had dropped all of the rivers in the area. Not at all what we'd hoped for on this already tiny creek, but Bryan felt confident that the level would hold at a boatable flow. And besides, what were we gonna do? Not run it?

The cool thing about Raffuse is its proximity to downtown Squamish. We were able to get a good night's sleep, & then get coffee & burritos in town before heading out for a good ol' fashioned BC exploratory. We reckoned it would only take us a couple hours to fly through what we'd already scouted, even with some extra dealing in the waterfall gorge. We hiked with our boats along the old logging road grade well past the most upstream point we'd scouted the previous weekend. River-level access was "supposed" to get easier upstream, but we found ourselves further & further off the deck. We did one of those things where the road grade goes way up & away from the river before coming back toward it, you know, the kind of thing where it would usually indicate a steep gorge on the creek.

Upon making to the creek, we were a little disgruntled to discover that our first "move" would be a portage around a nasty log across an otherwise fun rapid. Also, the creek was really, really tiny.

Immediately below our put-in, we portaged -- you can see why -- & then we got our first little ledge of the morning. There was plenty of this kind of stuff in the upper stretch; well channelized & surprisingly fun for the size of the riverbed.

We stopped infrequently & routed through lots of boogie water until we reached a point of obvious concern. You could see mist rising against a dark black headwall downstream. It didn't seem likely that we could already be at the waterfall gorge we'd scouted. We were still well upstream of that & were looking at another series of drops that we hadn't known about; a sweet little double into a tight, sheer walled gorge.

Fred Norquist dropping into the gorge. Photo sequence: TG

Chris's perspective of Fred on the first series

& Fred again, shot by Bryan

Chris probed the double with his WAC-sponsored boat. Sequence: TG

Lots of fun, ledgey boogie water downstream of the first waterfalls. Photo: TG

Photo: TG
The creek was very "intimate", if that makes any sense .. small & surprisingly clean. Don't get me wrong, there was some mank, but with more water, it would clean up even more. Above is a series of fun ledges leading into the second waterfall gorge. Chris did some hero shit & climbed across the big log downstream in this shot, from river-left to river-right, & sawed out a substantial piece of wood that completely shut down navigability .. I should've been shooting during those moments ..

Here I am running the upstream-most ledge in the previous shot. Photo: BS

The eddy below the sketchy wood & right above the perfect 20-footer. Photo: BS

A big reason why I was on this creek in the first place .. the perfect 20. Photo: BS

Bryan on the 20. Photo: TG

Bryan appreciating the view & waiting for Fred's descent. Photo: TG

Fred & Bryan chillin in the eddy, shot from way above by Chris Tretwold

Our scouts from upstream, which were way above river-level, had us concerned about dropping into the waterfall gorge without a more thorough scout of the drop right below the waterfall. From way up high, it looked kind of sketchy .. a tall ledge into a super-tight bottleneck with a plucky hole, walled-in on both sides. We were pretty sure that we would not be able to get out of the creek after the waterfall to scout or set safety for the next drop. But really, how bad could it really be? It's only a couple hundred cfs. Hmmm.. this line of thinking has gotten me into trouble in the past ..

Here's Freddy Mercury dropping into "Colombian Necktie" .. no sweat .. Photo: CT

another angle of Fred running "Colombian Necktie" .. like I said, no sweat. Photo: TG

Bryan in the exit of the drop .. Photo: TG

Shane in the same rapid, from downstream, shot by Bryan

Me .. stoked. Photo: BS

Right below Colombian Necktie, there's a truly shitty rapid that no one ran. And right below that is the sketchy 30-footer I mentioned early on. With the lower flow than when we'd first scouted, & from river-left where we hadn't scouted before, the waterfall looked even more marginal than before. It was tighter & more twisting than it had looked. The lip was not much more than a boat-width wide, & I couldn't figure out if you wanted to go left-to-right, right-to-left, straight-on, or if it even mattered .. but, strangely, it still looked doable. You might just have to take a huge wall hit, & likely would get stuffed under the left cave-wall at the bottom. I tried to talk Fred into it, but he wasn't feeling it. I was relieved about that because if he did it, I would probably have to do it too.

Chris & me scouting the 30-footer. Photo: BS

Awesome shot of Shane scouting the 30. Photo: BS

We all portaged the last waterfall high on the left .. wasn't too bad of a portage. We got back in & faced a handful of fun ledges & boulder-choked rapids before having to portage high-right around wood. One more big glory boof & we were at the bridge. The shuttle is easily bikeable.

Ultimately, this run will never be a Squamish classic on par with Tatlow or Callaghan. But it is decent & is something that I definitely want to go back & do again. People do Brittania waterfalls all the time & that's just 2 low-volume drops & you're done. This is definitely a better, or more pure, kayaking experience than that. We only stopped to take pictures at a couple spots, but there are a lot more rapids than we showed. With more water it would be a lot of fun, & with a lot more water it would probably be terrifying.

Fred put together a great little video piece on our Raffuse day. Watch it below, or go to Vimeo for full resolution ..

Raffuse Creek Exploration from Fred Norquist on Vimeo.

My comments at the end, that's just the exhaustion speaking. Even a day later, my perspective had changed & my thoughts about the creek were way more positive.. I'd definitely go back & do it again!


tim said...

first done by lj wilson sometime before 2001

Todd Gillman said...

thanks for the info, tim!

Adayak said...

Some tight spots on that run for sure. No sweat though.

Shane Robinson said...

Thanks Tim. We figured somebody must have been in there at some point in the past ... just too close and accessible.

For anyone wanting to giver 'er a try, that map I'm pointing at is the mtn. bike trail map of squamish and proved to be a better map than the backroads atlas, fyi. Also, the river I'm pointing at deserves a looking at if any young bucks want to go hike in there and report back, or if there are any mtn. bikers out there that want to go for a mission ... it's a long ways from a road.

Nice work on the vid fred.

Steve Arns said...

Shane - I've looked a Ring Creek and it's big enough to run - I didn't see anything good but it was far from a thorough inspection. Lots of wood, like all the small streams up there.

That's not saying much though as a buddy and I also did some looking at Raffuse last fall and saw nothing but the boulder shit like is at the bridge. Good work on spreading the word!

Anonymous said...

Great video...especially enjoyed the helmet cam, as its been over 6 years since I've paddled the gnar, and living vicariously.

Jeff France (Montana)

Susan Hollingsworth said...

I especially like the Slow-mo footage at the end, really smooth. Nice work me fake-boofing in my seat :)