Mission: (almost) Accomplished

Bridge Creek, Ca.: a mission on all accounts.
Arbitrary stats on the run: hike in a little less than 2 miles, one of which is down about 2000 feet; 4 miles on Bridge creek; then 9 on Wooley creek. The hike leaves your thighs burning and screaming for oxygen, or your pants ripped and nearly falling off. Or both, depending on your condition. Then some mank and good drops on Bridge lead to the hard part of the run, Wooley Creek. The 9 miles of class IV-V big water boulder rapids while tired from the hike and Bridge always prove to be quite exciting.
I had always heard of epic trips full of carnage followed by a long hike out in the dark all the way to the bottom, or spent shivering on the trail. Coming into this last trip I was pretty confident, with my 5 of 5 trips completed in a speedy(usually) fashion. In this report there is a reference to a less glorious trip. Though I'm not included in the swim count, it wasn't quite the quick trip I had experienced before.
Last weekend I found myself at the jump-off point for the hike on the night of Cinco de Mayo, unfortunately missing the festivities at the Nordheimer Campground. Excitement and anxiety ruled the night as we made some delicious burritos.
We awoke with the sun and leisurely ate breakfast and prepared for the hike. We began our hike and soon found ourselves standing at the top of the mile-long, steep scramble down to the creek. As the 'experienced' one of the group, I was chosen to lead the way down the hill. Needless to say, we got lost and actually ended up on the wrong creek. Great start to the day, right? Determined, we eventually made it to Bridge, and not even in poor time, about 2 hours. We made our way through the first mile or so of junk and wood to the first significant drop.

Gabe carving his way down.

Photo-Josh St.John

Everybody made it through this and the following few drops, until just above the best section of the creek. We pulled out to portage a large piece of wood and Jared turned over his boat to find a 10" crack along the edge of his boat. Not the best place to find yourself with a broken boat. Using what was probably better than my 'oh it'll be fiiiine', judgment, he and Josh decided to hike out at this point instead of continue and slow the whole group. Remember the hike in? Well, this was going to be a little less up, but a whole lot more out. They later guessed that the Bridge Creek trail was about 600 feet up a very steep hill, then probably 13 miles out to the Salmon river where we had our shuttle.

Jared hiking, sans kayak.

Then there were two. We were pretty sure we would beat them out and do shuttle, little did we know....
Gabe soon found himself stuck in quite the hole. I had seen this hole dish out some pretty serious beatings before, and this was no different. After watching the ends of his boat switching places for an uncomfortably long time, I ran back up to my boat and ran the drop, thankfully avoiding the beat-down hole. His boat conveniently flushed with him and he got himself organized quickly and after a short rest we were off again. A few more good drops and Gabe, tired from the stomping hole, found himself in the water a couple more times. Now very tired and a little disheartened, Gabe continued on, portaging the remaining rapids of significance, except the final falls.
Once on Wooley we blazed down the first couple miles of class 3 and stopped just before things get a little more hectic. We were both pretty tired at this point, but knew we had to keep moving. I mentioned that this would be the last place to exit the canyon until the take-out, but that I could lead us down Wooley pretty fast so time and light wouldn't be an issue, barring any mishaps. Not wanting to take the chance, Gabe supported the idea of hiking from this point, and though I didn't see it as an appealing option, the last thing I wanted to do was further split the group. Not to mention solo Wooley.
So off we went, hiking the remaining ~7 miles with our boats and averaging a little over one mile an hour. We made good time until dark, after which we slowed drastically and occasionally found ourselves asleep while taking a short break on the trail. We got out to the Salmon at Brannon Bar at around midnight, and thankfully found that Josh and Jared had made it out almost exactly three hours before us and had done shuttle. I don't think I have ever been as happy to see two dirty, sweaty, tired men. Well, maybe once.
So I join the legions of paddlers in the 'Bridge Creek Epic Day, or Two' group.


1 min 58 sec - May 10, 2007
Description: Short clip of a couple drops on Bridge Creek, Ca. and the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River, Wa..